Archive for July, 2016


July 27, 2016 Leave a comment

I finally viewed Spotlight, the movie which fictionalized the investigation by the Boston Globe into the rape and subsequent cover up scandal that was first revealed in early 2002. Whether the movie angered you, made you depressed, or frustrated; I think you have to admit that it was a very well done movie. It followed the model that “All the President’s Men” laid down with regard to actual journalistic investigation and I wonder why given the scope of their investigation that the reporters involved haven’t become household names.

Typically, I try and stay away from focusing on scandals. The reason is that most of the time it can be waved away with the claim that the actions of one person or a few people are to blame. Usually, this can be said to be true, however the real story of Spotlight isn’t the investigation into the allegations of child rape, it’s the cover up. One can rightly say that even at the 6% estimation that was given in the movie, and actual investigation, were the actions of a group of varied individuals with little connection to each other with the exception of their employer. However the uniting fact behind them is the cover up, that they were allowed to continue to work as a respected member of the community with the only difference being the location of that work.

What’s amazing about the story itself is how it was a known problem. The HBO documentary “Maxima Mea Culpa” highlights the same problem with a group of deaf children. In all of the cases, and only until very recently, the principle pattern seems to have been: identify the person, pay off the victims, and then shift the perpetrator to somewhere else. Spotlight’s discovery was that the alleged perpetrators were literally being moved around in the same city. Now, they apparently send them to different countries.

I have some personal experience with this: no, I was never sexually assaulted by a faculty member of either of the two Catholic schools I attended nor was I ever sexually assaulted by a member of the Clergy. I just feel the need to get that out of the way.

However, I have learned that my first year religion teacher in high school was arrested for “inappropriate conversations with several teenage boys” and “possession of child pornography” by which he received a twenty year sentence  which will be suspended after five years. I will stress that no physical action had been accused. The former priest, yes he’s been defrocked, was my first year religious teacher and if memory serves me well should have been my sophomore year instructor as well but he was transferred somewhere else returning to the school in 2000.

I remember talking with him at an ex-girlfriend’s brother’s high school graduation party around 2002 where he told me the most ridiculous thing: that businesses existed in order to enrich the community and god. What I don’t remember is whether I ever asked him why he was transferred out–that was just one of those things that happened. I know what it sounds like I’m implying and I don’t think I can state what I know to be a fact without making such an implication. The pattern fits, of course it does, he was a teacher for exactly one year before leaving for seven years and then a return. Given what we now know it’s certainly possible that an accusation was made, but I can’t stress enough that there is no evidence for it.

Is criticizing the Catholic Church for this problem a bit overdone? I mean, has this subject been beaten to death? Well it depends on what we are talking about. Other than the story which was about a person that I knew, nothing I’ve said was new information. The Oscar winning movie came out last year and plenty of pixels have burned with commentary about this. On one hand talking about it is repetitive.

Yet, if something would change, if the church itself wasn’t so tenacious in its fight against being held responsible for its role in all of this. Their machinery has pretty much given up the fight to hold the clergy under its protection in this country. If a priest today is accused of a sex crime they pretty much turn the individual over to the proper authorities, which in this case is anyone but them, at least that is what they have said. As recently as 2014, we have seen Minnesota that they not only protected a priest but promoted the individual after numerous complaints were made to them as late as 2009. The Vatican is looking into whether or not its new protocols regarding allegations of misconduct apply retroactively to this case.

What’s more damning and more indicative of an organization that serves itself rather than the flock it is supposed to be watching over is the fight this year over whether or not the statue of limitations on allegations should be lifted. Let us remember what is at issue here, the Church is opposed to lifting the statute of limitations on allegations of child sexual assault. This isn’t like theft, where a thing is gone, but an action which can irrevocably destroy a person’s life and the church wants to make sure that after a certain point of time the legal ramifications of that crime can no longer be brought to bear. Why? Because they are afraid of bankruptcy.

The current law states that criminal charges must be brought by the victim’s 23rd birthday while civil complaints must be brought by the 28th. This was a compromise which makes me wonder how they arrived at this bargain. Was the 29th birthday too long for them? Why did they agree that the 28th birthday was ok? What’s the freekin difference. I write this as I am currently engaged in an argument over whether or not atheists can be moral and how that’s destroying our country. Well, if the Vatican’s morality is what people ought to stand on then they can keep them.


