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.


The Ten Commandments, with Hitchens, Colbert

À propos of yesterday’s post referencing the Ten Commandments, I thought I’d share this video of the late Christopher Hitchens proposing a rewrite of Christianity’s best-known moral code. The best bit starts at six minutes sixteen seconds.

Also, this: In 2008, Stephen Colbert met Georgia Congressman Lynn Westmoreland. Four minutes eighteen seconds into the video, Colbert asks the congressman about his ostensible love for the Ten Commandments. What follows is as staggering an act of political self-immolation as has ever been committed to tape — funny and mortifying at once.

Thanks for visiting — see you on Monday!

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.

It’s Getting Chilly in Church

Ah, church. The warm bath of social acceptance… the quiet presence of divinity… the lovely prospect of lawsuits and restraining orders…

Wait, what?

A central Toledo church is seeking protection from 13 members of its congregation who allegedly have become disruptive to the church. Southern Missionary Baptist Church, 1224 Indiana Ave., has filed a motion for a temporary restraining order in Lucas County Common Pleas Court. The church and its pastor, the Rev. Lemuel A. Quinn, have asked the court to block Elmore Sturdivant and 12 others from engaging in disruptive conduct that has included physically assaulting the pastor, holding a meeting in which they allegedly acted to remove the pastor and others from their church offices, making false reports to police, threatening church members and leaders, and circulating rumors of the pastor’s death “in order to diminish the attendance at the church’s weekly services.”

‘Do Not Steal’ Is Just So Ambiguous

Thou shalt not steal sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? No loopholes there, right?

But wait. Per Wikipedia:

Significant voices of academic theologians … suggest that the commandment “you shall not steal” was originally intended against stealing people — against abductions and slavery.

There! A loophole big enough to drive a church van through! So maybe that explains what one of God’s earthly stand-ins, Pastor Arthur Pearson, decided to do with his congregants’ money.

Pastor Arthur Pearson pleaded no contest to embezzling between $50,000 and $100,000 from the Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church. The allegations first surfaced in early January 2012. He turned himself in, and claimed his contract did not specifically prevent him from using certain funds on personal items, such as car repairs and mall shopping trips.

His contract did not specifically prevent him from taking other people’s money for his personal shit. Another awesome loophole! Thank you Lord!


In March, [Pearson] was ordered to stand trial. He was eventually fired from the church in June.

That the flock ousted the shepherd may have had something to do with the findings of forensic accountant Michelle McHale-Adams.

McHale-Adams examined checks and credit card statements from the church. For instance, $5,000 and $4,500 checks that Pearson wrote to himself for bonuses. She also referenced Pearson’s $22,000 credit card bill that was paid by checks from the church’s account. The accountant’s testimony showed that checks from the organization’s accounts even paid the Pearson’s mortgage and license plate renewals. “That check was flagged for $607 because on the back of the check it referenced Reverend Pearson’s four personal vehicles,” said McHale-Adams.

Come on, you can see why owning four cars costs a little extra cash, can’t you?

Now get this: Pearson wasn’t the only one who had his hand in the collection box — he had a church-lady accomplice.

A second person involved in an embezzlement scheme that may have lost Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church more than $230,000 over three years has entered into a plea deal. Gerolanita Bailey, the former bookkeeper at Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church in Grand Rapids, pleaded no contest to a charge of embezzlement of between $50,000 and $100,000. Bailey, 50, is accused of taking nearly $60,000 from the church and using it for her own benefit — mostly to pay bills.

For the sake of their precious thieving souls, I’d recommend reading and reciting Psalm 62.10:

Put no trust in extortion;
set no vain hopes on robbery;
if riches increase, set not your heart on them.

Seems clear enough. But what do I know?

