Monday, December 30, 2013

My response to an Anglican redditor:

Someone posted:  "I'm Anglican, My Change my Views!"

I chose to interpret this as "I'm Anglican.  Change my Views!" so I posted and as I went I realized that despite Episcopalian churches being rather harmless compared to fundamentalist ones, I am still better off without it.  Here's what I wrote:

I grew up in the Episcopal Church in the U.S. I would go back to that church in a heartbeat if believing in supernatural events weren't a basic requirement. They always have the best music! No praise band crap - great organs and sometimes professional choirs.

But I realized one Sunday morning that I was there for the fabulous music. I didn't really believe the tenets of the religion, especially the supernatural deity.

Go through the Nicene creed line by line and ask yourself: "Really? Is this what I really believe?"

When I first started feeling skeptical toward my religion I thought that perhaps reading the Bible would "cure" me, but since the Episcopal/Anglican church doesn't require believing that the Bible is 100% infallible, it was really just the horrific acts of "God" in the Old Testament that turned my stomach. The "new" God who forgives us all by sacrificing himself to himself to keep himself for punishing ourselves for our sinful nature, which was the result of him making us in his own image... just doesn't make sense, either.

Reading up on church history and atheist perspectives on religion opened my eyes to other problems, and I felt a bit cheated for not being told these things before the social pressure to participate in Confirmation and communion. For example, Paul's letters (some of which are forgeries) were written before the gospels. Matthew & Luke are based on Mark, which was the earliest and has the least supernatural stuff in it. John (a favorite of the American fundamentalist movement) is the latest of the gospels. There were 27 apocalypse books floating around, and they chose only one to include in the Bible. Since by definition these are visions of the other world, how would they know which was the correct one? Just by praying over the matter? And why include even one?

Then consider the morally reprehensible act of human/demi-god sacrifice. Being let off the hook for your sins because Christ died is really smarmy. The American "Holiness" movement requires an un-sinly life after being "saved" so you can go over to that side if you want to develop OCD.

Or... you could make a decision to be a grown-up and pay your lumps when you hurt someone else. And if you've done something that doesn't cause harm to yourself or others, why feel guilty over it? Living life that way is much more wholesome, imho.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Breaking the Faith: More Episodes

After writing my first post about this series chronicling eight ex-FLDS young adults, I saw on the internet (which is never wrong) that this reality show is a bit faked.

Whoa... what you say?  Reality shows are fake????  Say it ain't so!

Well, this show is about their escape to freedom a couple of years ago, according to the internet (which if course has to be true).   I actually feel better about watching it now that I know that, because the FLDS so strictly controlled their lives that I had to wonder if they could truly consent to being filmed.

Now that we have gotten that out of the way, it's still fascinating and true-ish enough to be worth commenting on.

For one thing, other than the child sex abuse case that landed Warren Jeffs in prison, not much is known about the FLDS.  The girls and women look somewhat Amish, and they're polygamous (what destructive cult isn't?)  The boys who get kicked out because of the impossible numbers of a polygamous community are called "lost boys" but what of their fate?

Tonight's episode was largely about the girls' hair, makeup and clothes.  The FLDS women are not allowed to cut their hair because "in heaven you are supposed to wash your husband's feet with your hair."   What a nutty idea!  Does the earthly body go to heaven and yet stay on Earth?  God tells this guy some insane stuff.  They have also never worn makeup, never worn their hair in any style but the braided up-do mandated by Jeffs, and they have always dressed in 19th-century farmwife dresses.  Blah.  In the episode, the two most hesitant girls experiment with "gentile ways" of dress and hair.

The show includes audio clips of Warren Jeffs' voice, and he is every bit as creepy and smarmy on audio as I would expect.  (I found a clip on youtube that's 10 minutes of creepiness)  Tonight's episode included his famous "keep sweet" instruction to women and girls.  Keeping sweet includes such things as never having bad thoughts, never saying less than positive things, obeying the head of the household.  Creepy, and makes me want to go to "The Crick" and kidnap all the little girls!

