Living (& Dying) in a Country Called ‘The Savior’

One reason I’d have a hard time living in El Salvador is because of its name. Would you want to live in a country called ‘The Savior’? I’ll admit it would be a fine name for a church, a hospital, or possibly a large dildo. But a modern nation?

Another reason why El Salvador doesn’t greatly appeal to me is because its government is exactly what you’d expect of a country with that name — a conservative cabal of overwhelmingly Catholic theocrats, interspersed with a few believers in more liberal “liberation theology.”

The country has, as its patron saint, the Transfigured Jesus, “the Divine Savior of the World,” and believe me: if, by accident of birth, you were a citizen of El Salvador, you’d know it. Vatican-flavored Catholicism is the law of the land, which means, among other things, that abortions are always illegal. Doesn’t matter if the woman was raped. Doesn’t matter if mother and fetus face horrific medical complications. The powers that be will courageously let them die if that’s what it takes, because hey, God (or the Savior) intends it. Que será será.


It could happen soon to a pregnant 22-year-old Salvadorian woman named Beatriz, who has lupus and kidney disease.

Doctors say Beatriz could die if she continues with the pregnancy, but have not yet treated her because they fear that if they end the pregnancy they might be prosecuted under the country’s total ban on abortion…

The country’s penal code states that anyone seeking or carrying out an abortion could be given a long prison sentence. This means both doctors and Beatriz would be at risk of imprisonment if a termination is carried out.

The medical staff is in a bind: the law gives them no power, no leeway, no discretion. There’s no Good Samaritan statute.

Beatriz’s case reminds me of that of a Brazilian nine-year-old who, in 2009, got pregnant with twins after she’d been raped by her father. Her pelvic structure and uterus weren’t developed enough to expel the babies if she’d tried to carry them to full term. Doctors decided to terminate the pregnancy and save the girl’s life.

The Catholic Church in Brazil was livid. Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho reportedly excommunicated the girl’s mother, the doctors, and other people involved in the abortion. (No word on whether the father was punished too.) The way the Church saw it, the moment the daddy’s sacred sperm combined with the girl’s divine eggs to form the Precious Miracle of Life, the prepubescent rape and incest victim was catholically obligated to carry the twins to term — and to die in the process.

Rather than rage about it all, the Monty Python team, decades ago, found a better way to deal with these absurdities (see below).

Of course, neither anger nor comic relief will save Beatriz’ life. Only the pious Salvadorian men in charge, and the Catholic authorities they serve, now hold that awesome power. May they use it wisely.

Mommie Dearest: Mother Beats Seven-Year-Old Son to Death for Failing to Memorize Quran

I’ve wanted my two young daughters to learn to recite the Sneetches, by Dr. Seuss. Also, Tom Lehrer’s the Elements.

The girls do pretty well, but not perfectly. Although they fall short, and frequently miss words and lines, surely it would be a bit unreasonable for me to beat them to death for not performing better.

But change the book, and suddenly the need for kids to study the text deeply and perhaps even learn it by heart is deemed crucial by the most pious of the faithful. So crucial that if junior fails, physical punishment may be in order. And, in rare cases, death.

So I give you … the mother who beat who beat her seven-year-old son to death for failing to learn the Qur’an by heart — and who then burned his body in an attempt to hide her crime.

Upon hearing her sentence (life in jail with the possibility of parole),

Sara Ege, 33, collapsed and had to be helped sobbing from the dock after being told on Monday she would serve 17 years before she could be considered for parole.

Cardiff crown court heard that Ege treated her son Yaseen “like a dog” when he struggled to memorise passages of the holy book of Islam. She beat him on the hands and his body until he collapsed on the floor of his bedroom and died.


Ege used barbecue lighting gel to set fire to the boy’s body to try to conceal what she had done. Initially emergency services believed he had been killed in a fire at the family home in Pontcanna, Cardiff. But a postmortem revealed he had died before the fire had begun and had suffered multiple injuries to his body caused by three months of physical punishment.

Did no one notice? Yes, but no one helped. Every adult in his life failed the boy, starting with his own mother.

A teaching assistant at the boy’s school noticed that his handwriting was deteriorating and discovered he was using his left hand because it was too painful for him to use his right. On another occasion Ege was called into school because [Yaseen] was in too much pain to sit. She moved him to a new school.

And soon it was too late.

