June 30, 2009

What happened in June 2009?

June 30, 2009
St Paul is still making news after all these years. Our blog has the story.

June 28, 2009 (TimesOnline)
Evolutionary biologist and author, Richard Dawkins, has opened a summer camp for atheist children in Britain. All 24 slots have been taken. The first atheist camp was Camp Quest in the USA.

June 27, 2009
Brigham Young University, the Mormon church school where students agree to live a chaste and virtuous life, has lifted its almost three-year policy of blocking YouTube. Go to our blog for this and other exciting BYU/Mormon stories.

June 26, 2009
Agora, a movie about Hypatia, considered to be the first notable woman in mathematics will open this December. She was murdered by a Christian mob in Roman Egypt. More on our blog.

June 26, 2009
The Alabama Freethought Society has put up a 14x48-foot billboard emblazoned with the John Lennon message: "Imagine No Religion," against a stained-glass window backdrop. The poster is in Talladega County and will stay up for a month.

June 26, 2009
The Stoning of Soraya M (left) opens in theaters today. It's a true story based on a terrible injustice. More on our blog.

June 25, 2009
Our blog
has a video of a gay exorcism in an African American church plus commentary.

June 25, 2009
NY Times
Pastor Ken Pagano of the New Bethel Church in Louisville, KY has planned a "bring your guns to church day" this July 4th. The only thing that might stop the event is if he can't get insurance. His current insurance company canceled the church’s policy for July 4 and told him that it would cancel the policy for good at the end of the year. Update, Update, Update!!! It happened. see ABC News

June 23, 2009 Non Sequitur (Only is America is it necessary to include evolution in a religion blog).


June 22, 2009 BBC News
French President Sarkozy attacked the wearing of the burka, calling it "not a sign of religion but a sign of subservience". Some members of parliament want a commission set up to investigate the spread of the burka in France.

June 20, 2009 (5:45 am)
It's the summer solstice and the pagans are partying like it's 1999. See our blog for pictures of this year's celebration at Stonehenge.

June 18, 2009 (Washington Post)
Wittenberg, Germany, the town where Martin Luther started the Reformation, is short of Lutherans. Fewer than one in five people identify themselves as Christians.

June 14, 2009
Koogle, the world's worst search engine is up and running. Hey, but it's kosher! More on our blog.

June 10, 2009 (Washington Post)
An 88-year old white supremacist shot and killed a security
Alysa Stanton poses in front of an ark in the synagogue at Hebrew Union College, Thursday, May 21, 2009, in Cincinnati. Stanton is to be ordained June 6 as mainstream Judaisms first black woman rabbi.
guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington.

June 6, 2009
Alysa Stanton became America's first black female rabbi today. More on our blog.

June 5, 2009
Sixty-nine percent of Americans are in favor of gay men and lesbians serving in the military. The biggest increase in support came from conservatives and weekly churchgoers.

June 4, 2009
Non Sequitur

June 3, 2009
Peaceful countries have more atheists and fewer regular worshippers. The difference is highly statistically significant. Click on the date for the story.

June 1, 2009 (New York Times)
A man angry about the killing of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan killed one soldier and wounded another outside a recruiting station in Little Rock, Arkansas.

June 29, 2009

Saint Paul -- still making news

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June 30, 2009

Saint Paul made it into the news two days in a row, which is pretty impressive considering he has been dead for nearly 2,000 years.

Times Online (June 29, 2009)
To your right is the oldest picture of St Paul, according to Vatican archaeologist. The 4th-century portrait was found in the catacombs of St Thecla, not far from the Basilica of St Paul's Outside the Walls in Rome (pictured below) where church tradition says St Paul was buried.

The portrait shows St Paul with a high-domed forehead, deep-set eyes and a long pointed beard, confirming the image familiar from later depictions.

New York Times (June 28, 2009)

And the day before that story, archaeologists reported they opened the white marble sarcophagus located under the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls and carbon-dated bone fragments found inside.

