Phoebe Maltz: "I found myself wishing the rabbi could make one coherent point, not just evoke the Holocaust every two seconds, only to call Hitchens 'not a Nazi, but.'"Sara Ivry: "Boteach’s repeated use of the name 'Christoper Hitchens' really made me think of the Bill Murray segment of Coffee and Cigarettes where RZA and GZA keep calling Bill Murray 'BillMurray,' as if one word. It made the whole debate seem particularly absurd, but at least brought back the good days of Wu Tang."
Daniel Radosh: After the way Hitchens treated Boteach, it was a little hypocritical of him to chastise God for condoning bloodbaths. To see the rabbi reduced literally to incoherent sputtering was almost sad, but then again, he had no one to blame by himself. Declaring that Steven Jay Gould, author of the classic essay 'Evolution as Theory and Fact,' did not believe in evolution, was probably not the wisest strategic gambit. I think the exchange that best captured the evening came when Boteach accused Hitchens of 'character assassination,' and Hitchens retorted, 'you should be more concerned that your character is committing suicide right here in front of everyone.'"
David Kelsey: "In a strange twist demonstrating that this debate was not personal in the least, both men argued that the other’s moral decency proved his own point. Boteach argued that morality came from religion generally, and Judaism’s influence specifically. 'It’s our morality he is embracing,' insisted Boteach. But Hitchins countered that, 'Religion borrows its morality from us, not us from religion.'”
Jeff Bercovici: "Hitchens wiped the floor with Boteach to such an extent that it was actually Hitchens who lost, in a sense, just by showing up. Lost stature, that is. He should be debating his equals, not publicity-hungry TV rabbis."
Thursday, January 31, 2008
Conversations with Christian apologists often turn up the question, "How many hospitals have Atheists built?" The question is directed towards a justification of organized religion as a preferred establishment over Atheism. The assumption of the answer is zero. The question is not a new one; Col. Robert Green Ingersoll attacked the issue in his essay, "What Infidels Have Done." (1)
The saintly adoration poured on those thought to be 'better' than the common folk of the land, is to me, a sad indication of how those who wish to appear morally superior because of a belief, actually lack the common morals of those who look up to them. When a simple and fault filled person is elevated to a position beyond their actual means, it appears its only a matter of time before the complete need for demagoguery sets in. Interestingly enough after this program was made, letters were unearthed that mother Teresa had written.
In the news this week, we have the case of Eunice Spry, a British woman who systematically tortured her adopted and foster children because of her religious convictions. She did pleasant things like forcing the children to eat their own vomit for being greedy, and making a child with nighttime enuresis (bed-wetting) at the age of 4 wear a sign reminding everybody that she was an evil attention-seeker. It doesn't stop there, either. She also prevented a teenaged girl who was injured in a car accident and temporarily confined to a wheelchair from walking in order to collect more compensation money, despite the fact that the prognosis was she would regain ability to walk within 6 months. After moving out, they children submitted to medical examinations which showed evidence of internal scarring due to Eunice's punishment of choice-forcing the children to vomit and then eat it.
If you aren't sick by now, you should be. Obviously, this woman's problems extended beyond her religious beliefs, but her absolutely inhumane treatment of those children was done under the guise of punishing them for what would seem to be the seven deadly sins. All she would need to do is chop somebody's pregnant wife's head off and send it to them and we could make a movie. Oh, wait, somebody already did. In my opinion, crimes like these should be a more serious offense than murder. Going Andrea Yates on them would have been merciful. I almost wish that a hell existed so she could go there.
Don't go away yet, there's more. A Washington, D.C. woman, Banita Jacks, sat in her home for over two weeks with the decomposing bodies of her 4 daughters who were apparently "possessed." Now tell me: Where would she get this idea of demon possession if it hadn't been planted in her mind by religion? I realize that before mental illnesses were understood, demon possession was a common diagnosis, but we're living in the 21st century here, people. That concept would not have survived the Enlightenment if it wasn't for the eternally ubiquitous presence of that festering boil we refer to as religion.
