Friday, August 29, 2014

Utah's "Polygamy Ban" Struck Down

Back when Utah was originally trying to join the United States it was mostly settled by Mormons, many of whom practiced polygamy. As a condition of statehood, Utah was required to ban the practice, not only in terms of granting multiple marriage licenses but also in terms of prohibiting "cohabitation" between unmarried individuals.

Due to this history, Utah was until recently one of the only states where it was actually illegal for unmarried people to live together. This ridiculous law has finally been overturned. The case originated with the polygamous family of Kody Brown, stars of the reality television series "Sister Wives." In 2010, the state of Utah investigated charging the family with bigamy under the cohabitation statute, which led to the current ruling.

Federal Judge Clark Waddoups in December struck the section of Utah’s bigamy statute that can be applied when someone "cohabits with another person" to whom they are not legally married. Utah law made such a union a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Waddoups said the ban violated the First and 14th amendments to the Constitution. Waddoups let stand the portion of the statute that prevents someone from having more than one active marriage license.

In the final portion of his ruling Wednesday, Waddoups found the Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman violated the Browns’ constitutional rights when he oversaw a 2010 investigation into whether the Brown family was committing bigamy. At the time the Browns lived in Lehi. They have since moved to Nevada. Buhman eventually decided not to file criminal charges, but Waddoups said the investigation stifled the Browns’ rights to free speech, religion and equal protection.

So thanks to this ruling Utah's laws regarding these issues are finally in line with the rest of the country, and it only took them 120 years. This just goes to show how moral panics, such as that surrounding Mormon polygamy in the 1880's, can have long and far-reaching effects. It's always better to cut such nonsense off at the source if doing so is in any way possible.

It should be noted that you still can't legally marry more than one person in Utah, just like you can't in any other state. But this ruling means that Utah can no longer prosecute people based on their living situations.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Mullet Cult Convictions Overturned

Remember the Mullet Cult? Amish bishop Sam Mullet and his followers, members of an Ohio group called the Bergholtz community, were convicted of hate crimes for several attacks in which they cut the hair and beards of fellow Amish who wouldn't defer to Mullet's authority. On appeal, a panel of judges has overturned their convictions, on the grounds that prosecutors failed to demonstrate a "religious motive" for their crimes.

A 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel sided with arguments brought by attorneys for the Amish, convicted two years ago in five attacks in 2011. The attacks were in apparent retaliation against Amish who had defied or denounced the authoritarian style of Sam Mullet Sr., leader of the Bergholz community in eastern Ohio.

In a deeply divided decision, two of the three judges on the panel concluded that the jury received incorrect instructions about how to weigh the role of religion in the attacks. They also said prosecutors should have had to prove that the assaults wouldn't have happened but for religious motives.

"When all is said and done, considerable evidence supported the defendants' theory that interpersonal and intra-family disagreements, not the victims' religious beliefs, sparked the attacks," the judges wrote.

They said it was unfair to conclude that "because faith permeates most, if not all, aspects of life in the Amish community, it necessarily permeates the motives for the assaults in this case."

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Fear the Yoga Demons!

So it looks like the whole "yoga is demonic" trope is still alive and well. Here's an article about a Catholic woman named Priscilla who was supposedly possessed by demons at her yoga class. The story is so outlandish that I first thought it was some sort of parody, but after looking over the rest of the web site I'm not so sure. I suppose there's a fine line between satire and true religious fanaticism.

At any rate, according to "well-known deliverance minister" Stella Davis, Priscilla's story began when she was going through a divorce. A friend suggested she try a yoga class to deal with the stress and her fate was sealed. The class was completely secular with no religious references, and she prayed to Jesus and Mary to keep her safe. Still, her faith offered no protection and she was quickly possessed, which caused her life to completely fall apart. Davis reports arranging a "deliverance" for Priscilla, which quickly turned into a scene straight out of The Exorcist.

Suddenly, a sound emerged from Priscilla’s mouth, like the hiss of a snake.

