A California church argued that restrictions on public gatherings treated houses of worship worse than many businesses.
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Friday turned away a request from a church in California to block enforcement of state restrictions on attendance at religious services.
The vote was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joining the court’s four-member liberal wing to form a majority.
“Although California’s guidelines place restrictions on places of worship, those restrictions appear consistent with the free exercise clause of the First Amendment,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote in an opinion concurring in the unsigned ruling.
“Similar or more severe restrictions apply to comparable secular gatherings, including lectures, concerts, movie showings, spectator sports and theatrical performances, where large groups of people gather in close proximity for extended periods of time,” the chief justice wrote. “And the order exempts or treats more leniently only dissimilar activities, such as operating grocery stores, banks and laundromats, in which people neither congregate in large groups nor remain in close proximity for extended periods.”
Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh noted dissents.
“The church and its congregants simply want to be treated equally to comparable secular businesses,” Justice Kavanaugh wrote in a dissenting opinion joined by Justices Thomas and Gorsuch. “California already trusts its residents and any number of businesses to adhere to proper social distancing and hygiene practices.”
“The state cannot,” Justice Kavanaugh wrote, quoting from an appeals court decision in a different case, “‘assume the worst when people go to worship but assume the best when people go to work or go about the rest of their daily lives in permitted social settings.’”
The court’s ruling was its first attempt to balance the public health crisis against the Constitution’s protection of religious freedom. And it expanded the Supreme Court’s engagement with the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, after rulings on voting in Wisconsin and prisons in Texas and Ohio.
The case was brought by the South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista, Calif., which said Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, had lost sight of the special status of religion in the constitutional structure.
“The Covid-19 pandemic is a national tragedy,” lawyers for the church wrote in their Supreme Court brief, “but it would be equally tragic if the federal judiciary allowed the ‘fog of war’ to act as an excuse for violating fundamental constitutional rights.”
The brief, filed May 23, asked the justices to block a ruling the day before from a divided three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, saying that the shutdown orders did not single out houses of worship for unfavorable treatment. The majority said state officials had struck an appropriate balance.
“We’re dealing here with a highly contagious and often fatal disease for which there presently is no known cure,” the majority wrote in an unsigned opinion that went on to quote a famous dissent from a 1947 Supreme Court decision. “In the words of Justice Robert Jackson, if a ‘court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact.’”
In dissent, Judge Daniel P. Collins wrote that California had failed “to honor its constitutional duty to accommodate a critical element of the free exercise of religion — public worship.”
“I do not doubt the importance of the public health objectives that the state puts forth,” Judge Collins wrote, “but the state can accomplish those objectives without resorting to its current inflexible and overbroad ban on religious services.”
“Today, I’m identifying houses of worship — churches, synagogues and mosques — as essential places that provide essential services,” he said, adding: “The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important, essential places of faith to open right now, for this weekend. If they don’t do it, I will override the governors.”
Three days later, Mr. Newsom issued additional guidance for houses of worship, requiring them to “limit attendance to 25 percent of building capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees, whichever is lower.”
“Plaintiffs’ sanctuary seats 600 persons, and each service normally brings in between 200 and 300 congregants,” the brief said. “Some of the larger houses of worship in California can seat 1,000 congregants or more. But under California’s guidelines, plaintiffs will only be permitted to welcome 100 congregants, with no explanation as to the justification for this arbitrary cap. In contrast, there is no percentage limitation for manufacturing and warehousing facilities — simply a social distancing requirement.”
“A review of California’s sector-specific guidelines shows that the only two industries with percentage caps are retail and houses of worship,” the brief said, “and retail is set at a 50 percent cap. Offices, manufacturing, food packaging, museums, and every other sector has no percentage cap.”
The court also acted on a second case on Friday, that one brought by two Chicago-area churches, Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church and Logos Baptist Ministries. They said an order from Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, discriminated against houses of worship.
The order, lawyers for the churches told the Supreme Court, imposes “a unique 10-person limit on religious worship services that is not imposed on customers or employees of ‘big box’ retail stores, liquor stores, restaurants, office buildings, warehouses, factories or other businesses and activities which, like worship services, have been deemed ‘essential’” by Mr. Pritzker.
Lower courts had refused to block the order, saying the distinctions it drew were sensible.
“Gatherings at places of worship pose higher risks of infection than gatherings at businesses,” wroteJudge Robert W. Gettleman of the Federal District Court in Chicago. “The congregants do not just stop by Elim Church. They congregate to sing, pray and worship together. That takes more time than shopping for liquor or groceries.”
A unanimous three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in Chicago, refused to stay Judge Gettleman’s ruling while the churches pursued an appeal.
In a preliminary and unsigned assessment of the case, the panel wrote that “the executive order does not discriminate against religious activities, nor does it show hostility toward religion.”
“It appears instead to impose neutral and generally applicable rules,” the panel wrote. “The executive order’s temporary numerical restrictions on public gatherings apply not only to worship services but also to the most comparable types of secular gatherings, such as concerts, lectures, theatrical performances or choir practices, in which groups of people gather together for extended periods, especially where speech and singing feature prominently and raise risks of transmitting the Covid-19 virus.”
“Worship services,” the panel wrote, “do not seem comparable to secular activities permitted under the executive order, such as shopping, in which people do not congregate or remain for extended periods.”
On Thursday, Mr. Pritzker announced that he was lifting the 10-person limit on religious gatherings. That made the case moot, the state’s lawyers wrote in a Supreme Court brief.
In response, the churches urged the court to rule, saying the governor remained free to change his mind. “Churches are one whim away from being once again subjected to the restrictions they challenge in this case and which the governor obviously still favors,” lawyers for the churches wrote.
In its order turning down the churches’ request on Friday, the Supreme Court noted the new guidance, adding that it would allow the churches to file “a new motion for appropriate relief if circumstances warrant.”
We thank everyone for their on-going generous financial and enthusiastic personal support in appreciation for this site!
A new report from the Skagit County Public Health Department in Washington state published by the CDC Friday, shows how quickly the coronavirus spread after a choir practice became a “superspreader event” for the disease that infected 86% of attending members and killed two of them.
Now state health officials say the findings in the report, based on the experience of Skagit Valley Chorale that normally rehearses at the Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church on Tuesday evenings and once a month on a Saturday morning, could have significant implications for future church gatherings.
“It’s really important that people realize that by meeting, by gathering, 86% of them could become ill and the results and aftermath of that is hard to fathom,” Skagit County Health Officer Dr. Howard Leibrand said in a King 5 report.
The report from the health department showed how the 122-member chorale was likely exposed to a “superemitter” of the virus who attended choir practice on March 3 and March 10.
“One person at the March 10 practice had cold-like symptoms beginning March 7. This person, who had also attended the March 3 practice, had a positive laboratory result for SARS-CoV-2 by reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing,” the report said.
Of the 78 members who attended the March 3 practice, 51 or 65.4% of them got infected with the virus. All but one of the infected individuals from the March 3 practice were among the 60 members who also attended the March 10 practice, 86.7% of them tested positive for the disease. Among the 21 members who only attended the March 3 practice only one of them became ill.
“The 2.5-hour singing practice provided several opportunities for droplet and fomite transmission, including members sitting close to one another, sharing snacks, and stacking chairs at the end of the practice. The act of singing, itself, might have contributed to transmission through emission of aerosols, which is affected by loudness of vocalization,” the report said.
“Certain persons, known as superemitters, who release more aerosol particles during speech than do their peers, might have contributed to this and previously reported COVID-19 superspreading events,” the researchers added.
They explained that the findings from this event shows “the high transmissibility” of the coronavirus as well as “the possibility of superemitters contributing to broad transmission in certain unique activities and circumstances.”
“They were sitting closely together and spending time there and then they would switch chairs, share snacks, and they might have touched surfaces other people infected touched,” Lea Hamner, co-author of the report and communicable disease and epidemiology lead at Skagit County Health told King 5.
All of this activity occurred at a time when Skagit Valley had no reported cases yet even though the first coronavirus case was confirmed in Washington state on Jan. 21.
In a March 23 statement, the Skagit Valley Chorale said that during the dates they were holding rehearsals, schools, restaurants, churches, bowling alleys, banks, libraries, theaters, and other businesses also remained open.
“The advice from the state of Washington was to limit gatherings to 250 people. There were no recommendations from Skagit County Health Department regarding meeting sizes, but they did state that people over 60 should avoid ‘large public gatherings,’” the group said.
Still, the chorale’s board of directors tried to be careful. They urged all members to stay away from rehearsals on March 3 and March 10 if they showed any symptoms of illness, no matter the cause.
They also advised anyone who felt their health or safety was in jeopardy to not attend.
“Each member was left to determine for him/herself whether to attend. At no time was anyone pressured to attend if they were uncomfortable doing so,” the group said.
Despite the precautions taken, however, very few of the chorale members were spared from contracting the virus.
As a result of the high transmissibility of the virus the researchers recommend that people avoid face-to-face contact with others, not gather in groups, avoid crowded places, maintain physical distancing of at least 6 feet to reduce transmission, and wear cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
Alan Cross, a Southern Baptist pastor in California and the author ofWhen Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus, argued in a New York Times op-ed Thursday that while some churches are pushing to reopen despite the lack of a vaccine for the coronavirus — and there’s no guarantee that there ever will be a vaccine for COVID-19 — most churches are taking the virus seriously.
“While pastors defying closure orders have grabbed headlines, the reality is that over 90 percent of pastors and church leaders complied with shutdown orders in March and many are still waiting until later in May and into June before resuming public worship — even in states where restrictions are weakening,” he wrote. “Most pastors that I have engaged with take seriously the responsibility to navigate this national tragedy with wisdom, compassion and patience.”
In Alabama for example, even though Gov. Kay Ivey is now allowing churches to resume meeting, many churches in Alabama continue to use online services and plan to wait a bit longer before reopening for in-person services.
The largest church in the state, the Church of the Highlands, will continue to emphasize watching online services and Pastor Chris Hodges, said there were no plans to return to in-person group worship before May 31.
Ivey’s pastor, the Rev. Jay Wolf, pastor of Montgomery First Baptist who advised her on church safety issues, told AL.com that he believes it will be no sooner than May 31 before in-person services begin. Even then, he said, it might not even be safe for a large church to meet in person.
Bishop Stephen A. Davis, pastor of the 5,000-member Refresh Family Church, formerly known as New Birth Birmingham, told AL.com that right now, “We still think it’s too risky.”
“We’re waiting another couple of weeks just to be safe,” Davis said. “Just because the state reopens businesses doesn’t mean it’s safe to bring that many people together.”
We thank everyone for their on-going generous financial and enthusiastic personal support in appreciation for this site!
It wasn’t a typical police operation. Two Israeli officers were to go undercover, although not posing as drug dealers or arms traffickers. For this particular assignment, they were to disguise themselves as ultra-Orthodox Jews.
Their mission on Friday was to bust an illegal gathering in a synagogue. People were praying together, a practice that is now against the law in the era of the coronavirus. Once the officers got inside to confirm the crowd, more units barged in and dispersed people.
Forces left the area, according to police, but: “An hour later, it was reported that people had returned again.” At that point, officers handed out fines amounting to nearly £4,000.
The operation in the county’s north was one small part of a sometimes fruitless nationwide effort to impose Covid-19 restrictions on a deeply religious and often cut-off community that has been slow, or even opposed, to change their way of life.
Officials fear the result has been an explosion of cases in neighbourhoods populated with the minority, which makes up more than 12% of Israel’s nine million citizens.
In the most extreme case, an entire city, Bnei Brak, has been surrounded with barricades. Israel’s cabinet declared the city a “restricted zone” last week, sending in 1,000 police officers who blocked residents from leaving except under special circumstances. The army has also be deployed to deliver food to the elderly.
One medical expert estimated up to 38% of Bnei Brak’s roughly 200,000 mostly ultra-Orthodox inhabitants could be infected, significantly higher than the national average.
Many Israeli ultra-Orthodox live in poor, often congested areas with large families where infections can spread rapidly. Some religious leaders have refused to order their people to stay inside long after the rest of the country was locking down.
When a population are told the Torah will protect them there is no motivation to comply with orders Jessica Apple, Haaretz
Chaim Kanievsky, an influential rabbi, had initially refused to close packed synagogues and religious seminaries, where hundreds of boys and men gather daily. “The Torah protects and saves,” the 92-year-old said. Only in late March did the rabbi relent, calling for lone prayer.
There have also been several anecdotal reports that ultra-Orthodox communities in other countries, including the UK, are suffering an above-average infection rate.
In Israel, the outbreaks have deepened entrenched grievances between secular and religious populations that have festered since the state’s founding.
Ultra-Orthodox Israelis, known in Hebrew as Haredim, or “God-fearers”, occupy a unique role, with laws allowing them to avoid military draft and live off stipends while they study religion, leading to secular resentment.
Jewish leaders fear ultra-Orthodox Jews have missed isolation message
Many abhor Israel’s interference in their traditions. Some are vehemently anti-Zionist, rejecting the country whose Jewish majority is mostly secular, which has frustrated government coronavirus efforts when public trust and obedience are vital.
Attempts by police to enforce quarantine restrictions in religious neighbourhoods of Jerusalem have led to sometimes violent standoffs. Paramedics have been hit with rocks.
“When a population that regards its religious leaders as infallible are told that the Torah will protect them and that the secular law enforcement agencies are Nazis and anti-Semites, there is no motivation to comply with orders,” wrote Jessica Apple in the progressive local Haaretz newspaper; her article also called for ultra-Orthodox jews to wear face masks.
Now the cabinet is discussing using the Bnei Brak lockdown as a model for other outbreaks, and local media have cited an unnamed health official as saying more ultra-Orthodox areas could also be sealed off.
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish burial society workers with a coronavirus victim outside the Shamgar funeral house in Jerusalem. Photograph: Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Images
Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, an ultra-Orthodox Jerusalemite who used to take part in anti-government demonstrations, said some rabbis took a “long time to internalise the severity of the situation … and they truly believe that studying Torah is more important than anything else.”
However, he said the government was also slow to communicate with more radical parts of the community, many of whom have no internet, television, radio, smartphones or even newspapers and usually get news from posters stuck to noticeboards.
Meshi-Zahav, who runs a volunteer emergency medicine group that has been helping coordinate the Covid-19 response, has written posters on the rules. Still, he added: “It is not our job, it should be the Ministry of Health’s responsibility.”
He said he was concerned about growing anger. “In normal times, there are discussions on this, but now the seculars are saying, ‘you are infecting us’. This is terrible, there is a lot of antisemitism around the world, and now the seculars are doing this?”
“There are things they say that are correct, but to accuse a whole community? To generalise? Some people are using the situation to attack the Haredim.”
We greatly thank you for your on-going generous financial and enthusiastic personal support in appreciation for this site!
Messiah Will Come by Passover, Says Israel Health Minister
“I am sure Messiah will come by Passover and save us the same way God saved us during the Exodus”
Via Israel Today Staff
Israel Health Ministry Yaakov Litzman has been criticized for what many call his unprofessional handling of the coronavirus crisis. But in a recent interview, he suggested that while he takes the situation seriously, he’s waiting on a more divine brand of deliverance.
