Friday, August 28, 2015

Kentucky County Clerk Ready for Martyrdom

In an an amazing display of Poor Oppressed Christian nonsense, Kentucky county clerk Casey Davis has claimed that he will die in order to maintain his right to not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. I don't know if Davis honestly believes that anyone is going to kill him over this issue, or if he's just being overly dramatic. Whatever the case, though, when you think about it his stance is pretty ridiculous.

“When you stand for what’s right and when you tell someone of the danger that they are in, and I think that when a person lives a lifestyle of sin whether it’s homosexuality or drunkenness or drug addiction or adultery or thievery or any kind of sin that you continue in or live in, you are endangering yourself of spending eternity in Hell,” Davis said. “So in my view of what the Bible says, when you’re truly loving someone, you stand and you lovingly tell them, ‘This is not the way to Heaven, this is not the way of right.’”

In fact, Davis has every right to tell a same-sex couple applying for a marriage license that he considers homosexuality sinful. That's not at issue. What's at issue is that regardless of his beliefs, he cannot refuse to issue a license to them if they don't agree with him. This is where the Poor Oppressed mindset always gets muddy. They're allowed to talk about their beliefs all they want, they just can't force others to conform to them.

He argued that the U.S. Supreme Court lacked the authority to overturn Kentucky laws that were approved by a majority of voters — and he said he was willing to become a martyr over this “travesty.”

Which, for anyone who might be thinking otherwise, is absolutely not how Supreme Court rulings work. They can overturn legislation, at both the state and federal levels, whether or not that legislation has been voted on.

“Our law says ‘one man and one woman’ and that is what I held my hand up and took an oath to and that is what I expected,” Davis said. “If it takes it, I will go to jail over — if it takes my life, I will die for because I believe I owe that to the people that fought so I can have the freedom that I have. I owe that to them today, and you do, we all do. They fought and died so we could have this freedom and I’m going to fight and die for my kids and your kids can keep it.”

Actually, nobody needs to fight or die over this. Davis just needs to quit his job if his religion prevents him from performing his duties, which include issuing marriage licenses to all couples who can legally marry. I've never really understood how this is somehow not obvious to absolutely everyone. The same issue comes into play when pharmacists refuse to dispense contraception based on religious beliefs. They either need to fulfill the requirements of the job, or find another one.

From a "theological purity" perspective, it surprises me that they think God would really care whether they personally issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple or dispense birth control. As long as they work in offices that perform those functions, they still are supporting systems that according to their literal interpretation of Christianity are sinful. While I realize that having to find a new job requires some work, it's far less work than fighting or dying or becoming a martyr.

But the Poor Oppressed Christians don't think that way. They don't believe anyone deserves religious rights or freedoms except for them, and take exception whenever they aren't allowed to force their beliefs onto others who do not share them. That's apparently the only "religious freedom" that they find acceptable.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Jesus Portrait Removed From School

A middle school in Chanute, Kansas has taken down a portrait of Jesus that hung there for decades after a complaint filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. As expected, the usual crop of fundamentalist Christians are up in arms, claiming that removing the portrait attacks their religion. And as usual, they are failing to understand that allowing their religious symbols but not others effectively attacks all other religions.

Resident Erika Semey attended the school a decade ago. “Oh man, it’s getting bad,” she said. “That’s what’s wrong with this world. Not enough people have Christ in their lives.” Chanute has a mere 9,200 inhabitants, but 30 churches. The decision to remove the Christian image from a public school has rankled many residents.

Chanute’s school superintendent Richard Proffitt said that he acted quickly when he received a notification from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) that the image of Christ displayed in a public school violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. “We were notified and we responded to stay in compliance,” Proffitt said.

Ryan Jayne of FFRF told the Eagle that his organization has been pleased with the school district’s response. “It’s nice to have people who appreciate the law and get things done (and) who follow the law even if it’s likely to be unpopular in the community,” Jayne said.

Now I personally don't think that kids were really being harmed in any way by a portrait of Jesus. The problem is that with the way religious folks have been up in arms over culture war nonsense, I think that it probably did have to go. It was probably only a matter of time before some fundamentalist teacher had kids reciting Christian prayers, or asserting that Christianity is the one true religion and everybody else is damned. Had the portrait remained, they could have then pointed to it as evidence that they were doing nothing wrong by excluding non-Christian kids.

