Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Is the Three-Minute Song Bad for Music?

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Ted Gioia has a very interesting video, along with a transcript that includes at the end some additional thoughts that didn’t get mentioned in the video. Here’s the video, but click the link for the transcript and the additional thoughts.

Written by Leisureguy

17 September 2021 at 2:51 pm

Genetic patterns offer clues to evolution of homosexuality

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Conservatives — particularly, I believe, evangelicals — think that being homosexual is a choice rather than a genetically-determined preference (thus “pray the gay away,” as though the object of prayer can change his/her decision (with, of course, the help of God Almighty, who works night and day to obey all those prayers). See, for example, But I’m a Cheerleader on Amazon Prime Video. Deciding not to be homosexual is akin to deciding not to have, say, brown eye: it’s not something a person decides.

Sara Reardon in Nature discusses the genetic differences among homosexuals, those who are promiscuous, and the monogamously inclined:

To evolutionary biologists, the genetics of homosexuality seems like a paradox. In theory, humans and other animals who are exclusively attracted to others of the same sex should be unlikely to produce many biological children, so any genes that predispose people to homosexuality would rarely be passed on to future generations. Yet same-sex attraction is widespread in humans, and research suggests that it is partly genetic.

In a study of data from hundreds of thousands of people, researchers have now identified genetic patterns that could be associated with homosexual behaviour, and showed how these might also help people to find different-sex mates, and reproduce. The authors say their findings, published on 23 August in Nature Human Behaviour1could help to explain why genes that predispose people to homosexuality continue to be passed down. But other scientists question whether these data can provide definitive conclusions.

Evolutionary geneticist Brendan Zietsch at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, and his colleagues used data from the UK Biobank, the US National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health and the company 23andMe, based in Sunnyvale, California, which sequence genomes and use questionnaires to collect information from their participants. The team analysed the genomes of 477,522 people who said they had had sex at least once with someone of the same sex, then compared these genomes with those of 358,426 people who said they’d only had heterosexual sex. The study looked only at biological sex, not gender, and excluded participants whose gender and sex did not match.

In earlier research, the researchers had found that people who’d had at least one same-sex partner tended to share patterns of small genetic differences scattered throughout the genome2. None of these variations seemed to greatly affect sexual behaviour on its own, backing up previous research that has found no sign of a ‘gay gene’. But the collection of variants seemed to have a small effect overall, explaining between 8% and 25% of heritability.

Next, the researchers used a computer algorithm to simulate human evolution over 60 generations. They found that the array of genetic variations associated with same-sex behaviour would have eventually disappeared, unless it somehow helped people to survive or reproduce.

Overlapping genes

Zietsch and his team decided to test whether these genetic patterns might provide an evolutionary edge by increasing a person’s number of sexual partners. They sorted the participants who had only had heterosexual sex by the number of partners they said they had had, and found that those with numerous partners tended to share some of the markers that the team had found in people who had had a same-sex partner.

The researchers also found that people who’d had same-sex encounters shared genetic markers with people who described themselves as risk-taking and open to new experiences. And there was a small overlap between heterosexual people who had genes linked to same-sex behaviour and those whom interviewers rated as physically attractive. Zietsch suggests that traits such as charisma and sex drive could also share genes that overlap with same-sex behaviour, but he says that those traits were not included in the data, so “we’re just guessing”.

The authors acknowledge . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 August 2021 at 2:59 pm

Former Pastor Is Changing Evangelicals’ Minds on COVID Vaccines

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Andrea Guzman’s interview of Curtis Change for Mother Jones is worth reading. It concludes:

. . . On coercion tactics to convince the unvaccinated: I understand that people are frustrated, that they’re losing patience, that they just want to make things via mandate, and give up trying to persuade these people. I think that’s short-sighted, for a couple of reasons. One, if you just resort to sheer coercion, it just confirms the narrative that they’re out to get us, that they are shoving things down our throat. You’re just laying the groundwork for a deepening divide. The second reason is that you have to realize that we’re still in the first or second inning of vaccine outreach, globally. You have to realize that parts of Africa and Asia are heavily influenced by Christian culture. A country like Uganda is like 90 percent Christian. Those churches, those places in Africa, they actually take their cultural cues to a great extent from American evangelicals, especially leading white evangelical voices. So America is—unfortunately, through evangelical culture—exporting its vaccine hesitancy. A lot of the same conspiracy theories and doubts and fears that we’ve been battling here, we are definitely seeing emerge and being replicated in the rest of the world. Changing American culture is not just about getting more American evangelicals to take the vaccine, it’s going to be critical to getting the rest of the world vaccinated. And ultimately, for all of us, if we don’t get the entire world vaccinated, we’re all at risk. 

On the next phase of the pandemic: What’s going to be really important is for Christians to convey to other Christians is that it’s okay to change your mind. The Christian virtues of grace and acceptance are going to be paramount here because people are going to be even more resistant if they think that in changing their mind they are going to be shamed.

Written by Leisureguy

17 August 2021 at 3:50 pm

The Catholic Church siphoned away $30M paid to Native people for stolen land

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In some ways the Catholic Church seems like a criminal organization — for example, protecting the pedophile members and, when a community grows suspicious, transferring them to a new community where they can find new opportunities; and then when the organization is sued, transfer funds and/or declare bankruptcy so it does not have to pay settlements to victims; and — in this example — simply stealing money. And yet — oddly — the Catholic Church claims the right to lecture others about moral behavior. Matthew (7:5) comments on this attitude:

Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

Mary Annette Pember reports in Indian Country News:

The brittle wooden floors creak as we climb the stairs to the long room that served as a dormitory for Ojibwe girls at St. Mary’s Mission School on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota.

“My mother slept here,” says Kathryn “Jody” Beaulieu, 70, my guide and a Red Lake tribal citizen. She points to one end of the narrow room. A few white iron bed frames are still stacked in the corner. “Her sisters slept down at the other end, about 100 feet away.”

Beaulieu’s mother, Ruth Jourdain-Fevig, was 6 when she was sent away to the mission school in the early 1930s. “She said she was afraid and tried to crawl into bed with her older sisters, but the nun would scold her and drag her back to her bed,” Beaulieu says. “It was as though they had no compassion for the suffering of a child. Her sisters must have seemed so far away.”

It took decades for Ruth, who died in 2015, to tell Beaulieu about her experiences. Even then, it was only in brief. “I had no idea she’d gone to school here until we went on a tour of the mission buildings in the 1990s,” Beaulieu says. “I think she must have suppressed the memory of her days here until we walked up the stairs and she physically stood in this spot. I think it was just too painful for her.”

Indian boarding and day schools attempted, for decades, to forcibly assimilate Native children. The schools have a long, documented history of abuse and cultural debasement. Former students have recounted sexual abuse, corporal punishment and neglect at the hands of teachers and administrators. Students were prohibited from speaking Native languages and practicing Native traditions, often with the threat of violence. Abuse was reported at both government-run and religious institutions.

Of the approximately 400 Indian boarding and day schools in the United States (which started around 1830), the federal government operated more than half. Various Christian denominations operated the remaining schools, but the Catholic Church dominated the field with about 100. My mother attended one of these schools in the 1930s and 1940s: St. Mary’s Indian Boarding School on the Bad River Ojibwe Reservation in Wisconsin, about 250 miles from Red Lake. Like others, my mother carried the trauma and shame of that experience her entire life.

The economic violations committed at these schools, however, have not been widely reported. A yearlong effort from Type Investigations and In These Times has found that, for the greater part of the 20th century, the federal government routed funds—designated as direct payments for Native people—to Catholic mission schools, draining families of millions of dollars by today’s measures.

For many parents, some of whom were barely literate, the approval to send their children to these religious boarding schools took the form of thumbprints. Pressed on government forms, signed and witnessed by church and government officials, these thumbprints authorized the mission schools to take portions of treaty and trust funds—owed to Native families by the federal government in exchange for their land—to pay tuition.

Ostensibly, Native Americans chose to send their children to these mission schools rather than free, government-funded schools. But federal schools were rarely built on reservations in the early 20th century. With the distribution of rations and other goods also sometimes dependent on Native children attending school, Native Americans were often effectively coerced into paying for their own assimilation.

In 1920, Beaulieu’s grandfather, Joseph Jourdain, signed a petition allowing St. Mary’s to take portions of his treaty and trust funds to cover tuition. Although tuition costs varied, Jourdain agreed to pay approximately three shares of his treaty funds annually—more than $400 today.

“In those days on the reservation, people hunted and fished all year round, like subsistence living,” Beaulieu says. She surmises there was not much cash money available to pay for things.

The sight of her grandfather’s name on the petition offers Beaulieu an uncomfortable, tangible proof of her mother’s experience. “Not only was my mom separated from her sisters during nights, she was also separated from her parents during her time at the mission,” she reflects later.

“That must have been a terrible memory for her.”

The story of Indian treaties and subsequent federal Indian policies is a labyrinth of confusing and sometimes conflicting actions aimed at solving the “Indian problem.” Native Americans living on ancestral lands presented an obstacle to colonists’ occupation and settlement. From 1778 to 1871, hundreds of treaties, signed by the U.S. government, promised Native people not only cash and goods but often healthcare and education—in exchange for more than 1.5 billion acres. Subsequent policies, like the 1887 Dawes Act, appropriated even more land. Individual treaty and trust funds were established by the federal government to pay Native peoples for profits earned through the use of their ceded lands.

