TV — Is It Time for a Religious ‘Big Brother’?

The other day, the Archbishop of Canterbury “cautioned” the BBC against scaling back religious programming, saying that religious shows are a bulwark against “ignorance.”

According to the Guardian, Archbishop Justin Welby also described religious formats as “the real reality shows.”

It’s safe to assume that there are thousands of juicy tidbits about religion that the bishop would not like to see broadcast too widely, starting with the fact that the Anglican Church was created for the express purpose of allowing King Henry VIII to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and marry Anne Boleyn. (Henry liked the result so much that he took four more wives after that.) Or the fact that Sir Thomas More, that great English saint, personally prosecuted and imprisoned Christians who dared read the Bible in English rather than Latin, and then targeted the uppity Lutherans for torture and death.

Justin Welby

If that’s among the knowledge Mr. Welby would like the BBC to impart, I’m all for it.

Instead, the good bishop favors the kumbaya approach to religion on the Beeb: soft-hearted programs like ‘Strictly Kosher’ (about Manchester’s Jewish community) and the upbeat ‘Islam: The Untold Story,’ in which asking critical questions would be like breaking wind in church.

He is also quite taken, no doubt, with the long-running BBC sermons ‘Thought for the Day‘ and ‘Songs of Praise,’ and that’s certainly understandable. Who wouldn’t like a bit of free national advertising?

But I’m concerned about relevance and popularity here. If the Church wants some edge-of-your-seat religious fireworks to broaden its appeal, Mr. Welby should consider the TV-show idea offered by Guardian commenter PaulMan, based on ‘Big Brother’:

Proposal for a new reality show: The Big Brethren House. You put in representatives of all the faiths in the UK and let them argue the case for why theirs is the best. Every week, you chuck the weakest one out. The most tolerant are guaranteed to go first, the last left will be the most fanatical.

Yeah, I’d watch that.

[photo by Dominic Lipinski/PA, via the Guardian]

On a Wing and an Angry Prayer

Here’s one of the milder incidents involving devout Muslims and airplanes:

A Saudi domestic flight was delayed for nearly two hours after a passenger caused havoc over the presence of stewardesses who weren’t chaperoned by a male relative, a newspaper in the conservative Gulf Kingdom reported on Tuesday.


The stewardess aboard the flight from the Western Red Sea port of Jeddah to the eastern port of Dammam had just started to serve the Saudi passenger when he asked her whether she was accompanied by a male relative.

“He then asked her angrily: Why are you here without a related male companion…the passenger started shouting and demanded that the plane must not take off before all women without a male companion are taken out,” Okaz Daily said.

And by “taken out,” he didn’t mean “murdered” or “taken out and shot.”

I think.

[image via Arabian Business]

Religious People Score Embarrassingly Low on Knowledge of Their Holy Texts; Atheists Excel

I remember reading about this study when it came out, in 2010, but I’d never seen this illuminating CNN interview with the chief authors. Tip of the hat to reddit.

Also, per the screenshot below, I somehow managed to be the 666th viewer of that YouTube video. Cross yourself!

CNN_ Do agnostics know more than believers? - YouTube

U.S. Monsignor Arsenault Accused of Fraud, More

Msgr. Edward Arsenault, the former top lieutenant of ex-Bishop John McCormack of the New Hampshire diocese, is under investigation for an “inappropriate” adult relationship and for financial shenanigans. Arsenault is thought to have dipped into church funds, the Associated Press reports.

The leader of one of the nation’s top clergy treatment centers resigned Monday over allegations involving an inappropriate adult relationship and misuse of church funds in New Hampshire, where he previously served in numerous leadership positions with the Diocese of Manchester.


The diocese said Monday that it received allegations earlier this year regarding a potentially inappropriate relationship involving Arsenault. During its investigation, the diocese found evidence of improper financial transactions, and reported the matter to the attorney general’s office.

In his New Hampshire post, Arsenault was responsible for handling the clergy sexual abuse crisis and for the church’s new child protection policies. Since 2009, he has been the CEO and president of the Catholic Church’s St. Luke Institute in Maryland, a treatment center for clergy and laity.

St. Luke’s website is incredibly vague about the kinds of problems and afflictions the institution treats, appropriating the empty language of the recovery and twelve-steps industries with gusto.

