Thursday, April 30, 2015

More Implications of Religious Freedom

If we as a society decide that "sincere religious beliefs" override any regulation for which the government cannot assert a compelling interest, it naturally follows that this principle must apply to everyone regardless of religion. And, as long as it does, I don't really have a problem with the notion. If we are going to assert that religious freedom is a defining principle on which the United States was founded, then that freedom must be extended to all, universally.

With that in mind, a Missouri woman who is a member of The Satanic Temple plans to assert her religious right to bypass a state-mandated abortion waiting period. When conservatives failed to make abortion illegal, they resolved to pass all sorts of restrictions at the state level to make it as difficult as possible for women to obtain the procedure. But seeing as there's no evidence that waiting periods serve any real function beyond making abortions harder to obtain, it seems to me that this woman's assertion of her rights is entirely reasonable.

As you know, state law requires a waiting period after I first receive counseling before I can undergo an abortion. I regard a waiting period as a state sanctioned attempt to discourage abortion by instilling an unnecessary burden as part of the process to obtain this legal medical procedure. The waiting period interferes with the inviolability of my body and thereby imposes an unwanted and substantial burden on my sincerely held religious beliefs.

This letter constitutes my acknowledgment that you have notified me of the state mandated waiting period, but demands that you do not abide by this obligation because the waiting period offends my sincerely held religious beliefs, which take precedent.

The Satanic Temple has also weighed in on the case, and plans to pursue legal action if officials refuse to exempt her from the waiting period.

As Satanists we believe in individual autonomy, personal choice, and the inviolability of one’s own body. Further, we believe one should be free to make one’s own decisions, uncoerced, based on the best available scientific evidence, whether or not the science comports with the religious and/or political views of others.

Seeing as fundamentalist Christians are as up in arms about legal abortion as they are about same-sex marriage, I expect them to strongly oppose the exemption. But the reality is that regulations like waiting periods accomplish nothing besides imposing an additional burden on women who have to travel long distances, since other regulations pushed by the same folks wind up shutting down many clinics. In Missouri, the only clinic that performs abortions is in St. Louis, so women from around the state often have to travel hundreds of miles only to be told that they have to wait.

It will be very interesting to watch how this case plays out.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Y'all Are Persecuting Me!

So now Michele Bachmann is the latest Christian being oppressed by meanies on the Internet, not to mention the President. Just as I did last week, President Obama saw fit to bring up Bachmann's comments about his agenda bringing on the Last Days. He did so at the White House Correspondents Dinner, quipping that if he were in fact able to bring about the end of the world, it would represent quite the legacy.

Bachmann and other conservative pundits responded by asserting that this gentle chiding constituted the President persecuting them for their Christian beliefs. Because, clearly, you're being persecuted when anyone laughs at you - even if you deserve it for something really, really dumb.

At the White House Correspondents Dinner this weekend, President Obama made a joke about ex-Rep. Michele Bachmann’s repeated refrain that he is bringing about the Last Days, and the former Minnesota congresswoman is not pleased. She and other Religious Right pundits told the End Times outlet WorldNetDaily that the president’s joke was an act of anti-Christian persecution and suggested that people who disagree with Bachmann’s remarks are really denouncing all of Christianity.

“The blood moons of 2014 and 2015 are forewarnings of what is to come in 2016,” author Mark Blitz told WND. “President Obama, I believe, was only half joking when he made his comments.” Another Religious Right commentator, Carl Gallups, said, “Regardless of how uncomfortable Bachmann’s comments might have made some feel, the biblical fact is that when a nation turns its back on Israel and at the same time celebrates, promotes, and legalizes homosexual marriage it is inviting end of days judgment upon itself.”

Clearly this is some definition of "fact" with which I'm unfamiliar.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Not That Kind of Chiropractor

Maybe it's just me, but in my experience chiropractors do things like spinal adjustments. I have yet to meet one who performed exorcisms, but apparently that's because I don't live in Iowa. A chiropractor there recently lost his license for performing exorcisms on patients and treating them in exchange for sex. I suppose it's good work if you can get it. Lately it seems like everyone is getting in on the exorcism game, from the Roman Catholic Church declaring war on sexy vampires and Bob Larsen's Teen Exorcist Squad keeping busy.

An Iowa chiropractor is out of business after authorities busted him for performing exorcisms and treating patients in exchange for sex.

Charles Manuel surrendered his license but could apply to get it back in 10 years as part of a settlement reached with the Iowa Board of Chiropractors reached in March.

The board had accused the southern Iowa-based chiropractor of "unethical conduct…engaging in practice harmful or detrimental to the public," and "practicing outside the scope of the profession" in the settlement obtained on April 15 by The Des Moines Register.

Yeah, that sounds about right. I have no idea what chiropractic and exorcism have to do with each other, which brings to mind two distinct possibilities. Either Manuel is a fraud and charged people for performing some sort of ritual he knew was bogus, or he believed in what he was doing but decided that it was easy enough that it required little training.

Actually, a lot of the training that exorcists get in the Roman Catholic Church, for example, has nothing to do with the ritual itself, but rather has to do with discerning an actual spirit attack from mental illness or a myriad of other problems that can be addressed by more conventional means. That's because like any other spiritual technology, an exorcism doesn't address physical issues. And, since spirit attacks are relatively rare, most of the time they aren't the cause of the subject's problems.