I know the next argument that you're going to make, too. "Well, she was insane, so she would have done something horrible anyway." How do you know that? How do you know that she would have had any concept of a "demon" if it wasn't placed there? The bible clearly states that this is a war not of flesh and bones, but of spirits and the forces of good and evil. One is to arm themselves for battle and prepare to deflect the attacks of satan and his minions. People still believe in this stuff! Does anybody get this? The Pope is calling for mass exorcisms, and some evangelical christians believe that sicknesses are caused by satan and that you can "cast them out in Jesus' name." It is a travesty that the more obsequious among us have bought the propaganda hook, line, and sinker. Anybody who cannot see the correlation here is either blind or indifferent and will allow these things to continue to happen. All because we can't talk about religion like that-it's just not nice.
Obviously, the vast majority of religious people do not commit these kinds of crimes, but there is an overwhelming amount of violence perpetrated upon people that is religiously motivated. I've already pointed out the child abuse that occurs in the name of religion, and some christian parenting sites teach you how to "switch" your children with PVC tubing from the age of 9 months. Incidentally, a devotee of theirs was charged with first-degree murder when she wrapped her 4 year old son tightly in blankets because he kept getting out of bed and he suffocated to death.All because god is a god of order, not chaos, and you must maintain order in your home. Talk about fragile egos on these people who won't be manipulated by the cries of a hungry newborn baby.
I said this in my first post on this topic, and obviously I need to repeat myself for the either dense or dishonest critics, but even if religion only exploits existing mental illnesses, should we not give people one less reason to kill or harm others? Imagine a scenario in which small groups of racist people are still terrorizing anybody with darker skin than them, but since the vast majority of white people don't act that way, we just shouldn't address it.
In all honesty, the reason that most religious people do not act like the Phelps family is because they are nominal (insert religion here) only. A study done by the Barna Group, a christian research firm, showed that many young Americans see christians as hypocritical, and that they really are hypocrites. They surveyed 1003 adults on 20 "lifestyle elements," including things such as altruism, sexual behavior, and substance abuse. The results: on 15 of the 20 behaviors, evangelical christians were indistinguishable from us heathens, and the areas in which they do differ (porn consumption, cursing in public, playing the lottery, and music piracy), the difference is minor (One-third of heathens vs. one-quarter of christians) except for the music piracy, in which there is a 7% difference. That is not likely because of the commandment to not steal, but rather that resisting the urge to download music is much easier than resisting the urge to have sex. If that's not causing cognitive dissonance, I don't know what will.
On a larger scale, we have three studies on the impact of religion on society, and neither of them is going to vindicate religion. The first was published in the Journal of Religion and Society and authored by Gregory Paul, a social scientist. He concluded that:
"In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies.
"The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so."
"The non-religious, proevolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator.
"The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted." (TimesOnline.co.uk)
The next was a Pew global survey that graphed the correlation between religiosity and wealth. Although the U.S. was an outlier, there was still an inverse statistical correlation between rates of religious belief and wealth. Attached to that article was a site you can use to determine rates of religiosity in different areas of the US and the corresponding population data. (It is slightly dated with 2000 as the year the data was collected.) There is a similar correlation in the US among different areas as there is among countries worldwide. Below are the two graphs plotting the data.
The third and final study is perhaps the most comprehensive. Phil Zuckerman analyzed levels of organic (not coercive) atheism and how the countries scored on the "Human Development Index," which rates countries on various indicators of societal health such as homicide rates, gender equality, poverty, literacy, and infant mortality. Not surprisingly, higher levels of atheism have a positive correlation to better levels of societal health as measured by these statistics. The top 25 countries all have very high levels of non-believers with the exception of Ireland. There was an increase in suicide rates among some of the atheistic countries, but the author notes that all of those countries were formerly parts of the USSR and are still suffering from the effects of that.
(nb: The link to the study itself is gone, but it is available in the Cambridge Companion to Atheism)
So, due to the insistence of numerous people, I have been working on a more official thesis on theism as a mind disorder, but getting the actual studies often requires expensive memberships or trips to the library. Don't worry-it's coming. Even if you disagree on that point, I think that there's enough data here to support the claim that religion has deleterious effects on society. One should use caution while using religion until one is certain of its effects.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Reporters have been banned from her home -- her mother is adamant on this point -- so the McDonald's across the street from Buffalo Grove High School has to serve as her impromptu media headquarters.
None of which is surprising, when you consider that Dawn Sherman is all of 14.
