Linda Ronstadt on belief

August 25, 2014

I’ve never listened to much Linda Ronstadt, but it sounds like she’s a lady on the ball. She was interviewed recently about her career and choices made to leave her hometown of Tuscon, Arizona in the process. She gave a lot of reasons but this one’s relevant to my blog. She talks about the effect of the school on her kids at the time. It was homophobic in some ways and some of the children they were meeting were too keen on parroting the religion of their parents.

“And then one day, my son went to have a playdate with a little boy, about 8 years old, and he said, ‘What church do you go to?’ And we said, ‘Well, we don’t go to a church,’ and he said, ‘Well, you’re gonna go to hell, then.’ So I had to stop the car. I wasn’t mean to the little boy, but I had to explain to him that my son was a fine person and that I didn’t think there was anything wrong with him and that we didn’t even believe in hell. And certainly he wasn’t going there, even if we did, and that I didn’t like that kind of talk. …

It’s unlikely that most people can quit schools and move out of town to avoid these kinds of conversations. Failing that, parents need to help their kids understand that there will always be differences of opinion when it comes to beliefs. Maybe the most important thing to know how to do is question it all and look for the facts and evidence. Don’t believe everything you’re told. Be willing to put the effort into finding out how true it is.


Think you know the bible? There’s a Bible Bee

August 18, 2014

The first one was in 2009 (I know because I wrote about it) and I see it’s still running. Ken Ham is promoting it on his blog.

August marks the start of regionals with the finalists to be head-to-head at the finals in Orlando, Florida at the end of October.

This year’s theme for the AiG ministry is “Standing our Ground, Rescuing our Kids,” based on Galatians 1:4. It’s one of the reasons we support something called the National Bible Bee in the USA.

Now, the Bible Bee is a family discipleship program—with a competition at the end of the year—for students ages 7–18. Through the summer, families will be memorizing Scripture and studying God’s Word, preparing to be tested on their general Bible knowledge. The format has changed this year. You can read about the changes at BibleBee.org.

Will do, Ken.

First, though, Galations 1:4 — “who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (via)

I wonder what particular evil is on the minds of organizers this year. “Standing our Ground” really puts me in mind of the shooting deaths of several Americans over the years, whether they possibly “deserved” a bullet or not. I doubt a nine year old did. Maybe the intent with the theme is something like, “Use your bible as your gun and your knowledge of verses your bullets to pierce the souls of the heretics and light them with the fire of the Lord our Jesus amen…”

At the Bible Bee website, I learn that the first round starts on August 23rd and serious money is up for grabs by the end of this event, available in cash and scholarships. (Award breakdown here.)

The site offers a multitude of study tools, all which entrants (or their parents) must pay for, in order to make memorizing the bible a lot easier and supposedly more fun. It’s still the bible, though, and at the end of this nobody’s really more educated or enlightened by memorizing entire chunks of it.

The Shelby Kennedy Foundation (also referred to as “SKF”) is the parent organization of the annual National Bible Bee. SKF sponsors the Bible Bee to help families strengthen their personal relationships with the Lord and dynamically impact the world as ambassadors of Jesus Christ. The vision for the Bible Bee is to encourage parents as they disciple their children through in-depth study of the Word of God, Scripture memorization, and prayer.

That’s from the scholarship website just mentioned. I’ll quote another article from 2012’s contest.

This year, organizers cut back on the amount of information students were required to study in preparation for local competitions. With the help of special guidebooks, parents can now effectively lead their children in their Bible Bee studies in about 20 minutes per day.

Those who qualify for nationals, however, are eventually faced with much greater intellectual challenges, including the memorization of several hundred verses of Scripture.

“The top 300, when they come here, it’s a whole different ball game. They’re the Olympians, they’re the ones that have really studied and worked hard,” said Widdoes.

It’s not intellect, it’s memorization. Two different things, isn’t it?

I Google to find a definition of intellect for proof of this. The Free Dictionary offers these:

a. The ability to learn and reason; the capacity for knowledge and understanding.
b. The ability to think abstractly or profoundly

I’ll bet a cookie that none of that is happening at a bible bee. They aren’t being asked to write essays on the cultural impact of these verses and what they mean for society as a whole or debate the value of this interpretation of a verse other another. They don’t have to show they’re learning anything while they recite a shit ton of verses. They just have to memorize them.

I highly doubt this contest results in winners being smarter, more intelligent people. This just turns kids into bible parrots. How does that really help them in life and career prospects? The Atlantic pointed out something similar during the 2010 contest.