Ege initially felt twinges of remorse when she beat Yaseen all over his body. Now and then, she’d promise herself she’d stop, but the anger was a rush — a form of letting go.

As her violence spiraled more and more out of control, Ege’s sense that she was responsible for her own actions gave way to religion’s most delusional and fatal side:

She claimed she had been urged on by the devil and bad spirits. At one point she believed the stick she used to punish her son was possessed by an evil spirit.

She hadn’t done it — the devil had. But the court didn’t buy it, and it’ll be 2030 or later before Sara Ege is a free woman again.


P.S.: It happens among (so-called) Christians too:

Obey the Lord and Beat Your Kid to Death

Baby Starved To Death Because He Would Not Say Amen

Battle of the Books

Now that’s worth a try.

Twitter _ Biblebabble_ Want christians to understand ...

Jesus Saves, But Not From Rape

Dale Richardson will soon be out on bail. After he raises and pays the $25,000 bond, the South Carolina pastor will move back in with his wife, after spending about 22 months behind bars awaiting trial for multiple rapes and abduction. The reverend will be under house arrest, though the judge granted him an exemption for visiting church.

Which is a bit ironic, perhaps, as that’s exactly where Richardson frequently got all rapey.


Until the summer of 2011, Richardson, who graduated from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia (the college founded by evangelical preacher Jerry Falwell), served as pastor at Freedom Free Will Baptist Church in Ladson, South Carolina.

He preached love and kindness — but apparently didn’t practice those things too much.

Richardson’s crimes came to light shortly after he gave a lift to a young woman, in July 2011.

When the 20-year-old tried to get out of the car, he allegedly pulled a gun, bound her hands, covered her head and took her to the grey-blue trailer home behind the church.

The [police] report said he later dropped the woman in a wooded area, threatening to shoot her if she turned around.

Police said the woman was able to identify Richardson from his picture on the church website, which also displays a short biography detailing how he became a Christian and then a pastor.

Richardson has since been charged with two other similar sexual assaults.

He is accused of bringing one of those women to the church trailer. The third woman claims she was raped in a wooded area outside nearby Summerville, which is about 20 miles north west of Charleston.

He is also charged with kidnapping a fourth woman.

The mother of the kidnapping victim went on the local TV news in August 2011 to say her daughter wasn’t raped thanks to the power of prayer:

“When she put her head down in her knees and started praying, ‘Oh, God, please, please, Oh God’ — it shook him up and he let her go,” [she said]. “God moved in a supernatural way from having to go through what the other girls went through.”

So apparently, the other girls just didn’t pray hard enough.

[photo: AP, via the Daily Mail]

Oz Priest: ‘I Saw Church Evidence Tampering’

Insert joke here about priests who blow something other than the whistle. But to Victor Buhagiar, church child abuse is no laughing matter. He has recently quit his post as a Catholic priest over what he sees as an institutional inclination to bury the truth, abandoning the church after a dozen years of leading parishes across Victoria, Australia. The country is in the midst of a huge and unprecedented government inquiry into church-based child abuse.

Buhagiar says he personally saw unethical attempts by church authorities to prevent damaging information from coming out.

Buhagiar claims it has became impossible to continue after he found out the Church was deleting records relating to child sexual abuse.

“I saw the Archbishop and I heard the Archbishop telling the secretary to turn off the recorder,” Buhagiar said.


Alarm bells first began to ring for Buhagiar at a council meeting of the state’s most powerful priests last April. “As soon as the recording was turned off, the Archbishop started talking about the sex abuse situation,” Buhagiar said. …

“After that meeting I made enquiries as to why the recorder was turned off at that particular moment. Again, whoever I asked said to me, I do not remember, when I pushed, they said so that no names are mentioned,” Buhagiar said.

“I suspect the recorder was turned off to minimise the possibility of investigators finding evidence that can be useful to the inquiry, or to the Royal Commission; to create like a black hole, an empty space that when the investigators try to see how the situation evolved during the last 10 years or so, they seem to find nothing.”

It’s too late for that. The cat is already out of the bag, and the church will have a lot of explaining to do:

The Royal Commission estimates there are 5000 people waiting for their chance to give evidence against the Catholic Church and other institutions.