But the schools promised by the federal government were not built on every reservation. Meanwhile, the government gave Christian churches, including the Catholic Church, land for mission schools. Federal schools were also known to be particularly cruel to Native students, often forbidding contact between students and families. This led some parents to opt for religious boarding schools in the hope that their children would be treated marginally better.

In 1900, Catholic leadership introduced the idea of allowing Native Americans to authorize the federal government to divert individual Native treaty and trust funds to pay for tuition at Catholic schools. Shortly after, a group of three Sioux Indians from South Dakota sued the federal government, arguing the agreements amounted to theft. Schooling should have already been provided for free, the plaintiffs argued, through previous treaties. The case, Quick Bear v. Leupp, reached the Supreme Court in 1908. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

17 August 2021 at 9:09 am

Does This Medieval Fresco Show A Hallucinogenic Mushroom in the Garden of Eden?

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Emma Betuel writes in Atlas Obscura:

ADAM AND EVE STAND IN the Garden of Eden, both of them faceless. Eve’s ribs are bold slash marks, as if the artist wanted her to appear almost skeletal. But that is not the strangest thing about this faded 13th-century fresco inside France’s medieval Plaincourault Chapel. Between Adam and Eve stands a large red tree, crowned with a dotted, umbrella-like cap. The tree’s branches end in smaller caps, each with their own pattern of tiny white spots.

It’s this tree that has attracted visitors from around the world to the sleepy village of Mérigny, some 200 miles south of Paris. Tourists, scholars, and influencers come to see the tree that, according to some enthusiasts, depicts the hallucinogenic mushroom Amanita muscaria. Not everyone agrees, however, and controversy over the fresco has polarized researchers, helped ruin at least one career, and inspired an idea—unproven but wildly popular, in some circles—that early Christians used hallucinogenic mushrooms.

The question of what was painted on the back wall of Plaincourault goes back at least to 1911, when a member of the French Mycological Society suggested the thing sprouting between Adam and Eve was a “bizarre” and “arborescent” mushroom. The idea that the Tree of Life was actually A. muscaria pops up in the 1925 book The Romance of the Fungus World, which presents a “curious myth” about the Plaincourault fresco depicting the hallucinogenic mushroom, though there is no suggestion of its use by early Christians.

A quarter-century later, the earlier mentions lured R. Gordon Wasson to see the fresco for himself. Wasson was a PR exec in banking, and also an amateur mycologist. Although he had no formal training in the field, he’s known today for his prolific writing on mushrooms, particularly of the hallucinogenic variety, and fungi-focused travels, some of which were secretly funded by the CIA, which had its own interests in the topic. In 1952, when Wasson saw Plaincourault for himself, he wasn’t convinced, and sought the opinion of Princeton art historian Erwin Panofsky. The scholar was blunt. “The plant in this fresco has nothing whatever to do with mushrooms,” Panofsky wrote.

The idea persisted, however, and was loudly revived in 1970 by John Marco Allegro, a scholar of ancient languages at the University of Manchester. In his book The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, Allegro argued that Christianity itself had derived from a fertility cult whose members ingested hallucinogens. He called the Garden of Eden story “mushroom-based mythology.” His visual evidence was the fresco at Plaincourault, in which “Amanita muscaria is gloriously portrayed,” he wrote. Allegro was already a controversial figure: He had been publicly criticized by colleagues on a team translating the Dead Sea Scrolls for his overly imaginative interpretations. But The Sacred Mushroom was the final nail in the coffin of Allegro’s career.

Speaking to Time Magazine, one scholar called the book “a Semitic philologist’s erotic nightmare.” Other critics included Wasson, who wrote, “One could expect mycologists, in their isolation, to make this blunder. Mr. Allegro is not a mycologist but, if anything, a cultural historian.” Despite the broad and negative reaction to the book, Allegro’s interpretation of the Plaincourault fresco lives on, attracting new believers.

Two of the fresco’s current champions are Julie and Jerry Brown, neither of whom are mycologists or art historians. Jerry is an anthropologist at . . .

Continue reading. There’s more. People do fall in love with their theories….

Written by Leisureguy

13 August 2021 at 12:48 pm

Posted in History, Memes, Religion, Science

The effort to overthrow US democracy

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Heather Cox Richardson from last night:

Four years ago today, racists, antisemites, white nationalists, Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Nazis, and other alt-right groups met in Charlottesville, Virginia, to “Unite the Right.” The man who organized the rally, Jason Kessler, claimed he wanted to bring people together to protest the removal of Confederate general Robert E. Lee from a local park. But the rioters turned immediately to chants that had been used by the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s: “you will not replace us,” “Jews will not replace us,” and “blood and soil.” They gave Nazi salutes and carried Nazi insignia, and many brought battle gear and went looking for fights. By the end of August 12, they had killed counterprotester Heather Heyer and had injured 19 others. After the governor of Virginia declared a state of emergency, the rioters went home.

The Unite the Right rally drew a clear political line in America. Then-president Donald Trump refused to condemn the rioters, telling a reporter that there were “very fine people, on both sides.”

In contrast, former vice president Joe Biden watched the events at Charlottesville and concluded that the soul of the nation was at stake. He decided to run for president and to defeat the man he believed threatened our democracy. Biden was especially concerned with Trump’s praise for the “very fine people” aligned with the rioters. “With those words, the president of the United States assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it,” Biden said, “and in that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime.”

Four years later, it is much easier to see the larger context of the Charlottesville riot. The political threat of those gangs who tried to unite in Charlottesville in 2017 recalls how fascism came to America in the 1930s: not as an elite ideology, but as a unification of street brawlers to undermine the nation’s democratic government.

In 2018, historian Joseph Fronczak explored the arrival of fascism in the U.S. In an article in the leading journal of the historical profession, the Journal of American History, Fronczak explained how men interested in overturning Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency in 1934 admired and then imitated the violent right-wing gangs that helped overturn European governments and install right-wing dictators.

The United States had always had radical street mobs, from anti-Catholic gangs in the 1830s to Ku Klux Klan chapters in the 1860s to anti-union thugs in the 1880s. In the 1930s, though, those eager to get rid of FDR brought those street fighters together as a political force to overthrow the federal government.

While they failed to do so in an attempted 1934 coup, Fronczak explains, street fighters learned about the contours of fascism once their power as a violent street force was established. He argues that in the U.S., fascism grew out of political violence, not the other way around. Mobs whose members dressed in similar shirts, waved similar flags, and made similar salutes pieced together racist, antisemitic, and nationalistic ideas and became the popular arm of right-wing leaders. In America, the hallmark of budding fascism was populist street violence, rather than an elite philosophy of government.

The Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville had the hallmarks of such a populist movement. Leaders brought together different gangs, dressed similarly and carrying the emblem of tiki torches, to organize and attack the government. Rather than rejecting the rioters, then-President Trump encouraged them.

From that point on, Trump seemed eager to ride a wave of violent populism into authoritarianism. He stoked populist anger over state shutdowns during coronavirus, telling supporters to “LIBERATE MINNESOTA,” “LIBERATE MICHIGAN,” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” His encouragement fed the attacks on the Michigan state house in 2020. And then, after he repeatedly told his supporters the 2020 presidential election had been stolen, violent gangs attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, in an attempt to overturn the government and install him as president for another term.

While that attempted coup was unsuccessful, the empowerment of violent gangs as central political actors is stronger than ever. Since January 6, angry mobs have driven election officials out of office in fear for their safety. In increasingly angry protests, they have threatened school board members over transgender rights and over teaching Critical Race Theory, a legal theory from the 1970s that is not, in fact, in the general K–12 curriculum.

Now, as the coronavirus rages again, they are showing exactly how this process works as they threaten local officials who are following the guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to require masks. Although a Morning Consult poll shows that 69% of Americans want a return to mask mandates, vocal mobs who oppose masking are dominating public spaces and forcing officials to give in to their demands.

In Franklin, Tennessee, yesterday, antimask mobs threatened doctors and nurses asking the local school board to reinstate a mask mandate in the schools. “We will find you,” they shouted at a man leaving the meeting. “We know who you are.”

Her column includes notes and comments, and those are worth reading. For example:

Elizabeth B. Scupham          1 hr ago

I read from Jeff Sharlet yesterday: ” A little while ago I drove slowly across the country visiting rightwing churches & individuals. What I found confirms a change I’ve been observing for the last 5 yrs: It’s really, truly, not issue-driven. What the Rightwing base wants, fundamentally, is a fight. Which, of course, is a core principle of fascism, albeit in its rapidly mutating, inchoate American form: A longing for redemption through violence, identity through the destruction of your foes.

The January 6 beating and attempted murder of Officer Michael Fanone makes that clear. As Officer Fanone has noted, he was down on the ground, incapacitated–and yet the mob kept beating him and calling for his death. He was, he notes, not an “impediment” to their stated goal of gaining entry to the Capitol to “stop the steal”; and yet instead of pursuing that goal, they kept beating him. Some of this is mob frenzy; but I’ve encountered the same sensibility among people sitting calmly in church lobbies: A desire to destroy one’s enemies as an end in itself.

