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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Homophobic Cardinal Ousted By Pope Francis

It has been confirmed, by Cardinal Raymond Burke, that Pope Francis intends to demote him from the Vatican's high court.

American Cardinal Raymond Burke, a darling of conservative Catholics who is virulently anti-gay, has confirmed to BuzzFeed what rumors from Rome have said for weeks. He will be demoted by Pope Francis from the head of the Roman Catholic Church's version of the Supreme Court to a figurehead role as the Patron of the Knights of Malta, a chivalrous order known for its work among the sick.

Maybe he can do that job without spewing hate at ninety miles an hour. Let's hope none of those sick people are gay. He recommends shunning them.

Burke recently told an interviewer that legally-married gay and lesbian family members should be shunned from family celebrations during the upcoming holidays, asking “what would it mean to grandchildren to have present at a family gathering a family member who is living [in] a disordered relationship with another person?”

This decision comes in the wake of a battle royale during the recent two week synod. A widely reported document recommended a softening of the Church's position on gay and divorced people, even going so far as to say that gay people have "gifts and talents to offer the Christian community."

Patronizing as that sounds, it would constitute a major step forward. But the language was ultimately scrapped, having failed to reach a two thirds majority. Even so, the final document is a far cry from Cardinal Burke's call for shunning. And that it made it as far as it did shows a sea change happening in the Church.

Cardinal Burke remains very outspoken about the mistakes he thinks Pope Francis is making. That he did not denounce the proposed Relatio, with all its tolerant language, threatens to weaken the moral fiber of the Church, according to the outgoing leader of the high court.

“According to my understanding of the church’s teaching and discipline, no, it wouldn’t be correct,” Burke said, saying the pope had “done a lot of harm” by not stating “openly what his position is.” Burke said the Pope had given the impression that he endorses some of the most controversial parts of the Relatio, especially on questions of divorce, because of a German cardinal who gave an important speech suggesting a path to allowing people who had divorced and remarried to receive communion, Cardinal Walter Kasper, to open the synod’s discussion.

“The pope, more than anyone else as the pastor of the universal church, is bound to serve the truth,” Burke said. “The pope is not free to change the church’s teachings with regard to the immorality of homosexual acts or the insolubility of marriage or any other doctrine of the faith.”

Burke has publicly clashed with the pope since Francis took office in 2013, and he has come to represent the sidelining of culture warriors elevated by Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict and as the top doctrinal official under Pope John Paul II. Burke, who caused controversy while bishop of St. Louis by saying Catholics who voted for politicians supportive of abortion rights should not receive communion, went on Catholic television in 2013 to rebut remarks Pope Francis made to an interviewer that the church had become “obsessed” with abortion and sexuality to the exclusion of other issues, saying, “We can never talk enough about that as long as in our society innocent and defenseless human life is being attacked in the most savage way,” Burke said. While Francis famously responded to a question about homosexuality in 2013 by asking, “Who am I to judge?” Burke described homosexual “acts” as “always and everywhere wrong [and] evil” during an interview last week.

Who knows how much substantive change this kinder, gentler pope can achieve. But Cardinal Burke is part of a dying breed and the Catholic Church is slowly, haltingly changing.

Comments on this entry are closed, on this blog. If you wish to comment, please find this and all newer blog entries crossposted on Celestial Reflections.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Ghosts of Clear Mountain

Montclair State photo MontclairState_zps7feab6fb.jpg

An old college friend of mine tagged me into a comment thread on Facebook the other day. Had I ever encountered any of these supposed ghosts when we were at Montclair State?

Montclair State is said to be one of the most haunted colleges in America.

For years there have been reports of doors and windows slamming, lights flickering on and off, constant cold, and even a ghost who hovers over the beds of the tenants.

It is believed that Montclair is built on top of Indian burial grounds and alumni say it’s a very scary school. So scary, that many refuse to go in the woods after sundown. There have been many reports of figures believed to be Native Americans spotted in the forests.

According to Classes and Careers, the worst stories come from the Clove Road Apartments. Tenants have reported electrical appliances turning on and off on their own, lights on the second floor flashing on and off by themselves, disembodied knocks on bedroom and bathroom doors, “unearthly” noises emanating from the woods behind the apartments.

I remember hearing about weird happenings at Clove Road. I never got terribly invested in it. I only visited apartments there once or twice. When you're me, everywhere is haunted, and the vast majority is really unthreatening.

What struck me, though, about this story is that it to some degree affirms something I've long suspected -- that Montclair State might well be on an Indian burial ground. I had no idea at the time that this had been rumored. I only knew that the years I spent there were miserable. I had health problems and battled depression the entire time. My grades suffered. I simply hated it there.

There's a feel to the Montclair State campus, a yawning emptiness that cut to the core of me. There was a coldness that was more than the excessive wind. And it was windy. A mountain had been lopped off to build a hodge podge of mismatched, poorly placed buildings. God it is an ugly place -- an architectural nightmare. And bad feng shui is one possibility I've considered to explain the overarching sickness of the place. The place felt wrong to me. Truly, deeply wrong.

A few years after graduating from Montclair, which sits largely in Clifton, actually, I moved from the Montclair area to a different section of Clifton. I was constantly ill.  I never liked it. I never liked the feel of it. Again, it was a kind of inner chill, like the air could get inside of me somehow. Walking anywhere on those streets made my bones hurt. Half a block and I felt every erg of energy drain from me. And I felt constantly afraid, neighborhood watch and impossibly low crime rate aside. I felt afraid.

Ultimately, my life went sideways and I was done with Clifton. I don't know when I've felt so relieved to see an area in the rearview mirror. But, I still had to periodically go there for various errands. And one evening, as I exited Rte 46 and entered my old neighborhood, I saw clearly the darkness I was driving into. It looked like a theatrical scrim, a semi-sheer curtain of blackness. And I felt that chill, that yawning emptiness, as I drove into it. And suddenly the thought appeared, fully formed in my mind. This is built on an Indian burial ground. That's why it feels so wrong, why I was so ill, why I feel so dramatically better now that I don't live here anymore.

I mentioned this once to a client. It was the first time I'd met her. She had come into a bookstore where I did readings and she happened to mention that she lived in that area, only a couple of blocks from where I'd lived. I told her I'd hated it there, that I thought it was poisonous. She didn't disagree. I told her I suspected it was on an Indian burial ground. About a month later, I received a note from her in the mail. It contained a newspaper clipping. They were doing construction in the neighborhood. They were turning up Indian artifacts and archaeologists suspected from the evidence that it was Indian burial ground. Her note said simply, "You were right."

My college friend points out that we are always walking on history, that the world is a burial ground. He is right of course. Why is it that we find the very idea of disrupting an Indian burial ground so disturbing? And why is the energy, when we do, so completely whack?

Perhaps it's because we have violated the indigenous population of this country so completely and upturning their graves is just the final insult. But I think it's more. I think it's that we're desecrating something that was placed with a care and consciousness that our "civilized," spiritually detached culture cannot grasp. 

As I've matured in my spiritual practice, I've learned the importance of acknowledging and respecting the spirits that inhabit a space. Mostly I've learned that I have a lot more to learn.