And this state of affairs is quite honestly very sad. In theory, I think that a school should be able to have a portrait of Jesus or Moses or Buddha or any of the Hindu deities without it being a big deal. But Christian fundamentalists seem to believe that the only way they can express their religion is to deny religious rights to anyone who doesn't share their beliefs. That's just wrong, and ruins religious expression for everyone.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Arkansas Hindus Propose Hanuman Statue

Demonstrating that you really can't fix stupid, Arkansas lawmakers recently voted to allow a statue of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the state capital. Yes, just like the one in Oklahoma that led to all the ridiculousness with The Satanic Temple and their crowdfunded Baphomet statue. You would think that lawmakers might consider all the bad publicity that the Oklahoma statue provoked, and prudently decide not to wade into the controversy themselves. But you would be wrong.

In a new twist, though, it's not the Satanists who are calling their bluff. This time it's a group of Hindus who proposed erecting a statue of the popular Hindu deity Lord Hanuman. Of course, they were not granted a permit to put up their statue, because predictably lawmakers were fine with a symbol of their religion but totally not okay with one with one from somebody else's. And so it begins. Again. I do appreciate, though, that this time around the folks challenging the status quo are not "spooky atheists" but rather members of one of the world's oldest established religions.

Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, offered to give the state a statue of Lord Hanuman, a popular Hindu deity often described as a monkey god. The group would have covered all of the costs to create, transport and erect the statue. “If permitted, we planned to make it big and weatherproof,” Zed wrote in a statement explaining the project. “Besides honoring the Arkansas Hindus, this statue would raise awareness of Arkansans about Hinduism, oldest and third-largest religion of the world with about one billion adherents and a rich philosophical thought.”

But don’t look for Hanuman in Little Rock anytime soon. State officials were quick to deny the request. The Associated Press reported that earlier this month the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office told Zed to either ask the General Assembly for permission or apply to the Arkansas State Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission. Hmmm. I see a buck being furiously passed.

Although the Ten Commandments are found in the Old Testament, their public display at the seat of government is almost always championed these days by fundamentalist Christians. Their goal seems to be to imply that U.S. law has religious underpinnings. This is bad law and bad history. It also runs afoul of the First Amendment. Thus, Arkansas lawmakers could spare everyone a lot of time and money by removing the Ten Commandments monument right now. The law is not on their side here.

All religions or no religions, people. If you want to keep your Ten Commandments, the Hindus have to be allowed their Lord Hanuman. And as I've said before, I think the plurality option is great. It highlights the American approach to religious diversity, in which everyone is allowed space to express their beliefs. This works far better to my way of thinking than all religious expressions being seriously limited by the state, as is the case in some other countries that enact secularism through what is essentially religious repression.

I wish the Hindus the best of luck as they attempt to navigate the hurtles being put up by fundamentalists who would rather not share their place in the public square. I hope that their Lord Hanuman statue becomes a reality, and I look forward to reporting it here on Augoeides when it does.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Planned Parenthood Crashed the Stock Market

At least, according to Pat Robertson. On his 700 Club television program, the prominent evangelist claimed that the stock market crashed on Monday because God is unhappy with government support for Planned Parenthood. Apparently according to Robertson's understanding of economics, this one factor outweighs all of the other actual financial reasons that the market fell, which is confusing at best.

That organization is an absolute monstrosity,” Robertson said. “To take your money and my money, which the government extorts from us every year in the form of taxation, is nothing short of tyranny.” Because the government takes Robertson’s money and gives it to Planned Parenthood, an organization that is “repugnant to most Americans,” the United States is facing a financial doomsday.

“We will pay dearly as a nation for this thing going on,” Robertson said. “And possibly, if we were to stop, stop all of this slaughter, the judgment of God might be lifted from us. But it’s coming, ladies and gentlemen. We just have a little taste of it in terms of the financial system. But it’s going to be shaken to its core in the next few months, years, or however long it takes, and it will hurt every one of us. It’s coming down the road. But at least we could repent and try to change.”

