Sunday, March 27, 2011

Looking under the bed

I don't know about you, but as a small child I used to get this terrifying idea in my head that there was something under my bed at night.  I can't remember anymore if I thought it was a person or a monster but whatever I believed, it made getting up to go to the bathroom at night a nightmarish ordeal!  If you had that childhood fear you know exactly what I'm talking about.  Sure it made no sense, but it seemed like some kind of rule;  The horrible thing under your bed would leave you alone only if you stayed still and quiet.  So then setting your feet down on the ground was like asking to be grabbed!  You know what changed all of that?  The family flashlight.  It was this big, bright red, boxy thing about the size of a brick and keeping it in my room at night was like magic.  Suddenly I only had to flick a switch to dispel any lurkers from the darkness of my bedroom.

I tell you this because as a teenager I had a very different, yet remarkably similar fear.  Satanists were the monster in this case and they weren't under my bed, they were everywhere!!  Also, they had amazing magical superpowers.  Now my teenage self would have seen no similarities between the Satanists of legend* and the monster under my bed.  The formless entity under my bed was obviously made up and I never saw any evidence to the contrary.  Fine, I never actually saw any evidence for these magical Satanists either, but lots of other people seemed to.  The occult experts that came to speak at my church and my school certainly seemed convincing.  The Jack Chick comics I read and the (Christian) books on the occult that my mom got me also seemed pretty convincing!  Most memorable of these was a book called "He came to set the captives free" by Rebecca Brown.  The police officer that came to speak to our Sunday School class only mentioned devil worshiping teens killing animals and vandalizing gravestones.  According to Rebecca Brown, the truth went lightyears beyond teenage misdemeanors.  Real Satanists were apparently masquerading as respectable people in positions of power all over society.  Their power wasn't just political and financial either, they were able to preform the most incredible magical feats - the kind which would be able to convert any skeptic into a believer instantly, not to mention win them the million dollar JREF prize several times over.  They could attack you in hundreds of terrifying ways and they could do so completely invisibly.  Also, werewolves and vampires were totally real things - these functioned as high level satanic "enforcers" within the Satanic church.

This all seemed so terrifying and fantastical.  With good reason too, since it all turned out to be fantasy!  What I realize now is that all this Satanic Panic is just another version of "monster under my bed" that grownups believe in.  No one has actually seen this "monster" for themselves but everyone knows someone who has heard of someone who totally did.  To keep yourself safe from this "monster" you also have to follow some arbitrary rules to keep it from grabbing you - no listening to Metal, no watching horror movies, no reading Harry Potter, etc.  Lastly, just like any good imaginary monster it all seems to disappear the moment you shine the light of inquiry on it.  The facts tend to not be very kind to these "former Satanists" and their fantastical stories.  It all tends to fall apart the moment you start checking up on their tales.

If you are at all interested in seeing what the light of investigation actually showed, S.M. Elliott over at Swallowing the Camel is currently doing a series on these "former satanists"/"witches who switched" and I cannot recommend it highly enough.  It's an excellent read, both exhaustively detailed and extremely well researched & written.  If you have any interest in this matter I can guarantee you that you will find it as fascinating as I do.  Just look for the "The Prodigal Witch" tag.  (I'll keep an updated link list here too)

As I read the stories behind these famous "ex-devil worshipers" I can't help but wonder why I didn't smell a rat much earlier.  Every one of these "former Satanists" claims to have been very high up in the organization before they converted to Christianity.  Never do you seem to hear from someone who was only an entry level devil dabbler.  Instead they are always (at the very least) former High Priests/Priestesses and usually so high up the Satanic food chain that they could see exactly how deep this devilish worldwide conspiracy reached.  They were Satanic superstars, every one!  In fact these guys usually have a story of how they met (and fornicated with) Lucifer himself at some point, that is how deep into it they were!  So then, if they were all telling the truth then you would expect them to all be telling the same story, wouldn't you?  Yet the more "testimonies" you read, the more differences you find.  So far none of these people seem to agree on what the Satanic Scriptures looked like, what the rituals were** or what the rules and hierarchy of the church looked like.  To date no one has been willing/able to reproduce any of the secretive satanic writings they encountered either. In short, each fantastical tale of horror and magic is really different from all the others.  Another interesting thing is that much like horror movies, these testimonies have certainly become a lot more gruesome and graphic since the early 70's!

Call me crazy but all of that sounds less like a real worldwide satanic conspiracy and more like the fantasies of mentally unwell people desperate for attention. 

