Saturday, October 31, 2015

Draft of King James Bible Discovered

Recently Jeffrey Alan Miller, a researcher looking into the biography of one of the scholars who translated the King James Bible, made an amazing discovery at the University of Cambridge archives. He came upon a text that had been mislabeled, and was able to verify that it was an early version of a portion of the King James Bible itself. Looking at the notes, he was able to gain some insight into how the project worked.

The material in the manuscript discovered by Miller covers the apocryphal books called Esdras and Wisdom and seems to show that the translation process at Cambridge worked completely different than what researchers had previously known. Until now, it had been assumed that six different teams, or companies of translators that is, had worked more collaboratively rather than individually. Yet — this draft throws that idea out the window.

Ward’s draft seems to indicate the people were assigned individual sections of the Bible and then worked on them almost entirely by themselves — a massive undertaking with little guesswork. You would think this would cause people to become more error prone. In fact, quite hilariously, Professor Miller noticed that the draft suggests that Ward was picking up the slack for another translator. This really shows how human the entire job was, according to him.

“Some of them, being typical academics, either fell down on the job or just decided not to do it. It really testifies to the human element of this kind of great undertaking.”

This is sure to piss off a lot of religious conservatives who claim that the Bible is the “actual word of God.” While this finding certainly doesn’t disprove God, it does show that the translators of the Bible didn’t get a finalized product the first go around — it wasn’t a walk in the park with an angel over their shoulder telling them what to write. It took many different individuals, working separately — and they often suffered from man-made struggles, like meeting deadlines.

Actually, more religious conservatives than you might think at first only believe that the original texts in the original languages represent the literal word of God. These are the folks who actually study the Bible and go over the original Hebrew and Greek texts. They may not be the people you see making noise in the media, but I went to a Lutheran college and met several of them who were quite reasonable about the whole thing.

However, there is one particularly bizarre group of fundamentalists who, for some reason, believe that the King James is the literal word of God and no other translations are. I've never gotten a satisfactory answer from any of them as to why this would be the case, and the discovery of this document only highlights that the process by which the King James was translated was just as error-prone as that of any other translation.

I will say that of the various translations out there, I like the King James, but mostly because I appreciate the Elizabethan English which is more poetic than the language used in most of the modern translations. I certainly don't consider it any more accurate, and besides, even if it were, a literalist approach to any religious text that pays more attention to exact phrasing than it does to the overall message is doomed to failure.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Cameron's Occult Filter Slapped Down

Last year United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron proposed a system for filtering Internet content. In addition to the usual targets such as porn, the plan would filter "esoteric sites," which included pretty much anything related to alternative spirituality. Why this would be remotely reasonable escapes me, as the only people who are offended by esotericism are the kind of religious fundamentalists that should never be allowed to drive public policy.

Fortunately for those in the UK who value being able to look up esoteric material online, the European Union has voted to require Internet Service Providers to treat all Internet traffic "without discrimination," a principle which Cameron's filters appear to violate. So presumably people will once more be able to access occult websites in the UK without going through whatever rigmarole was required to bypass the filters.

This rather shows the bias inherent in the Independent's editorial style, for these filters applied not just to porn sites, but to websites that dealt with topics and lifestyles that somehow made David Cameron and his government uncomfortable -- such as those dealing with the Occult.

The fact is that the then Coalition Government attempted to cause sites that dealt with astrology, tarot, magick, the New Age, etc to be filtered out by internet service providers unless their customers had specifically opted in to search for them. This caused a lot of anger in the occult community, which has a great number of authors (e.g. myself) and providers of goods and services who were using their websites to promote their books and indeed their means of making a living.

Filtering the Internet is pretty much a hopeless task, as oppressive governments all over the world have been finding out. Within weeks of Cameron's system being announced there were already browser extensions being released to get around it, and it generated a lot of bad press for his administration all over the world.

While there are ways, official and otherwise, to get around the filters, the problem is that there are a lot of people who are not that technically savvy. There's nothing offensive, dangerous, or even that controversial about the vast majority of esoteric sites, so there's no reason to set up all sorts of hurdles that must be cleared in order to access them.