One of the points that nobody on Robertson's side of the aisle ever points out is that thanks to a rider called the Hyde Amendment, Planned Parenthood is not allowed to spend any federal money on abortion services, and is required to carefully keep track of where all of those dollars are sent to make sure nothing of the sort ever happens. So none of the money Robertson is complaining about is spent on abortion, but rather on other health services for women. I guess that must be what Robertson thinks is abhorrent - which frankly is pretty sad.

If any of these religious folks really were interested in reducing the abortion rate, they would support policies that have been shown to reduce unwanted pregnancies, like comprehensive sex education and increased access to contraception. The fact that hardly any of them do shows that their real concern is punishing people - especially women - for enjoying non-procreative sexuality. In fact, even though Planned Parenthood does perform abortions, it's very likely that if its funding were completely cut off and it had to discontinue its health and contraceptive services, the unwanted pregnancy rate would go up and abortions along with it.

But nobody has ever claimed that many of Robertson's pronouncements make much sense, especially here on Augoeides. Also, from the quote in the image above, it's not clear to me that he has any concept of what Planned Parenthood really does.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Prosperity Preacher Strikes Back

In response to John Oliver's epic takedown of Prosperity Gospel preachers, a Christian minister who believes in "seed faith" - the idea that if you donate money to churches, even insane operations that seem to exist only to enrich their founders, you will receive more money back than you donated by "supernatural means" - presented an epic whine about how he should mind his own business and leave prosperity preachers alone.

On Wednesday, Christian minister Jennifer LeClaire said Oliver shouldn’t “mock what you don’t understand,” calling him a “false reverend.”

I think John is pretty clear that he's a false reverend. That's the whole point of his "Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption" fake church.

LeClaire, who operates the Awakening House of Prayer, admitted there are abusive churches. But she does believe in the concept of “seed faith” — the idea that giving money to a church will result in returns for the giver.

At issue is not the idea that offerings can benefit the person making them. Ceremonial magicians do this with spirits all the time, and it does work. The problem comes in when you start teaching that (A) the larger the donation you make, the larger your returns will be and (B) when you donate, you will always get back more money than you put in.

(B) especially turns donating to these organizations into a gigantic Ponzi scheme, and the reason these evangelists become so rich is that it's the best kind of Ponzi scheme, at least for those running it - the kind that never has to pay out. Instead, the money can be spent on luxury jets and mansions that can be classified as "parsonages" to avoid property taxes. That's great work if you can get it.

“[W]e have to be careful not to paint everyone who believes for an airplane or sows a seed to get out of debt as a heretic,” she writes.

Actually, I'm fine with painting them as such. Jesus was very clear that one of the worst things a person could possible do was exploit the poor. Many of the people donating to these ministries are clearly being exploited. Therefore, as I see it "heretic" is pretty much an accurate description.

Oliver’s segment hilariously skewered preachers whose fantastic displays of wealth come at a large cost to parishioners who they compel to donate what little money they have. They tend to believe in the conveniently self-serving idea of prosperity as a sign of God’s favor.

“I do believe in supernatural debt cancellation,” LeClaire writes. “And I don’t believe we should mock so-called prosperity preachers, even if we don’t believe they hear from God. Nor do I believe we should insinuate that God is cursing at them, as Oliver did.”

So LeClaire believes that if you donate money on a credit card, God will zero out your balance? That's not so much heretical as just plain stupid. We most certainly should mock these preachers if we think they don't hear from God, because if they're not doing God's work all that's left is a big confidence trick and people need to know not to donate.

I'm not sure where she got the idea that Oliver claimed God was cursing any of these folks, though, and I've watched the segment several times. It seems to me that if an all-powerful God really wanted to curse them, he would quite frankly be doing a better job - because they sure look rich and successful. I do think, though, that if the God of the Bible is really out there watching he can't be too happy with them.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

John Oliver Versus Prosperity Gospel

In yesterday's post I mentioned that, to Jim Bakker's credit, he renounced the "prosperity Gospel" that he once preached. I've posted a number of articles about this misguided interpretation of Christianity, but recently HBO's John Oliver presented the most epic takedown I've ever seen. I've posted the whole video above, and while it is twenty minutes long it's well worth watching.

Oliver uses footage to show just how mercilessly televangelists prey on their viewers. Some even try (often successfully, sadly) to convince their cable congregation that they should use money that they don’t have to donate to the church. They claim that God will eventually wipe out their debts and that the “seeds” they plant will be sown.

