Later On

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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Church to offer ‘miracle cure’ despite FDA warnings against drinking bleach

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Religion seems often to mislead people. In the Guardian Ed Pilkington describes one example of misplaced faith.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 April 2019 at 11:32 am

Texas Republicans’ Push for a Religious ‘License to Discriminate’ is Depressingly Familiar

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David Brockman reports in the Texas Observer on another aspect of the Republican party: its hostility to civil rights:

One of the landmark constitutional questions of our day is being fought at the Texas Capitol: Does the right to religious freedom give people license to discriminate against others?

Some evangelicals believe it should. Christian conservatives this session have filed a raft of proposals in that vein, including one of Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s priority measures: Already passed through the Senate, Senate Bill 17 would give state-licensed professionals, including those in the medical and child care fields, permission to refuse services to LGBTQ Texans (and possibly others) on the shaky grounds of “sincerely held religious belief.”

Anyone who’s paid attention to American religious history will find the debate over SB 17 depressingly familiar; the characters have changed, but the plot remains the same. Today’s targets of religious discrimination are members of the LGBTQ community. Not long ago they were African Americans and women.

Historians have noted a widespread belief among southern white Christians that the enslavement of black people was divinely ordained. Tennessee preacher J.R. Graves, whom scholar E. Luther Copland called “possibly the most influential Southern Baptist” in the years leading up to the Civil War, taught that slavery “was instituted and commanded by the God of heaven.”

Christians also used religion as a tool to oppose equal treatment, including the right to vote, for women. In 1884 Michigan professor H.M. Goodwin called the women’s suffrage movement “a rebellion against the divinely ordained position and duties of wom[e]n.” Author Susan Fenimore Cooper penned an open letter opposing women’s suffrage, declaring: “Christianity confirms the subordinate position of wom[e]n.”

After the Confederacy collapsed, Southerners turned again to the Bible to justify segregation. In Texas, Governor Allan Shivers defended segregation on religious grounds, saying during his re-election campaign in 1954: “We are going to keep the system that we know is best. No law, no court, can wreck what God has made.” Influential pastor W.A. Criswell, who was Robert Jeffress’ predecessor at First Baptist Dallas, used “a peculiarly racist interpretation of Genesis 9:20-27” to justify Jim Crow, writes Duke University’s Curtis W. Freeman. In a “famous and often repeated” 1961 sermon, Criswell preached that African Americans had “inherited… God’s curse, that ‘they should be a servant people.’”

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 April 2019 at 7:58 am

Religious believers more depressed than atheists: study

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An interesting finding, reported in CBC News by Jennifer Dunning:

Even if people’s faith in religion makes them feel good right down to their souls, they are still more likely than an atheist to get depressed, according to a new study.

The study, published in the October issue of Psychological Medicine but online now, followed more than 8,000 people in rural and urban areas in seven countries for one year. During the research, they were each examined at six- and 12-month intervals.

In those time frames, 10.3 per cent of religious participants became depressed, compared with 7.0 per cent for atheists and 10.5 per cent for those with a “spiritual understanding of life,” the study found.

The results also varied between country and religion. For example, spiritual participants from the U.K. were found to be more than three times more likely to be depressed than their secular counterparts.

Those who practised varying religions showed the highest rate of depression – 11.5 per cent – followed by Protestants at 10.9 per cent, those without a specific religion at 10.8 per cent, and Catholics at 9.8 per cent.

Along with the U.K., residents of Spain, Estonia, Portugal, Chile and the Netherlands were involved in the study, which is called “Spiritual and religious beliefs as risk factors for the onset of major depression: an international cohort study.”

The researchers concluded “these results do not support the notion that religious and spiritual life views enhance psychological well-being. There was no evidence of religion acting as a buffer to prevent depression after a serious life event.”

Despite only select countries being included in this new research, past studies have found the parts of the U.S. with the highest religious rates also have the highest depression rates, according to Guardian Express. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2019 at 8:54 am

A story of reconciliation: The 102-year-old gangster and his son that put him in prison

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Amazing story by Zak Keefer in the Indianapolis Star. It has this Editor’s Note:

IndyStar became aware of Mat Pazzarelli – formerly John Franzese Jr., a New York City mob figure – from freelance writer Elizabeth Flynn, whose first-person account is also being published by IndyStar as a companion piece. Flynn, IndyStar reporter Zak Keefer and photojournalist Mykal McEldowney reported this story while spending countless hours with Pazzarelli, who, despite any potential danger, voluntarily left the witness protection program. He told IndyStar he felt it was important his story be shared.