One of the early sticking points in the current unity coalition negotiations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and rival Benny Gantz was the latter’s insistence that someone other than Litzman serve as Minister of Health in the next government.
Litzman insisted that his United Torah Judaism faction and its seven seats would remain in the coalition only if he retaied his current post, and Gantz on Sunday reportedly acquiesced.
That sorely disappointed health care professionals in Israel. Earlier in the day, Channel 12 News reported that the heads of hospital departments across the country had petitioned Netanyahu to install a Minister of Health with an actual medical background.
Earlier this month, Litzman was asked in an interview with Chamal News if the current restrictions on the Israeli population will last until after the Passover holiday, set to begin the evening of April 8, next Wednesday.
Israel’s Minister of Health responded:
“God forbid! We are praying and hoping that Messiah will arrive before Passover as it is a time of our redemption. I am sure that the Messiah will come by Passover and save us the same way God saved us during the Exodus and we were freed. The Moshiach will come and save us all.”
[Yaakov Litzman is also the depraved the pervert that perverted the course of justice and pressured employees in his department to prevent extradition of sex abuser Malka Leifer to face 74 counts of child sex abuse in Australia. Police recommended that Litzman be indicted for bribery, fraud, witness tampering and breach of trust.]
What role is religion playing in the spread of COVID-19?
According to officials in Sacramento County, California, roughly a third of all coronavirus cases are tied to a religious organization — a church holding services even when social distancing guidelines are in effect.
That includes 24 infections spread among one church whose congregants have continued to hold in-person fellowship meetings during the growing pandemic. Beilenson declined to name the church.
Oh, name the church. Please name it. People need to know which place to avoid.
It’s not just California. France has seen the same problem. Their epidemic actually stemmed from one evangelical group in particular, according to their health minister Olivier Véran:
“The tipping point was the evangelical gathering in Mulhouse,” Véran told France’s Journal du Dimanche newspaper. “The epidemic spread across the country from the gathering.”
When the five-day prayer meeting at the evangelical church — known as Christian Open Door — began Feb. 17, France only had 12 confirmed cases of covid-19, with none of those in Alsace, the region where Mulhouse is located.
A Strasbourg-based nurse who was in the audience was identified as the source of an outbreak among fellow nurses in local hospitals, infecting approximately 250 people, according to [head of the Regional Health Agency Christophe] Lannelongue.
While responsible people (including religious ones) take great care, at great personal inconvenience, to avoid or keep our distance from each other, far too many churchgoers wrongly believe that the rules don’t apply to them — or that their faith grants them automatic immunity from the virus. Their negligence is hurting all of us.
It’s not just one megalomaniacal megachurch pastor. You don’t get numbers like these without hundreds of pastors refusing to listen to experts. If government mandates aren’t convincing these churches to close, then other Christians need to be more forceful in their rhetoric. If you attend or know someone who goes to these churches, cut them off. Walk away. Publicly denounce what they’re doing. Keep doing it.
How many people have to suffer or die until these pastors realize they’re leading death cults?
One of the first deaths in Virginia from coronavirus was a 66-year-old Christian “musical evangelist” who fell ill while on a trip to New Orleans with his wife. As the Friendly Atheist’s Bo Gardiner points out, Landon Spradlin had previously shared opinions that the pandemic was the result of “mass hysteria” from the media.
On March 13, Spradlin shared a misleading meme that compared coronavirus deaths to swine flu deaths and suggested the media is using the pandemic to hurt Trump. In the comments, Spradlin acknowledged that the outbreak is a “real issue,” but added that he believes “the media is pumping out fear and doing more harm than good”
“It will come and it will go,” he wrote.
That same day, he shared a post from another pastor that told the story of a missionary in South Africa who “protected” himself from the bubonic plague with the “Spirit of God.”
“As long as I walk in the light of that law [of the Spirit of life], no germ will attach itself to me,” read a quote from the post.
If the truth instead of self-serving lies had been told from the first, from the bully pulpit, he might well still be walking around.
There will be more victims. Many more. Including victims who have never believed a word of the lies themselves.
We greatly thank you for your on-going generous financial and enthusiastic personal support in appreciation for this site!
Elliott delivers a beautiful anti-religion rant in the latest episode of Mr. Robot.
In an Adderall fueled fugue, and six
days of no sleep, Elliot is slipping into what he calls a “fatal error.”
The bad trip culminates in a beautiful rant in front of his church
therapy group that he meets with weekly in an attempt to maintain/regain
When asked by the group facilitator:
Would you like to share? God can help you.
Is that what God does? He
helps? Tell me, why didn’t God help my innocent friend who died for no
reason while the guilty ran free?
Okay. Fine. Forget the one offs. How about the countless wars declared in his name?
Okay. Fine. Let’s skip the random,
meaningless murder for a second, shall we? How about the racist, sexist,
phobia soup we’ve all been drowning in because of him? And I’m not just
talking about Jesus. I’m talking about all organized religion.
Exclusive groups created to manage control. A dealer getting people
hooked on the drug of hope. His followers, nothing but addicts who want
their hit of bullshit to keep their dopamine of ignorance.
Addicts. Afraid to believe the
truth. That there’s no order. There’s no power. That all religions are
just metastasizing mind worms, meant to divide us so it’s easier to rule
us by the charlatans that wanna run us. All we are to them are paying
fanboys of their poorly-written sci-fi franchise.
If I don’t listen to my imaginary
friend, why the fuck should I listen to yours? People think their
worship’s some key to happiness. That’s just how he owns you. Even I’m
not crazy enough to believe that distortion of reality. So fuck God.
He’s not a good enough scapegoat for me.
That is some fantastic dialog from a highly innovative and enjoyable television program.
Watch the scene below:
We greatly thank you for your on-going generous financial and enthusiastic personal support in appreciation for this site!
The Trump administration – spurred on by the Alliance Defending Freedom – wants to hand religious medical professionals the right to refuse treatment in the name of ‘religious freedom’. Our newest Australian PM is promising to prioritise legislation to extend ‘religious freedom’ here.
This could be disastrous for all LGBTI people, especially trans people, giving ‘religious’ hospitals, clinics and medical professionals the right to refuse to treat people with whose ‘lifestyles’ they disagree.
Religion is already responsible for many abortions – by blocking full and guilt free access to contraception and sex education – while at the same time condemning the women who access abortion services.
It denies children essential information to help them grow up, and to protect themselves. Religious squeamishness is the principal barrier to proper sex and relationships in schools: our new Pentacostal PM described it as “skin curling”.
Real health hazards arise from the practice of “religious freedom”. Giving mumbo-jumbo – from whatever religion – precedence over scientific facts, causes death, sickness and injury, especially if you’re LGBTI, female, or a child.
Adherents of Christian Science believe that illness is the result of an imperfect connection with Jesus, which can be corrected through prayer. Medical treatment is frowned upon, but not outright banned. That hasn’t stopped dozens of Christian Scientists preferring to face legal prosecution, or even death, rather than consult a medical professional.
The much-loved and quintessentially English comedienne Joyce Grenfell, a staunch Christian Scientist, refused treatment when she developed cancer of the eye, until it was too late, and the disease had spread to her spine.
Christian Science nursing homes and hospices generally don’t permit the use of medical interventions of any kind, including pain relief. Consequently mortality rates are higher among Christian Scientists than those using conventional medicine.
Children are often sacrificed on the altar of their parent’s beliefs. Rita Swan of Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty (CHILD) has documented deaths of children in Christian Science families due to:
“… meningitis, diabetes, diphtheria, measles, kidney infection, septicemia, cancer, and appendicitis. She has found outbreaks of polio and measles at Christian Science camps and schools; she has interviewed adults who, because of diseases and injuries that went untreated during childhood, became profoundly deaf, or lame, or suffered permanent organ damage.”
The 6m strong worldwide Watchtower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) teach that blood transfusions, even if needed to save a person’s life, must not be accepted. An adult Jehovah’s Witness who willingly and knowingly accepts a blood transfusion is committing a sin and might forfeit his or her eternal life.
This makes it especially hazardous to be a woman. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology found that pregnant women who are Jehovah’s witnesses are six times more likely to die, three times more likely to have serious complications than average, and have a 130 fold increased risk of death from major obstetric haemorrhage.
Abused children are basically told the leave it up to God to take action. Proof that an offence has occurred requires either:
A confession on the part of the alleged perpetrator, or
The testimony of at least two witnesses to a single case of abuse, or
The testimony of one witness to abuse, followed by testimony of a second witness to another instance of abuse.
If proof cannot be obtained, elders are to explain to the accuser that nothing more can be done…the congregation will continue to view the one accused as an innocent person. The question of his guilt or innocence can be safely left in Jehovah’s hands.
I can’t think of child abuse without immediately thinking of Roman Catholicism. Not great shakes for child health here, either, with a devastating trail of clerical child abuse cases and subsequent misery and suicide. Many many more still being uncovered. Nor we can have any confidence that cases are not still occurring, due to the clergy’s refusal to report confessions of abuse to the secular authorities, and the absence of any clear action on the part of the hierarchy – beyond trying to blame it all on gay priests.
Adults don’t do too well under Roman Catholicism either, especially in the developing world, where the church campaigns against the provision of condoms and spreads the lie that they don’t protect against AIDS. Stephen Fry nails it.
The church – in common with the rest of the more fanatical Christian sects – is also vehemently against abortion – something that wouldn’t be necessary nearly so often if all of them could manage a grown-up attitude to sex-education and contraception.
The Trump administration is poised to hand religious conservatives another victory: a slew of new federal rules that would give religious health care providers wide latitude to refuse to treat patients or perform procedures if doing so would violate their religious beliefs.
Evangelicals, or as I like to call them, Christaliban, like our new PM, claim depression and schizophrenia are demons that can be cast out. Perth-based Set Right notes that depression is a “common low ranking demon” while schizophrenia is “another demon we have met often and evicted”.
The Australian Medical Association dismisses that view as unscientific and potentially harmful. Dr Choong-Siew Yong, a practising psychiatrist who represents psychiatry on the AMA’s Federal Council said he was concerned about untrained practitioners making claims that contradict the science. He warned that claiming someone was possessed could reinforce their delusions and stop them getting proper care.
The Catholic Church has also warned of an increase in possessions and the need for exorcisms, with some priests blaming popular culture series such as Twilight and Harry Potter.
Mercy Ministries, an offshoot of Hillsong Church financed in part by Gloria Jeans Coffees was forced to close down after it was revealed it ‘treated’ mentally disturbed women in its care, including anorexics, with exorcisms rather than referring them for medical help.
One hardly need bother listing Scientology, so I will refer to “this marriage bureau for gay Hollywood stars needing pretty young wives as cover” only briefly. One of the basic tenets of Scientology is that mental disease does not exist. “Followers are not allowed to seek treatment for mental or emotional issues,” said Scrape TV Religion analyst Bertram Gas.
John Travolta’s son Jett, who died following a seizure, suffered from Autism, for which Scientology will not allow treatment. Faced with criticism over this, the Church has reportedly now disallowed medical treatment of any kind for its followers, which at least will help them die out sooner.
Women don’t do too well under Islam, largely because of the idiotic rules governing the segregation of the sexes. Male medical practitioners may not be alone with female patients, and often don’t examine them directly, use dolls or asking the woman to point at the site of the pain. I culled the following from several Islamic advice sites:
“Male doctors who are not close relatives are not permitted to look at women or to touch them, except in specific situations.
If it is possible to diagnose and treat the illness by merely listening to something, it is not permissible for him to look at or touch the female patient.
If it possible for him to diagnose and treat the illness by merely looking at the female patient, it is not permissible for him to touch her.
He may only look at or touch the areas whose observation or touch is needed to diagnose or treat the illness.
His looking and touching must be free of any desire whatsoever.
He must ensure that he avoids being in impermissible seclusion (khalwa) with the female patient: this is dangerous enough when the female doesn’t reveal the parts of her body that are impermissible for him to look at, so how should it be when she reveals such parts of her body for him to look at or even touch! He should therefore make sure that the room’s door is open or that another woman (such as the secretary) is present with them.
“All of the above rulings also apply to a Muslim female who visits a male doctor whenever it is permissible for her to do so (in other words, she may only allow the doctor to look at or to touch what is needed in order to diagnose and treat the illness).”
The net effect is to delay accurate diagnosis and proper treatments of women’s complaints: the plus side is, Islam encourages the training of female doctors to help ease this problem. But a woman doctor can’t treat a man except when there is no male doctor available, or if the matter cannot be delayed as in the case of accidents.
Hinduism seems reasonably benign, though there are some odd ideas about conception. In vitro fertilisation is only allowed when the egg and sperm belong to the couple in question. Using a sperm bank or sperm from any living person other than the husband amounts to “bearing a child outside holy wedlock”, and is considered adultery. Abortion is a non-no, except to save the life of the mother, even if the foetus is potentially deformed or likely to be mentally impaired.
AUSTRALIAN CHRISTIAN LOBBY
The Australian Christian Lobby says homosexuality is bad for your health, so we should all come with a health warning. Jim Wallace, the former front man, claimed that gays and lesbians die 20 years sooner that upright godfearing folk like him – a lie taken straight from the propaganda put about by countless American “Christian” anti-LGBTI groups. Crikey concluded the idea was “mostly rubbish,” while Chrys Stevenson painstakingly traced the sources and found they were just plain wrong.
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM = DEATH
In short, it is no exaggeration to say that prioritising the ‘religious freedom’ of a few cuts short lives, and forces others to live and die in pain and misery. Far from needing more of it, we need less.
Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. “Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe.” (Daniel Witthaus, “Beyond Priscilla”, Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)
We greatly appreciate your on-going generous financial and enthusiastic personal support for this site!
Brian Houston, the founder of the Hillsong Church, is under investigation by New South Wales police over his handling of the sex crimes committed by his father Frank Houston.
Frank Houston was a Pentecostal pioneer, a leading Assemblies of God pastor who preyed on young boys in Australia and New Zealand in the 1960s and 1970s.
The first allegations of Frank Houston’s pedophilia emerged in the late 1990s, when Brian Houston was the Australian National President of the Assemblies of God, part of the largest Pentecostal denomination in the world.
In 2014, Brian Houston gave evidence before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse, which later found he had failed to take the matter to the police and had a conflict of interest in dealing with the complaints against his father.
It has emerged that in the wake of the Royal Commission’s findings, NSW Police began looking into his handling of his father’s crimes, an investigation that was suspended because of lack of evidence.
A NSW police spokesman said the investigation has been reopened and is now “current and active”.
Last night on 60 Minutes, one of Frank Houston’s victims, Brett Sengstock, spoke for the first time of his abuse by Frank Houston as a seven-year-old boy and his ongoing quest for justice.
A key witness at the Royal Commission, where he was known only as ‘AHA’, Brett Sengstock gave up his anonymity to tell his story.
For more information on Brett Sengstock, click here.
