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Thursday, July 03, 2014

Graham Hancock Sums It Up

This interview is brief but, as ever, Graham Hancock shows the elegant fluency with his material that make all his talks and interviews compelling. This is a very worthwhile summary of his research into a possible lost civilization, sometimes referred to as Atlantis. They also discuss TED's war on consciousness, the whole sad, sorry saga of which can be found here.

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Friday, June 27, 2014

The Marion Zimmer Bradley Problem

Mists of Avalon photo MistsofAvalon_zps34395ba1.jpg

Hat tip to The Wild Hunt for this morning's disillusionment. I had been blissfully unaware of this controversy. Even though I have never been Marion Zimmer Bradley fan, I am well aware of her influence in both the fantasy genre and the pagan community. So learning that she was both an enabler and perpetrator of child sexual abuse is a little rough.

This is all the more painful because Bradley is, in many ways, a feminist icon. She introduced the divine feminine to a generation of readers and she paved the way for other female authors. The irony for me was all the more unsettling as moments before seeing this post, I had been reading yet another story on the never-ending sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church and puzzling over whether there is more of a problem there than elsewhere. The Church, of course, says no and they're probably right. The larger problem is the ability and determination they've had to conceal it, creating an overarching abuse of power for which the entire institutional framework is responsible. But, there's also a kind of metaphorical power to the idea of such an incredibly patriarchal institution being responsible for the prolific theft of sexual power. We almost expect them to rape women and children. Representatives of goddess energy far less so, but there we are.

Many years ago a friend lent me her copy of The Mists of Avalon specifically because she knew I was deeply invested in goddess mythology. I didn't get far and promptly gave the book back. In retrospect, I can't honestly say why it didn't connect for me. It just didn't. But I've always respected the book's reach and power to touch lives.

I can still vividly remember how I felt when I learned that there was a Mother Goddess in ancient mythology. The one woman play presented at my college was terrible. The theater was nearly empty. The handful of women's studies majors around me, who were seeing it for credit, were falling asleep in their seats. I was transfixed by the power of realization. Suddenly the world -- things I felt and even things I had written -- made more sense. It was an organizing principle for me in a way that no other religion had been, neither my Christian background nor my Buddhist practice. In time my first goddess altar replaced the Buddhist one. I read and I read and I read. So, although I found Bradley unreadable, I well understand what a cool drink of water her writing must have been for people everywhere who were rekindling, as I was,  a memory of the divine feminine.

Many people are feeling very betrayed and disillusioned about now. Some are still cloaked in denial and spouting apologia, as referenced here. Once again, I think this creates a problem of cognitive dissonance. But the evidence seems pretty irrefutable. Unbeknownst to me, this issue had come up some years ago as a result of Bradley's deposition in the case of her husband Walter Breen, who was convicted of multiple sex abuse charges. He had sexual relationships with many underage boys. She knew. She even enabled the abuse. Horrible. But fans convinced themselves that she was misconstrued and wished it all away. A recent declaration from her own daughter Moira Greyland is much harder to ignore.

The first time she molested me, I was three. The last time, I was twelve, and able to walk away.

I put Walter in jail for molesting one boy. I had tried to intervene when I was 13 by telling Mother and Lisa, and they just moved him into his own apartment.

I had been living partially on couches since I was ten years old because of the out of control drugs, orgies, and constant flow of people in and out of our family “home.”

None of this should be news. Walter was a serial rapist with many, many, many victims (I named 22 to the cops) but Marion was far, far worse. She was cruel and violent, as well as completely out of her mind sexually. I am not her only victim, nor were her only victims girls.

More commentary from Greyland appears in The Guardian today.

Greyland, writing to the Guardian via email, said that she had not spoken out before "because I thought that my mother's fans would be angry with me for saying anything against someone who had championed women's rights and made so many of them feel differently about themselves and their lives.  I didn't want to hurt anyone she had helped, so I just kept my mouth shut".

Greyland, a harpist, singer and opera director, said it was now clear to her that "one reason I never said anything is that I regarded her life as being more important than mine: her fame more important, and assuredly the comfort of her fans as more important.  Those who knew me, knew the truth about her, but beyond that, it did not matter what she had done to me, as long as her work and her reputation continued."

She hailed the "outpouring of love and support" which has followed her revelations. "What has happened in the past 20 years, apparently, is that rape, child abuse and incest have been enough in the public eye for them to be accepted, and victims and survivors to routinely be believed now, and there are so many survivors among my mother's fans, as well as supporters of survivors and decent people who care about the truth that my mother is now being held to the very standards she wrote about," her email continued.

