Friday, August 28, 2015

Kentucky County Clerk Ready for Martyrdom

In an an amazing display of Poor Oppressed Christian nonsense, Kentucky county clerk Casey Davis has claimed that he will die in order to maintain his right to not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. I don't know if Davis honestly believes that anyone is going to kill him over this issue, or if he's just being overly dramatic. Whatever the case, though, when you think about it his stance is pretty ridiculous.

“When you stand for what’s right and when you tell someone of the danger that they are in, and I think that when a person lives a lifestyle of sin whether it’s homosexuality or drunkenness or drug addiction or adultery or thievery or any kind of sin that you continue in or live in, you are endangering yourself of spending eternity in Hell,” Davis said. “So in my view of what the Bible says, when you’re truly loving someone, you stand and you lovingly tell them, ‘This is not the way to Heaven, this is not the way of right.’”

In fact, Davis has every right to tell a same-sex couple applying for a marriage license that he considers homosexuality sinful. That's not at issue. What's at issue is that regardless of his beliefs, he cannot refuse to issue a license to them if they don't agree with him. This is where the Poor Oppressed mindset always gets muddy. They're allowed to talk about their beliefs all they want, they just can't force others to conform to them.

He argued that the U.S. Supreme Court lacked the authority to overturn Kentucky laws that were approved by a majority of voters — and he said he was willing to become a martyr over this “travesty.”

Which, for anyone who might be thinking otherwise, is absolutely not how Supreme Court rulings work. They can overturn legislation, at both the state and federal levels, whether or not that legislation has been voted on.

“Our law says ‘one man and one woman’ and that is what I held my hand up and took an oath to and that is what I expected,” Davis said. “If it takes it, I will go to jail over — if it takes my life, I will die for because I believe I owe that to the people that fought so I can have the freedom that I have. I owe that to them today, and you do, we all do. They fought and died so we could have this freedom and I’m going to fight and die for my kids and your kids can keep it.”

Actually, nobody needs to fight or die over this. Davis just needs to quit his job if his religion prevents him from performing his duties, which include issuing marriage licenses to all couples who can legally marry. I've never really understood how this is somehow not obvious to absolutely everyone. The same issue comes into play when pharmacists refuse to dispense contraception based on religious beliefs. They either need to fulfill the requirements of the job, or find another one.

From a "theological purity" perspective, it surprises me that they think God would really care whether they personally issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple or dispense birth control. As long as they work in offices that perform those functions, they still are supporting systems that according to their literal interpretation of Christianity are sinful. While I realize that having to find a new job requires some work, it's far less work than fighting or dying or becoming a martyr.

But the Poor Oppressed Christians don't think that way. They don't believe anyone deserves religious rights or freedoms except for them, and take exception whenever they aren't allowed to force their beliefs onto others who do not share them. That's apparently the only "religious freedom" that they find acceptable.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Jesus Portrait Removed From School

A middle school in Chanute, Kansas has taken down a portrait of Jesus that hung there for decades after a complaint filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. As expected, the usual crop of fundamentalist Christians are up in arms, claiming that removing the portrait attacks their religion. And as usual, they are failing to understand that allowing their religious symbols but not others effectively attacks all other religions.

Resident Erika Semey attended the school a decade ago. “Oh man, it’s getting bad,” she said. “That’s what’s wrong with this world. Not enough people have Christ in their lives.” Chanute has a mere 9,200 inhabitants, but 30 churches. The decision to remove the Christian image from a public school has rankled many residents.

Chanute’s school superintendent Richard Proffitt said that he acted quickly when he received a notification from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) that the image of Christ displayed in a public school violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. “We were notified and we responded to stay in compliance,” Proffitt said.

Ryan Jayne of FFRF told the Eagle that his organization has been pleased with the school district’s response. “It’s nice to have people who appreciate the law and get things done (and) who follow the law even if it’s likely to be unpopular in the community,” Jayne said.

Now I personally don't think that kids were really being harmed in any way by a portrait of Jesus. The problem is that with the way religious folks have been up in arms over culture war nonsense, I think that it probably did have to go. It was probably only a matter of time before some fundamentalist teacher had kids reciting Christian prayers, or asserting that Christianity is the one true religion and everybody else is damned. Had the portrait remained, they could have then pointed to it as evidence that they were doing nothing wrong by excluding non-Christian kids.

And this state of affairs is quite honestly very sad. In theory, I think that a school should be able to have a portrait of Jesus or Moses or Buddha or any of the Hindu deities without it being a big deal. But Christian fundamentalists seem to believe that the only way they can express their religion is to deny religious rights to anyone who doesn't share their beliefs. That's just wrong, and ruins religious expression for everyone.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Arkansas Hindus Propose Hanuman Statue

Demonstrating that you really can't fix stupid, Arkansas lawmakers recently voted to allow a statue of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the state capital. Yes, just like the one in Oklahoma that led to all the ridiculousness with The Satanic Temple and their crowdfunded Baphomet statue. You would think that lawmakers might consider all the bad publicity that the Oklahoma statue provoked, and prudently decide not to wade into the controversy themselves. But you would be wrong.