It makes me wonder who proposed the idea of filtering esotericism to Cameron's government in the first place, and what their agenda was.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Witch Versus Warlock

No, that's not the title of the latest Hollywood attempt to capitalize on the popularity of witchcraft, released just in time for Halloween. It's the latest courtroom drama to emerge from the Salem witchcraft scene.

The case pits witch Lori Sforza, who goes by the professional name Lori Bruno, against warlock Christian Day. At a hearing yesterday, Sforza won the first round and was granted a protective order against Day after accusing him of telephone and online harassment that she alleges has gone on for the last three years.

During testimony that at times became heated, Sforza accused Day of making incessant phone calls and humiliating her on Facebook. Day’s lawyer countered that the dispute stems from a onetime business partnership that fell apart. Day and Sforza both run occult shops in Salem.

I will point out that whether or not the dispute stems from a business partnership gone bad makes no difference in a harassment case. You simply don't harass or threaten people, no matter how upset you are or how good you think your reason might be. But I know from personal experience that this basic principle is quite hard for warlocks to comprehend.

During the hearing, Sforza reportedly told the judge that she can see into her own future, saying, ‘‘That’s why I'm here today.’’ Sforza, 75, uses the business name Lori Bruno and says she is a psychic witch who descends from a line of Italian witches. She also leads a pagan church in Salem.

Day, 45, who now lives in Louisiana, owns occult shops in Salem and New Orleans. Described on his website as the ‘‘world’s best-known warlock,’’ he organizes the Festival of the Dead in Salem, a series of occult-themed events every October that culminates in a Witches’ Halloween Ball.

The judge hearing the case said he was dismayed by the volume of late-night calls Day made to Sforza. After hearing the decision, Day, who didn’t testify, denied making the calls and then stormed out of the courthouse, according to The Globe. He told reporters he would appeal the order.

There's a reason I've been known to refer to the Salem witchcraft scene as "the clown shoes of magick" on this blog, and these folks and their associates are why. I have nothing against anyone who happens to live in Salem, Massachusetts - as a matter of fact, I have a number of OTO brothers and sisters who reside there of whom I think quite highly.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Belgian Scientologists On Trial

The Church of Scientology has gotten a lot of bad press over the last couple of years, and now members of its Belgian branch are on trial for fraud and extortion. While I personally find what I've heard of the higher Scientology levels to be kind of silly, that's not my problem with the organization. Lots of religions have teachings that sound silly to outsiders, and they still have a right to teach them.

Rather, my problem is that there are way too many reports of the organization operating as a classic destructive cult. It allegedly uses various forms of trickery to recruit members, charges them large sums of money, and most telling goes after anyone who tries to leave in the form of flat-out harassment and all sorts of outlandish legal threats. It seems to me that any legitimate organization should allow people to quit without threatening to ruin their lives.

“The church’s revenues were roughly 5,000 euros a week; 2,000 came from the sale of books and videos and 3,000 from courses and training,” the Belga news agency quoted the group’s treasurer as saying. The treasurer, who worked for the church until 2005, said she was not paid but was not required to pay the church fees, while her husband contributed about 10,000 euros ($11,000) for training.

The church stirs sharp divisions — critics say it is cult and a scam, while supporters say it offers much-needed spiritual support in a fast-changing world. The Belgian authorities launched a first investigation in 1997 after several former members complained about its practices. A second probe followed in 2008 when an employment agency charged that the church had made bogus job offers so as to draw in and recruit new members.

The authorities as a result charged 11 members of the Belgian branch, plus two affiliated bodies, with fraud, extortion, running a criminal organisation and violating the right to privacy. A conviction could lead to a ban.

While it's true that many churches require volunteer labor, the whole bogus job offer thing is the sort of trickery I'm talking about. It's not clear to me why any church would have to resort to such tactics in order to find members, though from the amounts of money quoted above it sounds like the Belgian group is pretty small. At around 10,000 euros per person per year, 3000 euros per week from training means 16 or so people, plus the treasurer who paid no fees, plus whoever runs the group.

Scientology is already banned in several European countries, and if the trial goes badly the church could also face a ban in Belgium. Still, given the size of the group it sounds like such a ban wouldn't affect many people.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Poor Oppressed Christians Versus Sex Ed

Recently the Omaha Public Schools announced a new, optional sex education curriculum that departed from the abstinence-only programs favored by Poor Oppressed Christians everywhere. Officials reasoned that since the class was optional, offering it would be no big deal. But they were very wrong. Hundreds of abstinence-only activists showed up and proceeded to disrupt the meeting, which had to be concluded early.