"I am so glad I spoke out, because on the blog, so many people have shared their OWN stories of abuse and incest and heartbreak.  I am going to keep talking about it, if only so that those people who need to share their own stories will do so now."

This revelation hits close to home for other reasons. I worked for two different publishers who published Bradley at different times. She was a grande dame, her name said with a certain reverence by the SF & Fantasy imprints it was invariably my job to handle publicity for. I was usually the only person who read and liked the genre at all in any department I worked for. The broad category of SF & Fantasy is a world unto itself within publishing.

One thing I learned during my publishing career, more generally, is that people aren't their writing. There are wonderful people and brilliant thinkers who don't express themselves very well through the written word. And there are writers of astounding depth and wisdom whose work dwarfs them as people. Many great artists -- many great people -- have feet of clay. I still think Orson Scott Card, whose books I also handled for a brief time, is one of the greatest writers in the English language. I find his political and social views odious, but I don't consider it a reason to disregard his writing. The work stands on its own.

I don't know that I can say that in a case like this. There is something profoundly disturbing about a writer of any topic, let alone feminine power, who sexually tortured her own daughter. It's altogether too incongruous. Even if I were inclined to read Bradley's work today, I don't think I could, however great and good her muse may have been.

After reading her daughter's brave words and poetry, however, I sincerely hope she writes a book.

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Monday, June 23, 2014

TED and the Diploma Mill Yoda

How did this squeak by TED's rigorous screening process?

By this I mean a TEDx talk written up in this feel-good piece in Mother Jones, a publication I thought had fact-checkers.

Ironwood State Prison resident Steven Duby served as MC for a bill that kicked off with Budnick interviewing Sir Richard Branson about the importance of, yes, second chances. (Branson once spent a day in "prison," he said, for failing to pay taxes. His mother was able to bail him out by mortgaging her house, Branson added, but not everyone has it so easy.) Among the acts was Illinois therapist and motivational speaker Sean Stephenson (above), who held the prisoners rapt with his tale of overcoming adversity. "When I was born, the doctors told my parents I would be dead within the first 24 hours of my life," he began. "Thirty-five years later, all those doctors are dead, and I am the only doctor that remains!"

Obviously, I agree that it's lovely that TEDx put together an event for prison inmates. I even agree that Sean Stephenson is a good speaker with an inspiring life story. But he is not a doctor. He admitted as much when he agreed to remove such verbiage from his website. My original post and our exchange in the comment section can be found here. Yet here he is, in the spring of 2014 still calling himself a doctor.

He is also still calling himself a therapist. I challenged him directly on his use of the term psychotherapist, but he's not backing down on that one. In his bio he calls himself a "board certified therapist." By what board, he does not say. As it happens, I answered that question in the above mentioned post. It's not surprising that he doesn't name it. He still won't call himself what he is: a hypnotherapist and NLP practitioner. Why? Is he ashamed of his actual credentials in hypnotherapy and NLP? Here's how he currently describes his practice on his website.

Since 2001, I’ve been working as a psychotherapist with an emphasis on clinical hypnosis and neuro-linguistics.

An "empahsis," he says. Those are the only things he's actually trained and certified in any way to do. He knows full well that hypnotherapy is not respected the way psychology, psychiatry, and even the very unfairly maligned field of clinical social work are. And maybe it's unfair that hypnotherapy is not taken more seriously. Maybe it's even unfair that there's no such thing as an accredited doctoral program in hypnotherapy. But his response to this perceived injustice is not to demonstrate the virtues of his actual field of endeavor. It's to mislead people about what it is exactly that he does.

Just a little reminder: TED censored the talks of a biologist with a PhD from Oxford for questioning some rather questionable assumptions of science and a professional journalist for having the temerity to say that indigenous shamans might actually have something of value to offer the world. TEDx organizers have been warned and even had their charters pulled for sponsoring the talks of a range of highly accomplished and credentialed people.

In fact, the same sort of "guerrilla skeptics" who've brought TED to heel, have been fighting for the heart and mind of Wikipedia for some time. Rupert Sheldrake was one of their primary targets there as well.

The Guerrilla Skeptics apparently did not take kindly to being outed.  Since June, they have gone on the attack to seriously change Rupert’s Bio.  On June 14th, he had a relatively stable and neutral biography, which is documented from June 14th.  Compare this to the pretty current September 28th version.  The changes are quite drastic and unfavorable to Sheldrake.

