Clever devilish ad freaks out traditionalists

April 8, 2011

People take their baking seriously in New Zealand:

The giant billboards, placed by the Hell Pizza company, have been plastered around Auckland, the country’s largest city.

Lloyd Ashton, a spokesman for New Zealand’s Anglican Church, condemned the advertising campaign as disgraceful.

“It’s disrespectful to what a lot of people hold very dear,” he said.

“They’ve dared here to take a clumsy poke at something that numbers of people hold sacred.”

For others “Hot Cross Buns” has always been an annoying little song tooted on an off-key recorder. One a penny, two a penny… hell of a deal.

I think it was last year when I finally connected crossed buns with the traditions of Easter. I don’t know why that never occurred to me before.

As with all traditions, it seems, there are debates as to how this got started. One suggests it was Queen Elizabeth I’s edict that they’d only be served at Christmas or Easter. It also turns out that hanging them in a house was supposed to keep bad luck away and sailors tended to bring them on board ship in the hopes that they’d stop shipwrecks. In another, an English widow promised to bake her son a crossed bun every Good Friday while he was away at sea. He never came home so she continued the tradition of hanging the bun in her bakery and others took up the tradition later. Either way, they’ve become a staple for many people when this time of year rolls around.

Back to New Zealand.

Patrick Dunn, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Auckland, said: “I suppose in some ways they are acknowledging that Jesus was around for a limited time, but a number of people might decide to boycott Hell pizzas for a while and I will be one of them.”

Warren Powell, a director of the company, defended the campaign, saying: “I do not see how it could possibly be disrespectful to anyone’s religion.

Oh, I can. People don’t want to associate Jesus with hell except in terms of a Jesus love affair saving a person from eternal damnation. To offer up a “satanic” bun beside Jesus’ name might qualify as blasphemy.

That said, the pentagram used to be a symbol for the “good” side, but it’s been a while since it was used that way and not everyone’s aware that it ever was. From Religious Tolerance I learn that Kore was a goddess worshiped centuries ago whose holy symbol was the five point star. And:

Kore was worshiped within the Coptic Gnostic Christian religion in Alexandria, Egypt, during the 4th century CE. Her festival, the Koreion, was held yearly on JAN-6. This was adopted by the Christian church as Feast of Epiphany (a.k.a. Twelfth Night). 2 This date is still celebrated as Jesus’ birthday in Armenian churches, and is observed with more pomp than is Christmas by the Greek Orthodox church

In England, the Koreion became the Kirn – the Feast of Ingathering. The Christian church later adopted it to the Feast of Our Lady of Mercy.

When the Hebrew scriptures were new, “the pentacle was the first and most important of the Seven Seals – an amulet whose seals represented the seven secret names of God.” The points of the star were meant to symbolize the Pentateuch, the first five books of the bible. When Christianity was newer, the star often symbolized Christ’s five wounds, the Star of Bethlehem, “the five knightly virtues – generosity, courtesy, chastity, chivalry and piety” and was also used for protection when worn as an amulet.

The negative connotations came later and remain most popular, sadly, as evidenced by this article. A symbol like this star only means what people feel like letting it mean. As an atheist, I think it’s a stupid thing to get worked up over. They’re only offered for a limited time anyway, why worry about it? Calling any kind of attention to Hell Pizza is going to bring them some business, no matter if devout Catholics choose to boycott them for a while. I’m sure the atheists and Jedis will buy from them…


“Post-theistic” doesn’t sound terrible

February 2, 2011

A phrase like that sounds like it walks the line between belief in higher power and scrapping the idea in favour of humanism, according to this article I found at The United Church Observer:

Post-theism has quietly emerged in individual United Church ministries across Canada that desire a sense of intellectual satisfaction and nurturing and inspiration in their spiritual lives, qualities they say the traditional format fails to offer. Post-theistic churches use the Bible sparingly, acknowledging its contents as myth — or don’t reference it at all. Many write their own music, use contemporary songs to convey their values or change the lyrics to familiar tunes. Prayers aren’t addressed to God, but to the community and its innate sacredness.

This approach has attracted people who haven’t found what they’re looking for in traditional sanctuaries, ministers say. But it’s turned away congregants who feel they can no longer access their faith without the traditional symbols and language.

The reverend of that church, Gretta Vosper, wrote a book a few years ago that might be worth looking for: With or Without God: Why the Way We Live Is More Important than What We Believe.

“In the United Church, we’re very strong about praying for guidance, praying for strength, praying for courage, and if you take that idea of an interventionist God . . . away, nothing has really changed,” she says. “You’re still asking for strength, except it’s not coming from some supernatural source. It comes from the community that you gather with.”