Here’s the report by Zak Keefer:

If they wanted to kill him, he knows how they’d do it.

He’ll see it at night sometimes, lying in bed, eyes shut, mind spooked, the scene he’s long feared unfolding in the darkness. A barrage of bullets startling him from sleep. His past crashing into his present. Icy revenge served.

Some pieces of his old life never left him, so they just sit there, all these years later, crammed into his mind’s darkest corners. You wanna off a guy? He remembers how. You tail him. You study him. You wait. John Franzese Jr. knows how easy a mark he’d be.

“You look for patterns,” he says. “I’m not hard to look for.”

Not anymore. Same breakfast at the same Panera Bread, every morning for 11 years. Same route to Mass at St. Matthew, every Wednesday night for a decade. Same recovery meetings, week after week, year after year. These days, routine is everything. In the old days, routine got you killed.

They’d follow him, to the converted two-car garage on the northside of Indianapolis he calls home, the one tucked behind a halfway house where he helps a half-dozen men stay sober. They’d bust through the door and hurry through the kitchen, past the Bible verses tacked to the wall, past the handwritten notes from the high school students he speaks to and the addicts he counsels. They’d find him in the bedroom. It’d be over quickly. He wouldn’t have a chance.

“You know how easy a setup this is?” he shrugs. “I don’t keep guns here.”

He knows, he knows: It’s the fate that meets the man who made the choices he made. You don’t testify against the mob in federal court and live to tell about it.

Especially when your father’s the defendant.

“I know the statement my dad made. He said he’d kill me.”

But that was nine years ago. Truth is, he’s been cheating death for 40, the gun-toting gangster who sank into a street-crawling crack addict who found God and himself, got clean, stayed clean and made a decision: tell the truth, walk away, hide. Maybe he’d spend 10 years in witness protection. Maybe he’d spend the rest of his life.

He always thought they’d come for him, and part of him still thinks they will. He wore a wire for nine months, logged over 400 hours of tape and became the U.S. government’s key witness in the case against aging mafia capo Sonny Franzese, a long-feared wiseguy who was once caught on tape bragging about his favorite way to dismember a corpse: chop up the body in a kiddie pool, dry out the bones in a microwave, then run them through a garbage disposal.

John Franzese called him dad.

And he never thought he’d see him again, not after singling out his 93-year-old father in a Brooklyn courtroom in 2010 and sending him back to prison. The son had broken the mafia’s code of silence. He’d testified against his father in open court, a first in the annals of organized crime. “RAT’S MY BOY,” screamed the headline of a New York tabloid. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 April 2019 at 3:05 pm

A Secret Database of Child Abuse

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Conservative organizations are prone to cover-ups because conservatives (unlike liberals) place very high value on respect for authority and on in-group loyalty. (Liberals place high value on fairness/equity and on care from harm—cf. Jonathan Haidt’s books and studies.)

The result is that a member of a conservative organization who is guilty of misconduct is often protected. Exposing the conduct seems “disloyal” (and you’ll note that conservative organizations treat whistle-blowers harshly and view whistle-blowing as dishonorable—more specifically, as disloyal) and it is also likely that those in positions of authority see such conduct as reflecting badly on them (as the leaders), which encourages a decision to cover up the misconduct, and since respect for authority is valued, the members readily agree (particularly since they feel loyal to members of the group, including the miscreant).

Thus we see serious cover-ups in (to mention a few conservative organizations) police departments, the military, big corporations, and religious organizations such as the Southern Baptists, the Catholic church, and now Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Douglas Quenqua writes in the Atlantic:

In March 1997, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the nonprofit organization that oversees the Jehovah’s Witnesses, sent a letter to each of its 10,883 U.S. congregations, and to many more congregations worldwide. The organization was concerned about the legal risk posed by possible child molesters within its ranks. The letter laid out instructions on how to deal with a known predator: Write a detailed report answering 12 questions—Was this a onetime occurrence, or did the accused have a history of child molestation? How is the accused viewed within the community? Does anyone else know about the abuse?—and mail it to Watchtower’s headquarters in a special blue envelope. Keep a copy of the report in your congregation’s confidential file, the instructions continued, and do not share it with anyone.

Thus did the Jehovah’s Witnesses build what might be the world’s largest database of undocumented child molesters: at least two decades’ worth of names and addresses—likely numbering in the tens of thousands—and detailed acts of alleged abuse, most of which have never been shared with law enforcement, all scanned and searchable in a Microsoft SharePoint file. In recent decades, much of the world’s attention to allegations of abuse has focused on the Catholic Church and other religious groups. Less notice has been paid to the abuse among the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian sect with more than 8.5 million members. Yet all this time, rather than comply with multiple court orders to release the information contained in its database, Watchtower has paid millions of dollars to keep it secret, even from the survivors whose stories are contained within.

