Thursday, February 4, 2016

Satanic Temple Wins Again

The Satanic Temple is at it again, this time in Phoenix, Arizona. Fundamentalist Christians keep trying to find ways to make sure that they can open legislative sessions with prayers that members of minority religions have to sit through, while making sure that no member of a minority religion can deliver a prayer that they have to sit through. But the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that if a member of one religion is allowed to offer a prayer in that context, members of other religions must be granted the same rights.

The members of the Satanic Temple for the most part don't even believe in a literal Satan and mostly use the name to shock fundamentalist Christians. But it works. After Christian lawmakers tried to pass all sorts of versions of bills that would give their religion the special privilege of delivering prayers to open sessions, the Phoenix city council finally agreed to replace sectarian prayers with a nonsectarian moment of silence. So by being blocked from delivering their prayer, the Satanic Temple actually won.

In a move that blocks a Satanist group from giving the invocation at the next Phoenix City Council meeting, the council voted 5-4 Wednesday night to no longer open each meeting with a prayer. Instead, it will call for a moment of silence. A member of the Satanic Temple from Tucson had been approved to give the opening invocation at the February 17 council meeting. But when the approval sparked outrage, council members decided to look into the way opening prayers come about.

They initially considered a proposal that would have allowed members to take turns inviting people from various religious groups to give the invocation. But Phoenix City Attorney Brad Holm warned that doing so would be viewed as an “as applied violation” of the First Amendment and, therefore, subject the city to a lawsuit. “Our view as the City Attorney’s Office — and my view personally — is that we would be likely to lose that case,” he told the council before the vote.

The Satanic Temple had threatened to sue if its representative was prohibited from opening the next official meeting on the 17th. Nobody from the temple commented at the meeting Wednesday on what the organization will do now that prayer has been eliminated.

See, the Satanic Temple is not about "worshiping the devil" or anything like that. What they really want is to see sectarian prayers eliminated from the public sphere, and they use their shocking name to outrage fundamentalists and get the job done. And in case after case, it works quite well.

Personally I like the idea of letting representatives of different religions deliver prayers so long as the opportunity is extended to all, but the facts are that fundamentalist Christians keep refusing to play nice with anybody else, especially a group with "Satan" in its name. That being so, a moment of silence is probably the best we're going to get.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Against Olive Garden

So A Couple Thousand Crazy People (AKA One Million Moms) is at it again. The group composed of totally-not-a-million not-necessarily-moms launched one of their first protests last summer against the upcoming television series Lucifer, which has recently begun airing on the Fox network. The group is serious about it, too. Now that the show is running, the group is organizing a campaign against one of the show's advertisers - Olive Garden restaurants.

On their website, the group asks viewers to "take action" against the series and Olive Garden, its corporate sponsor, with the following plea:

"Contact Olive Garden, who sponsored the spiritually dangerous program "Lucifer" and paid corporate dollars to promote their restaurants in association with the content of the program. Use the information we have provided on our website, and let Olive Garden know that its advertising dollars are supporting sympathy towards the devil and glorifying Satan and that financial support should be pulled immediately."

Of course, considering the religious nature of the series, "Lucifer" was bound to cause an uproar with some groups -- but does America's beloved Olive Garden deserve an attack?

Frankly, there are plenty of good reasons not to eat at Olive Garden that have nothing to do with the devil. The biggest one is that there are simply better Italian restaurants out there to choose from. I don't think the place is terrible, but generally speaking their food is somewhat bland and Americanized and I would much rather go for something more authentic.

Anyway, I highly doubt that this little circle of nutballs is going to have much effect on Olive Garden's profit margins. And it never ceases to amaze me the extent to which fundamentalists are down on fiction. It's like they think that this television series, based on a Neil Gaiman comic, somehow represents some sort of theological argument. But if there really even is a devil, I would say that it's extremely unlikely this fictional portrayal has anything to do with what he's actually like.

So seriously, what's the big deal?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

He's Building That Damn Ark

Creation Museum founder Ken Ham has spent years trying to get his "Ark Encounter" attraction off the ground. His plan involves expanding his museum to include a full-sized replica of Noah's Ark that will be built to Biblical specifications. The project was announced in 2010, and since then Ham has been trying to secure funding for it. Ham's ministry does bring in a lot of donations and Ham has personally become wealthy running it, but the project estimate runs around $175 million - which is a lot, even for him.

In 2011, the state of Kentucky voted to grant Ham sales tax rebates on the project for the next ten years. However, the state provided no money up front, so Ham had to resort to other means to come up with the construction costs. He tried selling what were essentially junk bonds to finance the project, securities that contained a clause in the purchase agreement stating that Ham never actually had to make any payments to bond holders.