“You can’t have her, she’s mine!” the voice shouted. “I took her. You gave her two deformed children,” it said in reference to Priscilla’s children, both of whom have special needs. “I got in through yoga,” the demon announced, then continued his diatribe. “You cannot take her from me. She’s mine. You’ll never get rid of me and even if you do, I’ll get back in.”

It went on to announce: “I took her family away from her. I took her job away from her when she was about to get it back. I put the anxiety in her . . . I’m in control now . . .You will never make me leave. I’ll get to her through her kids. . . ” Davis silenced the spirit in the name of Jesus Christ in a calm but firm voice and in a way that led Parker to believe she had done this a thousand times before.

In fact, she had. In the course of her 35 year-old ministry, Davis has had to deliver many people from spirits who infested them through the practice of yoga. “I find it in women, young and older, and also in priests and nuns,” she said. “The reason they come to me is because they can’t find any peace – they have anxiety – they become very angry – and they have to be delivered of these spirits.”

This was the case with Priscilla, who ended up being delivered of more than 17 different spirits that afternoon. And it all began in what seemed like an innocent exercise class.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

That's No Sturgeon

Lagarfljótsormurinn is the Nessie of Iceland. According to folklore, the creature is giant serpent that inhabits Lake Lagarfljót. For awhile now I've been pushing the idea that many of the mythological lake monsters around the world might in fact be very large sturgeons. The sturgeon is a great candidate in many ways - it can grow to a length of more than 20 feet, live for over a hundred years, and is prehistoric and pretty darn weird looking.

An alleged video of Lagarfljótsormurinn has recently been verified by a commission of experts first assembled in 2012, and whatever is in the video could not possibly be a sturgeon. The body is far too long and snakelike. Sturgeons have a large head that tapers back to a tail, and an arched back that can easily be mistaken for a hump, as in most of pictures of Nessie that haven't been debunked. But this one is clearly of something else.

The commission was given the task of determining whether a video of the alleged monster shot by Hjörtur E. Kjerúlf, which went viral, was authentic and whether he was entitled to a prize of ISK 500,000 (USD 4,300, EUR 3,300). “I was told about the commission’s conclusion and I’d like to say that I’m extremely pleased to confirm that the majority of the commission was right,” Hjörtur told

While concluding that Hjörtur’s video was authentic, the commission determined that a photo shot by Sigurður Aðalsteinsson, who had also made claim to the prize money, did not show the actual serpent. Hjörtur shot the footage through his kitchen window at farm Hrafnkelsstaðir in Fljótsdalur early one morning in February 2012.

The video was originally posted on the website of national broadcaster RÚV and, after Iceland Review reported on it, reposted multiple times. The video has now been watched approximately 8 million times and has prompted film crews from abroad to come to the lake in search of the serpent.

Friday, August 22, 2014

"Ark Encounter" Jobs for Fundamentalists Only

The saga of Ken Ham's troubled Ark Encounter attraction continues. After failing to raise enough money to receive the large tax incentives for which they were originally approved by the state of Kentucky, Answers in Genesis has applied again for a smaller set of tax breaks. In their new application they once again claim that the attraction will generate revenue for the state and create jobs. But according to a job description on their help wanted web site, Ark Encounter's jobs are for fundamentalist Christians only.

The job description included this statement: "Our work at Ark Encounter is not just a job, it is also a ministry. Our employees work together as a team to serve each other to produce the best solutions for our design requirements. Our purpose through the Ark Encounter is to serve and glorify the Lord with our God-given talents with the goal of edifying believers and evangelizing the lost."

When Ark Encounter was originally approved for much larger tax incentives they were required not to discriminate in hiring. However, it is apparent that Ark Encounter is likely to discriminate against non-Christians. Moreover, Catholics, mainstream Protestant Christians and some conservative Christians who have different doctrinal beliefs are also unlikely to be hired.

The ad has specific religious requirements for employment. These include a salvation testimony, a "creation belief statement" and a requirement that applicants agree with the organization's "statement of faith." This required statement includes articles that imply that fundamentalist Christianity is the only acceptable religion and that denigrate non-Christians non-fundamentalist Christians, and homosexuals (regardless of their theological views).

