Friday, July 31, 2015

Not Something You See Every Day

These folks are definitely not the Teen Exorcist Squad. But police were surprised when they were called to a public park on a disturbance and found a Texas couple performing what appeared to be an exorcism on a third woman, who was being held on the ground while the couple demanded that Satan depart from her.

“They start getting louder and louder and louder, she was on the ground and they were standing over her with hands on her and screaming Satan I demand that you depart and it went on and on and on, but it was very bizarre!” said one bystander who noticed the religious ritual being performed in public at Memorial Gardens Park.

Police who arrived at the scene said their hands were tied because exorcisms are not against the law and no one was injured. According to witnesses, the three people were sitting on a park bench speaking before the exorcism commenced. One woman, who reads her Bible in the park, said the three got right into it with few formalities beforehand, disrupting her from her daily ritual.

This would probably qualify as assault or something similar if the woman being exorcised decided to press charges, but it sounds like she declined to do so - which makes it totally legal. Just totally weird, at least the way a lot of evangelicals do it. Instead of an actual ritual, there's a lot of yelling at Satan kind of like what you would see in a horror film.

There's no word on whether the exorcism worked, and the names of the participants have not been released so there's no way to follow up. I just hope that the woman got what she was looking for from the experience.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

That's One Way To Do It!

After the news came out that The Satanic Temple had lost the original venue for the unveiling of their Baphomet statue in Detroit, emboldened conservative Christians announced various plans to protest and disrupt the event at its new location, wherever that turned out to be. But the event promoters came up with an clever and hilarious way to weed them out, and the unveiling went off without a hitch.

First, taking a hint from rave culture, they kept the location secret to the public. Anyone wanting to attend had to go to the ticketing location in person to buy tickets, and only then would they receive the site of the unveiling. Better still, before anyone could buy a ticket and obtain the location, they had to sign their soul over to Satan. Predictably, no protesters made it to the event. Most likely none of them wanted to take the chance that signing might have real spiritual consequences.

Any conservative who wanted to ruin the Satanic Temple’s party would have had to sign a Transfer of Soul Agreement literally signing their eternal soul over to Satan. Here’s the text of that agreement:

"I agree that by signing this document under any name, given or adopted, actual or pseudonymous, I am hereby avowing my soul to Satan (aka Abbadon, aka Lucifer, aka Beelzebub, aka The Antichrist). I do so knowing that He (aka The Fallen One, aka The Father of Lies) or any of His representatives may choose to collect my eternal soul at any time, with or without notice. I understand that my signature or mark representing any name, real or made up, upon these papers constitutes a lasting and eternal contract, and that there will be no further negotiations on the matter of my eternal soul."

Predictably, with ingenious measures put in place, the whole event happened without a single problem and the long-awaited unveiling of the statue finally occurred in all its glory sealed by a kiss between the two men who removed the sheet covering it.

Now as I've mentioned before, Satanic Temple members are mostly LaVey Satanists who don't literally believe in an actual being named Satan who could take your soul. For that matter, my guess is that most of them don't even believe that "the soul" exists. But the point is that the sort of fundamentalist Christians who would protest the statue do. Apparently, they even fear that simply signing a form could place theirs in jeopardy.

I expect we may see this tactic adopted again at other events, since it worked so well this time around. What's so amusing about it is that nobody takes it seriously aside from the exact people that the "contract" is designed to exclude. Even from a magical standpoint you can't really sell your soul. The popular fiction surrounding the idea is based on the lore of pacts with spirits, which can be magically effective. But spirits also know that "the soul" is not a thing that can be traded.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Sturgeon or Catfish?

A while back I posted a series of articles suggesting that the Loch Ness Monster might be a sturgeon. We pretty much know at this point that it has to be a fish, as any air-breathing mammal or reptile would be surfacing often. Likewise, the fact that a sonar scan of the loch revealed no large creatures means that the only way it could have evaded detection is to have sat on the bottom of the lake or on a ledge. A diver in the 1970's reported seeing something that looked like "an enormous frog," which I contended could have been a sturgeon seen from the front.

While all of that adds up, sturgeons are not known to inhabit the loch. However, as it turns out there's another species of fish that grows quite large, hides on lake bottoms, and could easily look like a giant frog seen from the front. That fish is the Wels Catfish. The picture above shows one of the largest ever caught, measuring 8 feet 8 inches and weighing in at 280 pounds. And we also know that Wels Catfish can be found in the loch, because they were introduced as sport fish during the Victorian era.