The obvious question in all this: Just what is the implicit value of memorizing the Bible word for word? Just because a kid can spell “appoggiatura” doesn’t guarantee he or she can string together a coherent sentence; likewise, does the memorization of vast swaths of scripture actually “plant a godly heritage in the next generation”?

Not surprisingly, the Bee’s proponents have answers to these questions. LaFleur, Widdoes, and Lawrence each talk about the power of “hiding the word in your heart,” an allusion to Psalm 119:11: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Replace “heart” with “head” and you have a pretty clear idea of the theory behind the Bee.

The article also points to a part in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer where Tom cheats his way to the top of a similar contest. I never read that book. My Banned Book club read Huck Finn recently, though. Tom might need a reading now just so I can say I’ve done it.

For LaFleur, the ability to instantly summon verses makes it that much easier to live according to the Bible’s dictates. “It’s so ingrained in my heart that I can just say it. I know it without looking it up,” she says. “It becomes so much more a part of every moment of your life. As you lie down and go to sleep, whenever it’s quiet, verses will come to mind.”

Well, okay. If that’s the ultimate goal for the bulk of the participants so be it. If it somehow gives them peace at the end of a long and trying day to call up verses that sooth and stimulate them, who am I to condemn it? I think the amount of time devoted to memorizing them could be spent in so many better ways but whatever. Their lives, not mine. Their time, not mine.

Thoughts? I always ask. Don’t keep them to yourself if you’ve got ‘em…


Animal rights over religious rights in Denmark? That’s interesting.

August 15, 2014

To say the least…

European regulations require animals to be stunned before they are slaughtered, but grants exemptions on religious grounds. For meat to be considered kosher under Jewish law or halal under Islamic law, the animal must be conscious when killed.

Yet defending his government’s decision to remove this exemption, the minister for agriculture and food Dan Jørgensen told Denmark’s TV2 that “animal rights come before religion”.

Commenting on the change, Israel’s deputy minister of religious services Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan told the Jewish Daily Forward: “European anti-Semitism is showing its true colours across Europe, and is even intensifying in the government institutions.”

NPR notes that Sweden and Norway have had a ban in place for years.

Dutch lawmakers took up the issue in 2012, and even Britain’s top veterinarian is now making headlines by suggesting his country would do well to follow the Danish example.

As Europe grows more secular, says Finn Schwarz, president of the Jewish Congregation in Copenpagen, “religious tradition” is no longer a valid argument for much of anything, he says.

Benyones Essabar with the group Danish Halal agrees.

“Religion itself in Europe doesn’t play the big role … it does in other countries. So every time we speak about something that [has] to do with religion,” he says, “it will always be looked at as something from medieval times, and something that doesn’t have any scientific place in our modern days.”

There are a lot of rules set down to make food properly Kosher or halal. Some of it sounds completely silly in terms of blessings and prayers to certain gods in order to make it “official” but other parts probably did have a basis in food safety and health at a time when people did not have refrigerators or any knowledge of bacteria and parasites. Salt has been used as a preservative for centuries and the kernels of Kosher salt are ideal for soaking up liquid like blood; blood is a no-go for both traditions. Why milk and meat can’t go together for halal food is up for grabs in terms of sciency reasons, but it would have made sense at the time to avoid the meat of carnivores. It still makes sense.

I can’t speak to the sense people have about these bans coming across as anti-Semitic or Islamophobic, though. I can see why that would be a fear since both are minority groups in Europe with a history of racism, fear and propaganda denouncing the faith and its followers. But, what if it really does just come down to compassion for the plight of animals? So long as people insist on eating them, shouldn’t all attempts be made to make their end as painless as possible? Can Kosher and Halal butchers and the rest involved guarantee that?


I don’t intend to get the “Shut up, Devil!” app

August 12, 2014

All right for some, maybe, but to a non-believer like myself it sounds pretty damned silly. Also, I don’t have a smartphone.

The Shut Up, Devil! app is an innovative resource that puts the power of the Word of God in your pocket. And because it’s on your smartphone, which is almost always with you, you’re ready to resist the devil whenever and wherever he attacks. Additionally the app features reminders that will help you keep the enemy at bay and silenced in your life.

The app conception stemmed from Charisma House’s upcoming book, Silence Satan by Kyle Winkler, which releases in September. Winkler is founder of Kyle Winkler Ministries, a media and teaching ministry broadcasting on the Christian Television Network.

I guess it still throws me to find people in the world who think of the devil as an actual adversary in their lives who is intent on manipulating them and luring them down dark paths away from the light of their lord. I’ve just done too much reading that lends credence to other far more likely scenarios: namely that the devil is an invention added to the bible as time went on. Became anthropomorphized as Jewish thought and culture changed to match and keep up with the beliefs of other societies they found themselves in. Ideas change, minds change, hearts change, and then ideas change again..