And yet here is Sean Stephenson's Wikipedia page, not only unmolested by the guerrilla skeptics, but clearly untroubled by even cursory fact-checking. All I can say is that the New Atheist guerrillas who wage war on legitimate, and even heavily credentialed professionals, for casting doubt on their material reductionist world view, have a very strange set of priorities.

TED Sean Stephenson photo TEDSeanStephenson_zpsb972832a.png

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Chopra and Sheldrake

Try saying that three times fast.

This is a really compelling discussion, the kind you'll want to listen to more than once just to catch all the nuances. The first focuses primarily on Sheldrake's explanation of morphic fields. The second gets more into the unproven assumptions of scientific materialism as set forth in his book Science Set Free, aka. The Science Delusion.

Deepak Chopra and Rupert Sheldrake have both been major targets of the New Atheist protectors of all things scientistic. The details of their disenfranchisement by TED and its super secret science board can be found here. So of course I find particularly delightful Chopra's recounting of a debate with Richard Dawkins at about minute 9:00 in the second video. Add that to the growing list of Dawkins's strident assertions that fall well short of the mark.

Also in the player is an interview with Sheldrake's wife Jill Purce on the power of chanting. Enchanting! More information can be found here.

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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Whale Talk

When my daughter was a wee toddler, she used to pretend to talk on the phone. She'd grab any random object, rarely the toy phone for some reason, and begin to chatter. She'd pace around the room with, say, the remote control glued to her ear and she'd go on and on. They weren't words, really. She didn't even employ her limited vocabulary. What it unmistakably was was mimicry. She was a little me. Every gesture. Every inflection. It was unmistakably me talking on the phone to some friend. It was hilarious. And it sounded an awful lot like this beluga whale named Noc.

This article in Smithsonian Magazine makes for compelling reading. I am endlessly fascinated by cetaceans and have been since I was a child, particularly whales. In the fifth grade, I wrote a play about whaling for my social studies project. The whale won. It dragged the harpooners overboard. This was long before I'd read Moby Dick. That would not happen until I was in high school. I think I just liked the idea of the whale as protagonist -- that and the woman pretending to be a man (me) so as to seek a life of adventure. I've also been a feminist for as long as I can remember.

As an adult I've been whale watching many times and invariably see things you almost never see, like humpbacks opening their giant mouths right next to the boat to swallow the plankton they've trapped with their giant air bubbles. And mothers and babies breaching and playing. I've seen a lot of whales. And dolphins. They like to swim along with the boats. They wave. They chatter. They're adorable.

I've always felt a sense of communion with cetaceans. Sometimes I hear them in my head. It's not unusual to hear messages from whale consciousness or dolphin consciousness for my clients when I'm doing readings. I believe them to be highly intelligent. In fact, I think the whole conversation about whether they're as intelligent as humans misses the point. I believe they're probably much smarter. Definitely wiser. And yet they deign to interact with us. In fact they're very social.

I've long felt that whales and dolphins were whole brain thinkers. They make my head feel funny. So I found this interesting.

Episodes of animal mimicry have long been dismissed as “mere parroting,” a disparagement that recent research on the intelligence of parrots and a number of species, including whales, reveals to be rather narrow-minded on our part. Through a process known as “parallel evolution,” whales—some 55 million years our seniors—first developed a brain comparable to our far more recently evolved one. It’s a brain that has structures involved in functions such as self-recognition, memory, advanced socialization and language, enabling a fluency in some forever other and yet deeply parallel parlance.

“Vocal imitation, vocal learning, is a very sophisticated cognitive process,” says Lori Marino, a senior lecturer in the department of psychology at Emory University who specializes in cetacean intelligence and brain evolution. “For an animal to imitate another species takes a level of self-awareness, a level of understanding of their body and your body and the acoustics of it. Manipulating one’s vocal tract to produce a desired effect is very, very sophisticated.”

“Yes, their brains are different,” Marino adds. “The cortex is completely different. And that’s what makes them so fascinating. The old line was that their brains are just these big masses of tissue for hearing, just giant audio receivers. But there’s so much integrative cortical tissue there that does more than just receive. It brings things together, synthesizes and does complex processing in ways we obviously don’t understand yet. But it’s not as though we have this huge complex whale brain and no commensurately complex behavior. They are individuals. They have lives to lead and social relationships. They have families, and they have really good memories. And that’s something places like SeaWorld don’t want to touch because then you start getting into issues that people can really relate to.”

. . .