[image via Zazzle]

Big Mouths, Tiny Little Shriveled Hearts

Given the title of this blog, Christians who say that those in favor of equal rights “have broken the moral compass” get our automatic attention. And who better to school us on the finer points of morality and decency than the fundies of Westboro Baptist Church, who show up at military funerals, and at remembrances for victims of school shootings, carrying signs like these:


This week, Westboro’s paragons of virtue were at it again.

Outside Santa Monica High School on Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica, Calif., Westboro Baptist Church members assembled with signs reading “God H8s Fags” and “You Eat Your Kids” to protest the school’s affirmation of LGBT students, according to the Los Angeles Times. According to their website, Westboro intended to target “brutish teachers & hateful parents” who “have broken the moral compass of this generation” and have doomed the nation by “embracing sodomy.”

Watch what transpired:

“God Didn’t Listen,” Complains Lye Attacker

Herbert Rodgers couldn’t stand the thought of Carmen Tarleton, his estranged wife, seeing another man. Nor could he stomach the idea of the pending divorce. He beseeched the Almighty for divine intervention.

When God didn’t stop him, he said, he set out for her home, planning to beat the man with a baseball bat and pour lye over him. But when he got there, there was no man, so Rodgers broke into the house through a window, tied her up and dumped lye all over her in an attack that left her with a broken arm, a broken eye socket [from his beating her with a baseball bat], and burns over 80 percent of her body.

He didn’t care about the presence of their 12- and 14-year-old daughters, who were living with Tarleton. When Vermont State Police Troopers responded to the 911 call, the girls were outside the house, screaming “He’s killing her!” The officers entered the home, where

…[trooper Hugh] O’Donnell and other responding officers found Tarleton crawling on the floor, her face distorted from the chemical, her skin turning brown before his eyes as she begged for an ambulance. …

“During my encounter with Rodgers he told me that he had been talking to God over the past week or so asking him to stop him from doing this,” O’Donnell said in an affidavit released Monday. “He said that he was going to wait until his birthday for God to respond.”


That was six years ago. In recent days, after a mind-boggling 55 prior surgeries, Carmen Tarleton received a new face. No word on whether God has gotten better at obeying ultimatums from the faithful.

[image via nbcnews]

God’s Very Best Descend Upon the Vatican

Cardinals from around the world are jetting to Vatican City in their customary high style, to choose a new pontiff. And what a gaggle of splendiferous human beings it is!

[D]e­spite calls from many Catholics, [Pope Benedict] nev­er re­moved prelates who, court cases and doc­u­ments re­vealed, put chil­dren at risk by fail­ing to re­port pe­dophiles or re­move them from the priest­hood.

It is not that these car­di­nals be­haved so dif­fer­ent­ly from the oth­ers, or that they do not have achieve­ments to their names. It is just that they hap­pened to come from pin­points on the Cath­o­lic world map where long-hid­den se­crets be­came pub­lic be­cause vic­tims or­ga­nized, gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials in­ves­ti­gat­ed, lawyers sued or the news me­dia paid at­ten­tion.

They in­clude car­di­nals from Bel­gium, Chile and It­aly. They in­clude the dean of the Col­lege of Car­di­nals, An­ge­lo So­dano, who is ac­cused of tak­ing large mon­e­tary gifts from a re­li­gious or­der, the Le­gion of Christ, and halt­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to its founder, the Rev. Mar­cial Ma­ciel — who was later ex­posed as a patho­log­i­cal abuser and liar.


They al­so in­clude car­di­nals re­viled by many in their own coun­tries, like Car­di­nal Sean Brady, the pri­mate of All Ire­land, who sur­vived an up­roar af­ter gov­ern­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tions un­cov­ered en­demic cov­er-ups of the sex­ual and phys­i­cal abuse of mi­nors.

“There’s so many of them,” said Jus­tice Anne Burke, a judge in Il­li­nois who served on the Amer­i­can bish­ops’ first ad­vi­so­ry board 10 years ago. “They all have par­tici­pated in one way or an­other in hav­ing ac­tual in­for­ma­tion about crim­i­nal con­duct, and not do­ing any­thing about it.”

