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Harry Potter and the Precarious Economy

November 7, 2019

Sam Cowie at The Guardian reports on the rise of Flat-Eartherism in Brazil, where 11 million people now claim to reject the fact that they live on a sphere:

Critics attribute Brazil’s most recent flat Earth craze to poor public education, copycatting from abroad and to the increase in social media use.

“The internet gives a voice to these idiots,” said Fernando Lang da Silveira, a professor of physics at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in southern Brazil.

He said that like climate change denial and creationism, flat Earth theory had a base of Christian fundamentalism.

In Brazil, the power and influence of the evangelical Christian church has grown significantly in recent decades: around a quarter of the population identifies as evangelical and these voters played a large part in bringing the far-right president Jair Bolsonaro to power.

Sounds familiar.

Meanwhile, scientists, while fully confident about the shape of Earth, are less sure about the shape of the Universe. New Scientist reports:

Measurements from the Planck space observatory have shown that the universe might be shaped like a sphere rather than a flat sheet, which would change nearly everything we think we know about the cosmos. … If the universe is indeed closed [like a sphere], that could be a major problem for our understanding of the cosmos. Another cosmological puzzle is that the nearby universe seems to be expanding faster than it ought to. This is tough to explain with our standard model of cosmology, which includes a flat universe, and the team calculated that this gets even tougher with a spherical universe, along with a few other cosmic mismatches we have yet to explain. It is so bad that they are calling it a “cosmological crisis”.

Jim Underdown is back with his “Ask the Atheist” column for CFI, and addresses the Flat-Earther phenomenon:

Any crackpot with a 6th grader’s knowledge of computers can design and launch a website, shoot, edit and post a YouTube video that is wrong in every sense of the word, and search the world for people who share their same fetishes, dopey ideas, or sick fantasies.

The fact that crackpots can find each other with greater ease than ever before in human history has two important consequences:

– They can gather themselves and pool their resources to further increase their numbers
– They can have a voice in society louder than their numbers and more potent than their specious arguments

Felicity Carter at The Guardian reveals what she learned in her life as a psychic and astrologer:

You forecast by combining meanings with planetary movements. Say Saturn, planet of restrictions, is about to transit the First House of self – your life will contract! You’re going to get more responsibilities than usual. Or maybe you’ll be denied the chance to take on more responsibilities. Or maybe a cold, critical person will come into your life. But anyway, it’s a good time to go on a diet.

Astrology is one big word association game. …

… The range of problems faced by people who can afford $50 for fortune telling turned out to be limited: troubles with romance, troubles at work, trouble mustering the courage for a much-needed change. I heard these stories so often I could often guess what the problem was the moment someone walked in. Heartbroken young men, for example, talk about it to psychics, because it’s less risky than telling their friends. Sometimes I’d mischievously say, “Let her go. She’s not worth it,” as soon as one arrived. … I also learned that intelligence and education do not protect against superstition. … It’s uncertainty that drives people into woo, not stupidity, so I’m not surprised millennials are into astrology. They grew up with Harry Potter and graduated into a precarious economy, making them the ideal customers.

Juhem Navarro-Rivera introduces a new column at The Humanist on the political preferences of the religiously unaffiliated with the incredibly clever, I-can’t-believe-no-one’s-thought-of-this title “Nonedecision 2020.” He begins by looking back at presidential elections from the past 40 years, and finds, for example, nones seem to like them third-party candidates, as in 1980, when about a quarter of nones voted for John Anderson or other independent candidates.

Just made available online is the cover story from the latest Skeptical Inquirer, where Gary M. Baker offers nine evidence-based tips for living a good life. They’re all free!

ProPublica reports that the office of the Vice President has been throwing its weight around to see to it that U.S. foreign aid is funneled toward the Christian groups that Mike Pence likes:

Decisions about U.S. aid are often no longer being governed by career professionals applying a rigorous review of applicants and their capabilities. Over the last two years, political pressure, particularly from the office of Vice President Mike Pence, had seeped into aid deliberations and convinced key decision-makers that unless they fell in line, their jobs could be at stake. …

… The Trump administration’s efforts to influence USAID funding sparked concern from career officials, who worried the agency risked violating constitutional prohibitions on favoring one religion over another. They also were concerned that being perceived as favoring Christians could worsen Iraq’s sectarian divides.

“There are very deliberate procurement guidelines that have developed over a number of years to guard precisely against this kind of behavior,” said Steven Feldstein, a former State Department and USAID official during the Obama administration. When politics intrude on the grant-making process, “you’re diluting the very nature of what development programs ought to accomplish.”

Here’s Paula White, the Trump “spiritual adviser” who now works at the White House, on a “prayer call,” via Right Wing Watch:

“Any persons or entities that are aligned against President Trump, the will of God, against the mantle that he would carry, against him as president, that it would be exposed and dealt with and overturned in Jesus’ name,” she added. “We know that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against principalities, powers, rulers of darkness of this age, hosts of wickedness in heavenly places.”

“Stretch out your arm and deliver President Trump and rid him of any bondage the enemy would try to bring against him,” White prayed. “Thank you Lord for your hand establishing him, and let your arm strengthen President Trump.”

Fuming over Bill Barr’s anti-secularism diatribe, Tyler Broker at Above the Law bemoans, “As long as evangelicals continue to install and celebrate religious bigotry in power out of fear, portraying all non-believers as threats coming to get them, things are going to get much, much, worse.”

In Maine, tuition-reimbursement programs for secondary schools can’t be used for religious schools, so of course the law is being challenged in court because “religious liberty.”

A report by the Action Center on Race and the Economy’s Crescendo Project places a good deal of responsibility for the rise in white supremacy on major media, internet, and financial corporations. RNS reports:

The report calls companies including Facebook, Amazon, Fidelity, Goldman Sachs, iHeartMedia and Sinclair Broadcast Group “the unindicted co-conspirators of the Christchurch shooter,” who massacred 51 people at two New Zealand mosques in March.

“Anti-Muslim bigotry is on the rise because corporations like Google, Amazon and Fidelity have decided they are OK with white supremacy and anti-Muslim bigotry as long as they can make money off of it,” Saqib Bhatti, ACRE’s co-executive director, told Religion News Service.

In Kansas City, pseudoscientific gay-conversion therapy could be outlawed and come with a fine of $500 and six months in jail for practitioners.

The Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church has voted to declare itself a “safe harbor” for LGBTQ clergy, saying, “We do not believe The United Methodist Church has the authority or the power to impose limits on the movement of God’s Holy Spirit in the lives of God’s beloved LGBTQ+ children.”

Ralph Reed, here seen donning his John Boehner Halloween costume, says Christians who don’t back Trump will “deserve” persecution.

The Satanic Temple has exposed how a Canadian therapist was, according to Gizmodo, “pushing conspiracies about globe-spanning, mind-controlling cults for years,” manufacturing memories of ritual abuse and the like in her patients. The therapist, Alison Miller, has given up her license:

“There are a couple of different groups and organizations with individuals who continue to promote the idea that there are roving gangs of Satanists abducting and abusing people so severely that they block it from their memory—and that these memories can only be recovered with the aid of a therapist at some point in the future,” [Satanic Temple program] Grey Faction director Evan Anderson told Gizmodo by phone. Grey Faction claims that Miller was one of these individuals.

Here’s one of those times when the headline really is all you need to know, via Mysterious Universe: “Bigfoot Watcher Chasing Chemtrails Records a UFO.”


Linking to a story or webpage does not imply endorsement by Paul or CFI. Not every use of quotation marks is ironic or sarcastic, but it often is.

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