To read a response to Royal Commission report – from Hillsong Church Board and Elders, please click here.
To watch ‘Crossing the Line’ in full, and for more on 60 Minutes, head to the official website.
We greatly appreciate your on-going generous financial and enthusiastic personal support for this site!
Evil Jesus, History’s Most Unpleasant, Failed Messiah
What words come from the mouths of the religious when they speak about Jesus?
Loving? Merciful? Just? Compassionate?
The reality is, the Bible reveals Jesus’s primary qualities quite differently: jealous, self-serving, arrogant, petty, maniacal, irrational, unforgiving, bloodthirsty, vindictive—and worse!
“Jesus was a moral lunatic who intended to return with an army of angels to eternally torture the vast majority of humanity. If you’d like to think that’s the “good version” of setting billions of people on fire, think again.”
We can do better, and create a clear a path to a kinder and more thoughtful world.
PAYPAL :- we value your ongoing support and generous donations that assist the production of this site.
The Arabic Translation of The God Delusion Has Reportedly Been Downloaded 10 Million Times
by Terry Firma
I’m not sure about the legality, but if Richard Dawkins isn’t bothered by the copyright ramifications, then neither am I.
An unauthorized PDF translation of Dawkin’s The God Delusion, by Iraqi emigrant Bassam Al-Baghdadi, who lives in Sweden, has reportedly been dowloaded ten million times,
… with 30 percent going to Saudi Arabia. Bassam said that there were over 1,000 downloads on the very first day after he uploaded it, and the numbers only climbed as the translation was picked up and shared on the blogs, websites and forums of prominent Arab atheists. The book has prompted unprecedented controversy and debate in the Arab and Islamic worlds.
The translator received…
… you’ll never guess this!…
… death threats and accusations of conspiring with the Zionists to corrupt the youth. He was forced to close his social media accounts and stop posting for a while. …
In the Arabic translation of The God Delusion, under the title, Bassam added the words: “This book is banned in Islamic countries.” It is fortunate and wonderful that the banning of books in the Arab and Islamic worlds is no longer feasible in our new age of information. I was able to read the book while I was still in Morocco, where I was born. Some atheist friends even managed to get hold of the book in Saudi Arabia. The dark times of censorship, in which knowledge for the people was confined to carefully curated books and resources, are gone and will never return.
According to Kacem El Ghazzali, writing for the Huffington Post, Dawkins was unaware of the translation until El Ghazzali brought it to his attention at a 2014 skeptics conference in Switzerland. It’s to the great biologist’s credit that he apparently raised no big stink about it.
As for El Ghazzali, who was born in Morocco but now makes his home in Switzerland, he says he owes
… a tremendous debt of gratitude to Richard Dawkins, and to others who guided my journey from the hells of religious dogma to the oasis of free thought and enlightenment.
If you’d like a copy of the Arabic God Delusion, you can download it here.
In 1980, Federal Judge John Dooling, United States District Court, Eastern District of New York, declared that the Hyde Amendment, which prevented Medicaid payment for abortion, was unconstitutional. (Copies of Judge Dooling’s 328-page decision in McRae vs. HEW are rare. During a recent conversation with the Brooklyn United States District Court, I was told that their copy had disappeared and, for this reason, they were not in a position to reproduce it.) Judge Dooling had spent a year gathering evidence and studying the anti-abortion movement, and his findings showed that the anti-abortion movement was essentially a Roman Catholic movement with a little non-Catholic window dressing. The amendment, says Dooling bluntly, was a ploy by anti-abortion congressmen frustrated in their attempt to pass a constitutional amendment that would override the Supreme Court’s 1973 pro-abortion decision; its purpose was quite simply to circumvent the Court’s ruling and prevent as many abortions as possible. Dooling, a practicing Catholic, makes short shrift of the anti-abortionists’ pretensions to be a spontaneous grass-roots movement that owes its political victories to sheer moral appeal. He confirms that the right-to-life’s main source of energy, organization, and direction has been the Catholic Church, and he describes in detail how the movement uses one-issue voting to put pressure on legislators, candidates, and the party organizations that nominate them—a tactic that gains influence far out of proportion to its numbers. Please see appendix one for excerpts from Judge Dooling’s decision in McRae vs. HEW.
What is most significant in this extract is Judge Dooling’s finding that the anti-abortion movement’s main source of energy, organization, and direction has been the Catholic Church. The bishops’ Pastoral Plan prompted the creation of the Moral Majority. Richard A. Viguerie, a Catholic, is the man most responsible for the development and success of the New Right, and he will be the first to claim that honor. He was also involved in the original discussions that led to the creation of the Moral Majority and, as its fundraiser, can be credited with its financial success. Paul Weyrich, a Catholic, claims credit for originating the idea for the group and the name itself. In their search for an attractive front man for the organization, they chose Jerry Falwell, who, according to intimates, has an insatiable lust for power—and, thus, Moral Majority, Inc., was born.
It is inconceivable that these Catholic laymen were not responding to the bishops’ Pastoral Plan. Much went into avoiding public disclosure of the role of the Catholic Church in the creation of the Moral Majority. Maxine Negri, in “A Well-Planned Conspiracy,” exposed involvement of the Catholic hierarchy in the Moral Majority. Then, the June 21, 1982, issue of U.S. News and World Report noted:
At the heart of Moral Majority is a direct-mail operation…. Membership claims … put the number of Moral Majority’s active supporters at roughly 4 million Roman Catholics, Protestant fundamentalists, and orthodox Jews. The organization says its “hardcore contributors,” numbered at more than 400,000, include a cadre of 80,000 priests, ministers, and rabbis organized into fifty autonomous chapters.
This claim of autonomy should not be taken seriously. What is described here is exactly the organization described in the Pastoral Plan of Action down to the details.
None of us who has ever worked extensively with fundamentalist churches or lived among fundamentalists ever took the claim that the Moral Majority was a fundamentalist organization seriously. One characteristic common among fundamentalists is a keen sense of individualism, and individualists are often fundamentalists because of this trait. There is self-selection. They strongly resist the “herding” that characterizes other major denominations such as the Catholic Church. It is very difficult to organize two or three local fundamentalist churches to carry out even a local short-term civic activity. Organizing much beyond this is inconceivable. In contrast, the Catholic Church, with its keen sense of organization acquired over a two-thousand-year history, found the “organization” of the fundamentalists a relatively simple task by providing with few exceptions the entire organization infrastructure, including the organization of the fifty autonomous state chapters and the organizations in the 435 congressional districts.
The far more experienced and autocratic Catholic Church found the fundamentalists easy prey. They created “leader” Jerry Falwell and they sought out for other visible positions others who also had an insatiable lust for power. These fundamentalists toe the line of the Catholic Church to maintain their newly acquired visibility and their sense of power. And, of course, the purse strings of the Moral Majority are controlled by those who collect the money—represented by Richard Viguerie. As the old adage goes, “he who controls the purse strings, controls the organization.”
The Family-Planning Movement
There is little doubt that virtually all opposition to the family-planning movement is Roman Catholic. The anti-family-planning movement’s main source of energy, organization, and direction clearly has been the Roman Catholic Church. Most people outside the family-planning field are not aware that this anti-family-planning movement continues to score major victories, such as preventing the U.S. sale of Depo-Provera, the birth-control injectable given every three months, a method which all available data indicate is safer than birth control pills. Depo-Provera is used by tens of millions of women around the world and is now approved by over one hundred countries, including most European countries, WHO, and other prestigious groups. Other victories include successfully laying roadblocks that prevent tens of thousands of women from receiving sterilization operations when they want them, roadblocks which result in thousands of unwanted births yearly. Far more important are the successes of the Church in minimizing U.S. assistance to family-planning efforts in developing countries.
Many of these victories for the Church come under the heading “Administrative Areas” in the bishops’ Pastoral Plan of Action. Two recent examples of Catholic Church activity are the mandatory notification of parents of teens who seek contraceptives at federally funded clinics and the banning of federal funds for family-planning clinics which provide abortion.
The ERA Movement
The Equal Rights Amendment died June 30, 1982. I am certain that its failure was the result of the success of the Catholic hierarchy’s bold efforts to defeat it. As with the anti-abortion movement, the main source of energy, organization, and direction of the anti-ERA movement is the Roman Catholic Church.
In June 1978, I received a Planned Parenthood Washington Memo which contained an article entitled “U.S. Bishops Block Pro-ERA Statement.” In part, it read:
The Roman Catholic hierarchy, in early May, refused to permit issuance of a subcommittee’s statement supporting the Equal Rights Amendment, indicating that the fight against legal abortion takes precedence as its preeminent concern.
The pro-ERA statement was supported by the bishops’ six-member Ad Hoc Committee on Women in the Church and Society, which took pains to separate support for ERA from any connotation of accepting abortion. Furthermore, they sought only to issue the statement in their own behalf and had reportedly consulted with the Family Life section of the bishops’ Department of Education, which apparently approved their conclusions “that the ERA will not threaten the stability of marriage in family life.”
According to a report of the National Catholic News Service, acceptance of the statement had been urged by ninety-four employees of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the U.S. Catholic Conference, but advance disclosures about the issue also generated heavy mail from the “right to life” groups opposing the ERA. The NCCB’s forty-eight-member administrative board, which sets policy for the 345 U.S. Roman Catholic bishops, rejected the pro-ERA document during an early May meeting in Chicago, contending that it could hurt anti-abortion efforts.
It is now apparent that this move by the bishops was a brilliant ploy. The Church not only evaded taking a positive stand on an important social justice issue which threatens its power but it has worked diligently to defeat the ERA by using the very same political action organization used to combat abortion!
In my home state of North Carolina, one of the last hopes of the ERA movement, we saw statewide polls in May 1982 show that two-thirds of our citizens favored the amendment, and, in June 1982, we saw two-thirds of our lawmakers vote to defeat it. Clearly, a vast superior organization killed the ERA in North Carolina, a finely honed and skillful operation, one two thousand years in the making—the same one continuing to fight legalized abortions in our fair state.
Actions Taken by the Church
What actions has the hierarchy taken to counter the abortion, family-planning, and ERA movements?
In 1980, Jean-Guy Vaillancourt, a Canadian Roman Catholic professor of sociology at the University of Montreal, published a book entitled Papal Power: A Study of Vatican Control Over Lay Catholic Elites. This is a study of the techniques intensively used by the Vatican in many countries to control Catholic laypersons in Italy over the past one hundred years. In 1875, the Vatican created a system of local parish committees of at least five members each, called Catholic Actions. These committees were created to organize laypersons to assist the Vatican in seizing control of local, state, and national political machinery. Over the years, the Church gained considerable experience in organizing these committees and in ensuring obedience and a very high degree of responsiveness to the chain of command by the committees. These committees and their more recent counterpart, civic committees, are highly effective in mobilizing Vatican efforts. Vaillancourt places the role of the committees in proper perspective by discussing
a famous open letter presented to the Pope in 1968 by dissatisfied Catholics from France and elsewhere. The letter severely criticized the Vatican’s excessive attachment to wealth and power, stressing the idea that Church authorities are too repressive and manipulative:
“The whole Church apparatus is organized for control: the Roman Curia controls the bishops, the bishops the clergy, the clergy controls the laity … and the lay Christians control (what an illusion!) mankind. Hence a multiplication of secretaries, commissions, structures, etc., with their programs and rules…. Underhand influences have suffocated the openness which had manifested itself at the lay conference in Rome, a congress which had very little communication with the bishops who were then meeting in a synod.”
After this attack on the abuses of social and legal power by church authorities, the letter goes on to describe three of the favorite techniques of control used by the Vatican: secrecy (there are secret files even against bishops), spying and informing, and repression (used even against some of the most respected theologians).
Secrecy can be classified as either a legal or a social method of control, depending on whether it is used as an administrative-legal procedure or as a simple social defense mechanism. Spying and informing would clearly be instances of social power, since they entail the use of social processes. Finally, repression, as discussed in the open letter, refers to a mixture of legal, coercive, and even remunerative power. Concretely, it includes the habitual recourse by Church officials to excommunications, censures, condemnations, demotions, and the removal or firing of offenders from their ecclesiastical jobs.
In researching Papal Power, Vaillancourt studied Vatican control over lay Catholic elites for years, spending a large part of his time at the Vatican. To effect this control, Vaillancourt has found that the Vatican exercises eight kinds of power—all of which have been used and have proved effective in opposing social issues in the United States.
ECOLOGICAL POWER, based on the physical control of material environmental conditions. An example of this is the use of territory, buildings, or real estate to control people through the domination of their environment.
REMUNERATIVE POWER, based on material or nonmaterial rewards or compensations. An example of this is the way the Pius XII Foundation uses its funds to support some lay activities and not others.
COERCIVE POWER, based on physical or psychic violence. Examples of this are burning at the stake, torture, imprisonment, banishment, blackmail, removal from office, denouncement.
SOCIAL POWER, based on the use of structural-organizational or psycho-sociological mechanisms such as Catholic Action congresses, peer-group pressures, rumors, co-optation, social ostracism, socialization, use of mass media, nepotism, and selective recruitment. An example of social power is “conditioning.” …
LEGAL POWER, juridically founded, or simply based on bureaucratic and administrative norms, procedures, and maneuvers. An example of this is the rule of secrecy which affects, under the pain of “grievous sin,” the affairs of the Secretariate of the Pope and the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church in their relations with Vatican diplomats and other high-ranking prelates. Another example is censorship, through the nihil obstat and imprimatur.
TRADITIONAL POWER, based on the use of traditional symbols, rituals, ideas, and sentiments. The cementing of loyalty through a mass of torch-lit procession during a congress would be an example of this kind of power. Appeals to practices (for example, speaking Latin) and documents popular or prevalent in previous times are also instances of the use of traditional power.
EXPERT POWER, based on professional, technical, or scientific or purely rational arguments. An example of this is the recourse to commissions of experts in theology or the social sciences to bolster one’s position. Pius XII’s speeches to numerous groups on a multitude of topics was also an effort to control through expert power.
CHARISMATIC POWER, based on exemplary or ethical prophecy. Examples of this are calls for social justice and equality (used extensively in recent years) or the giving away of some of the Church’s possessions for certain causes (for example, a ring in a Brazilian slum). In a less prophetic vein, the replacement of personal charisma of office and the routinization of charisma are other examples of the use of this kind of power.
The Vatican with one hundred years of experience in controlling nations through these lay Catholic organizations, has chosen to export this highly developed mechanism for control of lay Catholics and democratic processes to the United States. In 1975, the Church launched its Pastoral Plan of Action. The “committees” discussed in this plan are the same “committees” discussed by Vaillancourt that are used to control lay Catholics and to serve as political machinery. These “committees” which make up anti-abortion organizations are openly being used by the Vatican to manipulate the American democratic process. This includes the Moral Majority organization, as unsuspecting Protestants lend their support. For those who have figured out that they are being used, the lust for power or attention given them is enough to keep them in the fold.
