Later On

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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

What if a friend or family member drifts into conspiracy ideation?

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The Eldest shared in Facebook a post by David Troy, CEO at 410 Labs, Curator at TEDx, a former speaker at TED. Troy writes:

In the last week, I have heard from multiple friends who are concerned about family, friends or other loved ones who seem to be losing their grip on reality and falling into conspiracy thinking and other destructive online communities.

As someone who studies this closely, I believe radicalization is accelerating right now. Some conspiracy communities (such as QAnon) have created powerful incentives for participation and can take people from no exposure to a break from reality in a matter of just a few weeks. This is not something to brush off.

For those of you left in the position of wanting to help but are not sure what to do, it is useful to first understand the problem: it is not a “beliefs” problem but a social problem. People get pulled into these communities because they feel alienated, and are looking for sense-making and connection. It is often driven by an overwhelming fear that “we aren’t being told the truth,” and the feelings of having been deceived that come with that. That tends to be a powerful driver of radicalization and can quickly re-wire people’s social landscape.

Individuals become enmeshed in this new world of fake truth-tellers and movements that seem to provide connection and identity, but these relationships are not real: anything requiring actual time or money is out of reach for this fake network of support. Family and longtime friends, by contrast, are real and persist. The challenge comes when people begin to confuse this new identity with their “old” one.

The worst thing you can do to someone who has been pulled into these networks is to attack them, or focus too much on correcting their false “beliefs.” The ideas are secondary artifacts of the social pathology.

Instead, it is necessary to aid them in minimizing their connection to the destructive network while bolstering their ties to their “real world” support network. This can be done by asking open-ended, respectful questions, and leaving space for answers. “You seem to have really changed your thinking a lot lately. Can you tell me more about what’s behind that?” or “Wow, I’ve never heard that point of view until now. Are you sure that’s really true?”

Simultaneously, it is a good idea to reinforce ties to positive, stable life relationships. Maybe suggest a family outing, or find some way to spend more time with the person, away from online communities. Maybe suggest new hobbies or otherwise distance from destructive content channels, whether internet, tv, or radio. Help them find new patterns and habits, and always with love.

To be clear I am not a clinical expert on this; I just study radicalization behavior. But as part of that I have been working this year with Steven Hassan, who is one of the top experts on this topic in general and on cults in particular, and I have squared his work with my own studies and with other experts in the field. So I am echoing many of his ideas above. For more on this topic I am recommending his book “Freedom of Mind” as well as his website “freedomofmind. com.”

Americans in particular have a hard time with the relationship between individual and community. We mostly think in individual terms; if someone is acting strange, they have “mental health” problems and need “therapy” or drugs. And certainly therapy is an invaluable resource for all of us, and is frequently called for as part of helping people recover from undue influence.

But it is also important to understand that many kinds of individual pathologies are social in nature. We are the average of the people around us; so disrupted social ties can lead to disruptions in ourselves and in our outlook. We must properly understand online radicalization and conspiracy theories within this framework. People are falling into believing crazy ideas not because they are stupid, mentally ill, or because they lack critical thinking capacity or intellect. They are manifesting a lack of strong social connection, which in turn is born of a desire for meaning, connection, and identity.

If we focus on providing those core human needs then we address conspiracy radicalization at the same time. Our culture and social structures do not do a great job at meeting those needs, so it’s not surprising that in this time of massive uncertainty we are seeing a spike in radicalization. And many people are suffering from various kinds of trauma as well.

Please treat your friends and loved ones with care, help knit them better into normative social fabrics, and ramp down destructive channels. This will work far better than arguing with them or trying to “fix” their false statements. That will just make them dig in further, and will work against you. Consider also doing this in person or by video/phone, and off of social media, as online dynamics can often be counterproductive and destructive.

Please feel free to share this with anyone you think may benefit. Every situation is a bit different, so seek professional help as needed, but I do hope that having a little better understanding of the nature of the problem will be useful. Stay safe and healthy, everyone.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 August 2020 at 8:15 am

How the US got that way

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Jonathan Chait explains in New York:

Last October, the Nuclear Threat Initiative and the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security compiled a ranking system to assess the preparedness of 195 countries for the next global pandemic. Twenty-one panel experts across the globe graded each country in 34 categories composed of 140 subindices. At the top of the rankings, peering down at 194 countries supposedly less equipped to withstand a pandemic, stood the United States of America.

It has since become horrifyingly clear that the experts missed something. The supposed world leader is in fact a viral petri dish of uncontained infection. By June, after most of the world had beaten back the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S., with 4 percent of the world’s population, accounted for 25 percent of its cases. Florida alone was seeing more new infections a week than China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia, and the European Union combined.

During its long period of decline, the Ottoman Empire was called “the sick man of Europe.” The United States is now the sick man of the world, pitied by the same countries that once envied its pandemic preparedness — and, as recently as the 2014 Ebola outbreak, relied on its expertise to organize the global response.

Our former peer nations are now operating in a political context Americans would find unfathomable. Every other wealthy nation in the world has successfully beaten back the disease, at least significantly, and at least for now. New Zealand’s health minister was forced to resign after allowing two people who had tested positive for COVID-19 to attend a funeral. The Italian Parliament heckled Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte when he briefly attempted to remove his mask to deliver a speech. In May — around the time Trump cheered demonstrators into the streets to protest stay-at-home orders — Boris Johnson’s top adviser set off a massive national scandal, complete with multiple calls for his resignation, because he’d been caught driving to visit his parents during lockdown. If a Trump official had done the same, would any newspaper even have bothered to publish the story?

It is difficult for us Americans to imagine living in a country where violations so trivial (by our standards) provoke such an uproar. And if you’re tempted to see for yourself what it looks like, too bad — the E.U. has banned U.S. travelers for health reasons.

The distrust and open dismissal of expertise and authority may seem uniquely contemporary — a phenomenon of the Trump era, or the rise of online misinformation. But the president and his party are the products of a decades-long war against the functioning of good government, a collapse of trust in experts and empiricism, and the spread of a kind of magical thinking that flourishes in a hothouse atmosphere that can seal out reality. While it’s not exactly shocking to see a Republican administration be destroyed by incompetent management — it happened to the last one, after all — the willfulness of it is still mind-boggling and has led to the unnecessary sickness and death of hundreds of thousands of people and the torpedoing of the reelection prospects of the president himself. Like Stalin’s purge of 30,000 Red Army members right before World War II, the central government has perversely chosen to disable the very asset that was intended to carry it through the crisis. Only this failure of leadership and management took place in a supposedly advanced democracy whose leadership succumbed to a debilitating and ultimately deadly ideological pathology.

How did this happen? In 1973, Republicans trusted science more than religion, while Democrats trusted religion more than science. The reverse now holds true. In the meantime, working-class whites left the Democratic Party, which has increasingly taken on the outlook of the professional class with its trust in institutions and empiricism. The inflŭ of working-class whites (especially religiously observant ones) has pushed Republicans toward increasingly paranoid varieties of populism.

This is the conventional history of right-wing populism — that it was a postwar backlash against the New Deal and the Republican Party’s inability or unwillingness to roll it back. The movement believed the government had been subverted, perhaps consciously, by conspirators seeking to impose some form of socialism, communism, or world government. Its “paranoid style,” so described by historian Richard Hofstadter, became warped with anti-intellectualism, reflecting a “conflict between businessmen of certain types and the New Deal bureaucracy, which has spilled over into a resentment of intellectuals and experts.” Its followers seemed prone to “a disorder in relation to authority, characterized by an inability to find other modes for human relationship than those of more or less complete domination or submission.” Perhaps this sounds like someone you’ve heard of.

But for all the virulence of conservative paranoia in American life, without the sanction of a major party exploiting and profiting from paranoia, and thereby encouraging its growth, the worldview remained relatively fringe. Some of the far right’s more colorful adherents, especially the 100,000 reactionaries who joined the John Birch Society, suspected the (then-novel, now-uncontroversial) practice of adding small amounts of fluoride to water supplies to improve dental health was, in fact, a communist plot intended to weaken the populace. Still, the far right lacked power. Republican leaders held Joe McCarthy at arm’s length; Goldwater captured the nomination but went down in a landslide defeat. In the era of Sputnik, science was hardly a countercultural institution. “In the early Cold War period, science was associated with the military,” says sociologist Timothy O’Brien who, along with Shiri Noy, has studied the transformation. “When people thought about scientists, they thought about the Manhattan Project.” The scientist was calculating, cold, heartless, an authority figure against whom the caring, feeling liberal might rebel. Radicals in the ’60s often directed their protests against the scientists or laboratories that worked with the Pentagon.

But this began to change in the 1960s, along with everything else in American political and cultural life. New issues arose that tended to pit scientists against conservatives. Goldwater’s insouciant attitude toward the prospect of nuclear war with the Soviets provoked scientists to explain the impossibility of surviving atomic fallout and the formation of Scientists and Engineers for Johnson-Humphrey. New research by Rachel Carson about pollution and by Ralph Nader on the dangers of cars and other consumer products made science the linchpin of a vast new regulatory state. Business owners quickly grasped that stopping the advance of big government meant blunting the cultural and political authority of scientists. Expertise came to look like tyranny — or at least it was sold that way.

One tobacco company conceded privately in 1969 that it could not directly challenge the evidence of tobacco’s dangers but could make people wonder how solid the evidence really was. “Doubt,” the memo explained, “is our product.” In 1977, the conservative intellectual Irving Kristol urged business leaders to steer their donations away from public-interest causes and toward the burgeoning network of pro-business foundations. “Corporate philanthropy,” he wrote, “should not be, cannot be, disinterested.” The conservative think-tank scene exploded with reports questioning whether pollution, smoking, driving, and other profitable aspects of American capitalism were really as dangerous as the scientists said.

The Republican Party’s turn against science was slow and jagged, as most party-identity changes tend to be. The Environmental Protection Agency had been created under Richard Nixon, and its former administrator, Russell Train, once recalled President Gerald Ford promising to support whatever auto-emissions guidelines his staff deemed necessary. “I want you to be totally comfortable in the fact that no effort whatsoever will be made to try to change your position in any way,” said Ford — a pledge that would be unimaginable for a contemporary Republican president to make. Not until Ronald Reagan did Republican presidents begin letting business interests overrule experts, as when his EPA used a “hit list” of scientists flagged by industry as hostile. And even Reagan toggled between giving business a free hand and listening to his advisers (as he did when he signed a landmark 1987 agreement to phase out substances that were depleting the ozone layer and a plan the next year to curtail acid rain).