In a new twist, though, it's not the Satanists who are calling their bluff. This time it's a group of Hindus who proposed erecting a statue of the popular Hindu deity Lord Hanuman. Of course, they were not granted a permit to put up their statue, because predictably lawmakers were fine with a symbol of their religion but totally not okay with one with one from somebody else's. And so it begins. Again. I do appreciate, though, that this time around the folks challenging the status quo are not "spooky atheists" but rather members of one of the world's oldest established religions.

Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, offered to give the state a statue of Lord Hanuman, a popular Hindu deity often described as a monkey god. The group would have covered all of the costs to create, transport and erect the statue. “If permitted, we planned to make it big and weatherproof,” Zed wrote in a statement explaining the project. “Besides honoring the Arkansas Hindus, this statue would raise awareness of Arkansans about Hinduism, oldest and third-largest religion of the world with about one billion adherents and a rich philosophical thought.”

But don’t look for Hanuman in Little Rock anytime soon. State officials were quick to deny the request. The Associated Press reported that earlier this month the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office told Zed to either ask the General Assembly for permission or apply to the Arkansas State Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission. Hmmm. I see a buck being furiously passed.

Although the Ten Commandments are found in the Old Testament, their public display at the seat of government is almost always championed these days by fundamentalist Christians. Their goal seems to be to imply that U.S. law has religious underpinnings. This is bad law and bad history. It also runs afoul of the First Amendment. Thus, Arkansas lawmakers could spare everyone a lot of time and money by removing the Ten Commandments monument right now. The law is not on their side here.

All religions or no religions, people. If you want to keep your Ten Commandments, the Hindus have to be allowed their Lord Hanuman. And as I've said before, I think the plurality option is great. It highlights the American approach to religious diversity, in which everyone is allowed space to express their beliefs. This works far better to my way of thinking than all religious expressions being seriously limited by the state, as is the case in some other countries that enact secularism through what is essentially religious repression.

I wish the Hindus the best of luck as they attempt to navigate the hurtles being put up by fundamentalists who would rather not share their place in the public square. I hope that their Lord Hanuman statue becomes a reality, and I look forward to reporting it here on Augoeides when it does.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Planned Parenthood Crashed the Stock Market

At least, according to Pat Robertson. On his 700 Club television program, the prominent evangelist claimed that the stock market crashed on Monday because God is unhappy with government support for Planned Parenthood. Apparently according to Robertson's understanding of economics, this one factor outweighs all of the other actual financial reasons that the market fell, which is confusing at best.

That organization is an absolute monstrosity,” Robertson said. “To take your money and my money, which the government extorts from us every year in the form of taxation, is nothing short of tyranny.” Because the government takes Robertson’s money and gives it to Planned Parenthood, an organization that is “repugnant to most Americans,” the United States is facing a financial doomsday.

“We will pay dearly as a nation for this thing going on,” Robertson said. “And possibly, if we were to stop, stop all of this slaughter, the judgment of God might be lifted from us. But it’s coming, ladies and gentlemen. We just have a little taste of it in terms of the financial system. But it’s going to be shaken to its core in the next few months, years, or however long it takes, and it will hurt every one of us. It’s coming down the road. But at least we could repent and try to change.”

One of the points that nobody on Robertson's side of the aisle ever points out is that thanks to a rider called the Hyde Amendment, Planned Parenthood is not allowed to spend any federal money on abortion services, and is required to carefully keep track of where all of those dollars are sent to make sure nothing of the sort ever happens. So none of the money Robertson is complaining about is spent on abortion, but rather on other health services for women. I guess that must be what Robertson thinks is abhorrent - which frankly is pretty sad.

If any of these religious folks really were interested in reducing the abortion rate, they would support policies that have been shown to reduce unwanted pregnancies, like comprehensive sex education and increased access to contraception. The fact that hardly any of them do shows that their real concern is punishing people - especially women - for enjoying non-procreative sexuality. In fact, even though Planned Parenthood does perform abortions, it's very likely that if its funding were completely cut off and it had to discontinue its health and contraceptive services, the unwanted pregnancy rate would go up and abortions along with it.

But nobody has ever claimed that many of Robertson's pronouncements make much sense, especially here on Augoeides. Also, from the quote in the image above, it's not clear to me that he has any concept of what Planned Parenthood really does.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Prosperity Preacher Strikes Back

In response to John Oliver's epic takedown of Prosperity Gospel preachers, a Christian minister who believes in "seed faith" - the idea that if you donate money to churches, even insane operations that seem to exist only to enrich their founders, you will receive more money back than you donated by "supernatural means" - presented an epic whine about how he should mind his own business and leave prosperity preachers alone.

