Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Kirk Cameron on Halloween

On the heels of last weeks comments from Pat Robertson denouncing Halloween comes a reminder that in fact not all fundamentalist Christians hate the holiday. Actor Kirk Cameron, a prominent evangelical who starred in the first film adaptation of the Left Behind series of books and who has produced some silly videos promoting creationism, issued a statement that Christians should embrace Halloween because the Pagans stole the holiday from them.

Cameron observed that mocking President Barack Obama with a Halloween mask was similar to when “Christians would dress up in costumes as the devil, ghosts, goblins and witches precisely to make the point that those things were defeated and overthrown by the resurrected Jesus Christ.”

“The costumes poke fun at the fact that the devil and other evils were publicly humiliated by Christ at His resurrection,” he continued. “That’s what the Scriptures say, that He publicly humiliated the devil when He triumphed over power and principality and put them under his feet.” But according to Cameron, pagans had tried to claim the Christian holiday for themselves.

“Over time you get some pagans who want to go this is our day, high holy day of Satanic church, that this is all about death, but Christians have always known since the first century that death was defeated, that the grave was overwhelmed, that ghosts, goblins, devils are foolish has-beens who used to be in power but not anymore,” he insisted. “That’s the perspective Christians should have.”

Given that historians agree All Saints Day, the ancestor of Halloween, was created by the Christian church to co-opt the Pagan holiday of Samhain, the problem here may just be that Cameron is irredeemably stupid.

In one of his creationist videos he argued that because the banana fits in a human hand it must have been intelligently designed - which is true, except that the intelligent designers were human plant breeders. The image above is from an appearance on Fox News where he asked the burning question, "If evolution is true, where are all the crocoducks?"

Truly, the man has a dizzying intellect. But as I see it the advice stands despite the source. Whether you're a Christian or not, if you enjoy celebrating Halloween, just go for it.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ex-Gay Warlock Pastor Charged With Abuse

I think that headline may hit more buzzwords than any I've ever written. But that's because this story out of Eubank, Kentucky is so bizarre. It starts out as a sadly too routine story of sexual abuse by a member of the clergy, but goes downhill from there.

Not only is the accused a pastor, but he is also a member of the "ex-gay" movement and describes himself as a warlock. It's not that unusual to run across an "ex-gay" pastor in some fundamentalist churches, but I was under the impression that a warlock pastor was something of an oxymoron in those circles.

The victim, a 16-year-old boy, alleged sexual abuse by youth pastor Rex Murphy that took place over a six-month period, accompanied by threats of witchcraft and black magic. Murphy was recently arrested and charged, and apparently confessed to the allegations.

Eubank Chief of Police Colin Hatfield called the accusations “very graphic and to the point.”

“The victim stated that the suspect told him on numerous occasions that by brushing his skin or shaking his hand…he could tell his sins by the power he has. He comes from family of warlocks,” Hatfield explained to WKYT.

The police chief noted that Murphy had threatened the boy with witchcraft if he told his parents about the abuse. “He was very scared, because the suspect, in the victim’s eyes, had been threatening his life in the form of Wicca, witchcraft, black magic,” Hatfield pointed out to WLEX.

In an interview with police, Murphy asserted that he “thought he would be able to help the victim with his battle with homosexuality because he, too, had experimented with homosexuality,” Hatfield said. Murphy allegedly told the boy that he could see his sins by touching him.

This is one of the reasons that I think the idea of reclaiming the term "warlock" is fundamentally pointless. I know the etymology linking it to "oathbreaker" could very well be wrong, but so is using it to mean "male witch." In mainstream culture the image of a warlock is something akin to Julian Sands' portrayal in the 1989 horror film - an evil worker of magick who goes around hurting people just for the heck of it.

When people like Murphy who claim the title turn out to be abjectly horrible human beings it just confirms that image in peoples' minds. There are books and movies that feature good wizards, like Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, but warlocks are generally portrayed as not only evil, but unspeakably so. That sounds like a lost cause to me.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Night of the Living Dead Santa

While I'm generally a fan of low-budget horror films, I never have really gotten into the whole zombie thing. George Romero's Night of the Living Dead was an inventive piece of work that broke new ground and pretty much created the modern zombie myth, but much of what followed was simply derivative. It's rather telling that 28 Days Later was hailed as a brilliant innovation in zombie storytelling because it had zombies that moved fast instead of slow.

Now I'm not pointing that out to slam the latter film, which as I see it did its best to change up the old trope. There's just not a lot you can do with zombies - they're mindless, bloodthirsty, contagious monsters. In fact, that's kind of the whole point of Romero's original vision. But I guess I'm one of those viewers who likes my horror villains to have some personality. After all, if they do, they usually get all the best lines.