So Trying to finesse policy differences or even “cultural” differences (read: white supremacy self-aware or not) isn’t noble, or pragmatic; it *misses the point.* The point, of much of the Right now, is conflict for its own sake, a belief that fighting will make them whole, or “great” again.”

And as a reminder of the particular Americans who want violence in their politics:

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2021 at 7:30 am

Casual arrogance and willful ignorance of the elite: Caltech says it regrets drilling holes in sacred Native American petroglyph site

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Unauthorized drilling of core samples by a Caltech professor left dozens of 1-inch-diameter holes at the petroglyph site in the Volcanic Tablelands.
(David Lee)

Louis Sahagún reports in the LA Times:

Inside federal Ranger Chris Mason’s patrol truck, the radio crackled with alarming news: People were seen lugging bags of heavy equipment into a protected site containing prehistoric rock carvings.

Archeologists know the site as the Volcanic Tablelands, an otherworldly landscape of pink-hued cliffs and terraces shaped by wind, rain and earthquakes. It was also an area where it was not unusual to find looters armed with shovels and saws prowling for anything that could be sold in the illegal antiquities market.

But when Mason arrived at the scene on Earth Day 2017, he determined that the suspicious activity involved a faculty member and students from Caltech, the prestigious private research university in Pasadena known for its strength in science and engineering, and for managing NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Joseph Kirschvink, a professor of geoscience, had used a portable pneumatic drill to extract core samples for paleomagnetic studies, officials said. He drilled into rock face roughly three feet from a petroglyph and left the site riddled with 29 1-inch diameter holes marked with blue paint.

The trouble is, Kirschvink was not authorized to conduct research in the area designated to be of critical concern in California’s eastern Sierra Nevada, and that was the reason he and Caltech came under investigation for violating the Archeological Resources Protection Act.

The site, near Bishop, is administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The expansive petroglyph site is one of the oldest recorded in the West and easily accessible by road. A placard at a popular viewing site roughly one mile north of where the damage occurred warns visitors that “no person may excavate, remove, damage or otherwise deface any archeological resource.”

It took four years to resolve the case due to delays caused by the pandemic, and the strict requirements and complexities of the agency’s forensic protocol and damage assessment procedures, officials said.

Kirschvink did not respond to requests for comment. [I hope from a sense of shame, but I think it’s more likely arrogance. – LG]

Native Americans, archeologists and federal land managers have long complained that unlawful removal and destruction of artifacts and sacred sites destroy priceless cultural connections, along with scientific data that allow a better understanding of the earliest inhabitants of North America.

An uptick in unauthorized incursions by university professors armed with geology picks and pneumatic drills in recent years has only compounded their frustrations. The area is known for its Bishop tuff — a type of rock formed by super-heated volcanic ash, which is of interest to researchers.

“Those formations and the prayers etched into them so many thousands of years ago belong to the public,” said Kathy Jefferson Bancroft, tribal historic preservation officer for the Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Reservation. “They are not sources of raw material for unpermitted academic studies.”

Linea Sundstrom, co-chair of the nonprofit American Rock Art Research Assn.’s conservation and preservation committee, agrees.

“There’s no excuse for it,” she said. “It’s bad education if university professors are not making their students aware of laws protecting archeological sites on public lands.”

Beyond that, Barbara Bane, archeological curator at the Maturango Museum in Ridgecrest, Calif., wondered aloud: “Are these university professors actually saying they couldn’t have gone someplace else to drill their holes? Really?”

The answer to that question is reflected in the penalties meted by Bureau of Land Management officials after lengthy investigations. . .

Continue reading. There’s more. Later in the article:

It’s not just Caltech.

The University of Texas at Dallas in 2018 paid $19,842 in connection with 41 holes drilled two years earlier without authorization into a rock art site on agency land just over the Nevada border, about 25 miles east of the Volcanic Tablelands.

That research was led by John Geissman, 69, a university professor at the time, who said he deeply regrets the incident.

“I made a big mistake, and it haunts me to this day,” said Geissman, who recently retired. “I have obligations as a geoscientist and a human being to do the right thing.”

As required under terms of that university’s 3-year-old settlement with the Bureau of Land Management, Geissman said he is working on an article to be published in an American Geophysical Union journal that “will include a sufficiently detailed section on my mistake.”

“Honestly, I recognize that I have been slow on this,” he said. “For the past few years I have been trying to graduate all my PhD students in a timely fashion, and that involves a lot of editing of many versions of manuscripts for publication.”

Then there was Cal State Northridge, which in 2008 paid $25,397 to settle a case that involved the unauthorized drilling of 41 1-inch holes into a petroglyph site on agency land about 15 miles south of Bishop. . .

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2021 at 11:43 am

As Catholic Church balked at paying residential school settlement, Quebec nuns sold nearly $25M in real estate

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The Catholic Church has long had enormous power, and unfortunately it does seem to be the case that power corrupts. Simon Nakonechny reports for CBC News:

Three Quebec-based religious orders that staffed residential schools in the rest of Canada have earned millions of dollars from property sales in recent years, even as the Catholic Church said it couldn’t raise enough money to pay its share of a settlement meant for survivors.

In a class-action settlement with Indigenous survivors of the schools reached in 2006, Catholic entities involved in residential schools pledged, among other things, to use their “best efforts” to raise an additional $25 million to help fund healing and reconciliation programs.

Nine years later, after raising less than $4 million, the church entities said they had done all they could and a court absolved them of having to pay the rest.

But with evidence emerging of hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential school sites in British Columbia and Saskatchewan, Indigenous leaders are calling on the church to fulfil its original commitment.

“Acts of genocide occurred at the hands of Catholic Church clergy men and women,” the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, said in a statement last weekend.

“Our children that never made it home are now speaking to us; they’re crying ‘they found us’ and we will not stop until they receive the justice they have been waiting decades for.”

Some key figures involved in the 2006 settlement have questioned whether the entities devoted sufficient energy to the fundraising effort, and have pointed out the church has significant financial resources at its disposal.

The real estate deals

In Quebec, three religious orders that staffed residential schools raised at least $25 million between 2011 and 2021 by selling off real estate holdings, according to an analysis by CBC News.

The Grey Nuns of Montreal sold a sprawling island property to the city of Chateauguay, on Montreal’s South Shore, for $5 million in 2011.

The same year, they sold two properties in the city of Nicolet, Que., near Trois-Rivières, for $1.8 million.

The Grey Nuns worked at several residential schools in Western Canada, including the Holy Angels Indian Residential School in Fort Chipewyan, Alta., where at least 89 children died, according to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation in Winnipeg.

The nuns were among several religious orders that signed the settlement agreement in 2006, which included the promise to help raise $25 million across the country.

The order did not respond to a CBC email asking how much it raised as part of that effort, but said it did give $2.5 million to the initial $29 million payment the Catholic entities were required to contribute in the class-action settlement.

The Grey Nuns say the money raised from the sale of its properties are in its accounts.

Quebec nuns worked at Sask. residential school

The Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Hyacinthe, who also signed the settlement agreement, sold their mother house in Saint-Hyacinthe, about 60 kilometres from Montreal, for $4.2 million in 2014.

The religious order sold another property in the same city to a real estate company for $1.5 million earlier this year.

Nuns from the St. Hyacinthe, Que., order worked at the Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan, where preliminary findings have uncovered 751 unmarked graves at a cemetery near the institution, which is now on the territory of the Cowessess First Nation.

In a statement to CBC News, the Sisters of St. Joseph expressed “immense sadness” at the discovery of the graves.

“The Congregation hopes with all its heart that the truth emerges about these events so that paths open toward reconciliation based on reciprocal respect and trust, in the context of the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada,” Sister Pauline Vertefeuille said in the statement.

She did not respond to a follow-up question from CBC asking how much her order had raised as part of the 2006 settlement agreement, but did say the nuns had contributed an undisclosed amount to the subsequent fundraising campaign.

The Montreal-headquartered Sisters of Providence, founded in 1843 by Émilie Gamelin, also made millions from at least two recent real estate transactions: one in 2016 to the City of Montreal for $4.7 million, and another to a non-profit that manages seniors’ and social housing for $7.5 million. . .

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more, including links to the discoveries of mass graves of children killed at residential schools and secretly buried on school grounds. At a certain point, this sort of thing is not so much an anomaly but rather the result of standard operating procedures. We seem well past that point.

Written by Leisureguy

9 July 2021 at 8:45 am

Fighting a Fundamentalist University’s Anti-LGBTQ Policies

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Authoritarianism is ugly even in religious dress. Joy Ashford writes in Washington Monthly:

Elizabeth Hunter had fewer than 700 Twitter followers when her Christian college administrators discovered her tweets in 2018. Officials at Bob Jones University, a nondenominational Christian school in South Carolina, called her into the Student Life Office seemingly at random. When Hunter entered, she noticed a manila envelope that contained printouts of tweets they had flagged as “inappropriate.”

The Head of Student life at BJU started the meeting with questions about a tweet she’d posted on sexual assault. (She had expressed exasperation with a male classmate who claimed women were “just looking for attention” if they came forward years after an incident.) Then, they brought up two other tweets.