Steve Feltham, who has searched for a solution to the Loch Ness mystery for almost 25 years, recently commented that he believes a Wels Catfish is probably the leading explanation at this time. Some newspapers reported this as an admission that he was giving up the hunt, but Feltham fired back that this was not the case and he intends to keep investigating.

Last week, the Times newspaper reported that Steve Feltham, who gave up his job, house and girlfriend 24 years ago to look for the creature full-time, had abandoned his long quest, causing ripples among monster-lovers across the world.

But Feltham says he has no intention of quitting his hunt for the prehistoric beast, which legend has it lurks beneath the deep, dark waters of the lake in northern Scotland, although his current best guess is that "Nessie" is just a large catfish.

"It's still a massive world-class mystery," Feltham, who lives in a van on the shores of the loch, told Reuters. "It's been a life-long passion for me and I'm dedicated to being here and being fully involved in this whole hunt. I couldn't be more content doing anything else."

Feltham said he suspected Nessie was most likely to be a large Wels catfish, a native European fish that can grow up to 13 ft (4 meters) long. Victorians introduced the fish to the loch near Inverness to provide sport. "At the moment, a Wels catfish ticks more of the boxes than any of the other contenders for the explanation," he said.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Don't Climb the Monster!

Minne the Lake Creature, a fortean sculpture that moves to a different lake in Minneapolis every summer, is being taken in early from Lake Calhoun this year. The sculpture is made from fiberglass and patterned after the famous surgeon's photo of the Loch Ness monster, which was revealed as a hoax back in 1994.

The photo was faked in 1934 using a tiny model of the creature, but the sculptors decided to build one that was life-sized for display. However, the problem this year is that Calhoun is a lake with a lot of canoe, kayak, and other un-motorized boat traffic, and people just couldn't resist the urge to paddle or swim out to the sculpture and climb all over it.

Minne is the Twin Cities’ only annual floating sculpture. The Parks Foundation first introduced Minneapolis to the Lake Creature in 2009, purchased the sculpture in 2010, and today manages Facebook and Twitter personas (@LakeCreature), which have grown to nearly 5,000 followers combined.

In May, the Parks Foundation invited the public to choose Minne’s 2015 aquatic abode; Lake Calhoun won in a popular vote. At more than five million visits annually, the Chain of Lakes Regional Park is one of the most popular destinations in Minneapolis, with people of all ages and cultures taking part in both land and water activities. Lake Calhoun is the most active in the regional park and boasts biking and walking trails, three beaches, a yacht club, watercraft rental and a restaurant. Minne’s Loch Ness Monster-like appearance created moments of unexpected whimsy for park-goers, and the sculpture quickly became a must-see selfie destination for trail users and paddlers.

“Lake Calhoun embraced Minne the Lake Creature like no other lake – a bit too literally, at times,” says Tom Evers, Executive Director of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation, who notes that as many as three people at a time were witnessed climbing on the Lake Creature this summer. “We want people to engage with Minne from a safe distance because it’s a sculpture, not a climbing structure. It’s better for both Minne and Minneapolitans.”

And this is why we can't have nice things, folks. A handful of idiots can ruin it for everyone else with comparative ease. I suppose I could be smug that nothing like this happened when the statue was put on display in Powderhorn Lake near my home, but the reality is that Powderhorn doesn't have anywhere near the traffic Calhoun does. So statistically speaking, with more people in the water the dumbass subset was bound to emerge.

This makes me sad, both because I won't be able to see the monster for the rest of the summer and because too many of my fellow humans either just don't give a damn or fail to understand that artwork is generally not designed for climbing. See you next year, Minne! Hopefully wherever you wind up folks will treat you better.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Satanic Temple Statue Faces Opposition

What, again? Of course! Now that the Oklahoma Supreme Court has ruled that the Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the state capital must come down, the Baphomet statue created by The Satanic Temple as a counterpoint has been looking for a new home. The group now plans to unveil the statue in Detroit - that is, if Christian extremists don't succeed in preventing them from doing so.

