Archive for November, 2014


Pope Francis names US priest who hid reports of abuse to be Vatican prosecutor of sex crimes

Rev. Robert J. Geisinger (left)  with Pope (Vatican Radio)


The Christian death cult; killing its own children.

Linda Robertson: ‘Gay conversion therapy killed my son, Ryan’

Saying goodbye ... Linda Robertson kisses the cheek of her eldest son, Ryan, days before

Saying goodbye … Linda Robertson kisses the cheek of her eldest son, Ryan, days before he died of a drug overdose. Picture: Supplied. Source: Supplied

DEVOUT Christian Linda Robertson says her son came out to her at 12-years-old but that she forced him into ‘conversion therapy’. Now she is travelling the US to ensure more kids don’t die like hers did.

Rob and Linda Robertson of Washington State were told by their son Ryan, then aged 12, that he was gay.

“It’s just the way I am and it’s something I know,” Mrs Robertson recalls him saying. “You are not a lesbian and you know that. It is the same thing.”

While initially understanding, the Robertsons forced Ryan into weekly reparative therapy meetings with their pastor during his teenage years.

“Basically, we told our son that he had to choose between Jesus and his sexuality,” Mrs Robertson said.

Life lost ... Ryan Robertson, who died in 2009. Picture: AP

Life lost … Ryan Robertson, who died in 2009. Picture: AP Source: AP

However it was something he was unable to do and he ended up running away.

“Just before his 18th birthday, Ryan, depressed, suicidal, disillusioned and convinced that he would never be able to be loved by God, made a new choice. He decided to throw out his Bible and his faith at the same time, and to try searching for what he desperately wanted — peace — another way. And the way he chose to try first was drugs,” Mrs Robertson writes.

That started off with marijuana and alcohol and within six months grew to include cocaine, crack and heroin.

Rob and Linda Robertson’s story

After about 18 months he returned to live with his parents.

Rob Robertson said their relationship with their son improved after God spoke to them and told them to love their son “just because he breathes because that is how I love you.”

But within 10 months, Ryan relapsed into using drugs and he overdosed. He died in hospital 17 days later aged 20

“What we had wished for … prayed for … hoped for … that we would NOT have a gay son, came true. But not at all in the way we used to envision,” Mrs Robertson writes on her blog justbecausehebreathes.com “Suddenly our fear of Ryan someday having a boyfriend (a possibility that honestly terrified me) seemed trivial in contrast to our fear of Ryan’s death.

“When I think back on the fear that governed all my reactions during those first six years after Ryan told us he was gay, I cringe as I realise how foolish I was. I was afraid of all the wrong things,” she wrote. “And I grieve, not only for my oldest son, who I will miss every day for the rest of my life, but for the mistakes I made. I grieve for what could have been, had we been walking by FAITH instead of by FEAR.”

Now we just visit his gravestone ... Linda and Rob Robertson visit the grave of their son

Now we just visit his gravestone … Linda and Rob Robertson visit the grave of their son, Ryan, in Issaquah, Washington. Picture: AP Source: AP

Mrs Robertson is determined to ensure that other Christian parents do not experience the same fate as her family.

Both of Ryan’s parents now travel around the US, speaking out on behalf of the gay community and trying to convince Evangelical parents that they should support their gay children.

“Now, whenever Rob and I join our gay friends for an evening, I think about how much I would love to be visiting with Ryan and his partner over dinner. But instead, we visit Ryan’s gravestone,” she writes. “We celebrate anniversaries: the would-have-been birthdays and the unforgettable day of his death. We wear orange — his colour. We hoard memories: pictures, clothing he wore, handwritten notes, lists of things he loved, tokens of his passions, recollections of the funny songs he invented, his Curious George and baseball blankey, anything, really, that reminds us of our beautiful boy … for that is all we have left, and there will be no new memories.”

Regrets ... Linda and Rob Robertson want to stop other parents going through what they di

Regrets … Linda and Rob Robertson want to stop other parents going through what they did. Picture: AP Source: AP

 

 

 


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“I think there’s this strange myth that atheists have nothing to live for. It’s the opposite. We have nothing to die for. We have everything to live for.”


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The “Bible Belt” Is Also Known as What?


Reza Aslan promotes himself, demonizes atheists, and exaggerates his credentials

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Once again Heather Hastie, at her website Heather’s Homilies, has saved me from the wearisome task of writing about Reza Aslan.  Her latest post takes apart Aslan’s recent article in Salon, “Reza Aslan: Sam Harris and ‘New Atheists’ aren’t new, aren’t even atheists.” Read Aslan’s post if you can stand it, and then Heather’s, as Heather went to a lot of trouble dismantling Aslans’s claim that new atheists, unlike old ones, are “anti-theists,” bent on ridding society of religion (tell that to Ingersoll and Mencken!), and his argument that people like Harris and Dawkins want to remove religion from society, using violence if necessary.

