I believe “sociopath” is the correct term…

I’ve written before about the people who post to the Rapture Ready bulletin board, most recently after Billy Graham died.

But there’s a new thread over at Rapture Ready, talking about the recent death of Stephen Hawking, that can’t go without my commenting.

One of the most annoying things about evangelicals — and it does seem quite pervasive if not universal — is an arrogance masquerading as humility. It is humble to express doubt and uncertainty about things we might not fully understand. It is not humility to claim to know better than experts in a given field. And yet, we see in this thread things like this:

This feels a lot like the death of Chris Hitchens. Another guy who spent his entire life saying God was dead…and then God said Hawking was dead and that’s it. We always live with that little hope of “the 11th-hour conversion”, but I don’t see it here. Stephen Hawking spent his entire life studying the very Heavens that declare the glory of the God who made them, and he denied it all the way through.

EDIT: And to think he spent most of his life struggling through a terribly crippling disease, only to come to the end of his life and receive a body fitted for immortality…in Hell.

(User: jjmundt)

Or this:

I don’t think it was the truth he was searching for…his life’s work was to disprove the truth

(User: Momma D)

Or, similarly, this:

The unsaved world certainly has a radically different view than we believers, of the words “smart, genius, successful,” etc.

Then, one day, each one of their hearts stop beating and they are introduced to The Truth immediately.

And, by then, it is too late for them to accept it. They all had their chances during their lifetimes to recognize the existence of the true God and His Son………many times over……… but, they would not see nor bend their knee. It’s very sad, indeed.

It must be hard to be perceived in such a positive light over one’s lifetime, to then face the truth that they blew it big time for all eternity, and they have to admit they had it all wrong. And, they led so many astray of the Truth…………

(User: kathymendel)

One last comment:

I know what you mean. I wish I could say I have respect for him but I do not. I don’t care how smart you are, if you deny God exists, or act the way he did, you are making a mockery of Him. I feel bad that he’s suffering more than ever, but he brought this on himself.

(User: sing4theLord)

So the general consensus of opinion on this board is that Hawking spent his life looking for a lie while denying the obvious “truths” about god, so now he’s in hell. Given his disability, we can all stand in awe at how long he was able to stay alive. I can forgive anyone who might call the fact that he survived as long as he did, a “miracle” but we must acknowledge that this miracle was entirely due to medicine and technology. Had he lived a mere twenty years earlier, he almost definitely would not have made it to 76. It wasn’t a god that sustained him.

There is a trope about how astronomers quickly learn humility in the face of the vastness and wonder of the universe and all of our most famous astronomers — from Galileo, Newton, and Kepler to the more recent examples of Sagan, Tyson, and, yes, Hawking. Our species and our planet are ridiculously insignificant in the face not of god but of the cosmos.

Hawking sought the truth. He found small pieces of it and left more for his successors to find. There was no quote-unquote truth (as Momma D put it) for him to disprove.

I do think these are people who want to do good and to do right by others. But they’ve been so thoroughly entrenched in their theology, that they do far more harm than good. User and moderator Tall Timbers doesn’t “think he’ll be meeting Billy Graham”. The other comments in this thread make Tall Timbers seem downright quaint.

They’re sociopaths. And many of them own guns, too. One wonders when they’ll truly break.


Definition of a church

The Johnson Amendment — which does little more than prevent churches from explicitly endorsing or condemning political candidates — has been in the crosshairs (no pun intended but now that I’ve said it, I think it’s appropriate) of some misguided politicians for a while now because they feel it’s an unfair restriction on freedom of speech.

I think it doesn’t go far enough. There was an analysis of available records a few years ago that effectively confirmed George Carlin’s joke about how the Catholic Church alone could wipe out the federal budget deficit if all you did was tax them on their real estate holdings. It’s not surprising, then, that there’s a movement afoot to tax churches.

Couple this with arguments that churchgoers are more charitable than non-churchgoers, which generally fall apart when you factor out donations to the church itself, and how the lack of transparency on how an entity that calls itself a “church” actually spends its money raises some questions about what church donations actually spend their money on.

But there is a truth that many churches do operate legitimate charities, especially when it comes to helping the homeless, the infirm, or the hungry. (And not all of them consider women to be second class citizens whose only purpose is to bear children…)

So I’m thinking there needs to be a provision in the tax law that more explicitly defines what a church is, and any entity that fails to meet this definition simply isn’t a church.

