Pakistani Taliban Targets Secularist Candidates

That’s one way to win an election: kill the opposition’s candidates, with Allah’s presumed blessing.

ISLAMABAD — Militants targeted candidates of two of Pakistan’s leading secular political parties, killing one, after the Pakistani Taliban warned that they would attack secular groups in the run-up to national elections on May 11. …

The Taliban claimed responsibility for Thursday’s killing of Fakhrul Islam, a candidate for the Sindh provincial parliament from the city of Hyderabad, representing the Muttahida Qaumi Movement. The MQM, the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Awami National Party have been identified by the Taliban in threats against secular groups. Also on Thursday, an ANP lawmaker running for re-election survived a bombing on the outskirts of the northwestern city of Peshawar.

Cutting-Edge Lawmaking: As of Today, Canadian Sikhs May Carry Religious Swords in Court

Canada bows to its religious minorities over and over, like a dipping bird. Two days ago, we learned that Muslims in Toronto successfully demanded that girls’ swim lessons, in public pools all over the city, may not be watched by men — not even by the fathers of the girls in question. Now, from British Columbia, comes word that as of today, it’s legal for Sikhs to wear small religious swords in court.

Know of any other group that is allowed to carry deadly weapons in courtrooms?

As of Friday, Amritdhara Khalsa Sikhs will be able to wear their kirpans —  small stylized swords, part of their five articles of faith — when visiting public areas of a courthouse.


“It’s a relief,” said Sukhvinder Kaur Vinning, executive director of the  World Sikh Organization of Canada. “I can focus on being a good civic citizen and I don’t have to worry about compromising my faith, so that’s a huge burden that’s been lifted.”

Having to testify in court can be a stressful situation and, for Sikhs, having to remove the kirpan made it worse, said Vinning. “To take it off, that’s a painful thing to ask,” she said. “It eats away at a person.” …

Similar kirpan accommodation policies already exist in the Parliament of Canada, as well as in Alberta and Toronto courthouses.

Just so we’re clear, I have absolutely nothing against Sikhs and don’t fear them in the slightest, though it should be fair to point out that just like other groups of believers, they’ve not always been, let’s say, unfailingly kind. Just so we’re even clearer, I’m hardly a xenophobe. In fact, I’m one of the xenoi:

• a first-generation immigrant to the U.S.
• a member of a distrusted, much-maligned minority
• the father of two adopted children from Asia
• not a native speaker of English

Yet I am also one hundred percent OK with the age-old principle that in Rome, we do as the Romans do. I expect no special accommodations for my culture of origin, nor for my race or heritage, nor for my daughters’ race and their heritage, nor for our beliefs (that goes for my wife’s  beliefs — Christian — and for mine — secular).

Were lawmakers to carve out special dispensations for my tribe, allowing us to do things that are forbidden to others, I would reject the gesture as unwanted pandering; and I would wonder what had happened to my adopted country’s professed dedication to equal treatment under the law.

[photo via vancouverdesi]

Eew, Eel! Don’t Tell the Anti-Gay-Marriage Crowd

I’ve frequently heard from rightwing Christians that if we let men marry men, and women marry women, we’ll have to let them marry chickens and dogs too, and soon they’ll all be having butt sex with hippos, or something.

Here’s a cartoon that yuks it up in that regard. Pretty sure I recognize the hand of the reliably dreadful New York Post cartoonist Sean Delonas.

Delonas artoon

In this charming worldview, gay people are on a par with molesters of livestock; and the notion of equal rights for all men and women is as preposterous as a sheep wearing a bridal veil.

The idea that this is not an intellectually legitimate way of looking at the issue was only slightly undermined the other day, when a tellingly unmarried 39-year-old man in southern China had relations with an eel. That is, he introduced the eel’s head to his rectum, and there was, let’s say, a love connection. So much so that the eel, perhaps hungry for a post-coital snack, ate through his BFF’s colon, and doctors had to operate. Here’s the story. And via the Huffington Post, here’s a picture of the eel, who, we’re told, didn’t survive the extraction:

FUNNY EELING - Porn stunt With Live Eel Backfires

Please nobody tell Sean Delonas or the Post, or we’ll never hear the end of it.