Pope Benedict XVI said the scientists confirmed that the fragments date from the first or second century. The pope hedged his statement a bit by saying the test "seem to conclude” that the bones belong to St Paul.

From the New York Times article.
“This seems to confirm the unanimous and uncontested tradition that they are the mortal remains of the Apostle Paul,” Benedict said, announcing the findings at a service in the basilica to mark the end of the Vatican's Pauline year, in honor of Paul.
It could be true. He has to be buried somewhere.

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June 28, 2009

Brigham Young University Allows YouTube Access

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Washington Post, June 28, 2009

No wonder BYU has such a great football team. With all that pent-up sexual energy the players must be explosive on the field.

According to the above Washington Post article:

Brigham Young University, the Mormon church school where students agree to live a chaste and virtuous life, has lifted its almost three-year policy of blocking access to YouTube.

A ban on YouTube?

Apparently, the BYU administration was concerned that students might stumble across porn while perusing YouTube. The ban was lifted because of an increasing amount of educational material on the site.

BYU alum need not worry about the school's declining moral values.

The school's student newspaper refused an ad for the above T-shirt in 2004. (link)

And Chad Hardy, the man who produced the Men on a Mission calendar was excommunicated from the church and was denied his BYU dipoma. The calendar features twelve sexy returning Mormon missionaries posing shirtless. The below video has the Mormon beefcake featured in the 2009 calendar.

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June 26, 2009

The first woman mathematician in antiquity

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June 26, 2009

Hypatia of Alexandria, according to Wikipedia, was born between AD 350 and 370 and lived until 415. She was a Greek scholar from Alexandria, Egypt, who is considered the first notable woman in mathematics. She also taught philosophy and astronomy.

She lived in Roman Egypt and was killed by a Christian mob who blamed her for religious turmoil. Says Wikipedia:
The Christian monks stripped her naked and dragged her through the streets to the newly Christianized Caesareum church, where she was brutally killed. Some reports suggest she was flayed with ostraca (potshards) and set ablaze while still alive, though other accounts suggest those actions happened after her death.
The 2009 film, Agora, based on Hypatia's story, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. It stars Rachel Weisz and Max Minghella and was directed by Spanish-Chilean director Alejandro Amenábar. It will be released in the United States on December 18, 2009. It's a fascinating study in religious fascism.

The trailer is here:

Interview at Cannes with Alejandro Amenabar and Rachel Weisz.

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June 25, 2009

Gay Exorcism

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June 25, 2009

Politics Daily

The Fox News video is an extreme example of the anti-gay sentiment in many African-American churches.

In Washington, DC, African-American pastors are leading the fight to stop the district from passing a law recognizing gay marriages from states where it is legal. According to the Politics Daily article, they are concerned that the next step will be gay marriages in the district.

In California, African-Americans overwhelmingly supported Proposition 8, an amendment to the state Constitution stating that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

ABC News

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June 24, 2009

The Stoning of Soraya M

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June 26, 2009

Update Update Update
The Washington Post movie critic didn't like the movie for much the same reason I am not going to see it.
"The Stoning of Suraya M." is a coliseum show with ringside seats.
movie website

The Stoning of Soraya M opens today. It's based on the novel of the same name. It's a true story about a young Iranian woman who was falsely accused of adultery and stoned to death. The Wikipedia link above has a plot summary.

It sounds like an important and well-made movie. It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it was the runner-up for the Audience Choice Award. That said, I don't think I will see it.

The producers of the film would like people to focus on the hidden martyrs -- women beneath the veil -- rather than the corrupt Islamic authorities. I don't think I could focus on much else besides the stoning. According to what I read, it's a very graphic scene. Soraya is buried up to her waist and stoned to death.

I have come to believe that exposure to extreme violence changes a person. It numbs the soul (or if you don't believe in a soul, it alters your consciousness).

Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ is another movie I took a pass on. (Gratuitous violence is not my thing.) I get unhealthy violent urges driving on the Beltway in Northern Virginia. I don't need to see stonings and crucifixions.