Here’s my first thought on it. We can refine it as necessary but I think this is a good start. A church can only be defined as any entity that is affiliated with a religious organization with more than some number (is 100 a good number?) of adherents. Furthermore, it must spend at least some percentage (50?) of its total income on community services. Community services can be defined as expenses unrelated to any of the following:

  • Staff salaries
  • Construction, maintenance, or upkeep of facilities, including mortgages or rents on said facilities
  • Utilities required to keep facilities operational. This includes, but is not limited to, electricity, plumbing/sewer, telecommunications, and internet connectivity
  • Attempts to recruit additional members

When you look at the palace-like buildings owned and maintained by, say, the Mormons, it’s not unfair to question what they actually spend their money on, especially in comparison to secular charities like, say, Habitat for Humanity.

This would have the double affect of getting more transparency in church income and expenses, while also boosting the government’s coffers without raising taxes on the average taxpayer.

Then we can start debating the proper numbers to be filled in to my suggestions above.

Two more thoughts on the death of Billy Graham

Yesterday, I dusted off an essay I had written nearly four years ago, updated the first few words, checked the hyperlinks, and added a link, to remember Billy Graham for the hypocrite he was.

I have a couple more thoughts on his death, both of which stem from an article in the Washington Post, which had the headline Divorce, drugs, drinking: Billy Graham’s children and their absent father.

The first is a comment made by a user of the Rapture Ready bulletin board named “Prodigal Son”. In their thread memorializing Rev. Graham, this user said, and I quote:

Very sad. I didn’t find out until late last night, I had a long work shift. But I woke up to a hit piece from the Washington Post on him; entitled “Divorce, drugs, and drinking: Billy Graham’s children and their absent father.”

Wow this really made me angry. They didn’t waste any time going after him.

Okay. I’m not going to deny that the headline is definitely eye-catching, but the article doesn’t exactly qualify as a hit piece, as Prodigal Son described it. It’s public knowledge that Billy Graham himself never got divorced from his wife, Ruth. They were true to the whole “til death do we part” part of their marriage vows.

It’s also public knowledge that three of Billy Graham’s children did get divorced.

Likewise, it’s public knowledge that Franklin Graham “experimented” with drugs and alcohol in his younger days. Hell, the younger Graham talks freely about it quite often.

So the only thing that’s not inherently public knowledge — just from the headline — is the question of his children’s absent father.

Or is it?

It’s certainly public knowledge that he traveled around the world a fair bit on his so-called “crusades” (a term that, if nothing else, should be used with great caution because of its violent history; I sincerely question whether Billy Graham knew that his use of this word would inflame tensions and chose it anyway). Even if it wasn’t common knowledge, it shouldn’t be a surprise.

So what, about this article is a “hit piece”? It actually treated the man with more reverence than I did yesterday.

What Prodigal Son has really admitted to, is that he didn’t read the article he was disgusted by. Ironic for a person whose user name comes from a parable where someone actually gave careful thought to his actions.

Which brings me to the other thing I thought of with regard to that Washington Post article. I make no secret of my admiration for and appreciation of the work of Harry Chapin.

His most famous song, “Cat’s in the Cradle” came from a poem written by his wife, Sandy (which she kept in a poetry book that she had entitled “Fuck You Harry”).

Let’s face it: it’s very easy for one parent (usually the father) to be somewhat unavailable to their children while that parent pursues his/her career. It was certainly true for Harry Chapin who spent a lot of time on the road performing and then, later, undertaking humanitarian causes as well.

And it was true for Billy Graham. When confronted with this dilemma, the oft-traveling parent can do what Harry did (which is to say make constant phone calls home and try to be home as much as possible) or the oft-traveling parent can do what Billy did (which is to say, barely know or recognize his own children).

I’m not trying to say that either is a preferable way over the other, but I have a lot more respect for Jen and Josh Chapin (both of whom have continued their father’s good works) than I do for Franklin Graham (who is the only one of Billy’s children to go into ministry, and may be an even greater hypocrite than his father).

Farewell to the father of modern hypocrites

Nearly four years ago, when Fred Phelps died, most people, myself included, felt that his legacy was one of negativity and acrimony. His long-term sphere of influence, thankfully, was limited to his immediate family and a Supreme Court decision on the boundaries of free speech few people should even consider approaching. Personal invectives aside, he was just a sad little man who will probably be little more than an amusing footnote in future history books, if that much.