Her lawsuit challenging the new Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act in Illinois has already resulted in a temporary injunction blocking the law's mandatory moment of silence for the 13,000 students in Township High School District 214. Now, she and the No. 1 atheist activist in Illinois -- her father, Rob -- are going after a bigger prize: They want the law struck down as unconstitutional.
During a wide-ranging after-school interview, the girl at the center of the legal battle proves quieter and more measured than her outspoken father, but no less spirited and determined.
"She's a rugged individualist, and I say that in the most positive way," says Dennis Northway, Dawn's former middle school choir director, who once jokingly suggested to Dawn that she should sing in his madrigal choir at Grace Episcopal Church in Oak Park -- and was shocked when she took him up on the offer.
"She is Dawn, and she is who she is, and that's a good thing. She's an extremely rich human being."
Asked directly if the lawsuit is an effort to please her father, her co-plaintiff in the lawsuit, who has challenged hundreds of local religious symbols in recent decades and engaged in several high-profile legal battles over the separation of church and state, Dawn doesn't hesitate:
"No, it's entirely about me and my rights."
"You have to know Dawn's personality," Rob Sherman says, having joined his daughter halfway through the interview. "Dawn's personality is, 'Don't mess with Dawn.'"
"I'm very enthusiastic about my rights," Dawn says with an angelic smile.
"Dawn would rather be respected than be ..."
"Adored and admired," Dawn interrupts.
"Well, no," her father says. "If it's a choice between being respected or being popular, Dawn chooses being respected."
The younger of two children of Rob, 54, a concert promoter, and his wife, Celeste, 51, an accountant, Dawn was exposed to her father's beliefs at an early age. She jokes that when she was still a fetus, her father would whisper to her mother's belly: "God is make-believe. God is make-believe, and Daddy is perfect."
At age 2 1/2, Dawn was echoing her father's "God is make-believe" line on an NPR segment focusing on the beliefs of her older brother, Rick, now 25. By about 2nd grade, she was sitting down for the "under God" portion of the Pledge of Allegiance, and in 5th grade she and her father persuaded a school choral group to stop singing a Jewish prayer.
"I don't believe there's a God," she says.
"I'm just here. I don't know how I'm here. I don't know how the first cells of life came, but I believe in evolution. I believe there is no creator up there who created the universe in seven days, and when you die, you don't go to heaven. You go 6 feet under the ground with a pile of dirt on top of you."
Those beliefs make her part of a tiny and unpopular minority. Only about 3 percent of Americans are atheists, according to a 2007 poll for Newsweek, and a December Gallup poll showed that voters would be more likely to reject an atheist for public office than a member of virtually any other minority. Despite a 1961 U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a religious test for Maryland public officials, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina bar atheists from holding public office, and Arkansas prohibits atheists from testifying in court.
Faced with such hostility, many atheists choose to keep their views to themselves. Dawn -- an A student who hates gym class and devours 800-page books for fun -- has taken a different route. At her first high school student council meeting, she raised her hand and said she didn't want "God Bless America" to be among the songs played in the hallways during homecoming week.
"If you want to listen to 'God Bless America,' you can download it onto your iPod and listen to it in the middle of class," she said.
"You can't force me to listen to it, because it's not secular. It's not what I believe, so I would appreciate it if you took it off the list. Thank you."
The song was stricken from the playlist with little discussion, a move that allowed Rob Sherman to boast to the Daily Herald that his daughter "got God banned from homecoming."
"Oh, did that get a reaction out of the community. They were [ticked]," Sherman says gleefully.
After the "God Bless America" incident, someone egged the Shermans' house, stuck a church bulletin to the front door and chalked religious graffiti at the end of the driveway, misspelling Jesus. But Dawn says she wasn't rattled: "I was more disturbed that I had to help clean it up. It was disgusting."
Dawn was doing schoolwork on the Internet in October when she came upon the new law, which calls for a brief but mandatory period of silence at the start of the school day. She went to her dad, a former national spokesman for American Atheists, and he told her he already knew about the law and was going to a school board meeting to protest.
She said she would go along.
"My rights were being affected because, first of all, the teacher is being made to stop teaching, and I'm being [made] an audience to something that is heavily suggestive in the direction of prayer because of the title of the act. It's called the student prayer and silent reflection act," she says.
