August 29, 2009

Ex-pastor: 10 Things I Hate About Christianity

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Jason T. Berggren (right), a devout Christian, a former pastor and a former heavy-metal Christian rocker has written a book entitled "10 Things I Hate About Christianity."

Normally I would would find a review and drop this in the book section of the Today In Religion website, but it's just as easy to list the 10 things and be done with it.

Here they are:

1. Faith: “There is no evidence for what we believe. That’s why it’s called faith. God doesn’t appear at the mall with Jesus to buy you sneakers.”

2. Prayer: “You do it, and it feels like it doesn’t accomplish what you want it to accomplish. You wonder: What’s really changed? Sometimes God takes time and asks us to accept no.”

3. The Bible: “So often you read something and wonder, is that trustworthy? Is it helpful? Does everything always have to be so boring and confusing?”

4. Sin: “Am I really so evil or so bad that I have to think of myself as sinful? Of course, we’re all only two or three decisions from ruining our life completely.”

5. Rules: “Why are there so many rules, and do I have to keep them all? There is too much to keep track of.”

6. Love: “It feels too hard to love everyone all the time.”

7. Hell: “Why would a loving God create hell?”

8. Answers: “I don’t always like the answers that Christianity gives. Do I have to accept them?”

9. Church: “Everyone says go to church. But how does that make me a better person?”

10. Christians: “Why are Christians so crazy, annoying and judgmental?”

Dan Harris of ABC News did a news feature on Berggren. (link).
Berggren also has a website (link).

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August 21, 2009

UFO Religion Founder Sponsors Go Topless Day!

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Mark this on your calendar! August 23rd is Go Topless Day in several locations around the United States. The event is being sponsored by Rael (formerly the French sports car journalist Claude Vorilhon), who founded Raelism, the largest UFO religion in the world.

I doubt you are really interest in Raelism theology, but here it is anyway.

From Wikipedia:
Followers of the movement believe that Raël, received special knowledge and instruction for mankind from the creators of life on Earth, human-like extraterrestrials called Elohim whose technology enabled them to appear as "angels" or "gods" in the eyes of ancient people. Raëlians believe that previous visitation from Elohim sparked the founding of many major religions humanity knows today.
I have no idea what the above has to do with going topless. Details of the topless event can be found at

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Meditation without borders

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I just finished reading "How God Changes Your Brain." (One of the authors is Dr. Andrew Newberg, associate professor of radiology and psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania). I was about to blog about it when I found this Reuters article. Not wanting to wear out my own brain, I am going to quote the Reuters article and then add something of my own.

According to the book, meditation and similar practices (repetitive prayer, or contemplating a benevolent God for example) can change your brain in a positive way. Conversely, you can stimulate the part of your brain involved in such emotions as anger and fear by focusing on a vindictive God. Newberg verified the changes with MRI scans.

From the Reuters article:

"In essence, when you think about the really big questions in life — be they religious, scientific or psychological — your brain is going to grow," says Newberg, head of the Center for Spirituality and the Mind at the University of Pennsylvania.

"It doesn't matter if you're a Christian or a Jew, a Muslim or a Hindu, or an agnostic or an atheist."

So even if you don't believe in God, it's possible to experience what some religious people are experiencing by following their practices. Sam Harris, an atheist, and Robert Wright, an agnostic, have similar views about meditations as Newberg, who meditates but has never practiced a specific religion (link).

Sam Harris, who is a well-known atheist who's also working on a Ph.D. in neuroscience, touched on this in an article entitled Killing the Buddha. He advocates dropping the religious aspects of Buddhism and saving the good parts.

If the methodology of Buddhism (ethical precepts and meditation) uncovers genuine truths about the mind and the phenomenal world — truths like emptiness, selflessness, and impermanence —these truths are not in the least “Buddhist.” No doubt, most serious practitioners of meditation realize this, but most Buddhists do not.

Robert Wright, the author of "The Evolution of God" and an agnostic wrote a New York Times article entitle Self, Meditating. He describes his experiences at his first week-long silent meditation retreat.

The experience changed the way he looked at the world.

