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Wednesday, 30 March 2011

New Look to the Blog

I've decided to give this blog a makeover. I'm now using Blogger's new templates and I like the look better. I've also included the link to Mojoey's huge atheist blog list.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Crazy Witch Hunters Will be at Harvard Conference


On April Fools Day, appropriately enough, The Social Transformation Conference will be held at Harvard University. The people speaking at this event are Christian Dominionists who are hiding behind a facade of benign language to get this conference hosted at Harvard University. They use the following language to appear tolerant of diversity and open to varying views:
Social transformation can be defined as the process of large scale change for an environment where a shift occurs in the consciousness, in attitudes and values of a community or society (whether local, state, national or global). Scientific discoveries can cause social transformation as can religious movements (such as the great awakening of New England) or governmental policy (such as the end of apartheid in South Africa). Faith-Based Social Transformation is the process of positively changing an environment for the better using faith-based principles. This includes efforts to positively influence a nation’s culture by working to improve the values-based systems and ethical mindsets in its key strategic fronts, spheres or “mountains” — business, government, education, media, arts & entertainment, religion and family.
Notice the last statement. Sounds familiar doesn't it. This is the nice version of what these people are pushing. Instead of the usual spiritual warrior phrases of seizing the "spheres or mountains" and having dominion over society (every knee SHALL bow), they want you to think that they are merely striving for improvement.

Bruce Wilson at Talk2Action has a hilarious video on YouTube showing some of these "faith based" speakers in their native habitat of speaking in tongues, anointing with oil, casting out demons, and faith healing.



This would be hilarious except for the very real damage these attitudes and beliefs are having in Nigeria and other parts of Africa. The BBC and Channel 4 in Britain showed a horrifying documentary of children being accused of being witches and either being abandoned or murdered. The lucky ones ended up in the Stepping Stones safe compound. These same pastors at this conference mentor the same pastors in Africa who are encouraging and participating in these child killings.

Here is a review of the documentary Saving Africa's Witch Children. Parts of the documentary are still on YouTube.

Bits of the film were almost unbearable to watch: four- and five-year-old children, terrified out of their wits during church excommunications; young children horribly scarred by the beatings and torture that are used to extract "confessions" of their Satanic allegiance; the utterly empty eyes of a five-year-old girl called Mary who had been abandoned after her mother died and she was blamed for causing the death by a local preacher. The only saving grace was the presence of Gary Foxcroft and his Nigerian colleagues, who run a local charity, Stepping Stones, to look after the traumatised victims of these poisonous superstitions. Those confronted with their cruelty are not ashamed but adamant that they have done the right thing. "I want to kill that small girl," declared a grinning man, when Gary attempted to reunite one foundling with her mother. As her neighbour waved his machete, chuckling, the little girl's features smeared into utter terror. She knew he meant it.

Here is another review.

Located in southeastern Nigeria, Akwa Ibom State claims to have more churches per square mile than any other place on the planet.

But a dark side exists to the pious surface: A virulent strain of Christian Pentecostalism, blended with native beliefs, inspires hysteria when bad fortune or illness befalls the area, with preachers and families branding children witches.

The United Nations Children's Fund estimates that tens of thousands of innocent children have been targeted throughout Africa, including 15,000 in Akwa Ibom State alone.

Directed by Mags Gavan and Joost van der Valk and narrated by Sophie Okonedo (“Hotel Rwanda”), Saving Africa's Witch Children exposes the grimly appalling treatment of children deemed witches, and chronicles the work of two men who have devoted their lives to helping those ostracized by their communities.

and

To the superstitious in Africa, no event has a natural, causal or scientific reason. Any tragedy – disease, miscarriage, unemployment or death in the family – is considered the work of witches.

And defenseless children, sometimes as young as three months, can be scapegoated and subjected to horrifying punishments. The lucky are merely ostracized by their families and left to fend for their own, while others are tortured through a myriad of methods, from being set afire to having nails driven into their skulls, or simply murdered.

and finally

Says Foxcroft, “It is an absolute scandal. Any Christian would be absolutely outraged that they are taking the teachings of Christ to exploit and abuse innocent children.” The documentary includes footage of children from Foxcroft’s shelter being threatened by angry locals. He adds, “It’s really difficult not to lose your temper when you’re just in the face of pure bloody hatred, and then they say, ‘Oh, I’m a Christian.’ ”

Gavan and van der Valk expose the work of “Bishop” Sunday Ulup-Aya, who charges families up to a year’s salary – in Nigeria, many survive on just a dollar a day – to “exorcise” children suspected of witchcraft, feeding them a toxin he calls a “poison destroyer,” which consists of alcohol, African mercury and his own blood. If families cannot pay his fee, he holds their children captive.

