Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Opposing Hinduism Because Reasons

Idaho State Senator Steve Vick outed himself this week as a Poor Oppressed Christian when he made a big deal of his opposition to opening a state legislative session with a Hindu prayer. While Vick admitted that non-Christians have a right to offer invocations under the First Amendment, he nevertheless treated the upcoming event as an occasion to whine to the media about how awful it was.

Poor Oppressed Christians are so obnoxious because the mere presence of other religions mortally offends them, even though it in no way inconveniences them. As a member of a minority religion I have no problem listening to Christian prayers. I actually find that many Thelemites know the Bible better than most Christians. But I do have a problem with those Christians who aren't even willing to exhibit basic politeness in the presence of religions other than their own.

State Sen. Steve Vick (R-Dalton Gardens) admitted that the First Amendment permits prayers by non-Christians, but he did not think Hindus, in particular, should be allowed to pray in the statehouse, reported The Spokesman-Review.

“They have a caste system,” Vick said. “They worship cows.” Hindus do revere cows as a symbol of life, but they do not worship them.

“To invite other religions in that aren’t represented in the legislature I don’t believe does anything to strengthen our state or our country,” Vick said.

He said the United States was “built on the Judeo-Christian not only religion but work ethic,” and Hindu prayers might “undermine” that.

Frankly, that last statement is complete bullshit. The United States was very deliberately not built on any one religion. The majority of the founding fathers were Christian, but their explicit goal was to create a nation in which people of all faiths could worship as they saw fit. Second of all, the idea that a "work ethic" is unique to Judaism and Christianity is so out there that it's even difficult to mock. I'll bet there are at least a few hundred million Hindus in the world who work a lot harder than Steve Vick does.

What amazes me about these people is how shortsighted they are. Don't they realize that members of minority religions feel excluded like Vick presumably does whenever one of the Poor Oppressed insists that Christians are the only "real Americans" and their religion alone should be represented in the public sphere? The whole point of religious freedom is that it has to apply to all religions equally, or it's not religious freedom.

In fact, I suspect in many cases like these what's going on is political gamesmanship rather than abject stupidity. But the power of stupidity being what it is, sometimes it's hard to tell.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Christians Against Dinosaurs

This is another of those stories that sounds like it has to be a joke, or at least I hope it is. A woman claiming to be a Christian mother has started a Facebook group that purports to oppose the very existence of dinosaurs. Most creationists don't deny dinosaurs exist, but instead believe that they co-existed with humans and generally assert that they perished in the great flood. Some even go so far as to claim that references to "dragons" in the Bible are pointing out that very fact.

However, the Christians Against Dinosaurs Ministry takes scientific illiteracy even further, alleging that dinosaurs never even existed and were made up as a hoax by scientists for reasons that seem to make sense only in its founder's mind. That's why I want it to be a joke, because otherwise it indicates that the depth of human stupidity is even greater than I had previously assumed.

"Nothing about dinosaurs is suitable for children, from their total lack of family values through to their non-existence from any serious scientific point of view."

That's what a Christian mother wrote on a message board, in case you thought the Internet couldn't become any weirder. The mother's protest has gone viral, garnering the world's collective side-eye with a bizarre rant about dinosaurs that's so weird it sounds like a hoax.

The writer, who goes by the screen name CADministry (which stands for "Christians Against Dinosaurs Ministry," and has a Facebook presence), said she's concerned about the "pretty flimsy" science of the our extinct friends and is "getting sick and tired of dinosaurs being forced on our children."

Dinosaurs lack "family values?" I challenge these folks to show me any animal that has them. Animals do all sorts of things that plenty of humans, especially self-righteous ones, find distasteful. Again, it sounds like the founder of this group is arguing that animals should get married and live in the suburbs with 2.3 offspring if they want to be seen as acceptable in the eyes of God, which is an utterly laughable and probably made-up position.

Probably the biggest blow that CAD is trying to strike against other creationists is to undermine one of their best arguments, which is that the only thing cooler than Jesus is Jesus riding a dinosaur. But if dinosaurs never existed, it would seem that the Savior is out of luck there.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Evidence for Reincarnation?

Reincarnation is a prominent feature of both Hinduism and Buddhism, but among Western occultists it has something of a bad rap. The problem is that many New Age systems have co-opted the idea and removed it from its original context. Also, it seems like half the New Age reincarnation enthusiasts out there were all famous and powerful people in their past lives, often with many individuals latching onto the same famous identities. Even in Thelema, people claiming to be the reincarnation of Aleister Crowley have become something of a running joke because it seems like every year more of them pop up on the Internet.

