Covering Christ in Dead Skin Cells

…and other news from the wondrous world of religion.

• David Hooker, an associate art professor at Wheaton College, a Christian liberal-arts school near Chicago, has been sprinkling layer after layer of fine debris from the school’s vacuum cleaners over a 5-foot ceramic likeness of a crucified Christ. The resulting sculpture symbolizes death and resurrection. Says Hooker, “Literally, this dirt contains skin cells from the community. The idea is that our bodies are now connected to the body of Christ.” Wheaton President Philip Ryken is an admirer. He believes that Hooker’s work stands for the things that are “disappointing and even dirty about us” — but he finds the sculpture reassuring because “God loves us in spite of our sins.” Well, sir, if you say so, we won’t argue. Let us just note that religion in art sure has its vagaries. Taking a photo of a crucifix submerged in urine: decades of Christian hissy fits. Covering Christ in dead skin cells: applause and reverence.


• Every 12 years, up to 80 million Hindus travel to Allahabad, India, for the months-long Maha Kumbh Mela festival. According to National Geographic, “some take advantage of the swirling crowds to abandon elderly relatives.” Says one human-rights activist who has helped the forlorn and abandoned, and who wishes to remain anonymous: “Old people have become useless, [relatives] don’t want to look after them, so they leave them and go.” A local social worker added that it happens mostly to elderly widows. She estimates that dozens of old people are deliberately abandoned during the holy gathering. They are often untraveled and illiterate, and consequently don’t know exactly where they’re from, making reunions unlikely.

• A Muslim barber in Lahore, Pakistan, accused a Christian young man of blaspheming the prophet Mohammed. Soon, a bloodthirsty mob assembled, and 150 families had to abandon their homes to save their skins. Police investigated and found the barber had made up the blasphemy allegation. [UPDATE: The mob torched upwards of 100 houses and everything in them. Photos here.]

• A religious school in Israel fired a female teacher for becoming pregnant through in-vitro fertilization, claiming that such a pregnancy is an affront to Torah family values. The judiciary, however, told the school to stuff it. Tel Aviv Labor Court (ha — labor!) ordered school authorities to compensate the young mother for the loss of her job. The judges ruled that “the right to be a parent, the freedom to work, and human dignity and liberty” trumped the religious concerns of the school.

• Another faith-related labor dispute recently occurred in England. A British residential-care worker whose contract stipulated she would occasionally have to work on Sundays refused to do so on religious grounds, and was ultimately fired. She promptly filed against her former employer for religious discrimination. The Employment Appeal Tribunal that heard the case argued that lots of her co-religionists work on Sunday without complaining; and that even so, the employer had made every reasonable accommodation to allow the worker to practice her faith. Consequently, the complaint was dismissed.

• This very website is most likely a purveyor of illegal anti-religious hate — at least according to Indian police. Cops have set their sights on Facebook blasphemers, noting that “While many of these posts are pictures that depict gods and religious figures in a bad light, there are even status updates that mock at the religious texts.”  Mocking religion is a crime in India. A police unit referred to as the “state hi-tech crime inquiry cell” is demanding that Facebook release the identities of the apparently pseudonymous critics.

• Police in Bangladesh arrested eight members of a radical Muslim student organization, after uncovering the group’s plot to assassinate 10 religious leaders. Those targeted are also Muslims, but of a slightly more liberal variety.

On This Day in 1948…

…the U.S. Supreme Court banned as unconstitutional the use of public school facilities by religious organizations as a venue for religious instruction to students. In an 8-to-1 ruling, the court held that such activities violate the First Amendment. Justice Hugo Black wrote the majority opinion in the case, known as McCollum v. Board of Education.

The Supremes found that

neither a state nor the federal government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force or influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will, or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.

No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or nonattendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the federal government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups, and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between church and state.’


We shall keep it intact.

[image via Little Victories]

10 Quickies To Get You Through Your Friday

• Danish imam says women must cover their heads or expect to be raped. Brilliantly proves his point by trying to rape a woman in a public park.