On Nov. 14, U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman issued a preliminary injunction barring Arlington Heights-based Township High School District 214 from observing the moment of silence, calling the law too vague and "likely unconstitutional."
Gettleman made his ruling after hearing brief arguments from the Shermans' attorney, Gregory Kulis, who called the law "nothing but injecting religion into our public schools."
Supporters of the law in the Illinois House and Senate have emphasized the benefits of silence and reflection.
"This was never about trying to require prayer in the schools," Rep. Will Davis (D-Homewood) has said in published comments. "This is a way for teachers and students to [start] their day off in the right way."
The next hearing in the case is scheduled for March 5.
Reaction at Buffalo Grove High School has been fairly mild, Dawn says: "There are two friends who hate me right now, two friends who think I'm awesome, and a bunch of friends who don't really care."
Celeste Sherman says she supports her daughter's lawsuit but bars reporters from their home because of privacy and security concerns.
With his cowboy hat, booming voice and hearty handshake, Rob Sherman is a larger-than-life figure.
Dawn's wire-rimmed glasses, loose-fitting clothes and unstyled hair suggest a personal style that's decidedly more understated.
"I am not a lot like my dad," she says, smiling at him. "He likes to go after things without a second thought. I like to think things through occasionally. He and I disagree on a lot of things."
A choir girl
One way they have diverged: Dawn sings religious music in the Grace Episcopal choir. She loves the music, she says, and the words don't bother her because she doesn't attach much meaning to them. Her father says that singing in a church wouldn't be his choice, but he doesn't stand in his daughter's way.
Then there's the matter of hairstyles. Dawn says her father wants her to part her hair on the side, just like him.
"The Robbie Jr. look!" Sherman crows.
"I don't want to be Robbie Jr. I want to be my own person!" Dawn says, laughing but not giving an inch. "That's why I've never parted my hair over the eye."
Her father smiles proudly. "She's almost exactly like me," he says.
Let me first start out by setting this up that this is specifically targeted a those that believe that babies are sent to either Heaven or Purgatory when they die as a result of their ignorance of religion, and lack of sin up until that point in their lives. Some of this discussion will focus specifically on Christianity due to my stronger understanding of their teachings.
If we calculate the number of religions and sects of religions in the world, and we understand that most religions claim that people of other religions or lack of religions are going to either burn in hell, or just simply not enter heaven and just cease to exist. Based on this it is safe to assume that the great majority of humans are going to go to hell or cease to exist rather than gain access to heaven due to the diversity in faiths that are out there. Atheism and Agnosticism is also on the rise in most western countries. It is safe, at this point, to speculate that no more than 20% of the world is going to get granted access to heaven. That may also be a very high estimate if we factor in the number of people who claim to believe but do not actually practice the teachings and frequently sin without seeking forgiveness.
I know in Christianity in particular it is well advertised that humans can be forgiven for any sin if they truly seek forgiveness. There is only one unforgivable sin, Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, and even that a lot of people debate the legitimacy of that.
Now that I have setup my interpretations and I hope at this point you are still with me and agree with the premise, let me move on to the ugly details.
As a Christian parent, what is your ultimate responsibility and goal for your child? Regardless of what they do in life, the most important thing should be that they achieve salvation and access to Heaven. Nothing in life should matter outside of that detail. With the world changing, and great social changes happening all over the world, as well as faith being constantly brought into question it is going to be a dangerous time for your child to grow up. There is a very reasonable chance that they will be lead astray from the path of God and not achieve salvation.
How much do you love your child? If you knew that you were going to be granted access to heaven, and your child access to Hell, would you willingly trade places with them? Would you accept eternal torment to allow your child to escape that? Most parents would claim that they are willing to. What most people don’t realize is that they do have that opportunity, and they can do it legally. The solution is abortion.
By aborting a baby’s life you are ensuring that they gain access to Heaven, or Purgatory, but more importantly they avoid Hell. Murdering your child is obviously a great sin, but if you are truly sorry you can receive forgiveness and still gain access to Heaven yourself. I admit though that the chances of this are unlikely as you will likely feel justified in your action, which makes it difficult to be truly sorry. But either way, why would pro-life supporters not support abortions as a way to redeem the soul of the child rather than having them grow up with a clearly sub-par person who would sin to prevent that baby from accessing the world as it is. Surely their soul is already lost so why not do what’s best for the baby and have them avoid a life with a sinful mother and instead go directly to Heaven and allow the abortion?