That effort has been remarkably successful—until recently.

A white Priority Mail box filled with manila envelopes sits on the floor of Mark O’Donnell’s wood-paneled home office, on the outskirts of Baltimore, Maryland. Mark, 51, is the owner of an exercise-equipment repair business and a longtime Jehovah’s Witness who quietly left the religion in late 2013. Soon after, he became known to ex–Jehovah’s Witnesses as John Redwood, an activist and a blogger who reports on the various controversies, including cases of child abuse, surrounding Watchtower. (Recently, he has begun using his own name.)

When I first met Mark, in May of last year, he appeared at the front door of his modest home in the same outfit he nearly always wears: khaki cargo shorts, a short-sleeved shirt, white sneakers, and sweat socks pulled up over his calves. He invited me into his densely furnished office, where a fan barely dispelled the wafting smell of cat food. He pulled an envelope from the Priority Mail box and passed me its contents, a mixture of typed and handwritten letters discussing various sins allegedly committed by members of a Jehovah’s Witness congregation in Massachusetts. All the letters in the box had been stolen by an anonymous source inside the religion and shared with Mark. The sins described in the letters ranged from the mundane—smoking pot, marital infidelity, drunkenness—to the horrifying. Slowly, over the past couple of years, Mark has been leaking the most damning contents of the box, much of which is still secret.

Mark’s eyebrows are permanently arched, and when he makes an important point, he peers out above his rimless glasses, eyes widened, which lends him a conspiratorial air.

“Start with these,” he said.

Among the papers Mark showed me that day was a series of letters about a man from Springfield, Massachusetts, who had been disfellowshipped—a form of excommunication—three times. When the man was once again reinstated, in 2008, someone working in a division of Watchtower wrote to his congregation, noting that in 1989 he was said to have “allowed his 11-year-old stepdaughter to touch his penis … on at least two occasions.”

I was struck by the oddness of the language. It insinuated that the man had agreed to, rather than initiated, the sexual contact with his stepdaughter.

After I left Mark’s house, I tracked down the stepdaughter, now 40. In fact, she told me, she had been only 8 when her stepfather had molested her. “He was the adult and I was the kid, so I thought I didn’t have any choice,” she said. She was terrified, she told me. “It took me two years to go to my mom about it.”

Her mother immediately went to the congregation’s elders, who later called the girl and her stepfather in to pray with them. She remembers it as a humiliating experience.

Her stepfather was eventually disfellowshipped for instances that involved “fornication,” “drunkenness,” and “lying,” according to the letters. But according to the stepdaughter, his alleged molestation of her resulted only in his being “privately reproved,” a closed-door reprimand that is usually accompanied by a temporary loss of privileges, such as not being allowed to offer comments during Bible study or lead a prayer. The letters make no reference to police being notified; the stepdaughter said her mother was encouraged to keep the matter private, and no attempt was made to keep the stepfather away from other children. (Calls to the congregation’s Kingdom Hall—the Witness version of a church—for comment went unanswered.)

By the time the letters were written, the man was attending a different congregation and had married another woman with children; he is still part of that family today. Near the end of the final letter in Mark’s possession is a question: “Is there any responsibility on the part of either body of elders … to inform his current wife of his past history of child molestation?”

Mark O’Donnell’s childhood was an isolated one. His parents, Jerry and Susan, had started attending Jehovah’s Witness meetings in the mid-1960s. Another couple from Baltimore had told them of Watchtower’s prediction that the world would end in 1975, bringing death to all non-Witnesses and transforming Earth into a paradise for the faithful. In 1968, just after Mark was born, Jerry and Susan were group-baptized in a swimming pool in Washington, D.C. Mark was an only child, and he inherited his father’s peculiar love of record-keeping. Mark would show up to meetings at the Kingdom Hall with a briefcase full of religious texts.

As in any religion, there’s some variation among Jehovah’s Witnesses in how strictly they interpret the teachings that govern their faith; Mark’s upbringing seems to have been especially stringent. As a child, he attended at least five meetings a week, plus several hours of private Bible study. On Saturday mornings, he joined his parents in “field service,” knocking on doors in search of converts. He was taught that most people outside the organization were corrupted by Satan and, given the chance, would try to steal from him, drug him, or rape him. Mainstream books and magazines were considered the work of Satan. If he broke any of the religion’s main rules, he could be disfellowshipped, meaning even his own family would have to shun him.