• Speaking of 10 quickies: In 2011 and 2012, youth pastor Aaron Edwin Springer had sex with a 16-year-old about 10 times at the First Assembly of God church in Manheim Township, PA, police say. The girl was a member of his youth group.

• Upset Vietnamese Buddhists are demanding the destruction or removal of all statues in which their Lord is seen copulating with a nude woman, but are not entirely sure that such statues exist.


• A new lawsuit implicates a Hawaiian priest, Father George DeCosta, in the sexual abuse of two boys in the 1960’s. The accusers claim that they were forced to perform various sexual acts when on camping trips and while praying with DeCosta.

• Mohammed Merah, the French-Algerian jihadist who gunned down a rabbi and three Jewish children at a school in Toulouse last year, was “a good and kind kid,” his mother told France 3 television.” His sister, not to be outdone, praised the “bravery” inherent in his crimes. To be brave means, apparently, to walk up to unsuspecting preteens and shoot them in the head.

• Buddhists in Thailand are said to be “enraged” over a single toilet seat cover in a small French hotel, as it bears a picture of their God. Thanks to the involvement of both the French Embassy in Bangkok and the Thai Foreign Ministry, Toiletseat-gate is now an international incident.

• Teenage Turkish Muslim immigrants in the Netherlands openly expressed their admiration for Nazism in an interview on Dutch television. They chuckled about the Holocaust and said Hitler “should have killed all Jews.”

• Brazil’s House of Representatives has picked a homophobic evangelical pastor, Marco Feliciano, to chair the House Committee on Human Rights and Minorities. Feliciano is on record as saying that being gay is “hateful” and “sick,” and believes that “salvation is available to them” in the form of a gay “cure.” He sounds like just the guy to lead a government human-rights group.

• An Edinburg priest has been charged with vandalism after police discovered he punctured the tires of a parishioner. Father Eusebio Martinez is also a person of interest in a series of arsons.

• To end on a positive note: Thumbs up to Indian peacemaker S. Tamil Selvan, the president of an artists and writers’ organization, who recently argued that parents should instil secular thoughts in the minds of their young children. “Home should be more secular and children should be taught to accept others’ ideas,” Selvan said. “There are a large number of religious minorities in our country, and their interests can be protected only when India follows secular principles.”

[image via Buddhism Magazine]

Is It OK to Indoctrinate Kids With Holy Books?

Take a look:

She’s unbelievably cute. And delightful. I mean that sincerely. I have two young daughters, now 8 and 10, so I’ve long been around a surfeit of off-the-scale adorableness. It never gets old.

So, yes, this lovely, lively little girl retelling the story of Jonah — it’s absolutely wonderful.

Except for the fact that she’s not recounting some yarn about Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. We may assume that among the adults who taught her this fairy tale, there’s no shared understanding that she’ll grow out of it. They won’t have a good collective laugh about it, including her, when she reaches age 11 or 12 and realizes that everyone played a good-natured joke on her. Because to them, this is no laughing matter, and no flight of fancy. They neither expect nor want her to cast aside the tale (and the book it came from) when she matures. On the contrary. The people who teach their brood these stories will maintain that the tales are true — literally or metaphorically — because the source is their favorite holy book. And they want their kids to sign on to that … forever.

Though I could be wrong, I’d wager that most of these parents will have scarcely given a thought to the extreme improbability of a man living inside a whale’s belly for three days before being vomited, intact, onto dry land.

Speaking of waterworld adventures, what of Noah’s story? I doubt that most Christians will readily reflect on the extremely remote possibility that Noah’s home-built ark was able to accommodate the untold thousands or even millions of species. In neat boy-girl pairs, no less. Likewise, most prayerful parents will  probably dismiss skeptics who point out that animals like sloths and penguins, who can’t travel very well, couldn’t have made it to Noah’s place, thousands of miles from the creatures’ habitats. Et cetera.

Reason and open inquiry are, after all, often anathema1 to true faith.