Thomas More: Inquisitor, Torturer, Killer, Saint

I noted with a mix of fascination and amusement that the fraud-loving priest in my previous post works at a church named for Sir Thomas More, the 16th-century lawyer, statesman, and enforcer of orthodoxy. There are hundreds upon hundreds of Catholic churches that bear More’s name.

Catholics revere Sir Thomas as a martyr because he was beheaded for refusing to say that the authority of King Henry VIII superseded that of the Pope. Even in secular and humanist circles, More is often given a measure of respect, partly for his collaboration with the Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus, and partly because of how More is famously portrayed in the Oscar-winning movie A Man For All Seasons.


What neither group ever seems keen to acknowledge is that Sir Thomas was also a man who so abhorred Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation that he burned Lutherans at the stake with great relish. One of More’s motives for hating the Protestant heretics was that they dared to read the New Testament in English rather than Latin, which was against the law in England at the time.

The historian and religious scholar James Wood reminds us that Thomas More, far from being the consummate “man of conscience,” was

…the heretic hunter of the mid-1520s, who personally broke into Lutherans’ homes and sent men to the stake, … [and who] would punish religious dissent not only with “displeasant” words but with state violence.

Hyperbole? Hardly. The Life of Thomas More by Peter Ackroyd, one of the more positive More biographies, recounts that when Sir Thomas learned that John Tewkesbury, a London leather-seller, secretly possessed banned books, he had the man burned alive. After the execution, More expressed his satisfaction: “[He] burned as there was neuer wretche I wene better worthy.” More cherished the image of Tewkesbury burning not just on earth, but in hell, “an hote fyrebronde burnynge at hys bakke, that all the water in the worlde wyll neuer be able to quenche.”

Richard Marius, an American scholar of the Reformation and the author of Thomas More, A Biography, concludes that More, notwithstanding his earlier wanderings through humanism, was eager to exterminate Protestants,

and while he was in office he did everything in his power to bring that extermination to pass. That he did not succeed in becoming England’s Torquemada was a consequence of the king’s quarrel with the pope and not a result of any quality of mercy that stirred through More’s own heart.

Per James Wood, here is some of More’s handiwork:

With the help of John Stokesley, the Bishop of London, More personally broke into the houses of suspected heretics, arresting them on the spot and sometimes interrogating them in his own home. He imprisoned one man in the porter’s lodge of his house, and had him put in the stocks. He raided the home of a businessman called John Petyt, who was suspected of financing [protestant Bible translator William] Tyndale; Petyt died in the Tower. Six rebellious Oxford students were kept for months in a fish cellar; three of them died in prison. More was now a spiritual detective, a policeman in a hair shirt, engaged in “what would now be called surveillance and entrapment among the leather-sellers, tailors, fishmongers and drapers of London.” Six protesters were burned under More’s chancellorship, and perhaps forty were imprisoned.

Next time you hear the adjective catholic (small c) used in the sense of ‘shifty,’ ‘evasive,’ ‘disingenuous,’ think of Thomas More, and think of this mind-crushing passage from Wood’s essay:

More attempted to answer the charge of the reformers that it was not Christian for the church to burn heretics. The church did not burn people, replied More; the state burned them. This was strictly true, because the ecclesiastical courts tried heretics and the state courts sentenced them. But More’s language is disingenuous. The church, he writes, would never want to kill anyone. “It is not the clergy that laboreth to have them punished to death.” The “spiritual law” is “good, reasonable, piteous, and charitable, and nothing desiring the death of any therein.” The church asks the heretic to repent; if he does not, the church excommunicates him, at which point “the clergy giveth knowledge to the temporalty, not exhorting the prince, or any man else, either, to kill him or to punish him.” The church does not urge anyone to punish the heretic; it “leaveth him to the secular hand, and forsaketh him.”