The party’s rightward tilt accelerated in the 1990s. “With the collapse of the . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Later in the article:

When the coronavirus began spreading in American cities, the Republican Party turned to a trained store of experts whose judgment conservatives trusted implicitly. Unfortunately, their expertise and training lay not in epidemiology but in concocting pseudoscientific rationales to allow conservatives to disregard legitimate scientific conclusions.

The cadres who leapt forth to supply Trump and his allies with answers disproportionately came from the science-skeptic wing of the conservative-think-tank world. Steven Milloy, a climate-science skeptic who runs a think tank funded by tobacco and oil companies and who served on Trump’s environmental transition team, dismissed the virus as less deadly than the flu. Libertarian philosopher Richard Epstein, who had once insisted, “The evidence in favor of the close linkage between carbon dioxide and global warming has not been clearly established,” turned his analytical powers to projected pandemic death tolls. He estimated just 500 American deaths, an analysis that was circulated within the Trump White House before Epstein issued a correction.

It was like watching factories mobilize for war, only instead of automakers refitting their assembly lines to churn out tanks, these were professional manufacturers of scientific doubt scrambling to invent a new form of pedantry. Some skeptics took note of the connection, though they seem to have drawn the wrong conclusion. “While they are occurring on vastly different time scales, the COVID-19 panic and the climate-change panic are remarkably similar,” wrote one of the climate-skeptical Heartland Institute’s pseudo-experts.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2020 at 4:06 pm

David Pell writes on Peter Thiel’s Religion

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It being Sunday, this essay by David Pell seems an appropriate (if lengthy) read. It begins:

“I am the Lord your God.” — 1st Commandment

Human culture began with a murder. That culture was fueled by rage and rivalry, which led to violence. Managing that violence is the secret reason for all religious and political institutions.

In The Bible, The Cain and Abel story is the first act of life after the Garden of Eden. Cain is a farmer and the older brother to Abel, who is a shepherd. Initially, Cain admires Abel. But eventually, when Cain turns envious of his younger and more successful brother, he kills him. The two brothers represent two halves of the human psyche: Abel represents the part that looks up towards the transcendent, where Cain represents the other that looks down towards death and destruction.

Depending on who you ask, the significance of the Cain and Abel story ranges from nothing to everything. For some, the Christian cross is too strange to be taken seriously. It’s archaic and stuck inside a biblical world that can no longer speak to the challenges of life with iPhones, Tinder, and $12 avocado toast. But to others, religion is the foundation of human culture. Without it, peace cannot be maintained and violence will erupt like an angry volcano.

What does Peter Thiel think? Is religion a superfluous add-on or the origin of everything?

In this essay, we’ll explore the significance of religion and the Cain and Abel story. We’ll learn why the story is an archetype for human relationships, even in the Western world where people stiff-arm religion like it’s the Heisman trophy.

We’ll study religion through the lens of Peter Thiel. He’s an investor who found wealth in PayPal, a student who found wisdom in Libertarian ideals, and a philosopher who found faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thiel was raised as an Evangelical and inherited the Christianity of his parents. But his beliefs are “somewhat heterodox.” In a profile in the New Yorker, Thiel said: “I believe Christianity to be true. I don’t feel a compelling need to convince other people of that.”

Three simple statements will lead us towards our ultimate answer about the importance of religion:

  1. Don’t copy your neighbors

  2. Time moves forward

  3. The future will be different from the present

Rather than focusing on Thiel’s actions, I’ve chosen to focus on his ideas. First, we’ll explore the principles of Peter Thiel’s worldview. We’ll begin by explaining Thiel’s connection to a French philosopher named Rene Girard. We’ll return to old books like The Bible, old ideas like sacrifice, and old writers like Shakespeare, and see why this ancient wisdom holds clues for modern life. Then, we’ll return to the tenets of the Christian story. We’ll cover the shift from cyclical time to linear time, which was spurred by technological development and human progress. We’ll see why the last book in The Bible, The Book of Revelation, is a core pillar of Thiel’s philosophy. Then, we’ll close with Thiel’s advice and wisdom almost as old as Cain and Abel: the Ten Commandments. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

A couple of notes: The piece says some positive things about monopolies — and monopolies are indeed very good from the point of view of the monopoly itself. However, they are terrible for the public and for customers. See, for example, any number of posts at Matt Stoller’s blog Big. One important responsibility of (good) government is to look out for the public (“to improve the general welfare”), and that involves breaking up monopolies, one reason businesses dislike government power.

Peter Thiel’s worldview and actions are a mixed bag, IMO. This illuminating article in the Atlantic on his determined and successful effort to destroy Gawker provides a somewhat chilling example of revenge.

Peter Thiel has also been a strong supporter of Donald Trump, which (to my mind) reveals a lot about Peter Thiel. Thiel has reportedly finally recognized Trump’s flaws (about a decade after those flaws were flamingly evident to most) and has broken with him, but his long allegiance to, and support of, Donald Trump indicates to me an inability to recognize characteristics evident to most.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 July 2020 at 1:20 pm

Two passages from “Les Misérables” with some contemporary relevance.

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First my little Victor Hugo joke: In a historical drama set in 1802, a doctor returns home from a hard day’s work, and his wife commiserates with him on how hard it must have been. The doctor replies, “Yes, but it was worth it. Do you know who I delivered today? Victor Hugo!

I’ve never read Les Misérables, and I thought I should hop to it. I downloaded the free version from Standard eBooks, and though it is well produced and the translation (by Isabella Hapgood) is well regarded, I don’t know enough French history to know the story behind the historical references. So I purchased the Penguin translation by Christine Donougher (which provides explanatory footnotes — see this brief discussion of the relative merits of the several translations).

The early part of the book is about the saintly bishop nicknamed by his parishioners “Monsieur Bienvenu.” When we first meet him he’s just arrived and settled in the magnificent and enormous bishop’s mansion, to which is attached a small (and crowded) hospital. As the bishop tours the hospital, he turns to the director and comments that the number of people packed into the hospital, compared to the three living in the mansion (the bishop, his sister, and a housekeeper), clearly shows that there’s been a mix-up: the hospital occupies the bishop’s house and the bishop occupies the hospital, and they must switch immediately, which they do.

Later in the book, describing the bishop:

He was forbearing towards women and the poor on whom the burden of human society falls. He said, ‘The failings of women, children and servants, of the feeble, the destitute, and the ignorant, are the fault of their husbands, fathers, and masters, of the strong, the rich, and the learned.’

He also said, ‘Teach those who are ignorant as much as you can. Society is to blame for not giving free education. It’s responsible for the darkness it produces. In any benighted soul – that’s where sin will be committed. It’s not he who commits the sin that’s to blame but he who causes the darkness to prevail.’

That gives you an idea of the bishop’s character. The following passage is from Chapter XII, in discussing why none of the seminary students or young (and ambitious) priests attached themselves to his service:

A saint who lives an excessively self-denying life makes a dangerous neighbour. He might pass on to you through infectiousness an incurable poverty, a stiffening of those joints useful for self-advancement, and in short more self-denial than you want. And people flee this contagious virtue. Hence the isolation of Monseigneur Bienvenu. We live in a dismal society. Succeed – that is the lesson drip-dripping down from the corruption at the top.

Let it be said in passing, success is a fairly hideous thing. Its false resemblance to merit deceives men. For the masses, success has almost the same profile as supremacy. Success, talent’s seeming double, has a dupe: history. Juvenal and Tacitus alone decry it. In our day, a more or less official philosophy has joined its household staff, wears the livery of success, and runs its antechamber. Principle of success: prosperity implies capability. Win the lottery and you are a clever man. Whoever wins is respected. Be born lucky, that is all. If luck is yours, the rest will follow. Be fortunate and you will be thought great. Leaving aside five or six outstanding exceptions who are the glory of their age, contemporary admiration is mere short-sightedness. Gilding is gold. Being a nonentity is no obstacle, as long as you make a name for yourself. The undistinguished is an old Narcissus who adores himself and celebrates the undistinguished. The great genius that makes a man a Moses, an Aeschylus, a Dante, a Michelangelo or a Napoleon, the multitude is quick to recognize by acclamation in any Tom, Dick or Harry who achieves whatever his goal might be. Let a notary transform himself into a deputy, let a spurious Corneille write Tiridate, let a eunuch manage to acquire a harem, let a military Prudhomme accidentally win the decisive battle of an era, let an apothecary invent cardboard soles for the Sambre-et-Meuse army and out of this cardboard sold as leather build up for himself an income of four hundred thousand francs, let a pedlar espouse usury and beget seven or eight millions, of which he is the father and usury the mother; let a preacher become bishop by virtue of droning on, let the steward of a good family be so rich on retiring from service that he is made minister of finance – men call this Genius, just as they call Mousqueton’s face Beauty and Claudius’ bull neck Majesty. They mistake for the constellations in the infinity of space the star-shaped footprints left by ducks in the soft wetland mud.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 July 2020 at 6:23 pm

“I’m a priest. The police forced me off church grounds for Trump’s photo op.”

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Gina Gerbasi, the rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church, in Georgetown, writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

When I arrived in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Lafayette Square on Monday, bringing granola bars and cases of water, the mood was upbeat. I couldn’t have imagined the grotesque scene that would unfold hours later — that the police would shove us out of the way with riot shields, pepper balls and smoke canisters, to clear a path for President Donald Trump.

It was 4 p.m. by the time I got to the church. People were milling about the St. John’s patio: 20 to 30 protesters, who sat on the steps, or drank some water, watching the action across the street, and 20 clergy and parishioners from churches around the city. Our plan was to be there until 6:30 p.m., offering peaceful, prayerful support. A team from Black Lives Matter had set up a first aid area, with boxes of bandages and first aid supplies and bottles of eyewash.

Demonstrators packed H street, Lafayette Square and the end of 16th street. Heading north up 16th, they were scattered in clumps and pairs, carrying signs and chanting: “Say his name: George Floyd!” It wasn’t quiet — you could hear cheers from the protests — but it was peaceful. My colleagues and I passed out water and snacks. People exchanged prayers and elbow bumps. Things were so calm that, by 6 p.m., most of my colleagues had left. I decided to stay until I could no longer be useful; so did my church’s seminarian, Julia, who is also a trauma nurse. The BLM medical folks taught me how to do an eye wash and gave me medical gloves. We waited, hopeful our services wouldn’t be needed.