This was a truth that demanded my attention when I visited Mexico City and slapped me full in the face when I was at Teotihuacan. Everywhere I looked, there were spirits, ancient guardians, protecting the monuments. Throughout the day I spent there with my little group, we did rituals, we made offerings of water and other things that were demanded. Fortunately, we were a pretty conscious group, each of us picking up on various messages from spirit. We worked as a team. We very much needed to, as it rapidly became clear to all of us that we weren't simply there for sight seeing. But the most palpable sensation was as we were proceeding up the Walk of the Dead toward the Temple of the Moon. I saw two very tall beings on either side of that roadway. They demanded that we stop. I stopped my group and told them we could go no further without asking permission. And so we did and from that point forward I wasn't completely myself. One of my spirit guides stepped in and directed everything I said and did from that point forward. It was a lesson I've never forgotten, one of respect for things my tiny, American, white girl mind can only barely grasp. It was a reminder that I need help from the spirit world if I intend to venture into their territory, onto sacred ground.

A few years ago I went with my family to the Montclair Art Museum. It's lovely and I had long wanted to see the Native American exhibit. Turned out I could only see about half of it. When I walked into that gallery I was greeted by a very angry Native American woman dressed from head to toe in white buckskin. She rushed at my face. I asked politely if I could continue in the direction I was heading. In short, no. I went into another part of the exhibit, which was fine until I got to close to one particular object in a glass case. She rushed at me again. The whole time I was there, I was just watching her flit around this one corner of the gallery screaming at people who could neither hear nor see her.

I don't expect everyone to perceive what I perceive. But it's clear that some people pick up on that general feeling of wrongness. Some Clove Road residents reported an "unsettling feeling or nausea." I know that unsettled feeling stalked me through all the years I was at Montclair State. I wish I'd known then what I know now. Perhaps I would have been better able to make peace with the place. Or perhaps I would have left the school entirely.

There is a very distinct feeling of corruption to areas like these that creates a constant sense of unease. It's something I've learned to pay attention to. And to ask, to simply ask, and be willing to accept the answer I receive.

I write all this because my college friend put me in mind of it. And because it's Columbus Day. This month the city of Seattle renamed the holiday Indigenous Peoples' Day. Minneapolis did the same earlier this year. The whole country should follow suit. It won't settle the debt, but at least it would show some respect.

Comments on this entry are closed, on this blog. If you wish to comment, please find this and all newer blog entries crossposted on Celestial Reflections.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Former Insider: TEAL is "Deluded and Dangerous"

First, a note on TEAL's moniker: I can't keep up. Teal Bosworth Scott Swan has simply changed her name too many times for me to keep updating and adapting. She now seems to be identifying as Teal Swan, but when she first married Sarbdeep Singh Swan, she announced that her professional name would be TEAL, in all caps. For a while she signed all her obnoxious self-quoting info-graphics that way. At some point, she changed that to Teal Swan, but I am past caring. Because I have no idea how many times her last name will change, I am sticking with her suggestion of a stand-alone first name. However, I refuse to do the all-caps thing all the time. It's annoying to keep cap-locking as I type a body of text, so what I have adopted instead is the use of her first name and in all one case. In titles and at the beginnings of sentences, that is all caps, and in other text, all lowercase. This also solves the problem of having her name constantly SHOUTED, as that is what all caps means in internet-speak. So, for the most part, she is now identified in most of my text as teal.

After I posted my first blog on then Teal Scott, which focused largely on her mistreatment of her ex-boyfriend Fallon, I learned of another member of her inner circle who was similarly targeted, scapegoated, and vilified. The name Cameron Clark came up repeatedly in comments. The Shadow House episode in which teal had subjected her to a range of verbal assaults had gone down the memory hole, but it was the stuff of legend. As she had done with Fallon, teal instigated a shaming and shunning among her followers that was gruesome. Anyone who defended Cameron also got scorched, in some cases directly by teal.

Some time later Cameron reached out to me and we discussed some of her teal related concerns privately. When she felt ready to break her public silence, she also made some comments on my blog, to the great relief of many people who had been very concerned for her well-being. I am thrilled that Cameron now feels ready to tell her whole story publicly. In the player above, she is interviewed at length by Jessica Schab.

It's a long conversation, over five hours, but for anyone who wants to know what life in teal's orbit is really about, it's worth taking the time to weed through it. For reasons that should be obvious, I do not agree with Jessica's framing. I don't think teal is emblematic of the new age, of non-traditional spirituality, or of any kind of religion. I think she falls firmly into the category of religious abusers.

That she abuses her authority was apparent to me when I read in her blog posts that she had erroneously diagnosed her own boyfriend as a psychopath, blurring the lines between lover and client, between uncredentialed healer and therapist, between reality and something else entirely.

In the time since writing that first post, I have learned that the problems with teal are far worse than I could have imagined. Much of that knowledge has come from former followers and acquaintances -- some, like Cameron, who've been on the inside track.

What Cameron describes is a life lived on a roller-coaster, rising and falling with the many moods of an emotionally unbalanced woman. She is capricious, manipulative, and sexually inappropriate, moving people around, by her own admission, like chess pieces. (See: Noncast: The Bottomless Rabbit Hole, page search: rabbit)

 photo tealchessboard_zps498a0071.jpg

The most disturbing revelation comes toward the end of the first hour. At one point teal seemed to urge Cameron toward suicide.

It caught me off guard the first time I experienced one of Teal's borderline tirades where she flipped a switch and began berating me for all of my shortcomings a few weeks after I arrived in Utah. It started when she became extremely irritated with me and accused me of questioning her integrity, after she told me her cat Cosmos was actually a holographic soul projection from the planet Sirius, and that he had been talking to me and telling me that my blood sugar was off... I casually mentioned that I had just happened to read about blood sugar and it's effect on the body in the book called The Woman Code that she had coincidentally recommended I read just two days before. Despite my offhand manner, she claimed that I was "attacking her" and pled her case to Fallon, Graciela, and Flavia. I was dismayed by her reaction, but she claimed to have read my energy and accused me of energetically "throwing a dagger" and not trusting her. Then, in front of those guys, Teal immediately jumped to trying to convince me that I was suicidal (despite the fact that I wasn't and had never been suicidal before). I explained this,to her, and she went so far as to tell me that I was "passively suicidal" instead, and informed me that I was "uncommitted to life." She asked why I had never considered suicide before... I told her that despite the fact that she may believe that life is just an insignificant video game from "source perspective".... I happened to believe that suicide would hurt my family and I would never consider doing anything that selfish. Teal responded flippantly saying, "Hm, It's about time you were selfish, isn't it?"