Ham never actually announced how much money he raised pushing the Ark Encounter junk bonds, but given that he unceremoniously dropped the program without comment, it most likely failed. The idea of selling securities that never have to be paid off struck me as ludicrous, but I have to admit I was little surprised that more of Ham's followers weren't taken in.

In 2014, Ham lobbied for and received preliminary approval for an additional $18 million dollars in tax rebates from the state of Kentucky. In his application, Ham stated that he would abide by all state non-discrimination laws. The state was therefore surprised to find that Ham's job postings for work on the project essentially stated that only young-earth creationist Christians need apply.

Because of this obvious religious discrimination, the state withdrew the preliminary approval. Ham responded by trying to sue the state, which went nowhere. So the attraction seemed to be in trouble and it looked like the whole thing might never get off the ground.

But last summer Ham started bringing in building supplies and had crews begin construction. Back in October he held a media event hyping the project, in which his comments about the funding were quite vague. It is not at all clear where the money for the project is coming from, but I suspect a substantial portion is being siphoned from Answers in Genesis, the Creation Museum, and Ham's personal wealth.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Boleskine Fire Ruled Accidental

Three weeks ago Boleskine House, the Scottish mansion once owned by Aleister Crowley and mentioned prominently in The Book of the Law, caught fire. Much of the mansion was destroyed, and many online commenters found the events of the fire reminiscent of a verse from The Book of the Law's third chapter:

But your holy place shall be untouched throughout the centuries: though with fire and sword it be burnt down & shattered, yet an invisible house there standeth, and shall stand until the fall of the Great Equinox; when Hrumachis shall arise and the double-wanded one assume my throne and place. Another prophet shall arise, and bring fresh fever from the skies; another woman shall awake the lust & worship of the Snake; another soul of God and beast shall mingle in the globed priest; another sacrifice shall stain the tomb; another king shall reign; and blessing no longer be poured To the Hawk-headed mystical Lord!

-- Chapter III, Verse 34.

Before jumping to any conclusions about the prophetic nature of the verse, though, deliberate events such as arson or vandalism needs to be ruled out. After all, if there's a "prophecy" that a particular place will burn down and some idiot goes out and lights it on fire, I suppose the prophecy would come true in the end but in a rather self-fulfilling fashion.

Investigators have now determined that the fire appears to be accidental, so maybe there's something prophetic about the verse after all. According to some reports, the fire seems to have started in the kitchen, which is a likely origin point for an accidental blaze. It could have been something as simple as a burner being left on, or an electrical short in one of the outlets or appliances.

A fire which destroyed a mansion formerly owned by Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and occultist Aleister Crowley was not started intentionally, investigators say.

The blaze broke out at Boleskine House on the eastern bank of Loch Ness at around 1.40pm on December 23.

Around 60% of the B-listed mansion was destroyed in the fire, which took hours to bring under control. Investigators are confident the fire was not suspicious but have been unable to establish its cause.

Crowley, who became infamous for his books on the occult, lived at Boleskine House between 1899 and 1913.

What this tells me is that if I ever find myself living in a house for which a prophecy exists stating that it will burn in a fire, I'll go out of my way to invest in the best smoke alarm system money can buy. I might even put in a sprinkler system, you know, just in case the alarms aren't good enough.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Because Airlines Have Demons

These days it seems like every evangelist out there wants a private jet. More to the point, they want their congregations to pay for them. Now many evangelists do travel a lot, and there may be cases where owning a private plane makes sense. But what a lot of commenters, including myself, have noted is that there's really no reason for such an aircraft to be the most expensive, luxurious thing on the market - which seems to be what they all want.

In a recent interview, two "prosperity gospel" evangelists, Kenneth Copeland and Jesse Duplantis, explained the real reason that they needed their expensive, top of the line luxury planes. It's because the regular airlines all have demons. Oh, and dope. Seriously. And the whole "luxury" thing didn't even get a mention.

Preachers from the so-called “prosperity gospel” movement, Kenneth Copeland and Jesse Duplantis, tried to explain their controversial need for their followers to give up their hard-earned dollars so they can fly in luxury in an interview posted Wednesday.

“Now Oral [Roberts] used to fly airlines,” Copeland explained. “But even back then it got to the place where it was agitating his spirit, people coming up to him, he had become famous, and they wanted him to pray for them and all that. You can’t manage that today, this dope-filled world, and get in a long tube with a bunch of demons.”

Copeland then pointed out he could “scratch my flying itch” by riding around in his single-engine, open-cockpit plane. “But we’re in soul business here,” he said. “We got a dying world around us. We got a dying nation around us. And we can’t even get there on an airline.”

It seems to me, though, that even if you believe air travel will give you a demonic infestation, there's still no reason that your private jet needs to be the most expensive one in the world. Creflo Dollar, whose name really says it all, was widely ridiculed when he tried to raise money for a $65 million Gulfstream G650 when, for example, he could have bought a faster Cessna Citation X for only $22 million. I realize that still sounds pretty damn expensive, but in this context it's one third the cost.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Fire at Boleskine House

Yesterday much of Boleskine House, the Scottish highland mansion on the shores of Loch Ness that was once owned by Aleister Crowley, was destroyed in a fire. The fire was reported at 1:40 PM on December 23rd and drew firefighters from all over the region.