Vosper is leaving a lot of the post-theistic decisions for her church in the hands of her congregation these days and they’re making some surprising choices, from wanting to pull crosses down (albeit briefly) to rediscovering the solstice.

The congregation is also having more conversations about spirituality, Vosper says, which makes for a much more interactive service. It’s a change from back in 2001 when she discovered through her research that church people had difficulty articulating their beliefs.

Rev. Ken Gallinger, who leads the congregation at Lawrence Park Community Church in north Toronto, says people are coming to Sunday worship there because they feel free to explore deeper questions and discuss some of their conflicting feelings about what they’ve traditionally been taught. “We hear so much about why people are not in our churches these days — that people are busy and they’re going to hockey, etc. But underneath that is a more fundamental thing: they don’t believe it,” he says. “What we’re trying to create here is a safe place for people to talk about ‘How do we develop an authentic spirituality without a guy in the sky?’”

While I might disagree with calling it spirituality, I can get behind their ambition to retain some sense of unity and greater purpose. They’re curious, they’re challenging themselves to rethink their long-held beliefs, and hopefully they come through the experience with the realization that they can still be good and worthwhile people within their families and communities without needing to give a deity credit for any of it.

Gallinger often uses secular music during his sermons and I found this part to be pretty interesting:

following a Johnny Cash and June Carter song played as part of his sermon, Gallinger reminded people that the song’s storyline — a deceased loved one makes sandcastles in heaven while waiting for her dearest to arrive — is complete mythology.

“Of course I don’t believe that — that’s foolish and ridiculous,” he tells them. “We know too much about the world to not know that isn’t true.”

Is he saying that the whole idea of heaven is a myth, or is he just saying our assumptions of what it’s going to be like are false impressions, therefore nothing to put faith in?

Reading the rest of the article, it seems like the United Church as a whole doesn’t really know what to do with these breakaways. Should they be encouraged or ignored and left to fend for themselves? Speakers for UC won’t admit to either tactic, stating that keeping communication open between both styles of church is what’s important. Rev. Robert Dalgleish, the General Council’s executive director of the network for ministry development, sees

post-theistic congregations as just one among many emerging forms of ministry within the United Church, which include into-the-community ministries like the café ministry in Hamilton or the skate-park ministry in Perth, Ont. “We have been so insular that the vigorousness and provocativeness of conversations like this are healthy for us if they’re going to get us thinking out of the box,” he says.

So he doesn’t care where they go so long as they go United. Sounds like the same method Sam Walton used to justify having a store within 20 minutes of another. Maybe each store makes a little less money but all the money made still went to Sam and company so the point was moot. Here, it’s all the credit, I guess.

Well anyway, I have to say that if I did for some reason get the notion that I needed to head to a church service, a post-theistic thing is what I’d go looking for. It seems like it would be less obviously supporting a solely Christian mindset compared to other places I could go.

Jesus Onetouch jailed, human rights advocates thrilled

January 22, 2011

Onetouch (real name Nana Kofi Yirenkyi) made headlines last year after accusations that he’d slept with his daughter, who was 10 at the time. The congregation of the church he founded, Jesus Blood Prophetic Ministries at Oblogo, Ghana, filled the courtroom during the trial to offer support for their supposed prophet, and the courtyard outside. They were devastated by the result of the trial. Some chose to look at his incarceration positively, though.

“God is the final judge, he will intervene,” he said, adding “Someone is responsible for the way the verdict has gone.” Pastor Nobleman Appiah, Assistant Resident Pastor, urged church members to continue to support the convict through prayers, adding that perhaps there was a purpose for which he was being imprisoned. “The inmates at the prison also need salvation,” he added.

There will be appeals, of course, and accusations that the case was mishandled and all the usual malarky used to deny the fact that a religious man can still be an abusive bastard who deserves what he gets.

Interesting reason why they support him:

It was gathered that Prophet Yirenkyi, after having sex with his daughter, releases his sperms into a white ‘miracle’ handkerchief and then uses the same handkerchief to clean the little girl’s vagina.

Family sources say the belief is that the handkerchief is the source of Prophet Yirenkyi’s miracle powers and that more people would flock to his church anytime he sleeps with the poor damsel.

So they got him for both incest and defilement, to do ten years for each crime. He came up with something pretty clever to say while they led him away, though, something that will likely rev up his followers:

“If I am the one who slept with my daughter, may the Almighty God kill me,”

And since god hasn’t done that…

Human rights activists applaud the outcome.

The Human Rights Advocacy Center (HRAC) on Friday described the judgment in the case the Republic verses Nana Kofi Yirenkyi ‘Jesus One Touch’, as a positive step in ensuring that the rights of all children are protected in Ghana.