On Wednesday, Christian minister Jennifer LeClaire said Oliver shouldn’t “mock what you don’t understand,” calling him a “false reverend.”

I think John is pretty clear that he's a false reverend. That's the whole point of his "Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption" fake church.

LeClaire, who operates the Awakening House of Prayer, admitted there are abusive churches. But she does believe in the concept of “seed faith” — the idea that giving money to a church will result in returns for the giver.

At issue is not the idea that offerings can benefit the person making them. Ceremonial magicians do this with spirits all the time, and it does work. The problem comes in when you start teaching that (A) the larger the donation you make, the larger your returns will be and (B) when you donate, you will always get back more money than you put in.

(B) especially turns donating to these organizations into a gigantic Ponzi scheme, and the reason these evangelists become so rich is that it's the best kind of Ponzi scheme, at least for those running it - the kind that never has to pay out. Instead, the money can be spent on luxury jets and mansions that can be classified as "parsonages" to avoid property taxes.

That's great work if you can get it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

John Oliver Versus Prosperity Gospel

In yesterday's post I mentioned that, to Jim Bakker's credit, he renounced the "prosperity Gospel" that he once preached. I've posted a number of articles about this misguided interpretation of Christianity, but recently HBO's John Oliver presented the most epic takedown I've ever seen. I've posted the whole video above, and while it is twenty minutes long it's well worth watching.

Oliver uses footage to show just how mercilessly televangelists prey on their viewers. Some even try (often successfully, sadly) to convince their cable congregation that they should use money that they don’t have to donate to the church. They claim that God will eventually wipe out their debts and that the “seeds” they plant will be sown.

The message has apparently been heeded. Using still more clips of actual televangelists, Oliver shows where that money is going. One church leader, Mike Murdock, proudly proclaims that he bought a private jet in cash, and then a bigger one — also by paying cash — and that others should act happy over his “blessing.”

“‘I bough a jet — cash. I bought a bigger jet — cash. F**k the haters, act happy for me,'” paraphrases Oliver. “That’s not a sermon; it’s the first draft of a Rick Ross single.”

The segment goes on to examine how churches uses these funds, how easy it is to become a church, and how little oversight there is from the IRS. It’s so easy, in fact, that Oliver was able to consult with a tax lawyer to legally create his own church. Like other televangelists, he urges viewers to send their seeds (aka money, of course) and provides the church’s contact information.

It's very clear that this whole thing is a scam, and not only that, it's a scam that targets people who can least afford big donations. In the video, Oliver details seven months of correspondence with "prosperity Gospel" evangelist Robert Tilton. Tilton sent "holy oil," prayer cloths, and even dollar bills, all of which were supposed to be sent back to Tilton along with more money. The whole thing is ridiculous.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Jim Bakker Selling Potato Soup

Remember televangelist Jim Bakker? In the 1980's his ministry raised millions of dollars and became wealthy and powerful. But Bakker would be convicted of fraud in 1989 and went on to serve eight years in prison, effectively destroying his organization. Today Bakker is back on the air, with a show that peddles to the doomsday prepper crowd. The video above shows his selling giant tubs of potato soup, which is a far cry from the days of private jets and villas in Tahiti.

“I know you don’t wanna hear this,” Bakker said while lifting a one of the nearly 50-pound buckets. “You’re gonna dream Jim Bakker on TV telling you ‘get ready,’ and you’ll [say] ‘Oh my God, why didn’t I order something?'”

Bakker went so far as to take an awkward sip from one of the six-gallon buckets, which was promoted with an on-screen graphic saying they held 323 servings. He can be seen coughing after tasting the soup, before insisting, “It’s so good.”

Footage from the program also shows him offering a package of seven years’ worth of “tasty new foods” with a $3,500 donation. The package includes macaroni and cheese and chocolate pudding, which Bakker said would allow survivors of the undefined conflict to continue celebrating birthdays.

“You put that chocolate on top, you can have parties when the world is coming apart,” he gushed.

And he makes the end of the world sound like so much fun!

To Bakker's credit, he claims that he read the entire Bible while in prison and came to the realization that the "prosperity Gospel" of which he had been a proponent was wrong and that many of the passages that are often used to support it are taken out of context. That, at least, shows some insight on his part, because prosperity theology is a complete mess.

Still, to go from raising millions to hawking potato soup is pretty huge step down for the once powerful and hugely influential Bakker. Maybe the real lesson here is that God hates fraudsters, especially when they rip people off in his name. I know that if I were the Christian God, such folks would be at the top of my shit list.