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Jul 28 2014

A mundane story

This documentary about a cult, Christian Assemblies International, and its founder, Scott Williams, is notable for the cult’s ordinariness. It was the same old formula: a leader who claims to have direct insight into the mind of god, demands for obedience to the leader, sermons that raged at the evil heathens outside the church, extorting money to support the good works of the tribe (often involving pampering the leader)…all common stuff that is going on in churches all around Morris right now. Of course, Williams carried it further, and starting demanding that the young men in the group have sex with him, and he was scamming huge amounts of money from his congregation.

But what struck me is that in all the pictures and video clips of Williams, he comes off as incredibly boring and uncharismatic. He’s a pudgy schlub; his speeches are droning and awkward. He could be me! There’s just something wrong with people’s brains. We’re too susceptible to the formulaic nonsense behind religion — it’s like it’s designed to trip the gullibility circuits we all have, so that all a walking potato like Scott Williams has to do is recite a familiar pattern with confidence, and some small percentage of people will accept it.

Also, that it doesn’t take much to get rich: he went recruiting in Europe, and built up a congregation of “hundreds”. Hundreds! From countries with tens of millions of people! And that was enough that he could go on a spree, buying up valuable properties, and skipping from country to country, ahead of the authorities as they got wise to him.

That makes sense, too. We’re not talking about someone asking for small donations, ten bucks here, pocket change there, but an organized campaign to get those few hundred people to each cough up 10% of their income, hand over any inheritances, and make extra, large donations. It all adds up.

So there you go. If you’re sufficiently unscrupulous, and willing to embrace the proven con of religious bullshit, any of you can go off and get rich right now. Practice being really sincere and devout — that’s all it takes.

Jul 27 2014

Leveraging religion into money and death

The Korean ferry Sewol that abruptly capsized and sank last spring sank because of an act of god … that is, the depredations of a scummy Christian cult. A story in the NY Times today summarizes the causes. The company that ran the ferry was a front for a religious cult run by Yoo Byung-eun, called the Evangelical Baptist Church of Korea. He had a whole network of enterprises, all funneling millions of dollars into the pockets of Yoo and his family. One of the ways they profited was by cutting corners on everything, including safety.

Scores of cabins and even an art gallery laden with marble were added to the ferry’s upper decks, making the ship top-heavy. So much extra cargo was crammed on board that there was sometimes no space to secure it properly with chains and lashings. And, prosecutors say, the ferry’s crucial ballast water, needed to balance all the additional weight, was deliberately drained so that the vessel would not sit too low — a telltale sign to inspectors that the ferry was dangerously overloaded to bring in more money.

“It was a miracle that the ship actually sailed as far as it did; it could have tipped over any time,” said Kim Woo-sook, dean of the graduate school at Mokpo National Maritime University. “For them, cargo was cash.”

The art gallery was there to feed Yoo’s monstrous ego — he fancied himself an artist, and with so much cash flowing through his hands, he spent millions to get his photographs displayed at the Louvre. He claimed to be just about everything.

Mr. Yoo, who in his guise as Ahae cultivated an air of mystery by only allowing himself to be photographed from behind or the side, is described by the website of Ahae Press as a sort of renaissance man: “an inventor, entrepreneur, philanthropist, environmental activist, martial artist, painter, sculptor, poet, and photographer.”

Con artist. Murderer. Ruthless exploiter. Christian. Or at least, someone who saw Christianity as another easy gimmick to prey on the rubes.

But hey, they spent some money on safety.

In one of their more damning findings, prosecutors say that so much money was being siphoned away from the ferry company to Mr. Yoo and his relatives that it was starved of funds and spent just $2 last year on safety training for the Sewol’s crew members. The money went to buy a paper copy of a certificate.

There is no justice, though. The elder Yoo’s rotting corpse was found in his garden, cause of death unknown. Most of his family (apparently one son is still on the run), who all profited from his schemes, have been arrested so at least there’s that.

Jul 27 2014

Oh, no! Zombie Hitler is speechifying to death squads!

Mike Adams of Natural News has gone a little too far. In addition to his usual pseudoscience, useless “medicine”, and bizarre diet advice, he’s really pissed off at promoters of GMO foods. Now I’m no fan of Monsanto — corporate agriculture is a self-serving institution where profit is king and locking farmers into second-rate solutions is a business strategy — but GMOs are really not that scary. Yet the Adams paranoia has him ranting away and comparing scientists to Nazi war criminals. Really.

Just as history needed to record the names and deeds of Nazi war criminals, so too must all those collaborators who are promoting the death and destruction caused by GMOs be named for the historical record. The true extent of their collaboration with an anti-human regime will all become readily apparent once the GMO delusion collapses and mass global starvation becomes an inescapable reality.

That’s offensive hyperbole and also cartoonishly stupid — the Nazi accusation is so tired we even have a rule to summarize it — and it’s unjustified. There’s no sign that GMOs will suddenly collapse; they’re just plants with a few genes added, you know, and that it’s done artificially and with intent doesn’t make them any worse than getting the same result by chance recombination and mutation.

But Adams takes the next step.

Interestingly, just yesterday German President Joachim Gauck celebrated the lives of those brave Nazi officers who attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler in 1944. (1) Their attempted Wolf’s Lair bombing failed, but it was an honorable attempt to rid the world of tremendous evil by killing one of the people responsible for it.

This official ceremony sends a message to the world, and that official message from the nation of Germany to the rest of the world is that “it is the moral right — and even the obligation — of human beings everywhere to actively plan and carry out the killing of those engaged in heinous crimes against humanity.”

