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Recognized as a Heretic

February 19, 2020

Stephanie Mencimer at Mother Jones looks into the rather grotesque flimflammery of Paula White:

The melding of White’s public and private jobs is nearly seamless, as she invokes her relationship with Trump in her sermons and fundraising pitches, even as she wields her spiritual authority to defend the president. But experts say the arrangement raises significant conflict of interest questions, concerns about her compliance with tax laws banning nonprofit churches from endorsing candidates. And there’s the more fundamental question as to whether by installing her in a White House job, Trump has put the government’s stamp of approval on a religious ministry that includes faith healing and preying on vulnerable people for money. …

… “Paula White is a charlatan and recognized as a heretic by every orthodox Christian, of whatever tribe,” tweeted the prominent evangelical preacher Russell Moore, the president of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, back in 2016…

And speaking of Moore, his opposition to some Trumpian offenses has put him in the crosshairs of his own church, with Bob Smietana reporting that “Southern Baptist leaders fear controversy over Moore could lead to a drop in donations.” And that’s all that matters.

This story came out last month, but I just became aware of it: an exposé in Cosmopolitan by Sarah McClure on rampant and horrifying sexual abuse within Amish communities. This bit I’m quoting here was one of the least nightmare-inducing snippets I could find or stomach:

In my reporting, I identified 52 official cases of Amish child sexual assault in seven states over the past two decades. Chillingly, this number doesn’t begin to capture the full picture. Virtually every Amish victim I spoke to—mostly women but also several men—told me they were dissuaded by their family or church leaders from reporting their abuse to police or had been conditioned not to seek outside help (as Sadie put it, she knew she’d just be “mocked or blamed”). Some victims said they were intimidated and threatened with excommunication. Their stories describe a widespread, decentralized cover-up of child sexual abuse by Amish clergy.

Gilead is real, and it’s in Spindale, North Carolina, going by the name of Word of Faith Fellowship. A new book reports on this horror show, Broken Faith: Inside the Word of Faith Fellowship, One of America’s Most Dangerous Cults, and the authors talk about it on NPR. Here we see it’s like Hotel California for Handmaids:

You know, the members of this church, they live in nice homes. They drive nice cars. The children are well-mannered. They have a Christian school. So I think when a lot of families first go there, everything seems great. But over time, Jane Whaley and her other ministers, they take more and more control of your lives. In fact, a lot of times they’ll remove children from their family’s home and place them with ministers to be raised. And what that does is over time, sometimes those kids care more about the ministers than their own parents. So it makes it difficult for families to leave. So it’s not a quick thing where you just walk in the door and they say, hey, come on in. You can come in and you can never leave. We’re gonna take your television, magazines, radio, all that away from you and institute all these rules. It’s a slow, progressive thing.

More churchy abuse: The defrocked Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is reported to have given $1 million to ministries that fought against Vatican attempts to deal with its sexual abuse crisis.

The National Association of Christian Lawmakers had the not-very-bright idea to put out a Twitter poll on whether America would be better off with more Christians in public office. (Jeez, how many more of you do we need???) The poll was flooded with negative responses, with “no” getting about 96% of the vote. This, obviously, was the result of “atheists and Satanists” engaging in “religious persecution,” a term which apparently has no meaning anymore.

John Fea at Religion News Service says there’s not much daylight between hardcore MAGA Trump supporters and so-called “reluctant” Trump voters:

… the difference between the MAGA-hat-wearing evangelical Trump voter and the reluctant Trump voter is more about style and public behavior than political philosophy.

Both the reluctant evangelical Trump voter and the enthusiastic evangelical Trump voter are guided by a political playbook forged in the late 1970s and 1980s by the Christian right.

This 40-year-old playbook teaches evangelicals to vote for a president who will appoint conservative Supreme Court justices. All other moral issues pale in comparison. Whether you like Trump or not, this playbook led 81% of white evangelicals straight into his arms.

Being interviewed about his new book on evangelicals and Trump for Salon, Fea says:

There is a dark dimension of evangelicalism. One sees that wherever there were moments of demographic change within United States history. There is always a backlash to those changes in American history and it is usually evangelical Christians who are not only part of the backlash but are largely leading that backlash.

And you know who else is in that Dark Dimension? Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain.

Julie Moreau at NBC News reports on the ongoing efforts in some states to get their now-moot same-sex marriage bans off the books, which is harder than it ought to be:

[Political scientist Jason] Pierceson said that in Colorado and a number of other states, having these amendments removed isn’t necessarily easy, as a number of conservative lawmakers are happy to keep them for both symbolic and political reasons.

“Many Republicans and the religious right hope Obergefell will be overturned, and then their state would go back to banning same-sex marriage, potentially,” he said.

That oil-secreting Bible in Dalton, Georgia has dried up, and so has the ministry that was showing it off. They say it has nothing to do with being exposed by the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Mm-hm.

Missouri’s legislature is considering a bill to make Bible study an elective in public schools. Great.

Don’t even think about sitting in seat 64 in coach B5 on the Kashi Mahakal Express going from Varanasi to Ujjain in India. That’s reserved for Shiva. Hemant wisely asks, “If the train is late, will that be considered a form of sacrilege?” The answer, I think, is yes.

Pew Research did a big survey on the public’s attitudes toward science and scientists, and there are divides among groups differing by education level, income, or political alignment, as you might expect. (For example, less education correlates to less trust for vaccines, Democrats trust scientific experts more than Republicans, etc.) One nice thing to see is that science and scientists are, on the whole, overwhelmingly seen as working in everyone’s best interest, far more than clergy, the media, business leaders, or, alas, elected officials.

Stuart Vyse continues his look into superstitions in real estate for Skeptical Inquirer, getting into the fear of thirteenth floors on buildings. Dude, there are bargains to be had on those thirteenth floors. Look at this study on buildings with discounts for the unlucky story:

… in the buildings where a ten percent discount was offered for apartments on the thirteenth floor, the superstitious effect was completely eliminated. Fear is a great motivator, and evidently fear of the thirteenth floor is alive and well in Moscow. It is somewhat surprising that the Russians have not taken the lead of real estate developers in the United States and other countries by skipping the thirteenth floor, but perhaps, as in the case of American developer David Von Spreckelsen, they think it is silly to change the numbers on the elevator panel.

The Holy Land Experience theme park in Orlando is, um, being raptured, let’s say.

Online gig-economy service Fiverr apparently has a lot of people selling spells. Wonkette reports:

For the low, low price of $25, this “divineenergies” guy will implant your wishes, thoughts, and feelings into another person’s mind, which would be super terrifying were that possible. This particular offer has 4.9 stars on Fiverr, with over 300 sales, meaning that not only were there 300 people who thought, “Yeah, sure! Why not pay a guy to do telepathy?” but nearly all of them were very satisfied customers who thought it actually happened.

If you’re looking for something equally ridiculous but slightly cheaper, you can have your inner child healed by “masterkenji” for $10.

Bonus content! Leonard Tramiel is one of CFI’s board members, and he’s such a great guy. Eurogamer has a piece on the history of the Atari Jaguar console, and Leonard’s a big part of it:

He was directly involved in the hardware side of the console, working with developers, both internally and externally, to create software tools for the Jaguar. Few people have a better understanding of the console’s capabilities than this man and even BJ describes him to me as “probably the smartest guy at Atari”.

“The smartest guy at [X]” is probably a safe way to describe Leonard in most scenarios.

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.