Unprotected Fighting Words

January 9, 2020

On the latest episode of our podcast Point of Inquiry, Jim Underdown talks to Ian Ruskin, the actor and playwright who may be familiar to many in our community for his one-person play To Begin the World Over Again: The Life of Thomas Paine.

GQ has a big piece on scam psychics and how private investigator Bob Nygaard has made it his mission, and his business, to stop them.

At Religion News Service, Messiah College history professor John Fea compares the evangelical leaders fawning over Trump to the court clergy of centuries past:

The king’s court can be a dangerous place, even for the most devout. Courtiers have one goal: to gain access to and win the favor of the monarch. Such access brings privilege and power and an opportunity to influence the king on important matters — if, of course, the king is willing to listen.

At USA Today, Brendan Clarey, himself an evangelical, accuses Trump of selling evangelical voters on a political version of prosperity gospel:

Donald Trump tries to brand himself as the savior of American Christians who will give them everything they want if they give him their votes. But as with the prosperity gospel, Christians must be wary of worldly promises from false political saviors.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal runs a piece by Eric Metaxas on why Trump’s moral failings are irrelevant because, unlike with Bill Clinton, Trump gives evangelicals what they want. You see? That makes it all okay.

A judge in Brazil orders Netflix to take down The First Temptation of Christ, the satire in which Jesus is depicted as gay. AP reports:

[Judge] Abicair said the program’s withdrawal “is beneficial not only to the Christian community, but to Brazilian society which is mostly Christian.”

The ruling comes at a time when some civil groups say far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is waging a “cultural war,” cutting funding for arts projects that challenge “Christian values” and inveighing against flamboyant carnival celebrations.

When Republican state legislators in Oregon were so upset about a bill to address climate change that they walked out to avoid a quorum, the governor sent the state police to arrest them. One of those Republicans, State Sen. Brian Boquist, proceeded to make threats, such as, “If you send the state police to get me, hell is coming to visit you personally,” and to the police, “Send bachelors and come heavily armed.” Anyway, this is all to say that he later sued over it (it was religious expression or something!), and a judge threw the suit out. The Oregonian reports:

U.S. District Judge Michael McShane called Boquist’s statements “unprotected fighting words,” saying they were threats and that the Senate leadership had “a legitimate interest in assuring that debate on the Senate floor is not suppressed by the threatening behavior of one of its members.”

“Words, it turns out, sometimes have consequences,” the judge wrote. “Defendants did not violate Plaintiff’s First Amendment rights.”

McShane also wrote that he found odd Boquist’s argument that his remarks to Courtney, in which he promised hell would visit him, amounted to a statement of religious expression.

“While both sides can point fingers and complain that the other is overreacting to a political situation, Plaintiff’s chosen words on the Senate floor were those of a bully on the playground,” the judge wrote in his 11-page ruling. “Remarkably Plaintiff argues that his statement to Defendant Courtney … was a religious expression. But here, Plaintiff seems to overlook the fact that he sounds more like a character out of a Clint Eastwood movie than he does Mother Theresa (sic).”

UK’s Advertising Standards Authority bans ads from a organization called Electrosensitivity-UK whose reason for being is making you afraid of electromagnetism. Their ads claimed that 5G technology would result in “reduced male fertility, depression, disturbed sleep and headaches, as well as cancer.” The Register reports:

Ruling that the ad was misleading and unsubstantiated, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) declared: “We told Electrosensitivity-UK to ensure they did not make claims which implied there was robust scientific evidence that demonstrated negative human health effects caused by 5G signals or that specific medical conditions had been shown to be caused by 5G signals.”

Facebook is still running anti-vaxxer ads. This is important not just because that’s a bad thing, but because, you may recall, Facebook promised to stop running anti-vaxxer ads. BuzzFeed reports:

One ad reads, “Is the vaccine the best option? And if not, what is?” Another says, “Click below for a FREE guide for Pertussis which will include: Vaccine Controversy.”

A Facebook spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that the ads represented “no violation” of its policies. As of today, these ads were still running on both Facebook and Instagram. After publication of this article, Facebook provided the following comment.

“Facebook does not have a policy that bans advertising on the basis that it expresses opposition to vaccines,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “Our policy is to ban ads containing vaccine misinformation.”

Ooooooooooooooooh that’s much clearer. Also, Facebook is terrible.

Steven Novella at Science-Based Medicine contends with the tension between freedom of speech and vaccine misinformation, and how that misinformation leads to real harm, sickness, and death.

A woman is suing the LDS Church for reporting her husband who confessed to being a child molester. The church is legally required to do this. Sooooo….

Earth’s equator has magic properties! Or at least that’s what tourist traps in Ecuador would like you to believe, as reported first hand by Rob Palmer for Skeptical Inquirer:

All this bad science and chicanery were present at a museum claiming to be about “scientific tourism.” I kept my mouth shut while there, but the demonstrations were occasionally the topic of conversations during the following week on the Galapagos cruise. Some passengers just did not believe the tour guides could be wrong, and they certainly did not want to believe that we were being purposely deceived. One man took the issue personally, becoming very argumentative with me. I was told that he had gone around the ship at some point seeking people to take his side against my claims of the museum’s “science” being wrong. He especially could not stomach my claim that toilets do not flush in different directions in the two hemispheres. We had free Wi-Fi on the ship. Why did he not simply Google it?

More local elected officials are getting sworn into office sans Bible, such as these three folks elected to the council in Oneonta, New York.

For just $6000 a week, you too can know what it’s like to live in a bio-dome on Mars. Or how it might be like. More or less. Hypothetically.

Pope Slappy is back with the people. The Guardian reports:

As Francis saluted pilgrims inside the papal audience hall in Vatican City on Wednesday, a nun stretched out her arms as she tried to attract his attention. He said in response: “I’m afraid! You bite! I’ll give you a kiss but stay calm, don’t bite!”

Hard to stay mad that big lug. Especially if you imagine instead that he’s Jonathan Pryce.


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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