It's possible that I'm being a little unfair here, since I know nothing about Manuel other than this news story. Maybe he's a totally amazing exorcist who also happens to know how to do adjustments. But the whole "treating patients for sex" thing doesn't fill me with confidence in his abilities.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Introduction to the Thirty Aires

The following is the text of a presentation I gave over the weekend at Leaping Laughter Lodge based on material from my not-yet-published book, Mastering the Thirty Aires. It is a follow-up to my previous Introduction to the Heptarchia Mystica and Introduction to the Great Table presentations. The procedure outlined here is Dee's grimoire evocation method, but the book will include an expanded template showing show how to incorporate modern ritual forms into the structure.

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

The three primary sets of correspondences employed by most Western magicians are the elements, planets, and signs of the zodiac. The Enochian magick of John Dee and Edward Kelley incorporates all three. The material found in the Heptarchia Mystica represents the activity of the seven ancient planets in the form of Kings and Princes of the days of the week. The four quadrants of the Great Table represent the action of the four elements and the “black cross,” which binds them together and is often attributed to the “fifth element,” akasha or spirit. Finally, the twelve signs of the zodiac are attributed to the divisions of the Thirty Aires, the final portion of the Enochian system to be received.

The first two of these components, the Mystical Heptarchy and Great Table, were covered in the first two books of my Mastering Enochian Magick series, Mastering the Mystical Heptarchy and Mastering the Great Table. My planned third book, Mastering the Thirty Aires, has not been released, but this presentation will include some of the material from it. As with my previous introductory talks for the Mystical Heptarchy and Great Table, I hope to provide an overview of working with the Thirty Aires that in true to the original grimoire methods found in the Dee diaries, but which also is open to being informed by modern magical practices.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Devil Took My Airplane

Poor, poor Creflo Dollar. The devil won't let him fly in style. Back in March, the Atlanta evangelist launched a fundraising drive to replace his ministry's aging plane. But Dollar was roundly criticized by a lot of folks on the Internet, including me, for insisting that his new plane had to be a brand new Gulfstream 650, one of the most expensive private jets in the world.

Dollar took down his fundraising page in response to the controversy, but is now whining about how Satan didn't want him to get his luxury aircraft. It should be noted that a used Gulfstream V, a totally serviceable private jet that is plenty luxurious, runs between $12 and $17 million, as opposed to the G650's massive $65 million price tag. So maybe the devil just wanted make sure he got a better deal.

The popular preacher blasted “the enemy” for criticizing his dream of buying his pastors and staff at World Changers Church International a $65 million private Gulfstream G650 jet.

"Let me tell you something about believing God,” he's shown saying in a YouTube video of a sermon given at the World Dome, his 8,500-seat sanctuary in College Park, Georgia. “I can dream as long as I want to. I can believe God as long as I want to. If I want to believe God for a $65 million plane, you cannot stop me. You cannot stop me from dreaming."

His initial request reportedly entailed asking 200,000 followers to donate $300 each to fund the effort, according to Christian Post. The fundraising page has since been taken down. Dollar claims it was the devil that stirred the campaign against him. He believes Satan was trying to discredit him in order to stop the gospel from spreading.

Dollar is right that nobody can stop him from dreaming. But the problem is that his obsession with having the most absolute top-of-the-line aircraft possible, paid for in full by donations, is kind of laughable. It's not like Dollar has done this previously; the plane he is trying to replace was purchased used and served his ministry well for many years.

Seeing as a less expensive plane would work just fine, it seems to me that the only reason Dollar wanted a G650 was so that he could brag about having one. And frankly, that's not very Christian at all.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Thanks Obama, for the Apocalypse!

If I had to pick one Minnesota politician who I was glad to see go, that politician would be Michele Bachmann. It's not that Bachmann is conservative; Tom Emmer, who replaced her in Congress, is conservative as well. The trouble with Bachmann is that, quite frankly, she's a complete religious nutcase who managed to embarrass the state of Minnesota every time she got in front of a microphone with her bizarre pronouncements about pretty much everything.

Recently Bachmann showed that even though she's officially out of the game, she's still plenty willing to spout nonsense at anyone who gives her a platform. On a Christian radio show over the weekend, she declared that the end times are upon us, and seemed to thank President Barack Obama for his role in helping to make it happen. I have occasionally wondered if Bachmann is simply a savvy operator who knows how to appeal to conservative Christians, but from these comments it sounds an awful lot like she buys her own bullshit.

"We need to cry out to a Holy God," Bachmann said on Jan Markell's "Understanding the Times" radio show over the weekend. "This is coming faster than anyone can see."

“Barack Obama is intent, it is his number one goal, to ensure that Iran has a nuclear weapon," she said. "Why? Why would you put the nuclear weapon in the hands of madmen who are Islamic radicals?"

Bachmann, however, then seemed to approve of the President moving mankind into "the midnight hour."

"We get to be living in the most exciting time in history," she said, urging fellow Christians to "rejoice."

"Jesus Christ is coming back. We, in our lifetimes potentially, could see Jesus Christ returning to Earth, the Rapture of the Church."

"These are wonderful times," she concluded.

Okay, genius, here's a pop quiz. If, as you say, you approve of Barack Obama hastening the apocalypse, which you believe to be his number one goal, why did you oppose every single thing he did when you were in Congress? Doesn't that mean when Jesus comes back he's going to kick your ass for impeding his return? Either there's something here I don't understand, or something that Bachmann doesn't - and my money is on her, given her history.