“Belugas in captivity actually mute their senses,” Samantha Berg, a trainer at SeaWorld from 1990 to 1993, told me recently. “It’s so loud around them, and they don’t need to use their echolocation because they’ve been in the same tank every day and already know all the boundaries of their world. When I was working with them, my impression was that they weren’t all there, as though they were deeply bored, disinterested. They were like people with post-traumatic stress disorder. I don’t know what belugas are like in the wild, but it was almost as though they were staring at me through a veil. Like they weren’t really home.”

Some years ago, when we visiting Hawaii, I took my daughter to Sea Life Park. She was 3 and bored and it seemed like the thing to do, but I think that was the death knell for me in terms of SeaWorld type amusements. They're cruel. And yet, the sea mammals are so loving, even in those environments.

At one point, my daughter and I were observing a couple of dolphins who were in one little cove, separate from the others. They did not feel right to me. They really did seem bored and listless. Then a family went into the water for one of those very expensive dolphin interactions. Suddenly the two dolphins we were watching snapped to attention. They became very animated, even though they weren't the ones interacting with the family or the staff. That was in another area. And I felt my whole head light up. It was such a focused intensity and so beautiful, I hated for it to be over.

We definitely learn a lot from these creatures, even when they're being enslaved by theme parks or the Navy. They really want to communicate with us. But I'd still rather see them in the wild.

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Friday, June 06, 2014

James Ray's Crisis of Character

So what's on sale? The jacket???

I had hoped to never write about James Arthur Ray again. But then they let him out of prison. Try as I might I can't ignore the madness.

Connie Joy has really been keeping pace with his disturbing attempts to reboot his career. And well, he's on tour!

What will he be teaching in small, sad rooms in three whole cities? As near as I can tell, Murphy's Law. Yes, according to the new, less law of attractiony James Ray, no matter what you do, shit happens.

This is honestly the strangest pitch for one of these things I've ever seen. It starts out in a predictable manner, with a series of questions specifically engineered to make you feel like something is wrong with your life that you need this seminar to fix:

Does it ever seem that just when you feel like you’re
getting everything together… something else goes wrong?

Do you ever feel like you just get through one set of challenges,
And then the next shoe (or possibly bomb) drops?

Do you ever find yourself accomplishing what you desired
but there’s still something missing?

Are you possibly right in the dead center of
a difficult challenge or crisis in your Life,
Business, or Career right now?

But just when you expect the self-help guru to zig, he zags.

If you find yourself answering “yes” to any or all of these questions then welcome to Life. Welcome to being a part of the human race.

The fact, whether we like it or not, is that challenges are an integral part of life; and anyone who tells you differently is either lying to you (and themselves), or living in extreme denial.

In other words, all that stuff he was teaching before? He was either lying or in denial. (And lying to yourself is somehow different from denial?... I... what?)

Anyway, now he's ready to hip you to the real deal. Life's a bitch and then you die. You're welcome! That'll be $350... or not...

Thanks to that whole cooking people to death and doing time in an Arizona prison thing, you can see James at bargain basement prices. That's right. His loss is your gain. Act now and he'll take another $53 off the already low, low price. That's right! James Arthur Ray for only $297 per night! Pay for two of these magical nights and, what the hell, take another hundred bucks off!

What's more, now that he's lost everything and has to sell himself for cheap to small rooms, you might even get some face to face time with the ex-con himself.

Look, hundreds of thousands of people have paid from $5,000 to $10,000 to attend just one of James’ events over the years; and that was with thousands of other people; and with no opportunity to talk with him and/or ask him questions one-on-one! He won’t be doing these for long.

How can he afford to do all this at such a low rate? Well, for starters, he's cut corners by not hiring a copy editor. I've never thought of James Ray as a particularly good writer, but this is unbelievable. It's just a mass of grammar and spelling errors. The paragraphs don't appear to be in any particular order. Getting to the particulars about the pricing structure and other important details is like an Easter egg hunt. But it is also a window into the man's psyche.

Everybody has challenges, insecurities, and crisis of character. Everybody! From the guy on the street… to the mansion on the hill. From the out of work… to the CEO; and it doesn’t matter what you do, or what you achieve, this will always be the fact. Challenges and crisis are part of life.

I think what he was reaching for there was crises, plural, of faith. A crisis of character is when your reputation is tarnished due to bad things you've done. But according to Ray, we've all had them. Apparently even inanimate objects like mansions have lost face.

James Ray is most definitely experiencing a crisis of character and look at how the mighty have fallen. Once upon a time he was charging an outrageous ten grand a head for week long events with hundreds of people. But then he killed some of them and maimed still more. And now he'll be happy to get thirty people to listen to him at discount prices.

