Religion News 1.1.15

Former 7th Day Adventist pastor who gave up religion for a year to test his faith may not go back

Ryan Bell became a fascination for the religious and non-religious alike when he announced that he would be conducting an “intellectual experiment” to test out atheism after he began struggling with his own faith.

In a way, it was the perfect time for a change. Just months before his “experiment,” Bell resigned as pastor of the church he had worked at for 19 years. He had become uncomfortable with the way his religion has handled homosexuality and felt that the organization was no longer in line with his more liberal views. At the same time, his 17-year marriage was also ending. In that turmoil, Bell saw the potential for a radical change and took it.

According to Bell, he would spend all of 2014 living “as if there is no God.”

“I will not pray, read the Bible for inspiration, refer to God as the cause of things or hope that God might intervene and change my own or someone else’s circumstances.”

I applaud his intent, but I wonder how successful he was in living as if there is no god. Monotheistic belief pervades our society. To the extent that we have “In god we trust” emblazoned on our currency. We say “God bless you” after someone sneezes. We cry out “God damn it” when angry. Eliminating those trivial references seems a difficult task to me.

For some of the faithful, that may appear to be blasphemous and quite possibly endanger Bell’s soul. Bell was a bit more good-humored about it, arguing that if there was a God, then God will probably “not be too flummoxed” by the test. In short, Bell assumed that a God worthy of the name probably can handle some guy not talking to him for 12 months without the world ending.

After his decision to “live as if there is no God,” things didn’t become easier for Bell. However, it wasn’t God who had forsaken him, but people. Almost immediately, two Christian schools where he worked as a teacher fired him. He was now a single parent with two young daughters to care for so things were grim.

Of course they fired him. That’s what they call “Christian Love”. Yes, that’s as nonsensical as Bible-based morality.

Luckily, an atheist blogger heard about his experiment and started an online fundraising campaign that ultimately raised over $27,000 to help support his family during the year.  Around the same time, Bell took his passion for helping people into the secular world. He landed a job as a “life skills” teacher at PATH, a nonprofit that focuses on helping homeless people get a solid education and marketable skills.

The year of “giving atheism a try” hasn’t had the negative affect that Bell probably assumed it would. Instead, he seems more comfortable in it. While he still hasn’t decided whether he will return to the church (he has until January), he now feels confident in describing himself as a “weak atheist.” It’s a designation that says one does not currently hold a belief in God (as compared to “strong atheism” which asserts that one is convinced that there is no God). Weak or strong, a former pastor describing himself as an atheist means he’s come a long way.

He has come a long way indeed. To even think about an undertaking such as this makes me wonder how much doubt was roiling around in his head. Hopefully he’ll complete this leg of his intellectual journey by casting theism aside and embracing reality. It’s far more beautiful and awe-inspiring than anything humanity has created–including Christianity and it’s so-called “loving” deity.

Update:  Even though Bell finds atheism a weird fit, he’s not going back to theism.

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Newlywed couple. Post vows. Robbed. Broad daylight. “In front of the flower girls” ::gasp::

I seem to have misplaced my bedazzled fainting couch. Can I borrow someone else’s?

A California couple who had just taken their vows on Saturday were robbed right in front of god and everyone while taking photos in front of their old high school. In broad daylight and “in front of the flower girls.”

The Washington Post, which has recounted the story to highlight that the flower girls were affected by the robbery, reports that the newlyweds had met at Oakland High and just wanted to go back and take a few photos for old time’s sake. What they learned, however, like those kids who would come back to high school just to say “hello” the year after they graduated — I never got that. Why did people do that? — is that nothing good comes from going back to the past. Especially when you’ve got over $13,000 in camera equipment on you at the time.

Where are NOM, Brian Brown, Tony Perkins, and all those defenders of heterosexual marriage? The thieves threatened the peace and sanctity of a marriage ceremony. Such perfidy should not be allowed to stand.

For that matter, isn’t their deity supposedly very concerned about heterosexual marriage? Why would he allow such theft to occur? Why didn’t he strike down those robbers with heavenly bolts of lighting?  Or y’know, a well placed banana peel. Oh, I forgot his horrible aim.  He probably wanted to punish them, but instead, he hit a small Caribbean island with a tropical storm.

He may be all-powerful.

He may be all-knowing.

He may be all-everywhere.

What he ain’t is precise with his punishments. It may be the whole not existing thing.