The abstinence-only proponents disrupted the meeting to such an extent that it had to be ended 45 minutes earlier than it was scheduled to be. OPS officials emphasized the fact that students had a choice to opt out of the proposed curriculum. Yet this fact seemed to have no effect on the level of outrage from conservative parents. One woman who was dubbed "puritymom" stood and screamed at OPS educators during the meeting.

"It’s my daughter! My daughter! Who’s going to keep her pure? Nobody! I am! Not OPS! Not OPS!"

So don't have your daughter take the class. How hard is that? Too hard, apparently, for these folks.

Her mindset reflects the general attitude among many in the pro-abstinence movement who believe that sex before marriage will somehow make young people less "pure" or less "good" than they would have been had they waited until marriage. One common lesson in abstinence classes is the "stick of gum" example that compares students (usually female students) who engage in sexual activity to a stick of gum that has been chewed. This type of unscientific tactic has had an especially detrimental effect on victims of rape and sexual abuse.

This highlights the fundamental problem with the Poor Oppressed Christian mindset with respect to religious freedom. If they want to raise their kids as if the dark ages never ended I suppose that's their right as parents, though I find the whole thing pretty silly. Generally these folks are also "abortion is murder" pro-lifers, and one of the few things that has been shown to lower abortion rates is comprehensive sex education.

No, the problem is that the entire point of the Poor Oppressed Christian worldview is to force others to conform to their beliefs whether or not those beliefs are shared. As a Thelemite, I'm strongly in favor of my daughters getting the best sex education possible, and my religious beliefs are diametrically opposed to abstinence-only bullshit. That's the entire point of an opt-out class - parents who don't approve don't have to let their kids attend, but those who want it can get it.

But for the Poor Oppressed Christians that's not enough. It seems as if they are only happy when they are undermining the religious freedoms of everyone around them, all the while insisting that they're the ones whose freedoms are under attack.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Church of the Sword Seeks Recognition

Here's an article about another new religion that I've never heard of trying to obtain legal recognition through the courts. The Church of the Sword is a non-theistic religion founded five years ago in New Hampshire that espouses libertarian principles and self-improvement. It also teaches sword-fighting, which frankly is pretty awesome.

However, so far this new religion is having trouble being recognized as such. The group was found to be "neither religious nor a church" by the Cheshire County Superior Court, and it's attorney is now presenting the case to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

In March, their appeal to the Cheshire County Superior Court was dismissed. The court issued an opinion stating the Church of the Sword “is neither religious nor a church,” but rather it “is clearly a social organization that uses religious vocabulary to describe its practices” and that its doctrines “are far more related to politics and self-improvement than to religion.”

By taking the case to the Supreme Court, the libertarian activists and Free State Project members who comprise church leadership brought themselves to the fore of a trend in the state. At least three newly created churches with Free State Project ties have sought tax exemption in varied court cases in 2014 and 2015.

Representing the church in a 15-minute oral argument before the five Supreme Court justices Thursday, attorney Dan Hynes said he wants a trial in which jurors would decide whether the church members’ beliefs are sincerely held. He said while New Hampshire courts have had little to say in defining religion, federal courts have demonstrated a standard the justices should follow.

“We’re asking the court to adopt the bright line rule that if it’s a sincerely held belief, that’s all that matters in religion,” Hynes said. He characterized the town as having unfairly discriminated against the applicants because their religion is relatively new and doesn’t necessarily proclaim existence of a god.

“I would suggest Buddhism has hundreds of millions of people. They don’t have a god. They’re essentially working toward greater self-improvement. I would suggest that’s exactly what the Church of the Sword is doing,” he said.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

So Depression is Witchcraft?

No, this isn't one of those articles where I weigh in on the magick-as-psychology debate. It's one of those articles where I weigh in on a clueless fundamentalist Christian who has no idea how magical attacks or psychology work - or in this case, can't tell one from the other.