Another person who one could argue is facing a crisis of character is Oprah. She's largely responsible for creating this monster. She's also responsible for promoting a failed, victim-blaming ideology that not even that monster believes anymore. And Jean Brown, sister of the late Kirby Brown, is calling her out for her continuing failure to take responsibility for building up a negligent homicider.

Twice you welcomed James Ray onto your show, extolling the virtues of The Secret and its psuedo-science philosophy, the “Law of Attraction,” as life-changing. You helped catapult Ray into fame–he would go on to appear on The Today Show, Larry King Live, and others. His company, James Ray International, became a Fortune 500 company.

But, like James Frey, James Ray was a liar. He misrepresented his experiences, he lied about his background, and he embellished aspects of his personal story.

And more significantly, James Ray would prove to be deadly. To date, 4 people have died at his events, one from an apparent suicide during an event, and the other 3 from heat stroke in his version of a “sweat lodge.”

Yet after these deaths in 2009, other than quickly distancing yourself from the man, you said nothing. Nothing. You made no substantive comment on what had happened, you did not reach out to the families of victims, you did not even mention the tragedy on one of your many platforms.

So will Oprah have Jean or Ginny Brown on and provide a platform for SEEK Safely? I'm not optimistic but I sure would like to be pleasantly surprised.

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Thursday, June 05, 2014

Sea Change for Snakes in Ireland

What would St. Patrick say? Snakes, aka., Pagans, are becoming a visible force in Ireland. The Wild Hunt reports that openly Pagan Deirdre Wadding has claimed a Council seat.

On May 23rd, the 2014 Irish local elections were held, the first set of local elections since a major restructuring of local government was put into place earlier this year. In what seems to be a tumultuous outing, with small left-leaning parties and Sinn Féin largely benefitting, the People Before Profit Alliance gained 15 council seats across Ireland. One of those seats was won by Deirdre Wadding, on the Wexford County Council. Oh, and she just so happens to be openly Pagan, the first such candidate to be elected to office in Ireland.

“Cllr. Wadding, a long-term socialist activist, took the final seat in the Wexford district on Sunday night after a long, two-day count. A vocal campaigner, she has made her mark through her work with the Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes and was approached by PBPA on the back of that. She polled an impressive 599 votes on the first count and picked up a number of large chunks of transfers later in the day. Laughing off the description of ‘white witch’, Cllr. Wadding said that she was one of 20,000 pagans across the country but, as far as she knew, was the only one now serving as a councillor. ‘I did ask the Irish Battle Goddess Morrigan for victory today and I have a crow’s feather in my hair as a reminder of her.’”

Wadding has been a visible part of a growing movement in a changing Ireland. Pagans of various stripes are becoming a real force in what has been for centuries a very Catholic country.

It’s Friday night at The Magic Glass, a medium sized bar tucked inside the O’Callaghan Hotel in the center of Dublin. At first glance, the 40-odd people lounging inside seem like average Irish, glowing from the orange of the lamps and the heat of their drink. But they’ve rejected one of the key elements of what it means to be Irish: Catholicism and indeed Christianity.

A group of fit young men compare Celtic tattoos in one corner, a Wiccan crochets a snake doll in another, and a couple at the bar discusses an upcoming handfasting. This is a pagan moot, a regular meeting of the local pagan community including shamans, Wiccans, and Druids.

. . .

And they need each other. In a country where 84 percent of the people call themselves Catholic, non-Christian residents in Ireland live in a world where laws and social norms still have the distinct tang of Catholic morality. Pagan weddings were not considered legal unions by the Irish government until 2009.

But the Catholic Church is losing its grip on the Emerald Isle. A very public fight between the Vatican and Prime Minister Enda Kenny resulted in the withdrawal of the Vatican ambassador. Ireland later closed its embassy in Vatican City.

While many Irish still consider themselves culturally Catholic, church attendance is way down and a recent Eucharist Conference lost out to soccer when it was hosted in Ireland.

The sex abuse scandal has soured the Irish public on its Church. Taoiseach Kenny's rant and the public's warm reception came not just in response to the blistering Cloyne Report, but the Church's continued prevarication in light of it. 

Growing numbers of Irish feel that their Church has broken faith with them. I doubt learning that nuns were flushing the nameless babies of scarlet women will help.

Grim reports that nearly 800 dead babies were discovered in the septic tank of a home run by nuns has set off a round of soul-searching in Ireland and sparked calls for accountability from government and Catholic Church officials.

Fresh research suggests that some 796 children were secretly buried in the sewage tank of the home in Tuam, County Galway, where unmarried pregnant women were sent to give birth in an attempt to preserve the country's devout Catholic image.

