A Nation of Believers … In Just About Anything

Irrational beliefs are alive and well in the United States. For instance,

One in five Republican voters believes Barack Obama is the ‘antichrist’ and nearly a third of all Americans think a secret power elite controls the world, according to new research on conspiracy theories.

A survey by the Public Policy Polling group aimed to shed light on the link between political leanings and belief in conspiracy theories. The poll found that:

• 34 percent of Republicans polled believe a New World Order controls the world, compared with 35 percent of independent voters and 15 percent of Democrats.

• 29 percent of US voters believe aliens exist.

• 13 percent of voters think Barack Obama is the anti-Christ, including 22 percent of Romney voters.

More here.


I’m happy for people to believe whatever they want — no skin off my backside. All the same, it can be dispiriting to live in a country whose populace takes to nonsense and disinformation as a fish takes to water.

The survey steered clear of asking about delusional beliefs in various deities, but we know the picture would have been bleak indeed.

[image via Shirtoid]

Amen. I Mean, Right On.

Via BrightRock.


‘The Will of God’: Son Murders Father in Church

Mysterious ways:

Witnesses say the 25-year-old man accused of walking into an Ohio church and fatally shooting his father after an Easter service Sunday was yelling about God and Allah after the killing.

Police say Reshad Riddle killed his father, 52-year-old Richard Riddle, with a single shot from a handgun Sunday afternoon at the Hiawatha Church of God in Christ in Ashtabula, OH.

Reshad Riddle takes a selfie.

Reshad Riddle takes a selfie.

Associate Pator Sean Adams … said that after the shooting, Reshad Riddle continued into the church, still holding the gun, and yelled that the killing was “the will of Allah. This is the will of God.”

[image via CBS News]

Pastor Thins Herd, Ejects Members Over Money

Religious people often build tight-knit communities. Except when they don’t. This sounds like a delightful place:

Members of a Woodstock [Georgia] congregation said their former pastor locked them out and threatened to arrest them if he caught them on the property.


“Our former pastor has locked us out and we cannot get in and he said if he caught trespassing he would have us arrested,” said member Gloria Staton. The group said its been locked out for several months now, following a dispute with Pastor Willard Hambrick about money.

The best part of this story is the name of the House of God in question: All Welcome Baptist Church.

Flock Shock: Pastor with Criminal Past Kills Again

Another day, another clergyman (and repeat offender) confesses to a violent crime:

A mid-Michigan minister charged with killing a young woman in her mobile home has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the case.

The Morning Sun of Mt. Pleasant reports 55-year-old John D. White entered the plea Thursday in Isabella County Circuit Court in Mt. Pleasant. He’s expected to serve more than 45 years in prison under an agreement with prosecutors. … Police say he confessed to killing 24-year-old Rebekah Gay on Oct. 31 as part of a sexual fantasy.


White’s fantasy centered on having sex with a corpse. He claims he can’t remember if he in fact defiled Rebekah Gay’s body after he killed her. He does recall hiding her remains in the woods.

In 2007,

[White was] 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.

Nice touch: The good reverend, after his latest killing but before his victim’s body was finally discovered, asked his flock to pray for the “missing” woman.

Also consider this facepalm-worthy fact: His small congregation knew about his past — and thought that it couldn’t possibly matter.

Church elder Donna Houghton certainly doesn’t seem plagued by any remorse or self-doubt. She prefers to think Gay’s death wasn’t her or her fellow believers’ fault, and she doesn’t even blame John White. It was [drum roll!] the devil whut did it.


“All kinds of people turn around and meet the Lord and they are a different person. He was doing a lot of good in the community. … He was doing a lot of good and Satan did not want him doing good and Satan got to him.”

Sorry ma’am, but I somehow doubt that Rebekah Gay, in her dying moments, thought that Satan was responsible for her life being snuffed out. Instead, she might have pointed the proverbial finger squarely at John White, and at the people who gave him a veneer of respectability and trustworthiness by knowingly appointing a serial violent offender as their godly pastor.

[John White mugshots via Jonathan Turley; arm wrestling image by ongchewpeng via Deviant Art.]

More Education = Less Religion

Does more education lead to less religion?

Freakonomics author Stephen Dubner says yes, and he bases that on a study by Daniel Hungerman, an economist at Notre Dame who studies religious faith. Hungerman, using an exclusively Canadian data set, concluded that

…higher levels of education lead to lower levels of religious participation later in life. An additional year of education leads to a 4-percentage-point decline in the likelihood that an individual identifies with any religious tradition; the estimates suggest that increases in schooling can explain most of the large rise in non-affiliation in Canada in recent decades.

