The Second Coming of J.C.

resAfter almost two months of being on hiatus, The Word of J.C. is back!  Now that life has settled down a little bit, and I have more time to write again, keep on the look out for new posts, which will be coming out at least every two days, throughout the summer.  For now, let’s review a few of the top stories that were missed during the break:

In April, Catherine and Herbert Schaible were charged with third degree murder, after losing their second child to a preventable illness.  For those of you who don’t remember them, the Schaibles were charged with involuntary manslaughter and placed on probation in 2009, after another of their children died from pneumonia. The couple had refused to seek medical attention for him, opting for prayer as treatment, which eventually led to the child’s death.  This time, another of their children, an eight month old infant son, suffered through two weeks of diarrhea and breathing problems while the couple once again refused to take him to a doctor, watching and praying as he wasted away.

Sylvia Browne, the widely acclaimed psychic, was once again exposed as a fraud this month, after Amanda Berry was found and rescued from her captor’s house, where she had been abused and held prisoner for a decade.  Browne told Berry’s parents that Amanda was dead and “on the other side” in 2004, during a taping of the Montel Williams Show.  This is not the first time that Browne has wrongly predicted the death of a missing child.

Pat Robertson told a female caller to his show, last week, that cheating is a “tendency of man,” and to stop focusing on her husband’s transgressions.  He continued, telling her that it was her duty to “make a home so wonderful that he doesn’t want to wander,” implying that her husband’s infidelity was the result, not of his own choices, but of her inadequacies.

So far, over forty people have been killed in Myanmar, as a result of religious violence between Buddhists and Muslims.  Around 1200 Muslims are now taking shelter in a monastery, while the government attempts to quell the violence.

In Louisiana, lawmakers have voted to uphold a bill that requires creationism to be taught in any school that includes evolution in its curriculum.  A move to repeal the bill, which has been on the books since the 1980s, was shot down, despite the fact that the Supreme Court has determined it to be wholly unconstitutional, as it requires religious ideals to be taught in public school classrooms; a clear violation of the establishment clause.

These are just a few of the many examples of religion, science denial, and charlatanry causing direct harm to both individuals and society as a whole that have occurred in the short time that I have been on break from this blog.  This, more than anything else before, has convinced me that humanists, secularists, skeptics, and all of their like MUST continue to speak out on a regular basis about the dangers posed by those who would choose to hold religious and supernatural ideas in higher regard than scientific advancement, the good of others, and the protection of constitutional principles. It is time that we as a society stop tolerating injustice and death on the grounds that we cannot infringe upon the beliefs of others. These are not issues of freedom of belief or religious liberty, but issues of safety, health, and law, and they must be addressed as such.

-J.C.

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Two Infants Contract Herpes After Barbaric Circumcision Ritual

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On Monday of this week, it was reported that two infants in New York had been confirmed as having contracted type 1 herpes, after being subjected to an ultra-orthodox Jewish circumcision ritual.  CNN reported on the details:

In the ritual, known as metzitzah b’peh, after removing the foreskin of the penis the person performing the procedure places his mouth briefly over the wound, sucking a small amount of blood out, which is discarded.

To begin with, let me say that this is a barbaric, repulsive ritual that has no place in modern society.  Aside from the disturbing implications of an adult engaging in mouth to genital contact with an infant, this ritual is known to be extremely dangerous, carrying a high risk of disease transmission to the unwilling infants involved.

The health department says the procedure is dangerous because the contact with the mouth could transmit diseases such as herpes.  Most adults are infected with the herpes simplex virus type 1, and while they may have no symptoms, the virus may be present in their saliva, according to the health department.

To make matters even worse, this is not the first time that infants have contracted herpes as a result of being subjected to this ritual.  Many other cases have been documented in the past, some of which even resulted in the deaths of the infants involved.

Since 2000, there have been 13 reports in New York City of infants contracting HSV-1, two of whom died from the virus.

CNN also reports that the New York Department of Health has enacted measures to attempt to alert parents to the risks of the ritual, although it has faced opposition from Jewish groups.

The DOH passed a regulation in September requiring all those who perform the ritual to get parental consent on a form stating that the procedure can lead to health risks. Several Jewish groups and three rabbis filed a lawsuit in federal District Court in Manhattan arguing that “the government cannot compel the transmission of messages that the speaker does not want to express — especially when the speaker is operating in an area of heightened First Amendment protection, such as a religious ritual.”