The really amazing thing to me here is talking about "design requirements." That is, these are the jobs for people who will be building the attraction. How can somebody's religious beliefs possibly effect how they do engineering or construction work? Rail against asshole atheists all you want - and yes, they are out there, and they are annoying - but I've never heard of an atheist company refusing to hire Christians or making them sign some sort of statement denouncing God.

Garbage like this is the reason atheists wind up pressing court cases. It's not just that they're "offended" in some nebulous way, but rather that discrimination against them and members of minority religions is very real and has real consequences. If Ark Encounter gets away with this, you can bet that other fundamentalist organizations will follow.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Poor Oppressed Christians Don't Get Atheists

I suppose you might expect an actor who played a demigod to be down on atheists, but God is Not Dead star Kevin Sorbo demonstrated in a recent interview that he completely fails to understand them. Just as his film suggests, Sorbo seems convinced that the main motivation for atheism is anger with God. He gets as far as realizing that it's illogical to be angry with something you don't believe in, but totally misses the point that this is a strawman constructed by religous folks intentionally designed to make atheists look silly and has little to do with unbelievers in the real world.

“I’m a Christian myself and had to play an atheist. I see the anger of these (atheist) guys on TV and it’s like ‘wow, how do you get so angry at something you don’t believe in?” Sorbo said.

Earlier this year, Sorbo discussed self-professed atheist Bill Maher, calling him “angry and lonely,” before adding, “I did Politically Incorrect a couple of times, and all I can do is feel sad for the guy, because I think he is a very angry and lonely man. Comedy comes from anger anyway. You know, what are you going to say when a guy talks like this?”

In his most recent comments, Sorbo also expressed frustration with atheists who protest localities displaying nativity scenes on public property during the Christmas holidays. “It’s funny how they can get nativity scenes pulled down because they say it offends them but they’re offended by something they don’t believe in,” Sorbo said.

“What offends 90 percent of the country is that they take down nativity scenes but apparently the majority doesn’t have a voice in the country anymore so what are you going to do?”

As I posted awhile back, atheists are as diverse a group as any other. There is a small, vocal minority of "fundamentalists" who do seem to be angry at religion in general and think any form of spirituality is stupid. But most are just regular people who want to be left alone and have their rights respected. This is true of Christians as well. The majority of believers don't spend all their free time whining about how oppressed they are, which means that Sorbo's numbers are way off. Christians make up about 85% of the US population, not 90%. And it's really only the Poor Oppressed bunch who care very much about whether nativity scenes are put up, which reduces the percentage further.

See, I would agree with Sorbo here on the nativity scene issue if what he was proposing was that Christians could put up nativity scenes on public property and members of every other religion could do the same, including atheists who want to erect secular displays. The thing is, though, that's not what the Poor Oppressed Christians want. They want to be able to put up their displays while banning everyone else's. That's what atheists and members of minority religions find offensive. When the Poor Oppressed crowd won't play nice, the only other legal option is to keep anyone from playing at all.

So to the Poor Oppressed Christians who still don't get it, I'll be clear. Most atheists aren't angry to begin with, and the rest of them aren't angry with God. They're angry with you.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Poseidon's Fortress

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, a young medical student knelt in his dorm room before a makeshift altar dedicated to the Greek god Poseidon. "Great lord of the sea," he implored, "I ask that you aid me in completing my course of study and becoming a successful doctor. In return, once I achieve that success I pledge to build for you a palatial home that will celebrate your magnificence in all its glory!"

The great god Poseidon was moved by the young student's request, and agreed to render assistance on those terms. The student went on to graduate from medical school with top marks and obtain a prominent position at a hospital in Saint Cloud, Minnesota. Ever mindful of his pledge, the doctor purchased a prime lot on the banks of the Mississippi River, whose waters eventually flow into the Gulf of Mexico, and went to work building the promised home.