The curfew wasn’t due to take effect until 7 p.m. But around 6:15 p.m., everything shifted. The crowd grew tense as police started to move out of the park. Trails of smoke come from Lafayette Square, followed by clouds of acrid smoke billowing through the crowds. People began to run north on 16th street and onto the St. John’s patio, some coming for eyewash, wet paper towels or water. The first flash grenade rang out, sounding like gunfire, and some people dropped to the ground, thinking that the police were shooting.

People ran toward us, and there was yelling and panic. We called out, “Water! Eyewash!” Julia and I were washing out protesters’ eyes and feeling it ourselves. I was coughing; Julia’s eyes were red, swollen and tearing. There was a shout that someone was hurt, and Julia ran to help. When she came back, she told me that she had seen police on horseback approaching. The seminary team decided it was time to leave.

Minutes later, the intensity of the flash grenades and gas clouds increased, as the police began pushing protesters out of the park and onto H Street. More people ran in our direction, crying from the smoke, and from fear. Someone yelled “rubber bullets,” and I looked up from washing someone’s eyes to see a man holding his stomach, bent over. He moved his arms, and I saw marks on his shirt. When I looked over his shoulder, I couldn’t believe my eyes. A wall of police, in full riot gear, was physically pushing people off the St. John’s patio, maybe 15 feet away from me.

The BLM team, far more experienced than I, said, we’ve got to go. They picked up what they could of the medical supplies and quickly dropped back, around 30 feet to the north. I was so stunned, all I grabbed was a few water bottles. I was still clutching my bottle of eyewash, and I rushed to join the medical volunteers. What was happening? It’s not even 7 p.m., I thought. Why were they doing this?

I walked through the crowds — “Water? Eyewash?” — and bent over folks, washing eyes or pouring solution on paper towels or handkerchiefs. We got pushed back again. We had not intended to be on the front lines, but the police had literally pushed the front line across the park, then H street, then the patio of St. John’s. More flashes, more smoke, more panic. I ran out of water and found the BLM medical staff at K street, which was now the “back of the line.” I gave them the rest of my eyewash bottle. I was scared. I had had enough. They were so brave.

As I walked to where I’d parked, I could still hear occasional bangs. I peeled off the two layers of blue medical gloves and put them in my pocket to throw away later. My phone started to ping. In their messages, colleagues, friends and family asked where I was, and whether the president was really going to speak in front of St. John’s. No way, I replied. It’s crazy out here. I can still hear it. I got to the car. My sister texted, Gini, they’re showing him on the news right now, walking across the park!

I drove home. Then Julia texted me: Did we really just get gassed for a PHOTO OP? My revulsion was immediate and strong, the reality of what happened sinking in: The president had used military-grade force against peaceful protesters, so he could pose with a Bible in front of the church. I sat in my driveway and wept.

Before taking my current position as the rector of St. John’s in Georgetown, I had served as assistant rector at Lafayette Square. I understood the symbolism of its location, steps away from the White House. It’s known as . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 June 2020 at 11:43 am

Useful checklist for critical thinking

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Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2020 at 9:46 am

Virginia pastor who defiantly held church service dies of coronavirus

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Lee Brown reports in the NY Post:

An evangelical pastor died of COVID-19 just weeks after proudly showing off how packed his Virginia church was — and vowing to keep preaching “unless I’m in jail or the hospital.”

In his last known in-person service on March 22, Bishop Gerald O. Glenn got his congregation at Richmond’s New Deliverance Evangelistic Church to stand to prove how many were there despite warnings against gatherings of more than 10 people.

“I firmly believe that God is larger than this dreaded virus. You can quote me on that,” he said, repeating it a second time to claps, saying that “people are healed” in his church.

Happily announcing he was being “controversial” by being “in violation” of safety protocols — with “way more than 10 people” at the church — he vowed to keep his church open “unless I’m in jail or the hospital.”

“I am essential,” he said of remaining open, adding, “I’m a preacher — I talk to God!”

On Sunday, his church announced “with an exceedingly sorrowful and heavy heart” that the pastor had died a week after being diagnosed with COVID-19.

His wife, Marcietia Glenn, is also sick with the bug, with church members offering their prayers.

Their daughter, Mar-Gerie Crawley, told WTVR that her father initially dismissed his symptoms because he has a condition that often leads to fevers and infections.

She is now urging everyone to stay home.

“It becomes very real to you,” she told WTVR after her parents’ diagnoses. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2020 at 9:14 am

Religious pigheadedness

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Kevin Drum notes:

Italy’s disastrous coronavirus epidemic was kicked off by a soccer match in Bergamo that authorities decided not to cancel. In South Korea it was meetings of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus. In Spain it was—again—soccer matches, which weren’t shut down until mid-March. In Louisiana it was Mardi Gras. In Florida it was spring break. In France it was a five-day gathering of the Christian Open Door church. So count me as disgusted by this:

At any other time, in a predominantly Christian nation that enshrines freedom of worship in the Constitution, the news would sound absurd or terrifying: “Pastor arrested after holding church services.” But that’s what happened this week when sheriff’s deputies handcuffed a Tampa, Fla., minister for violating municipal stay-at-home orders by gathering hundreds to worship….Brown, now out on bail, has complained of “religious bigotry.”

….In Louisiana, police issued a summons Tuesday to the pastor of Life Tabernacle Church in Central, La., near Baton Rouge, after he held services for 1,200 people in violation of state limits. “Never been more proud to be persecuted for the faith like my savior,” the Rev. Tony Spell shot back.

…R.R. Reno, editor of First Things, a prominent conservative Christian magazine, recently said in an article that politicians have been correct to put forth “stern measures to slow the spread of the virus.” But he added that churches should stay open. “When we worship, we join the Christian rebellion against the false lordship of the principalities and powers that claim to rule our lives, including sickness and death,” Reno wrote this month.

Idiots. I won’t pretend to offer Biblical advice to these guys, but at the very least they should care about . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 April 2020 at 12:03 pm

The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus’s Wife

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Ariel Sabar has in the Atlantic a lengthy but fascinating account of his tracking down how that papyrus fragment that referred to the wife of Jesus came about. It reads like a Dan Brown novel (one of which may have sparked the idea), but without the violence. The academic who pushed the papyrus fragment, Karen King, comes out looking not very good. The story begins:

On a humid afternoon this past November, I pulled off Interstate 75 into a stretch of Florida pine forest tangled with runaway vines. My GPS was homing in on the house of a man I thought might hold the master key to one of the strangest scholarly mysteries in recent decades: a 1,300-year-old scrap of papyrus that bore the phrase “Jesus said to them, My wife.” The fragment, written in the ancient language of Coptic, had set off shock waves when an eminent Harvard historian of early Christianity, Karen L. King, presented it in September 2012 at a conference in Rome.

Never before had an ancient manuscript alluded to Jesus’s being married. The papyrus’s lines were incomplete, but they seemed to describe a dialogue between Jesus and the apostles over whether his “wife”—possibly Mary Magdalene—was “worthy” of discipleship. Its main point, King argued, was that “women who are wives and mothers can be Jesus’s disciples.” She thought the passage likely figured into ancient debates over whether “marriage or celibacy [was] the ideal mode of Christian life” and, ultimately, whether a person could be both sexual and holy.

King called the business-card-size papyrus “The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife.” But even without that provocative title, it would have shaken the world of biblical scholarship. Centuries of Christian tradition are bound up in whether the scrap is authentic or, as a growing group of scholars contends, an outrageous modern fake: Jesus’s bachelorhood helps form the basis for priestly celibacy, and his all-male cast of apostles has long been cited to justify limits on women’s religious leadership. In the Roman Catholic Church in particular, the New Testament is seen as divine revelation handed down through a long line of men—Jesus, the 12 apostles, the Church fathers, the popes, and finally the priests who bring God’s word to the parish pews today.

King showed the papyrus to a small group of media outlets in the weeks before her announcement—The Boston Globe, The New York Times, and both Smithsonian magazine and the Smithsonian Channel—on the condition that no stories run before her presentation in Rome. Smithsonian assigned me a long feature, sending me to see King at Harvard and then to follow her to Rome. I was the only reporter in the room when she revealed her find to colleagues, who reacted with equal parts fascination and disbelief.

“The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” papyrus (Karen L. King / Harvard / AP)

Within days, doubts mounted. The Vatican newspaper labeled the papyrus “an inept forgery.” Scholars took to their blogs to point out apparent errors in Coptic grammar as well as phrases that seemed to have been lifted from the Gospel of Thomas. Others deemed the text suspiciously in step with the zeitgeist of growing religious egalitarianism and of intrigue around the idea, popularized by The Da Vinci Code, of a married Jesus. The controversy made news around the world, including an article in these pages.

A year and a half later, however, Harvard announced the results of carbon-dating tests, multispectral imaging, and other lab analyses: The papyrus appeared to be of ancient origin, and the ink had no obviously modern ingredients. This didn’t rule out fraud. A determined forger could obtain a blank scrap of centuries-old papyrus (perhaps even on eBay, where old papyri are routinely auctioned), mix ink from ancient recipes, and fashion passable Coptic script, particularly if he or she had some scholarly training. But the scientific findings complicated the case for forgery. The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife had undergone—and passed—more state-of-the-art lab tests, inch for inch, than almost any other papyrus in history. . .

Continue reading. This is just the beginning…

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2020 at 11:31 am

Speaking of fraud: Dozens of Catholic Priests Credibly Accused of Abuse Found Work Abroad, Some With the Church’s Blessing

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The Catholic church doesn’t seem in any position to lecture people about their morals.  Katie Zavadski and Topher Sanders, ProPublica, and Nicole Hensley, Houston Chronicle, report:

The Rev. Jose Antonio Pinal, a young priest from Mexico, arrived at his first parish in rural Northern California in 1980, fresh out of seminary. The priest befriended the Torres family, helping the parents, also immigrants from Mexico, to fill out an application for food stamps. Pinal became an occasional dinner guest and took the children to theme parks and on road trips along the Pacific coast. He encouraged 15-year-old Ricardo Torres to become an altar boy.

But in the priest’s quarters at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in the small city of Gridley, Torres said, Pinal, then 30, gave him alcohol, showed him movies with sex and nudity, and groped and raped him. The teenager told another priest in 1989 and the family was assured by lawyers for the diocese that Pinal would not be allowed around children, Torres said.