At the risk of being a buzzkill, I ought to point out there are two vital differences between telling kids a fanciful Easter Bunny-type story, and indoctrinating them with the pretty and not-so-pretty stories from a holy book.

Firstly, I reiterate that the children of the faithful are expected to believe in, and live by, the latter — for life.

And secondly, there are serious social and psychological consequences if they don’t. The likelihood of ostracism, for one. The fear of causing deep parental disappointment, and of losing their moms’ and dads’ love and esteem, for another.

Even if you believe that the Bible isn’t literally true on every single page, I can’t say I understand why you would subject children to ‘sacred’ fairy tales and insist that they must ultimately believe in them until they die.

By extension, I don’t quite get why we wouldn’t simply let children make up their own minds, in due time, when they’re old enough to think for themselves.2


Meanwhile — sure, let them see how you live your faith. But also tell them about other religions, and about other creation stories — and about the fact that a billion people on this planet think that there are no gods at all.

Why wouldn’t you? Is it because forcing dogma on a five-year-old is easy as pie, and forcing dogma on a 20-year-old has every chance of failing?

The Oatmeal illustrates the point:

dogmaIn other words, for the love of _____ [fill in the blank], let’s please all stop doing this:



1I use the word advisedly. Anathema was originally used as a term for exile from the church, but evolved to mean set apart, banished, or denounced.

2This is what my wife and I do with our kids. They know that Mom’s a Christian and Dad’s an atheist, and we discuss it with them — when it comes up organically. But we also allow them to graze from other religions and world views. They’ve been to United Church of Christ summer camps and to friends’ Hannukah celebrations. They’re encouraged to learn about other faiths. We don’t tell them what to think. They’re smart, and kind, and they’ll figure out this religion stuff eventually.

Honor Killings? What ‘Honor’ Would That Be?

A young American woman named Samya fled an arranged marriage and a Muslim father who threatened to kill her if she ever brought non-Muslim friends home, male or female.

The biggest crime that Samya committed — in the eyes of her father, her uncle, and her brothers — wasn’t to leave home, but to leave Islam. She no longer believes in God, and now lives incognito in a big U.S. city:

In the two years since [she left], Samya has learned to drive, manage a checking account and hold a job as a restaurant hostess. She takes college courses when she can, and changed her name to shield her from her uncle or other family members who might try to find her. …

Samya has joined a local atheist group. The members embraced her immediately, raising $1,000 and taking her shopping for clothes and meals. One man donated the $1,500 it would require to legally change her name.


Samya still lives in fear that her male relatives will track her down and murder her. Violent death is often the fate of women who “bring shame” upon Muslim families.

There were at least 5,000 honor killings in 2000, according to a U.N. report. In 2010, a British newspaper estimated the number as high as 20,000. Most honor killings involve the murder of one family member — usually a female — by other family members who believe the victim has somehow disgraced them.

In the U.S., where there have been at least five documented honor killings, teenaged sisters Sarah and Amina Said were shot and killed in 2008 by their Egyptian father, Yaser Said. He was reportedly upset that the girls had non-Muslim boyfriends. Said remains at large and authorities believe family members are helping to hide him.

Times five thousand. Or twenty thousand. No one knows.

[image via religionnews]

Religion’s Toll, Part 914,768,221 (Give or Take)

“Tragedy strikes again,” is the headline in the Pakistani paper The News — as if dozens of people died due to some whaddaya-gonna-do natural disaster, rather than at the hands of the ueber-religious.

At least 45 people died and another 70 were injured in a huge explosion that ripped through a Shia-majority neighbourhood in Karachi on Sunday evening. … The Bomb Disposal Squad was also called in at the hospital due to security threats at the mortuary. … Terrorists used a remote-controlled, vehicle-based improvised explosive device (VBIED) weighing about 150kgs [330 lbs], which also contained ball bearings. … The explosion left a crater four feet deep and 10 feet in diameter at the site causing destruction up to 700 metres away.

The [Inspector General of Police] suspected the involvement of banned outfits the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in collaboration with the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ).