The trouble was, skills in medicine don't exactly translate to competence in architecture or interior design, and the time was the 1970's. The result was Poseidon's Fortress, a luxury home that's so over-the-top it's hard to believe that it even exists outside of the movies. The ocean motif is everywhere inside and out, and on top of that the living room has its own smoke machine and bank of lasers (!).

I have no idea if that's the real story. In fact, it almost certainly isn't. What I do know is that the home was built by a doctor in Saint Cloud who is now selling it. I also have no idea whether his obsession with Poseidon stems from any sort of deal with the deity, but in terms of explaining this house it's as good a theory as any. Suffice it to say I find many of the design choices pretty inexplicable without some paranormal reasoning.

So let's say you're a devotee of Poseidon and wish to bask in his glory every waking and sleeping moment. Could this be the house for you? Keep in mind that Greek statues only look plain and elegant because over time the tacky, bright colors in which they were painted have washed or worn away. If their original appearance is any indication, Poseidon himself would probably love this place a million times over.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Demons Killed Robin Williams?

The tragic suicide of actor and comedian Robin Williams was all over the news last week. It has since been released that Williams suffered from the early stages of Parkinson's Disease, a common symptom of which is severe, sometimes untreatable depression that probably led to his death. But truly shameless radio evangelist and self-promoter Joe Schimmel knows better than those doctors with all their sciencey nonsense! According to a recent column on Schimmel's website, the real explanation is obvious - Williams was killed by demons.

Robin Williams acknowledged that he had opened himself up to transformative demonic powers that aided him on stage. Without the aid of such demonic powers, it is likely that you would have never have heard of Robin Williams and many other famous celebrities. Williams also recognized that these powers had manifested a very evil influence on stage and that there could be a hefty price to pay for their assistance. Williams told James Kaplan of US Weekly:

“Yeah! Literally, it's like possession ‑ all of a sudden you're in, and because it's in front of a live audience, you just get this energy that just starts going…But there's also that thing ‑ it is possession. In the old days you'd be burned for it…But there is something empowering about it. I mean, it is a place where you are totally ‑ it is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, where you really can become this other force. Maybe that's why I don't need to play evil characters [in movies], 'cause sometimes onstage you can cross that line and come back. Clubs are a weird kind of petri dish environment. I mean, that's where people can get as dark as they can in comedy ‑ in the name of comedy, be talking about outrageous stuff and somehow come out the other side. I mean, that's one place where you really want to push it” (Robin Williams, "Robin Williams,” by James Kaplan, US Weekly, January, 1999, p. 53).

Williams’ last statement quoted above answers the question as to why the demonic powers use entertainers. Their goal is to promote evil and darkness and increase mankind’s rebellion against God.

First off, it's clear that Schimmel couldn't recognize a metaphor if it came up and bit him, whereas most of us learned about them in fourth grade English. Is this the curse of being a Biblical literalist, that you lose your ability to comprehend basic literary conventions? Or is Schimmel a literalist because he never had that ability to begin with? It's like all he can see in the quoted paragraph are the words "possession," "energy," "evil," and "dark," which can only ever mean one thing - conjuring demons!

Then, more broadly, there's the ridiculous contention believed by many fundamentalists that all entertainers are occultists. Let me tell you, there are far fewer occultists than there are entertainers. People like me who write books on occultism only wish that we had anywhere near the numbers that the performing arts community does, because we would sell a lot more than we do in real life. Occultism is in fact a tiny niche market that hardly anyone culturally significant has much interest in.