To Wood, More was

cruel in punishment, evasive in argument, lusty for power, and repressive in politics. He betrayed Christianity when he led it so violently into court politics, and he betrayed politics when he surrendered it so meekly to the defense of Catholicism.

The British historical biographer Jasper Ridley was even less charitable in his final assessment of Sir Thomas, calling him “a particularly nasty sadomasochistic pervert.”

The Catholic world had four or five centuries to come to its senses about More, but never did. In 1929, the Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton fawned over him in The Fame of Blessed Thomas Moore:

Blessed Thomas More is more important at this moment than at any moment since his death, even perhaps the great moment of his dying; but he is not quite so important as he will be in about a hundred years’ time.

The Vatican agreed that More was a man worthy of our highest adulation. In May of 1935, Pope Pius XI officially declared Sir Thomas a saint.

In October of 2000, Pope John Paul II did his part in trying to make Chesterton’s prediction come true. The pontiff wrote in an apostolic letter that More had “served not power but the supreme ideal of justice,” and lauded him for “unfailing moral integrity.”

Pope John Paul then officially declared  Sir Thomas the patron saint of Catholic statesmen and politicians; and as it concerns one thoroughly disreputable group, that is one honor on which His Holiness and I can agree.

[top image via wikimedia; bottom image by Simon_K via flickr]

Priest Created Fake Employee to Pocket Salary

The FBI has taken over a police investigation into the shady financial dealings of the Rev. Edward Belczak, of Thomas More Catholic Church in Troy, Michigan. The 67-year-old priest stands accused of having “mishandled” more than $400,000 in church money. If the current allegations are any guide, “mishandled” is a euphemism for “stolen.”

Edward Belczak

Father Belczak’s many alleged frauds range from taking excess compensation he wasn’t entitled to, to inventing an employee so that he (Belczak) could pocket the ghost worker’s salary.

Full story here.

[photo via the Oakland Press]

Coming Together For Jesus: Semen-Spraying Pastor Knocks Up Six of His Flock

Pastor Derek Ngulube from Zimbabwe — we’ll just call him pastor Lube from now on — has been spreading the love. The Rev. Lube, you see, wasn’t too concerned about following the commandment against coveting thy neighbor’s wife. He decided to concentrate instead on Genesis 1:28, God’s instruction to “be fruitful and multiply.”

And multiply he did. In one year, pastor Lube got six married women in his congregation pregnant, according to this story from Spy Ghana. The shocked church elders decided to expel him.

“What he did is just disgraceful and a person like him could not be allowed to be part of a religious institution because what he did goes against all that Christianity stands for,” said a source.

Contacted for comment, Pastor Ngulube said he was sorry. “I feel bad and I want to say I am very sorry for what I did. If I could be given another chance I wouldn’t repeat the mistake.”

Ministry and Revolting Cocks: a match made in Heaven?

Ministry and Revolting Cocks: a match made in Heaven?

The account of the Rev. Lube’s enthusiastic fornication is my favorite clergyman-related sex story so far this year. It’s almost good enough to dethrone the record holder from last year, the Rev. Robert C. Christian from Spokane, WA.

Remember him? A pastor and sheriff’s chaplain, Christian, wearing a pastel pink and orange skirt, showed up unannounced at the home of a female parishioner. His attire struck the woman as odd, but he explained it by saying he’d lost a bet. I’ll let the local newspaper take it from here.

The woman invited Christian in and he asked to use the bathroom. He emerged from the room after an extended period and sat down at the dining room table for coffee. It was then the woman saw Christian’s erect penis sticking out the front of the button-up skirt, police allege. The victim said her cultural beliefs prevent her from making allegations against people in positions of authority, so she said nothing to Christian.