At any rate, here's one more reason that the zombie thing is a bad idea, and for me it's close to home. Over the weekend, a drunken zombie Santa showed up at a home in Saint Paul, frightening two teenagers before vomiting and passing out.

A 14-year-old boy was doing the dishes when the door opened. He turned to find a man "dressed like Santa," but with "a zombie head. The boy immediately ran out of the house to tell neighbors and call police, while his 16-year-old sister locked herself in the bathroom and phoned her parents, the Twin Cities Pioneer Press reported. When cops arrived, they found the jolly, undead old elf sleeping in his own vomit and booked him for trespassing.

Saint Paul is just across the river from where I live in Minneapolis, so obviously a Twin Cities zombie outbreak would be of great concern to me. The wayward zombie Santa didn't actually eat anyone in the house, though there's no report on whether or not the vomit contained fresh brain matter, and so far there's fortunately no sign of further contagion.

But is this where zombie hysteria leads? Do we really want a world in which the only presents Santa brings our children are fear and puke? I hereby call on the perpetrators of all this zombie nonsense to cut it the hell out before somebody gets infected and develops a taste for fresh brains.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Pat Robertson Versus Halloween

Fundamentalist Christians hate Halloween. This is pretty old news, of course, and just like clockwork Pat Robertson is at it again as the date approaches. On his television program, Robertson advised a viewer not to allow her child to attend a Halloween party thrown by a relative because it celebrated "demonic spirits," even though the viewer provided no evidence whatsoever that the party was anything other than a secular get-together.

Thursday on "The 700 Club," Robertson deemed the holiday "a festival of demonic spirits" in response to a viewer's question about whether or not she should let her children attend their aunt's Halloween party. "All this business about goblins and jack-o'-lanterns all comes out of demonic rituals of the Druids and the people who lived in England at that particular time," Robertson said on the show.

He then suggested shifting the holiday toward a more Christian focus. "I think churches can have Halloween parties," Robertson said. "You can bob for apples ... and turn it into a Christian festival, and that’s what we ought to do. We need to redeem these days, but that day was given over to Satanic things.”

This is the same thing Robertson says every year, so maybe it's not quite newsworthy. Still, I never cease to find his point of view bizarre, since as an occultist I think that the mainstream celebration of Halloween is a bunch of commercialized nonsense that has nothing to do with spirits or rituals or anything magical. There's a huge difference between carving up a pumpkin and carving up a pumpkin with a particular magical or spiritual intent. Does Robertson really think that the vast majority of people who carve jack-o'-lanterns are in the latter category?

At least Robertson isn't advocating those stupid "hell houses" that were something of a fad years ago. While I think a well-done "hell house" - like a haunted house built around the journey through Hell depicted in Dante's Inferno - could be awesome, the fundamentalist version is rather tiresome. The "sins" they focus on are abortion, sexuality, drug use, and "occultism," which they distort into "Satanic Ritual Abuse."

The FBI concluded back in the 1990's that organized "Satanic Ritual Abuse" is not a real thing. While psychopaths occasionally use occult trappings in the course of abusing victims, abuse cases involving religious trappings are much more common. Drug use is not even named as a sin in the Bible, and it's pretty hard to argue that the main issue Jesus cared about was sexuality. How about a "hell house" that deals with Jesus' real top issues, like exploitation of the poor and commodification of religion?

Yeah, that would probably be terrible too. But at least it would be authentic to the text that fundamentalists claim to hold above all else, even if it cut into their revenue. A better idea would be to just let people celebrate what for most has become a completely secular holiday as they see fit.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Chemtrails Conspiracy a Hoax

Who would have thought it? The chemtrails conspiracy - the idea that the condensation trails left by airplanes in the upper atmosphere consist of nefarious chemicals sprayed into the atmosphere to facilitate either (A) weather manipulation, (B) large-scale mine control, or (C) both A and B - has been revealed as a hoax.

I know, the answer to "who would have thought it" is "anyone who knows anything about chemistry and physics, plus anyone else with reasonable critical thinking skills." Still, there are a lot of people out there who apparently fall into neither group who are quite upset with the hoaxer, a British man named Chris Bovey.