“Happy pride to all my friends in and out of the closet. You’re incredibly brave, and I love you,” read one. In another, she shared her excitement after meeting the author of the novel that was adapted into Love, Simon, and said that she, too, was writing a book with queer protagonists. The administrator, according to Hunter, stared at her coldly. “Are you a homosexual?” he asked.

Hunter was choked up and unable to respond. When she was hauled before administrators, Hunter was still struggling to figure out her own identity—and had only told “like three people” she wasn’t straight. She told the administrator she was probably asexual “like the Apostle Paul” because she wasn’t attracted to men. He wasn’t satisfied. “He repeatedly asked me if I was homosexual, like he wanted me to ‘confess to being gay,’ which I refused to do,” Hunter told me. “But I also refused to say that I was straight, because I couldn’t lie.”

Hunter left the meeting “traumatized.” As a punishment, the school removed the redhead with a broad smile from her leadership position as the director at the campus TV news station, fined her $75 for violating “the spirit” of the Student Handbook, and mandated that she attend three counseling sessions with the college’s Dean of Women. (The BJU Student Handbook is a rigid instruction manual for students. It says of music, for instance,  “all musical choices are to be intentionally conservative in style and are to avoid the markers of our current corrupt culture which often finds its musical expression in rock, pop, jazz, country, rap or hip-hop.”) Bob Jones University did not respond to a request for comment.

For the remainder of her time at the university, Hunter “tried to keep [her] head down,” she recalls; putting her Twitter on private. But before graduation she was summoned to another meeting with administrators, where they warned her “don’t think we’re not watching you” and “your sins will find you out.” Those Orwellian tactics succeeded at intimidating her; she felt like she couldn’t tell anyone else what had happened, not even her roommate. “I had no one to turn to,” Hunter said.

At most colleges, she would have been able to go to the school’s Title IX office and file a discrimination complaint. But even though most of Hunter’s tuition at Bob Jones was paid for by a federal grant, the school’s Title IX Office had a “religious exemption” from federal law requiring them to investigate claims of discrimination and harassment against LGBTQ people.

But Hunter’s not silent anymore. Three years after that meeting, she is now the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Department of Education challenging the constitutionality of Title IX, which grants an exemption to religious colleges and universities to discriminate against gay and transgender students, faculty, and staff.

The lawsuit, filed in April 2020 by the Religious Exemption Accountability Project (REAP), argues that a “religious exemption” this broad for schools that use public funds is unconstitutional. Plaintiffs are advocating not for religious colleges to change their beliefs on LGBTQ identities, but to allow students to disagree with those beliefs without facing expulsion or discrimination. Hunter joined the suit, which was filed in Oregon with 32 other plaintiffs, after a friend and potential plaintiff asked her if she wanted to get involved. REAP wanted to make Hunter the lead because of BJU’s involvement in a similar 1974 anti-discrimination case. “If schools want to discriminate [against these students], they need to do it on their own dime, not with taxpayer money,” Paul Southwick, the director of REAP, told me.

As the face of the lawsuit, Hunter has taken something of a 180-turn since her nightmarish senior year. While Hunter once tried to keep her experience at Bob Jones under wraps, now she is hoping that, by going public, she can galvanize a movement to prevent others from having to endure what she did.

After Hunter’s episode with BJU’s administrators, she struggled with depression and anxiety and felt suicidal. Unfortunately, it wasn’t for the first time. She remembers foster care as “literal hell on earth.” The state had removed her from her parent’s custody because of “severe neglect,” and she and her sisters were then placed with a foster family part of an evangelical Baptist group she described as a “cult.”

Hunter’s youngest sister Tammy recalled that their foster mother would punish them arbitrarily and “was probably screaming like every day.” Hunter, who was the oldest, would often take her sisters’ punishments. Their foster mother would hit Hunter’s back with a leather belt “because the Bible says to whip children that are evil,” Tammy recalls. “Elizabeth tried in her own way as a kid to protect us.”

Hunter credited her survival to her ability to “dissociate and imagine a better life”—a skill she said she learned from being an avid reader. Only one other friend she grew up with earned a college degree, she said, and did so at an unaccredited Bible college. When Hunter mused about  going to college, her friends and family often responded by asking, “How are you going to be a housewife and do that?”

Hunter’s foster parents wanted her to do online college and stay at home or attend an unaccredited Bible college, but she was determined to find a place that “felt like a real college.” So, she chose Bob Jones because it was closer to a conventional college experience but not a place that her parents would disown her for attending. While at BJU, however, she became increasingly disillusioned with evangelicalism. In high school and college, she had interned for Republican politicians, including her Texas Congressman Dan Flynn and presidential candidate Marco Rubio. (Bob Jones University itself has had a major role in South Carolina’s often pivotal Republican presidential primary.) She said Trump’s 2016 victory awakened her to fundamentalist hypocrisy. Around that time, she began listening to podcasts from more liberal-minded Unitarian and Quaker Christians. She credited one, in particular—Kevin Garcia’s “A Tiny Revolution”—for opening her to not only a more liberal Christianity, but queer Christianity as well.

After she graduated from BJU, Hunter was liberated. She moved to Florida, worked at Disney World, joined an LGBTQ Disney Workers chat, and “made a bunch of gay friends.” By December . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 July 2021 at 3:09 pm

Catholic bishops back creation of document that some hope will limit Biden’s participation in Communion

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I don’t recall Catholic bishops being so vigorously active and outraged when the issue was merely priests (and bishops) raping children. Apparently, they view pedophilia more kindly than allowing non-Catholic women to make their own medical decisions. (It is obvious to most, I would think, that President Biden has never had an abortion nor does he want to require women to have abortions. His position is only that a woman should decide for herself, in consultation with her doctor, whether to have an abortion or not. Catholic bishops do not condone non-Catholic women having a free choice in the matter. The bishops believe that they themselves are uniquely qualified to decide (not on moral grounds — the bishops’ defense of pedophiles within the church showed that they do not tread on such grounds — but on the grounds of having power: might makes right is the principle at hand).

In fairness, the bishops also strongly oppose protecting LGBTQ people.

This earlier post is highly relevant.

Michelle Boorstein reports in the Washington Post:

Catholic bishops Friday voted to create guidelines on the meaning of communion, a move that could be an early step towards limiting the serving of the eucharist to President Biden and other politicians who support abortion rights.

The vote came after a 3 ½ hour emotional discussion Thursday at the annual spring meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Multiple bishops clashed over how, or if, they should single out the church’s teaching on abortion.

The vote on whether to create a draft document about the meaning of the Eucharist, the bread-and-wine rite at the heart of Communion, needed a simple majority. The measure passed 168-55 with 6 abstentions.

The presidency of the country’s second Catholic president is revealing deep divisions among U.S. bishops, and one after another appeared Thursday at their annual meeting to say their fraternity is now at a crossroads .

Embedded in the organization’s agenda this week were explosive, profound differences about theology, pastoring, human nature and a political backdrop that set off a rare public show of division among the bishops . One bishop said the men were meeting at a time of “historic opportunity.” Another said he could not recall a moment like this in 30 years. Yet another said the bishops’ discussion was the most robust discussion in a decade.

Each side said the other was jeopardizing the church’s reputation. Normally, the men meet for three days each June in a huge Baltimore ballroom, but this year (like last year) they were spread across the country, addressing one another virtually.

“Our credibility is on the line. … The eyes of the whole country are on us. If we don’t act courageously, clearly and convincingly on this core Catholic value, how can we expect to be taken seriously on another matter?” asked San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone. He was among the members who urged the creation of the document, an idea that grew from Biden’s election in November and concern about the image of him receiving Communion at Mass each week.

But San Diego Archbishop Robert McElroy said the threat was the vote — which would link a politician, their policy position and the Eucharist, considered the heart of Catholic worship.

“The Eucharist itself will be a tool in vicious partisan turmoil. It will be impossible to prevent its weaponization, even if everyone wants to do so,” he said. “Once we legitimize public-policy-based exclusion … we’ll invite all political animosity into the heart of the Eucharistic celebration.”

A document that so elevates the sinfulness of an abortion policy — not a personal viewpoint, as Biden says he personally accepts the church’s teaching on the topic — McElroy argued, would fatally undermine the bishops’ ability to speak on other things, “including the condemnation of poverty, racism and environmental destruction.”

The bishops spoke emotionally about their desire to be unified, and how much they all treasure the Eucharist, which Catholicism teaches brings God to worshipers who have prepared by examining their sins, confessing periodically and fasting. Yet their appearances raised starkly different perspectives. Does a good Catholic priest focus on sin and repentance or first inclusion? Elevate abortion above everything else or not? Is it a priest’s job to assess policy solutions to a sin or stick to teaching theology?

The bishops have talked for several years about reviving interest in the sacrament of the Eucharist. But when Biden was elected last fall, the USCCB created a working group to deal with what its president, Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, said was the “problem” of Biden and his policies on abortion and LGBTQ protections. That working group recommended that the conference produce a document on “Eucharistic consistency.” Some bishops immediately expressed concerns about the aims of such a group; others celebrated it.

Biden, while he attends Mass weekly, has not spoken much since taking office about his faith and how it impacts his policy views, including on abortion. The White House . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Someone should explain to the Catholic bishops that the US is a secular nation, not a theocracy, and while religions — many religions, including some inconsistent with the Catholic faith — are protected, they do not rule, and is not a good idea for one religion to impose its rules on those who do not follow that religion.