He was later apprehended anyway after she spilled the beans to a fellow pastor, who then reported Christian to the police. Best line from the story:

Christian’s wife told detectives that she and her husband are “out-of-the-box thinkers” who like to do fun things to get attention for the church.

Mission accomplished.

Very Very Christian of You

Brazilian pastor Marco Feliciano (40), who we’ve featured on Moral Compass before, is back in the news. This time he’s spreading Jesus’s love by maligning Beatle John Lennon, who was shot and killed in New York in 1980. Feliciano is pro-life — but pro-death when it comes to heathens like the Beatle peacenik.

John Lennon died because he offended God by suggesting that the Beatles were more famous than Jesus Christ, according to a Brazilian pastor.

“The Bible says God does not let this type of offense go unpunished,” evangelical pastor Marco Feliciano said in remarks published by local media on Tuesday and gleaned from a video of a sermon he made at his church in 2005.

Mr Feliciano, who is facing growing calls to resign from the Brazilian Congress’ human rights panel over his disparaging comments about gays, women and blacks, also said he would have liked to see the body of Lennon when the English pop star was shot dead in December 1980.


“I would have liked to be there the day they discovered his body, I would have lifted the cloth which covered him and would have told him: Excuse me, John, but this first shot is in the name of the Father, this one is in the name of the Son and that one in the name of the Holy Spirit.”

Feliciano was seven when Lennon was murdered. The image of a seven-year-old lifting the sheet from Lennon’s body, then addressing the corpse with holier-than-thou spite and glee, is probably not conducive to returning Brazilians to the churches they’ve been abandoning at an ever-increasing rate. Quoted in the New York Times,

Andrew Chesnut, an expert on Latin American religions at Virginia Commonwealth University, said that the fastest-growing segment in Brazil’s religious landscape may now be nonbelievers and people unaffiliated with any church, making up as much as 15 percent of the population. For a country that as recently as 1980 had negligible levels of people saying they were atheists, this development points to big shifts in society.

Let’s see if ragging on dead secular peacemakers can reverse the trend, shall we?

[image via spinner]

A Milestone and an Apology

The great news: In the 24-hour period between 4 p.m. yesterday and today, Moral Compass had roughly 126,000 page views — a new one-day record!

The so-so news: Despite the site having moved to a new, higher-capacity server this past weekend, some visitors still experienced temporary delays last night, when traffic peaked and the server began to choke. Sorry about that. We did digital triage as best we could.

The idea is to give swift 24-7 accessibility to all comers, preferably without shelling out thousands of dollars a year for an even wider data pipeline. (Note: I’m paying for Moral Compass myself, although some server capacity and all tech support is donated by a wonderful anonymous benefactor a few states away).

Thank you for bearing with us through these early-stage growing pains. I imagine that by the summer, we’ll have a modest revenue stream going in order to offset our operational expenses. We’re considering selling small ads, placing affiliate-marketing links, and/or perhaps asking for web donations from frequent readers. That revenue should help us stay up and running.

We’re thrilled that you’re here. Please bookmark this page if you haven’t already (or add Moral Compass to your newsreader). You can also join us on Facebook to learn of new posts the moment they are published. Thanks!

Hiring a New Pastor? Consider a Criminal!

Sometimes, organized religion looks for all the world like a rehabilitation racket for criminals.

Consider: Ex-cons with long criminal records, including assault and murder, can conveniently declare themselves reborn. Upon their conversion and release, the most convincing ones are instantly regarded as great pastor material by Christians whose penchant for forgiveness is as naive as it is fatal. The latest example:

The former pastor of the Cowboy Church of Marshall County was convicted Friday of sexual assault in Navarro County, Texas, and sentenced to 50 years in prison, a district attorney said.


Mark Allen Green, 42 [photo], was convicted of “continuous sexual assault of a child,” a Texas charge for ongoing crimes, for incidents involving a 13-year-old girl, said Lowell Thompson, criminal district attorney for Navarro County.