"When I first got there, I didn’t understand why some people were closing their eyes while eating. By the end of the retreat, I was closing mine. The better to focus on the source of my ecstasy. I wasn’t just living in the moment — I was luxuriating in it."

So we have an atheist, an agnostic and someone who has never practiced a specific religion — all enthusiastic about meditation. They each approached the subject from different points of view, but they come to the same conclusion

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August 15, 2009

Prosperity Gospel Preacher Still Raking It In

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New York Times (August 15, 2009)

Kenneth and Gloria Copeland (and others) are still preaching the "prosperity gospel" and still taking money from people who can least afford it.

From the New York Times article.
Even in an economic downturn, preachers in the “prosperity gospel” movement are drawing sizable, adoring audiences. Their message — that if you have sufficient faith in God and the Bible and donate generously, God will multiply your offerings a hundredfold — is reassuring to many in hard times.
The Copelands' ministry pulls in about $100 million a year. The Times gave one example of a family that is $102,000 in debt and gave the church $2,000 for a new jet and $1,800 to upgrade the ministry's TV equipment.

Much of the money goes to bankroll the Copelands' lavish lifestyle (enormous houses, jets, Rolls Royces, etc.). All of which violate IRS guidelines which require that pastors' compensation be "reasonable".

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, opened an investigating into the Copelands and other prosperity gospel ministers in November 2007 (wikipedia). It's still not finished!

Note to Senator Grassley:
Instead of running around the country ranting and raving about how the proposed health care bill will allow the government to pull the plug on grandma, why don't you wrap up the prosperity ministry investigation. (Youtube)

Here is a CBS News report on Copeland.

Here's a link to a blog I did about Reverend Ike. He was one of the first prosperity gospel ministers, and in my view still the best. The link has a video of Ike in action. You can compare Ike's preaching to Copeland's (below).

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August 12, 2009


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There have been a rash of articles celebrating and demonizing the 40th anniversary of the summer of 1969. Here's yet another one. I hope you will find it a little different.

I look at the summer of 1969 as the culmination of several years of social disruption followed by a slow remolding of values in the 1970s and 1980s. If I may get a little "new age," there was a cosmic rip in the social fabric of the country, and something new emerged. A lot of what happened was bad, but a lot of what emerged was pretty good, at least from my point of view.

I think arguably the most disruptive of years during the sixties were 1968 and 1969.

In 1968, American suffered its highest casualties of the Vietnam war (16,592). Sen. Robert F Kennedy and Rev. Martin Luther King were both assassinated. The King assassination sparked riots in America's cities. Riots also broke out at the August 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago.

In 1969, the Vietnam war had its second highest American casualty rate (11,616), and demonstrations against the war were on the rise. Hippies were all over the place. There was the Woodstock concert (August 15 to 18, 1969) the Moon Landing (July 20, 1969), Senator Ted Kennedy and Chappaquiddick (July 18, 1969), the Charles Manson murders (August 9th and 10th) and the Stonewall riots (June 28).

Woodstock is probably what aging hippies remember if they think about 1969, but I think the Stonewall riots probably had a more profound effect on society. Stonewall was a gay bar in New York City whose patrons were routinely busted by New York's finest. That is until June 28, 1969, when the patrons rioted and kick-started the gay rights movement in the United States.

The very best video I could find on Stonewall was made by AARP! I thought that was a little odd until I realized that anyone who was in the bar when the riots broke out would have to be 58-years old or older.

Here's the video:

The most psychotic person that summer was the cult leader Charles Manson, who along with his misfit followers was responsible for the grizzly murder of nine people on August 9th and 10th, including actress Sharon Tate, who was 8-1/2 months pregnant.

Here's a video of Manson in case you're unfamiliar with his charming personality.

And let's not forget Woodstock. It was the rock concert to end all rock concerts. Oscar-winning director Ang Lee has just made a movie about it to called Taking Woodstock. It will be released this summer. Here's the trailer.

The slow unwinding

The 1970s and 1980s began a slow unwinding of some of the excesses of the late sixties as well as a rejection of the conservative attitudes that preceded the sixties. The life of Jayanti Tamm personifies that slow unwinding.