Recently Jennifer LeClaire of Charisma magazine posted two articles claiming to document "clear signs" of being under "witchcraft attack." Believe it or not, I tried to read them with an open mind, whether or not that's ever a good idea. My experiences as a magician have convinced me that magical attacks are objective things, and that while they are relatively rare they do happen. But both articles disappointed me right away.

See if you can spot the problem:

In my experience, though, there are some practical questions you can ask yourself to help you discern a witchcraft attack:

1. Are you on an emotional roller coaster, rushing from anger to sadness to confusion? You could be under a witchcraft attack.

2. Are you so overwhelmed with your circumstances that you just want to call in sick, stay in bed and feel sorry for yourself? You could be under a witchcraft attack.

3. Do you feel like nobody can possibly understand what you are going through and that nobody even cares anyway? You could be under a witchcraft attack.

4. Do you feel like everything you do is wrong, that nobody appreciates you anyway? You could be under a witchcraft attack.

5. Are you getting offended with people, are you touchy and fretting over what people are doing or saying? You could be under a witchcraft attack.

6. Are people rising up against you with false accusations and angry outbursts without any apparent justification? You could be under a witchcraft attack.

7. Are you reasoning out your life to the point of fear or confusion? You could be under a witchcraft attack.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

This Sounds Familiar...

So it's official. The eBible Fellowship, which predicted the end of the world on October 7th, has now taken up the mantle of the late Harold Camping.

The fellowship is one of the remnants of Camping's ministry, which incorrectly predicted that the world would end first in 1994 and then in 2011. Now, only a day after this last failed prediction, spokesman Chris McCann was already making excuses and hinting at a new date.

'We believed there was a strong likelihood that God would complete His judgment and bring about the world's destruction on that day.There was much biblical information pointing to this date and we freely shared it with all.

'Yet, consistently stressing throughout the entire time period that the world ending on that date was a "strong likelihood." Since it is now October 8th it is now obvious that we were incorrect regarding the world's ending on the 7th.'

McCann claimed the group had predicted the wrong date. He wrote: 'E Bible Fellowship was incorrect regarding the specific day of its end, but we were not incorrect concerning the fact that it will one day soon come to an end.'

I keep hoping that one of these days these neo-Millerites will figure out that their cherished "formula" is all wrong and just give up. Every single prediction of the literal end of the world has never come to pass, not even close. What part of "but of that day and hour knoweth no man" don't these self-proclaimed Biblical literalists understand?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Aliens? No, Seriously!

One of the biggest questions in astronomy relates to the Fermi Paradox, which can best be summed up as "where are all the aliens?" The argument goes as follows: if the universe really is infinite and so much older than the solar system, how is it that we see no evidence of really advanced alien civilizations anywhere? In theory, super-advanced aliens would have the ability to create structures so massive that our best telescopes might be able to detect them. But so far that hasn't happened.

That is, maybe, until now. Scientists working with the Kepler Space Telescope have identified a star about 1500 light years away that appears to have many large objects orbiting it that are more tightly clustered than anything they've ever seen. If the star were young the objects could be part of an accretion disk, but the star is old enough that any such disk should have coalesced into planets long ago. It's also possible that the objects are comets, though that in itself would be extremely unusual.

It's the final possibility that has pushed this story into the news. The objects could be mega-structures built by a race of space-faring aliens. That is, aliens with mature space travel technology over a thousand years ago, which is how long it takes the light from this star to reach us. If so, that answers the Fermi Paradox. The aliens are right over there.

The snappily named KIC 8462852 star lies just above the Milky Way between the constellations Cygnus and Lyra. It first attracted the attention of astronomers in 2009 when the Kepler Space Telescope identified it as a candidate for having orbiting Earth-like planets. But KIC 8462852 was emitting a stranger light pattern than any of the other stars in Kepler’s search for habitable planets.

Tabetha Boyajian, a postdoc at Yale told The Atlantic: “We’d never seen anything like this star. It was really weird. We thought it might be bad data or movement on the spacecraft, but everything checked out.” In 2011 the star was flagged up again by several members of Kepler’s “Planet Hunters” team – a group of ‘citizen scientists’ tasked with analysing the data from the 150,000 stars Kepler was watching. The analysts tagged the star as “interesting “ and “bizarre” because it was surrounded by a mess of matter in tight formation.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Regarding "Muggle Jobs"

Over the last couple of days the magical blogosphere has turned its attention to the notion of "public occultism," which in my experience is something of a non-starter to begin with. Maybe there was a time when a significant number of people could make a living off selling magical products and teaching classes, but that time is not now. I wonder if it ever existed.