Green had served several prison sentences in Texas before being hired as pastor of the church in Albertville, according to a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Green had been in prison there “multiple times” on theft and burglary charges, with his latest sentence beginning in 2006, she said. [emphasis added]

Just the guy you want to go see in church every Sunday, preaching about right and wrong.

Look, I love the concept of forgiveness, in principle. I’m just not a fan of throwing caution to the wind and putting innocents in harm’s way. Christians think forgiveness is a feature of their faith; as I’ve argued before, I think it may be a bug instead.

For instance, two weeks ago, we learned of the guilty plea of John D. White, a mid-Michigan minister charged with killing a young woman in her mobile home. White is a violent ex-con who only needed to profess a faith in Jesus to be rehabilitated and employed as pastor — by a flock of well-intentioned if over-credulous forgiveness junkies.

He’s an ex-convict who settled outside Mt. Pleasant and became pastor of a tiny church, Christ Community Fellowship. Police say he confessed to killing 24-year-old Rebekah Gay on Oct. 31 as part of a sexual fantasy [necrophilia].

In 2007, [White had been] released from prison, after serving nearly 12 years for manslaughter in the death of a 26-year-old woman in Kalamazoo County, according to the Michigan Corrections Department. He had previously been sentenced to probation for choking and stabbing a 17-year-old Battle Creek girl in 1981. [emphasis added]

There’s nothing wrong with forgiving others and moving on. I’ve done it plenty of times (and I keenly appreciate that I’ve been the recipient of people’s forgiveness, too). But churches appointing known rapists and murderers as their clergy … sorry, that’s just another reason why people like me avoid the pews, and so-called holy men, on any day of the week that ends in a y.

NC Legislator Calls Praying to Allah ‘Terrorism’

Man! I’m an atheist and I’m nowhere near this harsh.

In an email exchange with a constituent, Republican state Rep. Michele Presnell of Burnsville was asked whether she was comfortable with a prayer to Allah before a legislative meeting. Presnell responded: “No, I do not condone terrorism.”

The first-year lawmaker who represents a district in the North Carolina mountains is a co-sponsor of House resolution 494, a [now withdrawn] measure asserting that North Carolina can establish a state religion.

Rabbi With Sense of Shame Leaves One Without

Telling lies is dirty work. Being asked to lie on someone else’s behalf is harder still. Not everybody can — or wants to — do it.

The spokesman for the chief rabbi of France, who has refused to quit his post despite admitting to plagiarism and lying about his qualifications, quit himself on Wednesday, French news agencies reported.

The spokesman, Rabbi Moché Lewin, did not give an explanation for leaving his job and did not comment on the case of the chief rabbi, Gilles Bernheim, though he praised him for his work in creating “a Judaism of openness.”

bernheim again

Openness in all respects, except for coming clean about his thievery and deception. Quick recap:

• Bernheim plagiarized parts of a book;
• smeared the deceased writer he plagiarized from, by saying the dead guy had copied him;
• lied about it until the lie was exposed in the press;
• without giving particulars, then cowardly blamed the affair on an assistant or ghostwriter who had supposedly hoodwinked him (notice a pattern here?);
• lied about having earned a particular Sorbonne University degree; and
• plagiarized an essay on the immorality of gay relationships.

There are credible allegations of additional literary theft on Bernheim’s part. We’ll find out more, I’m sure.

Yesterday, Bernheim went on Radio Shalom and opined that he had made “mistakes,” but had not not “committed fault in the exercise of my functions.”

“To resign,” he said, “would be an act of vanity and desertion.”

To resign would be an act of vanity? Are you sure you’re familiar with the definition of vanity, rabbi? Unlike you, I’m not paid to be a beacon of moral authority, so please forgive me, but I would have thought staying might be more vain.