So, not only are these groups supportive of a procedure that is known to carry serious health risks to infants, but they are attempting to stifle the dissemination of information regarding those risks.   This reaction shows an even more atrocious lack of regard for the lives, health, and safety of others than their condoning of the ritual in the first place.

Dr. Thomas A. Farley, commissioner of the city’s health department, claimed the consent requirement was “lawful, appropriate and necessary” in a September press release. “The city’s highest obligation is to protect its children; therefore, it is important that parents know the risks associated with the practice,” he said.

While I applaud Mr. Farley for his support of informed consent, I can’t help but call bullshit on this statement.  If the city truly considered the protection of its children to be its highest obligation, then the health department would outlaw these practices altogether.  Mr. Farley’s next statement serves to prove this:

“There is no safe way to perform oral suction on any open wound in a newborn.”

The fact that these dangerous practices are allowed to continue, out of tolerance for religious belief, says that the appeasement of religious groups gets a higher priority than the protection of the innocent, unwilling children who fall victim to them.  And, to those who might say that outlawing the ritual would violate the freedom of religious practice, I call bullshit a second time.  While circumcision may take its roots from religion, it is a medical procedure, and should be treated and regulated as such.

The point to all of this is that when we allow religious tolerance to take precedence over protecting the health and safety of those who cannot protect themselves, it is a massive failing of society.   Just as we don’t allow communities to stone women who have premarital sex or children who curse their parents to death, because the bible commands it, neither should we allow a child’s health and life to be put in jeopardy, simply to satisfy the requirements of an ancient religious ritual.

-J.C.

Pat Robertson Blasts Science, Education, and Skepticism, Glorifies Blind Faith in Less Developed Countries

Pat Robertson speaks outWell, Pat Robertson is at it again, this week.  On Monday’s episode of The 700 Club, a viewer posed a question about miracles.   Rightwingwatch.org uploaded a video clip of the episode, and I still haven’t decided which was worse: the question, or Robertson’s response.

Caller: “Why do amazing miracles (people raised from the dead, blind eyes open, lame people walking) happen with great frequency in places like Africa, and not here in the USA?”

Now, my first instinct is to wonder if this guy is for real. I’m not completely convinced that this wasn’t a masterfully executed exercise in trolling, especially considering that Monday was April Fool’s Day.  For now, though, let’s ignore the ridiculousness of the suggestion that Africa, many parts of which are poverty stricken, riddled with conflict and facing an AIDS crisis, is a continent that has been blessed with an abundance of miracles, and take a look at Robertson’s response:

Robertson: “Because those people overseas didn’t go to Ivy League schools.”

If you’re waiting for the punchline, there isn’t one.  Robertson was dead serious.  He continued:

Robertson:“Well, we are so sophisticated, we think we’ve got everything figured out, we know about evolution, we know about Darwin, we know about all these things that says God isn’t real, we know about all this stuff.  In many schools, in the more advanced schools, we have been inundated with skepticism and secularism.”

There you have it.  The age old attack on science and skepticism that religion has been forced to keep up over the ages, as science has consistently shown it to be false.  Because, when the answer to a question isn’t what you want people to believe it is, the only way to keep them from finding out is to convince them that it’s a bad thing to ask the question, in the first place.  Here’s a tip, folks: any time that someone uses the term “skepticism” with a negative connotation, your bullshit-o-meter should be setting off an alarm.

Robertson wasn’t about to stop at vilifying science and critical thinking, though.  He went on to glorify the more widespread blind faith and unquestioning acceptance of those in less developed countries, saying that:

“Overseas, they’re simple, humble. You tell ‘em God loves ‘em and they say, ‘Okay, he loves me.’ You say God will do miracles and they say, ‘Okay, we believe him.’ And that’s what God’s looking for. That’s why they have miracles.”

So, a famous televangelist tells people that science and skepticism are bad, and blind faith is good.  Pretty much par for the course, right?  Well, I suppose, but that’s exactly why it raises my ire so much.  When charlatans like this man are able to dupe millions of viewers with their science denying, ignorance glorifying nonsense, its effect is the retardation of the social and intellectual evolution of our species.  He and people like him should be exposed at every turn as the harmful frauds that they are, until the large scale promotion of ignorance is no longer considered just an everyday occurrence, but an offensive act of harm against humanity.

