Holiness Exemplified: 15 Friday Quickies

All news items are from the past 48 hours.

• Rabbi Yehuda Rosilio stole $130,000 worth of Torah scrolls from his own synagogue, and replaced them with cardboard-and-paper replicas.

• The former pastor of an Arkansas church, 42-year-old Hank D. Guilliams, is in jail, accused of multiple counts of sexual assault. Some of the crimes allegedly occurred in the church.

• A pastor in Jamaica invited the police into his church in an effort to quell rumors that his wife had been sleeping around. The service then erupted in “pandemonium,” according to the Jamaica Star.

• Pakistani-born Lord Ahmed, Britain’s first Muslim peer, caused an accident while he was thought to have been driving-and-texting. Although his sentence was postponed so that he could keep “building interfaith bridges,” that didn’t prevent him from going on a radio show and complaining the verdict was the result of a Jewish conspiracy.

• According to Human Rights Watch, there are at least 15 people on death row for blasphemy in Pakistan, and more than 50 people have been killed while facing trial for the charge.

• Indiana pastor Jack Schaap (55, photo) had sex with a 17-year-old girl who had been sent to him for counseling. He told her that Jesus approved of his advances: “Christ wants to marry us + become eternal lovers,” he wrote her in a text message.


• Muslim Mali, a new video game for would-be jihadists, features a button in the corner of the screen that reads: “There is no God but God, and Mohammad is his messenger.” Click on it and it sends a pulverizing black laser beam of death at the French enemy, courtesy of Allah.

• A Toronto pastor, Artelino Vallada, 36, has been charged with sexually assaulting four of his parishioners, including a 14-year-old girl.

• The FBI has apprehended a former Missouri pastor wanted on suspicion of child sexual abuse in New Orleans. George Spencer, 48, was arrested Friday on several charges of forcible sodomy of a child and child molestation.

• Jason Lee Ray, treasurer and youth pastor at a church in Tennessee, admitted to stealing money from the church from more than a year. He is thought to have taken more than $60,000.

• A retired Roman Catholic priest was given an 11-year sentence in a Newfoundland (Canada) court on Thursday for sexually abusing children. George Ansel Smith, 75, was sentenced for offenses involving 13 children he assaulted between 1969 and 1989.

• The deadliest mass killing in Orange County, Calif. history (Seal Beach, 2011, 10 dead) might have been God’s way of protesting the community’s treatment of homeless people, believes pastor Shirley Broussard. City Councilman Michael Levitt offered, however, that God wouldn’t kill a group of people just “because we didn’t pay for housing.”

• More details emerged in the Fairfield, Calif. sex-abuse case involving the Rev. Robert Ruark. Known by parishioners as “Father Silas,” Ruark was charged with more than 30 counts of committing lewd acts on children as young as 13 and, in some instances, photographing them while naked. The victims told detectives that most of the molestations took place either at the church or at his home.

• To prove that he wasn’t hungry for companionship or sex, a 59-year-old priest in Britain who is accused of sexually assaulting a teenage girl announced he had in fact been secretly married for more than a decade. William Finnegan claims he couldn’t have attacked the 17-year-old because, despite his vows of celibacy, he was enjoying a healthy sex life with his wife.

• Robert Lyzenga, a former pastor at Sunrise Christian Reformed Church in Lafayette, Ind., has been charged with five counts of child exploitation and five counts of voyeurism. He had installed small video cameras inside air fresheners in the women’s bathrooms at the church.

[image via the Chicago Tribune]

On Being Militant

Image via AtheistWorld.



A Day to Defend Free Speech About Religion

We don’t have to worry about it much in the West, but there are dozens of countries where criticizing religion, or even just saying that there is no God, is a hazardous affair that can land you in jail — or worse. If you sometimes feel under siege for being an atheist in the U.S. or Europe, imagine what life is like for the folks listed below.

Today, March 14, is an international day of action to defend apostates and blasphemers worldwide. The organizers wish to highlight ten specific cases.

• Alex Aan, Indonesia: 30-year-old atheist, said on Facebook there is no god. Imprisoned.

• Abdul Aziz Mohammed Al-Baz (also known as Ben Baz), Kuwait: Blogger and atheist, jailed, charged with blasphemy (that’s him in the picture).


• Turki Al Hamad, Saudi Arabia: Novelist, in prison for tweets critical of Islam and Islamism.

• Raif Badawi, Saudi Arabia: Charged with apostasy for setting up a website that “harms the public order and violates Islamic values”.

• Asia Bibi, Pakistan: 45-year-old Christian mother of five, sentenced to death for “insulting the Prophet Mohammad.”