[image via Today Tonight]

Martin Luther King Jr., Thief

Earlier this month, France’s top rabbi Gilles Bernheim resigned, brought down by a plagiarism scandal of his own making (see here and here and here). Geoffrey Alderman, in the Jewish Chronicle online, makes a very good point when, after roundly condemning Bernheim for his thievery, he asks

why one serial plagiarist has been exposed and disgraced, while another has been canonized.

Alderman says he knows a famous theologian who never repented and got away with repeated acts of plagiarism — and so do you.

That theologian is Martin Luther King Jr, the celebrated civil rights activist who was infamously assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, 45 years ago this month.

King … was not just a plagiarist. He was an habitual plagiarist. His Boston University PhD, awarded in 1955, contained numerous plagiarized passages — a conclusion endorsed by a board of inquiry established by that university some years later. To those of you interested in learning more about this, I recommend Plagiarism & The Culture War, a meticulous exposé of King by Theodore Pappas from 1994. Pappas reproduces, side-by-side, passages from King’s PhD and from the work of a fellow Boston University student, whose doctoral dissertation had been approved in 1952.


King went on to publish articles and books that incorporated — without attribution — passages lifted from the works of others.

I knew of King’s well-deserved reputation as a serial adulterer, but the plagiarism allegations were new to me. They shouldn’t have been, I suppose, because as it turns out, King’s thievery is a well-established fact. Wikipedia delicately refers to “authorship issues” surrounding the civil-rights hero — but stripped of euphemisms, King’s behavior was clearly pretty disgusting:

During the late 1980s, as [King’s personal] papers were being organized and catalogued, the staff of the project discovered that King’s doctoral dissertation at Boston University, titled A Comparison of the Conception of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman, included large sections from a dissertation written by another student (Jack Boozer) three years earlier at Boston University.

As Clayborne Carson, director of the King Papers Project at Stanford University, has written, “instances of textual appropriation can be seen in his earliest extant writings as well as his dissertation. The pattern is also noticeable in his speeches and sermons throughout his career.”

Boston University, where King received his Ph.D. in systematic theology, conducted an investigation that found he plagiarized major portions of his doctoral thesis from various other authors who wrote about the topic.

According to civil rights historian Ralph E. Luker, who worked on the King Papers Project directing the research on King’s early life, King’s paper The Chief Characteristics and Doctrines of Mahayana Buddhism was taken almost entirely from secondary sources. [Luker] writes: “Moreover, the farther King went in his academic career, the more deeply ingrained the patterns of borrowing language without clear attribution became. Thus, the plagiarism in his dissertation seemed to be, by then, the product of his long-established practice.”

Even after the extent of King’s academic fraud came to light, Boston University never revoked his doctorate. All the school did was append a letter to his dissertation in the university library, noting the plagiarism.

This old Stranglers song sums it up for me.

[photo of Martin Luther King via Charisma News]

Making Amends, Making A New Movie: Weepy Dutch ‘Fitna’ Blasphemer Converts to Islam

Arnoud van Doorn, who came to modest prominence as a Dutch politician for the anti-immigration / anti-Islam PVV party, had a remarkable change of heart recently. He has seen the light, the truth, and the way — and it is Islam, van Doorn has decided.

In other words, the Dutchman is a convert to the very religion he justifiably made a career out of criticizing and lampooning.

Formerly a close associate of PVV head honcho Geert Wilders, with whom he made the 16-minute movie Fitna (below) to show that Islam is an inherently violent faith, van Doorn now distances himself from Wilders, the PVV, and Fitna.

Last month, when he broke the news of his conversion with a Tweet that said “there is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his Prophet,” most people thought it was a prank, some comedy performance whose punchline would soon be revealed. But if van Doorn is playing a hoax on us, he has the stamina — and the cojones — of a prize bull camel.

Over the past couple of days, the newly-minted Dutch Muslim visited the prophet Mohammed’s mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia, and then traveled on to Mecca for meetings with Islamic officials who presented him with a deluxe copy of the Qur’an. According to local media, van Doorn not only “wept in repentance” for his “evil deeds”; he also shed “tears of remorse.”

Yesterday, the Saudi Gazette published this photo of van Doorn:


The caption reads:

Sheikh Abdulrahman Al-Sudais, head of the Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, delivers a copy of the Holy Qur’an to Arnoud Van Doorn during a reception in Makkah on Sunday as Shahzad Muhammad (right), head of the Canadian Dawa Association (CDA), looks on.

Van Doorn understands people’s surprise over his 180-degree turn, he told Al-Jazeera.