Aslan’s article differed from his usual screeds in that he tried to summarize the history of atheism in a semi-scholarly way, even though it’s tendentious and, argues Heather, misleading. I suspect Aslan’s new “scholarly” tone comes from his being caught out trying to claim that he’s a religious scholar with a Ph.D. in religious studies.  He has in fact repeatedly distorted his credentials, obscuring the fact that he’s an associate professor in creative writing at the University of California Riverside, and that his doctorate is in sociology (granted, it’s on the idea of jihad). He even appears to have lied, claiming that he’s affiliated with a department of religion at Riverside.

One critique of his credentials, “The lies and misrepresentations of Reza Aslan,” written by by Majid Rafizadeh, was published in August of last year in the right-wing magazine Front Page. A quote or two:

First of all, Reza Aslan has continuously presented himself as a professor of religion. This is done in an attempt to sell his few books, which lack academic and credible references. In one of his recent interviews, Aslan claims, “I am a scholar of religions with four degrees including one in the New Testament . . . I am an expert with a Ph.D. in the history of religions . . . I am a professor of religions, including the New Testament – that’s what I do for a living, actually . . . To be clear, I want to emphasize one more time, I am a historian, I am a Ph.D. in the history of religions.” Aslan also recently said on Twitter, “I have a BA, MA and PhD in the history of Western Religions so yes, again, I am an ACTUAL expert in Judaism.”

. . . although Reza Aslan calls himself a “historian,” he has never attainted a degree or had professional training in history, and has never even taken an elementary course in historiography for that matter. His dissertation focuses on the events and movements of the twentieth century and does not apply any historical methods or archival research. In addition, his dissertation is also an abnormally short one – approximately 130 pages double-spaced – which seems to have been written for publicity purposes for his book, Beyond Fundamentalism. Reza Aslan has been exploiting the situation in the United States after 9/11 to self-promote and make profits through these exaggerations and fabrications.

Well, you can dismiss that if you want because it’s a passionate piece in a right-leaning journal. (I don’t think it’s kosher, though, to ignore arguments simply because they’re published in such places.) But you can’t so easily dismiss a piece by Manuel Roig-Franzia in The Washington Post, also published in August of 2013 (this was right after Aslan’s book on Jesus, Zealot, was published). An excerpt from that:

Aslan, who has an undergraduate degree in religious studies and a master’s in theological studies, is not currently a professor of religion or history. He is an associate professor in the creative writing department of the University of California at Riverside. He has asserted a present-day toehold in the field of religion by saying he is “a cooperative faculty member” in Riverside’s Department of Religious Studies.

Yet this is not so, according to Vivian-Lee Nyitray, the just-retired chair of the department. Nyitray says she discussed the possibility last year with Aslan but that he has not been invited to become a cooperative faculty member, a status that would allow him to chair dissertations in her former department.

The Post piece lauds Aslan’s absorbing narrative (with neither Aslan nor Roig-Ranzia ever questioning whether Jesus really existed), but does question his scholarship:

Dale Martin, a Yale University religious studies professor who reviewed Aslan’s “Zealot” for the New York Times, sees Aslan’s characterization of his credentials in a different light. “I think he overplayed his hand,” Martin says of Aslan in an interview. “He’s just overselling.” Martin, who has praise for Aslan’s writing skills, was critical of his seeming reliance on the work of previous scholars to formulate one of the central theories of his book: that Jesus was a revolutionary executed because he posed a political threat to the Roman Empire.

“The record needs to be corrected,” Martin says. “Both about his credentials and his thesis.”

Of course what Aslan claims about Jesus or Islam should be judged independently of his credentials, and I’m not a big fan of assessing someone’s competence in academia from simply looking at their degrees. But Aslan’s repeated distortions of his credentials is worrisome, and should make us wonder about his motivations. Yet even leaving that aside, I am aware of the distortions about Islam in Aslan’s first book, and I’m not convinced of the historicity of Jesus in his second.

Aslan is an apologist for faith, and in his own way is just as dangerous as Karen Armstrong. If he had his way, we’d write off the misdeeds of jihadists as “distorted faith,” and simply accept religion in general, and Islam in particular, as a good thing.  That would be a mistake.

And who needs ipecac if you can listen to Krista Tippett interviewing Aslan at her National Public Radio (NPR, also know as “Numinous Public Relations”) show “On Being.” (Hit “play episode” at the upper right.) Here we have the most unctuous promoter of faith on public radio osculating the most unctuous promoter of faith in popular books. They really need to get a room, as Tippett just lobs hearts and softball questions at Aslan.  Truly, I wonder why she has a gig on NPR. (Don’t answer that; I know they’re soft on faith.)