The Pastoral Plan of Action was supposedly initiated by the Vatican because “the will of God and the law of reason” demanded an unrelenting fight against abortion. However, by 1978, it became apparent that the Vatican had simply seized upon a golden opportunity to mobilize Catholic America into a political party using its “right-to-life committees”—including the Moral Majority. Some observers began to recognize that these very same “committees” were being used to fight the other “enemies” of the Catholic Church: the ERA, family planning, the environmental movement, illegal immigration control, and support for the Global 2000 Report. I am now convinced that abortion was simply an excuse to politically mobilize the American Catholic Church and create, de facto, an American Catholic Political Party. The same techniques and tactics developed and used by the Church one hundred years ago to manipulate local, state, and national governments on other continents are exactly the same techniques and tactics seen in America today!
In 1977, victory for the ERA movement seemed almost certain. Few Americans realize the fantastic amount of organization and mobilization of human resources, funds, and commitment it took on the part of the Vatican to turn apparent victory for the ERA into defeat. Phyllis Schlafly, a Catholic, and the “organization” she headed, got more help from the Vatican and the American bishops than most Americans can possibly imagine. Judge Dooling found the anti-abortionists’ claim that they were a grass-roots movement to be spurious; the belief that the anti-ERA forces are also a grass-roots movement is ridiculous.
As serious observers study the opposition to the family-planning movement, the environmental movement, illegal immigration control, and the Global 2000 Report, they recognize just how sophisticated the opposition is—the amount of energy, organization, and direction each has—and that the opposition is all the same people, the same committees.
This is not an abstract theory. Such organization has been effective in Italy and other countries and was described by Vaillancourt before it got underway in earnest in the United States. Until those of us who are concerned about these social justice issues are willing to confront the Catholic hierarchy, there will be no significant advances in these areas of social justice. So long as the Church can act “undercover,” it will continue to be effective in thwarting significant advances. Our willingness to permit the Church to act in secrecy in America vastly enhances its power. It is absolutely essential that our silence be shattered. If not, then no matter which of these causes is “our cause” it’s a lost cause. Just as important, the strength of a threatening Vatican-controlled political party in America will continue to grow. American Catholics who are seriously concerned about social justice must take the pope and the Vatican at their word when they say that they do not intend to change their course. Catholics must be aware that the pope and the Vatican are choosing their social justice issues very selectively. In the 1970s, Cardinal Leo Suenens proposed that the position of pope and the Vatican, as we know it, be eliminated and that four “mini-pope” positions be created; this is consistent with Catholic teachings. He insisted that this is feasible. Perhaps it is time for socially responsible American Catholics to break the American Church away from the control of the Vatican. Otherwise, they as individuals stand to be accused of the same hypocrisy practiced by their Church hierarchy.
 D. J. Dooling, decision in McRae vs. HEW, New York: U.S. District Court. See, Appendix 1 for a more complete extract from Judge Dooling’s decision.
 P. D. Young, “Richard A. Viguerie: The New Right’s Secret Power Broker,” Penthouse (December 1982), p. 146.
 Jean-Guy Vaillancourt, Papal Power: A Study of Vatican Control Over Lay Catholic Elites (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980).
Dr. Stephen Mumford is the founder and President of the North Carolina-based Center for Research on Population and Security. He has his doctorate in Public Health. His principal research interest has been the relationship between world population growth and national and global security. He has been called to provide expert testimony before the U.S. Congress on the implications of world population growth.
Dr. Mumford has decades of international experience in fertility research where he is widely published, and has addressed conferences worldwide on new contraceptive technologies and the stresses to the security of families, societies and nations that are created by continued uncontrolled population growth. Using church policy documents and writings of the Vatican elite, he has introduced research showing the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church as the principal power behind efforts to block the availability of contraceptive services worldwide.
Professor Milton Siegel, who for 24 years was the Assistant Director-General of the World Health Organization, speaks to Dr. Mumford in 1992 to reveal that although there was a consensus that overpopulation was a grave public health threat and would be a major cause of preventable death not too far in the future, the Vatican successfully fought off the incorporation of family planning and birth control into official WHO policy. This video is available for public viewing for the first time. Read the full transcript of the interview here.
“Most gays, if they’re having a wedding, don’t want pizzas — they want cake,” Robertson told “700 Club” viewers, according to Right Wing Watch. “It’s the cake-makers that are having a problem.”
Still, he warned Christian business owners of all types that gay customers will eventually “make you conform to them.”
“You’re gonna say that you like anal sex, you like oral sex, you like bestiality,” he added. “Sooner or later, you’re going to have to conform your religious beliefs to the group of some abhorrent thing. It won’t stop at homosexuality.”
Noting that Christian beliefs will “come under assault” until polyamory and polygamy are acceptable, too, Robertson lamented, “It’s a weird world we’re living in.”
It’s time to fight religion: Toxic drivel, useful media idiots, and the real story about faith and violence
Out of misguided notions of “tolerance,” we avert our critical gaze from blatant absurdities. We must now get real
Richard Dawkins, Mike Huckabee, Bill Maher, Reza Aslan (Credit: Reuters/Chris Keane/AP/J. Scott Applewhite/HBO)
The relentless march of time generally affords humankind, which happens to include folks in the media, the chance to reflect on events and acquire wisdom. But the weeks passing since the massacre in Paris of the highly talented Charlie Hebdo cartoonists for their depictions of the Prophet Muhammad have only granted a good number of commentators the opportunity to bedork themselves time and again, as they pen columns and make on-air statements that both spread confusion and betray commitments to untenable, morally reprehensible extenuative positions concerning Islam. This is tragic, for, if anything, the slaughter of European artists exercising their lawful right to self-expression in the capital of their own country offered us all a “teachable moment” sans pareil about the nature of the threat lurking within – in fact, innate to — the “religion of peace.”
Rarely have murderers so clearly manifested their motive. With the exclamations they made as they carried out their atrocity — “Allahu Akbar!” and “On a vengé le prophète Mohamed, on a tué Charlie Hebdo!” (The prophet Muhammad has been avenged, we have killed Charlie Hebdo!) — the attackers explicitly told us they were killing for Islam, and imparted precisely the lesson they intended: Do not insult or ridicule our faith or you will pay the supreme price. They wrought violence against innocents who dared transgress the commandments of a religion they did not profess. What’s more, they de facto succeeded in imposing sharia tenets well beyond the confines of the Islamic world. How many major publications or networks dared even publish the anodyne drawing of a teary-eyed, forgiving Muhammad that graced the cover of the post-massacre issue of Charlie Hebdo, to say nothing of the other images satirizing the Prophet that presumably led to the fire-bombing of the magazine’s office in 2011?That so many Western media outlets shied away from doing so is more than scandalous. It unambiguously signals one thing: terrorism works. More lives are likely to be lost as a result.
Those whose profession it ostensibly is to enlighten found ample grounds on which to rebut reality and muddy the waters around the matter at hand: the faith-motivated murder of cartoonists for doing nothing more than drawing cartoons. Serial Islam-apologist Reza Aslan appeared on Charlie Rose‘s show and admitted that the Quran has “of course” served as a “source of violence” for terrorists, but then resorted to his usual tiresome Derrida-esque double-talk when it came to discussing his religion’s material role in the killings. “We bring our own values and norms to our scriptures; we don’t extract them from our scriptures.”
The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof, an unwitting recidivist “useful idiot” for Islamism, cautioned us to avoid “religious profiling” and contended that “The great divide is not between faiths. Rather it is between terrorists and moderates, between those who are tolerant and those who ‘otherize.’” He is apparently unaware of Islamic traditions dividing the world into Dar al-Islam (the Abode of Islam, or Muslim regions) and Dar al-Harb (the Abode of War, where Muslims must strive against, and even do battle with, infidels, in order to convert them. For Kristof, a “strain of Islamic intolerance and extremism” is the (mere) “backdrop to the attack on Charlie Hebdo.”
Susan Milligan, writing in U.S. News and World Report, opined that news outlets should feel no pressure to publish the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, since “This isn’t about religion or respect, and it insults every peace-loving practicing Muslim to suggest otherwise.” Wow. Has she converted to Islam? What gives her the right to speak for “every peace-loving practicing Muslim?”
There are other examples, but foulest of all were the excretions emanating from James Zogby, president and founder of the Arab American Institute. I’ll cite in full the opening paragraph of his Huffington Post op-ed:
“The perpetrators of the horror at Charlie Hebdo were not devout Muslims outraged by insults directed at their faith. They were not motivated by religious piety, nor did they seek to strike a blow at ‘freedom of expression.’ Rather they were crude political actors who planned an act of terror — seeking to create the greatest possible impact. They were murderers, plain and simple.”
Every sentence here, with the partial exception of the last, is so transparently counterfactual that no refutation is warranted. But it gets worse. Zogby goes on to spew toxic drivel he will never live down, informing readers that he believes in “freedom of expression, but” — the “but” here portends the most insidious kind of “blame the victims” slander — “with freedom also comes responsibility. Pope Francis got it right when he noted ‘You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others’. . . . As Francis added ‘one cannot offend, make war, kill in the name of one’s religion — that is in the name of God. To kill in the name of God is an aberration.’”
(Except that in Islam, a faith long spread by the sword, it isn’t. Dozens of Quranic suras and texts from the Hadith call upon Muslims to commit violence against unbelievers in the cause of jihad, including, of course, those who insult the Prophet Muhammad.)
Zogby continued, complaining of the “prejudice against the religion of Islam” evinced by some commentators, and bemoaning the “hurt . . . Muslims have felt at the insults directed at the faith by the dominant secular French culture.” He concluded with boilerplate gibberish, declaring that those who kill for religion “are not Muslim or Christian or Jewish or Hindu or Buddhist murderers or terrorists. Rather they are murderers or terrorists who defile the language of religion in a vain effort to justify their violence.”
Zogby’s is by far the most disgraceful, twisted, retrograde commentary on the Charlie Hebdo tragedy I have come across. Yet in adducing Pope Francis’ admonition to those who would insult faith, he unintentionally makes a point: Representatives of the world’s major religions usually stand together in calling for respect for their institutionalized fables, and they still, even now, usually get it. After all, respect, at least of a sort, is just what theocrats of old exacted, on pain of torture and death, when they ruled during the brutal millennium before the Renaissance that was once (and justly) known as the Dark Ages.
We are accustomed to reflexively deferring to “men of the cloth,” be they rabbis and priests or pastors and imams. In this we err, and err gravely. Those whose profession it is to spread misogynistic morals, debilitating sexual guilt, a hocus-pocus cosmogony, and tales of an enticing afterlife for which far too many are willing to die or kill, deserve the exact same “respect” we accord to shamans and sorcerers, alchemists and quacksalvers. Out of misguided notions of “tolerance,” we avert our critical gaze from the blatant absurdities — parting seas, spontaneously igniting shrubbery, foodstuffs raining from the sky, virgin parturitions, garrulous slithering reptiles, airborne ungulates — proliferating throughout their “holy books.” We suffer, in the age of space travel, quantum theory and DNA decoding, the ridiculous superstitious notion of “holy books.” And we countenance the nonsense term “Islamophobia,” banishing those who forthrightly voice their disagreements with the seventh-century faith to the land of bigots and racists; indeed, the portmanteau vogue word’s second component connotes something just short of mental illness.
The herd inclination of progressives to exculpate the canon of Islam and the role faith in general plays in inciting violence insults those with even a superficial knowledge of history. There is nothing commendable about covering up how religious convictions motivate killers, be they Christians (think of the Serbian Orthodox “cleansing” of Muslims in the Yugoslav war), Jews (recall Baruch Goldstein’s 1994 murder of 29 Palestinians at a Hebron holy site), Hindus (memorably, the Gujarat massacre in 2002 and, of course, the epochal Hindu-Muslim bloodshed accompanying Partition). Religion in each of these barbaric episodes (and many, many more) was the universally recognized primum mobile. Why should we not admit the same about the Charlie Hebdo slaughter?
Worse still is the offense that denying faith’s role in atrocities inflicts on commonsense. No one doubts people when they say their religion inspires them to attend mosque or church, make charitable donations, volunteer in hospitals or serve in orphanages. We should take them at their word when they name it, as did the Charlie Hebdo assassins, as the mainspring for their lethal acts of violence. We should not toss aside Ockham’s razor and concoct additional factors that supposedly commandeered their behavior. The Charlie Hebdo killers may have come from poor Parisian banlieues, they may have experienced racial discrimination, and they may have even been stung by disdain from “the dominant secular French culture,” yet they murdered not shouting about any of these things, but about “avenging the Prophet Muhammad.” They murdered for Islam.
No doubt, some commentators contort themselves to avoid blaming Islam because they personally know Muslims who would do no harm to anyone. But as regards the Charlie Hebdo massacre, Islam’s innocuous votaries are irrelevant. The problem lies with the incontrovertible calls to violence in the Islamic canon that derive from a sense of supremacy as God’s final, irrevocable words to humanity, and with those who take them literally.
This all leads us to an overarching issue of critical import. Adherence to any of the Abrahamic religions — that is, to the trumped-up doctrines of systematized, unverifiable fables mandating certain kinds of behavior and outlawing others — is, to repeat Kristof’s silly term, “otherizing,” or divisive, provocative, and ultimately inimical to social harmony. Traffickers in such fables, or those who provide cover to those who do, deserve to be disinvited from every forum convened to seek solutions to the problems they themselves have helped create. Or perhaps they should be invited, but only as court experts in the particular variety of mass psychosis they and their ancestors have engendered. “Dialogue between religions” — a perennially popular yet doomed endeavor often proclaimed as necessary by religious potentates — should be eschewed in favor of rational discourse among reality-based individuals. Please, let’s give the shamans and witchdoctors the day off.
What to make of Western leaders’ reluctance to indict Islam in the Charlie Hebdo massacre? Cowardice must be involved — better to deride a few bad apples “perverting a great religion” than risk angering large, and growing, Muslim communities at home, or inciting attacks against embassies abroad. And as a practical matter, convictions held as passionately as they are irrationally cannot be challenged without peril. That Obama and Hollande have gone to great lengths to avoid implicating Islam in the Charlie Hebdo massacre constitutes implicit recognition of the innate insolubility of religious conflicts – such beliefs cannot be disproven on an evidentiary basis, but only fought over, eye for eye. Once faith stands accused, the guns come out and the bombs go off, and death and mayhem ensue. Best to steer clear of all this.
Yet risks, to say nothing of honest discourse, are essential to true leadership. Faced with this, yet another crisis involving Islam and the violence it tends to beget, the only real options are unified defiance (as embodied in the Je Suis Charlie marches across France) or surrender, as exemplified in news outlets’ widespread reluctance to publish the eminently newsworthy Charlie Hebdo cartoons. By accepting the bald casuistry and specious analysis offered by religion’s apologists, or by denigrating, à la Zogby, the (wonderfully) muscular French version of secularism known as laïcité (no Islamic headscarves or Christian crosses allowed inside schools, no burqas to be worn outside), we are collectively opting for capitulation, and jettisoning our precious patrimony — freedom of expression, an essential element of any open society. If we do this, we should be ashamed of ourselves and do not deserve to be free.