The statue’s first home in Detroit was to have been Bert’s Market Place, but owner Bert Dearing returned the Satanic Temple’s rental fee after he learned that the group was affiliated with satanists. “When I rented the place, I just thought it was a church,” he told ABC News. “I didn’t know about the unveiling of a statue. We weren’t aware they were into devil worshipping.”

The Satanic Temple’s co-founder Lucien Greaves isn’t buying that, because as he told Hemant Mehta Thursday evening, “the very contract specified that we are the Satanic Temple.”

Greaves believes that Dearing backed out because of pressure from local Christian groups — pressure that would make any venue wary of hosting the unveiling. “IT IS EVERY CHRISTIAN’S DUTY TO DESTROY THIS IF YOU SEE IT DESTROY THIS STATUE DESTROY THIS STATUE DESTROY THIS STATUE” reads one Facebook post Greaves provided to Mehta. “Let’s burn the statue down!” reads another.

The person responsible for this campaign, Greaves told Salon, is most likely Pastor David Bullock of the St. Matthew Baptist Church. “The last thing we need — in a city where we’re fighting against violence and fighting against economic problems and unemployment and the water crisis — is a statue dedicated to Satan right downtown,” Bullock told Christianity Today earlier this week.

It really does take a special kind of stupid to not realize that when you rent to a group that calls itself The Satanic Temple, you might very well be renting to a Satanic temple. It's funny how these expressions for communicating information called "words" work. To be fair, though, Dearing is almost certainly feigning ignorance in order to present himself as innocent in the eyes of those opposing the group.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Illuminati = Boredom

I think I've posted the argument here before that supposed "Illuminati symbols" in broadcast media are more likely to be the result of people who are just bored rather than any sort of sweeping worldwide conspiracy. Now the author of this article may have found the smoking gun - a television graphics designer who started inserting such symbols into graphics and animations out of boredom and frustration with the political leanings of the network bosses.

I started fucking around with the graphics packages when I leveled up from making generic logos to getting more creative projects like designing the holiday animations and elements for a special pre-produced investigative news segment or special war report.

I’d find a way to incorporate something in the graphics, usually small and out of the way—maybe a reference to the Illuminati or Freemasonry—just to fuck with anyone who noticed it. I also liked using symbols created by John Dee, who was a 16th century alchemist and occultist, like the esoteric Monas Hieroglyphica, or just simple, but well-known things like the pentagram or the eye in the pyramid.

If there really were a secret conspiracy, why would they broadcast their symbols in news reports? Secret conspiracies are supposed to be, you know, secret. And let's face it - the people who spot these things aren't usually the sharpest tools in the shed, so I can't imagine how anyone would expect them to go undetected. There's the whole idea that the symbols constitute some sort of mind control technique, except that experimental psychology has completely debunked the notion of anything like that having an effect, and also that clearly they're not doing anything to the conspiracy enthusiasts who notice them.

A bored graphic designer, though? That totally makes sense.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Chicken Church

According to its creator, it's neither a chicken nor a church. It's a "prayer house" built in the shape of a dove - or at least that's the theory. Unfortunately it really did turn out looking a lot more like a chicken, as you can see in the photo above. The building was abandoned in 2000, but continues to draw tourists who want to check it out. After all, what's weirder than walking through the jungle and running into a giant chicken that then turns out to be an abandoned building?

The long-abandoned structure known locally as Gereja Ayam - or Chicken Church - attracts hundreds of curious travelers and photographers to the hills of Magelang, Central Java, every year. But according to the its eccentric creator, the majestic building is neither a chicken nor a church.

Daniel Alamsjah was working in Jakarta - 342 miles away - when he suddenly got a divine message from God to build a 'prayer house' in the form of a dove. 'Perhaps because of my Christian faith, people thought I was building a church. But it’s not a church. I was building a prayer house... a place for people who believe in God,' the 67-year-old told Jakarta Globe.

In 1989, he was walking through the Magelang, where his wife's family live, when he caught sight of the exact same landscape he had seen in his dreams. 'I prayed all night there and I got a revelation that I must build the prayer house in that spot,' he said.

The idea of a place of worship for people of multiple faiths is a good one, and the dove has long been a symbol of peace. However, Alamsjah might have been able to keep up the building more easily if he had followed a more conventional design. The sweeping curves of the design require a complex internal structure that looks difficult to maintain, and according to the article it was the costs associated with keeping up the structure that eventually led to its abandonment. Still, it represents an ambitious concept that would have been all the more impressive had it worked out.