Teal compared me to her client that she lost to suicide, and even went so far as to say that I looked like her. She went on to tell me among other things, that she could see my thoughts and my vibrations and that I was a match to breast cancer, and that I had stomach ulcers... This was news to me, as I had never had any symptoms. I am not someone who has ever easily let people hurt me, but by the end of her tirade, Teal finally had me in tears. Only Flavia who was extremely taken with Teal at the time, expressed that she thought Teal was being really hard on me. This didn't go over well, and the rest of the group remained silent. Teal told me to get in my car and drive to decide whether I was committed to life or not. Thank god by that time, I had the wherewithal to recognize that Teal was clinically insane, so I got in my car and drove to my apartment with the intention of packing up my things and moving back home to Washington. According to Fallon, Teal then became frantic and was in tears after I actually left and she had him call and text me asking if I was okay. I couldn't believe she had the audacity to believe that I would actually kill myself because she told me to. In hindsight, I do believe that someone who trusted Teal, was already depressed or suicidal, and was unaware of Teal's own mental instability may have fallen for her line of BS and decided to kill themselves. I would be shocked if Teal's client who killed herself (Teal referred to her as Leslie) knew of all of Teal's various mental problems at the time she was being "treated," and neither did Leslie's husband who repeatedly called to yell at Teal after he found his wife dead. I believe that Leslie's husband would’ve been able to take legal action against Teal if he had access to this information. [emphases mine]

The Leslie in question was a woman I had hoped, when I wrote this post, was a fiction. I was saddened to learn that a client of teal's had, indeed, committed suicide. As I wrote then, I found it disturbing that, not only did teal appear to know her client was suicidal, she seems to be the one who suggested the idea. This is how teal recounted her sessions with this client:

And so we had that very serious sit-down talk where we had to say, alright, we're either committing or not committing to life because every time I gave her a suggestion she'd stop in two days doing the suggestion. [emphasis mine] So then we have to ask the question do we really want this to work. And what's interesting is that when she asked herself that question the answer was, "No. I'm done." There's nothing that any healer could ever do for that type of vibration which is totally fine. From  source energy there's nothing wrong with death from that perspective. So, she chose to commit suicide.

Note that in both of these cases, teal apparently phrased things in terms of their needing to decide whether or not they were "committing" to life. Also, in both cases, the issue seems to have come up around teal's frustration with people not doing what she wanted them to do. They were both being difficult. A while ago teal's not psychopathic ex-boyfriend Fallon wrote a blog post entitled "After living in two cults." He has since removed it, but in it he had also claimed that teal had urged him to kill himself, and again, it was because he was being difficult.

In the alien cult, the matriarch tried everything and nothing worked for me!! NOTHING!!! She eventually told me that there was no hope for me and that I should go and kill myself. (Man, that girl was hurting)

So, among the things this self-described Spiritual Catalyst is catalyzing is suicidal ideation. And at least one former client is dead.

Also quite alarming, a mere six days after this poor woman killed herself, teal posted this video.

Here she elaborates on the idea that suicide is a valid, if less than optimal choice. She thinks it's unfortunate that we have so many judgments around suicide and explains in her typically ahistorical fashion that it's because of a control agenda on the part of the early Christian Church. Suicide is simply a product of an incomplete "expansion" process and opportunity to press a "reset button." The video contains such gems as an explanation of how it's perfectly normal for the bereaved to feel a sense of relief because suicidal people are so negative and burdensome.

Absent from her description is any advice on how to respond proactively if you suspect someone is suicidal. When someone is feeling suicidal -- which is apparently something she feels the need to inform some people of because it can be subconscious or "passive" -- her approach is to force a decision on whether or not that person is committed to life. If they choose not commit to life, well, there's "nothing that any healer could ever do" to prevent that suicide. That someone who is supposedly in the business of helping people is that ready to accept their "choice" to off themselves is disturbing on many levels.

Do I even need to point out that teal is exactly wrong on this issue? That many suicides are prevented by suicide hotlines, therapeutic intervention, and simple human kindness? For instance, there's this fellow in Australia who has reportedly prevented 160 suicidal leaps near his rather auspiciously placed home.

Don Ritchie lives across the street from the most famous suicide spot in Australia: A cliff known as "The Gap." Most people would move, but Ritchie's stayed for almost 50 years—saving an estimated 160 people from suicide.

So what's his big secret? Ritchie wakes up every morning and looks out the window for "anyone standing alone too close to the precipice." If he sees someone who looks like they might be contemplating a jump, he walks over and... strikes up a conversation.

My husband tells me that in two suicide prevention courses he's had to take in the Marine Corps, they advised people to acknowledge each other in passing and say hello. They cited the case of a Marine who was headed back to his room intending to eat his gun, but who was prevented by just such an act of basic courtesy. Yes, just smiling at a suicidal person and acknowledging their humanity can prevent suicide. Think about that for a moment. Random strangers can prevent suicide by saying hello, but the Spiritual Catalyst doesn't think there's anything anyone can do when someone says they can't "commit" to life.

This at best passive endorsement of suicide as a solution becomes even more concerning when you consider that she has at least twice delivered convoluted apologia for Jim Jones. (See: Noncast: The Bottomless Rabbit Hole, page search: rabbit)

A little before the midway point of the fifth video in the interview, Cameron and Jessica discuss teal's strange fondness for villains and despots. She has also crafted apologetics for Hitler and for the "virgin killer" Elliot Rodger. As per Cameron, she is deeply fascinated with Hitler and views him as a catalyst for positive change. Some of her Hitler commentary gets even stranger as discussed here. (See: Noncast: Messiah Complex, page search: hitler)

Her passionate justification for Elliot Rodger was also deeply concerning. According to teal, anyone who'd lived the life he had would have gone on a killing spree. To arrive at this conclusion, she completely rescripted his life story, shifting all blame to his parents, well, except for the blame that she shifted to his victims. (See: Noncast: Sympathy for the Devil, page search: devil)

What has emerged as a theme is that she doesn't believe that there's such a thing as an evil or malevolent intention. She has repeatedly tealsplained that evil acts are misguided attempts to feel good. The pursuit of personal pleasure, in teal's mind, is always positive. It is a thoroughly narcissistic construction, justifying such things as rape, thrill-killings, massacres, and genocide.

As for the victims of such actions, well, you can't protect them from the law of attraction, says teal. It's all good because they learn important lessons.

What also becomes abundantly clear from Cameron's recounting is that teal's pursuit of personal pleasure is relentless and injurious to other people. This is a woman who has publicly stated and then self-quoted the following:

If we fear manipulative people, it is only because we do not realize that every being on this earth (including ourselves) is manipulative. Manipulation is not evil. It does not mean that someone intends to hurt or use other people for their own benefit. So what does it mean to be manipulative? To be manipulative is to speak and act in a way that guarantees that we get the response we want to get from other people. So you see, manipulation is how most of us try to get love. Manipulation is how most of us try to get safety… because we do not trust the world to be kind to us. Everyone is manipulative, we are simply more or less aware of that aspect within ourselves.

In short, she is relentlessly and unapologetically manipulative.

In my first post on teal, I stated concerns, my own and those of others, that teal used sex to manipulate viewers of her videos. What I did not and could not know then was the extent to which she sexually manipulates everyone around her. She has alluded to inappropriate sexual contact with clients during sessions. She uses sex to control both the men and women around her. Starting at around minute 17:00 in the the third video, Cameron talks about teal's sexual aggressiveness, which ranged from innuendo to direct sexual come-ons.

Tellingly, she had told Cameron at one point that she didn't understand why straight women would even want to be her friend. That she seems to see her entire value to other people as sexual is very sad. But it also raises deep concerns due to her position of authority as a self described "leader of the New Age." She doesn't seem to be comfortable with people who don't desire her sexually. Ultimately this may have been one of the factors in her turning so viciously on Cameron. Cameron just wasn't into her.