• Hamza Kashgari, Saudi Arabia: 23-year-old Muslim, charged with blasphemy for Tweeting about Mohammad and women’s rights.

• Saeed Malekpour, Iran: Sentenced to death for “insulting and desecrating Islam.”

• Shahin Najafi, Germany: Lives under an Iranian death fatwa for writing a song critical of an imam.

• Ahmad Rajib, Bangladesh: Atheist blogger, killed last month in a machete attack by angry Muslims.

• Alber Saber, Egypt: Atheist blogger, sentenced to three years in prison for blasphemy.

Please, support them by going here and following the links. Thanks!

[image via Laughing in Purgatory]

Irony, Thy Name is Religion

Bekasi Pastor Charged With Assaulting Member of Intolerant Group | The Jakarta Globe

[from the Jakarta Globe]

A Pointed Argument

News report from Washington State, where one religion-besotted man got a little stabby:

A 55-year-old suspect in a stabbing in a Starbucks coffee shop drive-thru at one of the busiest intersections in Clark County may have been motivated by religious extremism, according to a probable cause affidavit. Scott C. Fandrich of Ridgefield appeared Tuesday in Clark County Superior Court on suspicion of two counts of first-degree assault. …

Fandrich is accused of attacking Jerry Kush, who is either 70 or 71, just before 5 p.m. in the Starbucks drive-thru at 11502 S.E. Mill Plain Blvd., in Cascade Park, after the two had a conversation about religion, according to court records.

A witness said that Fandrich had made statements in the past about “his willingness to die for Islam.”

Makes Two of Us



[image via Iranian Atheists]

Does Jesus Cause Crime?

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?

Too far?

Too far?

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.

Back to the study: The authors conclude that

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]

Egypt’s Forcible Conversions

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:

Disturbing stuff.

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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The Gospel Truth

…brought to you by ace cartoonist David Horsey.


Cleric: Babies Sans Burqas “Incite Male Senses”

Religion roundup:

• 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]

Willfully Blind: Haredim Cover Up For God

When ultra-orthodox Israeli Jews, especially those of the Haredi sect, make the pilgrimage to the tomb of their revered Rabbi Nachman in Uman, Ukraine, they wish not to be subjected to the “evils and temptations” of the modern world.

So the most pious bring pieces of cardboard that they use to cover the movie screens in the airplane seats in front of them.

When this didn’t keep out all the possible bad influences, they resorted to using dark-colored scarves that they drape around their faces to block their peripheral vision — and sometimes a little bit more. Like so:


I looked into the Haredim a little bit after encountering the photo below on Facebook the other day:


Those are two Haredi Jewish women and their kids. The children are decked out in costumes especially for Purim, but the adults — the ladies, at least — dress like this whenever they show themselves in public. Modesty, they call it.

Naturally, when they take a bus, the Haredi men make them sit in the back. Sometimes the men try to force non-Haredi women into the rear section too.

Speaking of buses: Israeli transportation companies recently stopped running bus ads, because the billboards were always being vandalized by protesting Haredim, opposed as they are to photos of insufficiently-covered womenfolk.

Secular Israeli women and Western tourists are often yelled at when they enter Haredi neighborhoods, for not dressing modestly enough.

This culture war has been going on for decades — in the 1980s, ultra-Orthodox Jews bombed Tel Aviv-area newsstands that sold secular magazines and newspapers — but the Haredim have been getting stronger in number, and tensions have grown.

A big part of that is demographics: Haredi couples have an average of eight children, versus two kids for secular Israeli families. Of the country’s 5.4 million Jews, one million are already of the ultra-orthodox variety.

Most are shomer negiah (“observant of touch”), meaning they do not tolerate any physical contact with someone of the opposite sex, except immediate family. The men are especially wary of a woman’s cooties touch, including a handshake, as they consider a menstruating woman (a niddah) to be unclean. Unmarried women are regarded as being niddah by definition — always bleeding, always impure.

The Haredim are so offended by bare skin that they successfully campaigned for the removal of photos from the holocaust museum in Jerusalem, on the grounds that the nakedness of concentration-camp corpses was an intolerable affront to the religious eye.

It’s all perfectly perfectly quaint, or perfectly ludicrous — take your pick.

I’ll leave you with this dual image.


Considering how much these tribes have in common (including their misogyny), isn’t it mindboggling that fundamentalist Muslims have no greater desire than to see Jews massacred, and that fundamentalist Jews wish death and destruction upon their neighbors across the Israeli border?

If a clearer demonstration of the random and noxious nature of religious faith is needed, I’m having a hard time providing one just now.