-J.C.

Here is the video clip of the episode, courtesy of rightwingwatch.org:

Breaking News: North Korean Tensions a Result of Supreme Court Hearings on Same Sex Marriage. God is Pissed!

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Rick Wiles, the Trunews broadcaster who has called President Obama “a devil from hell,” conducted an interview with Southern Baptist Convention President, Fred Luter, on Wednesday.  In it, Wiles and Luter suggested that recent tensions with North Korea are a result of god’s anger over the Supreme Court hearings on same sex marriage.  Not only that, but they even went so far as to say that the United States is likely to be destroyed, just like the biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, should the Supreme Court rule in favor of it.  Let’s take a look at some excerpts.  (Along with a bit of commentary from yours truly, of course.)

Wiles: You know at precisely the same time the Supreme Court is hearing these arguments on same-sex marriage in Asia a crazy man in possession of nuclear weapons, Kim Jong-un, is openly saying: I have ordered our military to position our rockets on US targets in Hawaii, Japan, Guam and the mainland of the United States.  He has gone into a full state of war this week.  I don’t know, Pastor Luter, I don’t know if anybody is — I know they’re not — they’re just not putting this together.  You got this happening over here and you got this happening over here: could the two be connected? Could our slide into immorality be what is unleashing this mad man over here in Asia to punish us?

Luter: It could be a possibility, I’m not that strong in prophecy but I would not be surprised that there’s not a connection there simply because of the fact we’ve seen it happen in scripture before. I would not be surprised that at the time when we are debating same-sex marriage, at a time when we are debating whether or not we should have gays leading the Boy Scout movement, I don’t think it’s just a coincidence that we have a mad man in Asia who is saying some of the things that he’s saying.

This is the same old load of disgusting garbage that we hear spewing from the mouths of evangelicals, every time that there is a major disaster, or threat of one.  “We made God angry, so he’s punishing us.”  Aside from the offensiveness of the idea that affording equal rights to all people is a punishable offense, you would think that, after thousands of years of accumulating knowledge on what ACTUALLY causes natural phenomena and human behavior, we could move past this ridiculous, primitive notion that everything bad that happens is the result of some fictional, cosmic bully’s displeasure.

Wiles: I have to admit I’m at a loss to understand the complacency and apathy of tens of millions of American Christians who are standing by, twiddling their thumbs while their nation is transformed into a socialist, homosexual, anti-God, anti-biblical morality cesspool.

Well, what can I say, Rick?  Witch burning, heretic torturing, crusade waging Christians are just getting harder and harder to come by, these days.  About your comment that the U.S. is becoming an “anti-biblical morality cesspool,” though, I think I’m pretty ok with that.  That’s probably because I am ABSOLUTELY anti-biblical morality, just as any reasonable person who has ever actually read the bible would be.  Because, anyone who has knows that “biblical morality” includes murdering children who disrespect their parents, as well as women who aren’t virgins on their wedding nights, forcing rape victims to marry their rapists, endorsing slavery, genocide and infanticide, and a whole slew of other unsavory things.  With all of that put into perspective, I think that it’ safe to say that anyone who has actually read the bible, and still supports the idea of “biblical morality,” is either engaging in some astonishing cognitive dissonance, or is completely insane.

Wiles: If the Supreme Court rules that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right, what are the ramifications for this nation?

You mean, other than gay people being able to get married, and our nation taking a long overdue step towards affording equal rights to all people?  Hmmm…I’m having trouble thinking of any, at the moment.

Luter: Oh man I would hate to think of it. You talked about Sodom and Gomorrah in your introduction and I can just see that happening man, it would be like America is pointing its finger at God and saying: ‘I know what your word says God, I know what the scripture says but we want to be our own king, we want to do things our own way.’ The last time a nation did that they were destroyed, Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed. I just see things getting consistently worse in America because of our decisions that we’ve made to just get farther and farther away from God and God’s word.