The growth of this particular form of mass misinformation, and conspiracy theories in general, has expanded along with the growth of the Internet. That’s what makes a certain social experiment by a fellow from the U.K. so interesting. From VICE:

"On October 1, Chris Bovey—a 41-year-old from Devon, England—thought he’d troll the chemtrails camp. During a flight from Buenos Aires to the UK, his plane had to make an emergency landing in São Paulo and dumped excess fuel to lighten the load. Since he had a window seat, Chris decided to film all the liquid being sprayed out of the wing next to him.

Touching down, he uploaded the video with a caption that suggested it could be evidence of chemtrails, hoping to mess with a couple of friends who he knew might fall for it. The video now has 1.1 million views, nearly 20,000 shares, and dozens of comments telling viewers to 'wake the F up,' or accusing naysayers of being 'stupid paid shills.'"

Adding fuel to the fire, Bovey then made up a story about how he’d been detained at Heathrow Airport and was interrogated by authorities who confiscated his cellphone. Soon after, the conspiracy site NeonNettle.com ran his story as evidence for chemtrails.

The old rule holds true now more than ever. If you see something on the Internet, check it out before you accept it as fact. Then check it again to make sure. The sheer ease with which information can be made up and disseminated online means that there's a whole lot of nonsense floating around out there.

While I realize that the same could be said for Bovey's current claims, keep in mind that many chemtrail enthusiasts also think that shape-shifting lizard people secretly control the world. There's also the inconvenient fact that we don't currently possess chemicals that can control peoples' minds or manipulate the weather in any predictable fashion.

Maybe the idea is that the lizard people made them.

Monday, October 13, 2014

What is "Dark Fluff?"

One of the Facebook commenters on last week's "Dark Fluffers" article asked for a definition of "Dark Fluff." When I was writing up the article I did a search, but as the term has mostly been thrown around magical discussion groups and nobody seems to have posted a specific article on it I was unable to find a usable link that didn't include a lot of other stuff not relevant to the definition. So let me be the first to post one.

A common criticism of popular books on occultism is that they are "fluffy." That is, the authors pull a bunch of stuff together in a manner that is not intellectually rigorous and combine it with material that they simply make up. For a long time most of the worst offenders were authors who tried to sanitize occultism in some fashion, and make it all "sweetness and light." This approach apparently sells book, but whether it teaches effective spiritual technology is anyone's guess.

Recently, though, the opposite approach has also become popular. Instead of distorting occultism into something nice and safe, the authors instead distort it into something that is intended to sound dark and scary. The Enochian magical system was an early victim of this treatment, which I believe is why many people consider it an especially dangerous form of magick (when, as far as I can tell, it is not).

I find the desire to make magick extra-dark profoundly confusing. I suppose there are people out there who are drawn to things precisely because they're dangerous, but I've never been one of them. I at least understand why someone might want to present magick as bright and happy, because that makes it sound accessible and fun. But as darker than it already is? No thank you.

What these dark authors seem to be trading on is the mistaken assumption that if something sounds dark and scary, it must be deep and serious. But dark stuff can consist of made-up, unworkable nonsense just as easily.

Friday, October 10, 2014

New Study of Near-Death Experiences

A large new study has confirmed life after death - sort of. Researchers found that a significant subset of cardiac patients retained some form of conscious awareness up to three minutes after they were declared clinically dead. This finding is not that surprising given how many patients report classic near-death experiences, but it does refute the contention that such experiences are merely hallucinations.

A team based in the UK has spent the last four years seeking out cardiac arrest patients to analyse their experiences, and found that almost 40 per cent of survivors described having some form of “awareness” at a time when they were declared clinically dead.

Experts currently believe that the brain shuts down within 20 to 30 seconds of the heart stopping beating – and that it is not possible to be aware of anything at all once that has happened. But scientists in the new study said they heard compelling evidence that patients experienced real events for up to three minutes after this had happened – and could recall them accurately once they had been resuscitated.

Dr Sam Parnia, an assistant professor at the State University of New York and a former research fellow at the University of Southampton who led the research, said that he previously thought patients who described near-death experiences were only relating hallucinatory events. One man, however, gave a “very credible” account of what was going on while doctors and nurses tried to bring him back to life – and says that he felt he was observing his resuscitation from the corner of the room.

Researchers still haven't come up with results that imply consciousness actually leaves the body. To do that, some sort of scenario would need to be set up to test whether patients can accurately recall information that they could not possibly perceive with their regular senses. A few doctors here and there have placed pictures on top of cabinets and so forth where they could only be seen by someone floating near the ceiling, but as far as I know it's never been done on a large scale.

So this latest study is interesting from the standpoint of consciousness and its relation to brain states, but it doesn't reveal anything truly paranormal. Rather, it shows that many peoples' minds are much more resilient than previously thought.