Both organizations are known Islamist terrorist groups in Pakistan.


In other news about the Religion of Pace:


Gunmen attacked an Egyptian Coptic church in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, assaulting two priests.


Bangladesh police arrested five students of an elite private university on Saturday on charges of murdering an anti-Islamist blogger whose death triggered nationwide turmoil. The students allegedly confessed to hacking to death Ahmed Rajib Haider, 35, on February 15, after he helped organize protests against leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami party on trial for war crimes.


Radical islamic militants are preventing [polio vaccinations] by attacking clinics, health workers, and police who travel with vaccinators to orally administer the antidote to children. Earlier this month in northern Nigeria, armed men linked to Islamist extremist group Boko Haram killed nine people at a clinic after a local cleric denounced polio vaccination campaigns and local radio programs saying the campaigns are part of a foreign plot to sterilize Muslims.

Weekend Bonus

So that‘s how that works.


Like Diamonds, Fatwas Are Forever

Novelist Salman Rushdie has been living under Muslim death threats for almost a quarter century. But when you’re a jihadist, it’s good to have options, so the targeted-for-execution list has been steadily growing. The Al Qaeda recruitment magazine Inspire just published the names of its eleven most-wanted:

• Geert Wilders
• Ayaan Hirsi-Ali
• Kurt Westergaard
• Flemming Rose
• Carsten Juste
• Morris Sadek
• Lars Vilks
• Molly Norris
• Stephane Charbonnier
• Terry Jones
• Salman Rushdie

If not all of the names mean something to you, here are ultrabrief descriptions of what these people have done that Islamic fundies deem punishable by death. For the record, this blog supports each and every one of those listed — yes, even that detestable halfwit Terry Jones.

What’s astonishing about the current list is that none of the eleven people on it have ever committed violence. Their so-called crimes consist entirely of having produced words or pictures. Fully nine of the eleven targets are journalists, writers, and artists. None are Western heads of state, or military officials, or Marine snipers, or drone operators, or CIA operatives, or anyone else who’s ever ordered (or has otherwise had a direct hand in) actual bloodshed.

Published under the heading, “Wanted: Dead Or Alive for Crimes Against Islam,” [Inspire] magazine includes the [eleven] people they’ve targeted as their biggest enemies. In case you’re not clear on what they want, exactly, the list also includes an image of one of the wanted, Koran-hating pastor Terry Jones, being shot in the head. Beneath that is the caption, “Yes We Can: A Bullet A Day Keeps the Infidel Away.”

Like so:


Lest anyone thinks that jihadists’ calls for targeted murder are all Muslim machismo and no action, let’s think back to some actual and attempted assassinations. Here are just the ones that I remember, so it’s not even a complete list:

• 1991: Ettore Capriolo, Italy. Translator of Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. Stabbed multiple times. Badly wounded.

• 1991: Hitoshi Igarashi, Japan. Translator of Rushdie’s book. Stabbed, murdered.

• 1993: William Nygaard, Norway. Publisher of the Norwegian edition of Rushdie’s book. Shot, wounded.

• 2004: Theo van Gogh, the Netherlands. Critic of radical Islam. Writer, filmmaker. Shot, stabbed, and slashed to death.

• 2008: Martin Rynja, England. Publisher of a novel about Mohammed. House and office firebombed. Rynja escaped unscathed.

• 2010: Kurt Westergaard, Denmark. Cartoonist. Home invasion by an assailant wielding an axe and a knife. Westergaard fled into his reinforced panic room. No injuries.

• 2013: Lars Hedegaard, Denmark. Critic of radical Islam. Writer and publisher. Assailant unsuccessfully fired a gun at him in his doorway.

It’s doubly sad that it takes very little to set these fundies off. For every act of willful desecration, such as Terry Jones’s Koran-burning shenanigans, there are multiple instances of comparatively mild-mannered protests, such as Molly Norris‘s Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, or Kurt Westergaard’s fairly plain-vanilla cartoon (below) of Islam’s warrior-prophet. No matter: they, too, draw fatwas marking them for death.