“The last time a nation did that they were destroyed, Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed.”  Actually, there are plenty of more recent instances of citizens actively deciding that the bible doesn’t dictate their moral laws, many of which took place right here, in the U.S.  For a few examples, see: abolition of slavery, legalization of interracial marriage, affording of equal rights to women, criminalization of marital rape, oh, and not to forget the establishment clause, and that first line in the Treaty of Tripoli, which begins: “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…” Of course, these are only a few out of numerous examples.  So far, I haven’t seen this mass destruction of our nation that you claim inevitably results from things like this, Fred.  Is your god just taking it easy on us?  That seems a bit out of character for him, all things considered.

Wiles also urged Christians to stop going to work, as a form of protest against the United States’ immoral ways.

Wiles: The country, the economic system would be on the verge of collapse if ten million productive Christians… simply said ‘we’re going to sit things out until this craziness stops,’ I think it would be over in a couple days.

Ahhhh, I see your reasoning, here, Rick.  Obviously, the best way to stop a nation from descending into a pit of chaos would be to cripple its economic system.  Genius!

Luter: That would be powerful, that would be a phenomenal statement to America and I think also to the world. The challenge would be getting those ten million Christians together to make it happen.

Wiles: Apparently they don’t believe the Gospel enough.

So, you’re saying that people value their livelihoods and ways of life more than a ridiculous, immoral code of ethics that was thought up by primitive men, in the bronze age?  Oh, the tragedy of it all.

Luter: I agree, we need about ten million Rick Wileses in the world, it would be radical.

Wiles: That would be a scary thought.

On that, Rick, we most certainly agree.

-J.C.

PA. Republican Attempts to Stifle Church/State Separation Lawsuits by Introducing Legislation that Would Prevent Plaintiffs from Remaining Anonymous

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The man in the photo above is Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Tim Krieger.  Apparently, Rep. Krieger doesn’t like the idea of citizens using anonymity to protect their safety and identities, when filing lawsuits that they fear may cause public backlash upon them and their families.

Yesterday, the Pennsylvania House Republican Caucus website reported on the introduction of House bill 922, which would prevent plaintiffs in lawsuits pertaining to the display of religious symbols on public property from remaining anonymous, unless they can directly prove that they would suffer physical injury as a result of appearing in court.

GREENSBURG — Rep. Tim Krieger (R-Delmont) announced today the introduction of his legislation to guarantee public transparency in litigation impacting the expression of religious liberties in public places (House Bill 922).

Passage of House Bill 922 would require that the party bringing any lawsuit designed to suppress, remove or inhibit the display or use of religious symbols in public locations would not be allowed to proceed anonymously, unless it can be clearly demonstrated that the primary litigant(s) would suffer serious physical harm due to appearing in court.

There are so many things wrong with this, I almost don’t know where to begin.  Let’s start with Krieger’s rationale behind this bill:

“Religious expression in public places has been part of our nation and Pennsylvania for generations, from the founding of the Commonwealth by William Penn and onward to modern times,” said Krieger.  “Even inside our state Capitol, religious symbols are still prominently displayed in both chambers of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, as well as through a mural of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments adorning the chamber of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.  A troubling practice has emerged in recent years where private parties file anonymous lawsuits to attack the display of religious symbols in public places.”

So, apparently Mr. Krieger finds the enforcement of church/state separation “troubling.”  Do you know what I find troubling?  The fact that we have state representatives who oppose the enforcement of and adherence to one of our most basic constitutional principles: that no government body may endorse any religion in any way.  Whether the practice of public religious displays has been traditionally allowed or not has no bearing on its legal status.  The fact is that the establishment clause makes it an unconstitutional practice.  Period.  This constitutional ideal has been upheld and reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in case after case, yet we still have elected officials who directly ignore, and even fight against it.

“Passage of House Bill 922 would guarantee that no individual or organization will be able to use our state courts as a weapon to attack the right of Pennsylvania citizens to display religious symbols in public places while hiding in the shadows,” said Krieger.

The right of citizens to display religious symbols in public places?  I don’t remember reading that in the constitution, Mr. Krieger.  Could you point it out for me, please?  Because, as I’ve already said, I’m pretty sure that the establishment clause, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, says something very different.

As far as his comment about the plaintiffs in these cases “hiding in the shadows,” this is nothing more than an attempt to vilify a minority who has every reason to want to remain anonymous in these cases.  This is illustrated by the huge precedent of harassment and threats that has been seen in the past, when individuals have publicly identified themselves in lawsuits such as the ones that this bill is aimed at.  Through cases like those of Jessica Ahlquist,  Vashti McCollum and many others, we have repeatedly seen the plaintiffs in such lawsuits and their families subjected to a variety of attacks, including verbal harassment, community shunning, threats of violence and death, actual violence, the online publishing of home addresses and more.  The fact that Mr. Krieger wants to do away with the only real protection that future plaintiffs have against this type of backlash is both angering and sickening.