Of course, that reality doesn't mesh with the fundamentalist narrative of being under assault at all times by unspeakably powerful evil forces that find their strict and intolerant beliefs threatening, rather than foolish like most of the rest of us do. It makes them feel important, and justifies their belief that despite belonging to the dominant religion in America they are nonetheless totally oppressed by metaphysical evil.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Dark Dungeons is Freaking Hilarious

Remember the independent filmmakers who were working on a movie adaptation of the Jack Chick tract Dark Dungeons? They now have posted the first installment of their film on YouTube, and it's every bit as funny as the trailer made it look. Here are some highlights:
  • The "Circle of Evil" at the beginning. I originally thought this was in the tract because I've read a bunch of them and recall a similar scene, but after looking at the original of Dark Dungeons it apparently is not. So it must be a different tract I'm remembering. It does bear a strong resemblance to what fundamentalist Christians seem to believe is going on in the world.
  • "Oh, and keep out of the steam tunnels" at the end of the film about college life. This is a reference to the original event that triggered the Dungeons & Dragons hysteria of the 1980s. In 1979 a Michigan University student named James Dallas Egbert III disappeared. Egbert was apparently a gamer, and one theory at the time was that he had wandered into the the college's steam tunnels believing that the game was real. It later came out that his disappearance had nothing to do with gaming and was part of an unsuccessful suicide attempt. The truth didn't deter the anti-gaming crowd; when Egbert tragically succeeded in taking his life in 1980, their refrain became "Dungeons & Dragons causes suicides!" even though no statistical evidence supported that conclusion. The incident became the basis for the original anti-gaming movie Mazes and Monsters released in 1982.
  • "They're the RPGers. We've tried to get them kicked off campus, but they're just too popular." Anybody who was a gamer nerd in college will appreciate the irony of gamers being portrayed as "the cool kids" instead of the weirdos most other students saw us as.
  • "Everybody who's tried RPG's, even once, hasn't been able to stop!" No movie of this sort is complete without a little spoofing of 1980's "just say no" anti-drug propaganda.
  • And, of course, "ARE YOU READY TO R-P-G?" That scene was in the trailer too, but it's even funnier in context. The idea that in the middle of a frat party somebody would whip out a dungeon module and assemble a gaming party while everybody else present stands around and watches is quite simply surreal. Gaming is not exactly a spectator sport, after all.
So there you have it. If you've ever wondered what a Chick tract would look like on the big screen, here it is - with all the built-in lunacy that Chick's worldview implies. It's a world in which evil is its own reward, and anything fun is prohibited as sinful.

I'm really looking forward to the next installment. And, when the film is finished, I think a movie party is probably in order to watch the whole thing.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Mummification Two Thousand Years Older

Recent chemical analysis has revealed that the formal Egyptian mummification process may be as much as two thousand years older than archaeologists previously believed. Mummies from the earliest known burials dating back as far as 4500 BC were found to have been embalmed with similar resins to those used in later mummifications. The resins were clearly deliberately applied, meaning that Egyptian mummification technology goes back much further than original estimates.

It had been assumed that before about 2500 BC, when Egyptians wanted to mummify their dead, they placed the wrapped bodies outside and let the hot, dry air and desert sand do the hard work. Deliberate mummification with preserving oils and resins was thought to be a much later development.

But the earliest known Egyptian burials date from 4500 to 3350 BC. These led some Egyptologists to suspect that mummification began early, but there was no hard evidence of this. For the first time, the bandages, skin and wadding from these ancient burials have been chemically analysed.

Stephen Buckley of the University of York in the UK and his colleagues used chromatography to identify a sticky, toffee-like resin found on linen wrappings on bodies from the El-Badari region of southern Egypt.

The resin contained "the same ingredients in roughly the same proportions" as found in much later deliberate mummifications, says Buckley. The mix of plant oils, animal fats, sugars, coniferous resins, natural petroleum and aromatic antibacterial agents would have made a poultice that repelled insects and preserved flesh.

Graham Hancock has written a whole series of books based on the notion that ancient civilizations were far more advanced than what is generally accepted by scholars. I agree with him, with a few caveats. There's no evidence whatsoever that a modern level of technology existed at some point in the ancient past, but at the same time too many modern people assume that the ancients were idiots.

They were not. The Egyptians in particular seem to have been geniuses at employing elements like water and sand to accomplish technological achievements that we only figured out in the 1970's. Apparently embalming is yet another area at which even Egyptians of the far distant past excelled.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Atheist Televangelism?