We need to turn the tables and refuse to let the faith-based or their smooth-talking accomplices set the terms for debate; refuse to cower before the balderdash term Islamophobia; refuse to let faith-mongering fraudsters, from the Pope in the Vatican to the pastor down the street, educate our children or lecture us on morals or anything else. If we do not believe the Bible is true or the Quran inerrant, we need to say so, loudly, clearly and repeatedly, until the “sacred” sheen of these books wears off. And it will. Behaviors change as beliefs are adjusted. We no longer burn witches at the stake or use ghastly vises to crush the skulls of those suspected of being “secret Jews” (as was done in Spain and elsewhere during the Inquisition), and none but the insane among us would enact the gruesome penalties prescribed in Leviticus as retribution for trifling offenses. We have progressed, and we will progress again, if we, for starters, quit worrying about political correctness and cease according religion knee-jerk respect.
Some time ago, the meme “Islam – the religion of peace” began circulating, originating, apparently, in an erroneous translation of the Arabic name for the faith. Islam means “submission” (to the will of God). The brave cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo faced down threats and refused to submit — and paid with their lives. For their deaths to mean anything, we need to show similar guts.
We need, after all, to tell the truth. If we don’t start doing this now, our next question must be, who among us will be the next victims?
Jeffrey Tayler is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. His seventh book, “Topless Jihadis — Inside Femen, the World’s Most Provocative Activist Group,” is out now as an Atlantic ebook. Follow @JeffreyTayler1 on Twitter.
What Nobel prize winners Elizabeth Blackburn, Brian Schmidt, Peter Doherty and Barry Marshall had to say about innovation funding in a nation historically responsible for a range of world-beating scientific advancements was often scathing.
Each holds fears for Australia’s global competitiveness. As stated by the AFR’s Anne Hyland, “When it comes to investment in science, Australia is in reverse as other countries floor the accelerator.”
ELIZABETH BLACKBURN (joint Nobel prize in physiology or medicine in 2009)
Photo: Ken James
“How could Australia not think of investing heavily in science? This is just insanity. The fact that the natural resources boom is fading away – it’s foolishness.”
“I come back and have these marvellous science conversations and I talk to really, really bright people, but they’re under-used. They don’t groan. They just do the best they can.”
“Australia needs to invest in science. It’s a bigger picture than politics. Prime ministers come and go. National policies can be developed in a much less politicised way and be much more forward looking, whoever the prime minister happens to be.”
“There needs to be a very serious investment because you have all this scientific talent. If you look at the track record of countries that have invested in science, it’s obvious, it works.”
BRIAN SCHMIDT (joint Nobel prize in physics in 2011)
Photo: Rohan Thomson
“I’m scratching my head and losing sleep at night about that in a way that I haven’t before.”
“It’s unclear to me whether or not we will continue to be a great astronomy nation.”
“If we lose [our] advantage, are we going to replace that with something else? We damn well better be or we’re going backwards.”
“If we’re damaged it will take 20 years to fix ourselves. It only takes one year to cause 20 years of damage.”
PETER DOHERTY (joint Nobel prize in physiology or medicine in 1996)
Photo: Arsineh Houspian
“The celebration of science in Australia is pretty thin.”
“Basic science is done through public funding. It can’t be left up to the magic of the market. It doesn’t work in innovation.”
“We still have high quality universities. If we keep cutting back on that sector we’re going to lose it. It’s sad.”
“Australia, because of its location and the fact it’s an open Western country, really has tremendous potential to be an innovation hub.”
BARRY MARSHALL (joint Nobel prize in physiology or medicine in 2005)
Photo: Philip Gostelow
“There’s a layer of administration and bureaucracy that sits on top of original scientific research that almost doubles the cost or more.”
“[There’s] not the priority given to academic and scientific pursuit in Australia by politicians and government”.
“We need to raise some political pressure and educate politicians.”
“[In Singapore] their resources are their people and they say: ‘What are they going to do? We want to give them something interesting to do and have them doing things that are going to be white-collar, high-value jobs with some product coming out of it.’ ”
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 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: APSource: 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, Ryan, in Issaquah, Washington. Picture: APSource: 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 did. Picture: APSource: AP
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
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.
“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.”
Why Jesus Would Have Hated Most Modern Day Religion
Jesus would not be a “Bible believer,” as we use that term in the post Billy Graham era of American fundamentalist religiosity.
The following is an excerpt from Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God: How to Give Love, Create Beauty and Find Peace by Frank Schaeffer. Click here to buy a copy.
A leper came to Jesus and said, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” If Jesus had been a good religious Jew, he would have said, “Be healed,” and just walked away. Instead, he stretched out his hand and touched the leper, saying, “I do choose. Be made clean,” even though he was breaking the specific rules of Leviticus. Two chapters teach that anyone touching a person with leprosy is contaminated.
Jesus certainly was not a “Bible believer,” as we use that term in the post Billy Graham era of American fundamentalist religiosity that’s used as a trade-marked product to sell religion. Jesus didn’t take the Jewish scriptures at face value. In fundamentalist terms, Jesus was a rule-breaking relativist who wasn’t even “saved,” according to evangelical standards. Evangelicals insist that you have to believe very specific interpretations of the Bible to be saved. Jesus didn’t. He undercut the scriptures.
The stories about Jesus that survived the bigots, opportunists and delusional fanatics who wrote the New Testament contain powerful and enlightened truths that would someday prove the undoing of the Church built in his name. Like a futurist vindicated by events as yet undreamed, Jesus’ message of love was far more powerful than the magical thinking of the writers of the book he’s trapped in. In Jesus’ day the institutions of religion, state, misogyny and myth were so deeply ingrained that the ultimate dangerousness of his life example could not be imagined. For example his feminism, probably viewed as an eccentricity in his day, would prove transformational.
Jesus believed in God rather than in a book about God. The message of Jesus’ life is an intervention in and an acceleration of the evolution of empathy. Consider this story from the book of Matthew: “A woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, ‘If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.’ Jesus turned and saw her. ‘Take heart, daughter,’ he said, ‘your faith has healed you.’ And the woman was healed at that moment.”
Jesus recognized a bleeding woman touching him as a sign of her faith. By complimenting rather than rebuking her, Jesus ignored another of his scripture’s rules: “If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time her [period], or if she has a discharge beyond the time, all the days of her discharge she shall continue in uncleanness… Every bed on which she lies during all the days of her discharge shall be treated as [unclean]… Everything on which she sits shall be unclean … Whoever touches these things shall be unclean” (Leviticus 15:25).
Jesus’ un-first-century antics went beyond coddling lepers and welcoming the touch of a bleeding woman. He held a dead girl’s hand, violating explicit commands: “He shall not go in to any dead bodies nor make himself unclean, even for his father or for his mother” (Leviticus 21:11) and “Whosoever toucheth the dead body of any man that is dead, and purifieth not himself, defileth the tabernacle of the LORD; and that soul shall be cut off from Israel: because the water of separation was not sprinkled upon him, he shall be unclean; his uncleanness is yet upon him” (Numbers 19:13).
As an ultimate fuck you to rule-keeping scripture zealots everywhere, Jesus hung out with whores. Embracing whores was a double rebuke to the Jewish scripture-thumpers because it put Jesus on the side of the pagan, prostitute-condoning Roman occupiers and made him a traitor in the culture wars of the day. Yet, the anointing of Jesus by a prostitute is one of the few events reported in all four gospels. As Jesus blessed and defended her, Matthew’s gospel says the disciples “were indignant” while Luke describes the woman who did the anointing as “a woman in that town who lived a sinful life,” which is a coded phrase for a filthy hooker who is certainly not one of us.
Jesus’ embrace of a woman from an enemy tribe in a culture where tribal belonging was paramount distressed both his followers and enemies. His attitude to the “other” was as incomprehensible as if he’d blurted “E=mc2 is the equation of mass–energy equivalence.” The Samaritan woman at the well knew that his actions were shocking. When Jesus stopped to talk to her, she said, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink? For Jews do not associate with Samaritans” (John 4:9).
Jesus responded by attacking the preeminence of religion and group identity, offering an entirely new way of looking at spirituality by emphasizing basic human dignity above nation, state, gender or religion:
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:19–24).
Jesus rejects tribalism, literalism, group identity, specific religions, and gatekeepers as well as his Jewish identity. The phrase “Salvation is from the Jews” is paradoxically a reference to his liberating departure from tribal identity in favor of common humanity.
What is the implication of Jesus-centric non-theological, non-dogmatic salvation? It’s the abolishing of exclusion of the other as “unsaved.”
What about God? Jesus says that God doesn’t want (or maybe no longer wants) worship via exclusionary religion, sacrifice or membership in the correct tribe, sect or nation. No, Jesus says, the Father wants “true worshipers [who] will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth.”
In other words Jesus decouples the credulous attachment to a tribal geography and religion-based identity. Jesus declares we’re all one family. Goodbye, Abrahamic covenant, Jerusalem, Mecca, Rome and Constantinople. Au revoir, holy places, River Ganges, passports, borders, empires, Lourdes, clan, tribe, Hellenism, Russian imperial ambition and American exceptionalism. No more chants of “USA! USA!” for, “a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth.” According to Jesus, there never was and never will be a “greatest country on earth,” or a “city set on a hill” or a “chosen people.”
Nonbelievers need a new PR campaign, one that emphasizes their civic engagement
In Pope Francis’ Christmas address, he extended a surprise olive branch to atheists. But the reach was backhanded. “I invite even nonbelievers to desire peace,” he offered. Even nonbelievers? How magnanimous.
Religious tolerance has increased dramatically over the last few decades, at least in the United States. But one group remains behind the pack: atheists. A 2012 Gallup poll asked Americans if they would vote for a well-qualified presidential candidate nominated by their party if the person happened to be “X.” Catholic? Ninety-four percent said yes. Jewish? Ninety-one percent. Mormon? Eighty percent. Muslim? Fifty-eight percent. Trailing them all — and well behind blacks, women, Hispanics, and gays and lesbians — were atheists, at 54 percent.
Dislike of atheists might be surprising, given that we are a small and largely invisible demographic, making up less than 5 percent of the U.S. We are not known for terrorist attacks, secret cabals or any particular pageantry — we are not even a particularly cohesive group. As the comedian Ricky Gervais once wrote, “Saying atheism is a belief system is like saying not going skiing is a hobby.” But recent research has identified the primary source of prejudice against atheists: It is the distrust of those who are not scared of a watchful God. And the research suggests that current attempts to give atheists a PR makeover are severely misguided.
The source of prejudice
A 2006 paper by the sociologist Penny Edgell and her colleagues began to outline the nature of the anti-atheist bias. They found that people associate atheists with either the low end of the social hierarchy (common criminals) or the high end (cultural elitists). What these two groups purportedly share is extreme self-interest and lack of concern for the common good.
A couple of years later, the economists Jonathan Tan and Claudia Vogel published a paper supporting the notion that dislike of atheists is based at least partly on distrust. They found that, in an investment game, players handed less money to partners they thought were less religious. (The English philosopher John Locke gave voice to such behavior in 1689 when he wrote that “those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the Being of a God.” The title of the book, “A Letter Concerning Toleration,” was not ironic by design.)
But why such suspicion? Two psychologists, Will Gervais of the University of Kentucky and Ara Norenzayan of the University of British Columbia, hypothesize that people see atheists as not fearing punishment from a monitoring deity. And in the last few years they have demonstrated this belief to be the core of anti-atheist bias.
The logic makes sense: People are better behaved when they feel watched by others, or even by a photo of eyes. We also conceive of God as a personlike entity, someone who cares about our behavior. Gervais and Norenzayan have shown that cuing religious people with thoughts of God makes them more self-conscious, and numerous experiments have shown that priming believers with notions of supernatural beings makes them more honest and charitable. It is as if he is watching.
In one of their experiments (conducted with Azim Shariff, a psychologist at the University of Oregon), subjects read about a man who bumped a van while parking and did not leave a note, then stole money from a found wallet. They found this untrustworthy character to be more representative of an atheist than a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew or a feminist — which indicates that distrust of atheists is not just a matter of seeing them as outsiders. In fact, subjects were just as inclined to assume the character was an atheist as they were to think he was a rapist.
American Atheists has created billboards that read ‘Reason > prayer,’ but messages like these only increase distrust of atheists.
In their most telling experiment, subjects rated their own religiosity, evaluated the trustworthiness of atheists and rated the degree to which “people behave better when they feel that God is monitoring their behavior.” Agreement with this statement fully accounted for the connection between religiosity and distrust of atheists. In other words, if you believe in God, you think fear of God’s wrath is what keeps people in line, and this belief causes you to be wary of atheists.
Nothing to fear
How fair is this distrust of atheists? If reminders of religion prompt believers to be better behaved, are they generally more moral than atheists? Some evidence suggests that religious people are more generous than nonreligious people — but only in nonindustrialized societies, or when prompted to think about God. In one recent study, those who regularly attended Sunday religious services were more likely to respond to a request for charity than those who attended them irregularly or attended no services, but only if the request came on a Sunday. Strong evidence for goodness without God comes from Denmark and Sweden, according to the sociologist Phil Zuckerman. One in four Danes does not believe in a god, spirit or life force, and neither does one in three Swedes. These are two of the world’s least religious countries (PDF), yet they also have two of the world’s lowest homicide rates. Even if there were a small difference in the trustworthiness of atheists, are we really comparable to rapists?
Empathy does not require belief in God. Atheists feel just as much pain seeing the misery of others; it comes from a simple mammalian mechanism. A conscience does not rely on superstition either. We all like to do things that make us feel we are good people, even if it is simply to convince others that we are good.
What is more, God is not the only entity that can watch you and punish misdeeds. There is also the state. Shariff and Norenzayan found in a study that presenting people with words recalling secular sources of authority — “civic,” “jury,” “court,” “police,” “contract”— increased prosocial behavior almost as much as religious reminders did.
The fact that the government’s presence keeps people in line suggests one way to reduce distrust of atheists: Remind people that atheists are not in fact free to do as they please. Gervais and Norenzayan found that showing believers a video on the effectiveness of the Vancouver police department decreased their distrust of nonbelievers.
Taking these results from the lab to the real world, Norenzayan and Gervais report in an upcoming paper that wariness of nonbelievers is reduced in countries with a strong rule of law. Looking at data from dozens of countries, they found that where contracts, property rights, the police and the courts were formidable, religious citizens were less likely to agree that “people who do not believe in God are unfit for public office.”
One wonders, then, if the spreading purview of the state, with its panopticon-style wiretapping, drones, surveillance cameras and Internet snooping, will increase good behavior, as the philosopher Peter Singer and others have argued. And if so, perhaps it will also boost trust of atheists. Norenzayan, in his book “Big Gods,” argues that fear of disciplinary deities enabled humans to trust each other enough for civilization to gain a foothold, but that with big government to regulate human affairs, big gods are no longer necessary to hold strangers together. “You don’t have to lean on religion anymore to decide whom to trust,” he told me, “if you think there are other reasons people can be trusted.”