Toward the end they show Warren Jeffs on a prison phone addressing an obedient group of FLDS women.  He poses the same question that a fundamentalist imam might say:  do you want to attract the attention of men with your hair and clothing?   On behalf of all the women on the planet, or at least 90% depending on how many are lesbian, I answer:  HELL YES!

Relationships with "normal" mormons, a.k.a. LDS, a.k.a. gentiles.  Joining the outside world but only hanging out with the few others who also escaped would kind of defeat the point.  The series has them jumping rather quickly into "gentile" life - parties, clubs, relationships.  One interesting question for one of the boys, whose new girlfriend wants him to go to church with him, is whether he wants to belong to any church at all after getting out of the cult.   He does go to the Mormon church, and is bored to death.  I predict his spiritual direction will not be with the LDS.

Sports.  No sports at all in the FLDS!  The boys, and all children past about age ten, are supposed to be working.  Naturally, they would have to if they live in families with dozens of children, non-working moms, and only one working father.  In tonight's episode two of the boys try playing basketball.  I'm glad I knew it was fakey-fake because they were too good for boys who had never played any ball games, but one kid got winded.  I can relate to that!  This is how asthma is frequently discovered.

They were allowed to ride bicycles until Jeffs had a communication from God about them, curiously just after one of the girls had an orgasm while riding her bike.  In last week's episode two girls ride a bike and fail to achieve orgasm.  Damn I'm going to have to get out that dusty exercise bike!

Next week is the season finale.  That was quick!

Warren Jeffs and his 50 wives, showing how they "keep sweet" in pastel candy colors

Saturday, December 21, 2013

December 21 Links

Happy Solstice, everybody!

Need a replacement organ?  You can grow a new healthy organ from uhhhh this with no fear of rejection.... someday.  If you're on a waiting list, don't remove yourself from it just yet.

Charlie Sheen disapproves of the Duck Dynasty Christo-bigot.  'nuff said.  Really.  Enough.

Drugs killed a televangelist.  Perhaps selling a lot of books about how to be good turned him bad.

Taoist nonsense about the Solstice.  Though I think it's nonsense, I'll follow the advice to rest.

Attempted arsonists who tried to set fire to a "Keep Saturn in Saturnalia" billboard may be charged with a hate crime... if police can find them.

The Washington Post shows us American religion in six maps.

Video of the week:  Yes, privilege does create jerks:

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Random Link Round-Up

Florida's capitol will host a Festivus Pole.

Homes in Victorian/Edwardian England held many dangers we don't face today.

Jewish treasures looted/stolen/demanded by Iraqi government over the decades now belong to the Iraqi government, after being restored by the American government.  The Jews want them back.  Sounds familiar.

Martin S. Pribble is quitting the online atheist community. I guess this is a pity, though I've never heard of him before. Should I be sad? hmmmm, no I'm not. He's gone over to the accommodationist side:

I have come to realise that we, as atheists and non-believers, make up such a small part of the world’s population that we can never hope to effect change in the world by ourselves. There has to be a way that we can get the theists onside with our ideas and prospective outcomes, and yelling at them is not it. In order to effect changes in the world we need the theists on our side.
The Village Voice doesn't like Lawrence Krauss because he's smug.   Why is being smug such a bad thing?  The Voice has been smug since its first issue.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation urges you to Keep Saturn in Saturnalia!

The "Sister Wives" family wins in Federal Court: the Utah prohibition against polygamy is declared  unconstitutional.  What next?  Bestiality?

 Video of the week is of a kindergarten student singing & signing in sign language for her parents in the audience.  A sweet counterpoint to the phony signer who signed for Obama, and she's a natural comedian too:

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

1963 in Review

Every December you can count on a year-in-review story from every possible news source. The other day I made the mistake of looking at the Yahoo News top 10 searched news stories. Fortunately, I started with #10 and worked up to #1, which was the Jodi Arias trial. Really? A woman kills her boyfriend and that's the top news story of the year?

I would have expected to see the Syrian Civil War, and the Boston Marathon bombing, and they were indeed there. But also on the list was George Zimmermann's trial for killing Trayvon Martin and "Obamacare" (as if it was just a story in 2013). And then later in the week Nelson Mandela's death would have ranked, but the year's news just doesn't impress me.  I've watched and read some coverage of his death and there's one fact that seems buried in all the overblown rhetoric:  Nelson Mandela died from old age!  How many of America's civil rights heroes died in their nineties?