Officials said they were "horrified" at the discovery and said it revealed "a darker past in Ireland," a country often haunted by its history of abuse within powerful church institutions.

With a history like that it gets a lot harder to argue against the reemergence of indigenous beliefs the Church also sought to bury.

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Friday, May 30, 2014

Pope Francis on the "Black Mass" of Sex Abuse

 photo PopeFrancisSpeaks_zps4f31a256.jpg

It would appear that Pope Francis has taken to heart criticism for his lackadaisical attitude on sex abuse, as well as a scorching report from the UN. With bold rhetorical flourishes like comparing sex abuse by priests to a "black mass," he suddenly seems more proactive on the issue. Whether it's a lot of political theater or a genuine effort to address the biggest issue facing the Catholic Church remains to be seen.

Pope Francis announced Monday he would meet soon with a group of sex abuse victims at the Vatican and declared "zero tolerance" for any member of the clergy who would violate a child.

Francis also revealed that three bishops are currently under investigation by the Vatican for abuse-related reasons, though it wasn't clear if they were accused of committing abuse itself or of having covered it up.

"There are no privileges," he told reporters en route back to Rome from Jerusalem.

The meeting with a half-dozen victims will mark the first such encounter for the pope, who has been criticized by victims for not expressing personal solidarity with them when he has reached out to other people who suffer.

Reaction from victims groups has been mixed.

"A welcome and overdue change," said Anne Barrett Doyle of BishopAccountability.org, a prominent activist pushing the Catholic church to overhaul its policies and practices on clergy abuse.

"Good to hear Pope Francis speak out and meet survivors," tweeted Marie Collins, an abuse victim whom Francis named to a Vatican commission to promote reforms, on hearing that the pope compared clergy abuse to a priest celebrating a "black mass."

Members of SNAP are less optimistic, expressing concern that this "stagecraft" and "window dressing."

"His upcoming and self-serving meeting with victims is more of what we've seen for decades -- more gestures, promises, symbolism and public relations," Joelle Casteix of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said in a statement shortly after Francis announced the meeting during an in-flight press conference Monday night on his return from a visit to the Holy Land.

. . .

"I would challenge anyone to point to a single tangible sign of progress that has emerged from any of these meetings," [David] Clohessy said, citing Pope Benedict XVI's various encounters with victims as well as other meetings between victims and church leaders.

Of note, this proposed meeting has already been deferred from early June to sometime in the next few months.

That three bishops are currently being reviewed is an optimistic sign. Calling bishops to account was one of the primary recommendations made by the UN.

The U.N. Committee Against Torture urged the Vatican to impose "meaningful sanctions" on any church authority who fails to follow church law in dealing with allegations of sexual abuse and asked that church officials worldwide be required to report abuse allegations to local police.

. . .

In a statement Friday, the Vatican said it would "give serious consideration" to the committee's recommendations, although it said the committee mistakenly gave "the impression that all the priests serving around the world are directly, legally tied to the Vatican as a sovereign."

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, Vatican representative to U.N. agencies in Geneva, had tried to explain to the committee that the Holy See had direct juridical control only over Vatican City State, its citizens and employees, but not over all bishops and priests around the world. "It is one thing to be able to exercise jurisdiction and another to encourage a certain type of activity" or adoption of certain policies in Catholic communities around the globe, he had said.

It's funny how bishops and priests aren't under Vatican control when it comes to sexual abuse of children but are when they violate those really sacrosanct Church policies that make women and gay people second class citizens.

Some bishops are more equal than others, I guess. That said, there is much speculation as to which three of the plethora of completely outrageous bishops are currently under investigation.

But the pope did not name names, and Vatican officials on Tuesday declined to comment.

So who are the three bishops under Vatican investigation? The speculation is that the pope likely was referring to three clerics:
  • Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who resigned in February 2013 on the eve of the conclave that elected Francis. O'Brien later admitted that "there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal."
  • Polish Archbishop Josef Wesolowski, who was accused of child abuse in Poland and during his period as papal nuncio in the Dominican Republic until his dismissal in August;
  • Chilean Bishop Cristian Contreras, who has been accused of abuse by other priests in his diocese.

Let's hope the Vatican is just getting warmed up.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

James Ray's New Tune

I saw this on Connie Joy's Tragdedy in Sedona page and, well, yuck. As we know James Arthur Ray was unfortunately turned loose on the public a while ago and he's plying his craft once again. He's posted some clips of his new spiel. I hate to give him the traffic but ya gotta see it to believe it. As with his recent, hideous appearance on the since canceled Piers Morgan, he's a font of crocodile tears and self-pity. It's so sad that a "terrible accident" claimed his "3 great friends." No mention of how he was convicted for causing said "accident" with his own gross negligence.

