The things you can learn from Inside the Vatican

It’s a Catholic magazine, and Anthony Barcellos sent me a scan of their letters page. It’s very enlightening.

The things I learned from this sample:

  • Catholics are old.

  • Many of them are in prison.

  • I have succeeded in my crusade to drive them out of my university.

What caught Anthony’s eye was this letter:


The University of Minnesota in Morris, as well as the main campus in the Twin Cities, is 98% atheist. That is why Inside the Vatican is vital. I was the only Catholic professor there, now retired, so I know whereof I speak. I wish to give this gift subscription to the few Catholic students at UM-Morris.

Maria Louisa Rodriguez

Morris, Minnesota, USA

I do not know who Maria Louisa Rodriguez is — she may have retired before I got here. But there are a few errors in her letter. Catholicism is the single largest religious denomination in Minnesota, with about a quarter of the population, and while universities do have their demographic biases, I rather doubt that we’d be able to exclude Catholics that thoroughly, especially since we don’t have any filters in admissions that would discriminate.

I wish I could say specifically that I know Catholic students, but since I don’t attend the church, and I never ask any of my students what they do on Sundays, I don’t know. Also don’t care. It’s not as if I would put a question on an exam about it.

I do happen to know that a couple of faculty members are Catholic, so I guess we’ve been backsliding since those halcyon, Catholic-free days immediately after Ms Rodriquez’s retirements.

I’m also curious about what’s going on in the UMM Newman Center, this lovely building just off campus, a few blocks from me. Apparently all the photos on that page of students there are photoshop fakes, their schedule of Catholic-associated events are a lie, and the coordinators are all making it up when they claim to be students.

Uh-oh. Maybe the lesson I should learn is that the old jailbirds who write in to Inside the Vatican are all making crap up.

Time for the War on Easter!

I didn’t even know we were fighting over that one, but apparently we are. It’s an unexpected front. You might be wondering what deep article of Christian faith we’re going to be battling over. That too is unexpectedly trivial.

The war is to be fought over eggs.

The latest manufactured moral outrage came courtesy of the Archbishop of York, whose bandwagon was soon jumped on by none other than the Prime Minister. The cause of their holy indignation? Cadbury and the National Trust have had the temerity to advertise Egg Hunts, rather than Easter Egg Hunts. Well, there go hundreds of years of Christian-appropriated pagan religious tradition down the plughole!

It’s hard to believe, but the fanatics are up in arms over those totally biblical symbols of Jesus from deep antiquity, chocolate eggs.

Archbishop of York John Sentamu said Mr Cadbury, a Quaker who founded the firm in 1824, was renowned for his religious beliefs and would not condone dropping the word Easter.

He said if people were to visit Cadbury World in Birmingham “they will discover how Cadbury’s Christian faith influenced his industrial output”.

“To drop Easter from Cadbury’s Easter Egg Hunt in my book is tantamount to spitting on the grave of Cadbury,” Dr Sentamu added.

A spokesman from the Church added: “This marketing campaign not only does a disservice to the Cadburys but also highlights the folly in airbrushing faith from Easter.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the issue reflected “commercialisation gone a bit too far”.

Are all the party leaders idiots over there? Even the prime minister, Theresa May, is whining about it. Doesn’t she have anything better to do, like preparing for the coming war with Spain?

P.S. Cadbury, the guy whose grave we’re supposed to be spitting on, was a Quaker. Quakers don’t actually celebrate Easter.

We haven’t heard from Bill Donohue for a while

I wonder what he is up to…ah. He’s defending Trump’s savage budget cuts for the arts, because art isn’t reverent enough.

Justice demands that these agencies should be eliminated: Taxpayers should not be forced to pay for assaults on their religion. Christians constitute roughly 75 percent of the population; Catholics are approximately 25 percent of the total. In the name of “art,” these Americans are expected to pay for irreverent exhibits, but depictions that are reverential—such as a nativity scene outside City Hall—are denied a dime. It’s time we stopped giving the arts a privileged position and cut their funding. The same is true for publicly funded radio and TV programming that has a history of insulting the majority of Americans.

I don’t think he understands art. Bye, Bill, sink back into obscurity, ‘k?

Sadistic Christianity

I always thought that one of the pleasures of parenting was helping kids grow up to be themselves — to develop to be independent people with their own interests and goals, which might be very different than my own. We’re about giving opportunities, not dictating how they should live their lives, and one of the advantages of that is that all of my children were relatively stress-free (kids are never totally stress-free) and have never caused us much in the way of problems — and I think part of the reason is simply that we did not force them to go against their natures. There were lots of moments where I didn’t understand their choices, or even disagreed with them, but I just had to remember that my parents didn’t quite understand what I was doing with my life, either, but they let me be me and we all ended up happier for it.

