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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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:

Outcome of Battle Over Fraudulent Therapy Practices Still Undecided in NJ. Leader in Fight Warns that Gay Rights Advocates Still have a Long Road Ahead.

As the debate in Washington over gay marriage heats up, some gay rights advocates currently fighting other battles point out that there will still be a long way to go, even after marriage equality is achieved.  Troy Stevenson, the director of Garden State Equality, spoke about the issue with The American Prospect:

“The marriage-equality movement gets a lot of press [because] it’s viewed as the glass ceiling, that once we get that done, we’ve achieved equal rights. But that’s not the truth,” Troy says. “In many ways, these smaller battles are more important because they are less understood.” He points to the history of the women’s rights movement as evidence that full equality for homosexuals will not come with the stroke of a pen or a single Supreme Court decision. “After Roe v. Wade, a lot people declared victory and dropped out of the [women’s rights] movement, and now 40 years later they’re fighting the same battles again,” he says. “This is not something that we want to happen in the LGBT community.”

His comments stem from another current fight in in the gay rights movement, over the use of “gay conversion,” or “pray the gay away” therapies.

Gay rights advocates, including the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), are targeting the practice of conversion therapy on the grounds that by perpetuating the belief that homosexuality is a treatable mental disorder, it helps to legitimize discrimination against LGBT people.

Not to mention the fact that these kinds of therapies have been discredited by every major medical, psychiatric, psychological and counseling organization in the U.S.  Aside from having been shown to be ineffective, many even consider these therapies to be psychologically damaging and harmful.  Despite these facts, the practice has been allowed to continue.

Homosexuality was removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of pathological disorders in 1973.  But for decades, an ideologically motivated fringe industry has quietly carried on the work of trying to “cure” gay men and women.

Last year though, a bill was introduced in New Jersey that would take a major step towards ending these harmful and fraudulent practices:

Garden State Equality has been coordinating with New Jersey lawmakers to advance legislation that would ban conversion therapy for minors under the age of 18. The bill was introduced last fall by Democratic state Senator Ray Lesniak and is modeled on a similar law in California currently being challenged by proponents of conversion therapy.

The position of the charlatan “therapists” who are spearheading the opposition in California is that the ban violates their right to freedom of speech.  Lesniak points out, though, that this argument doesn’t really have a basis in reality.

“There is no scientific basis for this treatment—it’s akin to a chiropractor saying they can cure cancer by manipulating your spine,” he says. “Free speech does not mean anyone licensed to practice therapy can engage in fraudulent speech without being subject to a penalty.”

I couldn’t have possibly put it better, myself, Ray.  This is NOT an issue of freedom of speech.  It’s an issue of one group of people selling a service that is ineffective, at best,  to another group of people, based on a fraudulent claim: that homosexuality is a mental illness, and that it can be “cured.”

Still, gay rights opponents in New Jersey, including the organization  Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, or JONAH, quickly geared up to make a fight of it in their state, too, enlisting the aid of attorney Charles LiMandri.  You remember him, right?  He’s the anti-gay attorney who has committed such disgusting displays of public bigotry as calling homosexuality “destructive and pathological,” and threatening a second civil war if same sex marriage becomes legal.

They have been unsuccessful in their opposition to the bill, so far, as it was passed by the New Jersey State Senate last week.  Governor Chris Christie still hasn’t signed it, though, saying that it is a complex issue that has him divided:

“I’m of two minds just on this stuff in general. No. 1, I think there should be lots of deference given to parents on raising their children,” Christie said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. “I don’t – this is a general philosophy, not to his bill – generally, philosophically, on bills that restrict parents’ ability to make decisions on how to care for their children, I’m generally a skeptic of those bills. Now there can always be exceptions to those rules, and this bill may be one of them.”

Here’s my last thought on the issue: these “therapies” are nothing short of psychologically abusive.  Sexual orientation is NOT a choice, and therapy practices that maintain that it is, and try to force people to change it do nothing but heap shame, guilt and emotional trauma upon people who have NOTHING WRONG WITH THEM.  So, while parental choice issues may be a complex topic, Governor, abuse of minors is not.  Stop pretending that it is, just so you can continue toeing the political line.

-J.C.

New Reality Show Aims to Exploit Children, Family Members of Deceased Loved Ones

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If my daughter suddenly came up to me one day, claiming to be the reincarnation of Cleopatra, I would assume that she had been watching a bit too much television, and sit down to have a talk about reality vs. fantasy.  After all, every parent knows that sometimes, children’s imaginations can get a bit carried away, and that it would be unhealthy to encourage such delusions.  Right???

Well, maybe not quite every parent, and a new reality television show aims to capitalize on that fact.

In the tradition of shows like Toddlers and Tiaras, Ghost Inside my Child, a new show by producers Joke Fincioen (not taking this one, too easy), and Biagio Messina, will rely on parents who place potential profit over the mental well-being of their children, in order to fill their casting calls.

A Los Angeles production company is currently holding a nationwide casting call for children who claim to have, or have had, past life memories for a new reality series, “Ghost Inside My Child,” scheduled to air on the Bio Channel later this year.

What’s even more disturbing is that not only will the show be encouraging these fantasies in children, it will attempt to pull the family members of those deceased folks who they claim them to be reincarnated from into the delusion along with them.