Saving Africa's Witch Children also reveals the disturbing activities of one of Nigeria’s wealthiest evangelical priestesses, Helen Ukpabio of Liberty Church, who has created books and films decrying witchcraft.

Here is the update to the original documentary.



This is the horror that these assholes wish to bring to the US.

Update:
There is an editorial in the Harvard student paper, The Harvard Crimson, expressing concern that these people are presenting a conference where no opposing views are allowed.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Rapture Ready Local Mom



A local woman tried to kill her two daughters and herself because she thought that the "Tribulation" was starting. Perhaps someone should ask these people if this is the message they really mean to tell people.

We visited family in Louisiana at the end of last year and ran across two signs along Interstate 10. One sign was located in Orange, Texas and the other near Laccasine, Louisiana. The WeCanKnow people have a donation link on their web page. Why? If the world is ending, why do they need donations? I hope the the people who follow them (like this mom) don't try to end their lives and those of their families before this date.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Fighting Science Denialists



You tell them Rep. Markey.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Update on an Old Story

A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted via email by Chaplain Robert Nay. He wanted to discuss this particular story. Shortly after I started this blog in 2008, I came across a story about religious harassment towards a Jewish chaplain. The website, truthout, posted a story about Chaplain Jeff Goldman who alleged anti-Semitic harassment at the hands of his fellow Christian chaplains as well as his immediate superior officer in his chain of command.

He told Jason Leopold that at a mandatory meeting, Nazi uniforms and swastikas were displayed, and anti-Semitic comments were made. He named Chaplain Robert Nay as one of the perpetrators of this mess. He also alleged that another Jewish chaplain, Chaplain Lapp told him to ignore all of this and that he would have to work with the bigots. Jason Leopold interviewed Rabbi Lapp who told him that sure there were a few problems with certain Chaplains, but that Rabbi Goldman would have to learn to work with them.

Chaplain Nay wrote that many details of the story were incorrect and wanted to correct any errors from the original story from truthout. I asked him if he would answer a few questions. He agreed. I also searched the internet for any hints of links to neo-nazi and white supremacy sites. I found none, not even a hint of Christian supremacy at all. I checked out his thesis for his master's degree, and an interview. Other than some nonsense about the latest "spiritual fitness" craze that seems to be the latest fad in the chaplain corps, there is nothing remotely controversial in his past writings.

Here are my questions and his answers:

Anna,
Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. Below are my answers to your questions. Thank you again.
Chaplain (LTC) Robert Nay

1) What was your working relationship with Rabbi Goldman? Very professional. We both were Captains in a Corps Support Group.

2) What was your impression of the working environment of non-Christian chaplains at Ft Stewart? Commanders and Chaplains were very sensitive to non-Christian chaplains and provided for the free exercise of all faith groups.

3) Rabbi Lapp is quoted in the article that he was aware of anti-Semitic remarks directed towards Rabbi Goldman by yourself and others. These allegations were supported by the Army's own investigation. What happened? I never saw the army investigation and I am not aware of any anti-Semitic comments made at Fort Stewart.

4) What happened at the mandatory interfaith prayer breakfast in 2001 where the Nazi uniforms and swastikas were displayed? It was reported that inappropriate jokes were made and no one made any attempt to stop it.
First, the interfaith prayer breakfast was not mandatory. Second, there were not any Nazi uniforms or swastikas at the prayer breakfast. There were historical U.S. uniforms. I did not hear any inappropriate jokes at the prayer breakfast.


5) What has been the reaction of people that know you to the story?
At the time, it was very embarrassing that a Chaplain went AWOL at a time of war.