Religious Tolerance has a nice rundown of the history of Satan.

There are no passages within the older parts of the Hebrew Scriptures where Satan is portrayed as an evil devil – the arch enemy of God and of humanity. At most, he is described as a henchman who carries out God’s evil instructions. There is no dualism here between two powerful supernatural entities: an all-good God and an all-evil Satan. God is portrayed as performing, directly and indirectly, both kind and evil deeds.

It’s only in the later books, after the Zoroastrian religion gained a footing, that the dualistic idea of God vs Satan started showing up. There was an evil god in the Zoroastrian tradition (Ahriman) and it’s suspected that early Jewish writers likely adapted the beliefs in that deity to fit their own needs for their religion.

During the last three centuries before Christ’s birth, the portrayal of Satan underwent a major change. The Zoroastrian / Persian dualism concept appeared in Jewish writing: God was now looked upon as wholly good; Satan as profoundly evil. History was seen as a battle between them. No longer was Satan simply God’s prosecuting attorney, helper, or lackey. Satan, and his demons, were now humanity’s greatest enemies.

The followers of Jesus grew up thinking of the world as divided by this good and evil and the idea that malevolent spirits had their fingers on the hearts and minds of the faithful all the time. The way they viewed the world coloured the way they wrote down the stories that later became the Gospels. Paul and the rest coming later thought and felt the same way and continued the trend.

These days, though? Why hang onto the idea? What purpose does it really serve? Why not just accept that humans have the capacity for tremendous good and perplexing badness and may illustrate both on the same day?

To end, a song I still like by a band I don’t listen to anymore, but it seemed like a good song to throw in here.


Your dead child is gay? We won’t do his funeral.

August 8, 2014

A Baptist church in Tampa, Florida cancelled funeral arrangements for 42 year old Julion Evans after the obituary listed a surviving husband. His mother, Julie Atwood, was floored by the news; the funeral was to be the next day.

Atwood said she was told it would be “blasphemous” to hold the services at the church because her son, Julion Evans, 42, was gay.

“It was devastating,” she said. “I did feel like he was being denied the dignity of death.”

Evans’ husband, Kendall Capers, says the pair were partners for 17 years and married last year in Maryland. Evans died at home after a 4-year battle with a rare illness called Amyloidosis, which destroys organs in the body.

He says the obituary named him as “husband,” and that their marriage was no secret.

It was going to be a very large funeral at New Hope but Paster T.W. Jenkins had no idea the deceased was gay when he agreed to it. Other churchgoers spilled the beans when they complained about the obituary. Only then did he cancel. The family was able to arrange a last minute service elsewhere but were unable to inform everyone of the change so many turned up at New Hope anyway.

Jenkins said his church preaches against gay marriage.

“Based on our preaching of the scripture, we would have been in error to allow the service in our church,” Jenkins said. “I’m not trying to condemn anyone’s lifestyle, but at the same time, I am a man of God, and I have to stand up for my principles.”

And yet by refusing to provide the family with the agreed-upon funeral, it’s still proof of condemnation to me, and everyone else who’s picked up the story and run with it.

Slate picked up the story and notes

As a pastor, of course, Jenkins has a constitutional right to deny religious services to anybody he wants. But legal impunity does not exempt Jenkins from moral judgment—and his action is surely one of breathtaking immorality. Here was a man in a deeply committed relationship, who suffered bravely through a horrible disease—and yet his church denied him peace, even in death. Jenkins can “stand up for [his] principles” all he wants. But the rest of us have every right to be absolutely disgusted.

Exactly.

The church’s website claims they’re “Christ-centered and biblically-based” and offer this gospel verse:

The Lord bless you and keep you:
The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.

—- Numbers 6:24-26

But rather than be gracious and peace-giving themselves, they turned the family away.


Devil resorts to texting after exorcism fails

July 29, 2014

At least, I think it failed. If it actually was an exorcism and there actually was a demon possessing a girl. In stories like this facts do not take a back seat; they’re deliberately thrown out and left behind in the dust somewhere never to be recovered by the ones driving the fantastical tale in the first place.


The story from Austrian Times

A Polish priest claims he has been getting hate texts – from a demon.

Parish priest Father Marian Rajchel from Jaroslaw, a town in south-eastern Poland, said he started getting the texts after carrying out an exorcism on a teenage girl.

But he said that the attempt to drive out the devil from the girl’s soul clearly failed, and that it was now using the teenager to attack him by using mobile phone messages.

He told local media: “The author of these texts is an evil spirit who has possessed her soul.”