The link has more photos of the structure, showing what's left of both the interior and exterior. It's certainly unlike any building I've ever seen.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Against Dinosaur Cake

I seriously hope this story is a joke or a hoax, because if not the stupidity of this Arizona woman is simply astounding. Take a look at the picture. Without reading further, can you see what's wrong with this cake? I didn't notice it at first and I'm an occultist - I'm supposed to be looking for hidden meanings and so forth.

I did notice that the legs of the dinosaur were poorly drawn, suggesting a creature that had three legs on one side of its body and none on the other. But the woman's complaint was not that the legs aren't realistic, but rather that they encode the "hidden message" of the number 666!

An Arizona woman noticed something strange written on a sheet cake that was purchased from a membership-only wholesale store in the Mesa area. The woman bought her 6-year-old son a dinosaur birthday cake from Costco and they found “666” written on the cake. The retail giant has removed the cake from their online ordering system today.

Jessica Eckerdt of Queen Creek bought one of her kids a specialty birthday sheet cake from the Superstition Springs Costco in Mesa recently. While singing “Happy Birthday” to her son Nash, Eckerdt noticed that the cake had a hidden message written with the dinosaur’s legs. The three-legged dinosaur that was featured on the cake had “666” written out in blue and green icing.

Yes, clearly it's a "hidden message" in the cake rather than a poorly drawn dinosaur. Let's run through a basic thought experiment.

Is it even remotely likely that the baker knew the cake was being purchased by a complete religious nutball who would freak out at the design? That requires an awful lot of foreknowledge, considering that the vast majority of people are nowhere near dumb enough to take offense at this drawing's vague resemblance to an "evil" number.

I suppose it's possible that prior to the purchase the woman got in the decorator's face and proselytized at them, but otherwise I see no way they could have possibly known. And if I were at work decorating a cake and somebody started laying into me, I'd at least be tempted to put a 666 on their cake just because getting in somebody's face about religion at work is so totally inappropriate and out of line.

But if that's not what happened, I don't see how this could be anything but a coincidence involving a lousy artist and a flat-out crazy person.

UPDATE: So now I feel a little better about the world. It turns out that, as I hoped, this whole incident was in fact a hoax. So the unnamed Arizona woman was made up, which is a very good thing. Otherwise, it would mean that somebody this stupid actually exists and is out there in the world right now, doing who knows what.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Detained Over Beads?

When I talk about problems faced by minority religions in our society, this is the sort of thing I'm talking about. Abu-Bakr Abdur Rahman, an Arkansas practitioner of the Voodoo religion, was detained for several hours by Judge Talmage Baggett for refusing to conceal or remove his beaded necklaces, even though he explained that displaying them were part of his religious observance.

Now I do understand that there are issues related to maintaining proper decorum in court, and in the photo above Rahman appears to be wearing quite the collection of necklaces. Nonetheless, it seems to me that this is a legitimate, sincere religious belief, and needs to be respected.

"(Defendant) appeared in court late after docket call w/ a huge wooden necklace w/ beads around his neck," Baggett wrote. "I saw him come in & advised him that he would have to tuck the long necklace in his shirt, that he did not have to take it off, but simply tuck it inside his shirt. "He very reluctantly did so."

Rahman said that after Baggett first told him to cover his necklaces, he called his priest to ask if that is acceptable. "He said, 'No. You put your beads in, you disown your religion.'" Rahman said. "So I took my beads back out."

A little later, Baggett saw that the necklaces were out. He again told Rahman to take them off or put them under his shirt. Rahman recorded that conversation.

"Sir, get outside, and either put it in or leave. That is your choice. Or come to the prisoners box. Now which would you rather do?" Baggett said in the recording.

"You're discriminating against my religion," Rahman said.

"I don't know of any religion that requires you to wear this kind of stuff around your neck," Baggett said. "I'm not familiar with your religion. I respect anybody's religion, but get it off."

And that right there is the problem. Whether or not the judge was familiar with Rahman's religion should be completely irrelevant to the situation.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Destroyed Iraqi Statues Were Replicas

Here's some good news out of Iraq, for a change. Back in February, Islamic State militants released footage of themselves destroying "priceless ancient statues" at a museum in the city of Mosul. However, it has now been confirmed that most of those artifacts were replicas of the originals, which are safely housed at a museum in Baghdad.

