RFID of the Beast

August 7, 2017


The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.

And we’re back. I returned home from my vacation literally 12 hours before starting this post, so I’m a little out of step with what’s going on in the news. Here’s a stab at catching both you and me up. 

Our own Joe Nickell gets a big profile with a lot of fantastic young-Joe photos in the UK’s Daily Mail. The lede:

Joe Nickell is ‘terrible’ at sighting ghosts and has a ‘pitiful record’ of catching extra-terrestrials.

It’s as if they’re not real, he says.  

Shannon Levitt at Crux covers the efforts by secularist organizations to get a foot in the door toward some kind of dialogue with the Trump administration, including the words of our boss Robyn Blumner, who notes that on certain issues, secular interests overlap with those of some religious groups.

A sad sign of the times, when a press freedom tracker is needed for the United States. Case in point: Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who even Trump dislikes, is implementing measures to stop the “culture of leaking” (insert Steele Dossier joke here), and implying that journalists who publish leaks are targets for prosecution. 

Theologian Kerry Walters decides to blame Richard Dawkins for All the Things. Okay, not all the things, but for his “tone” and for an alleged “coarsening” of the culture. Jerry Coyne does a pretty thorough job taking the piece apart, and then Dawkins himself weighs in, particularly incensed by Walters’ accusation that Dawkins had called people of faith ignorant, stupid, and wicked:

We are all ignorant of many things. I am ignorant of baseball and Polynesian nose flutes. In the time of Martin Luther, the Catholic church regarded ignorance of the Bible as a positive virtue. Though neither a virtue nor bliss, ignorance is no crime. In the light of that and the proven fact of evolution, “Anti-evolutionists are ignorant, stupid or insane” becomes not an insult but a simple statement of fact. 

A public school district in Alberta has decided to end its practice of having kids recite the Lord’s prayer in order to avoid a costly and losing legal battle. Everything really is better in Canada.

Guam may not be all that big, but it’s big enough for nearly 100 people to be suing the Catholic Church for sexual abuse by clergy against children. That seems like a pretty frightening level of monsters-per-capita.

Meanwhile, a Vatican-approved journal takes on ultra-conservative Catholics in the U.S. who have made “an alliance of hate” with Trump backers like Steve Bannon, “a supporter of an apocalyptic geopolitics.”

According to a new WaPo/Kaiser poll, almost half of American Christians (and more than half of white evangelicals) view poverty as the result of a “lack of effort” on the part of individuals. What about us heathens?

In contrast, by more than 2 to 1, Americans who are atheist, agnostic or have no particular affiliation said difficult circumstances are more to blame when a person is poor than lack of effort (65 percent to 31 percent). 

Rod Dreher, who usually complains about how oppressive it is that gays can marry each other, assesses the decline of American Christianity in light of evangelicals’ “slavish” devotion to Trump.

Speaking of attitudes toward gays, guess what. American Muslims are vastly more accepting of homosexuality than American white evangelical Protestants. 

POTUS SHIELD: No, it’s not the White House’s antivirus software. Nor is it a home-security system set to catch #FAKENEWS. It’s a group of Pentecostals who back the president, as Sunnivie Brydum writes, “despite Trump’s dedication to demonstrating his moral depravity.” Oh, and POTUS in this case also stands for “Prophetic Order of the United States.” Fun.

Seth Myers unpacks the religious views of Trump. They’re kind of a mess, you’ll be surprised to know.

John Oliver goes after Alex Jones. I’ll be watching that one later. 

New Jersey Senators Cory Booker and Robert Menendez introduce comprehensive sex-ed legislation, the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act, which CFI has signed on to as a supporting organization. 

A software company pays to get its employees implanted with radio-frequency identification tags (“chips”) in their hands for opening locked doors and logging into computers. Some folks are really scared of this for non-technological/non-biological reasons:

Two years ago, a coal miner in West Vir
ginia … said he was forced to retire after declining to use the scanner, which he believed was the “mark of the beast” — a sign of evil and the “end times,” discussed in the Bible, that is said to appear on the right hand. He was awarded $150,000 in damages. 

Cordarrel Lyrek, 28, feels the same way about Three Market Square’s microchips. … A Christian, he put his phone number on the flier, hoping people would call to talk about God. “It says in the Bible that’s a sign of the beast,” Lyrek said.    

Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic covers a congressional hearing on free speech on campuses, and notes, “[A]lmost no elected official in the Republican or Democratic Party agrees with the most censorious parts of the campus Left.”

A new animated short film, In a Heartbeat, depicts a schoolage boy and his crush on a male classmate, and it’s a huge hit. One of the creators, David Bravo said, “We wanted to challenge the preconceived notion that LGBTQ content is not appropriate or suitable for younger audiences.”

Atheists in Malaysia post a group photo from a meetup on Facebook, which led to a government investigation of “secret Muslims” and a slew of threats over social media. 

Julia Belluz at Vox reports on countries that are fining parents who refuse to vaccinate their kids, and how California is also serving as a model for the nation as a whole.

Susan Gerbic interviews Kenny Biddle on his work exposing paranormal photography tricks, and his workshop at the upcoming CSICon 2017.

The 96-year-old former “Bookkeeper of Auschwitz,” Oskar Groening, is declared fit for prison so he can serve his four-year sentence from a 2015 conviction.

Quote of the Day:

From Joe Nickell’s profile in the Daily Mail:

Based on nearly 50 years of probing, Nickell doubts he’ll ever encounter anything supernatural. But the meaning of scepticism is to always question and stay open to different possibilities, he said.

‘I don’t know what the future holds; the psychics haven’t been able to tell me,’ said Nickell. ‘But my hope is I fall dead in a haunted house or I’ll stumble over a cliff looking for Bigfoot. In other words, I want to be active until the end.’ 

In other-other words, perhaps someone ought to be keeping an eye on Joe when he goes investigating from now on. 

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