“In my own close circle people have known that I have been actively researching the Qur’an, Hadith, Sunnah and other writings for almost a year now. In addition, I have had numerous conversations with Muslims about the religion.” …

“I have heard so many negative stories about Islam, but I am not a person who follows opinions of others without doing my own research,” he said. “Therefore, I have actually started to deepen my knowledge of Islam out of curiosity.”

After that, there was more crying (emotionally, van Doorn may well be the Dutch twin of perennially teary House Speaker John Boehner):

“I couldn’t control my feelings when I stood in front of the grave of the Prophet (pbuh) as well as in Rawdah Sharif, near the pulpit used by the Prophet (pbuh). When I prayed at Rawdah Sharaif [Mohammed’s mosque, TF], my eyes were full of tears as I had the feeling that I am in a part of the Paradise.”

But that’s not all. Van Doorn announced that he will soon make another movie: a positive and reverential one about the Muslim warrior-prophet he has come to love. It’ll be the antithesis of this:

The Moral Compass team will let you know when his exciting new film debuts. We’re sure there won’t be a dry eye in the house, least of all van Doorn’s.

Is Church ‘Good For You’? Jury Still Out.

Quite the statement by an op-ed contributor to the New York Times:

One of the most striking scientific discoveries about religion in recent years is that going to church weekly is good for you.

That’s a line from a short essay the Times published yesterday, called “The Benefits of Church.”

The term “scientific discovery” conjures up hard science — the ones and zeros of digital data, rock-solid math, the incontrovertible observations of physics — and that’s not at all what we’re looking at here. What author T.M. Luhrmann (photo) claims as the scientific truth is in fact a squishy, shapeshifting approximation of it, that can change completely depending on whom you ask, what religion they adhere to, what type of god they believe in, and even where they live. More on that in a minute.


Religious attendance — at least, religiosity — boosts the immune system and decreases blood pressure. It may add as much as two to three years to your life. The reason for this is not entirely clear.

But Luhrmann gamely gives it a go:

Regular church attendees drink less, smoke less, use fewer recreational drugs and are less sexually promiscuous than others.

Exactly. And those behaviors have nothing to do with church (or religion) per se. Refraining from promiscuity, booze, and drugs bestows likely health benefits that are also enjoyed by people who choose these things without ever setting foot inside a church.

Luhrmann also believes in the life-lengthening religious power of what she calls “absorption,” which she describes as

the capacity to be caught up in your imagination, in a way you enjoy. What I saw in church as an anthropological observer was that people were encouraged to listen to God in their minds, but only to pay attention to mental experiences that were in accord with what they took to be God’s character, which they took to be good. I saw that people were able to learn to experience God in this way, and that those who were able to experience a loving God vividly were healthier — at least, as judged by a standardized psychiatric scale.

Fine, but I’d wager that non-believers who meditate, or who frequently immerse themselves in the comfort of a quiet forest spot or a beautiful night sky, will experience the same effect. Absorption can even come from losing yourself in poetry, art, or music.

As for that psychiatric scale to which Luhrmann refers, maybe we can spare a thought for the fact that a belief in the classical, wrathful Christian god is substantially correlated with different types of mental illness, as a team of psychologists at Marymount Manhattan College found recently. I wrote about it here. Are those believers healthier, and will they live longer? I doubt it.

Further putting the kibosh on Luhrmann’s theory is that church, and religious faith in general, is often highly stressful for believers. For instance, the less flexible of religious faiths (such as Wahhabi Islam, hard-line Christian evangelism, and conservative Catholicism) tend to do a number on young people, gay or straight, who are intelligent and courageous enough to ask question. Those with probing attitudes are typically frowned upon by their elders and by many of their less-critical peers, which often leaves them socially unmoored and ‘lost’ for a number of years, while they work through religious issues. Surely such a state of mind is not a contributor to great health.

Neither, by the way, is living in any society, from the West Bank to Myanmar to Northern Ireland, where there is a lot of religious hatred, and where people must frequently fear for their safety. (In that same vein: If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you probably sense, as do I, that the rapists, thieves, and murderers who populate it neither spread nor enjoy inner peace and calm.)

Even in the relatively strife-free parts of the West, it’s clear that outsized guilt over sexual and other matters is part and parcel of much of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Guilt cannot be conducive to overall health, I should think.