Written by Leisureguy

18 June 2021 at 10:37 am

The point of “Black Lives Matter”

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Written by Leisureguy

17 June 2021 at 8:38 pm

Operation Underground Railroad’s Carefully Crafted Public Image Is Falling Apart

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The report by Anna Merian and Tim Marchman in Vice is amazing (and, unfortunately, credible). It begins:

im Caviezel appeared onscreen in Oklahoma on a Friday night, his digital visage bathed in the hot lights of Rhema Bible College’s amphitheater and the adulation of his audience, and proceeded to make a real mess. 

“You can do something now. You can end this,” he told the audience. “If we let our little ones continue to be slaughtered, boy, there’s gonna be a judgment on this world, and especially our country.” 

Caviezel, an actor known for playing Jesus Christ and for his passionate commitment to Christianity, was appearing at the Health & Freedom conference, a dizzying multi-day event devoted to election conspiracy theories and COVID denialism headlined by people like pro-Trump lawyer Lin Wood, who frequently and enthusiastically promotes conspiracy theories associated with QAnon. (The event was, in fact, ostensibly two conferences, one devoted to business and the other to health. They were indistinguishable.) Caviezel was there to promote his newest role, in which he plays Tim Ballard, the founder and most recognizable face of the famed anti-trafficking group Operation Underground Railroad, or OUR. The film, Sound of Freedom, has been in the works—and its release beset with mysterious delays—for several years. (You can, however, view a trailer here.)

Ballard couldn’t appear in person in Oklahoma, Caviezel explained. “He’s down there saving children as we speak. They’re pulling children out of the darkest recesses of hell,” he said. “All kinds of places, the adrenochroming of children.” 


“You said adrenochrome?” host Clay Clark, an Oklahoma personality who bills himself as a “growth consultant” and business guru, asked a moment later.  “We need to discuss that.” 

“Essentially, you have adrenaline in your body … and when you are scared, you produce adrenaline,” Caviezel explained. “If a child knows he’s going to die, his body will secrete this adrenaline. And they have a lot of terms that they use that he takes me through, but it’s the worst horror I’ve seen. It’s screaming alone. Even if I never, ever, ever saw it, it’s beyond. And these people that do it, there will be no mercy for them.” The audience applauded, solemnly.

Caviezel, whose agents and managers did not reply to several requests for comment, had just promoted one of the more extreme and lurid conspiracy theories out there, and one central to the cosmology of QAnon—the utterly false idea that a cabal of elites is torturing and killing children to obtain a fictionalized biological substance—and he’d done it in the same breath that he promoted OUR. (Adrenochrome is a real chemical compound, but the idea that it can only be harvested from terrified torture victims was purely the stuff of horror movies before Q came along. For QAnon believers, however, it has a much larger significance. The concept that evil elites are harvesting the substance from murdered children is a central facet of their belief system; they believe those elites take the substance to maintain their youthful appearances or life force.) 

All of this was awkward at best for OUR, which has spent the better part of a year insisting that it “does not condone conspiracy theories and is not affiliated with any conspiracy theory groups, like QAnon, in any way, shape, or form,” as it says on its website. Caviezel’s comments generated a minor tsunami of headlines linking him, the film, Ballard, and the organization to a poisonous conspiracy theory and a stunningly fringe conference, the highlight of which was Lin Wood, who claimed in November that associating him with QAnon is a “smear,” making the shape of a Q in the air for an adoring crowd. (Wood has more recently claimed to be confused about QAnon even is, writing on Telegram on June 2: “I have been repeatedly attacked for being a ‘Qanon conspiracy theorist. Why? I can do research to educate myself on Q. I can do research to educate myself on Anons. My question is: What is QAnon???”) 

In response to a request for comment from VICE World News, a spokesperson for OUR wrote, “Operation Underground Railroad does not condone child trafficking conspiracy theories, such as the harvesting of adrenochrome, nor is the organization affiliated with any conspiracy theory groups, including QAnon. OUR has clearly stated that the effort to knock out child exploitation and human trafficking is being harmed [by] a number of conspiracy theory groups who have chosen to latch onto child exploitation and human trafficking and used a variety of conspiracy theories as a vehicle to deceptively bolster their causes.” The spokesperson also said that Ballard “participated in the conference out of respect to, and at the invitation of, Jim Caviezel to help promote the upcoming movie Sound of Freedom in which Caviezel plays the lead role.” In response to a specific question about Caviezel’s use of the phrase “he takes me through,” a second spokesperson said that Ballard had never explained the process of adrenochrome harvesting to Caviezel.

Before the blowback and the cleanup came, though, Caviezel and Ballard had a movie to promote. 


“This is one of the best films I’ve ever done in my life,” Caviezel said. He drew a parallel between it and The Passion of the Christ, an independently-financed film that was, he suggested, successful despite unnamed forces in Hollywood working against it because of people just like those in the audience. “Whether it ever gets seen in this industry is up to your prayers.” 

A moment before that, Ballard had appeared from what looked very much like a recording booth in an undisclosed location where he was, according to Clark, “actually rescuing kids, tonight.”

“I’m here doing an operation overseas which I hope to be able to tell you about soon,” he said. “It’s involving the rescue of children as young as 12 years old … that’s the only reason I’m not there with you.” The movie in which an actor best known for playing Christ portrayed him was, he said, “an opportunity for the world to understand what’s happening.” It would, he suggested, do nothing less than “save the lives of children.” 

This was classic Ballard: Urgent, heroic, a little bombastic, and deeply self-serving. The narrative of a small organization fighting desperately to shine a light on the darkness of children being trafficked and sexually abused also served to paper over another, truer narrative. In this one, OUR is rife with internal divisions, losing key employees who are starting up rival anti-trafficking groups, and under a serious and widening criminal investigation, which VICE World News has confirmed now involves federal authorities and focuses not just on OUR, but on for-profit companies connected to it.


After years of success—tens of millions of dollars of donations, flattering stories in the national press, high-profile partnerships with celebrities across the political spectrum, and seats for its founder before Congress and at Donald Trump’s right hand—OUR has reached a new stage. Its carefully-crafted image is coming undone.

OUR remains under investigation by a county attorney in Utah, Troy Rawlings of Davis County, as it has been since last fall. “The investigation is still very active and fruitful,” Rawlings told VICE World News in early June.

The scope of that investigation appears to have widened beyond what VICE World News and FOX 13 have previously reported, which was that Rawlings’ office was looking into whether OUR has made misleading claims in fundraising appeals. VICE World News has confirmed that several people have been interviewed about their dealings with OUR not just by investigators from Rawlings’ office, but by the FBI. Investigators from the IRS and Homeland Security are also said to be involved, according to people familiar with the scope of the investigation. (A spokesperson for OUR declined to say whether Ballard or other OUR staffers had spoken to the FBI, IRS, or DHS, writing, “We can’t comment specifically on your speculative inquiry.” In response to detailed inquiries about the investigation, the same spokesperson wrote, “OUR has complied with all laws that regulate nonprofits and intends to cooperate fully with any official inquiry, if asked.” The FBI and DHS declined to comment, citing policies of not confirming or denying ongoing investigations; the IRS did not respond to a request for comment.) . . .

Continue reading. There’s much much more, including links to other reports on the organization:

A Famed Anti-Sex Trafficking Group Has a Problem With the Truth

Inside a Massive Anti-Trafficking Charity’s Blundering Overseas Missions

Also, this video of Caviezel’s interview:

Written by Leisureguy

10 June 2021 at 6:00 pm

Southern Baptist leaders mishandled sex abuse claims

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The Southern Baptist organization provides a good example of how a memeplex’s immune system springing into action. Thinking of such cultural entities as multi-meme “organisms” often allows accurate predictions of behavior. Sarah Pullman Bailey reports in the Washington Post:

New allegations about the mishandling of sex abuse claims at the highest levels of the Southern Baptist Convention were made public in a recent letter between two high-profile leaders that was obtained Friday by The Washington Post.

While such allegations have been made by several women in the past, the letter includes new details from internal conversations, alleging that some institutional leaders bullied a sexual abuse victim, who was called a “whore,” and described in detail how many leaders resisted sexual abuse reforms.

Later this month, more than 14,000 Southern Baptists are expected to meet in Nashville for the convention’s annual meeting, which is intended to inspire unity among Baptists. But the June 15-16 meeting will take place in the midst of intense debates over issues such as sex abuse, racism and the role of women, as well as significant Southern Baptist support for former president Donald Trump, topics that have caused fissures in recent years and caused many high-profile departures from the country’s largest Protestant denomination.

In a dramatic turn of events this week, two letters written by Russell Moore, who recently left his position as head of the SBC’s policy arm, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, have been made public. The new allegations are contained in a May 31 letter Moore sent to the current president of the SBC, J.D. Greear, that appeared on Friday on the site the Baptist Blogger, which has published other internal documents and recordings from Southern Baptist leaders in the past.

“You and I both heard, in closed door meetings, sexual abuse survivors spoken of in terms of ‘Potiphar’s wife’ and other spurious biblical analogies,” Moore wrote to Greear. “The conversations in these closed door meetings were far worse than anything Southern Baptists knew — or the outside world could report.”