The risk of raising your child and steering them away from Hell may still seem attractive at this point though. Let us now take this to the next level. What if you have a couple children, say 3. The odds are greatly in favor of at least one of them straying from the path of God. If you murder them all you will guarantee all of them access to heaven where as it is highly likely that at least one of them will burn in Hell for eternity if you let them all live out their lives. Why not make the exchange early on of yourself to make sure that they cannot stray?
Why not take this to the next level? If you are going to condemn yourself to Hell for all eternity, why not save as many people as possible? Why not bomb a maternity ward? Bomb a pre-school or a day-care? Perhaps bomb a series of day-care facilities and schools? You are guaranteed to save many children that are on doomed to eternity in hellfire.
Let us say for a second that you were to kill 400 young children that are too young to have been excluded from automatic avoidance of Hell. Based on our 20% number, that’s 320 children that are doomed to Hell that you are going to send to Heaven. By sacrificing yourself to eternity in hell you are bolstering Heaven by 319 more souls than it would have received if you just lived out your life. Would God forgive you perhaps for performing such a great duty for Heaven? I’m sure no one wants to guess what God would do, but doesn’t it seem like a truly noble thing to do?
Now, what if you are in a position of political or military power? Why not use that power to strengthen Heaven’s army? Why not take out a whole country of people that do not believe the appropriate religion? Couldn’t you save countless children’s souls that are already on a path to Hell due to the teachings of their parents? Surely this kind of destruction could be classified as legal if done appropriately, you would be killing many infidels which are perfectly acceptable under God’s law, and you would be saving many babies at the same time.
Is the progression kind of silly and perhaps dramatic? Yes, it is. But that is my point. It is 100% dramatic, yet if you believe truly believe in your faith, you would be 100% justified in doing these things. This is just a simple example of how a very simple and nice belief that babies go to Heaven can be turned into a reason for war, and perhaps even justification for multiple genocides.
What is my conclusion in all of this? That there are small things can be taken to great lengths when taken purely on faith and preached as infallible. A belief in a god that claims to judge people based on their faith is destined to have logical holes that could be exploited to do amoral, unethical, and truly horrific things. It’s difficult to imagine great genocides being performed in this form of holy self sacrifice, but isn’t that basically what suicide bombers are doing? It does not take an extremist to perform some of the above acts; all it takes is a moment of apparent clarity. 100% confident that God is real, and that God will do as a person is taught, and all of the above can become perfectly acceptable to a simple house wife, or the President of the United States.
Checkout more of Tarpan's writings at Mr. Atheist.com
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
A satyr is a Greek mythological creature,
that is half man on the top and half goat on the bottom with ears and horns from the goat. It is a very lustful creature, and is often portrayed carrying a flute of some sort.
Satyrs make an appearance two times in the bible:Isaiah 13:21: But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there.
Isaiah 34:14: The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech owl also shall rest there, and find for hers elf a place of rest.
Numbers 23:22 KJV: God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.
Numbers 24:8 KJV: God brought him forth out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn: he shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce [them] through with his arrows.
Job 39:9-10 KJV:
Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib?
Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? or will he harrow the valleys after thee?
Psalms 29:5-6 KJV
5: The voice of the LORD breaketh the cedars; yea, the LORD breaketh the cedars of Lebanon.
6: He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn.
Psalms 92:10 KJV:
But my horn shalt thou exalt like [the horn of] an unicorn: I shall be anointed with fresh oil.
Isaiah 11:8 And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den.
Isaiah 14:29 Rejoice not thou, whole Palestina, because the rod of him that smote thee is broken: for out of the serpent's root shall come forth a cockatrice, and his fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent.
Isaiah 59:5 They hatch cockatrice' eggs, and weave the spider's web: he that eateth of their eggs dieth, and that which is crushed breaketh out into a viper.
Jeremiah 8:17 For, behold, I will send serpents, cockatrices, among you, which will not be charmed, and they shall bite you, saith the LORD.