We see each individual as a whole person, and take a holistic approach to healing that integrates his or her psychological, spiritual and physical wellness. Treatment is tailored to each client’s situation.

Our relationships with our clients and the diocese or religious congregation who entrusts their priest or religious to our care are important to us. Recognizing the importance of local support for those on the path to recovery, our staff seeks to keep leadership informed throughout treatment while also respecting client confidentiality.

On and on it goes, with a complete lack of specificity. The AP says that St. Luke’s

treats priests with a range of mental illnesses and has played a key role in addressing the problem of sexually abusive clergy.

If Arsenault is guilty of the equally vague (for now) allegations, it looks like the monsignor might move from St. Luke’s executive office to one of the patient wards — just as soon as he’s done serving his jail sentence.

[image via wikimedia]

Meanwhile, in Egypt

• Islamist gunmen shoot and kill man who sold alcohol.

• Muslim mother douses her two daughters in kerosene and burns them alive for dating and staying out too late.

Pastor Was Gang Leader; Dies in Cop Shootout

Nigerian cops killed a popular pastor in a shootout with a criminal gang of robbers. No, the pastor wasn’t an innocent victim — he was the gang leader!

I love the quote from the witness on the motorycle.

Pastor John and his gang had raided some buildings in the residential quarters of lecturers of the Cross River College of Education on Saturday, dispossessing their victims of money and valuables. Three other suspected gang members were also arrested after a fierce gun duel that lasted into the night.


After the robbery operation, the gang converged on a drinking spot, not more than three kilometres from the scene of the robbery, to share their loot. …

“When the police came there was an exchange of gun fire and one of them was killed, one escaped while three were arrested,” the motorcyclist [who witnessed the shootout], identified as Dennis Egom, said.

The pastor, Egom said, was well known in the area and was thought to be a real man of God until the incident.

[Photo by J.H. McCrory via L.A. Times Archive]

What’s in a Name?

From the Orlando Sentinel:

Pastor David Loveless has resigned from Discovery Church after admitting to having an affair.


On TV, Christians Boast of Ruining Atheist Lit

In Orange County, FL, Christian groups were allowed to display and leave Bibles and informational literature in public high schools. Atheist groups then obtained permission to leave brochures in the same manner.

In some schools, boxes of atheist brochures were stolen. Watch this video to see a Boone High student named Heather Senfire (I couldn’t verify the spelling of her last name) proudly admit to the TV interviewer that she ruined the remaining atheist literature by pouring water on it. The reason: She didn’t like the stuff. She couldn’t just walk by it without doing something. Quote:

“I mean, I understand that it’s fair, you know — like, Christians come in here with their Bibles — but, you know … we all have our own opinions.”

To her credit, she does seem to squirm a little bit when she catches herself in her own lack of logic. Watch it at 0:42.
Heather might get along great with Joe MacDonald, the Wilkes-Barre vandal who illegally took down an atheist banner from a public space last December. MacDonald faces criminal mischief charges.

God’s Chosen People Choose to Steal NY Bus Stop


Yahweh wanted it that way.

A furious bus driver says two Hasidic scofflaws have moved a city no-parking sign, cementing it into the sidewalk in front of a Williamsburg yeshiva — and squeezing out an MTA bus stop.

“There was no way I could park at the bus stop,” fumed Jamar Perry, who spied the sign heist on Franklin Avenue while driving the B48.

“Two Jewish guys were moving the pole. I saw them resetting it. They had fresh cement and made it look professionally done.”


The relocated sign stands about 30 feet from the bus stop on Franklin just north of Flushing Avenue. It prevents cars from parking in front of Yeshiva Bnos Ahavas Israel so the religious school’s yellow buses can illegally park at the curb.

Fresh concrete can be seen as a yeshiva bus sits near an allegedly relocated sign in Williamsburg.

But what burns Perry, 39 and a four-year MTA employee, is the obstacle course it has created for his riders. Because of the parked yellow buses, city buses can’t pull into the stop and instead must idle in the middle of the street.

“When you’re in the middle of the street, bicyclists and motorcycles fly through there,” he said. “You’re also unable to pick up a wheelchair at that stop because you can’t pull in.”

P.S., May 10: A fellow blogger thinks the New York Post story has holes and may be untrue. Thanks to commenter Hasid for the link.

