You’re doing journalism wrong

Pastor Jerry Allen Jackson claims that God used him “as an illustration” to deliver a message during his sermon last Sunday. Now Pastor Jerry has successfully manipulated his local media into a conduit for proselytizing to his community. Here are excerpts from Tara Edwards’ piece (emphasis mine):

[Time] was the focus of his sermon Sunday at Abundant Life Ministries in Ypslanti. We’re told at some point Pastor Jerry suddenly slumped.

Five registered nurses inside the church went to work on the pastor who they say had no pulse or heartbeat.

The whole congregation began praying for him while CPR was performed. The news was sent out to other churches and they began praying.

“Then i [sic] sat up and then I asked for the mic. ‘Amen, and I told them ‘praise God… I told you God will give you more time,” said Pastor Jerry.

Paramedics took him to the hospital  — at first it was believed he had a heart attack.

But now, Pastor Jerry says they don’t know what caused his heart to stop for minutes. He says he doesn’t need a reason, he says he knows why it did.

“I know because the message was God will give you more time. So he just used me as an illustration as I will give you more time.”

The pastor plans to take a break next Sunday and return the following Sunday better than ever.

To recap: a pastor preaching about God giving us more time conveniently experiences a “miracle” demonstrating his exact point, to the amazement of his faithful followers – including the media.

An incident so fishy should draw some skepticism from journalists, but Tara Edwards and the rest of WXYZ Detroit lapped it up.

A simple Google search for “fake healing” shows how frequently faith leaders use deception to sell their messages (and how easy it is to debunk these frauds). WXYZ’s report doesn’t look into this possibility a bit. Nor does it bother to include interviews with any witnesses besides the pastor and his wife. Pastor Jerry offered to spoon feed WXYZ a story, and they swallowed it unquestioningly.

Is it possible that Pastor Jerry really did succumb to some unexplained heart condition in his church last Sunday? Of course, but it does not mean that God was sending him a message. Is it also possible that Pastor Jerry was lying to make a point? We’ve got a motive…

Journalists have a special duty to look at stories objectively in order to find the truth. It appears that WXYZ failed completely in this instance.

1 Comment

Filed under Atheism/Religion

Atheist uncle writes to advice columnist

Here’s a feel-good story for you. The Town Talk, a newspaper in Alexandria, Louisiana connected to the Washington Post, features one of those “Dear So-and-So…” advice columns. Last Saturday, the following letter appeared in the column:

Dear Carolyn: My 13-year-old niece is interviewing family members about their religious beliefs for a school project. Niece wants to talk to me this weekend.

I am an atheist. Niece’s mom is uncomfortable with this fact. Is there anything in particular I should say to make clear that I respect the beliefs of others, while not shying away from openly and proudly proclaiming my own (lack of) beliefs? — Atheist Uncle

First, you have to feel for this guy. It’s an honor when young family members request to feature you in their school projects. The writer is obviously excited to share a bit of himself with his niece. Unfortunately, he lives in a country still not generally warm to nonbelievers.

Yet the response from Carolyn is a sign of a turning tide:

Carolyn Hax

Carolyn Hax: Awesome Advice-Giver Image credit: Washington Post

Carolyn: “I respect the beliefs of others, but I don’t shy away from openly and proudly proclaiming my own (lack of) beliefs.” That is, if she asks you how you regard beliefs that differ from yours. If she doesn’t ask that, then just stick to the point of the project, and answer truthfully whatever questions she asks about your beliefs.

Why do you need to spin your atheism to be palatable to the mother? It’s not like you’re sneaking your niece liquor or R-rated movies; you’re just telling your truth.

Plus, the project isn’t about orchestrating family harmony, it’s about your niece’s education. Plus, any discomfort her mom feels is the mom’s problem, and if the niece wants to talk to Mom about it or vice versa, then nothing’s stopping them. Plus, if her mother thinks atheism is so radioactive that her daughter’s faith can’t withstand mention of it, then she doesn’t have much faith in her faith.

Carolyn gets all the points for her answer. Atheism is not something Atheist Uncle needs to hide. Presumably, his niece’s project is about discovering religious diversity; and atheism is an increasing presence in that space. He owes it to his niece to be honest.

Carolyn is also correct in writing that a person who is threatened by the mere mention of atheism isn’t displaying a lot of conviction in her beliefs. If that’s the case, the believer needs to settle that within herself – the atheist shouldn’t be expected to hide who he is.

If you would like to thank Carolyn Hax for her affirming advice, you can email her at tellme@washpost.com.