The message has apparently been heeded. Using still more clips of actual televangelists, Oliver shows where that money is going. One church leader, Mike Murdock, proudly proclaims that he bought a private jet in cash, and then a bigger one — also by paying cash — and that others should act happy over his “blessing.”

“‘I bough a jet — cash. I bought a bigger jet — cash. F**k the haters, act happy for me,'” paraphrases Oliver. “That’s not a sermon; it’s the first draft of a Rick Ross single.”

The segment goes on to examine how churches uses these funds, how easy it is to become a church, and how little oversight there is from the IRS. It’s so easy, in fact, that Oliver was able to consult with a tax lawyer to legally create his own church. Like other televangelists, he urges viewers to send their seeds (aka money, of course) and provides the church’s contact information.

It's very clear that this whole thing is a scam, and not only that, it's a scam that targets people who can least afford big donations. In the video, Oliver details seven months of correspondence with "prosperity Gospel" evangelist Robert Tilton. Tilton sent "holy oil," prayer cloths, and even dollar bills, all of which were supposed to be sent back to Tilton along with more money. The whole thing is ridiculous.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Jim Bakker Selling Potato Soup

Remember televangelist Jim Bakker? In the 1980's his ministry raised millions of dollars and became wealthy and powerful. But Bakker would be convicted of fraud in 1989 and went on to serve eight years in prison, effectively destroying his organization. Today Bakker is back on the air, with a show that peddles to the doomsday prepper crowd. The video above shows his selling giant tubs of potato soup, which is a far cry from the days of private jets and villas in Tahiti.

“I know you don’t wanna hear this,” Bakker said while lifting a one of the nearly 50-pound buckets. “You’re gonna dream Jim Bakker on TV telling you ‘get ready,’ and you’ll [say] ‘Oh my God, why didn’t I order something?'”

Bakker went so far as to take an awkward sip from one of the six-gallon buckets, which was promoted with an on-screen graphic saying they held 323 servings. He can be seen coughing after tasting the soup, before insisting, “It’s so good.”

Footage from the program also shows him offering a package of seven years’ worth of “tasty new foods” with a $3,500 donation. The package includes macaroni and cheese and chocolate pudding, which Bakker said would allow survivors of the undefined conflict to continue celebrating birthdays.

“You put that chocolate on top, you can have parties when the world is coming apart,” he gushed.

And he makes the end of the world sound like so much fun!

To Bakker's credit, he claims that he read the entire Bible while in prison and came to the realization that the "prosperity Gospel" of which he had been a proponent was wrong and that many of the passages that are often used to support it are taken out of context. That, at least, shows some insight on his part, because prosperity theology is a complete mess.

Still, to go from raising millions to hawking potato soup is pretty huge step down for the once powerful and hugely influential Bakker. Maybe the real lesson here is that God hates fraudsters, especially when they rip people off in his name. I know that if I were the Christian God, such folks would be at the top of my shit list.

Thursday, August 13, 2015


Today is the day. My flight from Minneapolis to Austin leaves this evening after work, so I'll be heading straight to the airport at the end of the day and arriving a little before midnight. I've attended every previous National Ordo Templi Orientis Convention, and this one will be no exception. It's become a tradition for me every two years, and one that I thoroughly enjoy.

It might have been nice to take today off as well and catch an earlier flight, but with everything I have to get done at work this week that just wasn't practical. But I'll get in, catch some sleep, and be at the hotel tomorrow morning when the conference officially starts. I'm looking forward to doing some book promotion, and more importantly catching up with some of the folks I only see at these events.

I realized last night that I can get within a month or so of measuring my time in the order by doubling the number of the current NOTOCON. They happen every two years, and I had been in the order almost two years when I attended the first one in Akron back in 1997. So this fall equinox it will be twenty years since I took the Minerval degree. Like any long-term commitment, sometimes it seems as if the time has just flown by, and sometimes it feels like I've been involved forever.

Lately some of the folks on Facebook have been criticizing magicians who join orders, but all I can say is that my experiences in OTO have been largely positive, and I've learned a lot from the members I've had the privilege to work with. At the same time it's not for everyone, nor should it be, and magicians who enjoy working in an order context should likewise leave the solitaries alone.