Here is the trailer.

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June 22, 2009

Summer Solstice 2009

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June 20, 2009 (5:45 am) Wikipedia

This year the summer solstice celebration at Stonehenge, England went off without a hitch. Approximately 35,000 people showed up. They trashed the place but very few people were arrested.

Here are photos and a video from the celebration.

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June 20, 2009

Kosher search engine

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June 14, 2009 (The New York Times)

Oy vey!

Israel ultra-Orthodox Jews now have a kosher search engine. It's called Koogle (cute).

This has got to be the worse search engine on the planet. The only thing it has are links to Israeli news and shopping sites. And you can't shop on Saturday because the sites are disabled on that day. Hey, but it's kosher!

Here are links to other stories about Israeli Orthodox Jews. I have to imagine there is a bit of tension between the ultra-Orthodox Israelis and the more secular Israelis.

Oct 6, 2008 (published)
Kosher cell phones are available for ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel. The phones can't send or receive text messages, browse the
Internet or take photos -- all activities that could potentially involve "inappropriate" behavior.

Oct 4, 2008
Jewish "modesty patrols" are sowing fear in
Israel. They hurl stones at women for such "sins" as wearing a red blouse, and attack stores selling devices that can access the Internet.

Feb 24, 2005
Dozens of ultra-Orthodox Jewish worshipers confronted Natalie Portman and her co-star, Aki Avni, objecting to the couple kissing during the filming of a scene beside Jerusalem's Western Wall.

March 22, 2005 (publication date)
Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel denounce an ultra-Orthodox Israeli scholar and science writer because he doesn't believe the earth is 6,000 years old.

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June 16, 2009

Bill Maher's "Religulous"

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Bill Maher's documentary, "Religulous," is now on Google Video.

Religulous, according to its wikipedia page,
is a 2008 American comedy/documentary film written by and starring political comedican Bill Maher and directed by Larry Charles. According to Maher, the title of the film is a portmanteau derived from the words "religion" and "ridiculous"; the documentary examines and satirizes organized religion and religious belief.

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America's First Black, Female Rabbi

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June 6, 2009

Guardian June 15, 2009
Time June 6, 2009

Congratulations to Alysa Stanton, America's first black female rabbi. On June 6 she graduated from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati and will become the rabbi at Congregation Bayt Shalom in Greenville, N.C., on Aug. 1.

Stanton arrived at Judaism after sampling a number of different religions.

From the Guardian article:
She was attracted to it she says because Judaism encompasses not just religion but also spiritualism, social justice and community.
The Guardian article also mentioned that at her graduation:
Her adopted daughter Shana was reduced to tears by a group of white Christian protesters outside the temple taunting her and making disparaging remarks.
The article didn't explain why they were protesting. I am not sure if they were upset with Stanton for leaving Christianity and becoming a rabbi or if they were looking for an excuse to disrupt the graduation service. I think it has to be one or the other.

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June 11, 2009


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As Michael Burleigh, a leading historian of the Third Reich, has pointed out in a commentary on Singer’s work, eliminating defectives in pre-Nazi Germany was exactly what opened the door to the Holocaust. In his book Confronting the Nazi Past, Burleigh writes, “Singer omits to mention that one of the essential elements of [Nazi] propaganda was the denial of personality to their victims.” He adds that Singer is “displaying remarkable naiveté” when he suggests that the choices that would have to be made in evaluating a prospective defective for elimination would be in trustworthy hands if doctors were in charge. Burleigh notes that the Nazi euthanasia program was led by scientists and psychiatrists, people drawn from the best-educated and most “civilized” ranks of a sophisticated secular medical class not too different from the academic class Singer himself belongs to.

June 12, 2009

At first I thought writing about the Holocaust was a foolish thing to attempt. There are thousands of books on the subject. They range from children's books to scholarly works. Whatever could be said about it has probably already been said by others, many of whom lived through it.