Jayanti Tamm was born in 1970 to two hippie parents who were followers of the guru Sri Chinmoy (right). Ms Tamm not only grew up in a cult, she was declared "the chosen one" by Sri Chinmoy before she was even born.

Being the chosen one in a cult is not a good thing. After spending her youth distributing leaflets declaring the gurus divinity and cleaning the cages of the zoo housed in his Queens, NY, basement, Jayanti split at the age of 25.

Jayanti wrote an August 8th Washington Post op-ed piece about her experience with the whole hippie guru thing. She also wrote a book about it called Cartwheels in a Sari. It's a good example of what can happen when vulnerable people (her parents) fall under the spell of a charismatic charlatan. And there were plenty of both in the late sixties and the seventies.

From the Washington Post article.
By the time the mud had dried at Woodstock, Swami Prabhupada had created the Hare Krishnas and the Rev. Sun Myung Moon had founded the Unification Church -- the Moonies. Communes and ashrams sprouted across America. In the 1960s, the decade now mythic for its anti-conformity, flocks of people conformed to the dictates of self-proclaimed prophets.
So there you have it. The 1960s were a pretty clean break with America's past values. It culminated in the summer of 1969. Out of it emerged the gay rights movement, the women's movement and improvements in race relations that eventually led to an African-American president. It may have also led to a backlash by those nostalgic for "traditional American values" -- the culture wars. The Jerry Falwells, Jimmy Swaggarts, Pat Robertsons and Ted Haggarts of the world didn't develop in a vacuum.

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August 8, 2009

Demographic time bomb in Israel

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An August 6, 2009, Los Angeles Times article about tensions between ultra-Orthodox and secular Israelis got me thinking about demographics in Israel. It's a problem now. It is going to be a really, really big problem in the not-too-distant future.

In a nutshell, the LA Times article described problems that arose when ultra-Orthodox Jews moved into an upper-class secular Jewish neighborhood of Tel Aviv. Fights over opening a parking lot on the Sabbath, missionary-like practices directed at secular Jews and other activities led to trouble between the two groups.

This July 16, 2009, MSNBC clip about a riot in Jerusalem will give you an idea of what secular Jews are facing.

If demographic trends continue (and they will), these conflicts are only going to grow. From the LA Times article:
With birth rates nearly two or three times the national average, Israel's ultra-Orthodox community is expected to grow from 16% of the population to 23% by 2025. That's only 16 years away.
And then there are the Muslims. According to forecasts, the Israeli Muslim Arab population will grow to more than 2,000,000 people, or 24-26% of the population in less than 15 years. (link).

So, in 15 years (or less), half the population of Israel will be made up of ultra-Orthodox Jews and Muslims. Secular Jews (still the largest group) and non-Muslim Arabs (primarily Christians and Druze) will make up the rest. The percentage of ultra-Orthodox Jews and Muslims will keep increasing at a faster and faster pace.

And then there are the Palestinian Territories.

The Palestinian Territories, with more than 4 million people, is ranked 14th in population density (it would have placed much higher than 14th, but the list is topped with "countries" like Macau, Monaco, Hong Kong, Gibraltar, Vatican City, etc. (link) The Gaza Strip has a yearly population growth rate of about 3.35% and the West Bank is about 2.18%.

Israel also is one of the most crowded countries in the world. It ranked 42nd in population density but as with the Palestinian Territories it really should have been much higher.

More ultra-Orthodox Jews and more marginalized Muslim Arabs in a very small and crowded space. It's going to get ugly.

The video
below (in two parts) by George Negus of Dateline is a good piece on the ultra-Orthodox community.

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August 3, 2009

Doonesbury takes on "The Family"

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On Aug. 3, 2009, Doonesbury began taking on "The Family" -- a secretive Christian network founded in 1935 that counts among its members many U.S. politicians. The house pictured in the Doonesbury cartoon belongs to The Family and is located at 133 C Street SE, Washington, D.C.

August 3rd cartoon

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August 2, 2009

Bill Moyers interviews Pema Chodron

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I just discovered this Bill Moyers interview with Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön, author of The Places that Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times (2002), Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion (2003) and other books.

It's worth listening to.

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