I'll say it one more time. A physical "end-of-the-world" apocalypse in which people are raptured or whatever is never going to happen. You would think that modern Christians would learn something from the fact that every single prediction of it has never come to pass, no matter how logical or well thought-out. That suggests to me that maybe the scriptures need to be looked at in a less literal light. After all, the word "apocalypse" actually means "revelation" rather than some sort of disaster or calamity.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Walmart Closed. Clearly, It's the Apocalypse!

Where do they come up with this stuff? Bloggers and other fringe media types on the Internet are now putting forth the bizarre notion that the closing of five Walmart stores in conjunction with a routine military training exercise means that martial law is about to imposed all across the United States. Or something like that.

“From the Boston Marathon bombings to Sandy Hook, the government has been executing false flags for purposes of imposing absolute NWO control over its citizens,” warned Joachim Hagopian, a blogger for the Centre for Research on Globalization.

He warned that “neocons” he believes to be responsible for staging the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks will enact “draconian Orwellian laws of tyranny and oppression to conveniently vilify citizens bold enough to demand their civil liberties and privacy rights back.”

Other conspiracy theorists warn that the “Russians have penetrated the territorial boundary of the lower 48″ states to build “death domes,” although there is apparently some disagreement over whether they are arming insurgents here, while others warn Yemen is somehow involved in the alleged plot.

It's literally to the point where the minute you hear the words "false flag" out of somebody's mouth you can dismiss everything else they have to say. Seriously, do they think that there's no such thing as a terrorist attack that the government didn't orchestrate? Because that's what it sounds like. In fact, the entire point of terrorism is that it's asymmetrical - it allows a small group to do a lot of damage without government support.

According to more credible sources, the Walmarts may have been closed because the employees were attempting to unionize, which is diabolical enough without a bunch of goofy speculation. And so far, nobody's seen hide nor hair of a "death dome" - whatever the heck that is. I suppose people fall into this stuff because they want to embrace an over-arching theory that makes sense of every aspect of their paranoid worldview.

But really, the Walmart apocalypse theory is just dumb. You'd think with so much time on their hands, these conspiracy enthusiasts could come up with something better.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The United Church of Bacon

If you're the sort of person who loves bacon - and let's face it, a lot of us do - you can now make it official by joining the United Church of Bacon. While on its face this is another of the "parody religions" that promote religious freedom and are mostly made up of atheists and agnostics, the United Church of Bacon goes a step further than, say, the Pastafarians. Most people aren't really into wearing colanders on their heads or dressing up like pirates, but a whole lot of people like eating bacon.

The mockery religion was founded in Las Vegas by atheist John Whiteside in 2010. He started it as a protest to fight discrimination against atheists. Bacon prophet John said: "The hatred of atheists, atheophobia and secularphobia, has no stigma, unlike homophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and racism. That needs to change.”

A statement on their website calls for people to stand up for separation of church and state. It reads: "The skeptics’ church has a serious intent, to fight religious discrimination against non-believers, to promote church-state separation, and to demand equal rights for everyone, regardless of faith."

Fundamentalists of whatever stripe who also like eating bacon now need to make a decision. Should they give up their favorite breakfast meat, or should they go on eating food that is now contaminated by the reverence of unbelievers? Muslims and Orthodox Jews are already off the hook, since they don't eat pork, but most Christians follow no such prohibition.

The United Church of Bacon now has billboards up in Las Vegas offering bacon-themed wedding services. It seems to me that's more practical and tasty than getting married by an Elvis impersonator.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sex Club Rebranded as Church

It seems that with all the media attention from the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act case, more people have started realizing what an enormous can of worms these law really open. Yesterday I covered the story of Joan Cheever, who will be arguing before a Texas court that she has a right to violate San Antonio's prohibition on distributing food to the homeless on religious freedom grounds.

The reason these laws can apply in so many ways is that the Supreme Court established long ago that the government cannot rule on the sincerity of any particular religious belief. It may intervene if a "compelling reason" exists, such as practices that cause real harm to the public. But otherwise, pretty much anything is fair game. So the Pastafarians can wear colanders on their heads in official photos, even though the "Flying Spaghetti Monster" is acknowledged to be a joke. Likewise, members of The Satanic Temple don't have to believe in a literal Satan.

Now this story, out of Tennessee, is an application of the law that I've never heard of before. A swingers club in Madison, Tennessee encountered resistance from the city when it announced plans to open. City officials went so far as to change the building's zoning so that it could not be used as a club. But the owners have now rebranded it as a church, and claim that they are therefore entitled to religious freedom protections.

Previously the owners of the proposed club in Madison had submitted plans to convert a former medical building, situated next to a Christian school, into a sex club only to meet with stiff public resistance.

Following a packed and contentious meeting last month — with one audience member shouting “we don’t want this darkness to extinguish this beacon of light that has been here for years and years” – the Metro Council amended the zoning laws to prevent the club from being developed.

Relying upon federal laws that protect churches, the owners reapplied as a church. A room that was once labeled “the dungeon” is now the “choir room.” The former “game room” will now be known as a “fellowship hall.”

And if their group can get recognized as a 501C3 religious corporation, as far as I can tell they're good to go - at least if the law is applied consistently. As is the case with most consensual, victimless activity it would be hard to argue that the activities of this "church" will cause harm to the public. The city probably will try in order to keep it closed, but it will be interesting to see the eventual ruling. At some point lawmakers will probably amend these laws in order to limit their scope, but until then I can imagine a lot more cases like this one going forward.

See, I'm mostly fine with the current situation, to tell you the truth. I understand that Christians originally pushed these laws thinking that they could use them against minority religions, but they also protect all sorts of non-mainstream things that minority religions might practice. I'm not in favor of world in which religion is driven from the public square; rather, I'm in favor of a world in which every flavor of religious belief is proudly represented, along with philosophies such as scientific materialism.