That said, it's a major event in the 20th century and anyone writing a blog about religion can't simply link to a wiki entry about Auschwitz and move on.

Right or wrong, here are my views.

Most of the Holocaust books deal with the event in isolation. The approach I would like to take is to look at the history of religious violence in Europe and tie it into the Holocaust. The Holocaust didn't materialize out of thin air.

Killing the others
Modern Europe is one of the most secular places on the planet. The churches have gone from being at the center of life and power to tourist destinations. Of course it wasn't always that way. The Europeans have been killing Jews, other Christians and Muslims for more than a thousand years.

Two of the bloodiest periods were the Crusades (1096-1270) and an age of Religious Wars (1560-1715).

There were nine Crusaders. The stated objective was to retake the holy land for Christianity. However, the Crusaders didn't confine their zeal for killing to Muslims. They killed about ____ Cathers in southern France (the Catholic Church considered the Cathers heretics). They sacked the Eastern Orthodox city of Constantinople and of course they killed Jews. The Crusaders felt that it didn't make sense to go off and kill Muslims in the holy land while nonbelievers (Jews) remained in the country they were leaving.

Jews were murdered in England ....

Crusades (1096-1270)
killing of the Cathars

Anabaptist killing (1520-1530)

Europe in the Age of Religious Wars, 1560-1715 (witchcraft, inquisition etc)


Spanish (Catholics) killing the Dutch
The French Wars of Religion (Catholics vs Huguenots) 2 to 4 million dead
Thirty Year War 3 to 11.5 million dead

The point of all this is that Europe was a very intolerant place and the Jews were often tolerated for a time before they weren't tolerated.

Did the pogroms become greater?

Did they cut off escape routes?

Start with religious intolerance in Europe. Go after anyone who is different. The others. mention Cathers, Anabaptist, French wars of Religion

Pogroms were local. Jews were able to leave. Some places welcomed them.

map of Jewish expulsions.

Holocaust almost all of Europe. Germany's had almost all of Europe. No Jews in Spain.

Jews had escape routes in the past. Local population was more interested in getting rid of them.

WWII no escape routes and Germans wanted them all dead.

They also had the help of many local populations. Guards - many locals and locals helped identify Jews

Questions -- why did the Germans want them all dead verse kicking them out of Europe?

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June 10, 2009

Marcus Brigstocke on the "great Abrahamic religions"

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From his wikipedia page: "Marcus Alexander Brigstocke (born 8 May 1973) is an English comedian and satirist who has worked extensively in stand-up comedy, television and radio. He is particularly associated with the 6.30pm comedy slot on BBC Radio 4, having frequently appeared on several of its shows."

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The Mosque in Morgantown

June 10, 2009

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Asra Nomani was a reporter for the Wall Street Journal when her friend, Daniel Pearl, a fellow WSJ journalist, was kidnapped and murdered in Pakistan.

The execution of Pearl and subsequent discovery that the mosque in her hometown of Morgantown, WV, was preaching intolerance changed her from an objective journalist to an activist.

The Mosque in Morgantown, directed by Brittany Huckabee, is a documentary about her attempt to change the practices in her hometown mosque as well as Islam as practiced in America.

I saw a shortened preview of the film followed by a Q&A session with Ms. Nomani, the director and others at Georgetown University on June 9. I'll be watching the full version when it airs beginning June 15 and recommend it to anyone interested in the Muslim community in America.

The part of the film that I saw dealt primarily with Ms. Nomani's attempt to gain equal treatment for women in the mosque. Women can't enter the Morgantown Mosque through the front door, and they are segregated from the men. "When she returns home to West Virginia to raise her son, she believes she sees warning signs at the local mosque: exclusion of women, intolerance toward non-believers, and suspicion of the West," according to the documentary's website.

I found particularly enlightening her interviews with members of the mosque about what she was doing. The more liberal members thought she was going about it the wrong way. The more conservative members basically told her to keep her trap shut and stop causing trouble.