From my perspective as a Thelemite, it's all about knowing and doing your will, however that manifests best for you. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise, because the fact is that they just don't know.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Nefertiti's Burial Chamber?

The Pharaoh Akhenaten and his queen Nefertiti are best known for imposing one of the earliest versions of monotheism upon the ancient Egyptians. During their reign, they replaced the original polytheistic Egyptian religion with the cult of Aten, the solar disk, as the sole object of worship. However, within a few years of the death of Akhenaten the Egyptians reverted to their polytheistic beliefs.

A few years after the death of Akhenaten the famous "boy king" Tutankhamun assumed the throne. "King Tut" was actually a relatively minor pharaoh who began his reign as a child and died unexpectedly nine years later. He is famous today because his tomb, unlike the others in the Valley of the Kings, was found undisturbed, yielding a priceless collection of Egyptian artifacts that has toured the world.

Now, according to Dr. Nicholas Reeves of the University of Arizona, Tutankhamun's tomb may hold a further secret - two patched-over doors revealed by high-resolution scans of the walls. Reeves believes that one of those doors may lead to the burial chamber of Nefertiti, whose tomb has never been found.

Reeves proposes that one entrance leads to a storeroom from Tut's era, while the other leads to an older royal burial chamber: that of Queen Nefertiti herself, who was King Tut's stepmother.

The passage leading to Nefertiti's tomb, if it's indeed there, would be in the wall on the other side of King Tut's sarcophagus.

While some believe King Tut's final resting place was a small private tomb that was quickly expanded for use by the boy-king after his premature demise, Reeves argues that just the opposite is true.

It's actually a much bigger burial chamber, he writes, one that had been designed for royalty all along -- one that already contained a member of the royal family.

Reeves also argues that the rightward orientation of the tomb, formally known as KV 62, is more consistent with queenly burial chambers than those of kings of that era.

Of course, we can't be sure without opening the doors and seeing what lies beyond, which can take years for the Egyptian government to approve. Maybe they don't lead anywhere at all. But if another undisturbed burial chamber is found, its discovery could prove as important to Egyptology as was that of Tutankhamun's.

It likely would also shed more light on the reign of Akhenaton and Nefertiti, a period that later dynasties tried to erase from history.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Doubling Down on the Obama Apocalypse

Back in April I covered the seemingly unhinged remarks of former Minnesota representative Michele Bachmann, who is known quite well in my home state as a complete religious nutball. What really didn't make sense about those remarks was that on the one hand, she claimed that Obama was hastening a good old-fashioned end-of-the-world apocalypse, but at the same time seemed to approve of him doing so on religious grounds. On the other hand, when she was in Congress, she opposed everything he did.

Because of the incoherence of the quoted remarks, I held out hope that perhaps she was being misquoted or taken out of context, but during a recent appearance on an evangelical talk radio program she went ahead and doubled down on her nonsensical position. She claimed that Obama's deal with Iran is hastening the End Times and that she opposes the deal, but that we would be "privileged" to see the End Times. But if she really thinks that's a good thing, why oppose the deal?

Bachmann claimed that the Obama administration’s historic accord is evidence of the fulfillment of the prophecy from Zechariah 12:3 — “On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves” — and that only through the heroic efforts of Congressional Republicans and their lone Democratic ally, New York Senator Chuck Schumer, to undermine the deal will America be spared God’s wrath.

At least for the time being, of course, as the End Times are upon us, and God and “heaven’s armies” will be bringing this existence to a wrap sooner rather than later. “The prophets longed to live in this day,” Bachmann said, referring to the End of Days, “you and I are privileged to live in it.”

Most religious people, even fundamentalists, follow some semblance of logic. They take their religious dogmas as starting assumptions and therefore wind up coming to very different conclusions than I and others who don't share their faith do, but in the context of what they believe it still makes some sense. Bachmann, though, comes off as a complete mess on the issue. If she's in favor of the End Times coming to pass she should support policies that she believes will hasten them. If she's not, she should oppose them. How complicated can that be?