I turned 55 in 2013, which means I turned five in 1963. I barely understood any of the TV news stories, but you really didn't have to understand the words. The pictures told the story of events that changed history and defined the decade. We would not forget any of them no matter how many hours of I Dream of Jeannie we watched.  And to be sure we didn't, the events of 1963 would be replicated in almost every year throughout the decade. We had terrorist attacks, assassinations, riots, natural disasters, and the deaths of both heroes and innocents, one after the other after the other all throughout the decade. The Sixties ended for me with the Kent State deaths in 1970. Four innocent young people were gunned down by our own military right on our own harmless whitebread Midwestern soil.  It did seem to me that things kept getting worse, until they started getting better.

And now, people on both the right and left say the world is going to hell in a handbasket.  Yes, we have problems but are things really getting worse?

Let's see how we can confirm this impression. How about comparing 2013 to 1963? Has the world really gone to hell in a handbasket in fifty years?

So although I didn't personally comprehend these events, they shaped my comprehension of the world around me as chaotic, frightening, all wrong with the good guys getting shit on over and over again.  1963 was just the beginning, at least from my point of view, because that's when the world begins: when you turn five.

February, 1963
Betty Friedan's book, The Feminist Mystique, questions the Beaver Cleaver family values of the 1950s. You mean there's more to life than pleasing your husband and sons? (There were few daughters on 1950s television) This is considered the beginning of the modern women's movement, which was about: economic and intellectual equality.

April, 1963
Birmingham sit-ins and arrests. Martin Luther King, Jr. writes his Letter from Birmingham Jail. Those who didn't go to jail faced fire hoses and police dogs. Little kids in white America saw little kids in black America being treated this way and thought "I'm not sure I like this country as much as I used to."

May 11, 1963
Bombs, probably planted by the Ku Klux Klan, except for the one at Martin Luther King, Jr.'s house, which was set by a police officer, exploded in Birmingham.  They targeted the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.  A riot followed.  Federal troops responded.  Non-violent civil disobedience was the first  casualty.  Trust in American government (especially armed forces) was the next casualty.

June 11, 1963
A South Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Quang Duc, sets fire to himself to protest against the South Vietnamese government.  More self-immolations would follow.  People setting fire to themselves.  Incomprehensible, and it made the mystery of what we were doing in Vietnam all the more mysterious.

June 12, 1963
Civil rights activist Medgar Evers is assassinated and the killer gets away with it.  For decades.  Why should this murder be any different from other murders of black men in the South?

August 28, 1963
250,000 people march on the National Mall and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers his "I have a dream" speech. People everywhere are inspired to join the fight, fight their own fight for rights, or fight to suppress people fighting for their rights. He wanted his children go grow up in a different America. Children already growing up in that America realize how lucky they are.

Sept. 15, 1963
Four girls die when their Birmingham church is bombed.  The church was an important gathering place for civil rights protesters but it was also just a church.  Black people everywhere thought "it could be me." Little kids everywhere thought "Wow, even little kids get killed!"

November 22, 1963
President Kennedy is assassinated. People everywhere thought "wow, even the president can be killed!" Middle-class white kids thought "wow, our comfortable lives are just an illusion. What else is wrong about the world?"

November 24, 1963

The new president (Johnson) confirms his support of South Vietnam in its war against North Vietnam. People are still too upset about Kennedy's assassination to comprehend what this means. They'll figure it out soon enough.

December, 1963
The Beatles invade America, over the radio (Their Ed Sullivan appearances were in 1964).  White kids listened to "I wanna hold your hand" while black kids were listening to Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come." "I love you, yeah yeah yeah" was the first pop song I ever learned. I didn't hear "A Change is Gonna Come" until just a few years ago.

In 1964 the Civil Rights Act was passed but it didn't solve everything.  Far from it.  Racial tension continued to plague the country throughout the 1960s, culminating in the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and subsequent riots.