One elderly woman was concerned that men would be undressing women with their eyes if women were not separated from men in the mosque. I can't see how this could possibly be an issue.

If I wanted to undress a woman with my eyes, a mosque is the last place I would go. Most of the women are covered from head to toe. It would take a lot more imagination than I have to divine what's underneath all that cloth.

All joking aside, the documentary looks like a winner. Check The Mosque in Morgantown website for the exact day and time it's airing in your area. The earliest date on PBS is June 15, 2009. As you would expect from a former Wall Street Journal reporter, the website is very informative. There is also a discussion section if you care to express your thoughts about the documentary.

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June 6, 2009

Penis Day in Japan

March 15, 2009

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Honen Matsuri Wikipedia

You have to admire a culture that remembers and honors the old ways. In Japan, every year Shinto priest lead the fertility celebration known as Honen Matsuri.

From the above Wiki link:
The best known of these festivals takes place in the town of Komaki, just north of Nagoya City. The festival's main features are Shinto priests playing musical instruments, a parade of ceremonially garbed participants, all-you-can-drink sake, and a 280 kg (620 pound), 2.5 meter (96 inch)-long wooden phallus. The wooden phallus is carried from a shrine called Shinmei Sha (in even-numbered years) on a large hill or from Kumano-sha Shrine (in odd-numbered years), to a shrine called Tagata Jinja.
A 620-pound penis! Yikes.

Here are some more pictures of the festival:

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June 2, 2009

Boy chosen by Dalai Lama turns back on Buddhist order

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May 31, 2009 (Guardian)

Well good for him.

Osel Hita Torres, the boy chosen by the Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of a deceased spiritual leader has basically told the Tibetan religious community to go pound sand. He isn't interested in being the reincarnation of anyone.

From the above Guardian article.
Yesterday he bemoaned the misery of a youth deprived of television, football and girls. Movies were also forbidden – except for a sanctioned screening of The Golden Child starring Eddie Murphy, about a kidnapped child lama with magical powers. "I never felt like that boy," he said.
The only movie he saw as a child was The Golden Child starring Eddie Murphy?

I have to confess, I have always been fascinated with this selection process. The Dalai Lama was selected as a child and he certainly is a sharp guy. I figured they must be doing something right.

I was wrong. It's child abuse. If you want to live a monastic life, more power to you, but no child should be separated from his parents and placed into it.

Torres is back in his native country, Spain, studying film. Hopefully, he's also drinking to excess and chasing after lots of women to make up for lost time.

June 3, 2009

Here is a link to a NY Times review of Unmistaken Child, a search for the reincarnation of another dead Tibetan master.

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June 1, 2009

Catholics and the Supreme Court

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New York Times (May 30, 2009)

I'm willing to bet Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor will make it to the Supreme Court. And when she does, the court will have six Catholics, two Jews and one lonely Protestant.

Does it matter? I don't think so.

President Bush wanted reliable conservative judges. He probably would have loved to stack the court with fundamentalist Christians who graduated from Regent University law school (founded by televangelist Pat Robertson) or some other ultra-conservative university. Many of the lawyers Bush appointed to the Justice Department were from Regent. But I doubt graduates of schools like Regent would qualify for the Supreme Court. (U.S. News & World Report ranks Regent University School of Law as a Tier 4 school, the lowest ranking within the law school category.) So he turned to conservative Catholics who graduated from great law schools.

Sonia Sotomayor was selected by a Democrat. She isn't a church-going Catholic and will more than likely be a bit left of center. From what I have read about her, she tends to be pro-business and a bit liberal on social issues. I think she will be a bit like a slightly liberal version of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

This is about the best appointment Republicans can expect to get from a Democratic president. I'm willing to bet Obama's next Supreme Court appointee will be a flaming liberal activist judge -- the left-wing equivalent of Chief Justice John Roberts -- who will drive Republicans crazy.

We'll see.

Here's another view from the Washington Post.

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