What, no more Jesus on toast?

For the longest time, Catholic churches and individuals have made money from claims of the supernatural, such as religious statues weeping or bleeding or the image of Jesus appearing on toast or in stains on walls, people claiming to have seen visions of Mary, and so on. Some of these claims were given credence by local priests and bishops.

The Catholic church has decided that this nonsense has gone too far and is exposing the church to ridicule and has decided to crack down, at least on some of the sillier claims.

Apparitions of the Virgin Mary and weeping statues have been part of Catholicism for centuries, but the age of social media has prompted the Vatican to issue a crackdown against potential scams and hoaxes.

New rules issued on Friday say that only a pope, rather than local bishops, can declare apparitions and revelations to be “supernatural”. The document, Norms for Proceeding in the Discernment of Alleged Supernatural Phenomena, updates previous guidance issued in 1978 that is now considered “inadequate”.

There was “the possibility of believers being misled by an event that is attributed to a divine initiative but is merely the product of someone’s imagination, desire for novelty, tendency to fabricate falsehoods (mythomania), or inclination toward lying”.

The new rules strip bishops of the power to recognise the “supernatural” nature of apparitions and other purportedly divine events. Instead it offers bishops six potential conclusions, ranging from nihil obstat (nothing hinders), which would allow and even encourage popular devotion, to a declaration that a phenomenon is not supernatural.

Well, there goes a great source of amusement.

What the hell is wrong with the Catholic church?

You would think that by now people would have got used to the extent to which the Catholic church went to shield pedophile priests. But then comes along a story like this about a bombshell secret deposition that reveals the callous disregard the church had towards the victims of a priest while covering up his abuses, and even promoting him and allowing him to retire with full benefits.
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Film review: My Scientology Movie (2015)

I am both fascinated and disturbed by cults. Fascinated because of my interest in the psychology of the kind of people who are drawn to cults and then get indoctrinated, and disturbed because of the often tragic consequences that ensue to them and their loved ones. One of the most pernicious cults is the highly secretive Church of Scientology, notorious for the reports of how they exploit and abuse cult members and viciously attack anyone who manages to escape from their clutches, not to mention anyone that seeks to shine a light on them. As a result, even some of the people who have escaped are too frightened to talk publicly about what they went through.

This article in Vice gives the account of someone who managed to escape the church and describes the methods they use to suck people into it and what life was like once you had been recruited. The person is disguised and has their voice altered because of fear of being recognized by the church and hounded.

More comprehensive treatments can be found in the 2013 book Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright and the 2015 Alex Gibney documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief based on that book. I wrote about this cult before and reviewed both the book and the film.

In an interview at the Sundance Film Festival where the film was screened, Gibney and Wright discuss how they were fascinated by the question of how it could be that people who were smart and idealistic and caring, by no means simpletons, could get sucked into an organization that was so exploitative and abusive. These people, once they left, were themselves shocked at how they did not see what was so obvious to them now.

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Dennett’s somewhat dangerous idea

The philosopher Daniel Dennett has recently published a memoir and in a review Matthew Lau accuses him of pursuing a ‘dead end social Darwinism’. He says that Dennett has defended the idea of ‘adaptationism’, the view “that all features of an organism must be adapted for some good purpose.” This has been rejected by other scholars of evolution like Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin who argue that some features did not come into being to serve a specific purpose but were instead accidental byproducts of the evolutionary process. Those two authors gave the image of the spandrels in cathedrals.

In architecture, spandrels are a structural byproduct resulting from the placement a dome on top of four rounded arches. The spandrels fill in the empty space where the arch stops touching the top of the dome, stabilizing the overall structure. In finished cathedrals they are frequently painted and otherwise beautifully ornamented, as in the four famed spandrels of the Cathedral of San Marcos in Venice, Italy, that depict the four biblical rivers (Tigris, Euphrates, Indue, and Nile).

For Gould and Lewontin, if we adopt the adaptationist perspective, we might mistakenly assume the San Marcos spandrels were initially formed to be part of the cathedral’s artwork and miss their origin as necessary structural byproducts.

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Trump chickens out on abortion

One measure of how Republicans are viewing with alarm that their extreme positions on abortion risks damage at the polls is that serial sex abuser Donald Trump (SSAT), usually never shy about pandering to the religious and political extremists in his base, kept quiet about what his stance was on this issue for the longest time.