Some people just can’t do that, though. Authoritarians are all about control, and it can lead to catastrophic evil against children.

Today, in the United States, there is a multibillion-dollar industry for residential treatment—one that sells an illusory promise to desperate parents: Your children’s addictions and mental health problems can be cured with a relatively quick (and usually expensive) fix. Yet the potential danger of abuse and neglect is a real threat for many of the 200,000 to 400,000 young people trapped in the nation’s poorly monitored secular and religious “group care” facilities, “troubled teen” residential schools and unlicensed treatment programs. Too often, critics say, these programs profit off the misery of emotionally troubled kids, substance abusers or just misbehaving youth, as well as their parents, who struggle to deal with kids they can’t control. “These are throwaway children,” says Jodi Hobbs, the president of the nonprofit group, Survivors of Institutional Abuse. “They are looked at as dollar signs, not as individuals.”

One of the most common types of private programs for errant youths are the virtually unregulated religious schools, many of which push fundamentalist Christian beliefs and employ violently harsh discipline against enrollees. Inspired in part by the programs of a fiery Baptist radio preacher, the late Lester Roloff, purveyors of these programs have been exposed for whippings and beatings and accused of rape. Perhaps the largest alliance of such ultraconservative churches is the far-flung Independent Fundamental Baptist organization with thousands of churches nationwide and numerous boarding schools that cite the biblical importance of breaking the will of the child. “If you’re not bruising your child,” a pastor declared in a 2007 sermon captured by ABC News’s 20/20, “you’re not spanking your child enough.”

That’s part of the story of Restoration Youth Academy, a Christian boot-camp in Alabama that promises to straighten out those darned rebellious teenagers with discipline…which means solitary confinement, beatings, bloody whippings, and sexual abuse. Many of these kids do have serious problems — drug abuse and mental health issues — but a) those are problems that can be worsened by a miserable home life, and b) even if the parents are otherwise blameless, shipping them off to a violent, brutalizing incarceration isn’t going to make them better. The article doesn’t say, but I wonder what proportion of these kids weren’t actually serious problem children, but were just people who had a different sexual orientation or dissented from the religious views of their parents, and were sent off to be punished and re-molded into a different view. Given that many of the institutions discussed in the story were intolerant fundamentalist Christian horror shows, I suspect a lot.

The story is also about intransigent Alabama politicians who refused to take action and closed a blind eye to the evidence of child abuse going on, probably in part because they had a shield of immunity, that they were preaching Christianity. Among the problem characters was the Alabama attorney general, Luther Strange, who was in the news lately for a promotion.

Kennedy is equally outraged that former state Attorney General Luther Strange has been appointed a U.S. senator to replace Jeff Sessions, the new U.S. attorney general. “He [Strange] threw the children under the bus so he could grease the way for his political ambitions,” Kennedy says. “All these politicians have lined their pockets with the blood of children.”

And all of those churches.

Is there no religion Reza Aslan won’t pander to?

It seems to be his schtick. Religion is just plain good, and the only way to criticize it is to cherry-pick unrepresentative bad bits, he seems to argue, and he uses this argument to paper over a lot of truly horrific, deeply imbedded aspects of faith. And apparently, he has a show on CNN called Believer, which I haven’t seen, in which he does this repeatedly.

There’s an episode coming up in which he makes excuses for Scientology, of all things; he’s going to highlight small independent groups that have split away from the mainstream cult and are somewhat less toxic (in part because they also represent a way to get outside the controlling influence of the Church of Scientology, and can be a gateway to leaving the religion altogether), while ignoring the greater crimes of the much larger, main sect.

In the meantime, we’ll point out what we did a year ago, when CNN’s series was originally supposed to come out. On occasion, we are taken to task for focusing so much energy on such a small organization, the Church of Scientology, with its 20,000 members. We think Scientology, with its billions in assets, its ruthless legal tactics, and the way it treats children and families is worth keeping an eye on, even if we are just, for the most part, a sole proprietor with a single-subject website.

If some people, however, don’t think the Church of Scientology is worth paying attention to, what does it say that CNN, with its worldwide media reach, will be using its mighty resources to promote a “movement” of perhaps only a few hundred people doing something that is not really very controversial or that affects many other people at all?

“Aslan is clearly confused or deliberately trying to create a scenario to fit his preconceived story line,” Mike Rinder tells us. He points out, however, that even if Aslan is all wet, his show might accidentally be useful for people still stuck in the Church of Scientology to believe that there are alternatives to Miscavige’s brand of Hubbardism. “The idea that Scientology is only available in the church is something Miscavige and company try very hard to pretend is true.” The idea that there are alternatives, Rinder says, could be “beneficial.” But as for Aslan’s claims about the size and growth of independent Scientology?