Tibetan Buddhism includes detailed and technical practices related to reincarnation, as it is believed that advanced lamas called Tulkus can maintain some degree of continuous awareness as they transition to their next incarnation. A Tulku will often provide some details about where this next incarnation will be born, and monks assigned to search for the proper child will go from there. One of the best-documented of these searches was that which identified Tenzin Gyatso as the current Dalai Lama. As a small child, Gyatso was able to pick out items belonging to the previous Dalai Lama from a collection of relics with complete accuracy.

Recently a small boy in Ohio claimed to have lived a previous life as a woman whose name was Pamela.

Little Luke Ruehlman of Cincinnati, Ohio, claims to be the vessel for the reincarnated spirit of a woman named Pamela Robinson, who died in a Chicago fire in 1993—at least, that's what his mother Erika said he told her.

"I was like 'who is Pam?'" Erika Ruehlman told WJW earlier this month. "He turned to me and said, 'Well I was.' I said 'What do you mean you were?' He was like, 'Well I used to be, but I died and I went up to heaven and I saw God and eventually God pushed me back down and when I woke up I was a baby and you named me Luke.'"

Erika was skeptical, and started asking more questions. After determining all the details she could, she researched the name, location, and date. And it turned out that Pam was in fact a real person.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Purple UFO Over Peru

Robert Anton Wilson once famously commented that whenever anyone asked him if he believed in unidentified flying objects, he always answered yes. He went on to explain that not only had he encountered unidentified flying objects, he encountered unidentified non-flying objects every day.

The fact is that if you see something in the sky and can't identify it, you've just observed a UFO. The association of such objects with paranormal phenomena such as alien spacecraft and so forth is generally due to observers jumping to the conclusion that just because they can't identify the object, nobody else could do so either, at least by normal means.

Huffington Post recently passed along the story of a "purple UFO" that was filmed in Peru during the making of a television episode. The video shows a distant purple object that seems to hover in the sky.

According to Peru This Week, television show "Alto al Crimen" was shooting an episode in the upscale Miraflores district of Lima on Feb. 10. The show's host, Lima Congressman Renzo Reggiardo, halted an interview to allow his camera operator to focus on the strange-looking purple object in the sky.

Both distant and zoomed-in perspectives of the UFO reveal a saucer-shaped object, with a large central bright purple section, tapering off on either end. The extreme right end appears almost black in color, while the opposite end seems to be a darker purple shade than the center part of the object. The video also reveals that sometimes the two dark ends appear to become smaller and larger.

Eyewitnesses reported seeing the aerial object for up to two hours, and yet, no video has emerged showing how the UFO left the scene. So, the question remains: How, exactly, did it go away? Did it fall to the ground, float away or speed up and vanish over the nearby ocean? Or perhaps (as in some UFO reports over the years), did it simply vanish?

My first take on the video is that the object seems remarkably stationary, and reminds me most of something like a balloon tethered to the ground. The distance is such that the tether would not necessarily appear in the video, and the object seems to bob a bit as it might from a light breeze but otherwise does not change position. It really doesn't look like a vehicle with the way it seems to hover in place, and while the second half of the video seems to show that it has changed position, if you watch closely it's clear that it was filmed from a different location.

At least to me, the purple UFO certainly remains an unidentified flying object in the Robert Anton Wilson sense. I just don't think it will turn out to be an unidentified flying object in the actual space alien sense.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

"Slender Man" Preliminary Hearing Underway

Back in June I covered the story of two Wisconsin teens, Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier, who attempted to murder one of their friends. When arrested, they claimed that they had committed the crime in order to appease Slender Man, a fictional character who appears in many online horror stories. This week the state of Wisconsin held a preliminary hearing for the two girls.

When asked if she really believed Slender Man would harm her family if the pair didn't carry out their plot, Weier responded: "Well, yeah. He's 6 to 14 feet tall, has no face and always wears a red tie."

She added: "I was really scared. He could kill my whole family in three seconds."

At other times, Weier seemed to comprehend the reality of what occurred, taking some responsibility for the crime, crying when she described Leutner's screams, and saying she wanted to call her mother but Geyser said they couldn't.

Geyser, on the other hand, told a detective Weier was calling most of the shots, and brought up the threat from Slender Man, but also admitted at one point, "I honestly don't know why we did this."

Her interrogator, Waukesha Detective Tom Casey, said he felt Geyser was actually the person most responsible for both plotting, committing and trying to run from the crime.