But there was another aging religious evangelist whose legacy is far more wide-reaching, and, consequently, more pernicious, than that of Fred Phelps. As the world now mourns the passing of Billy Graham, I do not want him remembered as the hero many other pundits are making him out to be.

Just about every constitutionally questionable intrusion of religion into US state affairs from the 1950’s is because Billy Graham had the ear of our elected officials who sought other ways of distancing themselves of the “godless commies” in the Soviet Union. Whether we talk about the phrase “under god” being added to the pledge of allegiance, “in god we trust” appearing on our money, or the congressional laws about a national day of prayer, Billy Graham’s signature is everywhere.

Just as pastors who preach that homosexuality is a sin might distance themselves from Fred Phelps and his family, Billy Graham’s words and deeds still echo in the intolerance and bigotry of the Religious Right, even as he might have distanced himself from them. Let us not forget that this is a man who first rose to prominence as the leader of a deeply segregated church. Yes, he let blacks in after segregation was declared unconstitutional, but he did it not out of conscience but instead because that was the direction in which the political winds were blowing.

Billy Graham may have tried to preach a message of love, but when it came to letting people who love each other marry, his message was that of hatred, as the full-page newspaper ads he and his church bought on the eve of the gay marriage referendum in North Carolina in 2012.

Religious incursion on matters of state is nothing new, as Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists will attest. But American history is mostly from the state pushing back on the religions who sought undue influence. Until Billy Graham came into the picture.

With Billy Graham gone, it’s not too late for the state to push back and undo his influence. It’s the least we can do if we want the republic to thrive.

Here we go again…

After the shooting the other day in Parkland, Florida, I went back and reread the twoposts I wrote following the Pulse nightclub shooting nearly two years ago.

Nothing has changed. The Republican Party still refuses to do anything to actually address the problem. As a result, nothing is even being tried.

There is one thing about this particular shooting that is different from most of the other ones: the shooter is still alive. I hope that a competent investigation can provide details into his motives and motivations.

Donald Trump’s tweet about the shooting makes a good point:

So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!

7:12 AM – Feb 15, 2018

Countless people warned us about how dangerous he was and is. Reporters. Politicians. Trained psychologists. And yet, all those millions of people voted for him and now he’s in the White House….

A glimpse into a mindset

If you direct your web browsers to websites like Townhall, it shouldn’t take long to realize the agenda that they’re pursuing. If you don’t want to follow that link, just know that they feature articles by columnists like Ann Coulter, Todd Starnes, and Michelle Malkin, three people who, to paraphrase Will Rogers, never met an anecdote that couldn’t distort to serve their own agendas.

(Starnes is particularly gifted at this, since everything he sees is a form of Christian persecution. I’ve wanted to write a blog entry about him for some time but doing so would require a significantly greater time commitment than I’m prepared to dedicate…. There’s a reason why Ed Brayton refers to him as “Fox News’ resident hysteric”.)

But there’s an interesting article over at Townhall that I can’t look away from. Hence this essay. Columnist Scott Morefield, whose name is so far under the radar in the conservative movement, he doesn’t have a Wikipedia page (unlike Coulter, Starnes, and Malkin, as linked above), has put forth an article that’s simultaneously frustrating and, in a perverse sense, validating.

Note that I readily acknowledge that I don’t have a Wikipedia page either. But I’m pretty sure that my tens of followers don’t mind that. I don’t have a national platform like Townhall (or a comparable liberal blog) from which to share my views.

The article begins with an unnecessary and snide remark that the phrase “Christian liberal” is not an oxymoron. Listen, Scott, (may I call you that?) I get that you’re a conservative and a Christian. Demonizing the other side doesn’t bolster your credentials. It makes you look petty. If you can’t back up your position with, you know, facts, maybe the issue is your position.

What’s the adage about being an effective lawyer? If the facts are on your side, pound the facts. If the law is on your side, pound the law. If neither is on your side, pound the table. But I digress…

As is true for many phrases that come from the Bible, the title of Scott’s essay is a cliche, specifically derived from Isaiah 5:20, and the warning not to confuse good and evil. I always objected to this particular verse because of the plain black-and-white nature of it. Even assuming you know and understand the difference between the two, why can’t there be shades or degrees of them?

The concept of heaven itself illustrates this. Imagine two people going to the same place in the afterlife, where they’ll be treated as equals in a perfect paradise: the racist white supremacist and the black man he tried to keep down. To the black man, being treated with a respect he never felt in life, this place might be heaven. To the guy who oppressed the black man, this place would seem more like hell.