6) What are you doing now? Other than the letter to the Jewish Voice, what are you doing to explain what happened? And why after 3 years did you contact me to explain your version on the events that happened? Have you offered you version of events to Mr. Leopold? He writes that you hung up on him when he called you for comment. Several years ago, the head of Public Affairs for the U.S. Army told us that we have a right to correct falsehoods in the media and in blogs. Since that time I approached those who ran the article from Truthout.org. News agencies such as Salon have removed Jason’s articles in the past because of his questionable sources. Jason has every right to conduct his research and provide the facts and his analysis. I respect those news agencies that have provided my unedited comments or have removed his false article. The reason why I contacted you, is that your blog is being used by spam to bring an old false article to the top of the search engine. Jason’s article brings a very embarrassing moment for Rabbi Goldman, but also a very painful moment for me and this is why. My life has been devoted to remembering the victims of the Holocaust.

7) Do you think the Public Affairs office at Ft Stewart did you a favor by declining to comment on the matter? Do you think it hurt or helped matters by not talking to Jason Leopold? I cannot comment what Fort Stewart did or didn’t do. I can tell you that Jason never called me. My question to Jason and others who initially ran with the story is where is the law suit you said was in the works? The fact that it has been almost ten years since Rabbi Goldman went AWOL, and over three years since Jason’s article there is no law suit because there is no case. Rabbi Goldman went AWOL because he ran from the new Hamon. Proof that he didn’t care about the victims of the Holocaust and when it came to defending them again, he ran.

8) I will be checking out your story with others who are familiar with it. I will also have their comments as well in the story, but I will place your answers as they are in my post. Will this make you uncomfortable? I will also give you a chance to rebut anyone as well. Thank you for posting my answers.

I was getting ready to to post the above story, as Robert Nay seemed a pleasant enough fellow via email. But then I received a strange email from him. Since I don't post emails without permission from the author, I will paraphrase his email. After first stating he thought that everyone regardless of religious viewpoint should be treated the same, he went on a rant stating that Muslim extremists and secular humanists were in cahoots trying to destroy the United States.

I replied with the following email.
Hi Bob

Sorry to be so late getting back to you, but to be honest, your last email has me a bit perplexed. I would be happy to take up your invitation should I be in the Fort Lee area.

"Personally I believe that the chaplaincy is perhaps a very visible representation of the freedom and toleration we have in our country. We have many different faith groups working along side one another, respecting the differences yet not forcing no one to compromise.

I agree with the above completely, but your next paragraph is somewhat confusing.

"In contrast to this, I believe that our current enemy with the war on terror who believes in only one faith with no toleration of others, or those who do not allow any faith but the faith of secular humanism, both of these enemies, foreign and domestic do not believe in freedom and toleration."

You seem to be equating non-religious humanists with murderous Islamic bomber cultists. Why? Is it because the secular humanists are non-religious or is it because they are humanists?

I would think that as a chaplain that you would remember that many religious groups have a basis in humanism. In Christianity, this is reflected in such denominations such as the Quakers and other such groups that are works based. This is also reflected in the sermon on the mount and the story of the loaves and the fishes in the Bible.

Humanism is simply the position that people are more important than dogma or ideology.

Or are you claiming that simply being non-religious makes someone an enemy of the state? Or is it the label "secular"? Because remember, someone can also be for a secular government and be religious as well. The founding fathers are an excellent example of a group of men ranging from the nearly non-religious like Jefferson to highly religious men getting together to create a secular government (i.e. a government not run or controlled by a religion).

And what about other groups that are explicitly "secular humanist" like Humanistic Judaism? When some of my relatives go to temple at a Humanistic Jewish Synagogue are they enemies of the state as well? And what about the 10 percent of the US population and 21 percent of the Armed Forces that identifies as non-religious, are they enemies as well?

You sound like a nice guy, but I sincerely hope that you don't get seduced by the easy answers and scapegoating that is found in conspiracy theories. My husband watched a friend get involved with a sovereign citizen group, stopped paying his taxes, go to prison, get out of prison, and ended up alone in a run down house surrounded by books and magazines all espousing conspiracy thinking. It seems once you succumb to that sort of thinking, all conspiracies seem believable.

