[image via Iranian Atheists]
Nate Phelps can recall what it was like to grow up with a tyrannical fundamentalist for a father — in this case, Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church. The Telegraph reports:
[Fred] had this old barber’s strap and used it so much that the last six inches were frayed, kind of like a cat-o-nine-tails, and he’d hit you with it and it’d wrap around your hips and rip the skin.
By the time I turned eight I remember he had started using a mattock handle instead. Similar to a pickaxe handle … it was about four feet long and bigger than a baseball bat.
Nate says his father would fly into rages and beat him and his siblings mercilessly:
Then he’d set the mattock down and hit [us] with his fist.
The son recalls one particular occasion when he was bent over a church pew backwards and felt like his back was breaking. When he tried to escape, his dad split his head open.
Nate’s brother Mark, who fled the nest two years before Nate did, confirms that severe beatings were common as day in the Phelps household:
Fred’s always denied it, but there is no question. He took great delight punishing Nate and Kathy, our sister. They got 80 per cent of the beatings, but Nate got more than anybody.
[image via umsl.edu]
If you’ve ever wondered why there are so many ostensible Christians among the prison population, one answer is that Jesus Saves. If no one forgives you for the terrible things you’ve done, He will.
Even the most godless of criminals will often turn (quasi-)devout behind bars. It’s perfectly understandable. For starters, religion gives prisoners something to do. It also lets them become part of a righteous tribe. And no doubt, prayer and Bible study look good in the eyes of the warden and the parole board.
But most of all, religion can wash away evildoers’ guilt, if they feel any, and offer them a shot at salvation.
Christians think of redemption as a feature of their faith. But what if it’s a bug?
I ask because a new study in the academic journal Theoretical Criminology suggests that, instead of causing offenders to repent of their sins, religious programs might actually encourage crime. Slate reported on the interesting research the other day.
The authors of the study surveyed “hardcore street offenders” in and around Atlanta, and tried to gauge the effect that religion may have on the offenders’ behavior. Of the 48 subjects (admittedly a small sample), 45 claimed to be religious, and the researchers found that those followers
…seemed to go out of their way to reconcile their belief in God with their serious predatory offending. They frequently employed elaborate and creative rationalizations in the process and actively exploit religious doctrine to justify their crimes.
It should come as no surprise that street hoodlums who cloak themselves in religion don’t have much of a grasp of their professed faith’s basics. Take, for example, an 18-year-old robber whose nom de crime is Que:
Que: I believe in God and the Bible and stuff. I believe in Christmas, and uh, you know the commitments and what not.
Interviewer: You mean the Commandments?
Que: Yeah that. I believe in that.
Interviewer: Can you name any of them?
Que: Uhhh … well, I don’t know … like don’t steal, and uh, don’t cheat and shit like that. Uhmm … I can’t remember the rest.
This lack of knowledge is often a deliberate (if possibly subconscious) mental construct, a simple psychological crutch. Ignorance is bliss. As one enforcer for a drug gang asserted,
God has to forgive everyone, even if they don’t believe in him.
He had committed several murders, and obviously felt better knowing that salvation was potentially just a few prayers away. In fact, he believed that he was due God’s forgiveness even without penance or prayer.
A 23-year-old robber called Young Stunna thought that the circumstances of his upbringing, coupled with an appeal to Jesus, would pretty much justify his crimes:
Jesus know I ain’t have no choice, you know? He know I got a decent heart. He know I’m stuck in the hood and just doing what I gotta do to survive.
Young Stunna was typical. The 45 religious interviewees tended to shape their interpretation of their faith to make their criminal behavior seem less odious, less condemnable. Slate quotes a 25-year-old drug dealer called Cool, who believes that God not only doesn’t mind when you do bad things to bad people; the Almighty actually dispatches avengers like Cool to do His bidding:
If you doing some wrong to another bad person, like if I go rob a dope dealer or a molester or something, then it don’t count against me because it’s like I’m giving punishment to them for Jesus. That’s God’s will. Oh you molested some kids? Well now I’m [God] sending Cool over your house to get your ass.