Throughout Mark’s childhood, he heard elders cite Proverbs 13:24: “Whoever holds back his rod hates his son.” Mark’s parents took the lesson to heart and beat him frequently. The religion forbids celebrating birthdays, voting, serving in the military, and accepting blood transfusions, even in life-and-death situations. Witnesses were encouraged to devote themselves to bringing more converts into the religion before the end of the world arrived. “Reports are heard of brothers selling their homes and property” to spend their last days proselytizing, said a Watchtower publication in 1974. “Certainly this is a fine way to spend the short time remaining before the wicked world’s end.” Some Witnesses stopped going to the doctor, quit their jobs, or ran up debt.

But piety, Mark noticed, did not always translate to morality. When he was 12, Mark became suspicious of a local Witness named Louis Ongsingco, a flight attendant who would bring home Toblerone bars for the local Witness kids and invite them to his apartment to act out religious plays. Mark noticed Ongsingco touching young girls in a way that made him uncomfortable. He told an elder about his concerns. But rather than take action against Ongsingco, the elder told him what Mark had said. Days later, Ongsingco pulled Mark aside and scolded him.

Mark’s instincts seem to have been right. In 2001, one of Mark’s childhood friends, Erin Michelle Shifflett, along with four other women, sued Ongsingco for sexual assault. The cases were settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. Ongsingco died in 2016.

To Mark, the lesson was that for all the emphasis the elders placed on moral purity, there was no greater sin than speaking out against other Witnesses.

By the time Mark was in high school, in the early 1980s, 1975 had come and gone, but Watchtower had a new prediction for the apocalypse. It said that the world would end before the passing of the generation that was alive in 1914. At the time, the youngest members of that generation were 70, so the new prediction created a sense of urgency.

“My parents basically told me, ‘You’re not even going to live to graduate from college,’” Mark said. At 17, despite having a year of college credit and a guidance counselor imploring him to apply, he decided to settle for a high-school diploma. He was baptized and later started his exercise-equipment repair company. The business provided enough flexibility for him to perform 50 hours of field service for the Witnesses a month, which qualified him for the rank of auxiliary pioneer.

Though many Witnesses left the religion after 1975, membership was on the upswing by the 1990s, and the organization was building new Kingdom Halls. Mark was installing a sound system in a new hall in Baltimore in the fall of 1997 when a young woman named Kimmy Weber asked to borrow his ladder. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

One incident from later in the article:

Candace Conti, now 33, was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness in Fremont, California. When she was 9, the elders in her congregation paired her with a man named Jonathan Kendrick for Saturday-morning field service. Instead of going door-to-door to preach the word of God, Kendrick would take Conti to his house and molest her, she says. She estimates this went on for about two years.

Years later, after Conti had left the Witnesses, she discovered Kendrick’s name on the federal sex-offender registry. When she went back to the elders in her former congregation to tell them about the abuse, she was rebuffed by something called the two-witness rule.

Rooted in Deuteronomy 19:15—“No single witness may convict another for any error or any sin that he may commit”—the two-witness rule states that, barring a confession, no member of the organization can be officially accused of committing a sin without two credible eyewitnesses who are willing to corroborate the accusation. Critics say this rule has helped turn Witness communities into havens for child molesters, who rarely commit crimes in the presence of bystanders.

The elders told Conti that without a second witness to the molestation, there was nothing they could do. (When reached for comment, Watchtower’s Office of Public Information said, “Our policies on child protection comply with the law, including any requirements for elders to report allegations of child abuse to authorities.” Watchtower declined to comment on specific cases out of respect for the privacy of all involved.)

Conti asked the elders to consider a plan she had devised for tracking child molesters within the organization. When they refused, she sued Watchtower, her former congregation, and Kendrick. During depositions, the elders admitted that they’d long known Kendrick had a history of child molestation—they knew before they paired him with Conti for door-to-door ministry, and before they rejected her story about the abuse. In 2012, a jury awarded Conti $28 million, believed to be the largest jury verdict ever for a single victim in a child-abuse case against a religious organization. (On appeal, judges reduced the damages to less than $3 million. Kendrick has always denied Conti’s allegations.)