The salacious aspects of this aside, this part of the interview is must listening. That teal finds herself at odds with straight women is deeply troubling. She characterizes them as jealous of her, out to sabotage her, and as inevitable betrayers. That this plays into sexist tropes of women as petty, jealous, and back-biting is disturbing enough. Goodness knows that attitude is pervasive among her supporters, who go out of their way to tell me how jealous I must be of the beautiful and talented teal. Women just can't be critical of other women for real, substantive reasons now can they. Bitches just be shallow. But more than that, it demonstrates something that should come as no surprise -- that teal doesn't trust people she doesn't think she can manipulate.

In addition to leveraging her sex appeal, teal manipulates with constant self-focused drama. She is in constant pain as a result of her alleged Mormon Satanic Ritual Abuse. This includes a seizure disorder that somehow doesn't prevent her from holding a license and driving her car.

It is also evident from Cameron's recollections that teal plays people against each other. She uses her claimed psychic abilities to tell people what their connections are to each other and to her. Early in the second video Cameron relates how teal informed her that she had been abducted by Fallon in his alien form. Fallon, you see, is really a rogue reptilian who is acting as a kind of self-appointed emissary on behalf of humans. Of course, to prevent future abductions -- of which Cameron was informed she had suffered many -- she needed to help teal complete her mission. All of teal's inner circle were bound to teal by such agreements in their various roles assigned by a galactic counsel.

What is interesting about this maneuver is that it simultaneously binds Cameron and Fallon and places a wedge between them. Who can ever be really comfortable around someone with whom there is such violent history?

I have never called teal's organization a cult. I have characterized it as cultish and noted that there a number of cult-like indicators. But I find it interesting that at least two former insiders have called it a cult. They have said that they were brainwashed, controlled, deprived of sleep, had lost their sense of identity, experienced personality changes, and were implanted with false memories.

A bit under the halfway point in the second video, Cameron talks about how teal wound Fallon up to the point that he wanted to hunt down and kill teal's alleged abuser. She observed that teal's eyes lit up at the idea. Fallon himself alluded to this in a comment on my blog, admitting that he was so turned around when he was with her that he would have killed for her. As noted here, teal loves her knights in shining armor and frequently dog-whistles to prospective rescuers to rush to her defense. (See: Noncast: Chasing and Burning, page search: chasing)

If there is one thing teal is good at, it's speaking directly to the darkness in men's souls. Her growing obsession with her absolutely distorted version of shadow work, or what she calls Spirituality 2.0, is a cause for growing concern. As discussed here, this is neither shadow work nor healthy. It's a witch-hunt through the psyche that is potentially really damaging. (See: Noncast: What's the Point of 3, page search: 3.0)

At every turn, something darker and stranger seems to emerge with this woman. Early in the fourth video, Cameron and Jessica discuss her bizarre use of the Necronomicon symbol in one of her paintings. Of course teal's penchant for plagiarism is something that we have discussed ad nauseum in the comments, but this bit of image pilfering is completely bizarre. As I learned from a helpful commenter a while back, her Soul Retrieval painting also contains a Reiki symbol that is used to amplify energy. Why would paintings that are supposed to convey the way she sees energy patterns include existing symbols? And what on earth could the Necronomicon have to do with shamanic soul retrieval? Does she think people need to retrieve Lovecraftian demons? That would be the stuff of nightmares! H.P. Lovecraft, for the uninitiated, was a horror writer. The Necronomicon is a fictional book that he alluded to in his stories. The symbol comes from one of three attempts to turn this literary in-joke into a cash cow, by penning an actual book.

But there it is -- this quasi-demonic image in one of teal's "frequency paintings." It is strange, even comical, but just a little chilling.

I don't know how anyone can listen to even a little of this interview and not have grave concerns about where this is all going. Near the end of the fifth video, they discuss some of teal's grand visions for the future. She intends to buy up entire countries. It is hard to imagine what someone with teal's evident psychological problems might do with that much power. As discussed, we can take some comfort from the fact that it is a fantastical notion from someone with a child's grasp of finance and geopolitics. (See: Noncast: The Bottomless Rabbit Hole, page search: rabbit)

The unlikelihood aside, that teal is hatching such megalomaniacal schemes is profoundly concerning -- more so because of her penchant for absolving Hitler and Jim Jones of any responsibility for historic atrocities. She would tell you that buying countries is part of her special Arcturian mission to reach people all over the world and affect some expansive vision to improve our troubled world. But teal thinks Hitler was one of the greatest change agents in history -- no one thought about world peace before all that nasty business with the Holocaust. Okay, history is not her long suit.

So what exactly is this mission the galactic counsel sent her here for? What does an Arcturian Eucharist actually do? Does she intend to further our "expansion" by engendering still more conflict, division, and drama? Or could it potentially be far worse? None of it looks like a unifying or peaceful vision.

Sometimes it feels like you are on a battlefield against an army of people who do not care but if you will just turn around, you will see that behind you is also an army of people who do care teal swan

A complete transcript of Cameron and Jessica's conversation can be downloaded using this link. For more information and supplemental documentation, see this page.

Comments on this entry are closed, on this blog. If you wish to comment, please find this and all newer blog entries crossposted on Celestial Reflections.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Study Finds Consciousness Survives Clinical Death

Results from the AWARE Study were released yesterday and the evidence of continuing consciousness is compelling.

The largest ever medical study into near-death and out-of-body experiences has discovered that some awareness may continue even after the brain has shut down completely.

It is a controversial subject which has, until recently, been treated with widespread scepticism.

But scientists at the University of Southampton have spent four years examining more than 2,000 people who suffered cardiac arrests at 15 hospitals in the UK, US and Austria.

And they found that nearly 40 per cent of people who survived described some kind of ‘awareness’ during the time when they were clinically dead before their hearts were restarted.

Participants displayed a range of perceptions during periods of when the heart and brain were completely shut down.

The results showed that 39 per cent of patients who survived cardiac arrest described a perception of awareness but did not have explicit recall.

A total of 46 per cent experienced a broad range of mental recollections, nine per cent had experiences compatible with NDEs and two per cent exhibited full awareness compatible with OBEs with explicit recall of “seeing” and “hearing” events.

And one case was validated and timed using auditory stimuli during cardiac arrest.

Most compelling was a social worker who described observing efforts to revive him from a corner of the room for several minutes, with tremendous detail.

Dr Sam Parnia, who led the study, told the Daily Telegraph: "We know the brain can't function when the heart has stopped beating. But in this case, conscious awareness appears to have continued for up to three minutes into the period when the heart wasn't beating, even though the brain typically shuts down within 20 to 30 seconds after the heart has stopped."

"The man described everything that had happened in the room, but importantly, he heard two bleeps from a machine that makes a noise at three minute intervals. So we could time how long the experience lasted for," he added.

"He seemed very credible and everything that he said had happened to him had actually happened."

The results of this study are certain to be controversial.

The study supports thousands of anecdotal accounts over the years of people who say that they had an out of body experience when they “died” in which they could witness their environment during the time they were clinically deceased. However, anecdotal evidence is not scientific evidence, and the newest study would have to be replicated over time before science could determine if indeed there is evidence of life after death or if this study is an anomaly.

With findings as controversial as these, there are bound to be skeptics who will question the controls used during the study. One criticism that has been levied is that the study subjects were recounting their own experiences and those memories could have been altered in between the time they were resuscitated and the time they participated in the study. For example, once they were brought back, they could have heard snippets of conversations in the minutes immediately following that led them to an understanding of what had just happened, and their brain processed that information and stored it. That data could have easily turned into a “memory” of being resuscitated when actually they heard the information after they were brought back but were still semi-unconscious due to being medicated.