I suppose it's possible that I don't understand her take on the apocalypse. But I was under the impression that she's a "Left Behind" Rapture - Tribulation evangelical. According to that doctrine, there's really no way that America could be "spared" God's wrath. Believers get raptured and just vanish, while unbelievers get left behind to face the Tribulation. Seeing as there's no conceivable way for unbelievers to get raptured, it's not going to matter whether they live in America or not. That is, if this particular completely un-Biblical scenario ever were to happen.

Of course it won't. But I find it remarkable that even in the context of her own beliefs, Bachmann's thinking can be so completely muddled.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Joseph Smith's Seer Stone

A new book issued by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints includes a fascinating piece of Mormon history that has never been published - photographs of the seer stone used by Joseph Smith to translate the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith is known to have been a magical practitioner, and getting a look at his tools provides some insight into how he approached his practices.

The pictures of the smooth, brown, egg-sized rock are part of a new book that also contains photos of the first printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon. Officials with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints unveiled the photos at a news conference in Salt Lake City.

The religion’s drive in recent years to open its vaults and clarify sensitive beliefs is aimed at filling a void on the internet for accurate information as curiosity increased while church membership tripled over the last three decades, Mormon scholars said.

Church historian Steven E Snow acknowledged that dynamic, saying: “The internet brings both challenge and opportunities. We’re grateful for the opportunity to share much of collection through the use of the internet.”

Some critics of Mormonism argue that Smith's use of traditional magical techniques means that the Mormon religion is somehow false, but that really doesn't track. Many other holy books are known to have been "channeled" in some fashion, including the Quran and more recently The Book of the Law. My problems with the Book of Mormon have nothing to do with its origin and everything to do with the unsubstantiated history that it claims to expound. As just one example, genetic analysis tells us that Native Americans are not descended from the lost tribes of Israel. And there are many others.

However, as far as spiritual beliefs go, much of Mormonism is actually similar to Hermeticism. In the King Follett Discourse, the last significant sermon given by Smith before he was killed, he lays out what sounds like a slightly stilted version of the perfection of the self in order to become more divine. I find Smith's conclusions overly concretized and for that reason probably incorrect, but he does address many of the same ideas that the Renaissance Hermetics were working with.

The source of at least some of this was likely Francis Barrett's The Magus, published in 1801. Barrett's text compiled much material from Agrippa, some of which pertains to the Hermetic philosophy. Smith's connection to the text is shown by the design of his Jupiter talisman, found on his body after his death.

The talisman in turned sideways in the photo, but the arrangement of the symbols - Jupiter character above, sigil of the intelligence below, Jupiter glyph to the left side - is identical with the rendering from Barrett. I've gone back and forth over whether or not Smith had a magical teacher of some sort, and who it might have been. It's possible that he studied with a practicing ceremonial magician, but it's also possible that the techniques he worked with came straight out of Barrett.

As a Thelemite, I obviously see nothing wrong with a religion rooted in occultism, though many fundamentalists have serious problems with the concept. Mormonism is interesting to me because it represents one of the only attempts to synthesize magical lore into a coherent religious system that has proved highly successful in the modern world.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A "Wiccan Ritual Killing." Seriously?

The person of interest in the case is absolutely not Christopher Lee.

Did we somehow fall into the 1980's or 1990's when I wasn't looking? Because this story is the sort of nonsense that I thought went out of fashion something like twenty years ago. A Florida woman and her two sons were found murdered last Friday, which is tragic and sad. The nonsense I'm talking about, though, was spouted by police spokesman Andrew Hobbes, who claimed that the murder might be a "Wiccan ritual killing" related to the "blue moon" - which, by the way, has no special significance in Wiccan religious practice.

"It appears that this might be connected to some type of Wiccan ritual killing and possibly tied to the blue moon," Hobbes told NBC News. A "blue" moon is what it's called when there are two full moons in the same calendar month.

Voncile Smith, 77, and her two sons, Richard, 49, and John, 47, were discovered when one of the son's employers realized he hadn't shown up for work. Voncile and John both died of blunt force trauma and had their throats cut, police said. Richard was shot in the ear, "as he came into the house," and had his throat cut, Hobbes said. Police believe a claw hammer was used to commit the murders, Hobbes said.