Finally, there’s the quality-of-life issue. I’d rather enjoy myself thoroughly, and live two or three or even ten years shorter, than spend my life on my knees praying to a figment of the collective imagination, and carefully hewing to the fingerwagging tenets of a buzzkill faith.

‘Glory,’ a Zombie Woman, Excites the Faithful

An apparent case of mistaken identity in Tanzania has caused horror and morbid curiosity among locals, who claim it is proof that people can rise from the dead.

A woman who many believe died and was buried five years ago was seen again the other day. (I guess we could say she resurfaced.)


She has been admitted to a hospital’s intensive care unit to help keep out the spooked and the curious. Initially, the ex-corpse had been given standard hospital accommodations, but the medical facility soon found itself under siege from throngs of people trying to get a closer look to the ostensible zombie.

Though the woman, who formally remains unnamed as family members haven’t yet shown up to confirm her identity, is unable or unwilling to speak, she does sing and chant, but only at night, says physician Gasper Nduasinde, a member of the hospital’s medical team. After dark, he says, she bursts out in religious songs and prayers.

The one time she did manage to squawk a word in an attempted conversation, it was to say that her name is Utukufu  — “Glory.”

[T-shirt via Teenormous]

Islamist Plotters Sentenced in Toy-Car Attack

It was a plan that seemed to come straight out of the U.K. comedy Four Lions, a movie about hapless homegrown jihadists (recommended). Or maybe it was inspired by the Stonehenge scene in This is Spinal Tap (watch the funny at 2m14s).

But this was no fiction: Islamist would-be terrorists in Britain were sentenced to extended jail time for plotting an attack on British reserve troops by using a remote-controlled toy car packed with explosives.

Investigators said Thursday Britain’s domestic spy agency of MI5 and police were able to stop Zahid Iqbal, Mohammed Sharfaraz Ahmed, Umar Arshad and Syed Farhan Hussain before they could launch the deadly attack.


Iqbal and Ahmed were given extended sentences of 16 years and 3 months, which means they will be in jail for more than 11 years and put on parole for the rest of the time. Arshad was sentenced to more than six years in jail, while Hussain received more than five years. …

The men were recorded discussing sending a remote-controlled toy car carrying a homemade bomb under the gates of an army reservist center in Luton, and speaking of using instructions in an al-Qaida manual to make an improvised explosive device.

[perp photos via the Washington Post]

Pastor Nicks Church Member’s Knickers ‘To Pray’

A thieving pastor’s pure intentions became clear after he was caught with a congregant’s missing panties and bra: He explained that he needed them to pray for her.

The police in Lagos [Nigeria] on Monday arraigned a 25-year-old pastor, Tommy Issachar, over an alleged stealing of a female church  member’s underwear and N10,000 ($63) cash.


[The prosecutor] said that the accused stole two pants, one bra and a cash sum of N10,000 belonging to Mrs Gift Bassey.

“The accused, a pastor of All Nations Evangelical Church, Oshodi, was invited to a programme at the headquarters of the church which was the complainant’s church. The complainant and her husband accommodated him (pastor) in their house for three nights to conduct a special prayer session related to her husband’s business,” he said. …

“At first, the accused denied taking those underwears but later confessed that he actually took them. He said that he wanted to use them to pray for her, but denied taking the money,” the prosecutor said.

After the victim notified the police, the pastor allegedly sent her a series of text messages threatening to “eliminate” her.

[image via Sharenator]

Slut Shaming of the Third Kind

A group of self-styled modesty enforcers in Kenya attacked a women for wearing a skirt that they deemed too short; and to show their horror of female flesh, they forcibly stripped her naked and ripped up every last bit of clothing she was wearing.

The men attacked the woman claiming that she was dressed inappropriately. The woman was spotted walking on the street in Kitengela, a town in Kenya.


The angry mob claimed the dress was too short. They argued with the woman to change into something more appropriate. When the woman ignored their request the men attacked her and undressed her.

The men then ripped her clothing apart so she could not put them back on, claiming that “it was better for her to go naked because her intentions were clear,” according to press reports in Kenya. …

“Most women in the town of Kitengela dress modestly, and everyone is expected to adhere to their standards,” [said witness] Aminah Wangai.

The reports do not specify the religion of the attackers, but don’t point your finger at the usual suspects just yet. Kenya is overwhelmingly Christian  — appr. 83% of the population — and only 11 percent Muslim.

[image via Glogster]