Leave a comment

Filed under Atheism/Religion

Je-h-to-the-izzo-v-to-the-izzay-h’s Witnesses

One of the best things about living in a big city is the sheer diversity of its inhabitants. In the two weeks since I moved to Washington, D.C., I’ve seen every type of person from every walk of life. Of course, that means I also have the pleasure of running into the religious crackpots pushing their propaganda on every corner.

JWbible

I love free books!

Being a person who has intentionally subjected himself to numerous church services as an atheist, I’m really quite likely to oblige when one of these fanatics offers me a pamphlet on my way to the metro. And that is how I came to possess a publication from the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania – the publishing and distributing organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The book I received is called, “What Does the Bible Really Teach?” – and while Jehovah’s Witnesses presumably successfully hand these books out to tens of people every year, I might be the only one to read the entire 223-page document from cover to cover. Because I love you all so much, I decided I’d write a post highlighting the best parts of the book so that you don’t have to read it yourself. Join me below for a good laugh, and maybe you’ll even learn a bit about what Jehovah’s Witnesses actually believe.

The book starts in a manner almost encouraging to a secularist. In its opening discussion about asking questions regarding gods and the supernatural, it says:

It is good to ask such questions,  and it is important that you do not give up until you find satisfying, reliable answers.

I like that – we should endorse inquiry and scrutiny of answers. So far, so good. And then:

Despite what other people may have told you, there are answers, and you can find them – in the Bible.

And it’s pretty much all downhill from there.

So God is never the source of the wickedness you see in the world around you…Granted, he does allow bad things to happen. But there is a big difference between allowing something to happen and causing it.

You’re right. But if you see somebody attempting murder, and you do nothing to stop it, you’re not exactly an upstanding citizen. That’s one reason I don’t revere the Biblical character of God: when he’s not causing misery, he’s standing by and watching it happen.

Would love move you to end the suffering and the injustice you see in the world? If you had the power to do that, would you do it? Of course you would! You can be just as sure that God will end suffering and injustice.

If I could, I’d end suffering and injustice immediately – and in fact I and many other people are working to expedite the end of unhappiness. The Christian’s loving god is twiddling his thumbs.

Imagine-you can become a friend of the Creator of the universe!

“Imagine” is precisely the correct wording.

The Bible is scientifically accurate. It even contains information that was far ahead of its time. For example, the book of Leviticus contained laws for ancient Israel on quarantine and hygiene when surrounding nations knew nothing about such matters…Of course, the Bible is not a science textbook. But when it touches on scientific matters, it is accurate.

First of all, shouldn’t a book inspired by the all-knowing creator of the universe be better than just ahead of its time? Shouldn’t it be really freaking accurate – and not just in vague terms such as the shape of the earth?

Moreover, have you read some of the shit in Leviticus? Leviticus 24:16 calls for the stoning of blasphemers. Leviticus 20:9 requires death for children who curse their parents. Leviticus 27:3-7 values women (in monetary terms) at 50-60 percent the value of a man.

Yeah…this is information “far ahead of its time.”

The Bible’s principles apply to all people, and its counsel is always beneficial.

Try telling that to people who have endured slavery because their oppressors knew the Bible justifies it.

[God] decided that time was needed to answer Satan’s challenge in a satisfying way and to prove that the Devil is a liar. So God determined that he would permit humans to rule themselves for some time under Satan’s influence.

What’s a few anguishing deaths to prove a point?

At one time, some of Jesus’ own relatives did not put faith in him, even saying that he was “out of his mind.”

These are the people who deserve to be remembered 2000 years later.

As you grow in knowledge of Jehovah, your love for him will deepen. In turn, that love will make you want to please him.

Emphasis mine – but the gay sexual imagery in this book is pretty heavy for a group so opposed to homosexuality.

What makes Jesus an outstanding King? For one thing, he will never die.

We actually put limits on terms leaders can serve for good reason. I’d hate to have a leader serve indefinitely. This is a terrible quality.

…we see that there will be war between God’s Kingdom and the kingdoms of this world. God’s Kingdom will be victorious…Then humans will enjoy the best rulership they have ever known.

It’s not much of a war if God has already predetermined the winner, is it?

Also, was Christopher Hitchens ever more right than when he said that wanting this inescapable rulership is the “wish to be a slave“?

If you obey Jehovah, you too can become his friend!

JesusBaptism

Jesus and John sure were white for a couple of folks living in the desert of the Middle East.

A friend who requires obedience as a prerequisite for camaraderie is no friend at all.