Thirty years later, in the spring of 2019, the Diocese of Sacramento put Pinal’s name on its list of credibly accused priests. The list had five allegations of sexual abuse against Pinal dating to the late 1980s.

Pinal had “fled to Mexico,” according to the list, and the diocese had prohibited him from performing priestly work in public in the 20 counties that make up the diocese. But an investigation by ProPublica and the Houston Chronicle shows the Catholic Church allowed or aided dozens of priests — including Pinal — to serve abroad as priests after being credibly accused of abuse in the United States.

ProPublica and the Chronicle analyzed lists published by 52 U.S. dioceses — encompassing the top 30 in terms of the number of credibly accused living clergy and those located in states along the U.S.-Mexico border. Reporters found 51 clergy who after allegations of abuse in the U.S. were able to work as priests or religious brothers in a host of countries, from Ireland to Nigeria to the Philippines. At least 40 had worked in U.S. states along the southern border, including 11 in Texas. No country was a more common destination than Mexico, where at least 21 credibly accused clergy found refuge.

Using social media, a reporter easily located Pinal, who lives in Cuernavaca, about 55 miles south of Mexico City.

In an interview at his home and in a subsequent series of email exchanges, Pinal repeatedly denied sexually abusing Torres or that he “fled” California. But in some of the emails, he referred to what “happened” between him and Torres, and in an email sent Wednesday night, about a trip he took with Torres, Pinal said, “It was screwed up, but whatever happened was consensual.”

Just months after the allegations in California, Pinal resumed priestly work, ministering in indigenous villages in and around Tepoztlán, a small town near Mexico City known for archaeological sites, and he went on to serve for decades in parishes in the Diocese of Cuernavaca.

Now 68, he ministers from his home, where he has letters showing the church in Sacramento kept him on the payroll as it helped him find a new assignment. Pinal enjoyed a warm correspondence with the then-Sacramento bishop and officials in charge of Hispanic ministry, who in the months after the allegations advised him to work in Mexico for a “long period (5-6 years)” before returning to the U.S. Letters from the bishop were signed “con cariño,” or with affection.

“This was a grave failure of judgment and a betrayal of trust,” the current Sacramento bishop, Jaime Soto, said after correspondence between his predecessor and Pinal was released to Torres’ attorney through litigation. “The safety of children is our highest priority. In 1989, those in leadership failed to do so. I must own and atone for this.”

After being contacted by reporters, the Diocese of Sacramento acknowledged that the characterization that Pinal “fled” to Mexico is incorrect, and in recent days, the diocese revised the list to “more accurately reflect the circumstances of his 1989 departure.”

Since 2018, many Catholic dioceses and religious orders in the U.S., including Sacramento, have released lists of clergy deemed credibly accused of abusing children. Others updated and expanded lists they had already made public. For the church, the wave of disclosures has been a belated reckoning with the extent of the sexual abuse crisis that was exposed two decades ago.

But the 178 lists made public as of January and compiled into a searchable database by ProPublica revealed a web of incomplete and often inconsistent information.

Often the lists didn’t specify clergy’s current status and location. And while dioceses frequently claim to know nothing about a priest’s whereabouts, reporters with ProPublica and the Chronicle found them on church websites, in religious publications and on social media. Church leaders often failed to report allegations to police, to pursue permanent restrictions within the church, or to heed or offer warnings about priests facing allegations. In at least four cases, church leaders facilitated priests’ moving abroad.

The omissions, inconsistencies and other shortcomings undercut the church’s professed desire to repair its relationship with millions of disaffected Catholics, said . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. If the Catholic church is the body of Christ, as it believes, then it is clear that it suffers from a serious infection.

Later in the article:

For decades, the Catholic Church in the United States concealed abuse by clergy, transferring priests from parish to parish, sometimes cloaking reasons for moves in code, such as “family and health reasons.” The demand for Spanish-speaking clergy in the U.S. — driven by an increase of about 45 million Catholics since the 1950s, with the largest growth among Latino faithful — made it easier for priests to cross international lines, experts said, but harder to hold them accountable.

It is “all that much harder to track them when they’re in another country,” said Erin Gallagher, an investigator for the International Criminal Court in The Hague, who helped track down fugitive priests in the early 2000s when she was working in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office. “They are pariahs here and they can go live someplace else anonymously.”

The ProPublica-Chronicle investigation found that the church’s ability to track abusive priests was even more limited internationally than within U.S. borders. Because the Vatican does not dictate what bishops must disclose about accused clergy, either within the church or to the public, bishops in many countries have released even less information than those in the U.S.

No diocese in Mexico, which is home to about 90 million Catholics, has published a list of credibly accused priests, though Mexican church officials reported in January that 271 priests have been investigated in the past decade in connection with sexual abuse allegations. An advocacy group for abuse victims in Mexico compiled a list of accused priests in 2010.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 March 2020 at 9:15 am

A comparison of the 10 most religious countries with the 10 least religious

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I’ll say it immediately: Correlation does not mean causation. This chart is from a column in the Washington Post by Max Boot:

The column begins:

It has become conventional wisdom on the right that religion is under assault from secular liberals — and that the waning of faith is bad for America.

Attorney General William P. Barr, a conservative Catholic, summed up this alarmist outlook last fall during an incendiary speech at Notre Dame. He bemoaned “the steady erosion of our traditional Judeo-Christian moral system” and the “growing ascendancy of secularism and the doctrine of moral relativism. By any honest assessment,” he thundered, “the consequences of this moral upheaval have been grim.” He went on to cite statistics on rising out-of-wedlock births (“illegitimacy”), along with “record levels of depression and mental illness, dispirited young people, soaring suicide rates, increasing numbers of angry and alienated young males, an increase in senseless violence, and a deadly drug epidemic.”

This tendentious reading of U.S. history ignores reality. By most metrics, the country is far better off than when Barr was a boy. He was born in 1950, when segregation was legal and homosexuality was not.

Consider some of the improvements since 1960. Real per capita gross domestic product has increased 216 percent, from $18,268 in the first quarter of 1960 to $57,719 in the first quarter of 2019, driven in part by a 230 percent increase in output per hour for non-farm workers as of 2015. The share of 25- to 34-year-olds who have graduated from college has tripled as of 2016. Infant mortality has fallen nearly 80 percent as of 2018. The homicide rate was unchanged as of 2018 — five murders per 100,000 people — but that disguises a vast improvement since the homicide rate peaked at 10.4 per 100,000 in 1980. While the number of out-of-wedlock births was more than seven times higher in 2018, the share of single mothers has declined since 1997 because more unmarried parents live together. The abortion rate soared after Roe v. Wade in 1973 but has fallen more than 50 percent since 1980. How does Barr account for these improvements if the United States is on the road to ruin?

Barr’s simplistic idea that the country is better off if it is more religious is based on faith, not evidence. My research associate Sherry Cho compiled statistics on the 10 countries with the highest percentage of religious people and the 10 countries with the lowest percentage based on a 2017 WIN/Gallup International survey of 68 countries. The least religious countries are either Asian nations where monotheism never took hold (China, Japan) or Western nations such as Australia, Sweden and Belgium, where secularism is much more advanced than in the United States. The most religious countries represent various faiths: There are predominantly Christian countries (the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Armenia), Muslim Pakistan, Buddhist Thailand, Hindu India — and countries of mixed faiths (Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Fiji).

Indicators suggest that the less religious nations are much better off. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 February 2020 at 7:34 pm

Jesus is a Jew

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In Comment David Brooks provides the cultural context for the life and mission of Jesus:

This Year in Jerusalem

There are different lenses through which to see Jesus. I suppose there is a Florence Jesus—the pale, gentle, Caucasian Jesus of the Italian Renaissance paintings, with a scraggly blond beard and two fingers raised in blessing. There’s the Managua Jesus, the peasant revolutionary. There’s the Jesus of the American slaves, the suffering Christ bearing the burden of the oppressed. There’s the Oxford Jesus, the strong, elegant, protective Aslan for those who came to faith through C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Anglophilia. And then there’s the Jerusalem Jesus. This is the lens that sees Jesus the Jew.

This is the lens that tries to see through two thousand years of Christian anti-Semitism; that tries to see through two thousand years in which Jews and Christians have defined themselves against one another, magnifying their differences. This is the lens that tries to see Jesus in his original Jewish context, that tries to put his Israelite and Jewish experience in the foreground, and not in the background.

I’m always amazed by how many people who have dedicated their lives to Christ have never actually been to Israel. They have money to travel, and go off to Europe and such places, but they haven’t directly experienced the clashing confrontation of faiths, powers, and tribes that marks Jerusalem today and was just as present in Jesus’s own lifetime. They haven’t given themselves the chance to appreciate how misleading it is to associate the faith with the serenity of a church pew or the reasoned domesticity of a Bible study. The world Jesus inhabited was a world of fractious intensity. The Israel of Jesus, like the Israel of today, was a spiritual and literal battle zone. He was love in the most hostile environment imaginable.

The starting point of the Jerusalem view of Jesus is the fact that is everywhere acknowledged but rarely given sufficient weight. Jesus was Jewish. He presumably had the skin colour of modern Sephardic Jews. He wore tzitzit, or fringes, that modern Orthodox Jews wear and donned the phylacteries that Jewish men still put on. He and his disciples kept kosher. He argued with other Jews but within the context of Judaism. In Matthew he tells his disciples not to bother evangelizing among the Samarians and the gentiles. His ministry begins with lost sheep within the house of Israel itself, before it broadens to contain all the world. “Think not that I have come to abolish the Torah and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them,” he says in Matthew 5:17.

In my experience, many Jews today know very little about Jesus. But there have always been some Jews who read about him and recognize how completely Jewish he was. Martin Buber called Jesus a “brother.” Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath, a leader of reform Judaism, once declared that if Jesus came back to earth today it would be at a Reformed synagogue where he would feel most at home. The Jewish writer Amy-Jill Levine says she doesn’t worship Jesus, because she’s a Jew, but “I also have to admit to a bit of pride in thinking about him—he’s one of ours.”

Rabbi Leo Baeck, who led German Jews during the horrors of the Holocaust, put it best: “We behold a man who is Jewish in every feature and trait of his character, manifesting in every particular what is pure and good in Judaism. This man could have developed as he came to be only on the soil of Judaism, and only on this soil, too, could he find disciples and followers as they were. Here alone in this Jewish sphere, in this Jewish atmosphere . . . could this man live his life and meet his death—a Jew among Jews.”