One text example is included: “She will not come out of this hell. She’s mine. Anyone who prays for her will die.”

Now, a rational person who received a text like this might take the device to the local police where they likely have some techie guru dude/dudette who could do some track back magic and find the phone number of the person sending that garbage. Text messages do not come from hell, typically. By the article, I think he’s implying the girl herself has something to do with it but in a “devil made me do it” kind of way rather than “I’m going to pretend I’m possessed” way, which is my suspicion. It would not be the first time someone tried that.

Possession can be childishly simple to fake. For example, an exorcism broadcast by ABC’s 20/20 in 1991 featured a sixteen-year-old girl who, her family claimed, was possessed by ten separate demonic entities. However, to skeptics her alleged possession seemed to be indistinguishable from poor acting. She even stole glances at the camera before affecting convulsions and other “demonic” behavior (Nickell 1998).

Back to the article:

He said that the devil and his followers were not shy about using modern technology but that in many cases their actions were not identified as being the work of evil.

He said: “Often the owners of mobile phones are not even aware that they are been used like this, however in this case it is clear.”

I’m now put in mind of a very fun book co-authored by two of my favourite writers, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman called Good Omens. I thank the book’s handy dandy Wikiquote page since it saves me hunting through my paper copy for good lines:

It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people.

He rather liked people. It was a major failing in a demon.
Oh, he did his best to make their short lives miserable, because that was his job, but nothing he could think up was half as bad as the stuff they thought up themselves. They seemed to have a talent for it. It was built into the design, somehow. They were born into a world that was against them in a thousand little ways, and then devoted most of their energies to making it worse.

And one more:

Crowley had been extremely impressed with the warranties offered by the computer industry, and had in fact sent a bundle Below to the department that drew up the Immortal Soul agreements, with a yellow memo form attached just saying: “Learn, guys.”

The Daily Mail adds one more text quote for their coverage of the story.

He replied, and was then sent another message in return: ‘Shut up, preacher. You cannot save yourself. Idiot. You pathetic old preacher.’

He said: ‘Clearly this young girl has been possessed, and needs further help.’

I don’t think she’s really possessed, but I agree she needs help and probably not the kind this priest provides. She needs a psychologist or someone.

New Scientist interviewed a psychologist named Frank Tallis after he published a novel based on a person who thinks he’s possessed. Tallis mentions he’s had experience in his field with that.

You have to have an openness to it. Lots of people are open to all kinds of spiritual and magical beliefs. An individual could have a perfectly harmless interest in the supernatural but then something happens that triggers this delusion and they get stuck with it, reinforcing it by piling up one misinterpretation after another. If you go out looking for evidence, you will find it.

And people who make exorcism their business will find them demons everywhere…


Kids raised without religion have easier time with fact vs fiction

July 24, 2014

A couple studies were done recently to check how believable 5 and 6 year olds find stories that stretch the imagination.

In two studies, 5- and 6-year-old children were questioned about the status of the protagonist embedded in three different types of stories. In realistic stories that only included ordinary events, all children, irrespective of family background and schooling, claimed that the protagonist was a real person. In religious stories that included ordinarily impossible events brought about by divine intervention, claims about the status of the protagonist varied sharply with exposure to religion.

The abstract briefly touches on the reasons for that. Kids without exposure to religion treated the religious stories as fictional tales about fictional people. Children from church-going families/religiously educated believed them all to be true.

Upbringing also played a role in the studies in terms of fantasy and magic and how easily each group of kids would buy into them.

Secular children were more likely than religious children to judge the protagonist in such fantastical stories to be fictional. The results suggest that exposure to religious ideas has a powerful impact on children’s differentiation between reality and fiction, not just for religious stories but also for fantastical stories.

Ideally I’d be reading the studies rather than reporting on an abstract but some of this feels like “duh!” research. Then again, anecdotes aren’t science whereas now there is data to support any claims that religious upbringing can impede a person’s ability to tell fact from fiction.

I may have told this story previously but back in my university days I was friends with a woman who was from a very religious family. My secular lifestyle bothered her enough to try the witnessing business and offers to attend church and the like and, to be social, I did do some of that. It was a different time, before I ever heard the term Freethinkers let alone thought of myself in terms of unabashedly atheist, though I was.

I was also a fan of Star Trek and enjoyed reading the books based on it, too. One day we were near a particular used book store I’d been frequenting and she waited around in there while I browsed the shelves a bit and picked a couple things to buy. When we got outside my friend stopped me on the sidewalk and pretty much begged for me never to set foot in there again because she felt the devil in there. Read the rest of this entry »


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