Now I can't say that I have a dog in this fight, but I do have something to say about what I consider a particularly dangerous point that came up during the whole kerfluffle - the idea that someone without a "muggle job" who instead spends their time promoting magical products and classes is somehow automatically a better magician. Because here's the thing:

Promoting magical products like books is a job. Not only that, in my experience it's a really bad job.

Back when I was getting my first book ready for publication I had this romantic notion that someday I might be able to make a living off my writing. A lot of budding writers think this might someday happen, and look forward to that day. I like to think that my expectations were at least somewhat managed - I understood that if it ever happened it would take years, and I had no expectations of making a good living at it even then.

A little over a year after my first book came out I was on a panel at a local Pagan convention talking about publishing books. What surprised me the most was that there were a lot of people there who had this idea that you could make a lot of money selling occult books if you could "market the heck out of them," as one audience member put it. It was clear to me that none of them had ever looked into the real numbers involved.

I went ahead and broke down what the earnings would have been for Modern Magick, one of the bestselling occult books of all time. I figured that it probably made Donald Michael Kraig about $20,000 a year over the course of the last twenty years. It's a living, I suppose, but not a very good one. And that was the ceiling, not the floor.

Still, what I learned within the next couple of years after releasing Mastering the Mystical Heptarchy was even more sobering. The book got good reviews, and I have corresponded with a number of people who really like it. But what so many people forget is that the occult is a tiny, tiny niche area. So far in my best year I made about $1200 in royalties. That's certainly not nothing, and a lot of occult writers do worse. But it's nothing even resembling a living.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Air Force Fires "Hindu Witch"

One of the long-standing problems in the United States military is the undue influence exercised by Evangelical Christians in the Air Force. Members of other religions have reported aggressive proselytization for years, but this story still sounds so outlandish it's hard to believe.

Until recently, Deborah Schoenfeld worked as a dental technician at an Air Force base in Maryland. Schoenfeld follows the Hindu religion, and endured ongoing harassment by co-workers who considered her evil because she was not Christian. If anybody out there wonders why I post so many articles about things like Ten Commandments monuments and religious discrimination on the part of local governments, it's in part because giving Christians special privileges enables this sort of toxic culture.

Schoenfeld was eventually fired under suspicion of being a "Hindu witch." Personally, I had no idea such a thing even existed. Prior to her dismissal, here is some of what she encountered on the job trying to work with a pack of Evangelical bigots. These events were confirmed by multiple witnesses.
  • In her time at Epes Dental Clinic she was actually and specifically accused of “witchcraft” and “bringing demons into the office.” She has been officially advised that she is not allowed to know who her accusers are.
  • She has been openly disparaged for not having the same religious views as her superiors (Evangelical Christian) and being “uninterested in taking part” in Christian rituals or the rampant and rapacious, workplace-based, Evangelical Christian proselytizing which is outrageously and comprehensively supported by her former command.
  • She has been admonished that practicing yoga is “Satanic” and will “cost (her) her soul”.
  • She was advised by her chain of command to pray against the recent Supreme Court ruling against same sex marriage, as it is “an abomination to their religion”.
She was also given a "religious test," which she failed, after which she was fired. If a clearer case of religious discrimination is out there, I haven't heard of it. The Air Force claims to be "looking into" the allegations, which likely means that unless the case attracts a lot of negative publicity they will do their best to sweep the whole incident under the rug.

So share this article or the original story far and wide. A literal witch hunt has no place in our society, and should be called out at every opportunity.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

It's Finally Gone

At last, the saga is over. The Oklahoma City Ten Commandments monument has finally been removed from the capital grounds. The monument, which sparked so much drama, has been moved to its new home at a local think tank. I've covered the drama surrounding the monument for several years now here on Augoeides, and it amazes me how much press the issue wound up generating.

The monument was removed late at night in order to limit disruptions to employees at the state capitol and to keep protesters from interfering with the removal process, according to the Associated Press. The capitol also erected barricades earlier on Monday to protect the monument before its removal.