The good thing about these religious freedom laws is that they mean I don't have to obey the dictates of somebody else's religion, and they can't stop me from practicing mine. That works for me. We do need more comprehensive non-discrimination laws to deal with some of the assholes, as the Indiana case highlights, but I view that as a separate issue.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Using "Religious Freedom" Laws for Good

During the big media controversy over Indiana's "Religious Freedom" law it was noted that similar laws already exist in a number of other states. The main difference is that generally speaking those other laws only apply to government entities and mirror the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed into law in 1993. One of the states with such a law is Texas, where a woman may have found a novel way to use the 1999 state RFRA to do something positive.

Over the last couple of years many cities have decided that offering food to homeless people should be illegal. I have no idea what supporters of such laws hope to accomplish, since people aren't generally homeless by choice. The rhetoric about "letting them starve" is bullshit, since humans are among the best survivors nature has ever produced. They will find a way to eat, even if it means resorting to crime. Why criminalize charity?

At any rate, when Joan Cheever was fined for distributing food to the homeless in San Antonio, she argued that doing so was a free exercise of her religion and therefore the fine was in violation of the Texas RFRA. She plans to make her case before the court in June.

From Express News:

"Cheever is scheduled to go before Municipal Court on June 23, but she remained defiant after receiving the citation, arguing that under the 1999 Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, she has a right to serve food to the homeless because she considers it a free exercise of her religion."

“One of the police officers said, ‘Ma’am, if you want to pray, go to church,’” Cheever told WOAI-TV. “And I said, ‘This is how I pray — when I cook this food and deliver it to the people who are less fortunate.’”

I'm assuming that Cheever is Christian since it's the majority religion, especially in Texas. And the fact is that feeding the poor was something Jesus actually did in all four canonical Gospels. I expect that it will be very difficult for the state to argue that doing so is not a Christian practice. The case might still go against Cheever, but I have a hard time seeing such a ruling as anything other than rank hypocrisy.

Not all Christians hate on gays. Jesus, in fact, said nothing about homosexuality and the only quote from the New Testament that is used to justify discrimination is from the epistles. He considered feeding the poor a very big deal, though, which to my way of thinking is the whole point of the miracle of the loaves and fishes.

If the Texas RFRA turns out to not apply here, what that says to me is that this alleged religious freedom only means religious freedom for assholes. And that would be a very big problem with the law.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Stay at the Winchester Mystery House!

If you ever find yourself in San Jose, California one of the sights you absolutely must see is the Winchester Mystery House. The sprawling mansion was built by Winchester rifle heiress Sarah Winchester on the advice of a psychic, who told her that it would keep her safe from vengeful spirits as long as she kept building and never stopped. She started the structure in 1884 and continued adding onto it until she died in 1922.

Now IO9 reports that the owners of the house have secured permits to allow overnight stays and the consumption of alcohol on the premises. So not only can you spend the night, you can also drink. I imagine that once a lot of folks are doing this the number of ghosts sightings will increase substantially, both from the overnight stays and from the drinking. But even if they don't, it still sounds like a fun time.

Oh man oh man. One of the most infamous haunted residences in the world, the Winchester Mystery House, has secured permits that will allow guests to not only stay the night in one of the mansion's 160 rooms, but also consume alcohol anywhere on the premises. Great idea – or greatest idea?

The Winchester Mystery House is the creepiest house in Silicon Valley, and was built by Winchester Gun heiress Sarah Winchester – widow of William Wirt Winchester, son of the first president of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company – over a period of almost forty years. A veritable hive of 160 rooms, the mega mansion is a 6-acre labyrinth of false doors and stairs that lead absolutely nowhere – ad-hoc additions reportedly made by Winchester to confuse the evil spirits of people shot and killed by the firearms of her dead husband's namesake.

The biggest problem I foresee is that if you're drunk, the mansion is one of the last places you would want to get lost. By all accounts it's hard to find your way around the place even when sober, so drunk it would be quite the challenge. I assume some of the more dangerous parts of the house, like doors that open over drop-offs and such, will be off limits to inebriated patrons. Otherwise, I expect their insurance bills will be through the roof.

I know that I plan on checking it out the next time I'm out that way. You should too, even if the drinking is not your thing.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Calling Out the "War on Christianity"

In the mainstream media the biggest proponent of the alleged "War on Christianity" is Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly, who has done much to popularize the Poor Oppressed Christian worldview. O'Reilly has been called out on this over and over again, but either the critics are bloggers like me who the media establishment ignores, or they're people that he can easily dismiss as liberal partisans. Not this time.

Yesterday O'Reilly's fellow Fox News commentator and well-known conservative John Stossel took him to task, pointing out what I and others have been saying for years. There is no "War on Christianity." The Poor Oppressed Christians who think otherwise are whiny crybabies who are members of the the majority religion, but still can't stand that people who criticize them are allowed to speak - or even allowed to exist.

“Your ‘war on Christianity,’ you’re just a 10-foot-tall crybaby,” Stossel told O’Reilly. “It’s not so bad. Christians aren’t being killed.”

“Not yet,” O’Reilly replied.

“Not in America, and they’re not going to be,” Stossel countered.

“They’re verbally being killed,” O’Reilly insisted. Stossel scoffed in response, asking, “So what?”

The exchange came a day after O’Reilly argued that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton already has an advantage in her presidential campaign because it was “open season” on Christians and white men.