Much as I’d love to try, there’s simply no reasoning with the religiously insane.

We’re All God’s Creatures. Now Die.

God’s love delivered with bombs and guns:

Muslim insurgents in Thailand’s troubled southern Muslim provinces launched a series of similarly timed reprisal attacks. The 29 assaults included bombings and arson after … about 50 fighters wearing combat uniforms assaulted a Thai marine corps base in Narathiwat’s Bacho district. … Since November 2004 the region has been roiled by a rising insurgency by militants seeking an independent Muslim state in southern Thailand. More than 5,300 Thais, both Buddhist and Muslim, have died in the violence.

Fever Pitch: Soccer-Field Feud Leads to Murder

Around the world, riots and sectarian violence frequently break out over whose God is truer. If that fails, you could also hack and shoot at each other over something even more vital — like which religious tribe has first dibs on the local soccer field.


Christians in central Nigeria could mourn their dead Sunday, February 24, after  the massacre of a Christian family while sectarian clashes killed one person and left churches, homes and mosques burnt, officials said. … Suspected Muslim attackers used machetes and guns to murder 10 members of the same Christian family in Plateau state, with half the victims under the age of six, the military and government confirmed. “A family of 10 were … murdered” by Muslim Fulani herdsmen, said Pam Ayuba, the governor’s spokesman, in published remarks. “Five little children including a two-month-old child were slaughtered.”

The violence in the central town of Wukari began when Muslim and religious Christian football teams argued over who had the right to a football pitch.

[image via Zazzle]

An Explosive Trio

“Revenge for everything.” That was what motivated three wannabe martyrs to plot another Islamist massacre against innocents in England. The three, once hell-bent on ascending to heaven by splattering walls and ceilings with the blood of infidels, will have to wait some fifty or sixty years before claiming their rewards in the afterlife; for now, a one-way ticket to a maximum-security jail will have to do.


Irfan Naseer, 31, Irfan Khalid, 27, and Ashik Ali, 27, all from Birmingham, were convicted at Woolwich Crown Court of planning the attack. They were “central figures” in an Islamic extremist plot to set off up to eight rucksack bombs and possibly other devices on timers in crowded areas. Police believe it was the most significant terror plot to be uncovered since the 2006 conspiracy to blow up transatlantic airliners using bombs disguised as soft drinks. Khalid even boasted that the attack was “another 9/11” as “revenge for everything”.

Naseer was found guilty of five counts of engaging in conduct in preparation of terrorist acts, Khalid four, and Ali three, all between Christmas Day 2010 and September 19 2011. For Naseer, from Sparkhill, Khalid, from Sparkbrook, and Ali, from Balsall Heath, this included planning a bombing campaign, collecting money for terrorism and recruiting others for terrorism. Naseer and Khalid also travelled to Pakistan for training, and Naseer helped others travel to the country for the same purpose.

Another report says that

In surveillance recordings, Naseer was heard talking about the possibility of mixing poison into creams such as Vaseline or Nivea and smearing them on car handles to cause mass deaths. The trio even pondered welding blades to a truck and driving it into people.

Good thing they were caught. Then again, it seems unlikely that these bunglers could have pulled off a major attack.

Surveillance operations helped uncover how the men worked as street fundraisers for Muslim Aid to raise money for their plot, which six other men have already pleaded guilty in relation to. But the plotters lost thousands through playing foreign currency markets and had to apply for loans. The competency of Naseer, an overweight unemployed pharmacy graduate nicknamed Chubbs; Khalid, whose father said he had a medical condition that would have prevented him from carrying out any attacks; and partially-sighted Ali as would-be suicide bombers was doubted, as they also failed to destroy a ‘recipe’ for homemade ingredients when a paper note did not burn.

They sound like they walked straight out of Four Lions, the very enjoyable 2010 British comedy about some extremely cloddish homegrown jihadists.

I’ll bet the judge isn’t laughing in this case, though. The trio faces life imprisonment.