The state paid a contractor $4,700 to remove the 2,400-pound granite tablet, Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services spokesman John Estus told the AP. Yet the state did not use taxpayer funds to pay the contractor, according to Oklahoma City station KFOR.

The state still technically owns the monument, but it is currently being stored at Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a nearby think tank, according to the AP.

As for me, I'm glad that Oklahoma lawmakers finally agreed to follow the law, but disappointed that they decided not to go the route of allowing other religious groups to erect their own monuments. To my way of thinking, that would have made for a better statement that lined up more completely with America's vision of free religious expression. The problem, though, is that the Poor Oppressed Christians just won't stand for it. So since the law says all or none, we just have to make do with none.

UPDATE: In a related story, the company that rebuilt the monument after it was wrecked by a car has reported that it was never paid for the work. So this isn't just about Oklahoma lawmakers being discriminatory, it's apparently about them being cheapskates as well.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Another One? Already?

Yes, it's true. There's yet another apocalypse scheduled for, well, today. Sorry about the short notice and all. I might even feel bad about it if, you know, anything was actually going to happen. The truth is that the end of the world is being predicted all the time and it never comes to pass, so you'd think people would learn - except that they never do.

The eBible Fellowship, an online affiliation headquartered near Philadelphia, has based its prediction of an October obliteration on a previous claim that the world would end on 21 May 2011. While that claim proved to be false, the organization is confident it has the correct date this time.

“According to what the Bible is presenting it does appear that 7 October will be the day that God has spoken of: in which, the world will pass away,” said Chris McCann, the leader and founder of the fellowship, an online gathering of Christians headquartered in Philadelphia. “It’ll be gone forever. Annihilated.”

McCann said that, according to his interpretation of the Bible, the world will be obliterated “with fire”.

So the deal is that the "eBible Fellowship" is one of the remnants of Harold Camping's ministry. Camping's failed apocalypse predictions were featured not once but twice here on Augoeides back in 2011.

Camping passed away in 2013, but apparently followers of false prophets are a determined bunch. Camping was basically a modern-day Millerite, in that like Miller he insisted that he could time the events predicted in the Book of Revelation based on a complex formula derived from other Biblical passages. Camping originally predicted that Christ would return in 1994, but when that didn't come to pass he revised the date to 2011.

I'll say it once more - how many times do these kinds of predictions have to fail before everyone stops taking them seriously? It has been obvious to me for some time now that the entire methodology is flawed, and that anyone who wants to try and predict the apocalypse needs to go back to the drawing board.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Tennessee Commissioner Brings the Crazy

I first saw this article last week, but it sounded so ridiculous that I wanted to hold off on it then in case it turned out to be some sort of joke or satirical story. But it looks like it's starting to make the rounds of other news outlets without being refuted, so it's either for real or highly successful trolling.

The deal is that Tennessee County Commissioner Karen Miller has submitted a resolution to be voted upon condemning the judiciary for overstepping its bounds on same-sex marriage. That's not the crazy part. Conservatives all over the country have proposed various resolutions to this effect ever since the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples must be allowed to marry no matter where they reside.

But here's the crazy bit:

Fearing that may be too little too late, the passed resolution would also beseech God to not destroy Blount County — like He did Sodom and Gomorrah — for the sins of America.

“WE adopt this Resolution before God that He pass us by in His Coming Wrath and not destroy our County as He did Sodom and Gomorrah and the neighboring cities. As the Passover Lamb was a means of salvation to the ancient Children of Israel, so we stand upon the safety of the Lamb of God to save us, ” the resolution reads. “WE adopt this Resolution begging His favor in light of the fact that we have been forced to comply and recognize that the State of Tennessee, like so many other God-fearing States, MAY have fallen prey to a lawless judiciary in legalizing what God and the Bible expressly forbids.”

Presumably God will hold off His wrath until the resolution can be considered as it is listed as seventh on the docket — right after the board takes up compensation levels for Blount County School Board Members.

I have a hard time believing that anyone with reasonable critical thinking skills could possibly think that God would destroy some little county in Tennessee, even if you accept that (1) the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah really happened, (2)it had something to do with same-sex marriage, and (3) God has the power and/or willingness to randomly destroy places that piss him off.