The conclave is stacked with staunch conservatives of considerably advanced years. That means the possibility that the next pope will stand for contrition and conciliation is about as big as the chance that he’ll celebrate his new title by performing The Vatican Rag in the middle of St. Peter’s Square.

Not that he’d pull it off quite as well as Tom Lehrer did.

[color image via Pilgrim’s Footsteps]

Who Would Jesus Eat?

The trial against Gilberto Valle kicked off yesterday. Valle is the New York City cop who was arrested last fall on charges that he used NYPD databases to compile a list of about a hundred women he allegedly wanted to torture, cook, and eat. The would-be cannibal was turned on in by his wife, Kathleen Mangan-Valle, who had discovered through chat logs on her husband’s computer that he apparently intended to murder and eat her too.

Gilberto Valle maintains that he was only fantasizing about these things, and had no intention of committing any actual crimes.


About one target, he wrote

I was thinking of tying her body onto some kind of apparatus … cook her over a low heat, keep her alive as long as possible.

The Valles are practicing Catholics. Gilberto wed Kathleen only three summers ago in St. Aloysius Church in Spokane, Washington, where he swore he’d love and support her until death do the doting duo apart. (Presumably, his vows to the Almighty didn’t include anything about gutting his wife and eating her flesh.)

The couple has a child, whose image was presented in court during the wife’s testimony.

[J]urors were shown a photo of [Valle] in his NYPD uniform, beaming as he held to his chest his cherubic baby girl, who was wearing a fuzzy pink hooded jumper with bear ears. Asked to describe the image, Mangan-Valle responded, “It’s before church, before a Holy Name Society breakfast,” then sobbed uncontrollably.

The Holy Name Society “promotes reverence for the Sacred Names of God and Jesus Christ … and the personal sanctification and holiness of its members.”

Even if he’s found not guilty, the personal holiness of Gilberto Valle is, let’s say, still a few muffins short of a full breakfast.

Valle is sometimes mentioned in the same breath as a man with a similar penchant for fetishistic torture-and-cannibalism fantasies: Tampa-area puppeteer Robert Brown. Brown was arrested last July on charges of planning to kidnap, rape, murder, and eat a child. Like Valle, he’s a loyal churchgoer. He takes his religious holidays seriously, remarking about his intended victim, a young boy he knew from church:

…his thighs and butt cheeks would be fantastic for easter.

(Insert obligatory joke about fava beans and a nice chianti.)

Valle, too, felt that a church holiday calls for something extra-festive:

I’m planning on getting some girl meat… this November… for Thanksgiving.

It’s noteworthy that the Eucharist ritual of swallowing the body of Christ, in the words of this devout Catholic publication, means that

…the Holy Communion does involve eating human flesh and blood.

Their words, not mine. Maybe the forbidden apple doesn’t fall that far from the tree.

[image via MailOnline]

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.

Cardinal Sin

Another week, another Catholic sex scandal. This one involves Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the most senior Catholic clergyman in Britain.

O’Brien, who is due to retire next month, has been an outspoken opponent of gay rights, condemning homosexuality as immoral, opposing gay adoption, and most recently arguing that same-sex marriages would be “harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of those involved”.

So you know what comes next, right? Sure you do. Cardinal O’Brien turns out to be a closet queen who has been secretly trying to sample the forbidden fruits under the frocks of his fellow clergymen — over whom he has near-total ecclesiastical authority.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien -1730693

So far, four priests have filed written complaints with the Vatican, alleging that they were sexually accosted by their spiritual leader. They did so before Pope Benedict announced his resignation, so this doesn’t appear to be an attempt to weaken the cardinal’s position in the notoriously intrigue-riddled 117-member conclave that is set to elect a new pope. The UK Observer has more.

UPDATE: Apologizing for “failures” during his ministry, the cardinal has resigned.

[image via Daily Record]