At the time the video was released, some experts noted that the statues in the video crumbled more like plaster than stone, and some appeared to be reinforced with modern metal poles. Also, it makes sense for museum officials to guess Islamic State might try something like this and replace the real statues. Still, now we know for sure.

The terrorist organisation released shocking footage at the end of February purportedly showing jihadis destroying 3,000-year-old artworks with sledgehammers in their northern Iraqi stronghold.

But now Baghdad museum director Fawzye al-Mahdi has ridiculed ISIS' propaganda exercise, claiming the genuine priceless Assyrian and Akkadian statues and sculptures are still safely in his possession in the Iraqi capital, adding that those in Mosul were plaster cast replicas.

Speaking to German news programme Deutsche Welle, Al-Mahdi said: 'None of the artifacts are originals... They were copies. The originals are all here.' The museum director's claims appear to back-up those made by experts on the Iraqi statues.

Within hours of the original ISIS propaganda video being released, analysts questioned why the statues appeared to crumble so easily. Others stated that they couldn't possibly be 3,000 years old as some of the are clearly held together by iron poles - a considerably more modern practice.

It shouldn't surprise me when fundamentalists have it in for artifacts created by previous faiths, but I suppose I find it as silly as a bunch of Christian extremists raiding a museum to smash statues of the Greek gods. Most people in our culture just see Greek mythology as history rather than a competing religious system. It should also be noted that even in the latter case, relative to both Christians and Muslims the number of Greek pagans is pretty minuscule.

If your faith is really so weak that you find it threatened by images that haven't been part of a widely followed religious system for hundreds or even thousands of years, maybe you should question your own devotion to your beliefs rather than trying to wipe out evidence of the history that came before. But clearly this simple observation is lost on these folks. I'm just glad that in the end the statues survived.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Oregon Bakers Charged Asshole Tax

The story of an Oregon bakery that refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding and was subsequently ordered to pay damages to the couple has been in the media recently, prompting the usual sort of comments that seem to accompany most large legal settlements. According to critics, all bakers Aaron and Melissa Klein did was refuse to make a cake, and for that the award of $135,000 clearly seems excessive.

However, the Kleins did far more than refuse service. They published the couple's contact information, and then flogged the story as hard as they could in the media. As any reasonable person could guess, this provoked an continuing onslaught of threats from Christians who felt oppressed by their mere existence - and apparently that of lesbian wedding cake.

Conservative media and anti-LGBT organizations such as the Family Research Council promoted the Kleins as victims of religious discrimination.

Rachel Bowman-Cryer said she and her wife received a steady stream of threats that continued as the Kleins promoted their side of the case in national media appearances.

She testified that state adoption officials told them they were responsible for keeping their two foster daughters safe from those threats, and they feared they could lose custody of the girls — who they have since adopted.

In its final order, issued last week, the labor bureau found the Kleins had violated the state’s anti-discrimination laws – but the damages awarded were not a “gay fascism tax,” as some commenters argued.

The bureau found the Kleins liable for the threats made by others against the couple and awarded them to pay “$60,000 in damages to Laurel Bowman-Cryer and $75,000 in damages to Rachel Bowman-Cryer for emotional suffering.”

If the bakery had just refused to bake a cake for the couple they would have been fined a whole lot less. For that matter, if they had been smart about it, they probably could have figured out a way to refuse service without letting on that they were being discriminatory and avoided a fine altogether. But instead they felt entitled to spout Bible verses and so forth at the couple, which made their motivations quite clear.

The Kleins then deliberately set out to make the couple's life hell in the media. They likely did this because they figured they could get a big payout from conservatives opposed to "Christian persecution." They either didn't really care that their actions meant this couple would have to endure a steady stream of harassment and stood a real chance of losing their kids, or perhaps even looked forward to it.