It seems to me that if God were going to destroy someplace over homosexuality, wouldn't he have just nuked San Francisco in the early 1970's? I mean, that would have at least made a point. As for Blount County, Tennessee, how many gay couples even live there? How many people outside Tennessee have even heard of the place? Seriously, though, this resolution highlights the stupidity of modern literalist evangelicals.

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah, according to reputable biblical scholars, has more to do with upholding the value of hospitality, which is seen as sacrosanct in Middle Eastern cultures, than it does homosexuality. And it has nothing to do with marriage. It's not like the crowd of evildoers in the story were saying, "bring them out, that we may marry them." But cherry-picking preachers at some point decided that the story was about God hating gays - not, say, rapists, which strikes me as a better interpretation.

It also seems shockingly dumb to suggest that God's wrath is going to be appeased by passing some pointless legal resolution. Jesus was a revolutionary, right? So if 1-3 above are all for real, it seems to me that Miller needs to actually do something to stop the destruction she apparently thinks is on the way. Kim Davis may be a complete shithead, but at least she put her career on the line to do something, ineffectual though it turned out to be.

I suppose if the motion fails and God really does rain down sulfur on Miller's county I'll have to admit that she had a point after all, but let's face it, that's not going to happen. It's quite possible that the Bible story itself never happened as described - after all, it was first written down many centuries after the events supposedly took place. I have no idea if Miller is just grandstanding here, or if she actually fears anything similar coming to pass, but for the sake of sanity I hope it's the former.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Lies, Pope Francis, and Kim Davis

I'm honestly sick to death of all the press coverage Kim Davis has been getting over the last couple of months simply for refusing to do her job. My guess is that most of the rest of us are too. So when Davis' lawyer issued a statement to the press on Wednesday that she had met with Pope Francis and that he supported what she was doing, much of the blogosphere pretty much lost it.

When I first heard the report, I immediately found it suspect, and here's why - one of my criticisms of Francis is that for all of his progressive statements on issues like income inequality, he has yet to seriously amend the doctrines of the church, many of which I find objectionable. But that cuts both ways - what a lot of non-Catholics don't understand is that it has always been a part of Catholic dogma that good Catholics follow the civil laws of the country in which they live. So I found the idea that Francis would support Davis pretty bizarre if he had any understanding of what she was doing.

Jason Miller put up a good post yesterday that pretty much sums up what has been my thinking on Francis for some time. People don't have to be dropped into "good" and "bad" pigeonholes with no room in between - in fact, doing so reflects poor critical thinking skills on the part of whoever is doing the dropping. I doubt there are two people in the world who agree on absolutely everything, so it's crucial to understand that with just about everybody you're going to agree with some of their actions and disagree with others.

Francis is the best Pope that I remember in my lifetime, especially on issues of poverty and income inequality. But he's still the Pope, head of a religious organization that I find backwards and repressive in a number of ways - which is why I'm not a Roman Catholic. Still, pivoting the church away from an exclusive focus on gays and zygotes and towards social justice is a positive step that should not be underestimated, as in the United States it poses a threat to Roman Catholics who have allied themselves with the evangelical religious right. Prosperity Gospel evangelicals basically think the poor can go fuck themselves, but like their Roman Catholic allies are opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage.

Yesterday Esquire published an article by Charles Pierce suggesting that the Pope may have been tricked into meeting with Davis, and laid out a plausible scenario. The man who arranged the visit, Archbishop Carlo Vigano, is a staunch supported of Joseph Ratzinger, Francis' predecessor, and also has been involved with the National Association for Marriage, one of the aforementioned groups that brings together Roman Catholics and evangelicals in opposing same-sex marriage. And at one of the NAM marches in which he took part, Kim Davis' lawyer was one of the speakers, so they likely already knew each other.

Still, at this point I would put forth that as of yesterday, nobody had any idea of what went on. The Vatican did not deny that the meeting took place, but issued no further statement. In and of itself that struck me as somewhat odd. If Francis really supported Davis' actions, why not issue a more detailed statement? Francis has never before shown himself to be shy about speaking his mind, whether or not his audience agrees with him. But if Pierce's scenario was accurate, there was a meeting, but Francis may have had no idea who Davis was or why the visit was significant.