Categories: Uncategorized

Does the religion of the President Matter?

July 20, 2016 1 comment

Short answer, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office of public trust under the United States.”–Article IV, US Constitution

Legally it is of no concern what religion, if any, the president believes. Our first grouping of presidents were deists including John Quincy Adams who refused to swear the oath of office on the Bible. However, the public perception of the president is often ignorant of the specific laws on an issue…either that, or they are valuing the religiosity beyond a legal requirement. As I type this, the second day of the Republican National Convention has begun and with it are renewed calls that the current president, Barack Obama is a Muslim.

It has been an accusation that has dogged him since the beginning. I could delve further, trying to see whether or not it began at his appearance during John Kerry’s convention in 2004, but the internet is coming up with only unconfirmable rumors. I want to talk about this issue and why it seems to matter. Let’s begin with the obvious, the accusation is pure bigotry. The only purpose it serves is to attempt to dissuade people from supporting the president. After all, Muslims are the enemy, the president is a Muslim, therefore the President is the enemy. We’ve been at war with Islamic terrorists for fifteen years now and a Muslim president would be against winning such a way, not to mention the various attacks on the US and its interests in the last several years.

Let me first say this: I’m not a Republican, Democrat, Conservative, or Liberal. I don’t have a pre-decided set of things I’m going to believe. This is something that I need to get out of the way first lest anyone accuse me of being a blind Hillary supporter.

First off, let’s assume that this is true: that President Obama is a Muslim. Ok, so? He’s not passed any laws advocating the adoption of strict fundamentalist Sharia law, in fact, his administration has been passing laws that would be anathema to Sharia. Trying to quash HB 2 in North Carolina is a fine example of it, as well as the Supreme Court allowing gay marriage, these are not Sharia laws. His administration has been much more supportive of the separation of church and state than one would think a devout Muslim with terrorist sympathies would be. This is despite the trouble he got into during his first election for attending the church of Jeremiah Wright, it’s odd that a Christian pastor would be preaching to a Muslim but in this crazy world who knows what is really going on.  Clearly, if he is a Muslim, then he’s not a very devout or fundamentalist one. In this I’m reminded of John F. Kennedy who was a Catholic but seemed to refrain from advocating Catholic law in the borders of our country.

Secondly, it would be odd for this alleged “Muslim President” to be so active in the drone program and in continuing warfare in Muslim countries. He’s conducted more drone strikes than his predecessor, took out Osama Bin Laden, just to name two examples. Now, if he were to have such hard terrorist sympathies than someone needs to show me the times that he’s expressed them. The only things I can think of is his stubborn refusal to call it “Islamic terrorism” or “Religious fundamentalist terrorism,” which I find frustrating and have criticized him for it. Although to be fair he also doesn’t call it “Christian Terrorism” when someone shoots up a Planned Parenthood clinic so maybe it’s an all or nothing kind of thing where he chooses nothing. The other example is the draw down of forces in Iraq, which in a completely round about way allowed the Islamic apocalypse cult Daesh (or Isis, or Is, or Isil) to rise. That however is ignorant of the facts since Obama only honored the agreement that Bush made with the Iraqi government. An agreement that he couldn’t break if he even wanted to. Is it because he visited a Mosque? Like that great friend of Islam, George W. Bush, within two weeks after 9/11. Or is it because the president has repeatedly stated that we are not at war with Islam, just like the previous president did as well? I get confused as such a baseless accusation is repeated over and over again, then adopted as truth without the slightest shred of evidence.

Thirdly, it doesn’t matter. He’s not broken the law despite what conservatives want to believe, and they do want to believe it. So if he’s praying to Mecca five times a day it really doesn’t matter. There are no orders that “Islam” can give him for one simple fact: Islam isn’t Christianity, specifically it isn’t Catholicism. See the idea that there is an Islamic flag of victory is a fantasy. There isn’t a centralized Islamic governing body. The rules for Islam are largely set forth in the Quran and the Hadith, but the rest of it is open to interpretation usually by political bodies. This is why some Muslim countries force women to wear full coverings while others just a head covering. This is why Isis is a bigger threat to Muslims than to non-Muslims provided they are not the “right kind” of Muslim. There is no Islamic Pope, no one to give orders, no singular flag that all of the faithful can gather under.