But God is the one who says how he should be worshiped, and the Bible teaches that he does not want us to use images.

Similarly, God dictates that if we want to masturbate, we are only to use pornographic literature – never videos.

When you first learned what the Bible really teaches, did you find that your heart began to burn with joy, zeal, and love for God?

Well, I definitely had heart burn.

I did learn some about Jehovah’s Witnesses after reading this book. For instance, I knew that they refuse to celebrate holidays or birthdays, but I didn’t know that they are also encouraged to refuse gifts from friendly givers around these times. Of course, they offer a very satisfactory consolation to the poor children of these parents:

One of the best gifts you can give your children is your time and loving attention.

I was also surprised when I learned that Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe in a soul or spirit that exists outside of the body. They don’t believe that when we die our spirits travel to another realm.

The life we enjoy is like the flame of a candle. When the flame is put out, it does not go anywhere. It is simply gone.

Of course, they do believe that God will resurrect all the dead bodies worthy of eternal life and destroy the ones who aren’t. So there’s that.

Additionally, I learned that Jehovah’s Witnesses abstain from taking sides in politics. Though they are staunchly opposed to abortion, they choose to maintain political neutrality in worldly governmental procedures.

I used to think of Jehovah’s Witnesses as a weird sect of Christianity. It turns out that they believe most of the same things that other branches of Christianity believe, just without any of the feel-good doctrines that make a religion mildly tolerable. No meeting your relatives in the afterlife; no celebrations of birthdays or holidays – who wants to believe in nonsense completely barren of any redeeming qualities?

Leave a comment

Filed under Atheism/Religion

Pump the Brakes on Praising the Pope

Image credit: Wikipedia commons

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible,” he said. “The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

These are the words that have sent shockwaves across the Internet for their profundity and progressiveness. Seemingly every news outlet in the United States has covered the “ground-breaking” words of Pope Francis, but are we really paying attention to what he said?

At first glance, it’s not surprising that the Pope’s statement would impress much of the world. After all, his predecessor was proudly evil. At this point, the fact that Pope Francis hasn’t outwardly defended pedophiles makes him look a saint. But if we extract Francis’s words from the context of the Catholic church and view them against what should be expected of any decent human being, Pope Francis still falls short of being admirable.

Had the Pope said that the Catholic church should embrace gay priests (male and female) and marriage equality, that would be notable. Had he acknowledged that comprehensive sex education and access to contraceptives were important sexual health and started fighting for these programs, that would have been notable. Had he condemned the lies the church has spread regarding abortion and started campaigning for bodily autonomy, that would have been notable.

All the Pope said was that the church shouldn’t focus solely on those issues.

Talk about a game-changer.

The Pope also confirmed that he remains on the wrong side of those issues – at the end of the aforementioned quote and then again in a statement he issued on Saturday.

Pope Francis offered an olive branch of sorts to the doctrine-minded, conservative wing of the Catholic Church on Friday as he denounced abortions as a symptom of today’s “throw-away culture” and encouraged Catholic doctors to refuse to perform them.

Sorry everyone – Pope Francis isn’t the liberal revolutionary the media is making him out to be. Just another peddler of hateful Catholic doctrine.

2 Comments

Filed under Atheism/Religion

Distinguishing Between Fiction and Reality

Today I stumbled upon an article published in The Telegram of Worcester, Mass. It is titled “When atheists turn to God,” and it is completely bizarre. I encourage you to read it.

Anyway, I couldn’t let such a strange piece go unchallenged, and the comments section didn’t seem the forum for a rebuttal, so I decided to write a letter to the editor in order to voice my thoughts. The full text of my letter is below:

Dear Mr. Sinacola,

At the outset of Dr. Gary Welton’s recent As I See It article, “When atheists turn to God,” it appears that Dr. Welton is preparing to present a rebuttal to the American Humanist Association’s latest lawsuit to have “under God” removed from the Pledge of Allegiance. He had the opportunity to guide readers to reasons he believes this lawsuit misguided, which could have generated genuinely interesting conversation about the implications of the phrase and the impact of the lawsuit.

Instead he elected to deliver a strange lesson in literature.

After briefly introducing us to the AHA case, Dr. Welton sets forth a barrage of quotes related to the initial subject in varying degrees. Why Dr. Welton chose to use fiction as the backbone for his article concerning real issues is beyond me. It’s one thing to utilize an excerpt from literature to bolster one’s argument; it’s another thing entirely to build a whole article out of quotes. In total, Dr. Welton’s article consists of 12 paragraphs of literary quotes and only six paragraphs of original material.