Of course, this is not at all the same as saying that the religious are less intelligent. For those who care to wade into that minefield, there’s Prof. Helmuth Nyborg’s 2008 study. Nyborg correlated religiosity and IQ, and found that

…atheists scored an average of 1.95 IQ points higher than agnostics, 3.82 points higher than liberal persuasions, and 5.89 IQ points higher than dogmatic persuasions.

In a separate research project that involved IQ levels of almost 7,000 U.S. adolescents, Nyborg and a fellow academic, Prof. Richard Lynn, concluded that atheists scored six IQ points higher than non-atheists. They also found that at the international level, the nations with the biggest populations of atheists are the ones that scored highest for overall intelligence.


Fundamentalists are very often wary of children receiving a good (higher) education, and now we know that, in their own warped way, they’re completely right.

[image via pkpolitics]

Time Discovers Faith’s Dark Side

In my lifetime, people of faith will probably always be allowed more manifestations of loopiness than non-believers.

If, as a secular American, I go around licking fenceposts every afternoon, and occasionally smash my forehead into one, it probably won’t be long until a kindly police officer takes me on a ride to the nearest mental hospital.

But if I claim that my behavior is my small congregation’s way of honoring Jesus’s sacrifice — a form of penitence that allows us to spiritually travel “nearer, my God, to thee” — chances are excellent that I will be left alone. I might even draw a bit of quiet admiration for my sefless devotional sacrifice.

That said, there seems to be an increasing awareness that not all forms of religiosity are healthy. “Religious Trauma Syndrome” (RTS) is a pathology that’s no longer easily dismissed; and even Time magazine, which can hardly be accused of being hostile to religion, now wishes to temper its zeal in spreading the notion that faith is necessarily a force for good.


Can Your Child Be Too Religious? Time asks — and with some equivocating, the answer the magazine gives is a clear yes.

Religion can be a source of comfort that improves well-being. But some kinds of religiosity could be a sign of deeper mental health issues. …

Your child’s devotion may be a great thing, but there are some kids whose religious observances require a deeper look. For these children, an overzealous practice of their family faith — or even another faith  — may be a sign of an underlying mental health issue or a coping mechanism for dealing with unaddressed trauma or stress. …

Some children suffer from scrupulosity, a form of OCD that involves a feeling of guilt and shame. Sufferers obsessively worry that they have committed blasphemy, been impure or otherwise sinned. They tend to focus on certain rules or rituals rather than the whole of their faith. They worry that God will never forgive them. And this can signal the onset of depression or anxiety, says John Duffy, a Chicago area clinical psychologist specializing in adolescents. “Kids who have made ‘mistakes’ with sex or drug use,” he says, “may have trouble forgiving themselves.”

Seems self-evident, but it’s nice to see the psychological downsides of faith acknowledged in a mainstream publication.

Such fastidiousness to religious practices may not seem so harmful, but extreme behavior such as delusions or hallucinations may be a sign of serious mental illness. Seeing and hearing things that are not there can be symptoms of manic-depressive, bipolar disorder, or early onset schizophrenia. But parents may be less attuned to such unhealthy behavior when it occurs under the guise of faith.

Whole story here.

[image via aclj.org]

Pastor Loves Jesus Child Porn

In Norfolk, VA,

The pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church on Granby Street was arraigned in General District Court [yesterday] morning and remains in custody on child pornography charges. David William Smith, 35,  was arrested Wednesday on 10 counts of possession of child pornography.

Police approached Smith on Tuesday and he waived his right to an attorney, Copeland said. The pastor confessed to police, spoke with his attorney the next day and was arrested, his lawyer said.

Copeland said Smith also taught youth classes at the church, which has a few hundred members. “He’s a good man with a problem,” Copeland said.

Smith was placed on leave from the church and will not be allowed on campus, according to an announcement on the church’s Facebook page.

A Most Spiritual Child Rapist Faces Life in Prison

The Right Honorable Reverend Arnold Mathis loves to sanctify teenagers with his blessed cock.

The Florida pastor did it in the early nineties, when he committed “lewd and lascivious assault” on a child in Leon County.

Despite his being a registered sex offender, church authorities put Mathis on the payroll upon his release, which meant that they gave him the chance to abuse his authority to try and rape again. And did he ever.


Mathis used a cell phone between November 2004 and January 2005 to lure a victim, then 14, into having sex, according to the Justice Department. They first met at a high school basketball game. Mathis molested the boy at least three times.

Federal prosecutors say Mathis also tried to persuade two 16-year-olds to have sex with him between May and November 2011. He met one at Higher Praise Ministries Church in Lake Wales, where Mathis volunteered in the youth group. He met the other at a basketball game in Polk County. Mathis told them he was a ­pastor, offered to be their godfather, and promised them presents like money and sneakers.

A jury found him guilty on Friday. As a recidivist child predator, Mathis currently faces life in federal prison — and he still has to contend with a state court’s 19 counts of sexual battery against him, among other charges.