The Prodigal Witch Series so far:
The Prodigal Witch: Intro
The Prodigal Witch Part I: Doreen Irvine
The Prodigal Witch Part II: Mike Warnke (Mike Warnke's Story)
The Prodigal Witch Part II: Mike Warnke (The Real Story)
The Prodigal Witch Part III:  John Todd (Part 1)
The Prodigal Witch Part III:  John Todd (Part 2)
The Prodigal Witch Part IV: Other "Former Satanists" of the '70s
The Prodigal Witch Part V: Irene Park, Another Witch That Switched
The Prodigal Witch Part VI: Tom Sanguinet
The Prodigal Witch Part VII: Bill Schnoebelen
The Prodigal Witch VIII: "Elaine"
The Prodigal Witch VIII: "Elaine" Part II
The Prodigal Witch: A Thumbnail Sketch of Johanna Michaelsen
The Prodigal Witch IX: Lauren Stratford
The Prodigal Witch IX: Lauren Stratford Part II
The Prodigal Witch IX: Lauren Stratford Part III

On the flipside, The Slactivist recently wrote a great article examining the other side of this equation - the people eager to buy what these conmen were selling.  Well worth a read:Mike Warnke and Marriage Equality
*These seem to have very little in common with those in the actual, official religion of Satanism. 
**  Depending on who you asked they either just danced around a fire, ritually sacrificed roosters, sacrificed actual babies or just mock sacrificed naked women.  The only similarity seems to be the orgies.  Every testimony is just riddled with orgies...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dogpoop Pie

I have quite a few friends who are really into certain conspiracy theories.  That's not really anything worth writing about, I'm sure everyone has some intelligent, well educated friends who nevertheless believe some pretty strange things*.  What gets me though is not so much what they believe but the sources they use.  So many of them tend to get their "facts" from total nutbags like Alex Jones or dubious internet documentaries like Zeitgeist.  Now if they were ignorant of just how untrustworthy their sources are it would be one thing, but this is simply not the case.  Most, if not all, of them readily admit that most of the claims their source makes is overblown or often downright incorrect, except of course for all the stuff they happen to agree with.  I especially hear this regarding Zeitgeist.  The argument is usually something along the lines of "Yes I agree that [the section(s) I don't agree with] are riddled with errors and outright lies, but [this one section I like] really opened my eyes"**.  All this despite the fact that the part they like is as illogical, unreasonable and demonstrably wrong as the rest of the stuff they are willing to discount.  So I thought that perhaps it would be different if I put fact and reason aside for a second and tried a different approach.

Suppose I baked you a delicious pie.  It's your favourite kind of pie too, the kind of pie you just can't get enough of.  Now before I bake it, I also add some dog poop.  Now tell me, how much dog poop would I have to add for you to say, "No I don't want any of what you are offering, you're feeding me dog shit!"?  Is there a limit or would you just eat it anyway no matter how much canine excrement I add because it is the kind of pie you really like?  Somehow I don't think so.

Look, I get it.  Confirmation bias is common to all humans.  We seek out sources that affirm what we believe and we instinctively avoid those who can prove us wrong.  So it's not like I expect people to never be wrong and always have the correct information from the word go - that is simply unreasonable and unrealistic.  But I don't think it's too much to ask that you stop trusting a source that has repeatedly proven untrustworthy.  If you find yourself defend a source with something along the lines of "Yes everything else they've said is bullshit BUT..." then maybe you need to reconsider your position.  Just think about it.


*If you don't have any friends like that, you may be that friend.  Just sayin'.
** Alternatively: "OK, I admit that the previous 12 times Alex Jones predicted that a facist dictatorship taking over in the US is immanent turned out to be fearmongering bullshit but this time I think he's really on to something!"

Friday, March 18, 2011

Sally gets Stoned (But not really) (And not in the fun way)

Ye gods how I despise the modern breed of faux martyred Christian!  The last time I blogged about Persecution Envy among modern Western Christians I was still able to be mostly amused if rather exasperated by the phenomenon.  But between then and now I find that I have been worn down by countless instances of Christians striking a persecuted pose over the most inane bullshit, causing me to lose my sense of humour about this phenomenon entirely.