“You shouldn’t be diminished because you believe a certain way,” O’Reilly told Stossel. “Aren’t you outraged by that?”

“What’s diminished?” Stossel asked, before alluding to an ABC News poll saying that 83 percent of Americans identified as Christians. “You are the majority. You’ve won.”

“It’s not a matter of winning,” O’Reilly replied. “It’s a matter of respect.”

And there it is - the truth. At last.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Pope Warned of Sexy Vampires

Pope Francis has gotten some good press for being a relatively progressive pope, or at least more progressive than his reactionary predecessor. His statements on poverty and injustice are quite welcome as a foil to the "Green Gospel" preached by many American evangelicals, even if his positions on other issues such as sexuality have barely budged compared to those of previous popes.

One oddity about the allegedly progressive Francis is that he has offered more support than his predecessors to the practice of exorcism. As a magician I believe that magical and spiritual attacks can be real and that they can be resolved by ritual means, but the problem is that many of the church's exorcists seem trapped in some sort of backwards urban fantasy universe. And naturally, said universe is teeming with sexy vampires.

“There are those who try to turn people into vampires and make them drink other people’s blood, or encourage them to have special sexual relations to obtain special powers,” said Professor Giuseppe Ferrari, head of The Group on Research and Socio-Religious Information, an Italian occult watchdog, at a conference in Rome last week. “These groups are attracted by the so-called beautiful young vampires that we’ve seen so much of in recent years.”

Ferrari is not some fringe exorcist (ha ha) — he is actually backed by the Vatican and the Pope himself, who has insisted that dioceses have one trained exorcist on campus to deal with any urgent possessions. Father Cesare Truqui, a Swiss exorcist and protégé of Father Gabriele Amorth (the Vatican’s longtime chief exorcist) who also spoke at the conference, told The Independent that exorcism training is super important but overlooked: “It’s like training to be a journalist without knowing how to do an interview.” Amorth’s main concerns were sex abuse scandals, the fantasy genre and yoga.

Is it just me, or is one of those things not like the others? Yoga is harmless. The fantasy genre is harmless. And the recent sex abuse scandals that have rocked the church are an abject nightmare, especially for the victims. It seems to me that Amorth would do a lot better to quit wasting time hating on stretching and elves, and instead devote his efforts towards resolving this infinitely more serious problem.

But I suppose in the end what's really going on is public relations. I doubt that anyone thinks yoga or fantasy novels are on par with child molestation, even among deluded exorcists who dream of being Buffy or something. I think it's probably an attempt to draw attention away from the latter. If the media is focused on how dumb it is that the church hates yoga, that's less time they're spending on abuse victims.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Creationists Versus Aliens

As NASA continues to analyze data from bodies in our own solar system and distant stars, it is rapidly becoming clear that we are likely to discover alien life at some point in the relatively near future. Odds are that those organisms will be microbes of some sort rather than humanoids armed with lasers and battle cruisers, but still, the prospect of such a discovery is frightening to many creationists. The Discovery Institute opposes the search for alien life because the organization sees such research as a deliberate attempt to undermine their religious beliefs.

They place astrobiologists among the ranks of the “Darwin Brigades” who have always been “eager to undermine human exceptionalism,” since “the alleged ordinariness of the human race was vital in establishing common ancestry as a plausible theory.” Astrobiology, they argue, expands this line of thought, since it holds to the Darwinist belief that life started by accident and that—under the right conditions—it can emerge anywhere with a liquid solvent (preferably water), energy, and organic compounds. This delusion, the Discovery Institute adds, undermines human exceptionalism on a cosmic scale by proclaiming that the Earth is not particularly special, just one among billions of potentially life-bearing planets.

The Discovery Institute claims instead that, the more data we gather about the Earth and other solar systems, the more clear it becomes that the cosmos was designed specifically with us in mind: “Someone decided that life should exist in this universe and made sure that Earth received all the proper protection and environmental benefits it needed to become the home of humankind.” And, of course, scripture is always available to provide supporting evidence. “The Earth's uniqueness brings to mind what the prophet Isaiah recorded thousands of years ago: ‘For thus says the Lord—Who created the heavens, God Himself, Who formed the Earth and made it, Who established it and did not create it to be a worthless waste; He formed it to be inhabited—I am the Lord, and there is no one else.’”

Friday, April 10, 2015

Office of the Readings for 2015

Happy Thelemic New Year, everyone! It's that time again, for the Office of the Readings.

The Thelemic dates that you may see written online are arrived at by counting the number of 22-year cycles since 1904 to obtain the upper case Roman numeral, and then counting the years of the current cycle to get the lower case one. Within each 22-year cycle, many Thelemites ascribe the Major Arcana trumps of the Tarot to the years in order starting with The Fool and ending with The Universe. So the year that we're about to enter into is V:i and is thus attributed to the Magus card.

This post will remain the top article here for the duration of the Thelemic High Holy Days, from March 20th to April 10th. The Rite of the Office of the Readings is performed for all of the readings beginning on March 20th.

This year I'm pleased to announce the the Office of the Readings will be presented at Leaping Laughter Lodge, the Minneapolis local body of Ordo Templi Orientis. I'm looking forward to offering this series to the larger local OTO community. In order to synchronize our series with the Lodge's equinox ritual scheduled for March 21st, the Invocation of Horus will precede the Office for the second night rather than the first. Also, this year the Prologue of the Unborn will be read preceding the ritual for March 20th rather than on March 19th.