Staying, in this case, is the mark of a man with an inflated sense of self-worth who values his own interest more than his followers’. And that man, possibly for years to come, will make those followers gaze in pained embarrassment at a false accuser / con man / thief / fabulist / liar who still claims the authority to tell other people about right and wrong.

Dommage, ça.


UPDATE, Friday morning: He’s gone.

[image via]

Numerology Inspires Butchering Buddhists

In holy books, numbers are rarely considered to be utilitarian placemarkers. Religion has a way of making believers try to infuse numbers with meaning. Take the Quran (please). Its followers say that the perfection of the book is partly in the mathematical relationships that supposedly point to its divine origin. Like so:

The miracle of the Qur’an is a phenomenal mathematical relationship of the chapters, verses, words and the numbers in the holy Qur’an. For example the Qur’an has 114 chapters (19X6), The first verse 1:1 known as “Bism’allah” consists of 19 letters. The total number of verses in the Qur’an is 6346, or 19 x 334.The “Bism’allah” occurs in the Qur’an 114 times (19 x 6), despite its conspicuous absence from Chapter 9. The famous first revelation ( 96:1-5 ) consists of 19 words. This 19-worded first revelation consists of 76 letters, & 76 = 19 x 4.

Et cetera. Never mind that you can find such links in any text with an excessive amount of numbered order. The more chapters and subchapters and footnotes, the more “meaning” there is to infer from the voluminous mathematical connections you can make between those numbered parts. It’s both tedious and silly (to a language-loving rightbrainer like me, at least), but that’s never stopped people from doing it. Some Bible aficionados think that there’s something numerically revealing about their book too:

Dark and unwholesome things are associated with 13 or multiples of 13. Belial – the personification of evil has a numerical equivalent of 78 – 13 x 6. All the famines and epidemics have been somehow associated with the number 13.


Disappointingly, Buddhists play the same games — at least a lot of the ones in Myanmar do, the saintly ones who’ve been rampaging through Muslim neighborhoods to commit torture and murder and arson. Last month, in the Meiktila area alone, sectarian violence by nationalist Buddhists claimed some 40 Muslim lives and 800 buildings, and it displaced roughly 8,000 people. What caused the blood orgy? One part of the answer is a book. With numbers. From the Atlantic:

One number has become indelibly associated with these attacks — 969, a “grassroots” Buddhist nationalist movement that many claim is supported by elements within the military. While 969’s unofficial leaders claim that the movement is a non-violent response to a Buddhist society under strain from “foreign” influence, its rhetoric brings to mind the kind of language associated with the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century.

969 has its ideological roots in a book written in the late 1990s by U Kyaw Lwin, a functionary in the ministry of religious affairs, and its precepts are rooted in a traditional belief in numerology. Across South Asia, Muslims represent the phrase bismillah-ir-rahman-ir-rahim, or “In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate and Merciful,” with the number 786, and businesses display the number to indicate that they are Muslim-owned. 969’s proponents see this as evidence of a Muslim plot to conquer Burma in the 21st century, based on the implausible premise that 7 plus 8 plus 6 is equal to 21. The number 969 is intended be 786’s cosmological opposite, and represents the “three jewels:” the nine attributes of the Buddha, the six attributes of his teachings, and the nine attributes of the Sangha, or monastic order. …

The figure often identified as the de-facto leader of 969 is a monk named Ashin Wirathu [photo, front], who was jailed in 2003 for inciting religious conflict and released as part of a general amnesty in January 2012. The content of his sermons, distributed via DVDs he produces at his monastery in Mandalay, would not be out of place at the Nuremberg rallies.

When Westerners speak of Islam as the religion of peace, the phrase usually drips with sarcasm, and rightly so. But we tend to think of Buddhists as the real peace-bringers — non-violent and kind and humble. Considering the recent Myanmar spectacle of bloodthirsty saffron-robed Buddhist monks wielding knives and hunting down Muslims, that picture may need a little adjusting.


[image via BBC News]