If such surveillance still does not help boost the reputation of atheists, what might a brand manager do for the godless? Let us look at what has been done. The British Humanist Association has run bus ads that say “There’s probably no God.” The Freedom From Religion Foundation has a billboard that says, “I am free from the slavery of religion.” And American Atheists has created billboards that read “Reason > prayer.” But these messages only increase distrust of atheists. Most people do not see reason as the root of virtue. Loyalty and generosity are not typically understood as the output of calculations but as the abandonment of them. And attacking another’s faith does not open lines of communication. Norenzayan added, “Instead of the angry, confrontational kind of atheism that gets all the attention, how about a kinder, gentler, funnier atheism?”
A successful campaign might paint pictures of atheists doing good in the world. Clips of John Lennon singing “Imagine,” Daniel Radcliffe reading “Harry Potter” to kids, Angelina Jolie saving Africa one baby at a time. They do not even have to be celebrities or saints (or Swedes) — just, as Will Gervais suggested, standup citizens who take out their garbage and pay their taxes, like anyone else. Norenzayan also recommended that more nonreligious people come out of the closet: “I think positive social contact in general helps a lot,” he said. “It has done wonders in reducing other prejudices.”
In modern society, there is no reason not to trust atheists. So to do my part in a world where religious intolerance plays a role in so many conflicts, I invite you all to join me in desiring tolerance and peace. Yes, even you Catholics.
Even though England is more secular than the U.S., British Prime Ministers seem even keener than American Presidents to coddle religion—especially Islam—and to ascribe the malevolence of extreme Islamists to anything but religion. After last week’s horrific massacre in the Nairobi shopping mall, P.M. David Cameron said this:
‘These appalling terrorist attacks that take place where the perpetrators claim they do it in the name of a religion – they don’t.
Of Cultures Destroyed by Western Sexual Exploitation and Violent Religious Prudery
By Jesse Bering |
In working on my latest book Perv, some of the saddest material I came across involved the stormy cross-cultural conflicts erupting between Western ideals of sex and those discovered among other “exotic” societies. The field of cultural anthropology has its own dark history in this regard. For an embarrassingly long time, in fact, some unethical scholars were in the dubious business of publishing thinly veiled “ethnopornographies” of their trusting subjects.
With revealing titles such as Untrodden Fields of Anthropology(1898), Neger-Eros (1928), and Erotikon (1966), these researchers seemed far less concerned about educating Western audiences than they were in titillating readers with lurid true stories of savage lust. Some of these scandalous volumes even included explicit “photodocumentation” of the subjects at hand, which arguably involved the production of sexually exploitative images of indigenous people.
It’s disturbing stuff. Yet in terms of the sheer amount of damage that Westerners have done to other cultures in response to their simply having different (and usually harmless) sexual customs from our own, religious missionaries definitely take the cake. In a distressingly large number of cases, the Church’s historical encroachment into far-flung corners of the globe has served to level whole societies through its many aggressive campaigns to save “savage” souls from their carnal “sins.”
The Gikuyu of Kenya, who had very rigid codes of sexual convention, thought the public displays of affection among Europeans were unspeakably vulgar. Ironically, however, early 20th century missionaries punished these conservative people for their timeless tradition of encouraging adolescents to be sexually responsible by experimenting with romantic relationships through a cuddling ritual. In this tightly regulated Gikuyu practice of ngweko, which was primarily used to assess a young couple’s lifelong compatibility in possible matrimony, the young lovers would lie together with their legs intertwined, which kept them from thrusting. “The chief concern in this relationship,” explained the native anthropologist Jomo Kenyatta, “is the enjoyment of the warmth of the breast … and not the full experience of sexual intercourse.” The rules were strict and clear: the girl must wear a leather apron covering her groin, the boy must tuck his organ between his legs, the girl couldn’t touch said organ, and neither party could sleep with their back turned to the other. Instead, they’d simply coo and fondle each other’s bodies, rubbing their chests together, talking until falling asleep. Yet zealous missionaries couldn’t be persuaded that coitus wasn’t, in fact, occurring, and so they forced any teenagers who’d engaged in ngweko to repent for what they saw as the sin of premarital relations.
Among the most despicable of prudish missionaries was a dogmatic French priest named Honoré Laval, who managed to nearly wipe out the entire Mangareva culture of French Polynesia in the mid-19th century. When he and his fellow clergymen first set foot onto the Gambier Islands in January, 1834, the free-spirited Mangarevans (whom, Laval assured the bishops in Bordeaux, were ignorant pagans seething with lasciviousness and therefore in desperate need of salvation) numbered at over nine thousand. After a few short decades of his unbridled theocratic rule on the islands, in which he banished anyone who dared to question his sacred cause, it numbered at just a few hundred. During this time, Laval destroyed every last Mangarevan idol and artifact and replaced the ancient temples with cathedrals and convents. The latter he stocked with young native women, whom he saw as being especially vulnerable to the Devil’s lewd temptations. Instead of swimming bare-chested in the azure waters of the archipelago as their ancestors had done since time immemorial, they could now only wander aimlessly along the convent halls while fingering their rosaries, draped in the suffocating habits of old French nuns.
Lazal’s religious tyranny ended in 1871, when a traveling merchant doing business on the islands, shocked by the conditions he saw, smuggled word of the priest’s isolated demagogic regime to the governor in Tahiti. When a special French envoy finally liberated the Mangarevans that year, two little native boys were said to have stumbled out of Laval’s overflowing prison, explaining that they’d been ordered jailed by the priest for the grievous offence of having giggled during Mass.
Should we forgive Laval and the many other missionaries who’ve since come and gone, and in fact continue largely unabated to this day, foisting their biblical sexual ethics on other cultures? After all, they’ve only been doing their evangelical duties. Frankly, I see little evidence of their love and benevolence, only tragic tales of cultures forever lost to the ideological bulldozer of Christian homogenization, the self-righteous flag of original sin waving arrogantly in the breeze. I’m reminded of the Eskimo’s famous lament in Annie Dillard’s remarkable book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. “If I did not know about God and sin,” the Eskimo asked the priest, “would I go to hell?” “No, not if you did not know,” replied the priest. “Then why did you tell me?” responded the Eskimo.
About the Author: Jesse Bering is the author of The Belief Instinct (2011), Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That? (2012) and Perv (October, 2013). He began his career as a psychology professor at the University of Arkansas and is the former director of the Institute of Cognition and Culture at Queen’s University Belfast. Bering now lives in Ithaca, New York with his partner, Juan, along with a very big cat and two pathologically friendly border terriers. In addition to his books, Bering is also a regular contributor to many popular magazines, including Scientific American, Slate, New York Magazine, The Guardian, The New Republic, Discover, and more. Follow on Twitter @JesseBering.
Atheists and homosexuals were called perverts once. Why do we still see perversion where no harm is done?
by Jesse Bering
Reclining Boy (1913) by Egon Schiele. Leopold Foundation, Vienna. Photo by Corbis
Jesse Bering is a former academic in psychology whose writing has appeared in Scientific American, Slate and The Guardian, among others. His latest book is Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us (2013).
Perverts weren’t always the libidinous bogeymen we imagine when we think of the term today. Sexual mores have certainly shifted dramatically over the course of history and across societies, but the very word ‘pervert’ once literally meant something else entirely to what it does now. For example, the peculiar discovery that some peasant during the reign of Charles II used conch shells for anal gratification or inhaled a stolen batch of ladies’ corsets while touching himself in the town square would have been merely coincidental to any accusations of his being perverted (though it wouldn’t have helped his case). Seventeenth-century terms such as ‘skellum’ (scoundrel) or reference to his ‘mundungus’ (smelly entrails) might have applied, but calling this man a ‘pervert’ for his peccadilloes would have made little sense at the time.
Linguistically, the sexual connotation feels natural. The ring of it — purrrvert — is at once melodious and cloying, producing a noticeable snarl on the speaker’s face, while the image of a lecherous child molester, a trench-coated flasher in a park, a drooling pornographer, or perhaps a serial rapist pops into one’s head. Yet as Shakespeare might remind us, a pervert by any other name would smell as foul. For the longest time, in fact, to be a pervert wasn’t to be a sexual deviant; it was to be an atheist.
In 1656, the British lexicographer Thomas Blount included the following entry for the verb ‘pervert’ in his Glossographia (a book also known by the more cumbersome title A Dictionary Interpreting the Hard Words of Whatsoever Language Now Used in Our Refined English Tongue): ‘to turn upside down, to debauch, or seduce’. No doubt all of these activities occur in your typical suburban bedroom today. But it’s only by dint of our post-Victorian minds that we perceive these types of naughty winks in the definition of a term that was floating around the old English countryside. In Blount’s time, and for several hundred years after he was dead and buried, a pervert was simply a headstrong apostate who had turned his or her back on the draconian morality of the medieval Church, thereby ‘seducing’ others into a godless lifestyle.
If we applied this original definition to the present iconoclastic world of science, one of the most recognisable perverts in the world today would be the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. As the author of The God Delusion (2006) and an active proselytiser of atheism, Dawkins encourages his fellow rationalists to ‘turn away from’ canonical religious teachings. As I’ve written my own scientific atheistic screed, I’m not casting stones. I’m proudly in possession of a perverted nature that fits both the archaic use of the term, due to my atheism, and its more recent pejorative use, due to my homosexuality.
Only at the tail end of the 19th century did the word ‘pervert’ first leap from the histrionic sermons of fiery preachers into the heady, clinical discourses of stuffy European sexologists. Today, the term is more likely to be used less as a diagnosis and more as an insult, hurled at the likes of sex offenders. This gradual semantic migration of perverts, from the church pews to the psychiatric clinic to the online comments section of salacious news stories, hasn’t occurred without the clattering bones of medieval religious morality dragging behind. Notice that the suffix –vert means, generally, ‘to turn’: hence ‘to convert’ (to turn to another), ‘to revert’ (to return to a previous state), ‘to invert’ (to turn inside out), ‘to pervert’ (to turn away from the right course), and so on. Of those, ‘pervert’ alone has that devilishly malicious core — ‘a distinctive quality of obstinacy’, as the Australian psychoanalyst Jon Jureidini has called it in the paper ‘Perversion: An Erotic Form of Hatred or Exciting Avoidance of Reality?’(2001). He goes on: ‘petulance, peevishness … self-willed in a way that distinguishes it from more “innocent” deviations’.
A judge accusing someone of ‘perverting the course of justice’ is referring to a deliberate effort to thwart moral fairness. Similarly, since the modern noun form of ‘pervert’ is synonymous with ‘sex deviant’, the presumption is that the person thus described is a deviant by his (or her) own malicious design. In other words, he is presumed to have wilfully chosen to be sexually aberrant — that’s to say, to go against what is right.
It’s striking how such an emotionally loaded word, one that undergoes almost no change at all for the first 1,000 years of its use, can almost overnight come to mean something so very different, entirely eclipsing its original intent. Exactly how did this word ‘pervert’ go from being a perennial term for the ‘immoral religious heretic’ to referring to the ‘immoral sexual deviant’?
One key reason for this shift can be found in the work of the British scholar Havelock Ellis, who back in 1897 popularised the term ‘pervert’ in his descriptions of patients with atypical sexual desires. Earlier scholars, among them Richard von Krafft-Ebing, the Austro-German psychiatrist regarded by many as the father of studies in deviant sexuality, had already sexualised the term, but Ellis’s accessible writing found a wider general audience and ultimately led to this meaning of ‘pervert’ becoming solidified in the common vernacular.
The provenance of the term in Ellis’s work is still a little hard to follow, because he initially uses ‘perverts’ and ‘perversions’ in the sense of sexual deviancy in a book confusingly titled Sexual Inversion (1897). Co-authored with the gay literary critic John Addington Symonds and published after Symonds’s death, the book was a landmark treatise on the psychological basis of homosexuality. In the authors’ view, ‘sexual inversion’ reflected homosexuality as an inside-out form of the standard erotic pattern. That part is easy enough to understand. Where the language of Ellis and Symonds gets tricky, however, is in their broader use of ‘sexual perversions’ to refer to socially prohibited sexual behaviours, of which ‘sexual inversion’ (or homosexuality) was just one. Other classic types of perversions included polygamy, bestiality, and prostitution. The authors adopted this religious language not because they personally believed homosexuality to be abnormal and therefore wrong (quite the opposite, since their naturalistic approach was among the first to identify such behaviours in other animals) but only to note that it was salient among the categories of sexuality frequently depicted as ‘against what is right’ or sinful. Theirs was merely an observation about how gays and lesbians (‘inverts’) were seen by most of society.
Curiously enough, Ellis, the scientist of the pair, and the one usually credited with christening homosexuals as sex ‘perverts’, had his own unique predilection. Ellis’s urophilia — a strong sexual attraction to urine, or to people who are in the process of urinating — is documented in his various notes and letters. In correspondence with a close female acquaintance, Ellis chided the woman for forgetting her purse at his house, adding saucily: ‘I’ve no objection to your leaving liquid gold behind.’ He gave in to these desires openly and even fancied himself a connoisseur of pisseuses, writing in his autobiography: ‘I may be regarded as a pioneer in the recognition of the beauty of the natural act in women when carried out in the erect attitude.’ In his later years, this ‘divine stream’, as he called it, proved the cure for Ellis’s impotence: the image of an upright, urinating woman was the only thing that could turn him on. And he was entirely unashamed of this sexual quirk: ‘It was never to me vulgar, but, rather, an ideal interest, a part of the yet unrecognised loveliness of the world.’ On attempting to analyse his own case (he was a sexologist, after all), Ellis concluded: ‘[It’s] not extremely uncommon … it has been noted of men of high intellectual distinction.’ He was also convinced that men with high-pitched voices were generally more intelligent than baritones. That Ellis himself was a rare high tenor might have had something to do with that curious hypothesis as well.
Ellis was among a handful of pioneering sexologists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who had set out to tease apart the complicated strands of human sexuality. Other scholars, among them Krafft-Ebing and Sigmund Freud, as well as Freud’s early follower, the Austrian psychologist Wilhelm Stekel, were similarly committed to this newly objective, amoral empirical approach to sexual deviance. Their writings might seem tainted with bias to us today (and in fact they are) but they also display a genuine concern for those who found themselves, through no doing or choice of their own, feeling aroused in ways that posed major problems in the social conditions under which they lived.
With their inverted pattern of attraction, homosexuals became perverts in essence, not just louses dabbling in transgressive sex
The early sexologists found themselves confronted by angry purists who believed that their novel scientific endeavours would bring about the collapse of cherished institutions such as marriage, religion, and ‘the family’. Anxieties over such a ‘slippery slope effect’ have been around for a very long time and, in the eyes of these moralists, an objective approach to sexuality threatened all that was good and holy. Conservative scholars saw any neutral evaluation of sex deviants as dangerous, for it legitimised wicked things as ‘natural’ variants of behaviour and lead ‘normal’ people to embrace the unethical lifestyles of the degenerate. Merely giving ‘horrific’ tendencies such as same-sex desires their own proper scientific names made them that much more real to these moralists, and therefore much more threatening. To them, this was the reification of sexual evil. For instance, in 1897 William Noyes, a psychiatrist at the Boston Lunatic Hospital, wrote a scathing review of Ellis and Symonds’s Sexual Inversion in which he chastised the authors for ‘adding 300 more pages to a literature already too flourishing … Apart from its influence on the perverts [homosexuals] themselves no healthy person can read this literature without a lower opinion of human nature, and this result in itself should bid any writer pause.’