In addition to those changes, we've revised the order of readings and created a new Lectionary. Generally speaking, the First Readings have remained the same as in previous years, but a number of the Second Readings have been rearranged. We also have standardized the series to have two readings per day rather than the old version that had more on some days.


The Invocation of Horus
The Rite of the Office of the Readings


March 20 - Saturn/Earth, The Universe

Liber VII, Prologue of the Unborn (Preceding the Ritual).
Liber LXV, Cap I.
Liber VII, Cap II.

March 21 - Fire/Spirit, The Aeon

Liber LXV, Cap IV.
From "The Four Zoas" by William Blake.

March 22 - Sol, The Sun

Liber VII, Cap IV.
From "A Mithraic Ritual" Translated by GRS Mead.

March 23 - Pisces, The Moon

Liber VII, Cap VI.
From “Dark Night of the Soul”, Book II, Cap 8 by San Juan de la Cruz.

March 24 - Aries, The Emperor

Liber Tzaddi vel Hamus Hermeticus.
From the “Tao Te Ching” by Lao Tzu, Cap 37 and 39.

March 25 - Mars, The Tower

Liber VII, Cap I.
From Liber CDXVIII, The 16th Æthyr.

March 26 - Capricornus, The Devil

Liber A'ash.
Relevant to Liber A'ash is my solution to the mystery of the duck.
From Liber CXI, Cap 174-175.

March 27 - Sagittarius, Art

From “The Vision of the Universal Mercury” by G.H. Frater S.R.M.D.

March 28 - Scorpio, Death

From Liber Arcanorum.
From Liber CXI, Cap 192-194.

March 29 - Water, The Hanged Man

Liber LXV, Cap III.
"I. N. R. I." by Frater Achad.

March 30 - Libra, Adjustment

Liber Libræ.
Selections from “The Spiritual Guide” by San Miguel de Molinos.

March 31 - Jupiter, Fortune

Liber VII, Cap III.
From Liber CDXVIII, The 20th Æthyr.

April 1 - Virgo, The Hermit

Liber VII, Cap V.
"The Emerald Tablet of Hermes" by Hermes Trismegistus.

April 2 - Leo, Lust

Liber Stellae Rubeæ.
From “The Daughter of Fortitude” Received by Edward Kelly.

April 3 - Cancer, The Chariot

Liber Cheth vel Vallum Abiegni.
"Maha Prajnaparamita Hridaya Sutra" (The Heart Sutra, Buddhist text. Translation by the Kuan Um School of Zen).

April 4 - Gemini, The Lovers

Liber LXV, Cap II.
From Liber DCCCXXXVII, The Law of Liberty.

April 5 - Taurus, The Hierophant

Liber LXV, Cap V.
From “On Christ and Antichrist” by Hippolytus, Cap 2.

April 6 - Aquarius, The Star

From “The Thunder, Perfect Mind” (Gnostic text).

April 7 - Venus, The Empress

Liber VII, Cap VII.
From Liber CDXVIII, The 7th Æthyr.

April 8 - Luna, The Priestess

Liber AL, Cap I.
“Vajrasattva, Primordial Buddha of Diamond or Rainbow Light” From Songs and Meditations of the Tibetan Dhyani Buddhas.

April 9 - Mercury, The Magus

Liber AL, Cap II.
“Visvapani, The Bodhisattva and Spiritual Emanation of Amoghasiddhi” From Songs and Meditations of the Tibetan Dhyani Buddhas.

April 10 - Air, The Fool

Liber AL, Cap III.
From Liber CDXVIII, The 22nd Æthyr.

If you would like to perform this series and have questions, feel free to e-mail me here. All Office of the Readings posts may be viewed here. Our Office of the Readings series is based on this ritual series by the Companions of Monsalvat.

Wiccan Prayer Met With "Peaceful Protest"

The Poor Oppressed Christians sure hate the fact that other religions exist, and that real people actually follow them. I know that I shouldn't be surprised by this, as I write about it all the time, but it never ceases to amaze me how many supposed followers of Jesus think that treating non-Christians badly is the best way to embody his teachings.

This Thursday Deborah Maynard, a Wiccan priestess, gave a prayer at a meeting of the Iowa state legislature. Representative Rob Taylor made sure to attend the prayer, turn his back, and offer his own silent Christian prayer while it was going on as a form of "peaceful protest." Can you imagine what a stink that would have been if Taylor were not a Christian and Maynard was?

Many of his colleagues chose not to attend the daily prayer. But Taylor said that after praying over it, he decided the appropriate response would be to “be in the presence of a prayer, but peacefully protest.”

Despite his protest and the boycott by more than a third of the House members, Maynard thought it went well.

“It was kind of a rush,” said Maynard, 43, a project manager for a company she declined to identify. “It was awe-inspiring. It was humbling. A little scary to be the first one to do something like that in the state of Iowa and the third one in the nation.”

Maynard, a Unitarian Universalist and the leader of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, said her goal was inclusion.

I'm glad that Maynard wasn't particularly offended, but you know what? Those of us who who belong to minority religions are exposed to Christianity all the time. We don't whine, or walk out of the room, or put on a big show for the media to make sure everyone knows how intolerant we are. That isn't called being a Christian, it's called being an asshole.

It doesn't really bother me that Taylor decided to offer up his own silent prayer while the invocation was going on. If that's what he believes his religion compels him to do, so be it. What bothers me is the effort he put into making sure absolutely everyone, including the media, knew that he was doing it. Jesus had specific words for those who insisted on praying on street corners, and they were not kind ones.