Enter the latest great martyr of the Christian faith: Sally Kern.  You know she's a martyr because she did something few other martyrs in the history of Christianity has ever done, she wrote a book to tell the world all about her sufferings as a martyr for Christ.  So what happened, you ask?  Did she face a lynch mob because she preached the Gospel in badlands of Afghanistan?  Was she arrested for running an underground house church in North Korea?  Was her life endangered for distributing Bibles in Somalia?  No, not so much.  What happened was that she gave the following speech:

In it she likens gay people to cancer, she accuses them of undermining the United States and claims that acceptance of homosexuals will destroy civilization itself.  In fact she goes so far as to call them a bigger threat than terrorism and describes homosexuals as if they all belong to some Illuminati type secret sect that is hell bent on infiltrating and controlling every aspect of society.  Basically she spouts every bigoted idea that only people who have never met a real gay person can buy into.  What she didn't realise was that someone recorded this speech and published it on Youtube, which in turn caused a huge backlash by both gay people and straight people who weren't completely batshit insane.  This is now what goes for martyrdom these days apparently.  You can read all about it in her upcoming book, "The stoning of Sally Kern".  (Spoiler alert!  It's a "media stoning", whatever the hell that's supposed to be.  Turns out people calling her on her ignorant bullshit counts as persecution, who knew?  I bet St Stephen would have loved to trade the actual stoning he received for a "media stoning"!)

Times sure have changed!  Once upon a time Christian martyrs had to face lions - these days they apparently just have to face facts...

I so wish that Representative Kern was the exception but unfortunately she's the rule.  There exists in Christianity today a generation of umbrage junkies, people who despite the fact that they possess every privilege and advantage a free society can offer still feel the need to feel constantly offended and persecuted.  Of course, since they face no actual persecution they have to continually force themselves to be outraged about the most inane, trivial crap.  And so we end up with a group of people who manage to feel martyred by the very existence of opinions contrary to the ones they hold.  Therefore the very act of disagreeing with them becomes an act of persecution and so being called wrong and ignorant somehow becomes equivalent to stoning.  It's not enough for them to enjoy freedom of expression and belief.  No, they cannot feel happy unless they are the only ones who are allowed these freedoms.

How can anyone live like this?  Isn't it absolutely exhausting to have to constantly work up outrage over the most meaningless things?  Isn't that the most joyless way of going through life?  Doesn't it destroy your very soul to constantly manufacture feelings of persecution when in truth you live a life of unmatched privilege?  How can you sleep at night knowing you compared being disagreed with to the actual pain, suffering and death of millions of believers through the ages? 

It sickens me.

Monday, March 14, 2011

All Hell Breaks Loose

The moment this video promoting Rob Bell's upcoming book popped up in my Facebook newsfeed I knew that this would not pass quietly.  But then I finally got a long overdue copy of Starcraft 2 and so the happenings on the internet was put aside while I lost myself in glorious battle.  However I was happy to find that I was completely correct.  That simple promo set the interwebs on fire (well the part of it that has interest in religious matters anyway).  Predictably, a large group of Christians threw a shit fit and called for the heretic to be burned at the stake (I'm paraphrasing of course).  My favourite Christian blog, The Slacktivist, came out in strong support for Rob and in a twist I did not see coming this led to a prominent Atheist blog weighing in on the matter - on the Fundamentalist side no less!

Now I have already written a long blogpost to explain my thoughts on why I don't believe the Doctrine of Hell deserves the prominent place it currently occupies in Christianity (and especially in evangelism) so I'm not going to write another blog covering the same ground.  But there is something interesting about all this that I do feel like mentioning.  The fact of the matter is simply this, Rob Bell's book "Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived" has not been published yet.  Therefore no one can actually know at this point what arguments and claims he will or will not make in this book.  So then to accuse him of being a heretic, universalist, false prophet who teaches that Jesus is not the way and that everyone will go to Heaven because there is no Hell is pure speculation.  The little preview video certainly says none of those things.

So then what has everyone so upset?  The fact that someone suggested that love might end up winning the day?  That someone had the temerity to suggest that God wasn't a monster who would have billions upon billions of good people brutally tortured for all eternity for the crime of being born in a non-Christian part of the world?  Sounds as if a lot of people, much like Jonah of old, still get so angry they could die upon finding out that God doesn't wish the damnation of the heathens.

Really, why must the idea of Hell and eternal torture be so vigorously defended?  Doesn't say much for your carrot if you are this attached to your stick...

For some very elegant (Biblical) discussions far superior to anything I've ever written on the subject you may want to look at the following:

H - E - double hockey sticks
Still in Hell
Team Hell gets loud
The epistemology of Team Hell
Should I not be concerned?
Rob Bell vs. Team Hell (cont'd.)
The paradox of pitchforks, a devilish problem