In a press conference in 2008, Dr. Parnia outlined the goals and methodology of the AWARE Study.

Alex Tsakaris interviewed Dr. Parnia and asked him some challenging questions about his framework and viewpoint.

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Sunday, October 05, 2014

That Time Reza Aslan Smacked Down Bill Maher

I've never much cared for Bill Maher's commentary on religion. I think his views on the issue are shallow and reasoned backwards from the most extreme examples. So I very much enjoyed Reza Aslan's recent take-down of Maher's thoroughly ignorant, Islamaphobic rant. In the process he schooled the equally simplistic Don Lemon and Alisyn Camerota.

Comedian Bill Maher recently made some comments about Islamic countries that characterized them as more prone to violence, misogyny and bigotry, and now religious scholar Reza Aslan has called Maher out on his own “bigotry.” Aslan, who became famous when he skewered Fox News, appeared on CNN to pick apart Maher’s “not very sophisticated” and “facile arguments” that characterize Muslim nations as all the same. As is evident from the CNN bit, these arguments are not unique to Maher, making Aslan’s nuanced argument an essential one to keep in mind as we increase military action in the Middle East.

Here’s Aslan’s point: “To say Muslim countries, as though Pakistan and Turkey are the same… it’s frankly, and I use this word seriously, stupid!”

“The problem is that you’re talking about a religion of one and a half billion people,” he explained, “and certainly it becomes very easy to just simply paint them all with a single brush by saying, ‘Well in Saudi Arabia [women] can’t drive,’ and saying that’s representative of Islam. That’s representative of Saudi Arabia.”

In particular, Aslan took on Maher's misrepresentation of female genital mutilation as a Muslim practice.

CNN Tonight hosts Don Lemon and Alisyn Camerota picked up this thread the following day in an interview with Reza Aslan, an author and University of California-Riverside professor of religious studies.

Aslan criticized Maher for making "facile arguments" when he generalized about Muslims and mislabeled female genital mutilation an Islamic problem.

"It's a central African problem," Aslan said. "Eritrea has almost 90 percent female genital mutilation. It's a Christian country. Ethiopia has 75 percent female genital mutilation. It's a Christian country. Nowhere else in the Muslim, Muslim-majority states is female genital mutilation an issue."

Politifact rates Aslan's position as "mostly true." I would say it's as true as anyone could be given the constraints of soundbite journalism in a five minute interview. FGM is not an Islamic practice. It's an ancient tribal practice in some parts of Africa that found its way into other religions including some Islamic sects.

"It is extremely clear that in many countries that have a very high population of Muslims, female genital mutilation/cutting is not practiced," said Francesca Moneti, the UNICEF senior child protection specialist who co-authored the report.

Experts say the practice stems from social pressure to conform to traditions passed down for centuries -- one that predates not just Islam but also Judaism and Christianity. (The origins of the practice are subject to some dispute, but some scholars say it may correspond to areas of ancient civilizations, in which the cutting of females "signalled controlled fidelity and the certainty of paternity," the UNICEF report states.)

. . .

While it stems from neither Christianity nor Islam, some women in Chad, Guinea and Mauritania report a "religious requirement" as a benefit of cutting. Some communities consider a clitoridectomy -- one type of female genital mutilation -- as "sunna," which is Arabic for "tradition" or "duty," according to the UNICEF report. However, it is not a requirement of the Koran and has been specifically rejected by some Muslim leaders in Egypt.

Aslan also tweeted this helpful infographic:

Maher's comments were strikingly similar to those of his pal Richard Dawkins's "Muslima" comments, aka., "Elevatorgate." As discussed here, the object of Dawkins's criticism was Skepchick Rebecca Watson. Similarly Dawkins trivialized her discomfort at being sexually objectified and being put in an uncomfortable, intimidating situation, by comparing her white girl problems to the plight of Muslim women. And also like Maher, he got the issue of FGM completely wrong. Watson, also an atheist, and far more knowledgeable and active on the issue, had to set him straight as well. This is not to say that he doesn't remain self-satisfied in his continuing and willful ignorance.

Like Dawkins, Maher thinks molly-coddled America liberals should shut up about injustices here until we can express the appropriate outrage at the real problem: Islam. Apparently he didn't get Dawkins's memo about how lesser offenses are not exonerated by the existence of greater offenses. Perhaps because Dawkins so completely bungled the delivery.

Maher continued this theme on this week's Real Time, attempting to bolster his argument by including another New Atheist Islamaphobe Sam Harris. The result was a very angry Ben Affleck.

Notably, Reza Aslan was not on this week's panel. No doubt because he would have shredded the New Atheist argument more ably than either New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof or a Hollywood actor.

Harris is treated as an expert on the subject of religion because he's a neuroscientist and despite the fact that he's been demonstrably wrong so many times -- like when he tried to claim a passionate Muslim girl as an icon of his anti-Muslim views.

Not surprisingly he has been taken to task for his Islamaphobia, though probably not as much he should be. He's responded with multiple versions of this bit of tripe. He's not a racist, he says in a tedious semantic argument, nor is he an Islamaphobe. He's just a rationalist who sees the threat Islam poses to the globe. He rejects the notion of peaceful Muslims because there are violent ones and on the basis that the Koran contains so much violent scripture.

Unfortunately, many of my most voluble critics cannot clear this bar—and no amount of quotation from the Koran, the hadith, the ravings of modern Islamists, or from the plaints of their victims, makes a bit of difference.

. . .

What, for instance, is the penalty for apostasy? It isn’t spelled out clearly in the Koran—though verses 2:217 and 4:89 suggest that those who seek to lead others away from the faith must be killed. However, the general sanction is made abundantly clear in the hadith, and in the opinions of Muslim jurists and Muslim mobs everywhere.

It's a good argument... unless you've ever read the Bible. The violence called for by the God of the Old Testament is epic. Former nun Karen Armstrong says the Bible is the more violent of the two books. Yet Jews and Christians get a pass from Harris. He avoids the issue neatly in his post by comparing Islam to Jainism rather than the other two major Abrahamic faiths.

You can't really judge a religious practice by all of its scriptures because few religious people even try to follow them all. It's impossible to follow all the tenets of religious texts that contradict themselves. Only fundamentalists try and radical fundamentalism is born of social strife, economic injustice, and other cultural factors.

While it is certainly true that radical Muslims use some scriptures to justify atrocities, so do Christians killing accused witches and fueling gay persecution in Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, and other countries. Even some Americans think the Old Testament justifies killing gay people. They are fairly seen as backwards extremists by most Christians and Jews.

So what does the erroneously termed "Muslim World" think of its extremists? Gallup tried to take the pulse of a diverse, billion plus Muslims on a range of issues. Unlike Maher and Harris, they didn't cherry-pick the most grotesque practices from the most regressive Muslim majority countries. They cast the net quite a bit wider.