For those members of this country's dominant religion who don't have experience with situations like these and are unsure of what to do, let me clue you in. What you do is sit there silently, and if you feel you must offer your own prayer do so in a way that draws no attention to yourself. Is that really so hard?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Theosophical Karma as Toxic Synthesis

Moloch has a good article up discussing the concepts of karma and the "threefold law" as put forth by many Wiccans. I would expand that scope a bit, since the concept of karma he's talking about reaches much of the modern esoteric scene. For example, the vast majority of New Agers seem to subscribe to it as well, and their numbers are much larger than those of Wicca. Furthermore, a lot of modern witches eschew the concept entirely, or treat it as a guideline rather than a law.

Moloch covers how this concept of karma made its way into Western esotericism by way of Theosophy and how it doesn't actually make much sense and gets applied in silly ways. I agree with all of that. But let me be clear - I'm not writing this to denigrate the concept of karma as it actually exists in Eastern religions such as Buddhism. In fact, the Theosophical version of karma is entirely different. It's what I call a toxic synthesis, a combination of Eastern and Western ideas that results in something far worse than the principles that it combines.

In Buddhism, karma simply refers to the law of cause and effect. Buddhism teaches emptiness of phenomena as the key to avoiding attachment. But karma points out that, for example, even if you can "realize the emptiness" of a bus speeding towards you, it's still likely to kill you if you don't get out of the way. Likewise, you can "realize the emptiness" of polite social interaction, but if you treat other people badly they'll eventually decide that you're an asshole and start avoiding you. So this form of Buddhist karma is eminently practical. It has nothing to do with mysterious retribution wreaked by "the universe" for misdeeds.

That's where Theosophy comes in.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Not Destroyed After All

One of the ironic bits I've observed about the history of the Roman Catholic Church is that popes who take the name of Innocent are the worst. It's almost as if many of them knew ahead of time that they were going to do awful stuff, so they chose a name that they imagined might preemptively absolve them of guilt.

In 1679 Pope Innocent XI ordered all copies of a book of theology written by a Spanish Jesuit destroyed. The book was titled Varia Opuscula Theologica, and history does not record the precise reason for the Pope's order. Fortunately for modern scholars, one copy of the book seems to have survived and found its way to a British bookstore. The book is written in Latin and in poor condition, but it still appears to be readable.

The decrepit copy of “Varia Opuscula Theologica” (“Various Theological Brochures”) by Doctoris Francisco Suarez, written in Latin, contains a stamp that indicates it was once held in a Rome library, Caters News Agency reported.

The book — priced at $740 on rare books website Abe Books — was donated to the Oxfam Bookshop in Shrewsbury, Shropshire. “All of the Suarez books were burned, but this obviously survived,” said store manager Tom Cotton. “It is in Latin and is very obscure. It looks like it came from one of the famous Catholic colleges in Rome.”

Experts have yet to fully examine or translate the book, but once they do it will be interesting to see exactly what Suarez wrote that prompted Innocent XI to ban his work. I'll be watching for that story and keep you all posted if and when it circulates. Regardless of the book's contents, it's a significant find that sheds light on the actions of the seventeenth-century church.

According to what I was able to find, in the late 1600's Innocent XI banned the works of theologians including Suarez over their use of casuistry - case-based reasoning, much like that employed in modern legal disputes - as a basis for theological arguments. The pope believed that casuistry led to "laxist morals," so it may simply be that Suarez was too good at rules-lawyering for Innocent to handle.

UPDATE: No translation is available yet, but the book has now been scanned and can be viewed on Google Books here. So if you can read the Latin, go for it!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Stretching Not a Religion

That's the ruling of court in California, which found that secular yoga classes offered as an alternative to traditional physical education classes at a public school do not promote religious beliefs. A lawsuit was brought against the school by Christian parents who believed that despite being stripped of all religious references and practices, the yoga classes still promoted Hinduism. They essentially argued that stretching constituted a religious practice, which is news to fitness enthusiasts everywhere.

“While the practice of yoga may be religious in some contexts, yoga classes as taught in the district are, as the trial court determined, ‘devoid of any religious, mystical, or spiritual trappings,’” the court wrote in a 3-0 opinion.

Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock and their two children had brought the lawsuit claiming yoga promoted Hinduism and inhibited Christianity. They were disappointed with the ruling and considering their options.

“No other court in the past 50 years has allowed public school officials to lead children in formal religious rituals like the Hindu liturgy of praying to, bowing to, and worshipping the sun god,” attorney Dean Broyles said in a statement.

Paul V Carelli IV, a lawyer for the district, said there were no rituals occurring in the classroom and no one was worshipping the sun or leading Hindu rites. The district said the practice was taught in a secular way to promote strength, flexibility and balance.

So these parents were totally convinced that religious practices of praying, chanting, and so forth were going on - even though they weren't. So either these folks are seriously misinformed, or just plain stupid. There's really no more polite way to put it. The court ruling is no surprise either, because the precedent set by the case going the other way would have been bizarre - that any action done in a religious context by anyone would still be religious even without said context. Many religions read texts during their services, for example, so should students not be allowed to read?

Yoga poses practiced with neither ritual or ceremony have nothing to do with religion, and are no different in that respect than reading non-religious texts. They aren't even all that Hindu, despite the way the practice is sometimes presented. Modern yoga only dates back to the 1960's, when poses shown in old Indian sources were combined with systems of European calisthenics disseminated by the British during their occupation of the sub-continent. Much of the chanting and such is simple orientalism designed to make yoga feel exotic to Westerners.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Indiana RFRA Amended

After the public outcry over the passage of Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Indiana lawmakers have amended the statute to include a clause explicitly stating that the act may not be used to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. A similar clause was proposed when the original bill was being drafted, but was voted down at the time. This did not prove to be a winning move for the state.