Note that Aslan claims that the “Islamic Reformation” is already under way, something that seems to contradict his first book on Islam, which implicitly argued that it was reformed at the beginning (and hence some sects have degenerated). In Aslan’s view, the violence of Muslims is simply an inevitable byproduct of its reformation, and we should be “excited” about it all.

At 29:20, they both discuss New Atheism, with Tippett complaining that although atheism has moved on, the New Atheists still get all the attention. Tippett and Aslan then agree that New Atheists give atheism a bad name (something she’d never say about faith), and Aslan longs for the “good old atheists” like Schopenhauer, people who, Tippett says, were “constructive,” as opposed to the New Atheists, who “tear things down.” (What?) Aslan also argues that New Atheists say that believers are “stupid” and that religion must be “forcibly removed from society.” That’s just wrong. In this segment, more than I’ve ever heard before, we see how deeply Tippett believes in belief, and it’s not pretty.

When I hear this kind of stuff, and get disheartened about it, I remind myself that the whole religious enterprise is based on fiction, and, in the end, will largely disappear from our world. We just won’t be around when that happens.


Brian Toohey: Australian schools about to get biblical

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Australia’s federal government is set to adopt a review of the school curriculum that will severely cut back content about Asia and explicitly celebrate what it calls the nation’s “Judeo-Christian heritage, values and beliefs.”

Following recommendations of a review panel, the government has said it will “properly recognize the impact and significance of Western civilization” in classrooms. The new focus even extends to a proposal to scrap all computer literacy classes.

What do you know?

The changes reflect the views of Education Minister Christopher Pyne, who commissioned the review after the ruling conservative Liberal/National party coalition replaced Labor in 2013. To conduct the review, Pyne chose two academics renowned for ardently supporting Pyne’s overall approach.

Like Pyne, Prime Minister Tony Abbott is a devout Catholic who had earlier championed changes to ensure that history classes no longer “underplay” Australia’s Western heritage. The reviewers endorsed Abbott’s claim that it is “impossible” to have a good education without a “serious familiarity” with the Bible. They seemed unaware that many Confucian and Hindu scholars, for example, manage to become reasonably well-educated without even a nodding acquaintance with Christianity’s sacred texts.

There should be no mistaking Abbott’s determination. The High Court, Australia’s supreme legal authority, has twice rejected the constitutional validity of his government’s appointment of Christian chaplains to all government-run schools. But Abbott is pressing ahead with a revised legal tactic, despite some states’ preferences for properly trained, secular counselors.

Looking West

The desire to stress Australia’s Judeo-Christian heritage is particularly difficult to understand in the context of an increasingly diverse, multicultural society. The latest survey shows only 8% of Australians went to church at least once a month in 2011, compared with 36% in 1972. Although many of the initial settlers from Britain and Ireland (including transported convicts) called themselves Christians, Australia chose to establish a secular political system.

Contrary to the views of some conservatives, its laws are not derived from the Bible’s Ten Commandments. Moreover, many observers argue that the inhabitants of today’s turbulent world would benefit from less emphasis on the superiority of a particular religion’s “heritage, values and beliefs.”

The review’s official adviser on the English curriculum is Barry Spurr, a poetry professor of the University of Sydney whose specialization is Blessed Mary imagery in poetry. In line with Spurr’s approach, the review recommends that the curriculum put greater emphasis on the “Western literary cannon, especially poetry,” and much less on Asian and other literary texts in the existing curriculum.

Spurr gained unwanted publicity when the University of Sydney suspended him in October after the online site New Matilda revealed elements of allegedly “racist and sexist” emails he had sent. Despite what others saw as a repugnant tone, Spurr said he was being “whimsical” and claimed his email account had been hacked.

What is not in dispute is that Spurr’s written advice to the review said he could find no good examples of Asian writing. The comment is absurd, even leaving aside literary prize winners from Asia, such as India’s Aravind Adiga, author of “The White Tiger,” which won the U.K.’s prestigious Man Booker Prize in 2008. Pyne was forced to distance himself from Spurr’s emails but is still enthusiastic about the curriculum changes.

Words versus action

The new curriculum also favors the traditions of English law that Australia inherited. Few would object to this. But this legacy is currently being eroded by claims of national security risks, something the review fails to acknowledge. Abbott and Pyne have backed the imposition of draconian legal changes in Australia, where detention without charge is allowed in some instances under anti-terrorism legislation. In other cases, the onus of proof has shifted from the prosecution to the defense. Journalists, whistleblowers and others who reveal abuses of power by the intelligence services and police during security operations can now face five to 10 years in jail. A “publication is in the public interest” law that had protected these truth-tellers was abolished in October.