“We believe that this case is an example of the ability of the criminal justice system to punish perpetrators of sexual abuse of children, no matter their age, sex or social affiliation,” a statement signed by Nana Oye Lithur, the HRAC Executive Director, said.

The statement said: “We hope that persons who sexually abuse children are punished by our law courts to serve act as a deterrent for other like minded persons in the community who continue to defile and rape our girls and boys”.

There’s a disturbing tradition in Ghana where families would willingly give a virgin daughter to a religious leader who’d then use and abuse the girl. These girls are called trokosis, slaves to a god.

Fetish priests who favor trokosi slavery view the practice as an effective means to keep people from breaking community norms. They perceive trokosi slaves as links between the gods and the family, reminding family members to lead moral lives. According to the priests, the trokosi slaves constitute role models, saving the entire family from punishment, and their example deters crime within communities. Yet, as Mark Wisdom, Executive Director of Fetish Slaves Liberation Movement, has pointed out, “If it is intended to serve as a check to crime, then we can say that it is not effective because it has existed since time immemorial but people continue to commit crimes.” Some families are so dedicated to the trokosi practice that they have sacrificed as many as five ­generations of daughters to the shrines. There are even instances in which the offense occurred so long ago no one remembers what it was, let alone who committed it.

It’s heavily rooted in fear and religious superstition, that giving a girl to the priest will save the family from hardship and keep the gods from wreaking havoc on them and their whole communities. Girls who escape or are let go are also thought to be unlucky and won’t be welcome should they try to come home. The article I quoted from is over ten years old now so I have no idea if many priests have been punished for still carrying on with this business. Hopefully so.

During a 1998 national workshop held in Ghana on the trokosi system, participants, including the Ghanaian Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice, Amnesty International, and the Ghana Human Rights Coalition, agreed that it would be wise to allow two years to educate fetish priests, shrine owners, and communities about the new law before prosecuting them under it.

Some activists offered shrines money in exchange for releasing slaves but that tactic worried others, in case shrines would just get more girls in the hopes of being paid more for all of them. Opponents support the shrines as beacons of morality. They also want to claim that religious freedom, as written into the Ghanaian Constitution, should be reason enough to let the practice continue.

I did find a more recent, albeit short, article outlining a proposed 10 year project to combat child abuse. Time will tell how successful that is, I guess. One area they’ll wind up focusing attention on will be northern Ghana, probably. There are camps galore in that area where those thought to be witches have been exiled. Whole families are sent to these places, including children who wind up uneducated and enslaved.

In the Kukuo witches camp in the Nanumba North District for instance, some 840 children are serving the 430 alleged witches camped there. Out of the number, only a little over 100 are enrolled in schools while the rest are engaged on a farm to work and feed their parents/relatives in the camp. This definitely is a situation which deserves urgent attention. In the Gnani witches camp also, some 894 children are in a similar predicament just for the alleged wrongs of their parents or relatives there.

So, while Onetouch’s touchiness has been dealt with, the human rights movement there is by no means finished.

edit Jan 24/10 — this I just found today, about the wife of One Touch and her devotion to him. Also:

About the young girl whose allegation resulted in her husband’s imprisonment, Agyeiwaa said “that girl behaves strangely at times.”

According to Mrs. Yirenkyi, the little girl some time ago confessed to her that she was a witch.

The girl, who is her step-daughter, once told her step-mum that she and her grandmother, also an alleged a witch, tried attacking her (Mrs. Yirenkyi) one night but they could not.

She said the little girl was also fond of describing herself as a queen in the spiritual world to her peers.

Mrs. Yirenyki claimed that she and her husband were trying to exorcise the girl’s witchcraft when the allegation of defilement and incest cropped up from nowhere.

Yeah, it’s a weird little witch girl’s fault.


Christmas depends on the definition of “religious”

December 21, 2010

At least in terms of how people want to celebrate it. Statistics from a USA Today/Gallup survey and one by Lifeway uncover what people think about the meaning of Christmas and its traditions.

while most call this a holy day that is primarily religious, their actions say otherwise. Many skip church, omit Jesus and zero in on the egg nog.

LifeWay’s survey of 2,110 adults found 74% called Christmas “primarily” religious. And a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll of 1,000 adults found 51% say, for them, it’s “strongly religious,” up from 40% in 1989.

But what does “religious” mean? Not so much for a significant number of Americans, the data indicate. Most surveyed said they will give gifts (89%), dine with family or friends (86%), put up a Christmas tree (80%) and play holiday music (79%).

The percentages plummet when it comes to religious activities:

• 58% say they “encourage belief in Jesus Christ as savior.”

• 47% attend church Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

• 34% watch “biblical Christmas movies.”

• 28% read or tell the Christmas story from the Bible.