From Visit Indy to Eli Lilly and Co. to hotels such as the JW Marriott, the game plan now is reassure, rebrand and — they so desperately hope — return to the old state of affairs when Indiana wasn't wreathed in national controversy. The bruising debate over the state's "religious freedom" law and the national notoriety it earned for Indiana will likely give way this weekend to a time of recovery for what was lost: the state's well-burnished image as a welcoming place.

Changes to the law were unveiled Thursday morning, approved before sunset by both legislative chambers and later signed by Gov. Mike Pence. The changes, which will prohibit the law from superseding local ordinances that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, almost immediately quieted a public furor. Gay rights groups, many corporations and others feared the law will open the door to sexual and gender discrimination.

Reading commentary on the amended law from liberals and conservatives is like looking though windows into two different worlds. Conservatives argue that the "fix" goes too far, while liberals contend that it doesn't go far enough. Perhaps this is one of those cases where "compromise" means an agreement that neither side is happy with.

In a related story, the Arkansas legislature passed a bill similar to Indiana's this week, but governor Asa Hutchinson refused to sign it until it was amended to bring it in line with the federal RFRA. Hutchinson signed the amended version yesterday.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

An Anti-Muslim Death Ray?

No, this post is not an April Fools joke, unlike yesterday's post that a number of clueless people apparently failed to get. New York Ku Klux Klan member Glendon Crawford is actually facing trial for designing and attempting to secure funds for an "anti-muslim death ray." If nothing else, the man's stock of super-villain points must be at an all-time high, because his plot sounds like something out of a bad action movie. For that matter, so does his device.

Federal authorities say Crawford, of Hudson, New York, designed a device capable of targeting people with lethal doses of X-ray radiation, but Luibrand argued that government agents instigated, funded, and planned the plot.

The motion claims Crawford approached U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, a New York Republican, along with a Schenectady synagogue and the Israeli Embassy with his idea to use radiation strong enough to cause illness, which the attorney said his clients learned from high-school level materials found online.

“Crawford planned to create a mobile, remotely operated, radiation-emitting device capable of killing people silently from a distance with lethal doses of ionizing radiation,” the indictment alleges. “Crawford’s intended targets were Muslims, Muslim-related organizations and persons Crawford believed were contributing to the demise of the United States.”

I have to admit, given the complexity of the weapon described in that last paragraph, I find it hard to believe that anything short of a well-funded research team could ever make it work. Yeah, in theory it's simple when you describe it at a high enough level, but so's a full-scale nuclear reactor - you stick uranium rods in a tank of water, the water gets so hot it boils, and you run a turbine with the resulting steam. The complexity is in all the little details and controls and systems that you have to get right in order to avoid a serious accident.

Crawford's defense team claims that he and co-conspirator Eric Feight were was lured into a sting by government agents, who pretended to be interested in funding development of his device and then turned around and arrested them. Feight pleaded guilty to avoid a trial, but Crawford asserts his innocence on the basis that the government sting violated his civil rights. He also argues that he never would have had the resources to even attempt to construct the device without the financial support that the agents offered as part of the sting.

While Crawford's intent was certainly that of a terrorist, I also have been of the opinion for a long time that these sorts of sting operations need to stop, or at least be scaled back. I can think of several cases over the last decade or so in which incompetent people arrested on terrorism charges never could have done anything without help from government agents, but then wound up in prison for agreeing to work with them. Does the government really come across so few credible terrorist threats that it has to manufacture its own?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Scientology Under Attack

The Church of Scientology has long been the target of critics who accuse it of cult-like behavior. Now the church is facing a new round of negative publicity as it finds itself in the news once more. No, I'm not talking about the recent HBO documentary Going Clear, which exposes many of the church's misdeeds. I'm talking about the shocking case of Scientology auditor Frank D. Linehan, who goes on trial today in Los Angeles on charges of molesting hundreds of thetans, beginning around 1978. The church is accused of covering up the abuse for decades.

Most victims were between 60- and 65-million-years old with some as young as 58 million, investigators said, prompting accusations of serial abuse that have shaken the church to its core. If convicted, Linehan could face life in prison for his crimes, according to California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

“The thing that makes this case so troubling and so shocking is the total abuse of trust,” Harris told reporters at a press conference outside the Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre in Los Angeles, where police believe the majority of assaults took place. “These are unbelievably horrific cases where someone abused their position of power to target those who are defenseless. No one in the community could believe someone could do this to a thetan, a thetan who is voiceless.”

“Both as an attorney general and as a person with possibly hundreds of murdered alien souls clinging to her body, it shocks the conscience,” Harris continued. “But I’d like to take this opportunity to tell everyone that we are doing everything in our power to protect young immortal spiritual beings and pursue this case to the fullest extent of the law.”

Thetans, trapped souls of ancient aliens transported to Earth, dropped onto volcanoes, and blown up with nuclear bombs by the evil Xenu 75 million years ago, have few legal protections, and the Supreme Court has yet to rule on whether or not they possess basic human rights that the rest of us take for granted. But prosecutors claim that the legal status of these disembodied entities is not central to the case, even though they admit that compelling Linehan's victims to testify will prove challenging. They are now testing a system involving an e-meter connected with a Ouija board that they hope will convince a jury.