In the ancient biblical story, Potiphar’s wife tries to seduce Joseph and falsely accuses him of having assaulted her.

On his last day as a Southern Baptist professional, Moore, who has served as one of the highest-profile leaders in the convention, decided to reveal specific names of key individual leaders involved in what he described as intimidation tactics.

Moore’s letter took direct aim at several members of the SBC’s Executive Committee, the group based in Nashville that runs the business of the convention and handles its finances. He described the “spiritual and psychological abuse of sexual abuse survivors by the Executive Committee itself,” as well as “a pattern of attempted intimidation of those who speak on such matters.”

Moore and Greear did not respond to requests for comment on the letter.

Russell Moore’s departure from the Southern Baptist Convention’s leadership prompts questions over its future

Three employees who work in SBC institutions, who said they needed to remain anonymous to keep their current jobs, corroborated several of the factual details of the letter. Details in the letter were also confirmed by a former employee, an abuse survivor and a prominent abuse advocate.

Moore drew national attention in 2016 when he openly criticized Trump and his evangelical supporters, and Trump responded on Twitter that Moore was “a nasty guy with no heart!”

Moore describes enormous rifts behind the scenes over the issue of how to handle sex abuse within SBC institutions. He wrote in his letter that during the last few years, he tried to smile and pretend everything was all right through his experiences.

“What [people involved] want is for us to remain silent and to live in psychological terror, to protect them by covering up what they do in darkness, while asking our constituencies to come in and to stay in the SBC,” Moore wrote.

In the letter, he refers to a “disastrous move” by some leaders to “exonerate” churches with credible allegations of negligence and mistreatment of sexual abuse survivors. “You and I were critical of such moves, believing that they jeopardized not only the gospel witness of the SBC, but also the lives of vulnerable children and others in Southern Baptist churches.”

Moore also spoke of a sexual abuse survivor whose words, he alleges, were altered by the Executive Committee staff to make it seem as though her abuse was a consensual affair. The Washington Post generally does not name victims of sexual assault without their consent, but the woman, Jennifer Lyell, a former vice president at the SBC’s Lifeway Christian Resources and once the highest-paid female executive at the SBC, said in a text message that she agreed to be identified.

Instead of reporting that she had been abused, Baptist Press, which is overseen by the Executive Committee, reported in March 2019 that Lyell had admitted being involved in a “morally inappropriate relationship” with her former professor.

Lyell, who says she has lost her job, her reputation and her health, confirmed Moore’s account of “bullying and intimidation” by the Executive Committee.

In his letter, Moore wrote that he heard someone refer to Lyell as a “whore” in a corridor at the SBC. The Executive Committee paid her a financial settlement but refused to apologize, he said.

A spokesman for the Executive Committee did not return requests for comment.

Moore’s account of Lyell’s experience was confirmed by Rachael Denhollander, a former USA gymnast who outed team doctor Larry Nassar’s serial sexual assault and has since been a prominent advocate for church abuse survivors and has helped bring attention to Lyell’s case.

“It shows the level of corruption and vile behavior that comes from the leaders in the SBC, the ones who really have the power,” said Denhollander, whose husband is a PhD student at the flagship SBC seminary Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

On Friday evening, The Post reached out to the individuals named in the letter, most of whom declined to comment or did not respond by Saturday late morning. Rolland Slade, chairman of the Executive Committee, wrote in a text message his support for Moore. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

6 June 2021 at 7:42 am

Why an Entire Field of Psychology Is in Trouble

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Science makes many hypotheses, and it decides which are correct by comparing the idea to reality, either through experiments (chemistry, for example, and terrestrial physics) or observation (astrophysics, for example, or botany and zoology).

Having a way to test ideas to see whether they fit reality is a great benefit, which is obvious when you compare scientific ideas to (say) religious ideas. To decide whether a religious idea is “correct” — for example, whether the substance of the consecrated bread and wine in the Catholic mass becomes the body and blood of Christ (transubstantiation) or the substance of the bread and wine coexist with the body and blood of Christ (consubstantiation) — one cannot do an experiment to settle the matter — and thus we have religious schisms and even religious wars, since there is no way to decide the issue.

This is not to say that science gets everything right. It doesn’t — nor does religion, at least from the point of view of other religions. But when science gets something wrong, testing the idea against reality will eventually settle the matter, though it may take some time and many experiment (or much observation). Thus science is always changing as it drops ideas that have disproven by reality or turn out to be special cases of a more general theory.

This brief video discusses a course-correction now underway in psychology. Notice that no combat is required (or used): just testing the ideas against reality is sufficient.

Written by Leisureguy

3 June 2021 at 11:42 am

America Has a Drinking Problem

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I have gradually come to recognize that alcohol undermines constancy of purpose. A recovering alcoholic warned me when I was still in college, “Alcohol is sneaky.” He meant that you can think things are going well, but if alcohol is part of one’s daily diet, I would say that person is at serious risk. In recent years my consumption of alcohol has been minimal. I am not a teetotaler, but I drink very little and most weeks not at all.

Kate Julian writes in the Atlantic:

Few things are more American than drinking heavily. But worrying about how heavily other Americans are drinking is one of them.

The Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock because, the crew feared, the Pilgrims were going through the beer too quickly. The ship had been headed for the mouth of the Hudson River, until its sailors (who, like most Europeans of that time, preferred beer to water) panicked at the possibility of running out before they got home, and threatened mutiny. And so the Pilgrims were kicked ashore, short of their intended destination and beerless. William Bradford complained bitterly about the latter in his diary that winter, which is really saying something when you consider what trouble the group was in. (Barely half would survive until spring.) Before long, they were not only making their own beer but also importing wine and liquor. Still, within a couple of generations, Puritans like Cotton Mather were warning that a “flood of RUM” could “overwhelm all good Order among us.”

George Washington first won elected office, in 1758, by getting voters soused. (He is said to have given them 144 gallons of alcohol, enough to win him 307 votes and a seat in Virginia’s House of Burgesses.) During the Revolutionary War, he used the same tactic to keep troops happy, and he later became one of the country’s leading whiskey distillers. But he nonetheless took to moralizing when it came to other people’s drinking, which in 1789 he called “the ruin of half the workmen in this Country.

Hypocritical though he was, Washington had a point. The new country was on a bender, and its drinking would only increase in the years that followed. By 1830, the average American adult was consuming about three times the amount we drink today. An obsession with alcohol’s harms understandably followed, starting the country on the long road to Prohibition.

[Hypocrisy is a serious accusation that should not be lightly made. If an automobile manufacturer — or a typical driver — made a statement opposing speeding or reckless driving, I would not see that as hypocrisy. For a brewer or distiller to state that drinking excessively is bad does not seem hypocritical to me, any more than a restaurateur or grocer stating that gluttony is bad. It seems to me that the author did not think through that accusation. – LG  Postscript: It occurs to me that perhaps people nowadays do not understand how bad hypocrisy is. Perhaps the term has weakened through being used too frequently and/or inappropriately. But hypocrisy is a serious failing indeed, and a hypocrite weakens the social fabric though a basic dishonesty.]

What’s distinctly American about this story is not alcohol’s prominent place in our history (that’s true of many societies), but the zeal with which we’ve swung between extremes. Americans tend to drink in more dysfunctional ways than people in other societies, only to become judgmental about nearly any drinking at all. Again and again, an era of overindulgence begets an era of renunciation: Binge, abstain. Binge, abstain.

Right now we are lurching into another of our periodic crises over drinking, and both tendencies are on display at once. Since the turn of the millennium, alcohol consumption has risen steadily, in a reversal of its long decline throughout the 1980s and ’90s. Before the pandemic, some aspects of this shift seemed sort of fun, as long as you didn’t think about them too hard. In the 20th century, you might have been able to buy wine at the supermarket, but you couldn’t drink it in the supermarket. Now some grocery stores have wine bars, beer on tap, signs inviting you to “shop ’n’ sip,” and carts with cup holders.

Actual bars have decreased in number, but drinking is acceptable in all sorts of other places it didn’t used to be: Salons and boutiques dole out cheap cava in plastic cups. Movie theaters serve alcohol, Starbucks serves alcohol, zoos serve alcohol. Moms carry coffee mugs that say things like this might be wine, though for discreet day-drinking, the better move may be one of the new hard seltzers, a watered-down malt liquor dressed up—for precisely this purpose—as a natural soda.

Even before COVID-19 arrived on our shores, the consequences of all this were catching up with us. From 1999 to 2017, the number of alcohol-related deaths in the U.S. doubled, to more than 70,000 a year—making alcohol one of the leading drivers of the decline in American life expectancy. These numbers are likely to get worse: During the pandemic, frequency of drinking rose, as did sales of hard liquor. By this February, nearly a quarter of Americans said they’d drunk more over the past year as a means of coping with stress.

Explaining these trends is hard; they defy so many recent expectations. Not long ago, Millennials were touted as the driest generation—they didn’t drink much as teenagers, they were “sober curious,” they were so admirably focused on being well—and yet here they are day-drinking White Claw and dying of cirrhosis at record rates. Nor does any of this appear to be an inevitable response to 21st-century life: Other countries with deeply entrenched drinking problems, among them Britain and Russia, have seen alcohol use drop in recent years.

