Thursday, January 28, 2016

Against Olive Garden

So A Couple Thousand Crazy People (AKA One Million Moms) is at it again. The group composed of totally-not-a-million not-necessarily-moms launched one of their first protests last summer against the upcoming television series Lucifer, which has recently begun airing on the Fox network. The group is serious about it, too. Now that the show is running, the group is organizing a campaign against one of the show's advertisers - Olive Garden restaurants.

On their website, the group asks viewers to "take action" against the series and Olive Garden, its corporate sponsor, with the following plea:

"Contact Olive Garden, who sponsored the spiritually dangerous program "Lucifer" and paid corporate dollars to promote their restaurants in association with the content of the program. Use the information we have provided on our website, and let Olive Garden know that its advertising dollars are supporting sympathy towards the devil and glorifying Satan and that financial support should be pulled immediately."

Of course, considering the religious nature of the series, "Lucifer" was bound to cause an uproar with some groups -- but does America's beloved Olive Garden deserve an attack?

Frankly, there are plenty of good reasons not to eat at Olive Garden that have nothing to do with the devil. The biggest one is that there are simply better Italian restaurants out there to choose from. I don't think the place is terrible, but generally speaking their food is somewhat bland and Americanized and I would much rather go for something more authentic.

Anyway, I highly doubt that this little circle of nutballs is going to have much effect on Olive Garden's profit margins. And it never ceases to amaze me the extent to which fundamentalists are down on fiction. It's like they think that this television series, based on a Neil Gaiman comic, somehow represents some sort of theological argument. But if there really even is a devil, I would say that it's extremely unlikely this fictional portrayal has anything to do with what he's actually like.

So seriously, what's the big deal?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

He's Building That Damn Ark

Creation Museum founder Ken Ham has spent years trying to get his "Ark Encounter" attraction off the ground. His plan involves expanding his museum to include a full-sized replica of Noah's Ark that will be built to Biblical specifications. The project was announced in 2010, and since then Ham has been trying to secure funding for it. Ham's ministry does bring in a lot of donations and Ham has personally become wealthy running it, but the project estimate runs around $175 million - which is a lot, even for him.

In 2011, the state of Kentucky voted to grant Ham sales tax rebates on the project for the next ten years. However, the state provided no money up front, so Ham had to resort to other means to come up with the construction costs. He tried selling what were essentially junk bonds to finance the project, securities that contained a clause in the purchase agreement stating that Ham never actually had to make any payments to bond holders.

Ham never actually announced how much money he raised pushing the Ark Encounter junk bonds, but given that he unceremoniously dropped the program without comment, it most likely failed. The idea of selling securities that never have to be paid off struck me as ludicrous, but I have to admit I was little surprised that more of Ham's followers weren't taken in.

In 2014, Ham lobbied for and received preliminary approval for an additional $18 million dollars in tax rebates from the state of Kentucky. In his application, Ham stated that he would abide by all state non-discrimination laws. The state was therefore surprised to find that Ham's job postings for work on the project essentially stated that only young-earth creationist Christians need apply.

Because of this obvious religious discrimination, the state withdrew the preliminary approval. Ham responded by trying to sue the state, which went nowhere. So the attraction seemed to be in trouble and it looked like the whole thing might never get off the ground.

But last summer Ham started bringing in building supplies and had crews begin construction. Back in October he held a media event hyping the project, in which his comments about the funding were quite vague. It is not at all clear where the money for the project is coming from, but I suspect a substantial portion is being siphoned from Answers in Genesis, the Creation Museum, and Ham's personal wealth.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Boleskine Fire Ruled Accidental

Three weeks ago Boleskine House, the Scottish mansion once owned by Aleister Crowley and mentioned prominently in The Book of the Law, caught fire. Much of the mansion was destroyed, and many online commenters found the events of the fire reminiscent of a verse from The Book of the Law's third chapter:

But your holy place shall be untouched throughout the centuries: though with fire and sword it be burnt down & shattered, yet an invisible house there standeth, and shall stand until the fall of the Great Equinox; when Hrumachis shall arise and the double-wanded one assume my throne and place. Another prophet shall arise, and bring fresh fever from the skies; another woman shall awake the lust & worship of the Snake; another soul of God and beast shall mingle in the globed priest; another sacrifice shall stain the tomb; another king shall reign; and blessing no longer be poured To the Hawk-headed mystical Lord!

-- Chapter III, Verse 34.

Before jumping to any conclusions about the prophetic nature of the verse, though, deliberate events such as arson or vandalism needs to be ruled out. After all, if there's a "prophecy" that a particular place will burn down and some idiot goes out and lights it on fire, I suppose the prophecy would come true in the end but in a rather self-fulfilling fashion.

Investigators have now determined that the fire appears to be accidental, so maybe there's something prophetic about the verse after all. According to some reports, the fire seems to have started in the kitchen, which is a likely origin point for an accidental blaze. It could have been something as simple as a burner being left on, or an electrical short in one of the outlets or appliances.

A fire which destroyed a mansion formerly owned by Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and occultist Aleister Crowley was not started intentionally, investigators say.

The blaze broke out at Boleskine House on the eastern bank of Loch Ness at around 1.40pm on December 23.

Around 60% of the B-listed mansion was destroyed in the fire, which took hours to bring under control. Investigators are confident the fire was not suspicious but have been unable to establish its cause.

Crowley, who became infamous for his books on the occult, lived at Boleskine House between 1899 and 1913.

What this tells me is that if I ever find myself living in a house for which a prophecy exists stating that it will burn in a fire, I'll go out of my way to invest in the best smoke alarm system money can buy. I might even put in a sprinkler system, you know, just in case the alarms aren't good enough.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Because Airlines Have Demons

These days it seems like every evangelist out there wants a private jet. More to the point, they want their congregations to pay for them. Now many evangelists do travel a lot, and there may be cases where owning a private plane makes sense. But what a lot of commenters, including myself, have noted is that there's really no reason for such an aircraft to be the most expensive, luxurious thing on the market - which seems to be what they all want.

In a recent interview, two "prosperity gospel" evangelists, Kenneth Copeland and Jesse Duplantis, explained the real reason that they needed their expensive, top of the line luxury planes. It's because the regular airlines all have demons. Oh, and dope. Seriously. And the whole "luxury" thing didn't even get a mention.

Preachers from the so-called “prosperity gospel” movement, Kenneth Copeland and Jesse Duplantis, tried to explain their controversial need for their followers to give up their hard-earned dollars so they can fly in luxury in an interview posted Wednesday.

“Now Oral [Roberts] used to fly airlines,” Copeland explained. “But even back then it got to the place where it was agitating his spirit, people coming up to him, he had become famous, and they wanted him to pray for them and all that. You can’t manage that today, this dope-filled world, and get in a long tube with a bunch of demons.”

Copeland then pointed out he could “scratch my flying itch” by riding around in his single-engine, open-cockpit plane. “But we’re in soul business here,” he said. “We got a dying world around us. We got a dying nation around us. And we can’t even get there on an airline.”

It seems to me, though, that even if you believe air travel will give you a demonic infestation, there's still no reason that your private jet needs to be the most expensive one in the world. Creflo Dollar, whose name really says it all, was widely ridiculed when he tried to raise money for a $65 million Gulfstream G650 when, for example, he could have bought a faster Cessna Citation X for only $22 million. I realize that still sounds pretty damn expensive, but in this context it's one third the cost.