However, what is more concerning than Dr. Welton’s uninventive writing style is his conformity to the notion that, when faced with strife, atheists also turn to a higher power. If Dr. Welton had taken the time to talk to nonbelievers to discover how they cope with trying situations – rather than regurgitate quotes – he might have found that atheists have established a number of ways to deal with tragedy and hard times in a purely secular way. Greta Christina, a prominent atheist blogger, has written extensively on the topic.

Atheists have a hard enough time in this deeply religious country without people like Dr. Welton spreading lies about our behavior. I’d like to invite Dr. Welton to join me in a conversation about what life as an atheist is really like. I’ve found that one of the best ways to increase understanding of atheists is for believers to actually meet them, and I’m not sure that Dr. Welton ever has.

Though atheist characters in popular fiction might display a tendency to drift back to the supernatural, nonbelievers in real life have a much different story to tell.

Timothy Pate 

Washington, D.C.

I genuinely hope to hear back from The Telegram, and I hope that this letter will lead to conversations with Dr. Welton. I will post any developments on this site.

5 Comments

Filed under Atheism/Religion

The Rock and the Dead Fish

Image credit: Mr. T in DC on Flickr

If it wasn’t obvious previously, it’s clear as day now – anti-gay Christians are facing serious oppression in the United States.

At least, that’s what Kelly Boggs of the Baptist Press seems to think. In an article published on BRnow.org, Boggs tries really hard to argue that times are tough for homophobic Christians in America:

A  moment of truth is rapidly approaching for those who believe homosexuality is an immoral, aberrant behavior. The choice will be whether to capitulate to a culture that asserts, without evidence, homosexuality is natural, normal and healthy, or to insist it is sinful and suffer consequences.

First of all – a Christian complaining about making assertions without evidence? That’s rich.

And what are these dire consequences Christians will be facing? According to Boggs’ article, Christians might have to obey the law:

In 2006, Vanessa Willock, one half of a lesbian couple, contacted Elaine Huguenin about photographing a commitment ceremony to be held in Taos, N.M. Huguenin co-owns Elane Photography, located in Albuquerque, N.M., with her husband.

Willock communicated that the ceremony was designed to celebrate her homosexual relationship. Huguenin declined the business because she and her husband are Christians and hold the conviction that homosexuality is a sin. They wanted no part of celebrating that which they believe is wrong.

Though Willock found another photographer, she filed a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission. The commission ruled that Elane Photography had engaged in sexual orientation discrimination, which is prohibited by state law. The photography company was ordered to pay $6,637.94 in attorney’s fees to the lesbian couple.

The problem with claims from the Christian right that they are being persecuted is that what they call “oppression” is simply not receiving special privileges. The article makes the case against itself without realizing it: sexual orientation discrimination is illegal in New Mexico. Don’t break the law and you don’t have to worry about consequences. What Boggs and Huguenin want is for law to be based on religious values, which isn’t fair and simply doesn’t work.

But Boggs is sure that people such as Huguenin are martyrs for the Christian cause:

The push to have homosexuality accepted as natural, normal and healthy in the United States knows no compromise. The movement to have homosexuality celebrated in America will not stop, nor will it be satisfied, until all voices that would even whisper it is sinful are squelched.

Homosexual activists have long used their free speech right to publically advocate for their aberrant lifestyle. Many of these same activists now use almost any means possible to restrict the freedom of speech of those who believe their lifestyle is wrong. Can you say ironic?

Wrong again, Boggs. Bigoted Christians still have the same rights to free speech as everyone else. Have you noticed how the Westboro Baptist Church is allowed to spew its revulsion? What you’re not allowed to do is discriminate based on a person’s orientation.

It is becoming harder to maintain anti-gay sentiments in America, but that’s because the weaknesses in the arguments against equality are being exposed every day.

Boggs concludes with an appeal to other Christians to stand strong in their convictions:

When the moment of truth arrives, the choice will be whether to stand firm against the current of popular culture or float along downstream like a dead fish.

He just doesn’t realize that the dead fish in this situation is the person who unthinkingly follows the tradition of bigotry and hate in Christianity.

Leave a comment

Filed under Atheism/Religion, Politics

Tyler the Repeator

Tyler, the Creator’s album, “Goblin”
Image credit: OddFuture.com

A few weeks ago, I read Ryan Bassil’s intriguing article, “The Conspiracy Theorist’s Guide to Tyler, the Creator’s ‘Wolf’ Trilogy,” in which Bassil hypothesizes that “Tyler, the Creator has created a directorial story-telling masterpiece…the best multi-faceted storyline since Slim Shady told me to go and stick nine-inch nails into each one of my eyelids.” And I’ll admit, I was interested.