The result is Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, based on six years of research and more than 50,000 interviews representing 1.3 billion Muslims who reside in more than 35 nations that are predominantly Muslim or have sizable Muslim populations. Representing more than 90% of the world's Muslim community, it makes this poll the largest, most comprehensive study of its kind.
What the data reveal and the authors illuminate may surprise you:
  • Muslims and Americans are equally likely to reject attacks on civilians as morally unjustifiable.
  • Large majorities of Muslims would guarantee free speech if it were up to them to write a new constitution AND they say religious leaders should have no direct role in drafting that constitution.
  • Muslims around the world say that what they LEAST admire about the West is its perceived moral decay and breakdown of traditional values -- the same answers that Americans themselves give when asked this question.
  • When asked about their dreams for the future, Muslims say they want better jobs and security, not conflict and violence.
  • Muslims say the most important thing Westerners can do to improve relations with their societies is to change their negative views toward Muslims and respect Islam.
The research suggests that conflict between Muslims and the West is NOT inevitable and, in fact, is more about policy than principles. "However," caution Esposito and Mogahed, "until and unless decision makers listen directly to the people and gain an accurate understanding of this conflict, extremists on all sides will continue to gain ground."

A book by Karen Armstrong, due out at the end of this month, challenges not only the assumption that Islam is driving terrorism but that religion is the prime mover in war. Writing in The Guardian, Armstrong explains that historically, religion was not separate from culture or political life. If war were driven by religion, our more recent innovation of secular governance should have significantly reduced warfare. Yet some of the worst and most devastating wars have been carried out by secular states. In notable cases secular powers targeted religious groups -- the Armenian genocide at the hands of the anti-religious Young Turks and the extermination of six million Jews by the National Socialist Party in Germany, for instance.

Throughout history, religion may have been an ingredient in warfare and a unifying force, but has rarely been the major cause. Indeed, the War Audit conducted for the BBC in 2010, found that wars driven by primarily religious motives make up a tiny slice of mankind's martial history.

Brace yourselves, those for whom religion equals war. The majority of all wars (44/73 or 60 percent) had no religious motivation whatsoever -- a zero rating. Only three wars -- the Arab conquests of 632-732, the much ballyhooed Crusades, and the Reformation Wars of the 16th and 17th centuries - earned a 5, and were thus considered to be truly religious wars. Only seven wars earned a rating of 3 or more -- less than 10 percent. Thus, the vast majority of all wars involved either no religious motivation or only a modest one. The authors concluded by noting that "there have been few genuinely religious wars in the last 100 years. The Israel/Arab wars were wars of nationalism and liberation of territory" (p. 16).  

As per Armstrong, it is not religion that moves communities and nations to war, but the other way 'round. As religions have become institutional forces, enmeshed with government, they have been absorbed into the war-making apparatus.

The sad truth is that religions are corrupted by success. The more popular they become, the closer they are drawn into the ambit of state power, the more their practice and doctrine have to be remodelled to suit their new overlords. Armstrong reflects gloomily:
Every major faith tradition has tracked the political entity in which it arose; none has become a ‘world religion’ without the patronage of a militarily powerful empire and every tradition would have to develop an imperial ideology.
You can keep the old faith, as do the Sufis and the Quakers, but that means staying out of the loop. The conversion of Constantine also meant the conscription of Christianity. It was not long before Augustine of Hippo was developing the convenient theory of the ‘just war’. Similarly the ahadith, the later reports of the Prophet’s sayings, confer a spiritual dimension on warfare which it doesn’t have in the Koran. Militant Sikhs today prefer to quote the martial teachings of the Tenth Guru rather than those of their founder Guru Nanak, who taught that only ‘he who regards all men as equals is religious’.

Ironically, according to Armstrong, it's the aggressive movement towards secularism that is spurring extremist, fundamentalist backlash. Even so, the idea of terrorism as a distinctly Muslim, or even religious practice, is belied by the facts.

All terrorism is now routinely attributed to religious intoxication. Richard Dawkins tells us that ‘only religious faith is a strong enough force to motivate such utter madness in otherwise sane and decent people’. But Armstrong points out that suicide bombing was more or less invented by the Tamil Tigers, ‘a nationalist separatist group with no time for religion’. A Chicago University study of suicide attacks worldwide over 25 years found ‘little connection between suicide and terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, or any religion for that matter’. Out of 38 suicide bombings in the Lebanon during the 1980s, 27 were perpetrated by secularists and socialists, three by Christians and only eight by Muslims.

Also ironic are the fulminations of these New Atheist rationalists, such the late Christopher Hitchins.

Ever since, the ferocity of liberal nationalists has matched anything the bigots in armour can do. Hitch himself, though infinitely amiable in personal relations, was no slouch as a secular Saladin. His reveilles after 9/11 were scorchers:
I think the enemies of civilisation should be beaten and killed and defeated, and I don’t make any apology for it… We can’t live on the same planet as them, and I’m glad because I don’t want to. I don’t want to breathe the same air as these psychopaths and murderers… It’s them or me. I’m very happy about this because I know it will be them.

Yes. Death to the extremists!!!

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Pagans and Satanists Explore Religious Freedoms

As predicted, the recent Supreme Court decision to allow religious invocations in public meetings is already exposing the hypocrisy and discriminatory practices of conservative Christian defenders of "religious freedom." Turns out some religions are more equal than others. Shocker.

In Florida's Escambia County, a potential legal battle is heating up between Agnostic Pagan Pantheist David Suhor and the county school board over his right to perform the invocation. Other local institutions have hosted him and his absolutely beautiful invocation can be heard in the video posted above. But he has locked horns with school board member Jeff Bergosh over his proposed appearance.

David Suhor, 46, a Pensacola resident and musician, said he is ready to bring litigation against the school board after he made requests to several board members to lead an invocation but was turned down by all but one. Suhor describes himself as an agnostic pagan pantheist and wanted to lead a pagan prayer.

“If you’re censoring Muslims, pagans or even satanists, then you’re practicing discrimination,” Suhor told the board.

After Suhor and school board member Jeffery Bergosh engaged in a heated debate through their blogs — Bergosh on jeffbergoshblog.blogspot.com and Suhor on anapplebiter.blogspot.com — Bergosh asked the district’s attorney, Donna Waters, to look into the matter.

Both blogs are worth a look, but Bergosh's has the added value of being unintentionally hilarious.

I mean, should the majority of persons in attendance at one of our meetings really have to listen to a satanic verse?  What if a “Witch Doctor” comes to the podium with a full-on costume, chicken-feet, a voodoo doll and other associated  over-the-top regalia?  It could easily get out of hand, so far as I can tell....(I wonder what our local media would say about this?)

. . .

Locally, I’ve been bombarded by people offering their willingness to give invocations lately…. However, as a current practice each board member has the latitude to select whomever he/she wants to deliver the invocation before the meeting.  In my eight years on the board, I’ve utilized a priest, two pastors, a youth pastor, the leader of my bible study group, several members of the district staff, a school community volunteer, and I’ve delivered the invocation on a number of occasions myself. I like having the flexibility of the board’s rotation system, and I’m not in favor of changing it…

I’d even be willing to select someone other than a Christian to deliver the invocation.  I’ve recently been contacted by someone of the Jewish faith, and I’m considering having that individual bring the invocation when it is next my turn, in January 2015.

He's even willing to let the Jews in. But so far it's been Christians, Christians, Christians, and himself, also Christian.

So, this is pretty much exactly what critics of the SCOTUS ruling feared -- that government officials would end up violating the First Amendment directly by "establishing" what does and does not constitute acceptable religious practice.