Maybe Cool is right. The Lord (we are always told) works in mysterious ways.
But seriously: Atheists may see the study as an endorsement of their view that believing in God doesn’t equip people with a superior set of morals — the notion that’s the exact point of this site. However, the stars don’t all line up in our favor.
If what I wrote in the first couple of paragraphs is correct, then convicted prisoners will disproportionately and post-factum slather themselves in religious sauce. That being the case, the number that many atheists gleefully love to cite — that less than one percent of the prison population consists of atheists — does become almost meaningless. After all, hoodlums who never gave a fig about religion probably have a tendency to “get right with God” once they’re locked up. They were perhaps — and may still be, appearances to the contrary — atheists, even if they never self-identified as such. That alone debunks the idea that there’s something more moral and law-abiding about atheists than about religionists. Fair’s fair.
There is reason to believe that these [criminals’ religion-based] rationalizations and justifications may play a criminogenic [crime-producing, TF] role in their decision-making.
Religion’s good intentions notwithstanding, that finding is another unpleasant reality that theists will have to come to terms with. The study doesn’t prove that, in Christopher Hitchens’ words, God is Not Great; but its conclusion does seem to support his maxim that “religion spoils everything.”
[image via memegenerator]
Usually, when government or religious leaders make splashy moves to save children, there’s an ulterior motive. In the case of Russia recently banning Americans from adopting Russian orphans, it looks like Putin is retaliating for a new U.S. law that bans Russian officials accused of human rights abuses from traveling to or having bank accounts in the United States.
The Russian Orthodox Church has predictably aligned with the Russian government. Church spokesman Father Vsevolod Chaplin justified the adoption ban by pointing out that the path to heaven would be closed to children adopted by foreigners. “They won’t get a truly Christian upbringing, and that means falling away from the church and from the path to eternal life in God’s kingdom.”
On the same day the ban was announced, the Church and government set aside an extra acre of land in Moscow to bury orphans who die. Since over 1,000 orphans die every year just from committing suicide, I’m guessing they’re going to run out of real estate pretty quickly.
Patriarch Kirill, the leader of Russian Orthodox Church, reportedly has a net worth of over four billion dollars. That was in 2004 — it may be more now, or less. What’s sure is that Kirill still enjoys a lifestyle that is the envy of many a jetsetter. When he’s not being a shrewd and successful stock-market investor, he indulges his love of skiing, raising show dogs, and attending car races. The patriarch owns villas in Switzerland, and lives in a luxurious penthouse with a view of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow.
If Kirill decided to personally pay for all 700,000 orphans to have a school lunch every day, he could do it every day for the next one hundred years and barely put a dent in his fortune. Like many church leaders, Patriarch Kirill appears to be a “do as I say” kind of guy.
To put this ban in perspective, over 60,000 Russian kids have been adopted by Americans over the past twenty years. Nineteen of the adoptees have died. When looking at the abysmal statistics for kids not fortunate enough to be adopted, can anyone say with a straight face that the Russian Orthodox Church is looking out for the kids’ best interests?
[image via rt.com
The Vatican’s papal conclave, a word that literally means “with key,”
…has long been obsessed with secrecy. The cardinals swear an oath to that effect before even entering the Sistine Chapel, punishable by excommunication. Anyone else associated with the election, from doctors and nurses to housekeeping staff, must also swear to never tell anyone anything they hear.
Now, what is such a sacred oath of secrecy, sworn to the Almighty, really worth? Bupkis, the Vatican acknowledges; there’s no honor among
On Monday, jamming devices designed to block cellphone calls, Internet signals and hidden microphones were installed inside the Sistine Chapel and nearby guest residences. WiFi will be blocked throughout Vatican City until the end of the conclave. And the conclave’s active Twitter- and Facebook-users have been forbidden access to their accounts along with all other forms of communication with the outside world.
If such measures are truly necessary, it follows that at least some of the participants don’t particularly tremble at the prospect of excommunication.
Neither, clearly, do they fear God’s wrath.
Ergo: Nor should anyone else.
What if this was your sister, daughter, neighbor, friend?