Christian evangelists have employed television for decades to broadcast their beliefs to a wider audience than a single congregation. Not to be outdone, atheists are now getting in on the act with their own television channel, AtheistTV. Salon has an article up today reviewing this recent venture, and so far, the news is not good. Even though the reviewer is himself an atheist and therefore theoretically part of the channel's target audience, he found the programming excessively smug and "close to unwatchable."

AtheistTV frames atheism as a perpetual reaction against a conquering force. And that reaction isn’t reasoned debate. It’s unattractive nihilism. After the second broadcast of a single “Atheist Experience” episode, the channel showed a 2012 rally in Washington, D.C.; speakers consistently described a future in which all Americans would join the movement, a future that they’d get to by mocking and hassling the beliefs of others. One hardly needs to be religious to see the rhetorical flaws in Andy Shernoff, the frontman of punk band The Dictators, describing himself as “a little like Martin Luther King” before asking the audience “Ready for some sarcasm? Ridiculous ideas need to be mocked.” That Shernoff’s performance indulges straight-up homophobia and misogyny in a frankly mean-spirited song about giving Jesus oral sex is just a fringe benefit of being a radical truth-teller who doesn’t care whom one offends. Beyond the catharsis of mockery, what can AtheistTV offer? What alternative does it provide? Leaving aside even the question of winning over believers, how can it even keep atheists watching if it’s just a perpetual drumbeat of calling Jesus “the zombie Jew”?

My biggest problem with this is not atheism itself, but rather that there are all sorts of issues that an "Atheist Channel" could tackle besides simply making fun of the low-hanging fruit that is literalist Christianity. I cover some of those stories myself here on Augoeides, like the ongong Oklahoma monument debate, the fight for Pastafarian recognition, and the silly antics of creationists. Instead, though, it sounds like all anyone who tunes in sees is a never-ending discussion of whether religious people are stupid, or really stupid.

In fact, if I were to create a parody channel that lampoons atheists the way Stephen Colbert lampoons conservatives, I imagine that it would turn out exactly the same as what this channel is currently doing. That suggests to me that they probably need a better format if they want to make atheism seem smart and appealing, rather than annoying and ridiculous.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Topless Dancers Protest Church

Churches love their protests. For nearly nine years, the New Beginnings Ministries church in Warsaw, Ohio, has held demonstrations outside Foxhole North, a local club that features topless dancers. Showing that turnabout is fair play, dancers from the club have now set up their own topless protest outside the church. They have vowed to continue until the church gives up and leaves the club alone.

According to the Coshocton Tribune, at least six bare-breasted women, employees and friends of the Foxhole North club marched outside the New Beginnings Ministries church in Warsaw.

Club owner Thomas George said that church members have come to his club every weekend for nine years to harass employees and patrons. “They surround people who are trying to come into my club, and try to shame them into not coming,” George explains in a video posted on the Foxhole’s Facebook page. “They call the girls whores, tramps.”

“This is what’s going on in the name of Jesus,” one of the women at the demonstrations points out. “Is anybody else disgusted by this?" The topless protesters have vowed to return every weekend until the church finds a new target.

A solid case can be made that issues surrounding sexuality, whether it be homosexuality, abortion, or topless dancers, do not represent a very significant portion of Jesus' teachings. In the Gospels he is portrayed as much more concerned about the plight of the poor and economic injustice under Roman rule. Nonetheless, many modern fundamentalists barely seem to care about those issues. Instead, they would rather spend all their time shaming people over their private sex lives.

It seems to me that if the church doesn't approve of the club, they're free to admonish their members not to patronize it. But clearly not everyone in town shares their beliefs, and their disapproval doesn't give them the right to run a legitimate business out of town.

Friday, August 8, 2014

"Chinese" Christianity?

China has a poor track record on religious freedom issues. From the persecution of Falun Gong to attempts at regulating reincarnation among Tibetan Buddhists, the country is a perfect example of why religious people in the United States should support the separation of church and state. Christianity is now growing in China, and true to form the government is moving to regulate it, going so far as to begin work on an official "Chinese" Christian theology that must be endorsed by any church that wants to operate legally.