Looking back, it’s evident that Ellis and Symonds’s careful distinction between homosexual behaviour and homosexual orientation was an important step in the history of gay rights. It might seem like commonsense today, but these authors disentangled the two elements, which in turn informed our modern understanding of homosexuality as a psychosexual trait (or orientation), not just something that one ‘did’ with the same sex. Their contribution to the way psychiatrists’ think about homosexuality had long-lasting implications for gays and lesbians. On the positive side, homosexuals were no longer perceived (at least by experts) as fallen people who were simply so immoral and licentious that they’d even resort to doing that; instead, they were seen as having a psychological ‘nature’ that made them ‘naturally’ attracted to the same sex rather than to the opposite sex.
On the negative side, this newly recognised nature was also regarded as inherently abnormal or flawed. With their inverted pattern of attraction, homosexuals became perverts in essence, not just louses dabbling in transgressive sex. Whether or not they ever had homosexual sex, such individuals were now one of ‘those people’. Also, once homosexuality was understood to be an orientation and not just a criminal behaviour, it could be medicalised as a psychiatric condition. For almost a century afterwards, physicians saw gays and lesbians as quite obviously mentally ill. And just as one would treat the pathological symptoms of patients suffering from any mental illness, most clinicians believed that homosexuals should be treated for their unfortunate disorder. Needless to say, such ‘conversion’ treatments, in all their shameful forms, didn’t involve encouraging gays and lesbians to be themselves.
The die had also been cast for the disparaging term pervert and its enduring association with homosexuality. Not so long ago, some Neo-Freudian scholars were still interpreting anal sex among gay men as an unconscious desire in the recipient (or the ‘bottom’) to nip off the other’s penis with his tightened sphincter. ‘In this way, which is so characteristic of the pervert,’ mused the influential South African-born psychoanalyst Mervin Glasser in the paper ‘Identification and its Vicissitudes as Observed in the Perversions’ (1986), ‘he [is] trying to establish his father as an internal object with whom to identify, as an inner ally and bulwark against his powerful mother’. That might sound as scientific to us today as astrology or tarot cards, but considering that Glasser wrote this 13 years after the American Psychiatric Association formally removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders, it shows how long the religious moral connotations stuck around, even in clinical circles. Glasser’s bizarre analysis of ‘perverts’ was the type of thing a gay man could expect to hear if he ever sought counselling for his inevitable woes from living in a world that couldn’t decide if he was sick or immoral, so simply saw him as both.
Today, the word pervert just sounds silly, or at least provincial, when used to refer to gays and lesbians. In a growing number of societies, homosexuals are slowly, begrudgingly, being allowed entry into the ranks of the culturally tolerated. But plenty of other sexual minorities remain firmly entrenched in the orientation blacklist. Although, happily, we’re increasingly using science to defend gays and lesbians, deep down most of us (religious or not) still appear to be suffering from the illusion of a creator who set moral limits on the acceptable sexual orientations. Our knee-jerk perception of individuals who similarly have no choice whatsoever over what arouses them sexually (be they paedophiles, exhibitionists, transvestites, or fetishists, to name but a few) is that they’ve wilfully, deliberately, and arrogantly strayed from the right course. In other words, we see them as ‘true perverts’. Whereas gays and lesbians are perceived by more and more people as ‘like normal heterosexuals’ because they didn’t choose to be the way they are, we assume that these others somehow did.
As a society we’ve become so focused on the question of whether a given sexual behaviour is ‘natural’ or ‘unnatural’ that we’ve lost sight of the more important question: Is it harmful? In many ways, it’s an even more challenging question, because although naturalness can be assessed by relatively straightforward queries about statistical averages — for example, ‘How frequently does it appear in other species?’ and ‘In what percentage of the human population does it occur?’ — the experience of harm is largely subjective. As such, it defies direct analyses and requires definitions that resonate with people in vastly different ways.
When it comes to sexual harm in particular, what’s harmful to one person could be not only completely harmless to another but might even, believe it or not, be helpful or positive. A gay Muslim who dies only to find himself in an afterlife thronged with 72 beautiful female virgins, as the Koran promises its faithful, will be in hell, not in heaven. One man’s angels are another’s demons.
Morally, all that matters is whether a person’s sexual deviancy is demonstrably harmful
And it’s not just overtly physical sexual acts that can be experienced differently in terms of harm but also entirely ethereal sexual desires. For the religiously devout, this whole conversation is a lost cause. Yet once one abandons the notion that one can ‘commit’ a sin by thinking a thought, it becomes quite clear that sexual desires — no matter how deviant — are intrinsically harmless to the subject of a person’s lust, at least in the physical sense. Mental states are ‘a mere breath on the air’ as the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once wrote. Sexual desires can, of course, be thought bubbles with thorns and wreak havoc on a person’s own well-being (especially when they occur in the heads of those convinced such thoughts come from the devil and yet they just can’t stop having them).
Still, it’s only when this ‘mere breath on the air’ is manifested in behaviour that harm to another person might or might not occur. Treating an individual as a pervert in essence, and hence with a purposefully immoral mind, because his or her brain conjures up atypical erotic ideas, or responds sexually to stimuli that others have deemed inappropriate objects of desire, then becomes medieval in both its stupidity and its cruelty. It’s also entirely counterproductive. For example, research in the 1980s on the ‘white bear effect’ by the social psychologist Daniel Wegner and colleagues at Trinity University in Texas has shown that forcing a person to suppress specific thoughts leads to those very thoughts invading the subject’s consciousness even more than they otherwise would. (Whatever you do, don’t — I repeat, do not — think about a white bear during the next 30 seconds.)
Our critical evaluations should fall upon harmful sexual actions with the heaviest of thuds, but not upon a pituitary excretion that happens to morph into an ethereal image in the private movie theatre of someone’s mind. Morally, all that matters is whether a person’s sexual deviancy is demonstrably harmful. If it’s not, and we reject the person anyway, then we’re not the good guys in this scenario: we’re the bad guys.
Breaking Their Will: The Sick Biblical Literalism That Leads to Child Abuse and Even Death
Authoritarian parenting and abusive practices are all too common in some Evangelical households.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Suzanne Tucker
In 2008, Hana Williams was adopted from an orphanage in Ethiopia and brought to the United States where she died at the hands of her Bible-believing American parents. Their notion of Christian discipline required breaking her will, a remarkably common belief among conservative Evangelicals. To that end, they frequently beat her, shut her in a closet, and denied her meals. Ultimately, she was left outside where she died of hypothermia exacerbated by malnutrition. They were convicted ofmanslaughter this month.
In carrying out their obsession with child obedience, Hana’s adoptive parents drew tips from Tennessee preacher Michael Pearl, whose spare-the-rod-spoil-the-child book, To Train Up a Child, has been found now in three homes of Christian parents who killed their adopted children. The title comes from a stanza in the book of Proverbs: Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.
M. Dolon Hickmon is the author of an upcoming novel called 13:24that includes religiously motivated abuse. Hickmon was raised by parents who subscribed to this kind of discipline, and he knows first-hand about deep and long-lasting scars from Bible-based childrearing. Hickmon left his 6,000 member megachurch after a pastor seized on Father’s Day as a prime occasion to teach the congregation how to shape and sand wooden spanking paddles. For Hickmon, the sermon triggered memories of the beatings he had suffered as a child—administered by Christian parents and justified by biblical teachings.
While struggling to hold together his faith, Hickmon sent a letter soliciting advice from an online ministry run by the authors of a popular Evangelical parenting manual. He wrote as if he were a father experiencing marital conflict because his wife interfered when he hit their terrified, screaming six-year-old. In reality, Hickmon was describing his own childhood experience. (You can read his letter, which is full of intentional red flags, here.) The response: Your wife is at fault in coming to your son’s defense. Your son uses her. Either she stays out of the way, or you will have to stop being a real Dad.
Mercifully, secular courts don’t agree that inflicting physical wounds is an acceptable part of parenting. Hana’s parents have been convicted for her death at their hands and will be sentenced in October. Their seven biological children and adopted son—they had also adopted a boy from Ethiopia ironically named Immanuel, meaning “God is with us”— are now safe from their abuse. It is noteworthy, though, that American children are being made safer by secular institutions, not adherence to ancient texts and traditions.
Child protections have become established in most countries, and conversations about child-friendly religion are gaining ground. Even so, many children are subject to patriarchalgroups that take parenting priorities from the Iron Age. Evangelical Christians, fearing that their religion is losing ground, have ramped up recruiting activities targeting high school and college students but also young children. Their tool bag includes afternoon club programs and enticing camps. Some churches, like that of TV’s Duggar family, promote a high birth rate, adding young sheep to the fold the old fashioned way. Many churches encourage members—even those who already have numerous children—to adopt.
Kathryn Joyce’s book, The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption exposes Evangelical ministries that have resorted to even lies and bribes to pursue their mission of getting children into good Christian homes. A more common criticism is that Evangelical adoption priorities fuel construction of aid-dependent orphanages rather than addressing the underlying systemic issues that cause maternal destitution and death, leaving children parentless.
Many Evangelical families provide a balance of love and structure and moderate discipline that helps kids thrive. But even well intentioned and loving parents can be thrown off by a church or books that hold up spare the rod, spoil the child as advice from God. When parenting practices derive literally from the Iron Age texts of Bible, the price can be enormous.
As a child, M. Dolon Hickmon collected bits he’d heard in sermons and adult conversations, trying to understand his fear and hurt. Ultimately he decided the fault lay in himself:
Here are the messages I gleaned from the church of my childhood: that beating children is acceptable—good for them, in fact; bruises and welts are of little consequence; that fear is desirable, as is pained screaming and broken sobbing. I’d heard that kids were to be whipped for the least act of disobedience, with belts and sticks and plastic racecar tracks; on bare skin, and as often as an adult thought was necessary.
A child abuser, on the other hand, is someone who doesn’t love you. A parent who never gives hugs because he is angry all the time. A child abuser is a drinker, a druggie, or at best some kind of wild animal. An abuser has no reasons or explanations. He just burns kids with cigarettes and gives them broken arms.
My abuser loved me and hugged me, and he overflowed with explanations. I once got an hour-long lesson on disobedience for leaving a crayon on the floor. While the belt clapped with the measured rhythms of chopping firewood, I struggled to commit verses to memory and to answer quizzes on the metaphysical meanings of the word honor in scripture. . . .
I tolerated being degraded, because that was what I thought a Christian child was supposed to do.
Children generally have a hard time protecting themselves from abusive caregivers. Children who are made to believe that God is on the side of the abuser and that they deserve to suffer are all the more unable to fend off physical and psychological wounds. To quote Pat Benetar’s song “Hell is for Children,” love and pain become one and the same in the eyes of a wounded child.
As of late, critics have been raising awareness of the link between certain kinds of religious parenting and abuse. Janet Heimlich, author of Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment, recently founded the Child-Friendly Faith Project, a national nonprofit organization that educates the public about the impact that religious, spiritual, and cultural beliefs and practices have on children.
We now know a great deal about how children flourish and how adults can manage parent-child conflict for positive outcomes. Psychologist Laura Kastner distilled two decades of parenting research into seven basic principles, which provide the structure for her book, Wise-Minded Parenting. When asked to comment on recent tragedies, Kastner suggested that we may have learned a thing or two in the millennia since our sacred texts were written:
Our growing knowledge of child development suggests that authoritative parenting grounded in mutual respect works better in the long run than threats and force. It is a shame that factions among us still support the use of the “rod” when we have abundant evidence that non-violent parental strengths are the key to building success and character.
Tragedies like the death of Hana Williams prompt soul searching. For example, the case has prompted calls for adoption reform. But what shape should reforms take? We cannot exclude prospective parents on the basis of their religious affiliation, nor should we. Many adoptive parents are inspired by their faith to step up and do the hard sustained work of loving and raising orphaned children despite their special needs and challenges.
And yet beliefs matter. They can override compassion and common sense, as Hickmon’s experience so clearly shows. Encircled by like-minded believers, parents and children may get little exposure to outside parenting practices. This means that religious leaders have tremendous power to either cause suffering or to help families develop skills that are grounded in a genuine understanding of child development. As we collectively muddle our way toward a better future, we need to engage in a thoughtful, complicated conversation about parental power and children’s wellbeing, and the positive and negative roles religion can play in finding a balance that helps kids flourish.
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington and the founder of Wisdom Commons. She is the author of “Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light” and “Deas and Other Imaginings.” Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.
Putin’s Unholy Alliance With Orthodox Church To Persecute Gays
by Susie Madrak
Vladimir Putin is not your typical head of state. He’s a thug, and Russia is a state run by gangsters. Frank Schaeffer, who (having grown up in the bosom of the Christian right) knows a thing or two about religious hate, writes about Putin’s unholy alliance with the Orthodox Church to persecute gays:
With the disgusting acquiescence of the Russian Orthodox bishops, Vladimir Putin has accomplished what Sarah Palin, Franklin Graham and Michele Bachmann could only dream of doing in America. He’s made it okay to persecute gay people people in Russia. Putin has built his power base of corruption and terror with the help of the religious and conservative elements of his society. He’s become expert at courting the alliance of the Russian Orthodox Church. And here in America conservatives are lining up to defend Putin. For instance, writing in The American Conservative, in an article called Culture War Goes Global, (August 13, 3013) Patrick J. Buchanan writes:
As Father Regis Scanlon writes in Crisis Magazine, in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI reiterated Catholic doctrine that homosexuality is a “strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil,” an “objective disorder.” That homosexual acts are unnatural and immoral remains Catholic teaching.
Thus, if we seek to build a Good Society by traditional Catholic and Christian standards, why should not homosexual propaganda be treated the same as racist or anti-Semitic propaganda? …. “The adoption of Christianity,” declared Putin, “became a turning point in the fate of our fatherland, made it an inseparable part of the Christian civilization and helped turn it into one of the largest world powers.” Anyone ever heard anything like that from the Post, the Times, or Barack Hussein Obama?
The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, took to TV to say that “liberalism will lead to legal collapse and then the Apocalypse.” On another occasion, he called Putin’s rule “a miracle.” When convening the heads and senior members of 15 Orthodox Churches for an unprecedented meeting at the Kremlin in the summer of 2013, Putin praised the moral authority of the church. “It is important that relations between the state and the church are developing at a new level,” Putin said in televised remarks, with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill by his side. “We act as genuine partners and colleagues to solve the most pressing domestic and international tasks, to implement joint initiatives for the benefit of our country and people,” he told the clerics.