Others had come forward with accusations against Watchtower before, but Conti refused to take a settlement, and the trial, with its blockbuster monetary award, became a major news story. In the years since, Watchtower has faced dozens of similar lawsuits from victims who say the organization’s policies enabled and protected their abusers. In addition to the 1997 “special blue envelope” letter,these suits have cited a 1989 letter in which Watchtower discouraged elders from reporting wrongdoing to civil authorities. “There is ‘a time to keep quiet,’ when ‘your words should prove to be few’ (Ecclesiastes 3:7; 5:2),” it read. “Improper use of the tongue by an elder can result in serious legal problems for the individual, the congregation, and even the Society.”

It was one such lawsuit that brought attention to the database. . .

And there’s more. Jehovah’s Witnesses is clearly a cult organization.

There’s much much more in the article, and it is compelling reading. Jehovah’s Witnesses should be outlawed, but that tends not to work with religions. A better approach would be for the story of what the organization is and does should be widely publicized. This post is to help in that effort.

Later still in the article:

In the summer of 2015, the ex-Witness community was transfixed by Australia’s royal-commission hearings, live-streamed online, into sexual abuse in religious organizations. The commission had been trying to get testimony from a member of Watchtower’s Governing Body—the organization’s all-male ruling council, which then consisted of eight men. By a strange twist of fate, one member, Geoffrey Jackson, was in Australia at the time, tending to his sick father.Watchtower had managed to avoid a subpoena by claiming that the Governing Body was strictly advisory and played no role in creating policy. Mark—who had obsessively collected Watchtower literature his entire life—had the evidence to prove this wasn’t true. He dug out a copy of the “Branch Organization Manual,” an obscure document explaining all the functions of the Governing Body, and emailed it to Angus Stewart, the lead litigator in the proceedings. Stewart used the manual to subpoena Jackson.

In front of the commission, Jackson became the first active member of Watchtower’s Governing Body to acknowledge that “child abuse is a problem right throughout the community.” He also admitted that in most cases, children who make such charges against Watchtower are telling the truth.

It was an emotional moment for those whose abuse Watchtower had denied. Mark received an email from Stewart saying that the “Branch Organization Manual” had proved to be crucial in securing Jackson’s testimony. Perhaps, Mark thought, his extensive collection of Watchtower ephemera and his encyclopedic knowledge of the religion could be used for something other than recruiting.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 March 2019 at 9:59 am

Wow: Elizabeth Warren explains what drives her

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Click the link in this tweet and watch that video.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 March 2019 at 3:36 pm

A secret government is a bad sign: State Department bars press corps from Pompeo briefing, won’t release list of attendees

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As the Federal government begins to operate more and more in secret, without transparency, we have more and more reason to be worried. There’s a reason the Trump administration does not want the American people to know what it’s up to, and the reason is the obvious one: they know the public does not approve—or, rather, would not approve if it knew.

Michelle Kosinski and Jennifer Hansler report for CNN:

The State Department on Monday said it would not be distributing a transcript or list of attendees from a briefing call with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held that evening — a call from which the department’s press corps was excluded and only “faith-based media” allowed.

The afternoon phone briefing was to discuss international freedom with the secretary — who rarely participates in such calls — to discuss “international religious freedom” ahead of his trip to the Middle East. One member of the State Department press corps was invited, only to be un-invited after RSVPing. That reporter was told that the call was for “faith-based media only.”

CNN also RSVP’d to organizers, asking to be included, but received no reply.

Despite repeated inquires and complaints from members of the press corps who are based at the department, the State Department on Monday night said they would not be providing a transcript of the call, a list of faith-based media outlets who were allowed to participate or the criteria to be invited.

Officials would not answer questions about whether a range of faiths was included.

A reporter with EWTN Global Catholic Television told CNN they were not originally invited but had asked the State Department if they could take part and were allowed.

The State Department told the press traveling with Pompeo that the department does not release transcripts for print roundtables. However, they typically release transcripts for all of the secretary’s public press engagements.

Former State Department spokesperson John Kirby, who is a CNN Global Affairs analyst, said “it is typical practice that any on the record interview in which a Cabinet official participates is transcribed and published at the earliest appropriate opportunity.”

“These officials are public servants. What they say — in its entirety — is inherently of public interest. It’s inappropriate and irresponsible not to observe that obligation,” he told CNN.

Kirby said he has “certainly seen times when particular journalists or columnists have been targeted for inclusion on given topics.” However, “to exclude beat reporters from something as universally relevant as religious freedom in the Middle East strikes me as not only self-defeating but incredibly small-minded,” he said.

“It’s perfectly fine to ensure faith-based media have a seat at such a table. But it’s PR malpractice to cut off access to the broader press corps. I wish I could say I expected more from this crowd,” Kirby said. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 March 2019 at 7:55 am

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