But he could not duck the issue forever and today his campaign issued a statement on his social media site Truth Social that was mealy-mouthed.

Donald Trump on Monday announced his belief that individual US states should decide the legality of abortion – and he declined to endorse a national ban on the procedure.

The former president’s stated position dashed hopes from anti-abortion groups that he would call for a ban on aborting pregnancies beyond 15 weeks.

“States will determine by vote or legislation, or perhaps both,” Trump said in a video post on Truth Social. “Whatever they decide must be the law of the land, or in this case the law of the state.

“Many states will be different, many will have a different number of weeks, some will be more conservative then others. At the end of the day this is all about the will of the people. You must follow your heart, or in many cases your religion or faith,” he said in a four-minute address outlining his view of reproductive rights in the wake of the US supreme court’s overturning of Roe v Wade in 2022.

He added, “Do what’s right for your family, and do what’s right for yourself.”

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More on the right wing freakout over Easter and the Transgender Day of Visibility

The Daily Show show had fun at the expense of Faux News and other rightwing news sources losing their minds over the fact that this year, because of a calendar coincidence, Transgender Day of Visibility coincided with Easter. And let’s be clear, these people know better. They are just pretending to be outraged, like a lot of their other ‘outrages’.

Desi Lydic made the important point that what these people object to is not that the visibility day coincides with Easter, they dislike the fact that the transgender community exists at all.

Also, make sure you get to the very funny conversation she has with Michael Kosta that begins at the 6:35 mark.

Bigots will seize upon anything to advance bigotry

March 31st is the day that has been designated Transgender Day of Visibility and president Biden made an annual proclamation to that effect. The date is an international recognition that has been around since 2009. The White House routinely issues proclamations such as this to recognize various things, and this one was one of 11 that were issued on March 29th.

But this year, March 31st is also Easter Sunday and so bigots have shrilly proclaimed that the date of the visibility day was deliberately chosen by the White House so as to be an insult to Christianity.
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Woman charged with murder over abortion sues prosecutors

In Texas a woman who was charged with murder for self-managing an abortion, and spent two nights in jail before the charge was dropped, is now suing the prosecutors for $1 million.

The lawsuit filed by Lizelle Gonzalez in federal court Thursday comes a month after the state bar of Texas fined and disciplined the district attorney in rural Starr county over the case in 2022, when Gonzalez was charged with murder in “the death of an individual by self-induced abortion”.

Under the abortion restrictions in Texas and other states, women who seek abortions are exempt from criminal charges.

The lawsuit argues Gonzalez suffered harm from the arrest and subsequent media coverage. She is seeking $1m in damages.

According to the lawsuit, Gonzalez was 19 weeks pregnant when she used misoprostol, one of two drugs used in medication abortions. Misoprostol is also used to treat stomach ulcers.

After taking the pills, Gonzalez received an obstetrical examination at a hospital emergency room and was discharged with abdominal pain. She returned with bleeding the next day and an exam found no fetal heartbeat. Doctors performed a caesarian section to deliver a stillborn baby.

The lawsuit argues that the hospital violated the patient’s privacy rights when they reported the abortion to the district attorney’s office, which then carried out its own investigation and produced a murder charge against Gonzalez.

Cecilia Garza, an attorney for Gonzalez, said prosecutors pursued an indictment despite knowing that a woman receiving an abortion is exempted from a murder charge by state law.

Prosecutors would had to have known that even in Texas, women could not be charged for receiving an abortion but they decided on charging her with murder anyway, in what seems like a purely vindictive effort to frighten other women who may seek to terminate their pregnancies using legal medications.

The GOP gets crazier and crazier

In an earlier post, I wrote about how the GOP is on a slippery slope when it comes to some issues, where in pandering to their base by accepting certain premises like that life begins at conception, they found themselves quickly dragged to the logical end point that embryos produced in the IVF process are children and thus cannot be destroyed. Now they fond themselves struggling to extricate themselves from the mess they put themselves into without disavowing the ‘life begins at conception’ premise because doing so would infuriate their base.

But that is not the only slippery slope that the GOP find itself on. It is as if the floodgates of oil have opened on the slopes and there is no way to halt the descent.
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