To be a Jew in Jesus’s day was not to embrace a “religion” or to practice a “faith.” They didn’t have these concepts yet because they did not yet have the concept of secularism. Judaism was an enveloping lifepath, total worldview, a covenantal relationship, a way of living out and searching for truth. It starts with the claim that of all the many peoples of this earth, God had chosen this one scraggly little band on the eastern edge of the Judean hill country to be his people and the recipient of his covenant. As N.T. Wright puts it, the sheer absurdity of this claim, from the standpoint of any other worldview, is staggering.

If you were within this covenant, it must have felt completely self-enclosing. The pressure must have been intense. We today have a sense that the world is filled with many diverse cultures and nations and their rivalries are just the normal stuff of politics.

The Jews, two thousand years ago, had a sense that Israel stood out from all the other nations and lived out its own unique destiny. They saw relations between nations not just as the normal jostling of peoples but as the running tally of divine judgment: Are we favoured or are we punished? Is the covenant betrayed or fulfilled? God shapes history to teach us hard lessons.

Welcome to the Apocalypse

Which leads to another pivotal reality that defined Judaism in Jesus’ day: foreign occupation. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2020 at 3:22 pm

Posted in Daily life, Religion

Catholic Leaders Promised Transparency About Child Abuse. They lied.

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Of course, lying is pretty small potatoes compared to child rape and protecting child rapists, so no real surprise here. Lexi Churchill, Ellis Simani, and Topher Sanders report in ProPublica:

It took 40 years and three bouts of cancer for Larry Giacalone to report his claim of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a Boston priest named Richard Donahue.

Giacalone sued Donahue in 2017, alleging the priest molested him in 1976, when Giacalone was 12 and Donahue was serving at Sacred Heart Parish. The lawsuit never went to trial, but a compensation program set up by the archdiocese concluded that Giacalone “suffered physical injuries and emotional injuries as a result of physical abuse” and directed the archdiocese to pay him $73,000.

Even after the claim was settled and the compensation paid in February 2019, however, the archdiocese didn’t publish Donahue’s name on its list of accused priests. Nor did it three months later when Giacalone’s lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian, criticized the church publicly for not adding Donahue’s name to the list.

Church leaders finally added Donahue to the list last month after ProPublica asked why he hadn’t been included. But that, too, sowed confusion. Despite the determination that Giacalone was entitled to compensation, Donahue’s name was added to a portion of the list for priests accused in cases deemed “unsubstantiated” — where the archdiocese says it does not have sufficient evidence to determine whether the clergy member committed the alleged abuse.

“To award a victim a substantial amount of money, yet claim that the accused is not a pedophile, is an insult to one’s intelligence,” said Garabedian, who has handled hundreds of abuse cases over the last 25 years. “It’s a classic case of the archdiocese ducking, delaying and avoiding issues.”

Donahue, in an interview with ProPublica, denied the allegation by Giacalone.

Over the last year and a half, the majority of U.S. dioceses, as well as nearly two dozen religious orders, have released lists of abusers currently or formerly in their ranks. The revelations were no coincidence: They were spurred by a 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report, which named hundreds of priests as part of a statewide clergy abuse investigation. Nationwide, the names of more than 5,800 clergy members have been released so far, representing the most comprehensive step toward transparency yet by a Catholic Church dogged by its long history of denying and burying abuse by priests.

But even as bishops have dedicated these lists to abuse victims and depicted the disclosures as a public acknowledgement of victims’ suffering, it has become clear that numerous alleged abusers have been omitted and that there is no standard for determining who each diocese considers credibly accused.

A spokesman for the Boston Archdiocese initially said Donahue wasn’t on its list of accused priests because he was still being investigated and subsequently called the delay an “oversight.”

Even when dioceses and religious orders identify credibly accused clergy members, the information they provide about those named varies widely. Some jurisdictions turn over far more specifics about problem priests — from where they worked to the number of their victims to the details of their wrongdoing — than others.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, or USCCB, has issued no instructions on disclosures related to credibly accused priests, leaving individual dioceses and religious orders to decide for themselves how much or how little to publish. The USCCB says it does not have the authority to order dioceses to release names or to resolve disputes over who should be on the lists, though in 2002 after a scandal in Boston, the conference did put in place new protocols intended to ensure alleged abuse by clergy was reported and tracked.

“Recognizing the authority of the local bishop, and the fact that state and local laws vary, the decision of whether and how to best release lists and comply with varying civil reporting laws have been the responsibility of individual dioceses,” said Chieko Noguchi, a USCCB spokeswoman.

While the USCCB can propose policies for church leaders in the U.S., the bishops themselves are appointed by the pope and answer to him.

ProPublica has collected the 178 lists released by U.S. dioceses and religious orders as of Jan. 20 and created a searchable database that allows users to look up clergy members by name, diocese or parish. This represents the first comprehensive picture of the information released publicly by bishops around the country. Some names appear multiple times. In many cases, that accounts for priests who were accused in more than one location. In other instances, dioceses have acknowledged when priests who served in their jurisdiction have been reported for abuse elsewhere.

Kathleen McChesney, a former FBI official who helped establish a new set of child protection protocols within the USCCB in the early 2000s, has urged bishops and religious orders for nearly two decades to create a comprehensive list of accused clergy. She said our database will allow the public to better track dioceses’ disclosures, rather than seeing each list in isolation.

“People don’t know where to look,” McChesney said. “The contribution of the one list will help a lot of people to perhaps identify someone that they believe abused them.”

Still, much crucial information remains missing. Despite . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

The Catholic church is an organization that lacks any moral vision or any serious commitment to moral behavior. I base that statement on its actions, not on its words, since its words are routinely contradicted by its actions.

See also:

The Catholic Church has not released a public list of clergy members who have been credibly accused of sexual misconduct or assault. However, over the last year and a half U.S. dioceses and religious orders serving most of the Catholics in the country have released lists of “credibly accused” abusers who have served in their ranks, using their own criteria for whom to include. ProPublica collected these lists to provide a central location to search across all reports. How we did this

Click this link to search the database.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 January 2020 at 1:27 pm

The Amish Keep to Themselves. And They’re Hiding a Horrifying Secret

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Sarah McClure reports in Cosmopolitan:

The memories come to her in fragments. The bed creaking late at night after one of her brothers snuck into her room and pulled her to the edge of her mattress. Her underwear shoved to the side as his body hovered over hers, one of his feet still on the floor.

Her ripped dresses, the clothespins that bent apart on her apron as another brother grabbed her at dusk by the hogpen after they finished feeding the pigs. Sometimes she’d pry herself free and sprint toward the house, but “they were bigger and stronger,” she says. They usually got what they wanted.

As a child, Sadie* was carefully shielded from outside influences, never allowed to watch TV or listen to pop music or get her learner’s permit. Instead, she attended a one-room Amish schoolhouse and rode a horse and buggy to church—a life designed to be humble and disciplined and godly.

By age 9, she says, she’d been raped by one of her older brothers. By 12, she’d been abused by her father, Abner*, a chiropractor who penetrated her with his fingers on the same table where he saw patients, telling her he was “flipping her uterus” to ensure her fertility. By 14, she says, three more brothers had raped her and she was being attacked in the hayloft or in her own bed multiple times a week. She would roll over afterward, ashamed and confused. The sisters who shared Sadie’s room (and even her bed) never woke up—or if they did, never said anything, although some later confided that they were being raped too.

Sadie’s small world was built around adherence to rules—and keeping quiet was one of them. “There was no love or support,” she says. “We didn’t feel that we had anywhere to go to say anything.”

So she didn’t.

Even on the day the police showed up on her doorstep to question then-12-year-old Sadie’s father about his alleged abuse of his daughters.

Even on the day when, almost two years later, Abner was sentenced by a circuit court judge to just five years’ probation.

And even on the day when, at 14, she says she was cornered in the pantry by one of her brothers and raped on the sink, and then felt a gush and saw blood running down her leg, and cleaned up alone while he walked away, and gingerly placed her underwear in a bucket of cold water before going back to her chores. A friend helped her realize years later: While being raped, she had probably suffered a miscarriage.

It wasn’t until now that Sadie decided to speak up, to reveal the darkness beneath the bucolic surface of her childhood. She’s tired of keeping quiet.

Over the past year, I’ve interviewed nearly three dozen Amish people, in addition to law enforcement, judges, attorneys, outreach workers, and scholars. I’ve learned that sexual abuse in their communities is an open secret spanning generations. Victims told me stories of inappropriate touching, groping, fondling, exposure to genitals, digital penetration, coerced oral sex, anal sex, and rape, all at the hands of their own family members, neighbors, and church leaders.

The Amish, who number roughly 342,000 in North America, are dispersed across rural areas of states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, New York, Michigan, and Wisconsin, according to the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College, a leading authority on Amish life. Because of their high birth rate—and because few members ever leave—they’re one of the fastest-growing religious groups in America. Lacking one centralized leader, they live in local congregations or “church districts,” each made up of 20 to 40 families. But the stories I heard were not confined to any one place.

In my reporting, I identified 52 official cases of Amish child sexual assault in seven states over the past two decades. Chillingly, this number doesn’t begin to capture the full picture. Virtually every Amish victim I spoke to—mostly women but also several men—told me they were dissuaded by their family or church leaders from reporting their abuse to police or had been conditioned not to seek outside help (as Sadie put it, she knew she’d just be “mocked or blamed”). Some victims said they were intimidated and threatened with excommunication. Their stories describe a widespread, decentralized cover-up of child sexual abuse by Amish clergy.

“We’re told that it’s not Christlike to report,” explains Esther*, an Amish woman who says she was abused by her brother and a neighbor boy at age 9. “It’s so ingrained. There are so many people who go to church and just endure.”

And yet, as #MeToo has rocked mainstream culture, Amish women have instigated their own female-driven movement. “It’s much slower and less highly visible,” says Linda Crockett, founder and director of Safe Communities, an organization that works to prevent child sexual abuse. “But I have seen a real uptick over the past 10 years in Amish women coming forward. They hear about each other—not on Twitter or Facebook, but there’s a strong communication system within these communities. They draw courage and strength from each other.”