The word "Leviathan" appears in five places in the Bible, with the Book of Job, chapter 41, being dedicated to describing Leviathan in detail:
Book of Job 41:1-34: "Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook? or his
tongue with a cord which thou lettest down?...He beholdeth all high things: he is a king over all the children of pride." KJV (quoted 1 and 34 only)
Psalms 74:14: "Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be meat to the people in
habiting the wilderness." KJV
Psalms 104:24,25: "O LORD, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou
made them all: the earth is full of thy riches. So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things
creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts." KJV;
Isaiah 27:1: "In that day the
Lord with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea." KJV
The Old Testament (Tanakh)
The New testament
Reviving an ancient practice, churches are exposing sinners and shunning those who won't repent.
By ALEXANDRA ALTER
January 18, 2008; Page W1
On a quiet Sunday morning in June, as worshippers settled into the pews at Allen Baptist Church in southwestern Michigan, Pastor Jason Burrick grabbed his cellphone and dialed 911. When a dispatcher answered, the preacher said a former congregant was in the sanctuary. "And we need to, um, have her out A.S.A.P."Half an hour later, 71-year-old Karolyn Caskey, a church member for nearly 50 years who had taught Sunday school and regularly donated 10% of her pension, was led out by a state trooper and a county sheriff's officer. One held her purse and Bible. The other put her in handcuffs.
(Listen to the 911 call)
The charge was trespassing, but Mrs. Caskey's real offense, in her pastor's view, was spiritual. Several months earlier, when she had questioned his authority, he'd charged her with spreading "a spirit of cancer and discord" and expelled her from the congregation. "I've been shunned," she says.
Her story reflects a growing movement among some conservative Protestant pastors to bring back church discipline, an ancient practice in which suspected sinners are privately confronted and then publicly castigated and excommunicated if they refuse to repent. While many Christians find such practices outdated, pastors in large and small churches across the country are expelling members for offenses ranging from adultery and theft to gossiping, skipping service and criticizing church leaders.
The revival is part of a broader movement to restore churches to their traditional role as moral enforcers, Christian leaders say. Some say that contemporary churches have grown soft on sinners, citing the rise of suburban megachurches where pastors preach self-affirming messages rather than focusing on sin and redemption. Others point to a passage in the gospel of Matthew that says unrepentant sinners must be shunned.
Watermark Community Church, a nondenominational church in Dallas that draws 4,000 people to services, requires members to sign a form stating they will submit to the "care and correction" of church elders. Last week, the pastor of a 6,000-member megachurch in Nashville, Tenn., threatened to expel 74 members for gossiping and causing disharmony unless they repented. The congregants had sued the pastor for access to the church's financial records.
First Baptist Church of Muscle Shoals, Ala., a 1,000-member congregation, expels five to seven members a year for "blatant, undeniable patterns of willful sin," which have included adultery, drunkenness and refusal to honor church elders. About 400 people have left the church over the years for what they view as an overly harsh persecution of sinners, Pastor Jeff Noblit says.
The process can be messy, says Al Jackson, pastor of Lakeview Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala., which began disciplining members in the 1990s. Once, when the congregation voted out an adulterer who refused to repent, an older woman was confused and thought the church had voted to send the man to hell.
Amy Hitt, 43, a mortgage officer in Amissville, Va., was voted out of her Baptist congregation in 2004 for gossiping about her pastor's plans to buy a bigger house. Her ouster was especially hard on her twin sons, now 12 years old, who had made friends in the church, she says. "Some people have looked past it, but then there are others who haven't," says Ms. Hitt, who believes the episode cost her a seat on the school board last year; she lost by 42 votes.
Scholars estimate that 10% to 15% of Protestant evangelical churches practice church discipline -- about 14,000 to 21,000 U.S. congregations in total. Increasingly, clashes within churches are spilling into communities, splitting congregations and occasionally landing church leaders in court after congregants, who believed they were confessing in private, were publicly shamed.
In the past decade, more than two dozen lawsuits related to church discipline have been filed as congregants sue pastors for defamation, negligent counseling and emotional injury, according to the Religion Case Reporter, a legal-research database. Peggy Penley, a Fort Worth, Texas, woman whose pastor revealed her extramarital affair to the congregation after she confessed it in confidence, waged a six-year battle against the pastor, charging him with negligence. Last summer, the Texas Supreme Court dismissed her suit, ruling that the pastor was exercising his religious beliefs by publicizing the affair.