As I see it, the most significant fact about this case is that the two girls were 12 years old when they committed the attack, and I have to say that I disagree with prosecutors who want to try them as adults. Usually that move is reserved for children who are closer to adulthood, or those who actually kill others. The victim in this case was injured, but survived.

The idea that "Slender Man" would actually appear and kill their families seems ridiculous to an adult, but some kids are impressionable enough to take it seriously. Most people are completely unwilling to translate such musings into actual violence, but it also is true that 12-year-old brains are still developing and may have trouble reining in such impulses. Clearly something like that took place here. Either that, or at least one of the girls is a budding genuine psychopath.

There's still no evidence that "Slender Man" is an actual spirit, or that these girls were influenced by anything other than their own imaginations. The debate over the intersection between magick and popular culture is ongoing, but I have a hard time accepting the notion that quantity of attention will inevitably endow a meme or thoughtform with independent consciousness or spiritual power.

Working magicians can create spirits, but in my experience doing so is more technical than simply paying attention to an idea. I would be equally skeptical of someone who claimed he or she could create a working computer by dumping a pile of microchips in a bucket.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Jeb Bush Pals Around With Vampires

No, believe it or not, that headline is not a joke.

Back when Barack Obama was first running for President in 2008, his Republican opponents made a big deal about him knowing former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers. The two taught at the same university in Chicago and were casually acquainted with each other. The McCain/Palin campaign characterized the situation as Obama "palling around with terrorists," a ridiculous exaggeration that many nonetheless believed. Now it's my turn, because Jeb Bush is apparently friends with a real-life vampire.

Before I get to that, though, here's some background. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has recently been preparing for a White House run in 2016, lining up donors and putting together a policy team. As a recent article in The Washington Post points out, 17 of the 21 members of Jeb's foreign policy team served during the administration of his brother, George W. Bush. So this suggests that if Jeb is elected president, the same team that initiated the disastrous war in Iraq will be back in power.

If Bush's goal is to present himself as his "own man," that list of advisers undermines the point somewhat: 19 of the 21 people on it worked in the administrations of his father or brother. We've identified the roles each played in the past three Republican administrations, divvying them up as needed in the following Venn diagram.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Bonus Pat: Bestiality Wedding Cakes!

I know that yesterday's post featured Pat Robertson as well, but he's had a really good week - if by "good" one means "jaw-droppingly ridiculous," as is often the case here on Augoeides. In response to a judge's ruling that a florist had acted in a discriminatory manner by refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding, the television evangelist basically lost it and went on a rant about polygamists and people marrying dogs.

“To say that some procedural anomaly in the statute overrides the fundamental religious freedoms of the people, it’s just crazy,” he insisted. “And I hope that the lawyers for this florist will appeal this thing to get into the federal courts.”

“But this is outrageous!” the conservative preacher continued. “To tell a florist that she’s got to provide flowers for a particular kind of wedding. What if somebody wanted to marry his dog? She’s got to have flowers for that? What if there’s a polygamous situation where a guy has five wives and he wants to have five ceremonies, and she’s going to be forced by the law to provide them flowers. I mean, this is crazy.”

My first thought is that the florist should be happy to get all that business. After all, she's in it to make a profit, right? The idea that a person can "sin by association" is one of the dumbest ideas in the whole fundamentalist worldview. Presumably if a same-sex couple is getting married, they don't share the florist's beliefs. So what? It's not like the florist is committing a sin by marrying a same-sex partner. She's just selling them flowers.

The argument here is exactly the same as that made years ago by a group of Muslim cab drivers here in Minneapolis who refused to drive anyone who had alcohol on their possession, which at the time was rightly pillaried by conservatives like Robertson. Islam prohibits the drinking of alcohol, not simply being near a bottle of it. The cab drivers were eventually forced to comply with the law, which states that they cannot refuse a fare in such a discriminatory manner.

The reality is that if you could commit a sin just by doing business with someone who is, the entire American economy would be screwed from a fundamentalist perspective. Poor people are exploited to some degree by just about every financial transaction that passes through the economy, and Jesus said a lot more about exploiting the poor than he did about same-sex relationships. The only possibly anti-gay quotes in the New Testament are from Paul.

Also, why is it that fundamentalists are so obsessed with bestiality? They seem to think that everyone out there is just clamboring to marry their pets, and only the bulwark of godly laws stand between civilization and widespread man-on-dog love. Is this a common fundamentalist fantasy or something?