That's not being called being Christians, that's called being assholes. The couple did everything they could to keep the case out of the media, but the Kleins insisted on publicizing it along with their full contact information. From that perspective the damages awarded strike me as completely reasonable. Nobody who reports a legitimate violation of the law should have to fear facing a backlash of such proportions, because all that does is keep people from coming forward.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Grown-up "Devil's Music" Fans Totally Fine

Whenever fundamentalists bring up how evil and damaging role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons are supposed to be (and yes, they are still doing that) I like to bring up my favorite letter of all time from Dragon magazine. In it, the writer pointed out that if you take (A) the number of suicides fundamentalists linked to D&D players and divide by (B) the number of D&D players according to accurate marketing information, the resulting suicide rate was half that of the general population.

My fellow D&D nerds and I had a good laugh back then about how fundamentalists were bad at math and didn't understand statistics. However, a new study of kids who grew up listening to "the Devil's music" - that is, heavy metal - shows that maybe those numbers were more accurate than we realized. Back in the 1980's a lot of metalheads also played D&D, and according to the study metal fans in fact grew up to be happier and better-adjusted than their non-metal listening peers.

With dramatic testimony in courtrooms and at Congressional hearings, concerned parents and even government officials warned that groups like Iron Maiden and Metallica were enticing our teenagers into moral and spiritual darkness—up to and including devil worship.

So now that three decades have passed since this alleged attempt by Satan to infiltrate young brains via eardrum-shattering sounds, how are those headbangers doing? Did their punishingly loud and intense music send them spiraling into lives of despair?

Not so, according to a newly published study. In fact, researchers find that former metal fans "were significantly happier in their youth, and better adjusted currently" compared to their peers who preferred other musical genres, and to a parallel group of current college students.

While I realize it's just as much of a statistical stretch to link metal to gaming as it is to link gaming to suicides, what it does show is that the fundamentalist obsession with "damaging media" is basically nonsense. I'm also reminded of the enormous effort conservative researchers have put into trying to find a link between media and violence, media and mental illness, media and trauma, and so forth - with nothing solid to show for it.

So it seems that the human mind has evolved to deal with dark imagery quite well without resorting to suicide or mass murder or whatever it was that the scolds were so worried about. Music censorship such as that advocated by anti-metal groups back then is quite simply pointless, and this is something we should keep in mind whenever a religious group starts warning about the dangers of different musical genres. Those fears are as old as the jazz age, and have never held up.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Ten Commandments Not Down Yet

It seems I may have spoken too soon when I declared that the saga of the Oklahoma Ten Commandments monument had come to an end. Last week the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that Ten Commandments Monument on the state capitol grounds that has been the center of controversy for several years must be taken down. But now Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin is ordering the monument to stay put pending an appeal.

Since the 7-2 ruling was handed down by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, as far as I can tell the only place she could appeal the case is the Federal Supreme Court. And I can tell you exactly how that will go based on previous rulings. The Supreme Court will allow the monument, but only so long as all other religious groups have equal access. So Lucien Greaves may want to hold onto that Baphomet statue a little longer.

Fallin on Tuesday said the monument was staying while the state attorney general appeals last week's 7-2 decision declaring that the monument was unconstitutional because public property cannot be used for religious purposes. Legislators opposed to the ruling are considering amending the state constitution to allow the monument to stay.

"Oklahoma is a state where we respect the rule of law, and we will not ignore the state courts or their decisions. However, we are also a state with three co-equal branches of government," Fallin said in a statement.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the lawsuit challenging the monument and pursued it to the state Supreme Court, shrugged off Fallin's comments. Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU's Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, told The Huffington Post he doesn't think the governor's statement disobeys the court decision.

"We fully expect the state to respect the rule of law and comply with the court's decision," Mach said. Brady Henderson, legal director of the ACLU of Oklahoma, said if Fallin defies the court decision, it would amount to "chaos."

"She hasn't violated her oath yet, but she has made a statement that she's willing to do so," Henderson said. "The highest elected official in the state is essentially saying, 'I am willing to break the law.' My hope is very much that this is political grandstanding."

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Facebook Without Sin

One of the things I've always found bizarre about many evangelical Christians is that they insist on creating their own inferior copies of popular culture that are supposedly more "pure" in some fashion. This is especially true with music, to the extent that "Christian music" has essentially become a joke, but it extends to other forms of media as well. And now, apparently, this trend is being extended into the realm of social networking.