This prayer was too much for County Commissioner Wilson Robertson who left the room because of his Christian beliefs.

Wilson Robertson  "People may not realize it, but when we invite someone a minister to pray they are praying for the county commissioners for us to make wise decisions and I'm just not going to have a pagan or satanic minister pray for me."

This also violates the ruling itself which directly calls for inclusiveness and non-discriminatory practices.

While "Witch Doctors" in full regalia are probably unlikely, Satanists are definitely coming for the Bergoshes and Robertsons of the world. The Satanic Temple has been challenging First Amendment loopholes with a sense of fun, flair, and determination. From the previously discussed Baphomet Statue to a court approved activity book for school children, they are pushing the envelope but hard.

The proposed monument is a hoot: Baphomet sitting on a throne while two children gaze adoringly at his goatly visage. The point of the stunt, however, is quite serious, to expose the hypocrisy of Christian conservatives who want to justify government endorsement of religion under the guise of “religious freedom”. Lucien Greaves of the Temple told Vice, “Constitutional law is quite clear on this issue: The state can’t discriminate against viewpoints. If they’ve opened the door for one, they’ve opened it for all.” To turn down the Satanists is to admit that the Christian right didn’t care for religious freedom at all, but simply wants government to push their religion while suppressing others who disagree.

The Satanic Temple is pulling a similar stunt in Florida, to protest the Orange County Public Schools, which allowed the World Changers of Florida to pass out Bibles and religious pamphlets on campus.  An atheist group already managed to get its protest in by getting similar permission to pass out atheist materials, putting the district in a situation where they either had to let them do it or risk a lawsuit. But the Satanist groups are making the situation hilariously surreal by asking to distribute The Satanic Children’s BIG BOOK of Activities, a coloring book with games that explain the ins and outs of Satanic rituals, as well as showing kids how to draw a pentagram.

 photo SatanicActivityBook_zps4a865934.png

It probably doesn't help that this book looks like hella more fun than the Christian rewrite of Harry Potter.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Graham Hancock Graces Cover of Om Times

 photo OmTimes_Hancock_zps952c0e15.jpg

Readers of this blog know that I have something of a love affair with the work of Graham Hancock. As I wrote here, it began rather magically as I was preparing for what would be a life-altering trip to Mexico. That trip was made possible by my friend Jill Mangino, who connected me with the organizers of the Flower of Life teacher training, and otherwise helped me get my ducks in a row.

My trip to Mexico, and particularly my visit to Teotihuacan, catalyzed a process in me and not an entirely comfortable one. Through it all, the works of Graham Hancock have served as guideposts. They provided me with a kind of map through a netherworld of myth and mystery.

I am filled with gratitude for Graham Hancock, for his wonderful books, but also for the incredible generosity with which he shares his ideas in interview after interview, seamlessly weaving together the strands of a massive and challenging body of work.

I noticed last night that Hancock had posted a new interview with Om Times on his Facebook page. Imagine my delight when I discovered that the interviewer was Jill Mangino. It's a great interview. Hancock again shows his tremendous knowledge, his analytical mind, and his willingness to ask hard questions rather than provide pat answers. He and Jill discuss many of the hot button issues that Hancock has been unafraid to press through the years: the possibility of very ancient, forgotten civilizations; Ayahuasca and shamanism; the hard problem of consciousness and the dogma of reductionist materialism; and, of course, the TED fiasco.

How wonderful that Om Magazine has brought together two of my favorite people, both so instrumental in my spiritual development.

And so the circle neatly closes.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

We Are Legion and We Are Tactless

One of the most consistently baffling things to me about the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church is their tone-deafness. Do these Church officials really not know how out of touch they seem when they answer outrage over vile abuses with platitudes about forgiveness for perpetrators? The rush to forgive their own brethren left countless children vulnerable to non-rehabilitatable criminals. This was nowhere more true than with one of the Church's most notorious offenders: Marcial Maciel Degollado.

And they're still doing it.

Even as they are wrestling with lawsuits from his victims, his children, and the descendents of elderly people his organization bilked out of their fortunes, the Legionaries of Christ scramble to protect his legacy and his name. And of course they do it in an attempt to do what Maciel did best: raise money.

They have already raised $40 million of a needed $100 million to support an outrageous land-grab in the Holy Land. On the ruins of an ancient temple, they intend to build a new complex including a luxury hotel -- how very Maciel of them.

At issue is a women's institute promoted with a brochure entitled Magdala: God Really Loves Women. Yes, it's so nice the way God keeps forgiving women for being sexual creatures. Worse, it equates the Magdalene with Maciel. (I actually got a little queasy just typing that sentence.) The brochure text is truly unbelievable.

The priest speaks his heart: "Marcial Maciel's initials are also MM, just like Mary Magdalene. She had a problematic past before her deliverance, so there's a parallel. Our world has double standards when it comes to morals. Some people have a formal, public display and then the real life they live behind the scenes.

"But when we accuse someone else and we are quick to stone him, we must remember that we all have problems and defects. With modern communications so out of control, it is easy to kill someone's reputation without even investigating about the truth. We should be quieter and less condemning."

So in its urgency to absolve their sexual predator of a founder, the Legionaries are now equating sexual abuse, and a lifetime of defrauding people, with prostitution. This, of course, propounds the false narrative that Mary Magdalene was a "fallen woman." But even if that were so, it would still be the most absurd of false equivalencies.

I find it quite interesting that the comments following the article on NCR contain a lot of criticism of the Church's counter-Biblical representation of Mary Magdalene and even concern that the Legionaries co-opting of this sacred site in Israel may fit the Church's agenda of hiding her history. More and more Catholics are fighting back against the Church's denigration of women. For more on the unfairly maligned Magdalene, check out William Henry's discussion The Illuminator here.

Even in the popular narrative, however, Mary Magdalene had her come to Jesus moment. For her there was redemption. When exactly was this "deliverance" for Maciel? Would that have been before or after he lived out the rest of his life in a gated community in Florida, taking regular visits with his  mistress and daughter?

In response to criticism, the Legionaries have agreed to stop distributing the  booklet and apologized.

“I personally and profoundly apologize for my reflections in the booklet, Magdala: God Really Loves Women, published this summer by the Magdala Center in Jerusalem, which is managed by the Legion of Christ,” Legionary Fr. Juan Solana, director of the Magdala Center, said in a statement Thursday.

. . .

In a statement included in a letter from Connor to fellow Legionaries and its consecrated and lay members, Solana stated: “The passages in question suggest a comparison between Mary Magdalene and Legion Founder Marcial Maciel, which clearly is inappropriate and poorly chosen.

“I was trying to make a point about compassion and forgiveness in light of the Legion’s history, but realize now that my words were awkward and suggest a reverence for our founder that we clearly reject. Again, I’m sorry for any hurt this has caused,” he said.

So that's one boneheaded statement retracted. But Solana appears to have foot in mouth disease. In discussing the proposed Magdala Center, he explained his thinking to reporters.

Solana tells ISRAEL21c: “It’s about time for women to be given their proper due.” He says that whenever men are asked to name the most important or influential person in their lives, the answer is almost always a woman – usually their mother or a teacher. “Not their wives, though,” he laughs.

Yeah. Madonna-whore complexes are funny.