Media coverage, meanwhile, has swung from cheerfully overselling the (now disputed) health benefits of wine to screeching that no amount of alcohol is safe, ever; it might give you cancer and it will certainly make you die before your time. But even those who are listening appear to be responding in erratic and contradictory ways. Some of my own friends—mostly 30- or 40-something women, a group with a particularly sharp uptick in drinking—regularly declare that they’re taking an extended break from drinking, only to fall off the wagon immediately. One went from extolling the benefits of Dry January in one breath to telling me a funny story about hangover-cure IV bags in the next. A number of us share the same (wonderful) doctor, and after our annual physicals, we compare notes about the ever nudgier questions she asks about alcohol. “Maybe save wine for the weekend?” she suggests with a cheer so forced she might as well be saying, “Maybe you don’t need to drive nails into your skull every day?”

What most of us want to know, coming out of the pandemic, is this: Am I drinking too much? And: How much are other people drinking? And: Is alcohol actually that bad?

The answer to all these questions turns, to a surprising extent, not only on how much you drink, but on how and where and with whom you do it. But before we get to that, we need to consider a more basic question, one we rarely stop to ask: Why do we drink in the first place? By we, I mean Americans in 2021, but I also mean human beings for the past several millennia.

Let’s get this out of the way: Part of the answer is “Because it is fun.” Drinking releases endorphins, the natural opiates that are also triggered by, among other things, eating and sex. Another part of the answer is “Because we can.” Natural selection has endowed humans with the ability to drink most other mammals under the table. Many species have enzymes that break alcohol down and allow the body to excrete it, avoiding death by poisoning. But about 10 million years ago, a genetic mutation left our ancestors with a souped-up enzyme that increased alcohol metabolism 40-fold.

This mutation occurred around the time that a major climate disruption transformed the landscape of eastern Africa, eventually leading to widespread extinction. In the intervening scramble for food, the leading theory goes, our predecessors resorted to eating fermented fruit off the rain-forest floor. Those animals that liked the smell and taste of alcohol, and were good at metabolizing it, were rewarded with calories. In the evolutionary hunger games, the drunk apes beat the sober ones.

But even presuming that this story of natural selection is right, it doesn’t explain why, 10 million years later, I like wine so much. “It should puzzle us more than it does,” Edward Slingerland writes in his wide-ranging and provocative new book, Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization, “that one of the greatest foci of human ingenuity and concentrated effort over the past millennia has been the problem of how to get drunk.” The damage done by alcohol is profound: impaired cognition and motor skills, belligerence, injury, and vulnerability to all sorts of predation in the short run; damaged livers and brains, dysfunction, addiction, and early death as years of heavy drinking pile up. As the importance of alcohol as a caloric stopgap diminished, why didn’t evolution eventually lead us away from drinking—say, by favoring genotypes associated with hating alcohol’s taste? That it didn’t suggests that alcohol’s harms were, over the long haul, outweighed by some serious advantages.

Versions of this idea have recently bubbled up at academic conferences and in scholarly journals and anthologies (largely to the credit of the British anthropologist Robin Dunbar). Drunk helpfully synthesizes the literature, then underlines its most radical implication: Humans aren’t merely built to get buzzed—getting buzzed helped humans build civilization. Slingerland is not unmindful of alcohol’s dark side, and his exploration of when and why its harms outweigh its benefits will unsettle some American drinkers. Still, he describes the book as “a holistic defense of alcohol.” And he announces, early on, that “it might actually be good for us to tie one on now and then.”

Slingerland is a professor at the University of British Columbia who, for most of his career, has specialized in ancient Chinese religion and philosophy. In a conversation this spring, I remarked that it seemed odd that he had just devoted several years of his life to a subject so far outside his wheelhouse. He replied that alcohol isn’t quite the departure from his specialty that it might seem; as he has recently come to see things, intoxication and religion are parallel puzzles, interesting for very similar reasons. As far back as his graduate work at Stanford in the 1990s, he’d found it bizarre that across all cultures and time periods, humans went to such extraordinary (and frequently painful and expensive) lengths to please invisible beings.

In 2012, Slingerland and several scholars in other fields won a big grant to study religion from an evolutionary perspective. In the years since, . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s interesting.

Written by Leisureguy

2 June 2021 at 12:29 pm

America is in deep trouble: QAnon is spreading in churches. These pastors are trying to stop it

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Written by Leisureguy

21 May 2021 at 5:46 pm

Arabian cult may have built 1000 monuments older than Stonehenge

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Ibrahim Sawal writes in New Scientist:

A vast site in north-west Saudi Arabia is home to 1000 structures that date back more than 7000 years, making them older than the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge in the UK.

Named after the Arabic word for rectangle, mustatil structures were first discovered in the 1970s, but received little attention from researchers at the time. Hugh Thomas at the University of Western Australia in Perth and his team wanted to learn more about them, and embarked on the largest investigation of the structures to date.

Using helicopters to fly over north-west Saudi Arabia and then following up with ground explorations, the researchers found more than 1000 mustatils across 200,000 square kilometres – twice as many as were previously thought to exist in this area. “You don’t get a full understanding of the scale of the structures until you’re there,” says Thomas.

Made from piled-up blocks of sandstone, some of which weighed more than 500 kilograms, mustatils ranged from 20 metres to more than 600 metres in length, but their walls stood only 1.2 metres high. “It’s not designed to keep anything in, but to demarcate the space that is clearly an area that needs to be isolated,” says Thomas.

In a typical mustatil, long walls surround a central courtyard, with a distinctive rubble platform, or “head”, at one end and entryways at the opposite end. Some entrances were blocked by stones, suggesting they could have been decommissioned after use.

Excavations at one mustatil showed that the centre of the head contained a chamber within which there were fragments of cattle horns and skulls. The cattle fragments may have been presented as offerings, suggesting mustatils may have been used for rituals.

Radiocarbon dating of the skulls shows that they date to between 5300 and 5000 BC, indicating that this was when this particular mustatil was built – and maybe the others too. If so, the monuments would together form the earliest large-scale, ritual landscape anywhere in the world, predating Stonehenge by more than 2500 years.

“This could completely rewrite our understanding of cults in this area at this time,” says team member Melissa Kennedy, also at the University of Western Australia. She says that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 May 2021 at 7:14 pm

Posted in Religion, Science

A good question (on a T-shirt)

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Written by Leisureguy

5 May 2021 at 9:17 am

The clockwork universe: is free will an illusion?

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More and more I question the degree to which animals (and plants) have free will. Oliver Burkman in the Guardian summarizes some recent thinking on the issue.

Towards the end of a conversation dwelling on some of the deepest metaphysical puzzles regarding the nature of human existence, the philosopher Galen Strawson paused, then asked me: “Have you spoken to anyone else yet who’s received weird email?” He navigated to a file on his computer and began reading from the alarming messages he and several other scholars had received over the past few years. Some were plaintive, others abusive, but all were fiercely accusatory. “Last year you all played a part in destroying my life,” one person wrote. “I lost everything because of you – my son, my partner, my job, my home, my mental health. All because of you, you told me I had no control, how I was not responsible for anything I do, how my beautiful six-year-old son was not responsible for what he did … Goodbye, and good luck with the rest of your cancerous, evil, pathetic existence.” “Rot in your own shit Galen,” read another note, sent in early 2015. “Your wife, your kids your friends, you have smeared all there [sic] achievements you utter fucking prick,” wrote the same person, who subsequently warned: “I’m going to fuck you up.” And then, days later, under the subject line “Hello”: “I’m coming for you.” “This was one where we had to involve the police,” Strawson said. Thereafter, the violent threats ceased.

It isn’t unheard of for philosophers to receive death threats. The Australian ethicist Peter Singer, for example, has received many, in response to his argument that, in highly exceptional circumstances, it might be morally justifiable to kill newborn babies with severe disabilities. But Strawson, like others on the receiving end of this particular wave of abuse, had merely expressed a longstanding position in an ancient debate that strikes many as the ultimate in “armchair philosophy”, wholly detached from the emotive entanglements of real life. They all deny that human beings possess free will. They argue that our choices are determined by forces beyond our ultimate control – perhaps even predetermined all the way back to the big bang – and that therefore nobody is ever wholly responsible for their actions. Reading back over the emails, Strawson, who gives the impression of someone far more forgiving of other people’s flaws than of his own, found himself empathising with his harassers’ distress. “I think for these people it’s just an existential catastrophe,” he said. “And I think I can see why.”

The difficulty in explaining the enigma of free will to those unfamiliar with the subject isn’t that it’s complex or obscure. It’s that the experience of possessing free will – the feeling that we are the authors of our choices – is so utterly basic to everyone’s existence that it can be hard to get enough mental distance to see what’s going on. Suppose you find yourself feeling moderately hungry one afternoon, so you walk to the fruit bowl in your kitchen, where you see one apple and one banana. As it happens, you choose the banana. But it seems absolutely obvious that you were free to choose the apple – or neither, or both – instead. That’s free will: were you to rewind the tape of world history, to the instant just before you made your decision, with everything in the universe exactly the same, you’d have been able to make a different one.