* * * *

 Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore criticizes secular invocation at city council meetings

“We’re having prayers [by] atheists? We’re having Wiccans say prayers? How foolish can we be?” he asked members of the Madison County Republican Men’s Club.

“I’ll say this in Huntsville because I think it needs to be said in Huntsville,” Moore continued. “There is one God and it’s the God on which this nation was founded. And it’s the God of the Scriptures. I don’t need applause for that. It’s a truth in history and it’s a truth in law.”

I find it highly unlikely that this man passed the bar without knowing that the laws in this country are not based on the Bible. I also think he’s lying when he says it’s a historical truth.  I think he’s being intentionally dishonest here.  Pandering perhaps?

In June, he claimed that “[w]ithout God there would be no nation. Without God there would be no freedom to believe what you want. That goes all the way back to people like Thomas Jefferson in his bill for religious freedom. He knew what it meant. He knew the limits of civil government, and he knew who gave us that freedom to believe what we want about God, but it comes from God.”

Oh yeah, bc freedom of religion? That’s a concept you’ll find in the Bible. ::rolls eyes::  I wonder if Judge Moore has heard of the Treaty of Tripoli…

Moore’s specific complaint was in reference to Huntsville’s decision to allow North Alabama Freethought Association board member Kelly McCauley to open a city council meeting with a secular invocation.

They have to allow any religious or secular invocation if they’re going to allow even just one.  To allow just a Christian invocation would be an example of the government endorsing or showing preference to one religion, which is unconstitutional.  Even I know that and I am not a constitutional lawyer.

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Counterintuitive though it may be, the religious are more likely than the non-religious to support torture 

After the Senate Intelligence Committee released the CIA Torture Report earlier this month, a poll was conducted by the Washington Post/ABC on the subject. They questioned people about many aspects of the report, including whether people believed enhanced interrogation techniques were torture, whether CIA treatment of suspected terrorists was justified and whether torture itself can be justified.

One of the more remarkable findings revealed by the poll was a great divide between those who are religious and those who are non-religious. Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches shares her analysis of the findings:

“Just 39% of white evangelicals believe the CIA’s treatment of detainees amounted to torture, with 53% of white non-evangelical Protestants and 45% of white Catholics agreeing with that statement. Among the non-religious, though, 72% said the treatment amounted to torture.”

Religious Americans are are between 19% to 33% less likely to believe waterboarding and force-feeding hummus by way of a rectal tube are torture than their non-religious brothers and sisters. When Americans were asked if the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” were justified, religious and non-religious people were divided, as well. According to Posner:

“Sixty nine percent of white evangelicals believe the CIA treatment was justified, compared to just 20% who said it was not. A full three-quarters (75%) of white non-evangelical Protestants outnumber the 22% of their brethren in saying CIA treatment was justified. White Catholics believe the treatment was justified by a 66-23% margin. But a majority of non-religious adults, 53%, believe the CIA actions were not justified, with 41% of the non-religious saying the treatment was justified.”

At first glance the statistics appear counter-intuitive, but a similar poll by Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life conducted in May of 2009 generated similar results.

The results are confusing. Why is it that religious folks tend to be copacetic with torture when non-religious people are inclined to reject the practice?

Good question. One of the core ideas of Christianity is that Jesus Christ was persecuted and tortured. Hell, many Christians wear a symbol of his torture around their necks in the form of a cross. You’d think they would be among the first to denounce torture.

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American Atheists President Dave Silverman demands apology for Troy University’s anti-atheist mass email

Troy University Chancellor Jack Hawkins sent a mass email to faculty and staff with a link to a YouTube video that demeans atheists and non-believers.  Here’s the video:

Dave Silverman wasn’t very happy with that email, and has demanded an apology.  In a letter to Chancellor Hawkins, Silverman says:

American Atheists is contacting you on behalf of a Troy University student, who is concerned about a video you sent to all students and staff in your end-of-year email on December 30. The video asserts that religion, particularly Judeo-Christian beliefs, are necessary to be moral, law-abiding citizens, and implies that those who do not attend church will be anti-democracy and anti-social members of society.

Atheists are not a trivial minority. In Alabama alone, we represent 11% of the population, and statistically even higher numbers in universities and among college-aged residents; as many as 32% of people under age 30 are not religious.