For a little kid, the world seemed chaotic, unfair, and dangerous.  1963 was just the beginning of the bad news that would plague the mid-1960s.  There would be more assassinations (Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy), Vietnam got worse and worse and seemed like a bottomless pit of despair.  Napalm burned the skin off little kids and Americans massacred the My Lai village.  Demonstrations turned violent, there were more race riots, and even a music festival could come to a violent end (Altamont).

Coincidentally, 1963 was also the year that Valium was released.

* * * * * * * * * * * *
More 1963 pix and coverage:

The Atlantic had this idea before I did and they have great photos.

Life Magazine, known for its photos, captured these moments and more.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Breaking the Faith: Chilling New Series

(a review without many spoilers - because you should watch the show and feel its impact for yourself!)

TLC (formerly called The Learning Channel) has a new series that I thought from the ads was about the Amish.  (Amish youth also have a show)  This new show is called Breaking the Faith, and it's about escapees/former members of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS) polygamous Mormon offshoot cult.  You probably remember Warren Jeffs, the cult leader (the "prophet") who is in prison for his role in adult-child marriages, a.k.a. rape., and his own sexual abuse of girls.

The young men who are helping the women
The first episode aired a few days ago, and it centers on a handful of young adults who are escaping not just the repressive physical compound, but the brainwashing they've been brought up with.  The FLDS makes the Amish look like the Kardashians.  The control is total and they grew up with almost no contact with "gentiles."

Four boys/young men (ages 18-20) who are already on the outside break out four girls/young women (ages 18-22) who have gotten word to them that they want out of their religious prison.

These kids reveal an astonishing alternate reality that has been constructed by the cult.  The "prophet" is the top guy.  There is also a "bishop" and a group of brownshirt types nicknamed the "God Squad".  People on the outside are called "gentiles" and there is an inner circle called the "United Order."  Their compound is called "The Crick."

On the upside, they do love their families, and the families can be quite large.  Good men are rewarded with additional wives, so family size is symbolic and variable (unlike the muslim rule limiting men to four wives).  One of the young men has nine mothers and 19 siblings.  Another of the men has 62 siblings.   One of the girls comes from a highly-placed family that included 32 mothers and 302 siblings!  Two siblings in the show have only one mother because their dad just didn't cut the mustard.  Still, there were twelve children in the family, so they were never lonely.  

Despite a tightly controlled environment, each realized that there was something wrong in their Paradise, inspiring them to escape.  In some instances, they left behind a sibling who also wanted out, and their regret about this is palpable.

Of course, their limited experiences didn't prepare them for what they would find on the outside.  Although they came to see their leader and lifestyle as flawed, most of their beliefs are so entrenched that they experience intense fear and guilt almost immediately.  Apparently later episodes show them having fun, but the first episode gives you a glimpse into what is much more than culture shock.   They knew there was something wrong with their cult lifestyle, but they had no idea how much of their lives was based on lies, and they are genuinely dismayed as they try to sort it out.

They stay at a safehouse which is actually the home of one of the cult's most notorious turncoats --and they hear the other side of the story for the first time in their lives.  The girls look terrified as they face a loving woman who wants them to have a dignified and safe life for themselves.  It would be like one of us meeting Jeffrey Dahmer and hearing him say that all those stories about eating people were made up.  They aren't sure what to believe, and they are reluctant to give up everything at once.  Who would?  This will be tough going for them.

"Deprogramming" is the term for bringing people out of a cult environment, but for people who grew up in it, it's much more than that.  It's a total re-education.  I hate to use that word because of the obvious Communist link, but it's the only word that comes to mind.  They have to learn everything about the world from the ground-up because almost everything they've been told is a lie.

Add to this the sexual abuse and other forms of abuse they are recovering from, and I give these people kudos for being willing to heal themselves and help others.

I have not even scratched the surface of the drama and turmoil of this episode.  I watched it before going to bed and I couldn't sleep.  Many of the more disturbing details kept me awake and they still haunt me.  The mathematics of polygamy means that boys are mere flotsam to a polygamous cult, and the girls are possessions with no rights of their own.

I hope that more children escape this destructive and vile situation.