As part of the show, Fincioen and Messina arranged a meeting between Leininger [one of the children featured in the pilot episode], and a member of Huston’s [the man who the show claims Leininger to be a reincarnation of], family, a woman now in her 90s.

The woman felt a connection with this young kid and, now, they hope to do similar bits of “closure” with the new crop of past life preteens…

Fortunately, some prominent members of the skeptical community are already speaking up about the dubious premise of the show, as well as its potential harmfulness.  D.J. Grothe, president of the James Randi Educational Foundation, voiced some of these concerns to the Huffington Post.

“Unfortunately, people use anecdote and stories as proof of these supernatural claims, and this is not dissimilar to ghost stories, or accounts of supposedly accurate psychic readings people will tell,” he told HuffPost by email.

He also has problems with the idea of going to family members of deceased people and telling them that a kid just might be a dearly departed loved one.

“The people who lost a loved one have to re-experience the loss, are told outlandish claims about their loved one being alive again and stuck in the body of a child somewhere,” he said. “I think this is a crassest manipulation of belief and of the fear of death merely for the sake of reality TV ratings.”

As for my two cents, the producers of this show, as well as any parents who would encourage their child to maintain fantasy as reality by submitting them for casting, are placing that child’s future development and mental health at risk, for profit.  In my view, this makes them some of the worst kinds of charlatans, and if there were an afterlife, I like to think that there would be a special place of unpleasantness reserved just for them.

-J.C.

This Week’s OFFF Award Goes to Pat Robertson!

This Week's OFFF Award Goes to Pat Robertson!

Pat Robertson pulled off a double play, this week. On top of his claim that environmental regulation could result in the deaths of “a couple billion people,” this king of charlatans actually had the balls to WARN people AGAINST religious frauds, telling them to “beware these scamsters, especially scamsters in religious garb, quoting the bible.” Holy Cow!!!

Either one of these statements alone would have made him a nominee for this week’s OFFF award, but both of them in one week made him a shoe in! Congratulations, Pat, on some truly Outstanding Fraud, Fakery, and Falaciousness.

Don’t forget to send in your nominees for next week’s award!

‘Psychic’ Twice Arrested for Fraud Completely Avoids Legal Punishment by Paying off Her Victims in Both Cases

At the beginning of this month, the Orlando Sentinel reported on a woman named Peaches Stevens, who had been arrested for fraud, back in November of 2011.  Apparently, Peaches, who also goes by the name of “Miss Starr,” makes her money as a self proclaimed psychic and fortuneteller.  Her basic M.O. is to convince her victims that they and their loved ones have a terrible curse upon them, and then extort large sums of money from them, with promises to remove the curse:

Overwhelmed by problems, Priti Mahalanobis consulted a fortuneteller who told her there was a curse on her family.  After spending nearly $136,000 in cash, gift cards and jewelry to have Windermere psychic “Miss Starr” remove the hex, Mahalanobis came to the conclusion that she had been swindled.

This time, her fraudulent ways came back to bite her, and now she must repay every cent that she took from Mahalanobis and her husband. Now, I’m usually a huge fan of exposing and punishing frauds and charlatans, especially when they are forced to pay restitution to those poor, desperate and gullible people who they have victimized, but I have some major problems with the way that this case was handled.  For example:

All charges were dropped in September [2012] after Stevens agreed to give Mahalanobis and her husband a full refund of $135,898.60.

So, there will be no further repercussions for her actions, no record of charges or convictions, and she gets to go on scamming people out of their hard earned cash.  To me, this feels like a justification for ‘psychics’ like this woman defrauding people, based on their gullibility.

“Whoops, you caught me, this time. Since you were clever enough to figure me out, I’ll just give you your money back, and we’ll call it even. Next customer, please!”

On the other hand, I do believe in giving second chances, so I’ll try to be optimistic, and assume that the prosecutors in the case were hoping that the whole thing would convince her to switch to a more honest line of work.  If only we lived in a perfect world.

On Thursday [March 7, 2013], a similar settlement was negotiated and the Orange-Osceola State Attorney’s Office agreed not to prosecute Peaches Stevens, 30, or her aunt Sharon Stevens, 45, also a psychic.

Sharon Stevens, professionally known as Sarah Stevens, was arrested last week at her home in Hallandale Beach on charges of scheming to defraud and grand theft. A warrant for the arrest of Peaches Stevens was recalled Thursday.

Sharon and Peaches Stevens will reimburse a 67-year-old woman in full: $50,702.94 in cash, gift cards and unspecified merchandise paid to have evil spirits vanquished, the State Attorney’s Office said. Neither psychic admitted civil or criminal liability.

So, we have the same psychic, this time with the addition of her aunt as an accomplice, arrested for pulling the same scams as before, and then being allowed to wriggle out of legal punishment in exactly the same way.  Once again, there is no deterrent or legal accountability.  Once again, she is allowed to continue operating her business under the fraudulent claim of psychic ability, and running her same old scams.  This woman should have been held to the same prosecutory standards as any other common con artist to begin with.  To allow her off a second time shows just how ridiculously tolerant of this kind of behavior our society is.

So, let me be clear on where I stand, here: charlatanry is NOT a victimless crime, and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, with monetary restitution being only a portion of perpetrators’ total legal punishment.  Frauds like this woman prey remorselessly on the aggrieved and desperate, and the emotional and psychological damage that they often do to their victims goes far beyond monetary loss.  So should the consequences.

-J.C.