[image via abc.net]

Pastor Stalks and Harasses Two of His Flock

Aron Andonie, the pastor of Spring Valley Church of God, Muhlenberg Township, PA, found a cell phone a year ago. Rather than return it to its owner, he realized he could hide behind that stranger’s account if he used the device to send indecent text messages. So Andonie picked two female members of his congregation and began texting them lurid proposals, some containing photos of penises. Soon, he was doing this nearly every day, until the women went to the cops and an investigation pointed to Andonie.


Police used cellphone company records to determine that the mobile minutes were reloaded at a Reading pharmacy and two Cumru retail stores. They obtained surveillance video from those locations to confirm that Andonie purchased the minutes.

Convicted of harassment and stalking, the now ex-pastor was sentenced to up to 350 days in prison yesterday, to be followed by three years of probation.

[image via the Reading Eagle]


Is ‘Religious Trauma Syndrome’ (RTS) For Real?

I’m of two minds when it comes to the existence of a mental affliction that some psychiatrists and psychologists, like Marlene Winell and Valerie Tarico, have been banging the drum about. It’s called religious trauma syndrome (RTS).

Explains Winell,

RTS is a set of symptoms and characteristics that tend to go together and which are related to harmful experiences with religion. They are the result of two things: immersion in a controlling religion and the secondary impact of leaving a religious group.

On one level, it seems like just another made-up pathology. The latest version of the U.S. psychiatrists’ manual, the DSM5, is rife with questionable disorders and syndromes. A whole gaggle of shrinks (and the pharmaceutical companies who love them) are never shy about dreaming up new ones.

Then again, it doesn’t seem at all far-fetched that many children who grow up under an authoritarian belief system that threatens them with a horrible snuffing if they engage in bad behavior (“The wages of sin is death,” Romans 6:23) are eventually going to have problems, perhaps many years later. So, notwithstanding my skepticism about the ever-growing thicket of mental disorders, I’m fairly open-minded about RTS.


Winell is well aware of the naysayers’ reservations, and she’s ready with a counter-argument.

Saying that someone is trying to pathologize authoritarian religion is like saying someone pathologized eating disorders by naming them. Before that, they were healthy? No, before that we weren’t noticing. People were suffering, thought they were alone, and blamed themselves.  Professionals had no awareness or training. This is the situation of RTS today. Authoritarian religion is already pathological, and leaving a high-control group can be traumatic. People are already suffering. They need to be recognized and helped.

She understands, too, that many people are surprised by the idea of RTS,

because in our culture it is generally assumed that religion is benign or good for you. …

But in reality, religious teachings and practices sometimes cause serious mental health damage. The public is somewhat familiar with sexual and physical abuse in a religious context. … Bible-based religious groups that emphasize patriarchal authority in family structure and use harsh parenting methods can be destructive.

But the problem isn’t just physical and sexual abuse. Emotional and mental treatment in authoritarian religious groups also can be damaging because of 1) toxic teachings like eternal damnation or original sin 2) religious practices or mindset, such as punishment, black-and-white thinking, or sexual guilt, and 3) neglect that prevents a person from having the information or opportunities to develop normally.

To be clear, much as it would please some atheists, neither Winell nor Tarico is saying that belief in God is itself evidence of a mental disorder. They are talking about specific unhealthy family and social environments that are created by strict religious edicts and the unbending, dogmatic enforcement thereof.

Religion causes trauma when it is highly controlling and prevents people from thinking for themselves and trusting their own feelings. Groups that demand obedience and conformity produce fear, not love and growth. With constant judgment of self and others, people become alienated from themselves, each other, and the world.

More here and here.

[image via wisegeek]

P.S. I edited this post a day after it was published, to correct the source of the quotes. Several quotes attributed to Tarico were in fact Winell’s. My apologies for the error. — T.F.

Wicked Pisser: Pastor Pees in Buddhist Temple

Last August, a Protestant South Korean clergyman visited the Donghwa temple in Daegu — but hardly to pay his ecumenical respects.

The Reverend Seong made a beeline for a Buddhist shrine in the temple, where he used a marker to write insults on a portrait of Buddha and on various wall paintings. Then he unzipped, and urinated into the bowls and incense burners. Security cameras recorded Seong in the act.


The monks filed a police complaint the following day, submitting the surveillance footage as evidence. The reverend was arrested and made a full confession. He explained he had defaced the Buddhist temple in a fit of anger because its sacred texts are “filled with false words.”

Seong was ordained in 2005 and had been working as an assistant pastor at a nearby church.

Temple authorities say they repeatedly asked for an official apology from Seong’s church; they finally received one yesterday, seven months after the golden-shower incident.

[image via koreabang]