It’s pure bigotry and xenophobia. I said in the beginning I am not a Republican nor a Democrat, this post isn’t about politics it’s about accepting claims without evidence. Something none of should ever do no matter how much that claim fits within the political narrative that we find most soothing.

Missed Them

July 12, 2016 Leave a comment

Yesterday morning I was woken up by a tap tap tapping at my chamber door. Well the door of the house that I am now living in. At first in my sleepy groggy state I didn’t understand what the noise was, I thought it was the little goblin who hasn’t figured out door knobs yet. As I stumbled out into the hallway I looked out the window to see a nicely dressed young woman and man walking away from the house toward a small car with two other people sitting in the backseat. The man was wearing a blue button down shirt and black tie, the woman a dress. I knew I had missed them: the JWs.

Several years ago, I had a conversation with them that was interrupted by my older daughter. They were pitching some kind of environmental angle which I was keen on hearing because it was new, still they went a little overboard with their religious references. Then I was interrupted by my curious child who wanted to know who the people at the door were. I didn’t really have the chance to get into it, that was what I wanted. I wasn’t looking for a fight but a serious conversation with a group that I know from research into their curious views on medicine and their penchant for forcing adherents to go door to door to spread the word.

What’s extremely curious about their visit this time around was that it took place at 7:30am. Who is going to be ready to talk to them this early? Admittedly the kids have been doing a great job sleeping until nine (or at least not making a lot of noise until nine), and my sleep schedule revolves around that. So I could have been up. That’s my house. Everyone else would have been getting ready for work. Even if they wanted to those people would not have had the time to talk. I just moved to this location so I’m not sure what the demographics are on my road but they could literally only have been patrolling for elderly people. This is a strange tactic since it’s very doubtful someone at that stage of their life is going to convert.

They sped off and I thought of all the questions I was going to ask them. “Still a no on those blood transfusions?” “Are you guys young earthers?” “Do you get paid or is this volunteer work?” “It it’s volunteer work, what happens if you don’t volunteer?” “Can you leave the religion and still maintain contact with your families?”

I get that they have to do it. It’s part of their religion that they appeal to the masses to join. The atheist in me wants to scream about how stupid this is, but the philosopher in me understands that if you truly believe you have the truth that will save a person from eternal damnation then you have an ethical obligation to spread that word around. I’m not rude about it, I never am until the other person gets pushy. Typically they aren’t there by choice. I mean, sure it’s a choice they can not do it but the price that they pay for it is losing contact with everyone that they ever knew as well as overcoming the psychological guilt associated with abandoning what they’ve been told is their duty to god. As a former Catholic, I’ve been forced into “volunteer” work as well, but never was I forced to annoy, bother, or inconvenience people. All they made me do was work a charity dinner and then I had to teach a religion class to a bunch of kids that didn’t want to be there. I guess I annoyed them, but if it wasn’t me it would have been someone else.

Instead of feeling annoyed I have a different feeling. I feel empathy, if they don’t leave they are going to be walking the pioneering path for their entire lives. If they are men they may be able to get into the hierarchy but I’ve read reports of people who say that the entire religion is full of nepotism so, if true, it’s unlikely. If they leave they are ill prepared for the outside world. The watchtower dissuades higher learning, recommending that the JW children are never educated beyond “the public school limit” which I guess means they don’t go to highschool. Essentially these people are prisoners.

What’s truly insidious though is the exercise of control over the kids themselves. They are offered no protection from abuse and are essentially hidden from the outside world. The shunning can occur for even the small crime of having friends that are not JW. Perhaps then, this door to door work is a relief. They at least get to go outside (any kind of competitive sport is banned by the religion). Essentially, the kids are stripped of their identity of being kids.

Missionaries are annoying, that’s to be sure. Every time I go to a hockey game there’s always some fool shouting bible quotes at the crowd even though that violates Jesus’ ban on standing on street corners (Matthew 6:5). I’ve been approached many times while sitting outside at cafes, one time while reading “God is not Great” so that was fun. I’ve been handed leaflets and most of the time it’s just a minor inconvenience. I’ve heard of aggressive street preachers but only second hand and unlike them, I understand that they are a minority.

I might have been an interesting conversation, admittedly I was probably too tired to have it. Yet they did leave me a present: a leaflet advertising a gathering in the city that I just moved out of. On Saturday they were going to be discussing the book of Job. I wonder if they would conclude with the end of the book, where the moral seems to be: don’t trust Jehova.