Nothing could be more self-evident. And yet according to a growing chorus of philosophers and scientists, who have a variety of different reasons for their view, it also can’t possibly be the case. “This sort of free will is ruled out, simply and decisively, by the laws of physics,” says one of the most strident of the free will sceptics, the evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne. Leading psychologists such as Steven Pinker and Paul Bloom agree, as apparently did the late Stephen Hawking, along with numerous prominent neuroscientists, including VS Ramachandran, who called free will “an inherently flawed and incoherent concept” in his endorsement of Sam Harris’s bestselling 2012 book Free Will, which also makes that argument. According to the public intellectual Yuval Noah Harari, free will is an anachronistic myth – useful in the past, perhaps, as a way of motivating people to fight against tyrants or oppressive ideologies, but rendered obsolete by the power of modern data science to know us better than we know ourselves, and thus to predict and manipulate our choices.

Arguments against free will go back millennia, but the latest resurgence of scepticism has been driven by advances in neuroscience during the past few decades. Now that it’s possible to observe – thanks to neuroimaging – the physical brain activity associated with our decisions, it’s easier to think of those decisions as just another part of the mechanics of the material universe, in which “free will” plays no role. And from the 1980s onwards, various specific neuroscientific findings have offered troubling clues that our so-called free choices might actually originate in our brains several milliseconds, or even much longer, before we’re first aware of even thinking of them.

Despite the criticism that this is all just armchair philosophy, the truth is that the stakes could hardly be higher. Were free will to be shown to be nonexistent – and were we truly to absorb the fact – it would “precipitate a culture war far more belligerent than the one that has been waged on the subject of evolution”, Harris has written. Arguably, we would be forced to conclude that it was unreasonable ever to praise or blame anyone for their actions, since they weren’t truly responsible for deciding to do them; or to feel guilt for one’s misdeeds, pride in one’s accomplishments, or gratitude for others’ kindness. And we might come to feel that it was morally unjustifiable to mete out retributive punishment to criminals, since they had no ultimate choice about their wrongdoing. Some worry that it might fatally corrode all human relations, since romantic love, friendship and neighbourly civility alike all depend on the assumption of choice: any loving or respectful gesture has to be voluntary for it to count.

Peer over the precipice of the free will debate for a while, and you begin to appreciate how an already psychologically vulnerable person might be nudged into a breakdown, as was apparently the case with Strawson’s email correspondents. Harris has taken to prefacing his podcasts on free will with disclaimers, urging those who find the topic emotionally distressing to give them a miss. And Saul Smilansky, a professor of philosophy at the University of Haifa in Israel, who believes the popular notion of free will is a mistake, told me that if a graduate student who was prone to depression sought to study the subject with him, he would try to dissuade them. “Look, I’m naturally a buoyant person,” he said. “I have the mentality of a village idiot: it’s easy to make me happy. Nevertheless, the free will problem is really depressing if you take it seriously. It hasn’t made me happy, and in retrospect, if I were at graduate school again, maybe a different topic would have been preferable.”

Smilansky is an advocate of what he calls “illusionism”, the idea that although free will as conventionally defined is unreal, it’s crucial people go on believing otherwise – from which it follows that an article like this one might be actively dangerous. (Twenty years ago, he said, he might have refused to speak to me, but these days free will scepticism was so widely discussed that “the horse has left the barn”.) “On the deepest level, if people really understood what’s going on – and I don’t think I’ve fully internalised the implications myself, even after all these years – it’s just too frightening and difficult,” Smilansky said. “For anyone who’s morally and emotionally deep, it’s really depressing and destructive. It would really threaten our sense of self, our sense of personal value. The truth is just too awful here.”

The conviction that nobody ever truly chooses freely to do anything – that we’re the puppets of forces beyond our control – often seems to strike its adherents early in their intellectual careers, in a sudden flash of insight. “I was sitting in a carrel in Wolfson College [in Oxford] in 1975, and I had no idea what I was going to write my DPhil thesis about,” Strawson recalled. “I was reading something about Kant’s views on free will, and I was just electrified. That was it.” The logic, once glimpsed, seems coldly inexorable. Start with what seems like an obvious truth: anything that happens in the world, ever, must have been completely caused by things that happened before it. And those things must have been caused by things that happened before them – and so on, backwards to the dawn of time: cause after cause after cause, all of them following the predictable laws of nature, even if we haven’t figured all of those laws out yet. It’s easy enough to grasp this in the context of the straightforwardly physical world of rocks and rivers and internal combustion engines. But surely “one thing leads to another” in the world of decisions and intentions, too. Our decisions and intentions involve neural activity – and why would a neuron be exempt from the laws of physics any more than a rock?

So in the fruit bowl example, there are physiological reasons for your feeling hungry in the first place, and there are causes – in your genes, your upbringing, or your current environment – for your choosing to address your hunger with fruit, rather than a box of doughnuts. And your preference for the banana over the apple, at the moment of supposed choice, must have been caused by what went before, presumably including the pattern of neurons firing in your brain, which was itself caused – and so on back in an unbroken chain to your birth, the meeting of your parents, their births and, eventually, the birth of the cosmos.

But if all that’s true, there’s simply no room for the kind of free will you might imagine yourself to have when you see the apple and banana and wonder which one you’ll choose. To have what’s known in the scholarly jargon as “contra-causal” free will – so that if you rewound the tape of history back to the moment of choice, you could make a different choice – you’d somehow have to slip outside physical reality. To make a choice that wasn’t merely the next link in the unbroken chain of causes, you’d have to be able to stand apart from the whole thing, a ghostly presence separate from the material world yet mysteriously still able to influence it. But of course you can’t actually get to this supposed place that’s external to the universe, separate from all the atoms that comprise it and the laws that govern them. You just are some of the atoms in the universe, governed by the same predictable laws as all the rest.

It was the French polymath Pierre-Simon Laplace, writing in 1814, who most succinctly expressed the puzzle here: how can there be free will, in a universe where events just crank forwards like clockwork? His thought experiment is known as Laplace’s demon, and his argument went as follows: if some hypothetical ultra-intelligent being – or demon – could somehow know the position of every atom in the universe at a single point in time, along with all the laws that governed their interactions, it could predict the future in its entirety. There would be nothing it couldn’t know about the world 100 or 1,000 years hence, down to the slightest quiver of a sparrow’s wing. You might think you made a free choice to marry your partner, or choose a salad with your meal rather than chips; but in fact Laplace’s demon would have known it all along, by extrapolating out along the endless chain of causes. “For such an intellect,” Laplace said, “nothing could be uncertain, and the future, just like the past, would be present before its eyes.”

It’s true that since Laplace’s day, findings in quantum physics have indicated that some events, at the level of atoms and electrons, are genuinely random, which means they would be impossible to predict in advance, even by some hypothetical megabrain. But few people involved in the free will debate think that makes a critical difference. Those tiny fluctuations probably have little relevant impact on life at the scale we live it, as human beings. And in any case, there’s no more freedom in being subject to the random behaviours of electrons than there is in being the slave of predetermined causal laws. Either way, something other than your own free will seems to be pulling your strings.

y far the most unsettling implication of the case against free will, for most who encounter it, is what it seems to say about morality: that nobody, ever, truly deserves reward or punishment for what they do, because what they do is the result of blind deterministic forces (plus maybe a little quantum randomness). “For the free will sceptic,” writes Gregg Caruso in his new book Just Deserts, a collection of dialogues with his fellow philosopher Daniel Dennett, “it is never fair to treat anyone as morally responsible.” Were we to accept the full implications of that idea, the way we treat each other – and especially the way we treat criminals – might change beyond recognition. [No, it wouldn’t: we don’t have free will to make other choices, remember? – LG]

Consider the case of Charles Whitman. Just after midnight on 1 August 1966, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

2 May 2021 at 5:48 pm

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: He botched it.

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Teju Ravilochan wrote a piece for GatherFor: on Medium. The thrust reflects the priorities and purposes of the group, which is based in New York City and works to develop and network small community groups to build community belonging and resilience. The piece begins:

Some months ago, I was catching up with my dear friend and board member, Roberto Rivera. As an entrepreneur and community organizer with a doctorate and Lin-Manuel-Miranda-level freestyle abilities, he is a teacher to me in many ways. I was sharing with him that for a long time, I’ve struggled with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

The traditional interpretation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is that humans need to fulfill their needs at one level before we can advance to higher levels.

Maslow’s idea emerged and was informed by his work with the Blackfeet Nation through conversations with elders and inspiration from the shape and meaning of the Blackfoot tipi. Maslow’s idea has been criticized for misrepresenting the Blackfoot worldview, which instead places self-actualization as a basis for community-actualization and community-actualization as a basis for cultural perpetuity, the latter of which exists at the top of the tipi in Blackfoot philosophy.

The Blackfoot Tipi

This is a slide from a presentation by Cindy Blackstock, a member of the Gitksan First Nation and University of Alberta Professor, shared in Karen Lincoln Michel’s blog. She describes Maslow’s theory as “a rip off of the Blackfoot nation.”

Maslow’s Failure to Elevate the Blackfoot Model

Continue reading. There’s much more.

It does strike me that in the US today the prevailing view of individuality above all — one’s own individual desires and needs being paramount, with community needs much less in the picture — has resulted in some bad outcomes for all.

Written by Leisureguy

26 April 2021 at 11:01 am

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