No evidence of a forcible entry was found and, while police have spoken with a person of interest in the case, no arrests have been made, Hobbes said. When asked how the evidence suggests these are ritualistic or Wiccan killings Sgt. Hobbes said, "The injuries to the victims, the positions of the bodies and also the person of interest right now is also a practitioner."

First off, the Wiccan religion has no practices that could ever be described as "ritual killing." Many Wiccans are even squeamish about animal sacrifices in religions like Santeria. So the whole idea is fundamentally flawed, and appears to stem from somebody's wild imagination. Did Hobbes get his idea of "Wicca" from old Hammer films? When a ritualistic serial killer goes after victims nobody describes the murders they commit as "Christian ritual killings," even though the vast majority of people in the United States and therefore also most criminals are Christian.

The positions of the bodies and injuries described here don't indicate anything but a pretty straightforward home invasion murder. And that last statement pretty much seals the deal that I will never move to Florida under any circumstances. Apparently, if I were ever even suspected of involvement in a murder in Florida, it would become a "Thelemic ritual killing" just because I'm a practitioner - and then the police likely wouldn't look at anyone else, because I'd be the only Thelemite on their suspect list. Frankly that's quite scary, in addition to sounding like a massive civil rights violation waiting to happen.

Now I'm not necessarily saying that this "person of interest" is innocent. Wiccans certainly can commit crimes, just like Christians or Muslims or members of other religions. But the police statements sure sound to me like innocent or not, this individual is being targeted at least in part because of their religious beliefs - or, more to the point, the messed up idea of what those beliefs are according to law enforcement. Situations like these are exactly why minority religions should share the public square with majority beliefs - so that people in authority have some idea about what those beliefs actually are.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Idiot Rants Against Large Hadron Collider

Stupid people on the Internet have been railing against the Large Hadron Collider for years, but this guy takes it to a whole new level. Apparently, he sees a particle accelerator developed by many nations working together as the new incarnation of the Biblical Tower of Babel, which somehow means that God is going to destroy us all for using it.

With this in mind, an excitable and overly sincere Zach Drew draws attention to the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel in the book of Genesis where God scattered arrogant knowledge seekers across the land, speaking in different languages.

“What if I told you, again, today, the ancient story of the Tower of Babel is being repeated,” Drew ominously intoned. “Isn’t it interesting that people from all around the world have once again come together to build the largest machine that man has ever constructed? They say it is for the purpose of discovering the God particle. This mystery particle that essentially holds the entire universe together and, if found, would explain our very existence.”

“This insane machine? It’s called CERN,” he continued. “The Large Hadron Collider. The Tower of Babel. The whole world came together to work on it… The people at the Tower of Babel’s goal was also to reach a portal, or a gateway, into the sky, or into another dimension where God dwells.”

Here's the thing - "god particle" is basically tongue-in-cheek quantum physics terminology, like calling quarks "charm" and "strange." The term was coined for the Higgs Boson because it was the last particle needed to complete the standard model of quantum physics. That's it. Nobody - and I mean nobody - thinks that the Higgs Boson is an actual deity that physicists should worship or something. The only way it "explains our existence" is that detecting it proves the standard model. It has nothing to do with "detecting God" because religion is not science.

Now it doesn't help matters that Dan Brown passed along that same misinterpretation to some of his characters in Angels & Demons, which became a super-best-seller after people discovered The Da Vinci Code. Thanks to the former book, many ignorant people leaped to the conclusion that "detecting God" was what the physicists were on about. But it also seems to be stock in trade for evangelicals to interpret everything in pop culture as literally as possible. It seems that the concept of metaphor is totally lost on them.

At the same time, though, that's what makes this argument so confusing. In the Bible story, God destroys the tower, not humanity, and makes everyone speak different languages. So if the Large Hadron Collider is literally the Tower of Babel, that means God should destroy the collider and make everyone speak different languages - except, of course, that many of the scientists who work at CERN are from different countries and already do.

In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if the core of the Tower of Babel story was true. When you build a really tall tower in the middle of the desert, what happens? It's the highest point, so of course it gets struck by lightning over and over again. Very massive stone structures like the Great Pyramid can absorb lightning strikes, but any sort of tower with a more spindly and less robust design will be destroyed in short order. So as far as ancient people would have seen it, they built a really tall tower and God zapped it in an impressive manner.