While few Australians want a school system exclusively devoted to serving the economy, the new concepts are so rarefied as to be meaningless for parents, students and policymakers. They endorse the 20th-century British philosopher Michael Oakeshott’s definition of education as an extension of a “conversation [that] began in the primal forests.” Oakeshott went on to say, “It is the ability to participate in this conversation, and not the ability to reason cogently, … or to contrive a better world, which distinguishes the human being from the animal and the civilized man from the barbarian.”

Given the review’s evident contempt for “student-centered” learning, it is not clear how students in Australia (or Asia) could be motivated to participate in this high-minded “conversation,” let alone learn much about how to reason or make discoveries about the world.

Brian Toohey is a Sydney-based commentator on defense, economic and political issues, and was editor of the former National Times. He is co-author of “Oyster: The Story of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service.”

This Week in Religion: Revisionist History, the Hitler Card and Pat Robertson on Speed

The religious right said some more ridiculous and repellent things this week.

Photo Credit: Wonderland/Flickr

If you are not a big fan of U.S. history, fear not, because the State of Texas may decide to rewrite American history and make it more, well, Christian.

The Texas Board of Education will vote whether or not to approve historical changes to its textbooks as put forward by Christian pseudo-historian David Barton. Among Barton’s proposed changes would be inflating the impact Judeo-Christian beliefs had among the founding fathers, a historical exclusion of most non-Christian religions, and using some offensive and outdated anthropological racial terms to describe African civilization

This comes months after a heated Texas Board of Education battle to remove evolution from science textbooks, which even led to board members attempting back-alley deals with book publishers.

The vote was originally scheduled for earlier in the week, but was delayed according to the Christian Science Monitor:

“The board, comprised of 10 Republicans and five Democrats, has asked publishers to make changes critics have demanded. Still, the board wasn’t able to get preliminary approval of the books, setting them up for a high-stakes final vote Friday, when the board will approve the books or else miss the deadline to get them to the state’s 1,000-plus school districts by September 2015.”

These devastating changes could keep Texas students from gaining a proper social science education. This ruling could also apply to those states forced to buy the same books Texas orders. As the saying goes, as goes the leader so goes the nation.

Earlier this month, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss postulated that it could only take a single generation of critical thinkers to wipe out religious belief. Speaking at an event in Australia, Krauss said:

“People say, ‘Well, religion has been around since the dawn of man. You’ll never change that.’ But I point out that… this issue of gay marriage, it is going to go away, because if you have a child, a 13-year-old, they can’t understand what the issue is. It’s gone. One generation is all it takes.”

This caused Ray Comfort, a creationist and host of the online Christian talk show “The Comfort Zone,” to go off the rails and compare Krauss to Adolf Hitler.

Comfort’s co-host Emeal Zwayne pointed out that Krauss does not seem to be a big fan of Christianity.

“Just the glee that he got from the thought of eradicating religion — and it’s not religion, he hates Christianity,” Zwayne said. “He hates Christ….”

“Hitler said some similar things. Hitler’s Youth,” Comfort replied.

“And that’s exactly what I was going to say it was reminiscent of,” Zwayne said to viewers. “Very, very terrifying, friends.”

Playing the Hitler card or Godwin’s Law, as it is also called, is usually a sign of a foundering argument. When you are backed against a wall and see no logical way out, playing the Hitler card is an attempt to demonize your opponent. You have to wonder if these radical Christians have finally realized that their back is against a wall and they cannot reason their way back into reality.

The next time you get pulled over for speeding, tell the nice police officer God said it was OK with him. That is, according to Pat Robertson of the television ministry “The 700 Club.”

When a viewer asked Robertson if her husband was sinning when he drove over the speed limit, the host replied: “You’re asking a guy that had a Corvette with a 430 horsepower engine, who is now driving a car that has about a 650 horsepower engine.” Robertson laughed. “Who also drove 30 laps around the Charlotte Motor Speedway in a stock car.”

“I don’t get tickets, I pay attention,” he continued. “But there was one night up in the mountains, when it wasn’t anybody around a four-lane highway late at night, and I did get that little bug up a little over 200mph.”

Robertson then corrected his statement, saying he was only doing 100mph (only the most exotic of sportscars can eclipse 200mph), and then continued to contemplate whether speeding was a sin.

“Is it a sin? I think it’s a sin to hurt somebody,” said Robertson. “I think it’s a sin to drive recklessly….If your driving imperils other people, you are sinning, there’s no question about it.”

Apparently, driving at illegal and possibly dangerous speeds is fine as long as you don’t hurt anyone. Which is equal to shooting a gun into a crowd of people and not hitting anyone. It’s not a sin unless you hit someone. And it’s not a sin if you’re the one who’s imperiled.

Robertson closed the conversation by noting, “don’t imperil anybody else with the way you drive a car, and be careful.”

Dan Arel is the author of Parenting Without God and blogs at Danthropology. Follow him on Twitter @danarel.