Alongside Kirill, those present included Patriarch Theodore II of Alexandria, Theophilos III of Jerusalem and Ilia II of Georgia. Also present were the heads of the Bulgarian, Serbian, Polish and Cypriot Orthodox Churches. Together they represented more than 227 million faithful.
To my knowledge not one American Orthodox bishop protested this meeting. I’m reminded of the silence of most of the German churches during the rise of Hitler.As a member of the Orthodox Church, in this case the Greek Orthodox Church, I’m ashamed.
The nature of godless liberalism can be difficult to understand because of the misuse of the label by the Christian Right. According to them, all liberals are godless because they don’t adhere to conservative evangelical or fundamentalist Christianity. Only conservative political policies are seen as compatible with Christianity; therefore, all other policies are anti-Christian, anti-religious, and anti-God. Advocates are all thus godless liberals, but that misrepresents the nature of atheism.
Godless Liberals are Communists:
Christian Right pundits often claim that atheism is essentially socialist or communist in nature – indeed, “godless” and “communist” are often used side-by-side as epithets. Communism is not, however, inherently atheistic. It’s possible to hold communist economic views while being a theist, and it isn’t uncommon to be an atheist who staunchly defends capitalism. Those who link the two as a smear simply haven’t gotten the message that the “war on godless communism” ended long ago. Read More…
Godless Liberals are Elitist & Arrogant:
Just as common as the use of “godless” and “communist” as political smears is the label “elitist.” Conservatives have long attacked liberals as “elitist” to convince average Americans that liberals have nothing in common with them. The truth is that the label “elitist” would apply equally to some conservatives as well as some liberals. There is nothing about being godless which makes a person is more elitist or arrogant; if anything, claiming to know what God wants is a sign of arrogance.
Godless Liberals are Secularists, Opposed to Religious Liberty:
The Christian Right opposes secularism and regards it as one of modernity’s greatest evils, so it’s only natural that they use it as a smear against liberals, godless or otherwise. Liberals are generally secularists, and godless liberals particularly so, because secularism is so important to modern society. Secularism simply means having civil institutions which are independent of ecclesiastical control. The opposite of secularism and secular government is some form of theocracy.
Godless Liberals are Anti-American:
A popular attack on godless atheists is that they are anti-American. This derives in part from the assumption that true American patriotism is impossible without also being a True Christian – America is a Christian Nation, after all – and in part from the traditional assumption that communists are also anti-American. If godless atheists are anti-America, then godless liberals must be as well. The falsehood of this is obvious given just how false all the premises necessarily are.
Godless Liberals are Anti-Christian:
Many atheists spend a great deal of time with the doctrines and beliefs which are specific to Christianity or, at the very least, to traditional forms of Western monotheism. Some atheists are indeed vehemently anti-Christian, but only insofar as they oppose religion generally – Christianity is simply the most relevant religion in their social context. This isn’t much of a complaint against atheists, though, unless it can be shown that Christianity should be exempted from such attacks.
Godless Liberals are Anti-Religion:
For people who see their god or their religion as the source of all order and morality, godless liberalism may be treated as impossible or even as a threat. The fact that godless liberals do not derive their political positions from religious doctrine does not make them anti-religious, though. They may personally be anti-religion, but politically they may not be – indeed, they may have no problem making common cause with religious liberals.
Godless Liberalism is an anti-Christian Religion:
Alongside accusing godless liberals of being anti-religion, conservatives accuse it of also being a religion that opposes Christianity. Being an atheist isn’t incompatible with belonging to a religion, but atheism itself doesn’t qualify as a religion. Liberalism is a political philosophy which lacks all the basic characteristics of a religion and is no more religious than conservatism – and possibly less so. Godless liberalism is not a religion and there is no church of godless liberalism.
Godless Liberals Undermine Moral Values with Godless Evolution:
A popular target for conservatives is evolutionary science, which they say undermines traditional religious faith and morality. They say evolution is incompatible with Christian beliefs and are convinced that teaching evolution will destroy Christianity. Liberals who support teaching science in public schools are accused of being godless and anti-Christian. The science of evolution is godless, but it’s not a religion, not incompatible with morality, and not anti-Christian. Read More…
Godless Liberalism, Traditional Bigotry, and Christian Privilege:
Atheists don’t exist in large numbers in America and aren’t a very powerful interest group in American politics. Atheists can be found in both liberal and conservative political movements; liberals overall are primarily theistic and Christian, not atheists. Neither the godless nor godless liberals have by themselves any significant impact on politics, culture, or society. Because of all this and more, we have to ask why conservatives have become so obsessed with attacking “godless liberals.”Conservative attacks on godless liberals make no sense if the target is really supposed to be godless liberals themselves; on the other hand, if godless liberals are merely a substitute for other targets, the attacks are more understandable. One likely point of the attacks is an indirect defense of traditional Christian privileges: if anything is indicative of the loss of Christian privileges in America, it’s the unapologetic presence of outspoken atheists – and especially the presence of atheists filing lawsuits to eliminate government favoritism towards and promotion of Christianity. Attacks on the godless are thus a means for expressing outrage that some feel because Christians and Christianity are not treated as special anymore.Another likely reason for the attacks on godless liberals is the fact that conservatives are finding it increasingly difficult to attack the minorities they have traditionally tried to attack in defense of other traditional privileges: male privilege, white privilege, and heterosexual privilege. Conservatives frequently attack gays, but it’s getting harder to be openly bigoted towards them without social consequences. Attacks on the equality of women and racial minorities are even more difficult and must be heavily veiled with code-words involving immigration, radical feminism, and so forth. If someone wants to vent their bigotry, they do so against liberalism generally because it’s largely responsible for the decline of traditional privileges.
Why some women would obey such an order is less clear, but one expert suggests they may believe it’s an act of devotion.
“Muslim women prostituting themselves in this case is being considered a legitimate jihad because such women are making sacrifices—their chastity, their dignity—in order to help apparently sexually-frustrated jihadis better focus on the war to empower Islam in Syria,” writes author and Islam expert Raymond Ibrahim for The Investigative Project On Terrorism, a nonprofit research organization that studies jihad.
One of the finest members of his church, 20-year-old Colin Briggs, had been a camp counselor and church volunteer for a couple of years. He even went on a mission trip to Haiti in 2011.
Colin Briggs in Haiti (The New Brunswick Beacon)
But he’s gay. And there was a chance that some of the older members of the congregation wouldn’t take that news very well if they ever found out.
So Brewer met with Briggs a few days ago to let him know that, if the church members ever bothered him about his sexuality, Brewer would offer his support and defend Briggs’ character. That’s what their church’s mission was all about, after all: becoming “fully devoted followers of Jesus.”
Pastor Mark Brewer asked Briggs to stop by the church on September 18 for a meeting. The youth pastor, Nathalie Estey, was also present.
To his shock, they asked Briggs to stop his volunteer activities. They said he was welcome to continue attending church services.
“We felt it would be in the best interest of him and the church if he stopped serving,” said Brewer. This would “avoid any potential uproar that may be caused if families were to find out an openly gay male was working in the children’s ministry.”
And what would be so wrong if people in the church found out he was gay, anyway?
He hesitated, then said, “Having an openly gay male working in the children’s ministry may cause some parents to feel uncomfortable.”
Ah. There we go. Brewer’s concern is that some people in the church might ignorantly link homosexuality with pedophilia… and, instead of correcting their false assumptions, he decided the best option would be to just tell Briggs he couldn’t volunteer at the church anymore.
It’s kind of like when Jesus told the tax collectors and prostitutes, “Get out of here before you make me look bad!”
It’s like that Christian saying: Love the sinner, hate the sin, and then start over and make the sinner feel like shit.
I can’t believe the pastor has no desire at all to correct his congregations’ bigoted thinking. His immediate solution is to make sure no gay person ever represents his church in public. Briggs is still welcome to attend the church, Brewer added.
Because, you know, if Briggs wants to keep tithing, they’ll be glad to have him.
The church hasn’t responded to this article yet, but readers are letting them have it on their Facebook page.
It was hard to forgive the Nazis. The “1,000 year Reich” lasted a mere 12 years, and the German state was crushed under the weight of bloody streets, genocidal concentration camps and despotism. For this to happen in the heart of apparently civilised Europe was unimaginable – especially for Jews who had often been fully included, and very often assimilated, members of society.
One of my relations fought on Germany’s side in the first world war. I’ve seen his grave in a Dresden cemetery, a city fire-bombed with spite by the allies in 1945. I was the first Loewenstein family member to visit the place after the fall of the Berlin Wall. I remember finding the street where my family had lived, unrecognisable in a sea of Soviet-inspired concrete. I used a pay phone and called my parents in Melbourne. We all cried, a silent recognition that our tragic Jewish story, sadly too common for words, began in a quiet and plain street in a deceptively normal German setting.
American writer Erik Larson’s stunning book In the Garden of Beasts, which profiles William E Dodd, the first US ambassador to Hitler’s Germany, gives a chilling taste of the seductive nature of German fascism. One of Dodd’s daughters, Martha, had her hand kissed by Hitler in 1933, and her father acknowledged “that Hitler was not an unattractive man personally.” This was the illusionary calm before the onslaught.
As a Jew born in Australia in 1974, I never imagined that Germany’s long shadow would envelop my adult life. In 2011, I became a German citizen while maintaining my Australian passport, due to a 1954 German law that allowed Jews to re-instate citizenship removed by the Nazis during their reign. I wanted citizenship for a few reasons, not least to honour my family that Germany once rejected, and to have the option of working freely across the European Union.
Former German citizens who between January 30, 1933 and May 8, 1945 were deprived of their citizenship on political, racial, or religious grounds, and their descendants, shall on application have their citizenship restored. They shall be deemed never to have been deprived of their citizenship if they have established their domicile in Germany after May 8, 1945 and have not expressed a contrary intention.
The vast bulk of my European family were murdered during the war, and those who escaped were made stateless before they fled. The vibrant global Jewish diaspora that exists today is largely due to the rupture of Jewish life in the 1930s across a world that was far from keen to accept them. My grandparents left Europe in 1939 and arrived in an Australia that viewed Jews with suspicion. They said that Perth, where the ship first docked, was “primitive and without rye bread”.
The process of acquiring German citizenship has been a long journey that reveals the often tortuous relationships that continue to define Jewish identity in the 21st century. My father’s father, Fred, died before I recall having any serious conversations with him about becoming a German citizen. His attitude towards his birth country evolved to a point where I sensed he didn’t hate Germany, loved his adopted nation, Australia, but would not have even remotely considered re-acquiring his German citizenship.
My uncle, Herbert, also born in Dresden, is 93 and still alive in Toronto. For him too, re-acquiring his German citizenship was out of the question. He wasn’t even prepared to visit Germany until a few years ago – and then, it was because he was invited by the city of Dresden. After all, Germany had rejected our family, killed the youngest and oldest and changed the fate of our lives irrevocably.
My father, Jeffrey, was different. When I first mentioned the idea of obtaining a German passport many years ago, he dismissed the whole idea out of hand. It was not an unusual Jewish response, a visceral rejection of ever seeing Germany as a nation worth respecting and viewing us as Jews and equals. I protested his intransigence but it was futile (he had to obtain citizenship first before I was able to do so).
Over the years I would occasionally ask if his position had changed, and it took a long time for his opposition to relent. I continued reminding him that Germany had shifted, and was no longer a haven for Jew-hatred (though Neo-Nazis and the far-right remains a growing problem).
Finally, my father gave in and realised that becoming a German citizen was in no way endorsing the policies of former German governments, but a way to rightfully re-claim our birthright. My father had meticulously kept all the documents that the German consulate required. A process that officials said would take a few months took two years.
On 14 January 2011, I arrived at the German consulate in Sydney and waited until a senior official appeared. He congratulated me on becoming a German citizen and asked how I felt. I had tears in my eyes, unsure what to say, but I mumbled something about never imagining that Germany was again so keen to welcome me, as a Jew and atheist, into its heart. I also felt, but didn’t verbalise, that it was a personal victory against Nazism.
Today I feel neither German nor Australian. I hope my murdered ancestors would understand why I wanted to once again assume a German identity, or at least attachment to my pedigree as a fully-fledged member of German’s Jewish community. And yet I’m a non-practicing Jewish atheist currently based in Sydney.
Uncritical nationalism towards my birth country is impossible. I share human rights lawyer Julian Burnside’s despair at the Australian elite’s ability to unleash cruelty against asylum seekers and the dispossessed, and I question whether our settler-colonial state has ever really felt comfortable fully accepting the strange, the new, the remote, the other. Multiculturalism exists but its implementation can never be complete while politicians and media commentators divide a population by warning Australians that [insert minority group here] are a threat to our harmony.
My ostracism from mainstream Judaism is directly linked to Israel’s brutal treatment of the Palestinians. For too many Jews, Zionism has become their main religion, and a God of intolerance is praised on a regular basis. When then Israeli finance minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a conference in 2003 that Israeli Arabs were a threat to the Jewish nature of his country (he said “If there is a demographic problem, and there is, it is with the Israeli Arabs who will remain Israeli citizens”) it should have been condemned as outright racism.
Instead, such comments are routinely expressed by senior Israeli officials and the world shrugs though. As leading American human rights professor and United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories professor Richard Falk said last week in Sydney, the Jewish state will increasingly face boycotts, sanctions and divestment so long as it oppresses the Palestinians.
A former head of Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet, says in the Israeli film The Gatekeepers that “[We’ve become] a brutal occupation force similar to the Germans in World War II”.
This is what my people are known for around the globe.
According to new Israeli government released figures, Jews are now outnumbered by Arabs under Israeli sovereignty by over 50,000 people. That’s segregation by definition. Israel learns nothing from history except how to brutalise the marginalised. Germany struggles to understand how it allowed itself to be overcome by 12 years of madness. Australia is a free nation that locks up refugees in remote and privatised detention camps, making a mockery of our “fair go” claim.
My identity is a conflicted and messy mix that incorporates Judaism, atheism, anti-Zionism, Germanic traditions and Anglo-Saxon-Australian beliefs. And yet I both routinely reject and embrace them all. It sounds exhausting but it’s actually invigorating. I never feel I belong anywhere. I can’t be a Jew, atheist, German or Australian without a bundle of caveats.
It is a clear demonstration of an imaginary deity’s impotency and incapacity to do its own bidding when humans have to make edicts to defend its alleged hurt pride. Blasphemy laws are more about the insecurity of the believer than an attempt to protect a god. Any god in need of such human intervention is a god not worth its salt.
People all over the planet are being threatened, imprisoned, tortured and killed by religious fanatics for daring to make comment about the veracity of religious magical thinking. This is one of the worst aspects of accepting mythology as fact. It turns humans into mob-ruled ideological monsters willing to destroy the lives of others in protecting their own doubts and fears.
Replacing freedom of expression and speech with legally binding penalties for a myriad of subjective notions is a recipe only benefiting tyrannical religious/political systems.
I urge all rational and reasonable people to strongly oppose any attempts at having blasphemy initiated into law anywhere on the planet.
Atheist Foundation of Australia