Obviously, if molecular biologists and geneticists are just like Hitler, then the ‘health’ wackos justified in assassinating them. And the German President has just told everyone that it’s OK! They’ve got both the moral high ground, and the excuse that they were just following the orders of the German leadership!

Jul 27 2014

FOOOBAAAWW vs. Birds

As if it wasn’t enough of an offense that the Minnesota Vikings got buckets of money to build a brand new stadium…now it seems that their soaring glass design for the thing is an invisible wall of death to migrating birds, and they’ve refused to consider using bird-safe glass. I guess it’s going to be one of the unadvertised pleasures of watching the Vikings play, that you’ll get to stroll through scattered feathered corpses on the way in. Or maybe they think it will reduce regional unemployment, because they’ll have to hire people to pick up dead birds and wash blood splatters off the glass.

And it will be a lot of birds. We’re located in the great Midwestern flyway, where migrating birds pass through seasonally, taking advantage of all the lakes and rivers in the area for resting and feeding. Rivers like the Mississippi. Which the stadium is built near.

Look! Bird radar!

birddar

There’s a petition to the owners to use bird-safe design. Everyone should sign it.

Jul 26 2014

Joint statement by Ophelia Benson and Richard Dawkins

I’m very happy to see this: Ophelia and Richard had a meeting of the minds and made a statement deploring the behavior of some atheists.

In other words we have to be able to manage disagreement ethically, like reasonable adults, as opposed to brawling like enraged children who need a nap. It should go without saying, but this means no death threats, rape threats, attacks on people’s appearance, age, race, sex, size, haircut; no photoshopping people into demeaning images, no vulgar epithets.

Here’s Richard’s very important addition:

I’m told that some people think I tacitly endorse such things even if I don’t indulge in them. Needless to say, I’m horrified by that suggestion. Any person who tries to intimidate members of our community with threats or harassment is in no way my ally and is only weakening the atheist movement by silencing its voices and driving away support.

Now that is a step forward.

Jul 26 2014

Ray Comfort is such a special little child of God

Did you know that science has discovered that gravity doesn’t exist in space, just like the Bible says?

comfortidiocy

Tell that to Newton. I wonder what keeps satellites in orbit, or the earth zipping around the sun, if they are hanging on “nothing”.


There’s more! Ray has attempted to cover his error.

comfortagain

There is invisible gravity in space, but the earth…it hangs on nothing!

What a maroon.

Jul 26 2014

The dog is a nice touch

The National Review apparently has an article this month, sneering at nerd culture in general and Neil deGrasse Tyson in particular (I haven’t read it, since it’s behind a paywall). It’s called “Smarter Than Thou”, and I guess Republicans find intelligence repulsive, and an intelligent black man is an affront to nature.

But here’s a very nice counter to the claim that Tyson is some elitist snooty guy: he explains the difference between climate and weather.

Jul 26 2014

If you often stay in hotels, you might not want to read this

OK, I am officially squicked by this news: a body was found under a motel room bed.

Stunning news this morning out of New Jersey, as reports of police discovering the body of a young woman under a motel bed have been confirmed. The owners of the motel asked that their name and location be omitted from news reports to protect their business.

I’m sure they don’t want their name spread around: the body was in an advanced state of decay and the police estimated it had been lying there for five years. Customers and housekeepers complained about the smell frequently, but “it is not the policy of the company to make their housekeepers check under the beds”.

“Funny thing is, the records also show literally almost 1,000 complaints from people who stayed in the room over the years. Everything from a bad smell to an ‘eerie feeling.’ Several people even asked to switch rooms in the middle of the night,” said Goldsmith. “The motel really should have checked out that room a little more closely.”

You think?

The police are doing a disservice to the community by not revealing the name of the motel chain that has such awful maintenance practices.


Never mind. The story is from a so-called satirical site — I don’t understand how it was supposed to be funny, but OK, taste varies.

Jul 26 2014

If only Christians weren’t so damned ahistorical

Here’s yet another of those pious Christian groups protesting same sex marriage, using a bogus argument. It’s infuriating: they know so little of human history that they think their local, recent mores are the universal and eternal dictates of their god, when Christian perspectives on marriage and politics and every damn thing have been evolving in all sorts of directions for two thousand years.

We get the same thing from creationists. They pretend their interpretation of the Bible is exactly as Jesus intended it, when really, modern creationism would have been regarded as heretical madness by Christians at any time before about 1960.

At least this bunch provides some comedy relief. Their strategy for dealing with same sex marriage is to fast for 40 days. Only not.

A Christian group that is planning a ‘fast’ in opposition to same-sex marriage has claimed that members don’t actually have to stop eating food to take part.

Like the rest of their platform, none of this makes any sense.

Jul 26 2014

Who else plays Minecraft?

I like to putter around on Minecraft now and then, and I’ve been using a free (well, they do ask for small donations once a year) public server called Sitosis. Did you see me write free right there? That’s what makes it shocking that it is woefully underpopulated right now, so they’re open to new applications. There’s a gigantic world there waiting to be played with, and we’ve only developed a tiny bit. Here’s the island a couple of us have been tinkering with lately.

craggyisland

One other reason that it might be less than packed with people is that it really is a totally vanilla server in survival mode — no hacks or mods. They also expect players to be mature and respectful of one another, so no griefing or screwing around with others’ enjoyment of the game. They also occasionally reboot everything and start fresh, but that’s only done by vote of the users.

There might be a few other Minecraft tinkerers here, so signing up a few more might get the place hopping again.

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