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Bergholz Amish Win Appeal

It brings me no joy to report that Sam Mullet and his Bergolz Amish followers have won a victory in an appeals court and may "become loose" against the express wishes of many local Amish.

A deeply divided ruling from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals went against the jury's determination that the hair-cutting attacks, with which Mullet's minions terrorized the greater Amish community, constituted a religious hate crime.

The majority of those convicted had already completed, or nearly completed their sentences. The real issue, as ever, is with Bishop Mullet, whose fifteen year sentence offered his community a life free of his sexual demands on the women, physical abuse of their husbands, and the psychological control he exerts over all of his Bergholz Amish.

It is not illegal to run a cult. It is not illegal to extort sexual favors from adult women, in most cases. It is not even illegal to consign grown men to incarceration in chicken coops. It is illegal to terrorize neighboring communities with physical abuse and assaults on their dignity, and it is for this that Mullet and his co-conspirators were convicted.

The larger question from the beginning has been whether cutting off the hair and beards of other Amish constituted a hate crime, in other words, were the crimes motivated by religion.

In a deeply divided decision, two of the three judges on the panel concluded that the jury received incorrect instructions about how to weigh the role of religion in the attacks. They also said prosecutors should have had to prove that the assaults wouldn't have happened but for religious motives.

"When all is said and done, considerable evidence supported the defendants' theory that interpersonal and intra-family disagreements, not the victims' religious beliefs, sparked the attacks," the judges wrote.

They said it was unfair to conclude that "because faith permeates most, if not all, aspects of life in the Amish community, it necessarily permeates the motives for the assaults in this case."

The dissent pointed out what those who followed this case know full well -- that Sam Mullet said in no uncertain terms that it was about religious differences.

In a strong dissenting opinion of the 6th Circuit's Wednesday ruling, Judge Edmund A. Sargus, Jr. wrote that religion was a clear motive for the 2011 attacks and that the hate-crime convictions were appropriate, especially against Mullet.

Sargus quoted several statements made by Mullet acknowledging his religious motivations, including in an interview with The Associated Press in which he said that the goal of the hair-cutting was to send a message to the Amish community and that he should be allowed to punish people who break church laws.

Should this decision prevail, it will set a high bar in terms of precedent on hate crimes going forward.

The ruling will make it more difficult for federal prosecutors to obtain hate-crime convictions, because the court made it clear evidence must show the crime was based solely on religious hatred, said Ric Simmons, an Ohio State University law professor.

"It's always hard to prove state of mind or motive of a defendant," Simmons said. "Now it's going to be even harder because you have to prove not only was this a reason why they did it, you have to prove this is essentially the only reason, or the motivating reason."

It seems clear that the prosecutors will appeal further and it will be interesting to see how it unfolds. Either way, the unfortunate fact is that Sam Mullet will probably be released and resume his strict and strange control over the men and women who have chosen to follow him. The sad, sordid saga can be found here.

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Negative Thinking Associated with Longer Life

"The nice part about being a pessimist is that you are constantly being either proven right or pleasantly surprised." ~ George F. Will

The data in support of "negative thinking" keeps piling up. I have posted a number of things about studies and assessments showing that staying positive doesn't necessarily bring positive results for either our physical or mental health, and can even be detrimental. See here, here, here, here, here, and here, for a start.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal addresses some of the newer findings that show pessimism and negativity can be better for you, depending on the circumstances and your natural disposition.

Experts say pessimism can at times be beneficial to a person's physical and mental well-being. Some studies have found that having a more negative outlook of the future may result in a longer and healthier life. Pessimism and optimism are opposite ends of a spectrum of personality traits, and people generally fall somewhere in between. 

One study found that older people who were pessimistic about aging had better health outcomes and greater longevity.

A study published last year in the journal Psychology and Aging found that older people with pessimistic views of the future were more likely to live longer and healthier lives than those with a rosier outlook. The researchers used data from a nationally representative survey in Germany of about 11,000 people. Among other questions, people were asked how satisfied they were with their lives and how satisfied they thought they would be in five years.

Much of this dealt with correlation, not causation, but Dr. Frieder Lang posits that it may have to do with preparedness and preemption, which pessimists are more likely to undertake.

Similarly, optimistic people may take greater risks. Leslie Martin, who co-authored The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study found that people who were optimistic as children did not tend to live as long, possibly because of dangerous hobbies or bad habits like smoking and drinking.

Negative or pessimistic thinking also has a bearing on our analytical capabilities, as previously discussed here. A recent study found that this can translate to poor risk assessment.

A study, published last year in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry & Clinical Neurosciences, evaluated the brain response of 16 older adults when processing fearful faces. People with greater optimism had reduced activity in the parts of the brain that process emotional stimuli. "Being less bothered by stresses can help in coping," said Dr. Jeste, who led the study. "On the other hand, a nonchalant attitude to dangers can leave the person poorly prepared to deal with a risky situation when it arises."

Another study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that generally optimistic people had a harder time coping with stress.

What much of this research points to is a need for balance. And also a need to deal with what is -- with the reality of what is actually going on in our lives.

This is also true for people who are dealing with really difficult circumstances, including things like  adverse medical diagnoses. The importance of a positive attitude in the face of serious illness has been accepted as conventional wisdom, even in the medical community. But this has not proved out. For instance, a study done at the University of Pennsylvania did not confirm that belief. They found no correlation between positive feelings and greater life expectancy among patients with head and neck cancers. The article notes that similar findings have been made in studies of other cancers.

This study, the largest yet to study this question, combined two randomized, phase III radiation therapy studies, with a total of 1,093 patients with head and neck cancer from two different radiation therapy studies, of which 646 patients died during the course of the studies. One of the studies was a comparison of different radiation dose fractionation schedules, and the other was designed to study concurrent radiation and chemotherapy. As a part of these studies, quality-of-life estimates were examined, and patients were assessed upon entry to the protocol with five questions on the FACT-G quality of life questionnaire evaluating whether patients felt sad, were losing hope, feeling nervous, worrying about dying, worrying that their condition would worsen, and whether they were proud of how they were dealing with their condition. In neither univariate (the more sensitive but less specific way of looking for correlations) or multivariate (the more statistically appropriate method), did the investigators find any correlation between feelings of well-being and survival. This held true in the face of multiple calculations to take into account stage of disease, demographics, smoking, and performance status. Even doing subgroup analyses, often the last resort when looking for some result or correlation in a trial that is yielding none, failed to find subgroups for whom well being correlated with survival. Because the number of deaths observed was larger than the combined sample sizes of most previous studies, this represents the most resoundingly negative study to date looking at this question.

. . .

The population chosen naturally has led critics of the study to argue that, while perhaps a positive attititude doesn’t prolong survival in head and neck cancer, perhaps it does in other cancers for which the treatment is not so harsh. In the case of breast cancer, however, there are multiple retrospective studies that also failed to find a correlation between health-related quality of life scores and survival (1, 2, 3) and one randomized trial testing whether supportive group therapy had any impact on survival that failed to find any benefit in terms of survival.

Dr. James Coyne, who oversaw that study, is interviewed here by Cara Santa Maria. As he points out, not only is a positive attitude not co-correlated with a longer life expectancy, the pressure to be positive can have a detrimental effect on a patient's emotional well-being. It's not, as he says, "a prescription everyone can fill."

"The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true." ~ James Branch Cabell

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