[Story via Failed Messiah; image by ChrisGoldNY via Flickr]

Believe or Die

For the second time in a month, enormous crowds in Bangladesh took to the streets to demand the death penalty for blaspheming bloggers.

If I wrote this blog in Bangladesh, and you read it there, we’d be in protective custody at best; more likely, we would have been murdered already.

Pew, What Reeks? Indonesia’s Self-Esteem

Heartwarming news from Indonesia.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono tackled the global perception that Islam and democracy could not work together. The President said Indonesia was a good example of how democracy, modernisation and Islam worked hand-in-hand.

Furthermore, the President said Muslims in Indonesia got along well with democracy and modernity. Thus, the Indonesian democratic model could offer valuable lessons to Arab Spring countries, which are now facing similar challenges.


Indonesia is the most populous majority-Muslim nation in the world. 88 percent of Indonesians follow Islam — that’s more than 200 million Muslims.

Keep that in mind as we take a look at how Indonesia fared in the Pew Research poll that just came out.

According to Pew [report in full, pdf], 93% of Indonesian Muslims say they support religious freedom. Two thumbs up!

But in practice, the sentiment is as good as meaningless. The tolerance you would expect from a populace that claims to love religious liberty shrivels to almost nothing when you scratch the surface. Old-fashioned fundamentalism rules the day. Consider:

• 72% of Indonesian Muslims (144 million) want sharia law, and fully half of all respondents want to apply it to everyone, not just to Muslims.
• 45% favor corporal punishment, and 48% favor stoning of adulterers. Lovely. That’s more than 90 million Muslims who want to transport all of us back to the Middle Ages.
• Almost one in five favor the death penalty for Muslims who leave the faith. How’s that for religious freedom?
• 37% (74 million) say they’d rather have a strongman leader than democracy, with 61 telling Pew the opposite. A roughly 6-to-4 ratio of pro-democracy Muslims versus totalitarian-minded ones doesn’t seem to indicate an abiding love of an egalitarian republic.


• 95% of Indonesian Muslims say you have to believe in god to be moral.
• 91% believe drinking alcohol is immoral; 95% say the same about homosexuality. (Don’t be a drunk queer in Yudhoyono’s progressive paradise, or prepare to do a lot of running and ducking.)
• 93% say wives should always obey husbands.

Like Turkey, Indonesia wants to sell itself as a beacon of Islamic modernity. But if these are the realities in an Islamic country that swears to have made a commitment to moderation and democracy, I’ll leave you to conclude what that means for Muslim countries without such a pledge, and without such a lofty impression of itself.

[image via Asia News]

Jehovah’s Love, Shining Through

Twenty-two years ago, when the Jehovah’s Witnesses no longer considered Steph Le Gardener a sufficiently faithful follower, they kicked her out. In a word, she was “disfellowshipped”; and in that narrow, fearful faith, that means she lost her family and friends, because Jehovah’s Witnesses are required to shun ex-members forever. And so:

The last, very brief, conversation I had with my father (who’s now in his 70’s) went something like this, “Dad, I’m flying back for my class reunion, and I’d really like to stop in for a couple of days and check on you and make sure you’re o.k.”

He replied, “Well, are you coming back to ‘The Truth?’” “No, Dad, you know I’m not,” I sighed. “Well, then we have nothing left to discuss.” Click.

watcht copy

Le Gardener is an admin for an ex-Jehovah’s Witness recovery group on Facebook.

Not a week goes by that I don’t hear stories of families torn apart by these abusive shunning practices. What’s worse is that most of the stories involve children. You cannot imagine the number of grandchildren who have never known their grandparents, parents who never see their children, siblings who never see each other. Promotions, graduations, births, deaths, holidays, and more, all missed because families are torn apart by some mysterious code of religious obligation to shun one another.


The irony of the Jehovah’s brigades is that they don’t shun the people who wish to be shunned. Indeed, there are jurisdictions where homeowners who display a sign telling the inveterate proselytizers to get lost can expect a visit from the constabulary.

In 2006, police officers told a British woman, Jean Grove, to remove a sign that read “Our dogs are fed on Jehovah’s Witnesses.” The cops relayed that there had been a complaint from someone who found the sign “distressing, offensive and inappropriate”.