Note the comment from Liz Neuman's son Bryan in the comment thread on Connie's page. No, he did not even deign to visit his "great friend" as she lay in hospital, for nine days, dying from hyperthermia. I would add that friends don't let friends remain listed as Jane Doe in the hospital registry when they have all their paperwork on file, but are too busy hiding said paperwork from law enforcement to consider their medical needs.

I'm still waiting for this man to have a single, genuine moment.

Oh, and he's an alchemist now. Sure. Why not? Alchemists, you see, turn bad things into good things, which seems to be how he's interpreting the whole lead into gold thing. Mmmkay... He's an alchemist who quotes mysterious high level Zen masters -- the kind that don't have names, apparently. This one, though, is "the highest ranking outside of Japan." Seriously, I've searched his site and found a few references to various Zen masters. None of them have names. Well, sure. Because we all know what happened the last time Ray gave the name of one of his super, high level teachers. He turned out to be a tour guide. So best to keep those identifiers on the DL.

But seriously folks, James Ray has embraced the shadow path and that might be a good thing, for his students if not for himself. Well, so long as he manages not to kill or maim them and the jury's still very much out on that one. He has even, to his credit, disowned pretty much all of his previous work. His new message is not just different. It's about 180 degrees out from the material he built his entire career on.

Then there’s the more upbeat and “up to date” pontificators in religious crowds that are more like motivational speakers than traditional preachers. Rather than the fear of hell fire and damnation, they propagate that God’s will is to make you “prosperous” and constantly “bless you.” In other words, rather than saving myself from “eternal damnation” I’ll be “saved from poverty, pain and suffering right now; and become endlessly abundant and prosperous.

But what does all that really mean? If everyone was meant to be a multi-millionaire how much would multiple millions be worth? It’s already much less than it used to be, as our standard of living (and cost thereof) has continued to rise (particularly in the West).

The close cousin to the prosperity preachers in religious circles, are those in personal development. Those who teach that if you learn the “law of attraction” properly or you “learn the latest brain technique to eradicate limiting beliefs” (my Facebook feed is full of them), you’ll attract multiple millions; and nothing will ever come to you but what you deem to be good. Bees’ wont sting and your stuff won’t stink.

To a large degree I realize in retrospect that while not totally espousing these fantasies in the past… I was doing so to a large degree. I was a close cousin. I was wrong. I was living in denial. My intention was good; and I apologize.

Wow, would I like to think he's serious. But, excuse me, he wasn't "totally espousing" these ridiculous law of attraction teachings? Is he fucking serious?

Yup. Still waiting for a sincere moment.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Satanists Fight for First Amendment as SCOTUS Shreds It

An excellent column in the Chicago Tribune underscores the pernicious effect of this week's Supreme Court decision allowing prayer in town council meetings. Eric Zorn asks readers to try a thought experiment. Imagine moving into a new town and finding that getting the required variance for a small home construction project means sitting through a homily by an LDS Bishop on the wonders of Joseph Smith and the supremacy of Mormonism. You'd probably get your variance, but if you're anything but Mormon, you'd also feel a lot less comfortable in your new home.

Switch around the variables in my hypothetical if you want. Make the community leaders predominantly Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or adherents of Scientology. Put yourself in the role of The Other.

Such basic empathy is notably lacking in a spate of legal fights over First Amendment protections. Freedom of religion is being redefined as the right of some groups to impose their religious beliefs on "the other" and with state sanction.

This recent SCOTUS decision bodes ill as we await a decision on Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Inc.

Not only do such decisions entitle some religious groups to disenfranchise people who don't want to be bound by religious authority, and don't want their life choices to be dictated by religion-based decisions of any public or private entity, they disenfranchise people of different religious conviction. They actually restrict the religious freedom.

The assumption always seems to be that the religious argument will be the most regressive as it relates to social issues. This is simply not the case. For instance, as discussed here, any restriction on birth control and abortion violates the religious tenets of Judaism.

Similarly, as I've argued many times, laws against same-sex marriage don't just impose a less than sound Biblical viewpoint on the non-religious, they restrict the chosen practice of religious organizations that wish to conduct same-sex weddings.

The Wild Hunt gives a good overview of the legal issues in something of a test case in North Carolina.