On behalf of the student who contacted us, the Alabama members of American Atheists, the thousands of atheists at Troy University, and the hundreds of millions of atheists worldwide who live productive, law-abiding lives without religion, we demand an apology from you for using the public university email system and your publicly funded position to disparage atheists and minority religious groups as well as perpetuating the discrimination and anti-patriotic sentiment against atheists in the United States.

As you represent an institution of higher learning, we would like to take this opportunity to educate you about atheists and morality. Atheists are overwhelmingly ethical and upstanding people. It is not true that religion is necessary to keep people from becoming criminals.

According to leading secularism researcher Professor Phil Zuckerman at Pitzer College, “We can plainly see that the least religious countries and states are generally the most moral, peaceful, and humane, while the most religious countries and states are the most crime-ridden, corrupt, and socially troubled. End of discussion.”

In fact, in the United States, in states with the highest percentages of atheists, the murder rate is lower than average. In the most-religious states, the murder rate is higher than average.

Further, on average and generally speaking, atheists have fewer divorces, abortions, and STDs, and lower poverty rates, homicide rates, overall crime rates, and teen pregnancy rates. As a demographic, atheists have higher IQs, incomes, education rates, and literacy rates, and more Nobel Prizes and university professorships.

We need to teach young people to use critical thinking and be more skeptical, not more obedient. Teaching as such leads—demonstrably—to more ethical behavior.

American Atheists will be hosting its annual national convention the first weekend in April at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis. We invite you to attend any or all of the events to experience for yourself what atheism and atheists are like. We believe that personal experience helps fight ignorance so we invite you to be our special guest.

We ask for a public apology to the student, and other atheists whom you have disparaged with the video you included in your email.

Religion News 1.1.15

Police Behaving Badly 12.16.14

‘Public needs protecting from you’

Steve Mandell was convicted in February for his role in the torture and murder plot. He and his accomplice, Gary Engel — who committed suicide in prison in 2012 — planned to abduct a wealthy businessman, Steve Campbell, and take him to a torture chamber they had built.

There, they would torture Campbell — a real estate magnate — until he signed over land deeds to them, and then they would kill him.

On video secretly taken by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Engel and Mandell can be heard discussing how they will torture Campbell before killing him.

“You going to put a little blade there?” Mandell asked, to which Engel replied that he would flay open Campbell’s penis. It would be just like “slicing a banana split. You know what a banana split looks like?”

At sentencing, U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve referenced that part of the video, saying that “the thrill you showed in putting another person in pain and in torturing was chilling. The glee on your face was very apparent.”

“The public needs protecting from you,” she continued. “Your actions in this case, Mr. Mandell, were evil, and showed a complete disregard for human life.”

I’m nauseous just reading the part about the razor blade.  I’m with the judge. This guy is vile. Do police departments run psychological tests on potential new employees? Is a disregard for human life something that would show up on any potential psychological tests?

* * * *

 Off-duty police officer racially profiled, assaulted by group of cops

A decorated officer who had worked for the New York City Police Department for nearly three decades, Harold Thomas became a victim of racial profiling and police brutality.

Thomas and his friend had been celebrating a friend’s birthday at La Marina, a night club located in the city’s Washington Heights District. As he exited the club, making his way to his parked Cadillac Escalade, the off-duty police officer was approached by another NYPD cop, Andrew Ali.

Ali told Thomas that his SUV matched the description one reported at a ‘shots fired’ call earlier in the day. Thomas informed Ali that he was a police officer. He presented his badge and his police ID. An official police plaque was displayed prominently in the window of the SUV.

Two more officers approached the scene, James McKenna and Paul Montali. Again, Thomas identified himself as an off duty police officer and presented his ID.

Instead of apologizing and going on the way, the third officer became physically violent.

“[The third cop] spins me around, slams my head on the roof of my car, made a dent in the car, grabbed me by the seat of my pants, throws me head first,”


Following the assault, Thomas was arrested on trumped up charges, which were soon dismissed by the court. Fortunately for him, his years of service with the NYPD meant that he had established a good relationship with Chief of the Department, Phillip Banks. According to NotJustUs, Banks is the second highest ranking officer in the NYPD.

As Thomas said, however, if they did this to him, ‘the average Joe doesn’t stand a chance.’ Someone with a less than spotless record, few resources and not a single friend in high places would serve years in prison under the same circumstances. That’s if he wasn’t gunned down in the street first.