And that’s not even getting into psychology tests involving runaway trains where doing nothing will cause the deaths of multiple people while doing something will still kill someone, but save everyone else.

But this essay takes liberal Christians to task because they object to the way modern evangelicals, like Jerry Falwell Jr, for hitching their wagon so closely to Donald Trump. Indeed, evangelicals are the only people who are. And even if I haven’t explicitly said so before, I think it’s clear my opinion of evangelicals like that: at best, they’re hypocrites.

So the liberal Christians to whom Scott objects, are taking Jesus’s teachings about loving your neighbor seriously. They’re not as concerned about, say, abortion (which is not only condoned in some bible verses, an argument can be made that, if we hew strictly to verses in Genesis, Exodus, and Deuteronomy, then it’s acceptable until a month after the baby is born) as they are economic inequality and opening your door to strangers in need. They don’t want Trump’s proposed wall between us and Mexico, they want bridges.

Now I will grant you: the Bible is so long and self-contradictory, it’s certainly possible to find biblical justification for just about any position you might hold on just about any topic. I mean, let’s face it: both sides of the United States Civil War justified their positions on slavery using completely valid biblical verses.

Both Scott and those he demonizes, justify their positions with their cherry-picked bible verses of choice. Scott clearly favors the verses that consider blacks and women as second class citizens and a generally prevailing tribalism. I get that. He can be a bigot all he wants.

And I can cite him as yet another example of how I agree with Isaiah about calling evil good and vice versa. That’s why the folks at Townhall shouldn’t object when I emphatically state that their website, and the Bible they so love, are evil.

Woe unto them for calling them “good”.

Kind of pathetic, really…

When I was a sophomore in college, I stopped into a theatrical prop store off campus one day, and picked up a large prosthetic nose that actually looked a little like a penis.

With this prop as a central figure, I assembled a cast of friends and directed the famous balcony scene from Cyrano de Bergerac, which we performed at the “night of scenes” for budding directors at the on-campus dramatic society.

During the repeated practices, I confess that I started to develop — if I’m being both modest and polite — strong feelings towards Helene, whom I had recruited to play Roxane (the only female character in my one scene; feel free to criticize me for my non-adherence to any Bechdel Test standards, but that’s not what this blog entry is about).

As director, I had a position of power over her so I knew better than to act on those feelings, even at age 19 or 20. Furthermore, I learned that this is actually quite common for directors: developing some form of — I hesitate to call it “love” but most people do use that word as a substitute for whatever it really is — for cast members whose gender happens to be consistent with the sexual orientation of the director. For a straight, male director like me, that would be the women… (Or later, when I was in community theatre performing for a gay male director, he expressed similar feelings towards me and my male cast mates).

It doesn’t help that acting, like most arts, require a fair bit of passion in their execution.

When my soon-to-be former congressman, Pat Meehan, was all of the news a couple of weeks ago, I was reminded of how I fell in love with Helene all those years ago. For a quick summary of the scandal that enveloped him, he was accused of sexual harassment of one of his employees, fired her when she rebuffed him, and paid her hush money from a public funds.

If that were the full story, there wouldn’t be much to tie in with my Cyrano de Bergerac scene. It’s the interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer and other news stories that make allow me to make the connection. When you look at what happened in the lead-up to her firing, he felt the same things I felt all those years ago: he spent a lot of time with her, they talked a lot, made what he felt were undoubtedly real connections with her, intellectually and emotionally.

(I don’t know how many times I ate a meal with Helene in the cafeteria before and after classes in that time, but it was undoubtedly multiple times. It didn’t help matters for me that she came from Harry Chapin’s home town.)

The big difference, then, between me and Meehan, is that I knew that, if there was a foundation for anything more serious than friendship between me and Helene, it was made of sand and could crumble easily and quickly. I’m not even sure I ever told her what I felt. And I have no reason to think my non-verbal cues made her uncomfortable.

Meehan, on the other hand, told her they were soul mates and that he was in love with her, despite being married to someone else. His words were — again, if I’m being my most polite — juvenile. And if I could tell that my emotions were little more than a byproduct of the circumstances of my being with her a quarter century ago, I would hope that Meehan might have been more introspective than he was.

So yeah, he was pathetic. Even without a prosthetic nose that looks like a penis.