Eight North Carolina clergy, an entire Protestant denomination and several same sex couples seeking to be married filed the country’s first faith-based challenge to same-sex marriage bans claiming North Carolina’s laws blocks them from practicing their religion. In 2012 North Carolina voters approved an amendment to their constitution defining marriage and civil unions as limited to one man and one woman. The lawsuit alleges previous state marriage statutes, when combined with the amendment, impose fines on clergy who bless the wedding of any couple who doesn’t have a valid marriage license issued by state. They further claim this unconstitutionally restricts religious freedom by barring clergy from free exercise of their religion.

The preferential treatment of one or some religions over others is one of the key reasons the Jeffersonian Wall is so important. It doesn't restrict the free exercise of religion. It protects it. It just doesn't allow state sanction to impose it. Says Zorn:

But the majority blew a new hole in that wall instead, specifically saying that even to require such government-sponsored prayers to be nondenominational would impermissibly allow lawmakers and the courts "to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech."

Yet the same justices said such prayers must not "denigrate nonbelievers or religious minorities, threaten damnation, or preach conversion," which, of course, will require lawmakers and the courts to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech.

The Satanic Temple has decided to test the government's ability to protect minority religions and their ability to express themselves in the public sphere.

Back in January, The Satanic Temple, a New York-based religious organization, used Indiegogo to successfully fund the creation of their proposed Satanic monument, which they hope will be erected at the statehouse to “complement and contrast the 10 Commandments monument that resides there now.”

. . .

The Satanic Temple had the idea to have a statue of their own design erected at the Oklahoma Capitol after a religious Ten Commandants monument was installed there in 2012, sparking protests from the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. While The Satanic Temple submitted an application with their a design proposal for a Baphomet statue and has far-surpassed their funding goal, the Preservation Commission, the decision-makers in this case, recently voted to place a moratorium on considering further new statue requests until the aforementioned ACLU lawsuit is decided upon. That means, the Satanists on still on hold at this point.

It will come as a shocker to no one that Oklahoma lawmakers don’t like the idea of having a monument donated by a Satanic group adorning the lawn of their Capitol building, even if it will provide more public seating (Baphomet’s lap is meant to serve as a seat for visitors). Oklahoma Rep. Earl Sears called The Satanic Temple’s request to erect their monument in his state “an insult to the good people of the state,” according to the AP. “I do not see Satanism as a religion, and they have no place at the state Capitol,” said the Republican House member.

So who made Rep. Earl Sears, or any other legislator, the arbiter of what is and isn't a religion? Therein lies the problem of state sponsored religion.

Much like LaVey's Church of Satan, The Satanic Temple seems to exist to challenge authority and rattle the cages. And similarly, their stated goals belie the popular conception Satanists as ritual abusers and servants of evil.

The truth regarding Satanism has been unfortunately obscured by a history of delirious, paranoid conspiracy theories, blood libel, and imaginative inaccuracies. Just as ancient Pagans demonized early Christians, and Christians in turn demonized Pagans and Jews, so too are Satanists popularly demonized as a result of misunderstandings, intolerance, and fear-mongering opportunism.

While underlying causes of witch-hunts — ancient and modern — are generally recognized to have their sociological origins in factors independent of the actual existence of witches or Satanists, evidence nonetheless suggests the regular appearance of Satanic devotees extending far back into Western civilized history. Historical reports of early Satanism are often colored by fears of an anti-human “other”, however, the literary history of Satan — from Milton to Anatole France — suggests that biblical interpretations of a humanistic, benevolent Satan, driving our highest aspirations and encouraging human compassion have resonated for centuries. Though not professed Satanists themselves, we nonetheless consider Milton and France’s works inspired texts that best capture the Satanic archetype as a symbol of revolt against the tyranny of autocracy as well as the tyranny of archaic dogmas… a literary Satan that holds primacy in the corporeal world from which God is permanently detached.

The Satanic cults of conspiracy theory folklore have no basis in historical fact, nor is there any evidence of a single line of Satanic tradition that has persisted, unbroken, parallel, and in opposition to, the openly practiced religions of our Civilization’s history.

Plus the statue's kind of cool.

Should the ACLU prevail in its battle against Oklahoma's ten commandments monument -- something I'm less confident in every day -- it's off to other church/state battles.

Greaves has made it clear that the group would no longer petition to have the statue installed should the ten commandments monument be removed, but he isn't concerned about finding somewhere else to place the statue should they fail to get permission in Oklahoma. "There are no shortage of public locations across the US where religious monuments await a contrasting voice," he tells Vice, which first published photos of the statue. And they're prepared should demonstrators destroy the statue: they're holding onto the cast and plan to take out an insurance policy on the statue.

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