“I get phone calls now….There’s a bunch of Amish who have my cell phone number, and they use it. The men call on behalf of the women,” says Judge Craig Stedman, former district attorney of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania—home to nearly 40,000 Amish—who has served on a task force that connects the Amish to law enforcement and social services. (Although most don’t have cell phones, the Amish might use pay phones or call from “English” neighbors’ homes.)

Some victims, like Sadie, have long since left the church and the Amish way of life, but others, including Esther, are still on the inside, sending out an alarm to the world they’ve been taught to reject. “They want to talk,” explains Crockett, “so they’re turning outside.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it shows that the Amish way of life is a bad way of life, to say the least.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 January 2020 at 2:22 pm

Catholic Church Shields $2 Billion in Assets to Limit Abuse Payouts

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The Catholic church has abandoned the high moral ground in favor of making (and protecting) money. I want to hear no more moral lectures from Catholic prelates. They have enough of a task to clean out the Augean stables of their church. Josh Saul writes in Bloomberg BusinessWeek:

For most of the 20th century, the Catholic Church in the U.S. minimized the damage wrought by pedophile priests by covering up the abuse. When the bishop of the Davenport, Iowa, diocese was told in the mid-1950s that one of his priests was sexually abusing boys at a local YMCA, he kept it secret. “It is consoling to know that no general notoriety has arisen, and I pray none may result,” he wrote to a priest, capturing the strategy of the era.

Cover-ups worked when victims and their families could be intimidated or shamed into silence. But in the 1980s and ’90s, victims started filing civil lawsuits against the dioceses where the alleged incidents took place. Church leaders across the country kept these suits quiet by settling out of court and demanding nondisclosure agreements in return. Church leaders paid out about $750 million from the early ’80s through 2002, according to, a nonprofit that tracks clergy sex abuse.

The veil of secrecy on these transactions was pierced when the Boston Globe published its investigations into church sex abuse in 2002, sparking public outrage at how clergy had protected their own. From 1950 to 2002, 4,392 priests were accused of abuse, according to a study by John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

The pace of lawsuits escalated as public awareness grew, and besieged church leaders looked to a new option: bankruptcy. When a church district that’s been sued files for Chapter 11 and then reaches a bankruptcy settlement, a percentage of its assets are divvied up by victims. Like Fortune 500 executives—and more recently the Sacklers, the family that owns OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP—church leaders see bankruptcy as an attractive solution because it provides a controlled process for settling a large number of lawsuits while holding on to as many assets as possible.

Another benefit is secrecy. Lawsuits and trials lead to testimony and publicity. Bankruptcy ensures a quieter mass settlement that forces an end to existing lawsuits and blocks new ones. “It provides a clean slate,” says Robert Kugler, a lawyer who represented abuse victims in the St. Paul and Minneapolis archdiocese. Dioceses have gone this route more than 20 times since 2004, when the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., declared itself insolvent.

More dioceses are filing for bankruptcy now that rules are changing about how much time a victim has to sue over abuse. Seven states and the District of Columbia passed laws in 2019 that suspend the statute of limitations on civil sex abuse suits, and at least three other states are considering them. Known as “window statutes,” they’ve become popular in the wake of the #MeToo movement and public outcry over abuse by men in power. Until recently, only a half-dozen states had them. Window statutes caused churches to declare bankruptcy in San Diego, Wilmington, Del., and cities throughout Minnesota.

After New York state’s law went into effect in August, almost 430 sex abuse victims immediately filed lawsuits, most of them against dioceses. The diocese of Rochester declared bankruptcy in September; bishops in Brooklyn and Buffalo announced that theirs may soon follow.

In many cases, churches precede bankruptcy by transferring and reclassifying assets. The effect is to shrink the pot of money available to clergy abuse victims. That and Chapter 11’s universal settle­ments and protections from further claims have been an effective one-two punch for limiting payouts. A Bloomberg Businessweek review of court filings by lawyers for churches and victims in the past 15 years shows that the U.S. Catholic Church has shielded more than $2 billion in assets from abuse victims in bankruptcies using these methods. “The survivors should have gotten that money, and they didn’t,” says Terry McKiernan, president of “The Catholic Church has behaved like a business. It hasn’t behaved like a religion that lives by the rules it espouses.”

The unfolding of one diocese’s bankruptcy provides a road map for what may come as more go this route. The Chapter 11 filing of the archdiocese in Santa Fe shows how easy and routine it is to rejigger a balance sheet.

The archdiocese was facing a few dozen clergy abuse suits when it filed in December 2018, saying it was too poor to defend itself. The number rose to about 375 by the June 2019 deadline that the bankruptcy court had set for victims to file claims. New Mexico doesn’t have a window statute.

In court papers, the archdiocese reported owning $49 million in real estate, cash, and investments. That figure included its Albuquerque headquarters, corporate and municipal bonds, a half-dozen cars and pickup trucks, and an unspecified amount of gold and silver. By contrast, the church’s 1951 incorporation papers put its estimated value at $40 million, or $396 million in today’s dollars.

To arrive at that $49 million figure, church leaders said at least $178 million in cash and property associated with the archdiocese was owned by parishes or held in a trust or foundation and thus wasn’t eligible for inclusion in the estate. Lawyers for victims, saying there’s no real separation between the archdiocese and its parishes, argue that the $178 million should be included in the available funds. That would raise the value of the estate to as much as $227 million.

The church in Santa Fe began reorganizing in 2012. In November of that year, the business managers for the 90 or so parishes across northern New Mexico gathered in Albuquerque to be addressed by Tony Salgado, chief financial officer for the archdiocese. Salgado had called the meeting to explain to the managers how to incorporate their parishes separate from the archdiocese. “We got step-by-step instructions,” says Christine Romero, then the business manager for St. Anne parish in Santa Fe. The legal change would let the archdiocese assert that each parish was a distinct organization that owned its own property. Around the same time, records show, church leaders created the Archdiocese of Santa Fe Real Estate Corp. and began transferring hundreds of properties into it.

Romero says that when she raised her hand and asked how the separate incorporations would affect the parishes, Salgado said the move wouldn’t change day-to-day operations. “It’s just to protect us from the pedophile lawsuits,” he said, according to Romero. Salgado declined to comment.

Incorporating parishes separately allowed the archdiocese to take about $91 million off its books. The first $34 million came from moving 120 properties in Santa Fe, Taos, and other areas into a trust it says it holds on behalf of its parishes. The properties include churches, cemeteries, and a building with a cafe and a yoga studio. (The real value of the properties is likely much higher: The archdiocese assigned a value of zero for many of them, and for others it used the assessed value the local authorities assign for tax purposes instead of the appraised value, or what the property could be expected to command in a sale.) Another $57 million worth of property owned by the parishes, including cemeteries in Santa Fe and a mobile home in Taos where a priest lives, is held in a separate trust.

James Stang, lead lawyer for the alleged clergy abuse victims in the bankruptcy, wrote in a June court filing that the incorporations and transfers were made with the intent to “hinder, delay, or defraud” the claimants. J. Ford Elsaesser, an archdiocese lawyer, disputes accusations that the archdiocese shuffled assets to keep money from claimants. The relationship between the church and its parishes is like that between an adult child and an elderly parent who can no longer handle his affairs, he says: “The property is yours in name, but it’s not your money.” He says that bankruptcy is the best venue for settling large numbers of abuse claims in part because it makes for a fairer distribution of finite church assets, with all victims sharing the money in an orderly way instead of it being quickly scooped up by victims who file claims first.

Church officials also put close to $37 million in cash and investments into a Wells Fargo account that it says it controls but doesn’t own. Yet another pot of funds sits in  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it is disgusting and morally repellent. The Catholic church should be ashamed of itself twice over: for protect pedophiles in its ranks and assisting them in finding new victims through covering up their crimes and (when forced) transferring them to new parishes with new opportunities, and in denying victims compensation..

Written by LeisureGuy

11 January 2020 at 7:58 pm

‘Someone’s Gotta Tell the Freakin’ Truth’: Jerry Falwell’s Aides Break Their Silence

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Authoritarian organizations rely on suppressing dissent, but sometimes it’s difficult. Brandon Ambrosino write this Politico piece back in September 2019:

t Liberty University, all anyone can talk about is Jerry Falwell Jr. Just not in public.

“When he does stupid stuff, people will mention it to others they consider confidants and not keep it totally secret,” a trusted adviser to Falwell, the school’s president and chancellor, told me. “But they won’t rat him out.”

That’s beginning to change.

Over the past year, Falwell, a prominent evangelical leader and supporter of President Donald Trump, has come under increasing scrutiny. News outlets have reported on business deals by Liberty University benefiting Falwell’s friends. Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen claimed that he had helped Falwell clean up racy “personal” photographs.

Based on scores of new interviews and documents obtained for this article, concerns about Falwell’s behavior go well beyond that—and it’s causing longtime, loyal Liberty University officials to rapidly lose faith in him.

More than two dozen current and former high-ranking Liberty University officials and close associates of Falwell spoke to me or provided documents for this article, opening up—for the first time at an institution so intimately associated with the Falwell family—about what they’ve experienced and why they don’t think he’s the right man to lead Liberty University or serve as a figurehead in the Christian conservative movement.

In interviews over the past eight months, they depicted how Falwell and his wife, Becki, consolidated power at Liberty University and how Falwell presides over a culture of self-dealing, directing university resources into projects and real estate deals in which his friends and family have stood to make personal financial gains. Among the previously unreported revelations are Falwell’s decision to hire his son Trey’s company to manage a shopping center owned by the university, Falwell’s advocacy for loans given by the university to his friends, and Falwell’s awarding university contracts to businesses owned by his friends.

“We’re not a school; we’re a real estate hedge fund,” said a senior university official with inside knowledge of Liberty’s finances. “We’re not educating; we’re buying real estate every year and taking students’ money to do it.”

Liberty employees detailed other instances of Falwell’s behavior that they see as falling short of the standard of conduct they expect from conservative Christian leaders, from partying at nightclubs, to graphically discussing his sex life with employees, to electioneering that makes uneasy even those who fondly remember the heyday of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr., the school’s founder and Falwell Jr.’s father, and his Moral Majority.

In January, the Wall Street Journal reported that in the run-up to Trump’s presidential campaign, Cohen hired John Gauger, a Liberty University employee who runs a private consulting firm, to manipulate online polls in Trump’s favor. Not previously reported is the fact that, according to a half-dozen high-level Liberty University sources, when Gauger traveled to New York to collect payment from Cohen, he was joined by Trey Falwell, a vice president at Liberty. During that trip, Trey posted a now-deleted photo to Instagram of around $12,000 in cash spread on a hotel bed, raising questions about his knowledge of Gauger’s poll-rigging work. Trey did not respond to requests for comment.