Crews from Foyers, Inverness, Beauly and Dingwall have been sent to Boleskine House near Foyers. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said a large part of the property has been destroyed. Boleskine House was owned by infamous occultist Aleister Crowley and later for a time by Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page.

The alarm was raised at 13:40. Flames from the fire were visible from the other side of the loch. A fire appliance from Foyers and another from Inverness were first sent to the scene. Pumps from Inverness and Beauly along with a water carrier from Inverness, a pump from Dingwall and an incident support unit from Inverness have also been sent.

SFRS said: "A large part of the property has already been destroyed by fire and crews are concentrating their efforts on the west wing of the building. Crews in breathing apparatus are using four main jets to tackle the blaze and the incident is ongoing." Crowley, who died in 1947, lived at Boleskine House above Loch Ness from 1899 to 1913.

Boleskine was the house that Crowley purchased in order to perform the Abramelin operation, though he never did complete it there. In the instructions for Crowley's Gnostic Mass the directions specify that the temple should be oriented towards Boleskine, as the house is mentioned prominently in The Book of the Law.

Get the stélé of revealing itself; set it in thy secret temple—and that temple is already aright disposed—& it shall be your Kiblah for ever. It shall not fade, but miraculous colour shall come back to it day after day. Close it in locked glass for a proof to the world.

-- Chapter III, verse 10.

In 1904, Crowley's secret temple was located at Boleskine. However, he never did obtain the Stele of Revealing itself to place there. It remains housed to this day at a museum in Egypt among other artifacts from the same period.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Against Samantha Bee

Let's be clear - this is the kind of "full frontal" she's talking about.

So there's this conservative Christian group out there that calls itself "One Million Moms." As I've mentioned previously here on Augoeides in reference to their protests of the Lucifer television series and lesbian yogurt commercials, their goal seems to be to reduce all popular culture to the level of children's television by eliminating anything deemed even marginally offensive. At the same time, the group seems to be composed of some of the same people who rail against "political correctness," which given their stated goal of eliminating offense from public life makes no logical sense.

Or, more to the point, it does if you take into account that consistency is not one of these folks' strong suits. After all, the group is not composed of anywhere near a million people and it admits that they aren't all moms. So really, an accurate name for the group would be "Nowhere Near a Million Not-Necessarily-Moms." So the fact that they rail against anything that offends them while at the same excusing anything that offends anyone else is not exactly a stretch.

Here's the group's latest stupid cause. Former Daily Show correspondent Samantha Bee has a new show that will be airing on TBS in January. The group has put out a petition against the title of the show, which happens to be "Full Frontal." So let's get this straight. There are no actual obscene words in the title, it just makes use of a phrase that sometimes alludes to nudity in films and television programs. Alludes. And for that, it should be censored. Talk about political correctness!

One Million Moms, the conservative group that seemingly will not rest until all of popular culture is sanitized beyond recognition, has found a new target: January’s TBS show “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee“. Even though the show hasn’t aired yet, that hasn’t stopped the group from complaining about it and trying to rally its “family values” troops to protest it. On its website, complete with a petition to TBS to cancel the show that’s been signed by a whopping 4,900 people, One Million Moms writes:

“The title of this show alone is unacceptable. Even though airing later in the evening since it is a late night show, the name will appear in the TV lineup of programs scheduled and previews will air earlier during the day.”

In my book, criticizing a television show you haven’t seen simply for its title is sending a far more dangerous message than Samantha Bee ever could. It’s saying: Yes, judge culture by what you think it will contain, rather than what it actually does. It’s saying: Words are so powerful that the mere mention of them is enough to scar children for life. It’s saying: Don’t think for yourself, but allow your parents to think for you. It’s saying: There are “good” words and “bad” words and you’re too immature to even be told about that concept, let alone differentiate them for yourself. Not to mention that “full frontal” does not necessarily mean literal nudity; as blogger Joel Rieves points out, “the phrase has picked up another meaning along the way: nothing concealed or held back, direct, hard-hitting, etc.”

In other words, this petition is pretty much the equivalent of posting something on social media that says "Sign this if you're a dumbass." It also provides a better estimate of the group's size. If we assume that every member of the group signed the petition, along with a bunch of other people solicited from the Internet, we can fine-tune the accuracy of our count. It sounds like a more accurate name for the group would be "Not Even Five Thousand Not-Necessarily-Moms."

But, of course, that kind of honesty won't get them the headlines. "One Million Moms" sounds so much more impressive than "A Couple Thousand Crazy People."