When we have elected officials who directly oppose the enforcement of constitutional principles, it should be a red flag.  When those same officials attempt to introduce legislation that is aimed directly at discouraging citizens from pursuing the enforcement of those principles by taking away their only means of guaranteeing their safety in doing so, the citizenry should be sounding the alarm so loudly that those officials can’t hear themselves think.

So, I’m issuing a call to action for all secularists and other supporters of the establishment clause: let Rep. Krieger know that we will NOT tolerate this attack on citizens’ ability to safely fight for church/state separation.  You can find Rep. Krieger’s office contact information below.

-J.C.

Representative Tim Krieger
57th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
101 Ehalt Street
Greensburg, PA 15601-2300
Phone: 724-834-6400

E-mail: Tkrieger@pahousegop.com

A Word on Childhood Indoctrination

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I pledge allegiance to the Christian Flag, and to the Savior for whose Kingdom it stands. One Savior, crucified, risen and coming again, with life and liberty to all who believe.

Picture, if you will, 15-20 small children, huddled around a Christian flag at the front of a small church, droning these words out in a thrall-like monotone.  This is the scene that I was unfortunate enough to witness at the start of a church service, a few months ago. For numerous reasons, this was one of the most disturbing things that I have ever witnessed.  Let’s start at the beginning:

I pledge allegiance to the Christian Flag, and to the Savior for whose Kingdom it stands.

Now, this may not be the most popular idea that I have ever expressed, but I dislike the concept of children being required to pledge their allegiance to anything.  The idea that any of these children (some who were as young as 4, and none who were older than 9) have the mental capacity to truly comprehend the implications of taking an oath of allegiance is almost as ludicrous as the religious ideas that their parents are forcing them to pledge to, here.

Additionally, if someone is going to teach their children to pledge their allegiance to something, I can think of many other things that are much more deserving of it than a flag, or a religious figure.  How about a pledge of allegiance to the human race, or to all life?  Perhaps a pledge of allegiance to the planet that sustains all forms of life that we know of?

One Savior, crucified, risen, and coming again…

So, now we get down to the fairy tales.  The fact that these ridiculous notions of resurrection and immortality are being taught to these kids as factual events is sickening, in and of itself.  That these kids are forced to recite a weekly pledge, in which they must assert complete belief in these stories, under the pressure of doing so in front of a large group of adults and authority figures, makes me angrier than I have words to express.

…and coming again with life and liberty to all who believe.

And, to hell (literally) with all who don’t believe, right?  As a parent, this one gets to me the most.  How anyone could possibly think that teaching their children that anyone who does not think, believe, or live as they do is undeserving of life or liberty is a positive thing is completely incomprehensible to me.  Have we, as a species, not seen enough of the harms that are caused by notions such as these?  Are the parents of these children so ignorant, as to be unaware of the fact that millions of people throughout history have been enslaved, tortured and murdered, because of this very concept?  To be honest, I truly hope that they are that ignorant, because the only other possibility is far more disturbing.

The bottom line to all of this is that this kind of childhood indoctrination is brainwashing, no matter how you look at it.  Taking these children to church every Sunday, and forcing them to affirm belief in a religion that they cannot yet even fully comprehend or understand cannot be viewed under any other light.

Parents, here’s a novel idea: instead of teaching your children what to believe, why not try teaching them how to think?  Rather than teaching them to accept whatever they are told by those who hold authority over them, try teaching them to examine things, ask questions, and draw their own conclusions.  Granted, there’s always the possibility that they may not end up seeing things as you would like them to, but would you not prefer to raise a thinking individual, who decides things for his or herself, rather than an ignorant follower, who accepts whatever he or she is told by authority?

And, if you’re going to force your children to pledge their allegiance to something, please allow me to suggest this alternative to having them pledge to a flag, or belief system:

I pledge allegiance to the Universe, and all the life which it supports. One cosmos, in our care, irreplaceable, with sustenance and respect for ALL.

-J.C.