"Over the past decades, the Protestant churches in China have developed very quickly with the implementation of the country's religious policy. In the future, we will continue to boost the development of Christianity in China," said Wang Zuoan, director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs.

Wang said Chinese Christian theology should be compatible with the country's path of socialism. "The construction of Chinese Christian theology should adapt to China's national condition and integrate with Chinese culture," Wang said at a seminar on the Sinicization of Christianity in Shanghai, part of an event to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China.

Figures disclosed at the seminars showed that China now has about 23 million to 40 million Protestants, 1.7 to 2.9 percent of the total population. Each year, about 500,000 people are baptized as Protestants. According to the State Administration for Religious Affairs in 2012, the country has about 139,000 approved religious places. Among them, there are about 56,000 Christian churches and gathering sites.

When government gets involved with religion there's no religious freedom for anyone. American Christians who want to establish their brand of Christianity as an official state religion don't seem to understand this. In the short term, they may be able to secure some advantages, but when religion meddles with government, government always meddles back. The establishment clause in the United States constitution may not be the best possible way to protect religious organizations from this sort of interference, but I do think it's the best that anyone has come up with.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Police Seek Holy Grail in Welsh Pub

This turned out pretty much how one would expect from the headline. Welsh police are currently attempting to track down the Nanteos Cup, a religious relic that some believe to be the mythical Holy Grail. The cup was stolen a few weeks back. Yesterday they raided a pub based on "intelligence" that an object resembling the cup had been seen there. The sighting must have been a vision or something, though, because after an exhaustive search of the premises it was not found.

The team of 12 officers accused pub workers of hiding the stolen Nanteos Cup, claimed to be the cup Christ drank from at the Last Supper. Police and a dog handler locked all the staff inside while they searched every inch of the 15th century pub in their hunt for the stolen relic. But after an hour the only thing they found that looked like the missing mediaeval cup was a wooden bowl used to serve mixed salad to customers.

Landlady Di Franklyn said: "I was amazed to see so many police - they said they had been given information that this Holy Grail had been shown off by someone here. "But if somebody had stolen something as priceless as the Holy Grail I don't think it would be on show in my pub. But the police were taking the information very seriously because there were so many of them including a police dog handler."

Turning up nothing but an old salad bowl rather than the Holy Grail pretty much completes the "Keystone Cops" vibe of this raid. I realize that the police are just doing their job, and that they have to follow up on every lead, but it sounds like the informant is just trying to make trouble for the pub's owners. Clearly the police needed to do a better job of vetting their sources. Also, passing on a false tip like this suggests to me that the informant might be involved in the original theft. After all, what better way to distract the police from turning their attention to the real culprits?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Cat Transformations?

First it was goats, then donkeys, and now cats. What's not to like about the bizarre shape-shifting criminals of Africa? I mean, besides that all of the stories about them pretty much have to be completely made up.

One of the suspects is a twelve-year-old boy simply identified as John who had transformed to a cat and was caught by policemen at the Rumuolumeni Division. DailyPost reporter who visited the scene of the incident reports that the policemen became curious after noticing that a particular cat was always running across the police station and decided to lay ambush for the animal.

It was further gathered that after the animal was caught and the policemen attempted to kill it, it mysteriously transformed to a boy. The twelve year old boy later confessed that he was initiated by one aged man named Womadi, adding that there are many of his kind in Port Harcourt, and their mission was to suck human blood and inflict their victims with diseases.

The paramount ruler of Rumuolumeni in Oibio-Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State, Eze Ndubueze Wobo confirmed the transformation of three members of his community into cats.

What's always missing from these stories is why anyone would bother. The thing about people in real stories is that they have actual motives, and their actions benefit them in some way. Let's say that you somehow manage to work out a spell that lets you transform into a cat. That's a pretty amazing power, but all you're going to do with it is infect people with diseases? In fact, there are a lot of more imaginative uses for it out there.