I know I’d rather hear the story of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer over this story where Santa cries because kids aren’t learning the right stuff about Jesus when they decorate their trees.

“It’s alarming to me that while nine in 10 celebrate Christmas, only six in 10 encourage any belief in the source of Christmas and only three in 10 actually read the story of Christmas,” Stetzer says.

I’d like to see Christians embrace the pagan sources of the rituals that surround this particular day on the calendar and explain to their kids how everything was stolen and rebranded to make it all their own and how the truth of that manages to be avoided year after year to justify all the other things they want to believe are true about the bible.

John Lindell — lead pastor of James River Assembly in Ozark, Mo., where 12,000 are likely to attend Christmas worship this week — is not as alarmed by the gap. Instead, he sees an open path to outreach.

He could also choose to accept the fact that people are allowed to be different and that not everyone is going to want to think the same way or believe the same things. Some people are actually going to want to scrap the mythologies and fables and be glad they did it.

Argentine archbishop did not “defeat” Santa Claus

December 15, 2010

There are several headlines leading to this story, but I’m looking at the one from Digital Spy because the headline is especially misleading.

Organisers of a Christmas cabin in the Argentinian city of Resistencia have cancelled plans for a gift-giving Father Christmas following an attack from a Roman Catholic archbishop.

Archbishop Fabriciano Sigampa complained that initial idea of a Santa Claus giving out donated toys to poor children would distract from celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, AFP reports.

Sigampa said: “That’s not Christmas… Surely, in the coming days there will be a deluge of advertisements after they inaugurate the house where a fat man dressed in red lives. And we should not confuse Christmas with that.

“[Children] should know that, in reality, the gifts come from the efforts of their parents and with the help of Jesus.”

The plans for a Santa figure were dropped after the protest and Santa’s cabin was renamed the “House of Christmas”.

So what he really did was throw his holy weight around, bitch, whine, and complain about something he could have ignored just as easily. Boo and shame on the whole village for caving to his irate stupidity rather than tell him to get a grip and leave the display plans alone. It’s fun for the kids to believe in a little magic this time of year. But I guess the only acceptable magic is bible magic…

How Christians tell their kids about Santa

December 12, 2010

Well, not all Christians. Mark Driscoll. I can’t include all because he’s only writing about his own family, but he suggests others explain Santa Claus his way:

When it comes to cultural issues like Santa, Christians have three options: (1) we can reject it, (2) we can receive it, or (3) we can redeem it.

Down the page he explains the history of Nicholas, he of “Jolly Old Saint” fame. He also claims that the best way to deal with Santa and all the lovely imagination of a fat fellow able to shimmy down chimneys to deliver gifts is to explain to kids the history behind the stories. This is an important step to do because kids need the truth from their parents, all the time and, writes Driscoll,

Conversely, we ask that they be honest with us and never lie. Since we also teach our children that Jesus is a real person who did perform real miracles, our fear is that if we teach them fanciful, make-believe stories as truth, it could erode confidence in our truthfulness where it really matters.

I think most atheists will agree that Jesus the man probably existed. Jesus the man probably did have some followers on account of his charisma and his dreams for a better future. But we also know for a fact that everything written about Jesus got written down long after he died and people who told stories about him before that point likely exaggerated his abilities in much the same way as stories about Nicholas battling demons somehow became “You Better Watch Out!” Why is the truth about Saint Nick’s mythology important to explain to kids while the dubious water into wine crap gets a pass? Hmm?

So, we distinguish between lies, secrets, surprises, and pretend for our kids. We ask them not to tell lies or keep secrets, but do teach them that some surprises (like gift-giving) and pretending (like dressing up) can be fun and should be encouraged. We tell them the truth and encourage them to have fun watching Christmas shows on television and even sitting on Santa’s lap for a holiday photo if they so desire.

I expect atheists who are parents would land on the same side here. Let kids have a little magic at Christmastime. They’ve got the rest of their lives to deal with truth of reality.

Edit Dec. 13 — saw this today and had to have it (via)

If “Their prayers will still be heard by Allah”…

July 17, 2010

Then clearly it makes no difference at all what direction Muslims have to face for daily prayers. Yes? So why even bother telling Indonesian Muslims that they’ve all been facing “the wrong direction” for years? They haven’t aimed a prayer at Mecca in ages, apparently.

Muslims are supposed to face the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia during prayer and the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issued an edict in March stipulating westward was the correct direction from the world’s most populous Muslim country.

“But it has been decided that actually the mosques are facing Somalia or Kenya, so we are now suggesting people shift the direction slightly to the north-west,” the head of the MUI, Cholil Ridwan, told Reuters. “There’s no need to knock down mosques, just shift your direction slightly during prayer.”

Fuck me for laughing.