A great product needs no advertising, they say. And so:
Pastor Rich Wilkerson Jr. has a problem: He needs to fill his 1,500-seat evangelical mega-church in Miami Gardens on a Tuesday night. Solution: The holy man is promising to eat a cockroach live onstage tonight if enough worshippers come out. It’s just the latest attendance-boosting stunt from a pastor who’s shaved half his head, waxed his legs, and even been Tasered onstage.
From our files, a story from 2010. The good news is, Father Fiala has time for extensive Bible study.
A Texas jury has sentenced a former Roman Catholic priest to 60 years in prison for plotting the death of a man who accused him of sexual abuse. Prosecutors had asked jurors Friday for a life sentence for 53-year-old John M. Fiala. … The ex-priest will be eligible for parole after 15 years. Fiala was convicted Thursday for solicitation of capital murder. Prosecutors say Fiala tried to hire a neighbor’s brother to kill the man who accused him of abuse in 2008 when Fiala was the priest at a rural West Texas parish and his accuser was 16.
The Diocese of Joliet has expanded its public list of priests facing “credible” accusations of sexual abuse on Tuesday — some of whom are being named for the first time, including a former chaplain at Driscoll High School in Addison. After releasing hundreds of documents in response to a court order Tuesday, the diocese separately added a dozen names to a list of priests facing credible or substantiated allegations of abuse. The list, which is available on the diocese website, now stands at 34.
A former associate pastor at Greater Works CME Church in Kansas City, Mo., has been arrested in New Orleans in connection with child molestation and forcible sodomy of a child. George Spencer, 48, was arrested without incident in New Orleans, the FBI said. He was charged by Jackson County prosecutors on Tuesday with statutory sodomy, forcible sodomy, three counts of child molestation and two counts of sexual misconduct involving a child.
There are more abuse allegations against a Roman Catholic priest who is already accused of abusing a young boy in Ipswich. The Salem News says Rev. Richard McCormack has been indicted on additional counts of child sex abuse.
A former Eastern Orthodox pastor has been sentenced to 18 years in a California prison for molesting five children from his Fairfield parish. A Solano County judge also ordered the Rev. Robert “Silas” Ruark of St. Timothy’s Orthodox Church to pay $10,000 in restitution and to register as a sex offender.
Army Radio reported Monday that a 70-year-old rabbi, who was not named but was identified as being from a “very well-known hasidic movement,” agreed to return to Israel in the coming days and face his accusers. … One man told Army Radio that his 15-year-old daughter told him the rabbi grabbed her breasts from behind as he kissed her. The girl’s older sister said the rabbi committed similar acts on her three years earlier, when she was 17.
A former St. Joseph-area youth minister has pleaded guilty to two charges of criminal sexual conduct. Matthew David Feeney, 44, pleaded guilty in Washington County last week to second-degree and fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct, the Washington County prosecutor’s office confirmed. … Feeney was accused of sexually assaulting two brothers, who were 9 and 14 years old when the assaults started, according to court documents.
Former priest Patrick McCabe (77) pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to three counts of indecently assaulting a 13-year-old boy on two locations in Dublin between January 1 and September 31, 1979.
A Zion Christian Church (ZCC) prophet has been arrested for allegedly raping a 27-year-old woman at the church’s headquarters in Moria. The woman alleges that the prophet put a knife to her throat as he raped her on Saturday morning during an all-night prayer session at the church premises, east of Polokwane. The suspect is said to be a full-time prophet who lives at the church’s official residence.
(The story’s reporter, without apparent sarcasm, describes the church in question as “a known beacon of morality.”)
The Rev. Julio Guarin-Sosa was arrested on suspicion of child molestation in Yuba City, Calif. The priest, who is visiting the United States from Colombia, is being held at Sutter County Jail and is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday. He will also be charged with sexual battery.
A Catholic priest with ties to the Upstate is on administrative leave following an accusation of sexual misconduct with a minor, according to the state’s diocese. Father Hayden Vaverek had “his priestly faculties withdrawn” after someone reported the misconduct.
A retired priest charged with more than 50 child-sex offences dating to the 1970s is “not well” in hospital, his lawyer says. The man, 77, was charged yesterday in a magistrates court with 57 counts of indecent dealing and one count of common assault.
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.”
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?
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. Slatereported 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. Slatequotes 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.”
Wow. Almost 2,000 page views in the past 24 hours. Not bad at all, considering we’ve only been at it for a few weeks. Thanks to everyone who dropped by, and a double thanks to those of you who dropped by and spread the word!
Usually, when government or religious leaders make splashy moves to save children, there’s an ulterior motive. In the case of Russia recently banning Americans from adopting Russian orphans, it looks like Putin is retaliating for a new U.S. law that bans Russian officials accused of human rights abuses from traveling to or having bank accounts in the United States.
The Russian Orthodox Church has predictably aligned with the Russian government. Church spokesman Father Vsevolod Chaplin justified the adoption ban by pointing out that the path to heaven would be closed to children adopted by foreigners. “They won’t get a truly Christian upbringing, and that means falling away from the church and from the path to eternal life in God’s kingdom.”
On the same day the ban was announced, the Church and government set aside an extra acre of land in Moscow to bury orphans who die. Since over 1,000 orphans die every year just from committing suicide, I’m guessing they’re going to run out of real estate pretty quickly.
I find myself humming the words to Disney’s ‘Cruella De Vil’ every time I see Kirill…
Patriarch Kirill, the leader of Russian Orthodox Church, reportedly has a net worth of over four billion dollars. That was in 2004 — it may be more now, or less. What’s sure is that Kirill still enjoys a lifestyle that is the envy of many a jetsetter. When he’s not being a shrewd and successful stock-market investor, he indulges his love of skiing, raising show dogs, and attending car races. The patriarch owns villas in Switzerland, and lives in a luxurious penthouse with a view of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow.
If Kirill decided to personally pay for all 700,000 orphans to have a school lunch every day, he could do it every day for the next one hundred years and barely put a dent in his fortune. Like many church leaders, Patriarch Kirill appears to be a “do as I say” kind of guy.
To put this ban in perspective, over 60,000 Russian kids have been adopted by Americans over the past twenty years. Nineteen of the adoptees have died. When looking at the abysmal statistics for kids not fortunate enough to be adopted, can anyone say with a straight face that the Russian Orthodox Church is looking out for the kids’ best interests?
The Vatican’s papal conclave, a word that literally means “with key,”
…has long been obsessed with secrecy. The cardinals swear an oath to that effect before even entering the Sistine Chapel, punishable by excommunication. Anyone else associated with the election, from doctors and nurses to housekeeping staff, must also swear to never tell anyone anything they hear.
Now, what is such a sacred oath of secrecy, sworn to the Almighty, really worth? Bupkis, the Vatican acknowledges; there’s no honor among thieves gossips.
On Monday, jamming devices designed to block cellphone calls, Internet signals and hidden microphones were installed inside the Sistine Chapel and nearby guest residences. WiFi will be blocked throughout Vatican City until the end of the conclave. And the conclave’s active Twitter- and Facebook-users have been forbidden access to their accounts along with all other forms of communication with the outside world.
If such measures are truly necessary, it follows that at least some of the participants don’t particularly tremble at the prospect of excommunication.
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:
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.