Sincerely,

Anna
He then replied with an email sort of taking back some of what he had said earlier, but then trying to say that he has been persecuted in the past. WTF? White, male, Evangelical Christian chaplain officer in the Army and he thinks he is persecuted ? I replied with the following.
Hi Bob

I plan to update my blog this weekend. What do you mean that "secular humanist have taken over the public square"? The public square usually means public property (owned by the taxpayers), not private property open to the public. Government owned property should always be neutral towards religion and it should not promote one belief system over another.

If one religion can place their message in the public square, then all other beliefs and opinions can as well. In other words, if a courthouse posts the 10 commandments (which version?), then competing ideas can be posted as well. Perhaps it would be better for religious ideas to remain in the private square rather than being endorsed by the government in the public square.

Are you aware that the term "secular humanism" simply means a philosophy of humanism motivated by care for others instead of religious values or motivations? Someone can be considered a secular humanist and be religious as well. Now there are organizations such as The Council for Secular Humanism that advocate a moral non-religious stance. You say that you have endured persecution at the hands of secular humanists. Who has done this? What organization has done this?

Telling me that some secular humanist has somehow persecuted you sounds very improbable to me. You are in an organization where you are a member of the majority gender, majority race, and majority religion. You are in a position of authority within that organization as well. What happened? We in the non-religious community are fairly serious about calling out those members who are acting like jerks.

Now, MRFF has received many complaints about military superiors trying to coerce their subordinates into adopting the superior's beliefs. 96% of those complaints come from Christians. These complaints allege that the complainants (mostly mainline Christians) are having problems with other Christians, mainly from evangelical and charismatic denominations, not from the non-Christians. They are being told and judged as not being the right sort of Christian.

While I have had someone at a previous job place religious pamphlets on my desk and threaten to shoot me if I did not become a Christian. Luckily my boss stood up for me and the guy was transferred. I did not want him fired and later showing up at my door for revenge. This is not persecution but the actions of a bully and a bigot.

When I went through Air Force Officer Training school, we had a system of merits and demerits which could cancel each other out. You needed 5 merits to get off base privileges. I found out that if you went to Christian religious services, you could earn those merits. Non-Christian services did not count. There was not even an option of attending Unitarian services.

I went to a Methodist service with my roommate and mentioned this when I was there. There was also the chance of earning more merits for attending bible study, which I did. Needless to say, the chaplain ended up being a bit irritated by my questions. These questions were chosen because they would cause more questions and because they could not be answered easily. The chaplain asked why I was there and I answered that I was there because I both love to discuss theology and because of the merits. He told me he would give me the merits without church attendance. He seemed like an okay guy. I think he was uncomfortable with the whole merits for church attendance thing.

But I don't consider my self persecuted. I can work and carry on with my life without fear of getting put in prison or killed. My husband and myself are giving a friend of a former foster child of our a home until she graduates from high school. She was nearly killed by her brother because she is gay. He is a highly religious conservative evangelical christian who attempted to hurt his younger sister by running her over with his truck. It has taken her nearly a year to get over the trauma. She doesn't consider herself persecuted either. We have simply run into jerks and bigots.

As far as MRFF claiming conspiracy theories, I don't really think so. MRFF is simply trying to get the Armed Services to follow their own rules regarding religious coercion. The problems seem to be coming from senior officers and chaplains from a couple of endorsing agencies.

These agencies such as The Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches do not have college educated chaplains and they seem to regard military units as mission fields. These chaplains come from heavily charismatic denominations affiliated with the New Apostolic Reformation movement. Far from being some secretive conspiracy, this is a large religious movement with about 500 million adherents worldwide. Most members of this movement would probably be appalled with the behavior of some of their leaders such as Jim Ammerman. He leads The Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches and preaches hate and anti-government conspiracy theories. Check him out and you will see full on crazy.

Sorry for the long letter, but wanted you to see where I am coming from and some background information.

Thanks,

Anna
I have not heard back from Chaplain Nay, perhaps he does not have a good reply to my letter. Interesting.

Update:

I can easily see why others may have a problem working with Chaplain Nay. He seems to have a habit of saying offensive statements towards others. He came across at first as a nice enough fellow, but after a few emails, started with accusing nonbelievers of trying to destroy the United States. Then he started with the "persecution" attitude. I think that Christians who really are persecuted in parts of the world would see him as a whiny brat. I'm sure he would embarass them deeply.

I was contacted via email by Jason Leopold from Truthout. Look for more details to come out of this story.