Here's one: how about free energy? A cat generally weighs about ten pounds and an average twelve-year-old boy weights about ninety. All you really need is a seesaw-like device linked to a generator. Put a weight of fifty pounds on one side and the transforming boy on the other. As he transforms back and forth from human to cat, the weight differential will start the device rocking, generating electricity. The same system could also be used to pump water in more rural areas.

Instead, though, African witches seem to be mysterious moustache-twirling villains who delight in causing havoc with their spells for no conceivable reason or advantage whatsoever. If I put somebody like that in a paranormal novel, nobody would find the character believable. With stories like this one, neither should we.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

New Nazca Lines Uncovered

The Nazca Lines of Peru are likely the world's most famous geoglyphs, gigantic figures carved into the ground that are only visible in their entirety from the air. The figures are often brought up as evidence of ancient UFO activity, since they could not be viewed properly from the ground and the Nazca possessed no flying machines. It seems to me, though, that suggesting they were drawn as messages to deities that the Nazca believed resides in the sky is a far more parsimonious explanation.

Many of the Nazca geoglyphs are quite famous, having been photographed over and over again and filmed for documentaries about Meso-American cultures. Strong windstorms in Peru recently uncovered several previously unknown geoglyphs, one of which appears in the picture above. The hummingbird in the lower right is well-known, but the figure in the upper left that may depict a snake or part of a larger outline had been hidden for centuries.

Eduardo Herrán Gómez de la Torre, a pilot and researcher, found the new shapes while flying over the desert last week, El Comercio reported. He believes one of the geoglyphs depicts a snake 60 metres long and 4 metres wide, near the famous “hummingbird”. A bird, camelids (possibly llamas) and a zig zag line are among the lines found etched into the ground on hills in the El Ingenio Valley and Pampas de Jumana.

Archaeologists are already trying to confirm whether they match the Paracas culture in the Ica region of Peru, which flourished from 800BC to 100BC and influenced complex textiles and ceramics at Nazca as well as the lines. Ruben Garcia Sota, head of Ica’s archaeological authority, told El Comercio the latest discovery was “a valuable contribution to our knowledge of ancient Nazca”.

Now I suppose the UFOlogists are going to start claiming that the aliens drew these too. For the rest of us, though, study of these new figures will hopefully provide further insight into the human artists who created them and the culture from which they arose. Of course, if something unexpected like an alien starship turns up buried under one of the new sites I'll be forced to admit that Erich von Däniken might have been right. But I'm not holding my breath.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Magick, Religion, and "Reality"

Personally, I call that middle point "Thelema"

Two recent studies have been going around the Internet supposedly showing that children raised in religious households "have trouble distinguishing between magic and reality," whereas children raised in secular homes do not. The studies, published in the journal Cognitive Science, have been seized on by the anti-religious crowd, who argue that they show a religious upbringing is harmful to children's mental health.

However, a closer reading of the data tells a different story. The studies were performed by presenting children with three versions of an anecdote. The first was a realistic narrative, the second a miraculous narrative attributing its events to God, and the third was a miraculous narrative with no mention of a deity. The children were then asked whether they believed each of the three versions could be a true account. The religious children tended to believe the miraculous stories could be true, with or without mention of God. The secular children rejected both miraculous narratives.

Every child believed that the protagonist of the realistic stories was a real person. But when asked about the stories featuring biblically inspired or non-biblical but magical events, the children disagreed. Children raised with religion thought the protagonists of the miraculous stories were real people, and they seemed to interpret the narratives—both biblical and magical—as true accounts.

Secular children, on the other hand, were quick to perceive that these stories were fictitious, construing them as fairy tales rather than real-life narratives. They had a far keener sense of reality than religious children, who failed to understand that magic does not exist and believed that stories describing magical details such as “invisible sails” could be real. Secular kids generally understood that any story featuring magic could not take place in the world they inhabit.

To the researchers behind the study, this division in perceptions of reality was striking. “Religious teaching,” they wrote, “especially exposure to miracle stories, leads children to a more generic receptivity toward the impossible, that is, a more wide-ranging acceptance that the impossible can happen in defiance of ordinary causal relations.”