With Bassil’s (incorrectly dubbed) conspiracy theory at my mind’s forefront as I perused the tracks, I continued to find myself at the least entertained – possibly impressed. His lyrics were dark, yes; but they displayed an extreme irreverence that I appreciated. I particularly enjoyed his revulsion at religion. Finally, we have a hip hop artist who doesn’t comply with the religious paradigm of the genre, I imagined. “But then again, I’m an atheist that just worships Satan / And it’s probably why I’m not getting no fucking album placements.” A rapper who can openly poke fun at the misconceptions and discriminations of nonbelievers? I thought we had a winner.

After the first go-round of his tracks, some red flags waved feebly, and I chose to ignore them. I quickly dismissed the criticism of Tyler that assumed his homophobia. His close relationship with and support of Frank Ocean (an openly gay hip hop artist) and repeated assertion that his incessant use of the word “faggot” works to deplete the word’s potential to demean persuaded me enough to continue to give Tyler the chance to be the good guy.

But the more I listened – and paid attention to – the lyrics (and the controversies surrounding them), the more it became apparent that Tyler the Creator is decidedly not a good guy.

The worst of his offenses comes in the form of outright misogynistic lyrics. And we’re not talking about subliminal, euphemistic, kind-of-rapey, “Blurred Lines”-esque misogyny (though that too is a problem). In the case of Tyler the Creator, we’re looking at full-fledged, graphic endorsement of rape. Take this excerpt from a song devoted almost entirely to rape imagery, “Transylvania“: “And now the slut is under the fucking assumption / That I will be fucking and munching her muffin / Cunt will be bleeding, but that’s not from the time signature of the month, umm.”

Apologists for Tyler have tried to explain these lyrics away. According to them, Tyler is embodying the personality of a rapist and is actually ridiculing the lonely assailant. Perhaps this is the case, but Tyler has allowed for this alternate personality to spill over into his real life.

At a 2011 show at the Highline Ballroom in New York, a “blonde girl surfed her way onstage and kissed Tyler, who announced, “I might legit have herpes.” The crowd laughed and started a “show your titties” chant, and she refused, looking bashful. “Then get the fuck off the stage!” Tyler yelled.”

Furthermore, after migrating into the crowd, Tyler announced:

that near the bar, he’d “bumped into a bitch and she got mad.”

“Bitch is a stripper!” he yelled, and lots of people cheered and laughed at the prospect of the bitch being a stripper. “Why come to an Odd Future show if you gon’ get mad?” he asked. “Pussy musta got like five licks. Bitch is a fuckin’ stripper, yo. You can go home if you don’t like it.”

In a room full of young men, many of whom could share Tyler’s misogynistic tendencies, I worry that women in these positions literally stand in the presence of physical danger. His behavior is not that of someone who relegates an alternate personality to his music. Tyler’s insistence that a woman’s worth is determined by her willingness to succumb to the demands of aggressive males perpetuates a culture that allows for the execution of the acts to which Tyler alludes.

Another defense of Tyler, the Creator stems from precisely that which I admired about him upon initial listening – his irreverence. Vulgarity can at times serve as the pitchfork with which we poke oppressors. Take Louis CK, whose sometimes obscene comedy routines regularly mock those deserving of mocking – the rapists, homophobes and racists. As Christopher Hitchens said, “One of the beginnings of human emancipation is the ability to laugh at authority.” The defenders of Tyler often posit that this is what he is doing.

However, closer inspection of his content reveals more predictability than polemics. As Sady, a writer for the blog Tiger Beatdown notes, Tyler isn’t saying anything that hasn’t been said by misogynists of the past. All Tyler is doing is weaving his chauvinism with clever rhymes. He’s spitting his venom louder and with much fervor, but it’s still the poison of the past.

Tyler’s Twitter feed, which regularly includes the same type of hate found in his music, serves as a sample of the person Tyler has become (or always was). Most of his tweets are in ALL CAPS, giving the impression that he is yelling. Yet nothing on his feed is of the level of importance that it deserves enthusiastic shouting. Tyler is the epitome of volume over substance.

Do I believe that Tyler, the Creator has the potential to shake up the hip hop genre? My adamant answer is yes. But nonconformity requires disrupting the norm; and right now, Tyler is but a coarse parrot for anti-woman sentiments that existed long before Tyler’s lame attempts to commandeer them.

Leave a comment

Filed under Feminism, Pop Culture