Categories: Uncategorized

The Eulogy

July 5, 2016 2 comments

Late post this week, but I have an excuse: death in the family. Where I was going to write about the discriminatory law that was passed in Texas regarding adoption, life got in the way…or death rather, but the law isn’t going anywhere unfortunately.

Anyway, death in the family, as we were meeting up and I was listening to the discussion of arrangements I fell into the Larry David trap of volunteering for “whatever,” and then was called to do something. I don’t know what it is about me, but I hate doing stuff. I was asked to read the eulogy for the deceased. Well, that’s an easy one. I have no fear of speaking in public, and unlike the old Seinfeld bit about public speaking–that most people would rather be in the box than have to give the eulogy as people report that they are more afraid of speaking in public than of death–I just said sure and took a look at it.

The details of the eulogy are unimportant, and I wouldn’t share them regardless since it’s a bit more personal than I like to get into. What was important, and odd, was that I was told that I was not going to read it during the funeral mass. The deceased was Irish Catholic and it was going to be a Catholic funeral. That wasn’t going to be an issue, I’m an atheist not an asshole, I’ll read the eulogy whereever they tell me, but I still thought this was odd. These things are read at funerals, that’s their purpose. Since the late 16th century the term has meant “speech or piece of writing that praises someone highly, typically someone who has just died.”

I might not even agree to the word “typically” since I’ve yet to hear the word used in any other setting. I suppose that a speech at a person’s retirement might be considered a eulogy, but that would be weird and a bit macabre. However the definition doesn’t exactly state where the speech is given, so I’ll have to give it that. They asked me to do the eulogy at a different venue, who am I to question?

Well I’m me, and I question that’s how I do things. When I asked why, they said it was the priest’s rule. When I asked why again, because while I might be as annoying as a three year old my questions have some point to them, they said that he didn’t like them or want them because some people complained. Then they (family members) referenced the previous funeral I had been to and how the eulogies went a bit long (there were three). First off, too bad so sad, it’s a funeral they’re not supposed to be enjoyable, but I get it–who wants to be in a church service longer than they have to. That part makes sense to me. Maybe the family could take this into consideration but what galls me is the priest making this a rule. (to be perfectly clear, I don’t believe this a Catholic rule or even the rule of the diocese, but just a parish rule)

I haven’t felt, for a long time, that funerals had anything to do with the dead. It’s pretty clear that they are for the living, those that remain upon this mortal coil and want to say goodbye in the fashion that they are culturally used to. Yet this rule, seems to remove that as well. The eulogy for me is the only reason I can tolerate funerals because it’s the only part that I perceive as real. It’s a friend or family member who gives a summation or story about the person that attempts to sum up their character or personality. Take the eulogy out of a funeral and you have church on Tuesday. Dry, boring, antiseptic, impersonal church service where the only difference is that the names of the people doing the readings and various other church activities are spoken aloud i.e. “now doing the first reading is X’s nephew Y.” The homily might have a focus on life and death as well.

Especially this homily. The priest admitted that he cold read the board where family members had placed pictures to glean something of a personality so that he could speak some specifics. Off board, there was nothing but vague generalizations, similar to a how a psychic just tells you things that you want to hear (You fit in easily with people but you cherish your solitude as well). I’ve been to funerals where I’ve heard the same homily spoken with the proper nouns changed. So, what’s the purpose? Who is it for? It seems to serve no purpose other than to get people in seats for a custom that they aren’t questioning. This rule forces me to think that the eulogy was taking away focus from the church and on the reason that anyone was there on a Tuesday morning at a church that very few people had every been to (though to be fair, the one that was literally across the street from his house was under construction), making my uncle and father have this exchange:

Uncle: “I don’t think I’ve ever been to this one before.”

Father: “I think I was here for a funeral a few years back.”

Maybe I’m placing a bit too much importance on it. I don’t like church services and I especially don’t like funerals (though for a distinctly different reason than is usual), but making the whole thing more impersonal really drains the function and purpose of it. Again, it was just mass on a Tuesday morning.

Eventually I did read the eulogy at the bar where he frequented. The people seemed much happier to be there which might be due to the food and alcohol, but it was certainly more fitting. Let’s put the fun back in funeral and get those eulogies read at the same time as everythign else is going on.