A group of evangelical Christians in Brazil have created a social networking site called Facegloria that they are billing as "Facebook without sin." So, in effect, it's a place to hang out online free from anything remotely resembling violence, titillation, swearing, and pretty much anything that makes life even marginally edgy and/or interesting. Anything related to gay rights is banned on the site, and I imagine any reference to non-Christian religions will be as well - since the mere existence of such seems to mortally offend these folks.

Brazil's Facegloria is currently only available in Portuguese but other language services and a mobile app are also planned. Brazil has the world's largest Roman Catholic population. "On Facebook you see a lot of violence and pornography. That's why we thought of creating a network where we could talk about God, love and to spread His word," web designer Atilla Barros told AFP. Gay material is also banned from the social media platform.

Mr Barros and his three co-founders were working in the office of Acir dos Santos, the mayor of Ferraz de Vasconcelos, when they came up with the idea. Mr dos Santos has since invested $16,000 (£10,000) in the start-up. "Our network is global. We have bought the Faceglory domain in English and in all possible languages. We want to take on Facebook and Twitter here and everywhere," he said.

Facebook does have a lot of issues with privacy, and many authors like myself are unhappy about how page reach has been throttled down in order to force people to pay for "promotion" and ads - which, by the way, hardly ever generate sales, in case you were wondering. At the same time, though, a number of alternatives have come and gone, unable to generate the critical mass of users necessary to sustain a truly alternative network.

I expect that this effort will attract a lot of evangelicals and hardly anyone else, since the sanitized world of the "true believers" also happens to be incredibly dull. But at the same time, that may very well be just how they like it. Personally, I think its great. If the Poor Oppressed Christians and their supporters start gathering in one place online, that makes it easy for people like me to avoid.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

"Church of Cannabis" Holds First Service

So apparently this church is no joke.

During the original flap over Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Bill Levin filed paperwork chartering "The First Church of Cannabis" in Indiana. At the time it sounded more like a Satanic Temple-style publicity stunt, deliberately pitting religious freedom against marijuana prohibition. However, yesterday the new church held its first service. Local law enforcement showed up in force, and issued a statement that anyone caught with marijuana would be arrested. However, no arrests were made and the service proceeded without incident.

The opening of the church had been marred with police attention after Levin said marijuana would be part of the church's services, with warnings of intervention from IMPD and Marion County's prosecutor.

Marijuana is currently illegal in Indiana for both medical and recreational use.

Neighbors also expressed frustration with the new church. The properties that surrounded the church were lined with caution tape and "No Parking" signs. One neighbor even said she spent nearly $4,000 to build a new fence to keep church attendees out.

Levin filed to open the church on the same day the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed into law.

Now here's my question. Were there no arrests because no marijuana use was observed, or because the officer who makes the arrest that allows a court challenge based on the RFRA will probably see his or her career come to an abrupt end? If the organizers are really looking to overturn the law they first need a case, and I expect the powers that be don't want them to be given that opportunity.

But does that then mean members of the cannabis church can smoke up with impunity at services? The whole situation is quite frankly a mess from a legal perspective. While the Indiana RFRA was amended to prohibit discrimination after a loud public outcry, the law still passed and nothing in the amended text mentions drug laws. It remains to be seen if they can indeed be trumped by individual religious beliefs.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Oklahoma Ten Commandments Must Go

The saga of the Oklahoma City Ten Commandments monument appears to be over. Yesterday the Oklahoma Supreme Court ordered that it be removed from the grounds of the State Capitol. The court ruled that the monument represented a clear endorsement of religion on the part of the state government, and therefore had to be moved elsewhere.

In a 7-2 decision, the court said the placement of the monument violated a section in the state’s constitution, which says no public money or property can be used either directly or indirectly for the “benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion.”

Lawmakers have argued that the monument was not serving a religious purpose but was meant to mark a historical event.

This opened the door for other groups, including Satanists and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, to apply for permission to erect their own monuments on Capitol grounds to mark what they say are historical events.

The court apparently chose the simpler of the two possible constitutional options. Either public grounds must be open to symbols of all religions, or to none of them. Allowing the symbols of one religion but prohibiting those of another, as Oklahoma lawmakers originally tried to do, represents an endorsement of that religion's beliefs and is not allowed.

So I suppose this counts as another win for the Satanic Temple. They never got to put up their planned Baphomet statue, but they succeeded in bringing enough publicity to the issue that they were able to get the Ten Commandments removed - which was really their goal from the start.