Jerry Falwell Jr. responded to more than two dozen written questions, defending his actions and criticizing the reporting of this article. “I fear that the true information I am sharing in good faith will simply not make any difference. And will only result in more questions,” Falwell said. He declined to answer subsequent questions.

The string of news articles over the past several months has had a minimal effect on Falwell’s leadership of Liberty University. As the namesake of the school’s founder, Falwell has never had his position seriously challenged. Liberty is thriving financially. Its enrollment has surged past 110,000 students—the vast majority of whom are enrolled online—and across its campus in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, the hum of backhoes and bulldozers is omnipresent as construction crews work to keep pace with the university’s swelling ambitions.

But these new revelations speak to rising discontent with Falwell’s stewardship. The people interviewed for this article include members of Liberty’s board of trustees, senior university officials, and rank-and-file staff members who work closely with Falwell. They are reluctant to speak out—there’s no organized, open dissent to Falwell on campus—but they said they see it as necessary to save Liberty University and the values it once stood for. They said they believe in the Christian tradition and in the conservative politics at the heart of Liberty’s mission. Many knew Jerry Falwell Sr. and remember him with clear affection. “The day that man died was the day I lost a father,” one current university official said. All count themselves as conservatives. Many are strong supporters of Trump.

I am a graduate of Liberty University, and my time there overlapped the tenures of both Falwell Sr. and his son. Over the course of my years of reporting on the university, the Falwells have granted me considerable access, including sit-down interviews in the offices of both Falwell Jr. and his brother, the Rev. Jonathan Falwell, who leads Thomas Road Baptist Church. I’ve written candidly about my time there as a student, reported about political divisions on campus and revealed that Trey co-owns a gay-friendly hostel in Miami.

Members of the Liberty University community are generally reluctant to go on the record. The school uses nondisclosure agreements to prohibit many university employees or board members from openly discussing what they’ve seen Falwell do. (“All trustees sign a confidentiality agreement that does not expire at the close of Board service,” Liberty’s attorney told board members in an email that was sent earlier this month after the school received inquiries from reporters on some of the issues outlined in this article.) Tenure and its protections are not available to Liberty faculty members outside the law school. If you teach or work at Liberty, you must get approval from Falwell’s office before you speak to the media. Talk to reporters without his approval—or publicly criticize him, even obliquely—and you could lose your job. If you’re a board member and do the same, you could get forced out, even if you have unimpeachable credentials in the Christian conservative movement.

“It’s a dictatorship,” one current high-level employee of the school said. “Nobody craps at the university without Jerry’s approval.”

“Everybody is scared for their life. Everybody walks around in fear,” said a current university employee who agreed to speak for this article only after purchasing a burner phone, fearing that Falwell was monitoring their communications. The fear is not limited to Liberty’s campus. Several people who lack any tie to Liberty but live in the school’s hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia, refused to go on the record for this story, fearing Falwell would take revenge upon them and their families. “Fear is probably his most powerful weapon,” a former senior university official said.

But even those who fear have their breaking points.

In speaking out, said one longtime current university employee with close ties to the school’s first family, “I feel like I’m betraying them in some way. But someone’s gotta tell the freakin’ truth.”

“We’re talking about the difference between right and wrong,” a current high-ranking university official said. “Not even ‘being a Christian,’ but being a good person, versus people who manipulate the system.”

PART I: The Kingdom

Long before his May 2007 death, the Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr.—the Baptist preacher who founded Liberty University and whose creation of the Moral Majority marked the emergence of white evangelical conservatives as a national political force—made clear how he wanted the empire he’d built to be divided when the time came.

His two sons, Jerry Jr. and Jonathan, had each inherited different aspects of their father’s persona. For Jerry Jr., the elder of the two by four years, it was the stomach for partisan politics, ability to throw an elbow and the savvy to court influential friends. For Jonathan, it was the calling to ministry, his easy way with people and charisma as a public speaker. Jerry Jr. would preside over Liberty University, and Jonathan would lead Thomas Road Baptist Church. Each son had worked under their father at the respective institutions; each knew well what those positions would require.

A bigger question remained: Who would  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 December 2019 at 11:48 am

White Evangelicals Are Terrified That Liberals Want to Extinguish Their Rights

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Kevin Drum blogs at Mother Jones:

As we all know, white evangelicals are convinced that their religious liberties are under attack from liberals and atheists. But are they really? Political scientists Ryan Burge and Paul Djupe looked at survey data to find out:

[Among] white evangelical Protestants, we found that 60 percent believed that atheists would not allow them First Amendment rights and liberties. More specifically, we asked whether they believed atheists would prevent them from being able to “hold rallies, teach, speak freely, and run for public office.” Similarly, 58 percent believed “Democrats in Congress” would not allow them to exercise these liberties if they were in power.

Is this true? The authors go to a second survey to find out, but it has different questions and different groups of respondents and doesn’t really address the question. Nonetheless they try to tease out an answer, and unsurprisingly the answer is no. Most atheists and Democrats are pretty tolerant of basic religious liberties even if they really, really hate evangelicals. Conversely, evangelicals who hate atheists are pretty intolerant of their religious liberties:

Conservative Christians believe their rights are in peril partly because that’s what they’re hearing, quite explicitly, from conservative media, religious elites, partisan commentators and some politicians, including the president. The survey evidence suggests another reason, too. Their fear comes from an inverted golden rule: Expect from others what you would do unto them. White evangelical Protestants express low levels of tolerance for atheists, which leads them to expect intolerance from atheists in return. That perception surely bolsters their support for Trump. They believe their freedom depends on keeping Trump and his party in power.

I’d add to this that it’s all unfolding against a background in which the biggest real-world fights are over abortion and contraceptives and cake decorators. Conservative Christians believe that their freedom to refuse these services is also a basic religious liberty, and there’s no question that liberals are pretty determined to take those particular liberties away. Given that, it’s a short step to believe that liberals might someday decide to remove their rights to “hold rallies, teach, speak freely, and run for public office.”

In any case, this is something I’ve written about occasionally: it’s impossible to understand evangelicals and their support for Donald Trump without first understanding just how frightened they are of the steady liberal march toward secular hegemony. They consider the aughts and teens to have been a nearly complete disaster, capped by the 2015 Supreme Court ruling forcing states to recognize gay marriage. Many prominent evangelical leaders literally gave up after that, and the ones that didn’t had little hope for the future.

Then, suddenly, Donald Trump showed up and promised them everything they wanted. In short order he became their Joan of Arc, rallying them back to a fight he assured them they could win as long as he was on their side. And rhetorically, at least, he delivered. The fight was back on.

It’s not clear to me that there’s much we can do about this. We can’t do anything about the “inverted golden rule,” and we’re certainly not going to stop fighting for gay rights or reproductive rights. That leaves only a more concerted effort to assure evangelicals that they have nothing to fear regarding things like teaching, speaking, and holding rallies. And even that’s a tough nut when evangelicals can look to other countries and see that, in fact, those rights have occasionally been circumscribed to some degree. This may seem like a pretty small and distant issue, but I assure you that Fox News and talk radio report on every single example no matter how small, and they keep it front and center forever and ever.

Understanding your opponents is usually useful because it provides some guidance about how best to respond. In this case I’m not sure it does, but . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 December 2019 at 7:57 am

Kama muta: a new term for that warm, fuzzy feeling we all get

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Alan Fiske, a psychological anthropologist and distinguished professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, whose latest book is Kama Muta: Discovering the Connecting Emotion (2019), has in Aeon an article based on the book:

Some emotions you seem to recognise the moment you feel them – you know when you’re angry, surprised, embarrassed or jealous. And yet you probably can’t name one of life’s most wonderful emotions (in fact, even psychologists have only recently begun to study it). It’s hiding in plain sight: without realising what you were feeling, you’ve probably experienced this same emotion in diverse situations such as when reunited with family or others you love; in worship; at a wedding; when you first held your newborn baby; when your team won a championship; or when a kitten climbed into your lap, licked your hand, curled up and fell asleep there. You might have felt it marching in a social-movement demonstration, or participating in a support or recovery group.

Now think back. At any of those times, was there a wonderful warm, fuzzy feeling in your heart? Did you cry tears of joy? Were you choked up with happiness? Did you get goosebumps or chills of delight? Feel so buoyant you were almost floating? Perhaps you put your hand on your heart and said ‘Awww!’ If you had these sensations, you were probably feeling this mysterious emotion. Next, you probably wanted to hug everyone, or call your grandparents to tell them how much you love them.

Although there is no exact word in any everyday language for this emotion, English speakers seeking to name the feeling might call it, depending on the context: being moved, touched, team pride, patriotism, being touched by the Spirit, burning in the bosom, the feels, or, when evoked by a memory, nostalgia. However, none of these terms captures precisely what the emotion is – and using any one of them conceals the fact that though it has many names, it is one emotion. So we coined a scientific term for it, ‘kama muta’, borrowed from the ancient Sanskrit where it meant ‘moved by love’, written in the beautiful Devanāgarī script as काममूत.

Kama muta is recognisable by six co-occurring features:

  1. It is evoked by the sudden intensification of communal sharing – that is, sudden ‘love’ or kindness;
  2. It is brief (typically less than a minute or two, though it can repeat in rapid succession);
  3. It feels good (though it can occur in the context of other, negative emotions);
  4. When intense, it is often accompanied by the same set of physical sensations: a warm, fuzzy feeling in the centre of the chest; moist eyes or tears; being choked up (a lump in the throat); chills or goosebumps; and often a smile and putting the palm(s) on the chest, sometimes saying ‘Awwww!’;
  5. It motivates devotion and compassion to communal sharing – also known as ‘loving kindness’;
  6. Depending on the language and the context, it is often labelled with the terms mentioned above.

In several experiments with more than 10,000 participants in 19 nations in 15 languages, involving observation, interviews, diary studies, comparative ethnology and history, we have shown that these six features frequently co-occur, in the specific contexts mentioned above, and many others where love ignites.

We’ve conducted observational research in churches and mosques, in poetry lounges and memorial sites, at Alcoholics Anonymous and eating-disorder residential treatment programmes, in birth centres and with new parents. We have explored hundreds of historical sources and hundreds of ethnographies from diverse cultures all over the world.