“It just makes Aslan look uninformed and stupid,” Rinder says.

There was a time when I thought Aslan was mildly interesting as a counterbalance to the more extremist arguments against Islam, but it’s become clear that no, he’s just an apologist for inanity.


Culture of life, my ass. More like a culture of Catholic hypocrisy.

A mass grave containing the remains of babies and children has been discovered at a former Catholic care home in Ireland where it has been alleged up to 800 died, government-appointed investigators said on Friday.

Excavations at the site of the former Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, County Galway, have uncovered an underground structure divided into 20 chambers containing “significant quantities of human remains”, the judge-led mother and baby homes commission said.

The commission said analysis of selected remains revealed ages of the deceased ranged from 35 weeks to three years old. It found that the dead had been mostly buried in the 1950s, when the facility was one of more than a dozen in Ireland offering shelter to orphans, unmarried mothers and their children. The Tuam home closed in 1961.

Let’s not even consider those unmarried mothers, locked away in isolation and virtual slavery.

If all those people complaining about Planned Parenthood wanted to do what’s right, they’d move their picketlines to the nearest Catholic church.

I’m an EX-Lutheran. Do I still have to register?

Uh-oh. I agree with this. Lutherans are a terrible people who have inflicted much pain and suffering on others in their history, and if we’re going to start discriminating against people for their religion, it’s a fine place to start.


But…but…I was brought up as a Lutheran. I’ve since renounced the faith, but my driver’s license does say “Minnesøda”, and I’ve got Scandinavian grandma stories to tell, and I know a few Ole & Lena jokes, and I might be able to remember a verse or two of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”. This is probably enough to indict me, especially since our country’s new Muslim ban doesn’t give a flying goddamn about what people think, but just makes sweeping prohibitions based on country of origin.

I also probably belong on the list because hot dish and weak church coffee are enough to inspire me to contemplate revolution already.

I was worried for a moment that I’d also have to be on the atheist registry, but the ongoing alignment of that philosophy with neocon principles might actually counterbalance the Lutheran entanglement. Unless it’s an SJW Atheist registry, then I’ll be doubly damned.

I got it

Christianity has a martyr complex. They always think they’re being persecuted, when they’re not — so you hear constantly about Romans throwing them to lions, but never about how Christianity coopted the Roman imperial bureaucracies, and eventually the emperor himself, to rule over the Western world. They claim that Hitler was an atheist, ignoring the fact that he banned Darwin, not the Bible, had the support of the German Catholic church, and encouraged faith in his people. So I knew exactly where this cartoon would have to go, if it were at all honest.

Our current autocrat is supported by Christian evangelicals. Damn few are hanging their heads in shame (although, to be fair, some are).

Let’s face it, though: the success of the Christian religion has partly rested on its eager willingness to aid and abet authority, unlike, for example, Judaism. Mainstream Christianity has been an enabler, not a critic, of secular authority, no matter how oppressive it may be. There have been exceptions — liberation theology, for instance — but then the Church turns to oppose and oppress them.

Odious Christianity

I woke up to Ken Ham testifying to his faith…and demonstrating why I hate Christianity.

Hate is a strong word, but not strong enough for my feelings. Ken Ham might be a decent human being if he weren’t so thoroughly poisoned by this toxic faith he professes, and insists on infecting others. Christianity is the rot that corrupts minds.

I reject his notion of sin — the idea that there is some kind of divine law against which we can transgress — but humanists do not deny that we can do wrong and we can do harm. We think we should do better, not to appease some vengeful deity, but because it improves our lives and helps make those around us happier and better able to live up to their potential. We certainly do accept that death is inevitable, but not because we are wicked — the wicked often seem to flourish while the good may die young. Are we to measure the virtue of human beings by their longevity? Charles Manson is 82, and surely destined to join the saints in heaven, while every infant death must open a chute directly to hell for its wicked soul.

What enrages me most is the implicit condemnation of every human being who had the effrontery to die, which by the Christian doctrine so clearly stated by Ham is every goddamned human being ever.

So my father, a good man, died quietly in his sleep on Christmas years ago — of heart disease. But in Ken Ham’s filthy mind, his death was the bite of an angry god against whom he’d transgressed.

My sister, a good woman, died suffering in a hospital bed of a massive systemic infection, leaving behind two young children. To Ken Ham, she deserved her death because she’d transgressed in some unknowing way against his mighty, vengeful god.

We all have people we’ve loved and lost to accident, to disease, to old age. To a Christian, their god willed this loss, and to Christians like Ken Ham, those deaths were a punishment for “sin”.

Some day, Ken Ham will die, and remember — it will be because he is struck down by his capricious god for his wickedness, and every moment of his dying, if it be long and agonizing, will be deserved. At least, that’s what he should believe.