Courts have often refused to hear such cases on the grounds that churches are protected by the constitutional right to free religious exercise, but some have sided with alleged sinners. In 2003, a woman and her husband won a defamation suit against the Iowa Methodist conference and its superintendent after he publicly accused her of "spreading the spirit of Satan" because she gossiped about her pastor. A district court rejected the case, but the Iowa Supreme Court upheld the woman's appeal on the grounds that the letter labeling her a sinner was circulated beyond the church.
Advocates of shunning say it rarely leads to the public disclosure of a member's sin. "We're not the FBI; we're not sniffing around people's homes trying to find out some secret sin," says Don Singleton, pastor of Ridgeview Baptist Church in Talladega, Ala., who says the 50-member church has disciplined six members in his 2½ years as pastor. "Ninety-nine percent of these cases never go that far."
When they do, it can be humiliating. A devout Christian and grandmother of three, Mrs. Caskey moves with a halting gait, due to two artificial knees and a double hip replacement. Friends and family describe her as a generous woman who helped pay the electricity bill for Allen Baptist, in Allen, Mich., when funds were low, gave the church $1,200 after she sold her van, and even cut the church's lawn on occasion. She has requested an engraved image of the church on her tombstone.
Gossip and Slander
Her expulsion came as a shock to some church members when, in August 2006, the pastor sent a letter to the congregation stating Mrs. Caskey and an older married couple, Patsy and Emmit Church, had been removed for taking "action against the church and your preacher." The pastor, Mr. Burrick, told congregants the three were guilty of gossip, slander and idolatry and should be shunned, according to several former church members.
"People couldn't believe it," says Janet Biggs, 53, a former church member who quit the congregation in protest.
The conflict had been brewing for months. Shortly after the church hired Mr. Burrick in 2005 to help revive the congregation, which had dwindled to 12 members, Mrs. Caskey asked him to appoint a board of deacons to help govern the church, a tradition outlined in the church's charter. Mr. Burrick said the congregation was too small to warrant deacons. Mrs. Caskey pressed the issue at the church's quarterly business meetings and began complaining that Mr. Burrick was not following the church's bylaws. "She's one of the nicest, kindest people I know," says friend and neighbor Robert Johnston, 69, a retired cabinet maker. "But she won't be pushed around."
In April 2006, Mrs. Caskey received a stern letter from Mr. Burrick. "This church will not tolerate this spirit of cancer and discord that you would like to spread," it said. Mrs. Caskey, along with Mr. and Mrs. Church, continued to insist that the pastor follow the church's constitution. In August, she received a letter from Mr. Burrick that said her failure to repent had led to her removal. It also said he would not write her a transfer letter enabling her to join another church, a requirement in many Baptist congregations, until she had "made things right here at Allen Baptist."
She went to Florida for the winter, and when she returned to Michigan last June, she drove the two miles to Allen Baptist as usual. A church member asked her to leave, saying she was not welcome, but Mrs. Caskey told him she had come to worship and asked if they could speak after the service. Twenty minutes into the service, a sheriff's officer was at her side, and an hour later, she was in jail.
"It was very humiliating," says Mrs. Caskey, who worked for the state of Michigan for 25 years before retiring from the Department of Corrections in 1992. "The other prisoners were surprised to see a little old lady in her church clothes. One of them said, 'You robbed a church?' and I said, 'No, I just attended church.' "
Word quickly spread throughout Allen, a close-knit town of about 200 residents. Once a thriving community of farmers and factory workers, Allen consists of little more than a strip of dusty antiques stores. Mr. and Mrs. Church, both in their 70s, eventually joined another Baptist congregation nearby.
About 25 people stopped attending Allen Baptist Church after Mrs. Caskey was shunned, according to several former church members.
Current members say they support the pastor's actions, and they note that the congregation has grown under his leadership. The simple, white-washed building now draws around 70 people on Sunday mornings, many of them young families. "He's a very good leader; he has total respect for the people," says Stephen Johnson, 66, an auto parts inspector, who added that Mr. Burrick was right to remove Mrs. Caskey because "the Bible says causing discord in the church is an abomination."
Mrs. Caskey went back to the church about a month after her arrest, shortly after the county prosecutor threw out the trespassing charge. More than a dozen supporters gathered outside, some with signs that read "What Would Jesus Do?" She sat in the front row as Mr. Burrick preached about "infidels in the pews," according to reports from those present.