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‘Goddamned Nazi Stormtrooper’: TX cop tasers 76-year-old man with expired inspection

The Victoria Advocate reported that 76-year-old Pete Vasquez was driving a work-owned vehicle back to his place of business on Thursday when 23-year-old Officer Nathanial Robinson pulled him over for an expired inspection.

Vasquez said that he explained that the car belonged to a car lot, and that the dealer tags made it exempt from having an inspection.

But dashcam video obtained by the paper shows Robinson using force to arrest Vasquez for what should have been a Class C misdemeanor. In the video, Vasquez pulls his arm away from Robinson, and the officer slams him into the hood of the patrol car. The two men disappear from camera range as Robinson places Vasquez in a hold, and then forces him to the ground.

According to police, Robinson shocked Vasquez with a Taser twice while he was on the ground.

“He just acted like a pit bull, and that was it,” Vasquez recalled. “For a while, I thought he was going to pull his gun and shoot me.”

Vasquez was placed in the patrol car, and then transported to Citizens Medical Center for treatment, where he spent the next two hours in police custody. He was eventually released with out being charged or cited.

* * * *

Florida cop forgets First Amendment, pulls over car playing ‘Fuck the police’

This perfectly encapsulates the authoritarian attitude of so many law enforcement officials.  We’re expected to defer to them. To give them unearned respect. To listen to their every word. And above all else, to never talk badly about them. We’re socialized to treat police officers this way and it’s gotten so bad that many of them think they can do no wrong.

A Florida police officer seems to have forgotten that his job is to uphold the law, not to hassle people who listen to music that hurts his feelings.

Over Thanksgiving weekend, Hialeah PD’s officer Harold Garzon pulled over a man listening to NWA’s “F*ck Tha Police.” Unfortunately, after approaching the car the officer was hard-pressed to find a legal justification for the stop. Making matters worse, the man he pulled over was a Florida International University law student who was on break over the holidays.

As the Miami New Times reports, the victim, Cesar Baldelomar, was stopped at a red light with his windows down. Harzon was standing nearby filling out some paperwork when suddenly NWA’s anti-police anthem came on the radio. Harzon didn’t take it well.

“Really?” he shouted to the idling car. “You’re really playing that song? Pull over.”

After Baldelomar pulled over, the officer escalated the situation by calling in two more officers and started hurling charges at him. First, Garzon accused Baldelomar of illegally playing loud music within 25 feet of another person. Baldelomar said that was nonsense, and even cited the Supreme Court case that found that a person can’t be arrested for playing loud music in public.

“I knew that because it was a case I had actually studied in law school,” Baldelomar told the paper.

After that, the cops just settled for throwing any violation they could at the student. They wrote out three tickets: one for not having his insurance information (Baldelomar had insurance, but the officer said he needed to have a slip of paper stating that fact), one for an “out-of-state license plate” (like many students, Baldelomar technically still lived in his home state and was only attending school in Florida), and a final one for not wearing a seat belt (a fact Baldelomar disputes).

Garzon never ended up giving Baldelomar a ticket for the “noise,” perhaps knowing that it may be hard to argue with the Supreme Court. Baldelomar plans to fight the charges in court.

The officer responsible has a long and troubling record of being an incompetent cop. He’s had a stunning 16 internal affairs cases brought against him, and seems to be working on his 17th. For comparison, imagine an employee in any other profession receiving 16 write-ups and still be allowed to keep his or her job.

* * * *

Sex worker raped by on-duty cop helps investigators catch her assailant

On Friday, a former Nashville police officer was arrested after being indicted by a grand jury for raping a prostitute – while he was on duty, no less.

Jonathan Mays, 44, had been working the Central Precinct’s overnight shift when he raped the 32-year-old sex worker. The victim had gone to police in June, claiming that an on-duty cop had requested that she perform oral sex on him in January. If she refused, the officer threatened to arrest her on the spot.

The police and the victim constructed a plan to catch Mays in the act, and the victim was placed under surveillance. The victim offered to perform oral sex on Mays in exchange for his protection, and the pair agreed to meet at another location. When Mays showed up at the scene, investigators were waiting for him.

Once confronted, Mays tried to deny having any previous involvement with the woman, but later confessed to the January incident. He put in his resignation in July, after having worked in the police department since February 2002.


Police Behaving Badly 12.16.14