Wherever we’ve looked, in myriad contexts and cultures, we’ve found the same pattern: kama muta and its six features are consistently evoked by viewing videos of sudden connection or kindness, confirming that it is one emotion. So, for example, when we show participants short videos that involve love springing up between fictional characters, the participants tend to get warm feelings in the heart, often along with tears or goosebumps, just as we find in participant observation in Sufi and Pentecostal services when the worshipper suddenly feels divine love.

Kama muta is closely related to, but not the same as, love. Love is an enduring sentiment, whereas kama muta is the momentary emotion that occurs when love ignites. That is, you feel kama muta when new love emerges (such as a first kiss, or someone shows you kindness), or existing love suddenly becomes salient, or a sense of belonging, connection, and identity emerges, for example at a march or demonstration. The suddenly created or intensified love can be romantic, platonic, or religious. It can be with one person, with a family or team, or with the entire Earth. It can be the gratitude for an unexpected kindness, or the sense of connection and belonging at a warm welcome.

That feeling is all around us. Social media posts that evoke strong kama muta often go viral – for example, cute kittens, puppies and special animal friendships. The popularity of some literature (especially sentimental novels) and movies (especially romantic comedies) is, we suspect, often largely due to the kama muta they evoke. Kama muta is often the essence of oratory and poetry such as William Shakespeare’s sonnets and Matsuo Bashō’s haiku. Many kinds of music evoke it in multiple ways, as do certain experiences of oneness with nature. It appears to be a universal emotion, present in diverse cultures throughout history.

Many social practices have culturally evolved via their capacity to evoke this appealing emotion. The more a form of worship, a type of music or a narrative evokes kama muta, the more people seek it out, tell others about it and reproduce it. When a Pixar movie, a wedding practice or poetry or photographs evoke kama muta, they spread across the globe. Preachers, orators, marketing creatives and political consultants who can create pitches that effectively evoke kama muta are more successful than those who cannot. Religious practices that engender kama muta presumably attract more worshippers and motivate those who have experienced kama muta to proselytise and to found new congregations. Kama muta moves the world.

When people are isolated and vulnerable, excluded and distressed, kama muta can reconnect them. Patients who feel kama muta with their psychotherapists seem to become more trusting and more committed to healing. Women in residential treatment for eating disorders who bond through kama muta apparently become more motivated to recover. Addicts who experience kama muta in support meetings might be more committed to stay sober. Immigrants who have kama muta experiences with people in their host country are likely to feel a stronger sense of belonging and identification with their hosts. And people who have kama muta experiences with immigrants or LGBTQ persons become more likely to embrace them.

Even a small unexpected kindness kindles kama muta: a thoughtful gift, a hug, an invitation to join a meal, an appearance at your bedside in the hospital. The lonely are more likely to fall ill and more likely to die; in contrast, kama muta connects, probably enhancing wellbeing and health.

We’ve only been studying kama muta for a few years, so many mysteries remain. We don’t yet know the . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 December 2019 at 7:41 pm

How the rise of individualism is upending the Middle East

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Jon B. Alterman, senior vice president, Brzezinski Chair and the Middle East program director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the author of the study “Ties That Bind: Family, tribe, nation and the rise of Arab individualism” (which can be downloaded at that link) has an interesting column (presumably extracted from the study) in the Washington Post:

The protests that have swept the Middle East in the past two months share a number of underlying causes: Oil prices are soft. Unemployment is high. Citizens have had their fill of corruption and dictatorship. The demonstrators in Beirut, Baghdad, Tehran and Algiers can add complaints that are distinctive to their nations, too. In Iraq, citizens object to the power of Iran and its proxy militias; in Algeria, citizens complain that the ruling gerontocracy has failed to deliver promised reforms.

Yet there’s a deeper sociological phenomenon that underpins all of this unrest: Individualism is accelerating in the Middle East, upending societies that had relied on people to know their place and respect authority. Arab societies have long depended on hierarchical networks of trust that encompass families, villages, tribes and other associations — networks that ultimately reach up to the national leadership. Young people, though, increasingly complain that these networks don’t serve them, and growing urbanization and the spread of technology make it far easier for them to opt out. In some cases, voluntary friendships and connections that people embrace in lieu of tribe and family provide their own sources of strength. But in a region with such a strong tradition of hierarchy and mutual obligation, it is hard to overstate how destabilizing the rise of individualism can be.

These countries are Westernizing socially, even as they maintain distinctive cultural and political identities. They are shifting toward the more atomistic social organization that has long characterized Europe and the United States. People are more mobile, families are more scattered, and economic rewards come as a result of what you do, not who you are. Yet partly because of the rapidity of the change, and partly because it is occurring in much more traditional societies, the decline in “social capital” that the Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam identified as a problem in the United States two decades ago, in his book “Bowling Alone,” is arriving even more abruptly in the Arab world. Loneliness and detachment are breeding social volatility.

Last year, colleagues and I at the Center for Strategic and International Studies explored the rise of individualism in the region, including through in-person interviews with more than 100 Arabs in four countries: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Tunisia. We interviewed rich and poor, young and old. We spoke with people in monarchies and republics, in cities and rural areas — in English, Arabic and French. The stories we heard were remarkably consistent, and they go a long way toward explaining the protests today.

Scholars and policymakers have often suggested that smartphones and social media drive activism; they are certainly useful tools for networking and organization. But the stories we heard had less to do with that and more to do with young people’s belief that occasional group messages and social media connections could fulfill their family obligations without the demands of repeated face-to-face meetings.

Trump keeps talking about ‘keeping’ Middle East oil. That would be illegal.

Besides technology, another force driving the trend is urbanization. When people live in villages, they rely on the people directly around them for basic social needs. Neighbors may have known each other for generations. Yet reciprocal obligations are more tenuous in cities, which are booming in the Arab world. Jordan, for example, was 51 percent urban in 1960; by 2017, the figure had risen to 91 percent. Urbanization in Tunisia likewise climbed over the same period, from 38 percent to 69 percent. Many city-dwellers we spoke to lamented that they didn’t know their neighbors at all — learning about departures from the arrival of moving trucks and about weddings from lines of honking cars in the streets.

One Saudi man in his early 30s captured the change for us — admittedly describing an extreme case. His grandfather, he said, grew up in a compound with 120 family members in Hail, on the northwestern border with Jordan. When an uncle moved across town years ago, the whole compound pulled up stakes and moved with him. The man we spoke with has no compound; instead, he and his wife live alone in Riyadh. Twice a month, they travel to Hail, about 400 miles away, to see their families. In rural Jordan, one middle-aged man lamented to us that his children — and those of his neighbors — worked in Amman, the capital, and did not want to return to the countryside to visit, complaining about the time and expense and suggesting that the parents should make the trip.

For many families, the change has affected the rhythm of the week. Multigenerational marathons of cooking and socializing that once dominated weekend life have been condensed into two- or three-hour visits a few times a month. Young men now often absent themselves from these gatherings, according to our research, spending the day at malls with friends, saying they are available by phone if they are needed.

It’s well known that jobs for young people are scarce across the Arab world, contributing to dissatisfaction. Less noticed is the disorientation caused by a shift in job markets. It used to be that when young people needed jobs, their families (and sometimes their tribes) could help them. That’s much less true today. In part, that’s because — as countries introduce market-oriented reforms — more dispassionate and meritocratic hiring processes are supplanting nepotism. Tighter profit margins make it harder for managers to make spaces for people as “favors.” People with jobs often praise the efficiency and fairness of the newer systems, but young people resent being left to their own devices.

Let’s not pretend Washington ever really tried to stop Israeli settlements

Also, whereas work, family time and leisure once blended, more people now strive to keep these areas of life separate — and to maintain the “proper” balance of each. Young parents said they wanted to spend more time alone with their children, and less time with their adult parents and siblings. When it comes to discretionary time, what we often call primordial ties (based on a person’s situation at birth) are giving way to ties of affection, ties of interest and ties of circumstance.

Is it a good thing that people can make such choices? In many ways, yes. But it comes at a cost. The United States has political and social institutions shaped in part by a long tradition of rugged individualism. Democratic politics, constitutional guarantees of religious freedom and dynamic labor markets (among other features of U.S. society) allow people to change not only their fortunes but often their very identities based on personal preference. As tribal and kinship groups wither and individualism rises, Arab societies will need to develop comparable institutions — and concomitant resilience — against a background that often includes political turmoil, and stagnant or falling incomes.

Looking forward, three things seem likely. First, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 December 2019 at 5:09 pm

Wealth corrodes morality: Latter Day Saints division

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Jon Swaine, Douglas MacMillan, and Michelle Boorstein report in the Washington Post:

A former investment manager alleges in a whistleblower complaint to the Internal Revenue Service that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has amassed about $100 billion in accounts intended for charitable purposes, according to a copy of the complaint obtained by The Washington Post.

The confidential document, received by the IRS on Nov. 21, accuses church leaders of misleading members — and possibly breaching federal tax rules — by stockpiling their surplus donations instead of using them for charitable works. It also accuses church leaders of using the tax-exempt donations to prop up a pair of businesses.

A spokesman for the church did not respond to detailed questions from The Post about the complaint. “The Church does not provide information about specific transactions or financial decisions,” spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a statement.

The complaint provides a window into the closely held finances of one of the nation’s most visible religious organizations, based in Salt Lake City. It details a church fortune far exceeding past estimates and encompassing stocks, bonds and cash.

The complaint was filed by David A. Nielsen, a 41-year-old Mormon who worked until September as a senior portfolio manager at the church’s investment division, a company named Ensign Peak Advisors that is based near the church’s headquarters.

Nonprofit organizations, including religious groups, are exempted in the United States from paying taxes on their income. Ensign is registered with authorities as a supporting organization and integrated auxiliary of the Mormon Church. This permits it to operate as a nonprofit and to make money largely free from U.S. taxes.

The exemption requires that Ensign operate exclusively for religious, educational or other charitable purposes, a condition that Nielsen says the firm has not met.

In a declaration signed under penalty of perjury, Nielsen urges the IRS to strip the nonprofit of its tax-exempt status and alleges that Ensign could owe billions in taxes. He is seeking a reward from the IRS, which offers whistleblowers a cut of unpaid taxes that it recovers. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 December 2019 at 6:02 pm

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