Once again, Mrs. Caskey was escorted out by a state trooper and taken to jail, where she posted the $62 bail and was released. After that, the county prosecutor dismissed the charge and told county law enforcement not to arrest her again unless she was creating a disturbance.
In the following weeks, Mrs. Caskey continued to worship at Allen Baptist. Some congregants no longer spoke to her or passed the offering plate, and some changed seats if she sat next to them, she says.
Mr. Burrick repeatedly declined to comment on Mrs. Caskey's case, calling it a "private ecclesiastical matter." He did say that while the church does not "blacklist" anyone, a strict reading of the Bible requires pastors to punish disobedient members. "A lot of times, flocks aren't willing to submit or be obedient to God," he said in an interview before a Sunday evening service. "If somebody is not willing to be helped, they forfeit their membership."
In Christianity's early centuries, church discipline led sinners to cover themselves with ashes or spend time in the stocks. In later centuries, expulsion was more common. Until the late 19th century, shunning was widely practiced by American evangelicals, including Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists. Today, excommunication rarely occurs in the U.S. Catholic Church, and shunning is largely unheard of among mainline Protestants.
Among churches that practice discipline, there is little consensus on how sinners should be dealt with, says Gregory Wills, a theologian at Southern Baptist Theological seminary. Some pastors remove members on their own, while other churches require agreement among deacons or a majority vote from the congregation.
Since Mrs. Caskey's second arrest last July, the turmoil at Allen Baptist has fizzled into an awkward stalemate. Allen Baptist is an independent congregation, unaffiliated with a church hierarchy that might review the ouster. Supporters have urged Mrs. Caskey to sue to have her membership restored, but she says the matter should be settled in the church. Mr. Burrick no longer calls the police when Mrs. Caskey shows up for Sunday services.
Since November, Mrs. Caskey has been attending a Baptist church near her winter home in Tavares, Fla. She plans to go back to Allen Baptist when she returns to Michigan this spring.
"I don't intend to abandon that church," Mrs. Caskey says. "I feel like I have every right to be there."
Write to Alexandra Alter at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Thursday, January 24, 2008
A father murdered his six-year-old son by throwing him from a hotel balcony in an act of "selfish love", the boy's mother has told a Greek court.
Standing in the same room as each other for the first time since the fatal fall, John Hogan and his former wife, Natasha, 35, clashed when he accused her of saying he was from a "family of death".
The court on the island of Crete later heard how Hogan, 33, who also jumped 50ft from the balcony of their room clutching their daughter, believed he was "taking his kids to heaven".
Mrs Hogan, 35, had broken down in tears as she described the night, in August 2006, when Hogan gave her "a crazed look" and is believed to have hurled Liam from the balcony then jumped himself with two-year-old Mia. Liam died of head injuries but Hogan and Mia survived with broken limbs.
Mrs Hogan said she booked the holiday in the hope of patching up their marriage but instead it had been plagued by rows. Facing questions from defence lawyer Dimitris Xyritakis, Mrs Hogan said she did not tell Hogan she was leaving him during the trip. "We had talked about divorce in the past but never during the trip."
Mrs Hogan said that when she was pregnant with Liam, Hogan, whose two brothers had both committed suicide, began having panic attacks. She said: "I think his family history contributed to his problems." Sitting with his back turned to her, Hogan interrupted, saying: "She called my family a 'family of death' when my grandmother died one month before we went on holiday."
Mrs Hogan replied: "He didn't mean to kill my children but I do know with his history of suicide that he should not have taken my children." With a parting shot, she added: "It was selfish love."
The jury of three men and a woman selected to sit alongside the three judges, were also told of a threat he had made to Mrs Hogan. Mrs Hogan, a nurse who divorced the defendant in June last year, told the court her husband said to her: "If you are going to live in a house with the children, I will burn it to the ground."
Hogan denies charges of murder, which carries a life sentence, and attempted suicide. He said, in a voice cracking with emotion: "I did not plan it."
The hearing was adjourned until Wednesday - a decision Natasha Hogan said she was shocked at, asking for her family to be left alone until the trial finishes. The panel will hear from Hogan before retiring to reach a verdict.Read it here:
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Monday, January 21, 2008