“Reports of Muslim men abducting and forcibly marrying and converting Coptic Christian women and girls have filtered out of Egypt with increasing frequency over the past decade,” noted a 2009 study. “These violations appear to be encouraged by the prevalence of cultural norms in Egypt often rooted in Islamic traditions that legitimize violence against women and non-Muslims.”
When it came out, the report, commissioned by Christian Solidarity International and the Coptic Foundation for Human Rights, and written by Michele Clark and Nadia Ghaly, was met with some skepticism — perhaps understandably so. Some of the abduction and forced-conversion claims were fraught with ambiguity. It seemed possible that young Christian women had simply been duped by the Muslim lotharios they’d run off with; the abduction allegations might have been a way to save face once regret set in.
Also, religious followers have never been shy about claiming discrimination and persecution at every turn. Christian wolf-crying to that effect is laughable (and counterproductive) when it occurs in the U.S., where three out of four Americans self-identify as Christians and there’s a church on every other street corner. Frankly, I don’t want to hear it.
But if, as atheists, we pride ourselves on our eye for reality, then selectively putting on blinders would be hypocritical. The actual persecution of religious minorities is surely as old as religion itself. Decent people everywhere, regardless of their God belief, should strongly oppose it. That includes non-theists. It’s inarguable that members of Christian minorities are routinely harassed and frequently assaulted — beaten, raped, murdered, burned out of their homes — in majority-Islamic societies, where such crimes often occur with the tacit approval of government and law enforcement.
So is there also something to the persistent reports of abductions and forcible conversions of Christian women in Egypt? A 2012 report by the same authors, Clark and Ghaly, makes an updated and much more convincing case, as does this news report from BBC TV:
Abduction, rape, and forced marriage are extremely nasty crimes to begin with. Together, they amount to life-long slavery. When they’re coupled with involuntary, often violent religious conversion, the outrage is compounded. It seems to me that such a violation of the mind can be just about as devastating to a victim’s self-worth as sexual violence.
It’s time that more news organizations and bloggers shine a light on this — and that the U.S. State Department begins demanding some changes from the Morsi government, before casually forking over another quarter of a billion dollars to a regime that’s been shown to either condone or support such crimes.
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• A Saudi cleric, Sheikh Abdullah Daoud, is calling for all Muslim baby girls to be covered with a veil or even a burqa. Daoud delivered a fatwa on the topic on Islamic al-Majd TV, stressing his belief that the veil would protect female babies from being sexually molested.
• I guess the advice came too late for five-year-old Lama al-Ghamdi. She was recently raped and tortured to death by her own father, Saudi Arabian preacher Fayhan al-Ghamdi. Remarkably, he has been spared a death sentence or even a lengthy prison term after agreeing to pay “blood money” to the slain girl’s mother. According to a medical report, Lama had been tortured with whips, electric shocks, and an iron. She had broken arms, a broken back, and a fractured skull.
• Former New Birth Missionary Baptist members in Atlanta are suing Bishop Eddie Long. They allege that the megachurch pastor encouraged them to invest money in a Ponzi scheme despite the fact that he’d been told the investor was running a three-million-dollar capital deficit. SEC officials say that Long’s protégé, Ephren W. Taylor, promised to use investments for charity and to help economically challenged areas, but that Taylor instead diverted the funds to pay other investors, as well as personal expenses.
• Mehmet Şahin, who argued against the public praise given by young Turkish-Dutch Muslims to Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust, has received death threats. Subsequently, he and his family fled their home “for their safety,” on the advice of Arnhem mayor Pauline Krikke. After his televised disapproval of the anti-semitic remarks made by the teenagers, Dutch Muslims accused Şahin of being a Mossad agent. Residents of his primarily immigrant neighborhood circulated a petition to pressure Şahin into moving away permanently.
• A prominent Alabama clergyman, the Rev. Terry Greer, 54, made a brief court appearance on Thursday, after being charged with murder in the slaying of his 52-year-old wife and the attempted murder of their 18-year-old-daughter. Greer is senior pastor of the Gardendale-Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church near Birmingham.
[Image via freethoughtblogs]