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• 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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
I’ve been thinking about the parents who have so much religious faith that they let their sick kid die without ever calling a doctor. God will heal their offspring, they feel certain — and if not, whaddaya gonna do, it’s God’s will to call the child to heaven.
Hittman wrote about this cruel insanity the other day — here.
I have a challenge for these people. If you believe in God’s providence, then
At about 50 miles, give or take. One to two minutes ought to do it.
I do hope you’ll take me up on it — but only on a very lonely stretch of road, or on a huge empty parking lot.
…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.
…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.’
• 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.
• 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.”
When an adult dies after refusing medical treatment because of religious beliefs, it’s a sad waste of human life, but most of us shrug it off, perhaps with a snarky comment about improving the gene pool. It’s a bad decision, a foolish decision, but it’s their decision. It’s cause for despair, perhaps, but not outrage. We should save the outrage for when it’s done to children.
But when children are the victims, the courts are usually lenient. They may not prosecute the parents, and if they do, the sentences are usually trivial. If there are other children in the home, the parents almost always retain custody, even after testifying that they’ve done nothing wrong (meaning that if their other kids require medical attention, they’ll kill them too.)
This is a video compilation of just a few cases of child neglect in the name of Christianity. Be warned, some of the images are graphic and disturbing.
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?
In 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.
When she was 17, Johnson spotted a picture of Mother Teresa on the cover of Time magazine1, and thought she’d found her calling. She was still a teenager when she joined Teresa’s organization, the Missionaries of Charity, becoming a nun and thus a “bride of Christ.” Soon, however, doubts began to plague her.
Over time, Johnson began to chafe at the political maneuvering and less-than-holy behavior of her superiors, several of whom she names in the book while disguising rank-and-file nuns and priests with pseudonyms. Even Mother Teresa herself doesn’t escape Johnson’s sharp eye and sense of injustice. While Johnson clearly loved the “living saint” and admired her life’s work, Mother Teresa comes off as a control freak who senses her chance at sainthood under the congenial Pope John Paul II and strictly adheres to the rules set by Rome, including several of the Catholic teachings that have kept women in a place of powerlessness.
It’s still an altogether more charitable depiction of the Albanian nun than the one painted by the late Christopher Hitchens, who famously called her “a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud,” and who published The Missionary Position, a book that takes Mother Teresa to task for allegedly promulgating poverty rather than fighting it.
To bolster his case, Hitchens offered, among other things, such damning Mother Teresa quotes as:
I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people.
The greatest destroyer of peace today is the crime of the innocent unborn child [abortion]. If a mother can murder her own child in her own womb, what is left for you and for me to kill each other?
Hitchens, while also not a fan of abortion, nevertheless pointed out that Teresa’s life-long opposition to abortion, and even to “non-natural” birth control, inevitably resulted in bigger families and more mouths to feed — and therefore, in more poverty, hunger, and sickness. He wrote:
Tenderness about the unborn is an emotion that I share myself. But tenderness about the unborn also becomes an overtly political matter when it’s preached by a presumable virgin who also campaigns against birth control.
If the word presumable seems a bit unkind, Hitchens might in fact have been wise to the forbidden sexual peccadilloes that were hardly uncommon at the Missionaries of Charity. This is where we return to Mary Johnson’s memoir, and to the L.A. Times‘ summary of it:
What overwhelms Johnson [is her] battle against loneliness and the lack of emotional and physical intimacy. Although Missionaries of Charity nuns are forbidden any physical contact — even a friendly hug — Johnson engages in sexual relationships with other nuns on several occasions, including one affair with a sexual predator that the Missionary of Charity leadership knew about but chose to retain on the roster.
After 20 years, and more religious misbehavior — including sex with a priest — Johnson left the Missionaries of Charity. She ultimately also abandoned her Catholic faith.
On her website, she explains why and when she decided to write her book: it was
the day my youngest sister phoned to say she was about to marry a man she’d met twice; their guru had decided the two “could contain each other.” We human beings sometimes do odd things, especially when religion is involved. Odd and interesting and “not discussed in polite company” things. But it seems to me that what happens when we surrender our wills to religious figures — or deny our sexual natures or believe the Creator of the Universe speaks to us — are things that need to be discussed.
As you can tell from her tone, Johnson can hardly be categorized as disgruntled. Today, she experiences the world differently: no longer through the curious, distorted prism of religious faith, but free from bitterness.
It seems to me that we damage ourselves and our communities when we claim infallible conclusions based on subjective spiritual experience or ancient tradition. I don’t consider myself a religious person today. I believe in living life to the fullest. I try to live mindfully and to treat others and myself well. I believe in the power of love and in the importance of exploring the world around us and of speaking honestly about what we find.
Works for me.
P.S. I just discovered that there’s a brand new study, by Canadian academics, that takes a dim view of Mother Teresa’s efficacy as a helper of the poor. The Huffington Post has more, under the headlineMother Teresa Humanitarian Image A ‘Myth,’ New Study Says. A slightly better (more methodical and factual) look at the study is here.
1À propos the Time cover, that was in 1975. Mother Teresa made the cover of the magazine again in 2007, years after her death, when long-suppressed documents showed that she struggled with her belief in the divine, and suffered in a spiritual void of which she dared tell no one.