Monday, October 19, 2015

An Embarrassment of "Churches". When "Christian" Is Blasphemous, Senseless ... and Violent.

And there are more of these "churches" than we know.

David Bromley, professor of religious studies and director of the World Religions and Spirituality Project at Virginia Commonwealth University, said there are thousands of similar small, independent Christian churches around the country. They're typically very conservative, following a very strict fundamentalist theology with a literal interpretation of the Bible.

"Every now and then, one pops up that has gone awry," Bromley said. "That's statistically not shocking because there are so many of them."

This article is relatively short ... but not sweet.

It is a story right out of cult lore: a tightly knit group has been arrested in the death of a member of the "church" who was called in for "spiritual counseling." Pictures of the assailants have gone viral ... and they look positively guilty.

On Sunday night, an ultra-secretive New York church turned into a living hell. Two teenage brothers were brutally beaten—one of them to death—by their own family members and fellow church-goers who wanted them to “confess” to their sins, authorities say.

Police charged the boys’ parents with manslaughter and four other participants with assault in the chilling incident that killed Lucas Leonard, 19, and left his 17-year-old brother, Christopher Leonard, in serious condition.

All the people charged have pleaded "not guilty".

The beatings lasted fourteen hours.

"Not guilty."

The purpose of the intervention was to have Lucas and Christopher confess to sins: one for sexual molestation of a minor (police later found no evidence of such misconduct) and one for attempting to leave the church.

"Not guilty."

Deborah Leonard - mother of Lucas and Christopher - said that although she herself administered some of the blows to Lucas, she was powerless to intervene later on.

"Not guilty."

Tarnishing Christianity

In 1992, Bishop John Shelby Spong (Episcopal) wrote Rescuing The Bible From Fundamentalism. He followed that book up with The Sins of Scripture: Exposing The Bible's Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love. He was, of course, pilloried by the Christian Right for these books, but to many, he brought forth a sense of reason and (perhaps) a new sin: using Scripture as a basis for a violent righteous arrogance.

The Word Of Life Christian Church is but one of many so-called "Christian" churches tarnishing the image of a loving religion. Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church was one such Fundamentalist church run by a dictatorial pastor, a church which other Christians across the country were forced to distance themselves from. It was Phelps' bravado that brought attention to it. But other like churches are more hidebound and secretive.

The Fundamentalism of Bruce and Deborah Leonard and their pastor, Jerry Irwin,  was so extreme, it isolated them from the rest of the community. Eventually their neighbors looked upon the "church" as a cult. Their leader, Pastor Jerry Irwin, had gained a reputation as a vengeful, demeaning man who even claimed - in sermons - that people from the congregation had lusted after his wife.

"Spiritual Cannibalism"

One ex-member, Nathan Ames, described the decline of the church:

"Many left after realizing that he was a narcissistic psychopath," Ames wrote in the letter. "The few that stayed were slowly lied to and manipulated into believing Jerry was called from God to 'control' their lives – filling their minds with outlandish stories that were for the most part fabricated."

He described the trajectory of the church as "spiritual cannibalism."

Are Charismatic Leaders The Problem?

From all accounts, the Word of Life Christian Church has changed from a loving, energetic church to a controlling entity that engendered fear. Many people say that the Leonards were never like the people they see today.

So was it strictly Jerry Irwin's fault that Bruce and Deborah Leonard became so violent in their attitude towards others? Is following a charismatic psychopath a choice? After all,  Quran-burning Terry Jones still has a following even though he was kicked out by his own congregation (and Germany) for being too controlling. Will the Leonards (and the other four) base their "not guilty" on Irwin's (and currently his daughter's) hold on them? 

The testimony of young Christopher Leonard may hold the key as to how all this came about and about how Irwin's cult managed to call itself "Christian."

Monday, September 14, 2015

My Quest As A Renaissance Man

Here the list of things I have done in my life. It is certainly a partial one, proving only that a writer of religion and politics has to know a little about many things and have many rewarding (and not so rewarding) experiences.

Pianist (American Conservatory of Music)
Go-go dancer (stripping at SF's infamous End Up)
Claims Adjudicator (Social Security)
High School Teacher (speech, music, drama)
Book publisher (Strawberry Hill Press, Strictly Books, Inc.)
Book Publicist
Broadcaster (Strictly Books, Talk America Radio)
Retail window dessign
Set design
Blogger/writer on religion and politics, homosexuality
Reference books for such (including the Bible): 130
Author (autobiography)
Client Intake Volunteer (AIDS Emergency Fund)
Promotions Executive (Board of Directors, AIDS Emergency Fund
Tutor (k-10 - Winner of the Jefferson Award for Community Service)
Caregiver and medicinal assistant (8 years, patient with skin, anal and liver cancers)
Chef (avocation - specialties: creme brulee, boef bourgignon, svitkova [Czech], kolacky [Czech], puff pastries)
San Francisco history reporter
Historian (avocation - English and European history)
Trivia Raconteur (avocation)
Husband to the greatest man in the world

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

No Class. No Compassion. No Brains. The "Take Us Seriously" Circus Mocks America and God

What a waste of the public's time. So when will they let us get down to serious business?

Probably never.

I've often said that while you can take away any of America's rights, you cannot take away its right to be entertained. Politicians know that. And that's why politicians - the intelligent ones - make a point of being entertaining. The unintelligent ones don't have to work at it: they're naturals.

But there comes a point when the entertainment becomes mockery. It might seem to be a form of self-parody, but really, it's not. It's just...


Huffington Post (Geoffrey Dunn) nailed it:

Donald Trump is many things -- a demagogue and a pompous blowhard, a braggart and a race baiter -- but in the end, he's nobody's fool, except perhaps his own. Thus, his recent lauding of Sarah Palin and his hiring of her former Chief of Staff reveal that Trump's campaign for the presidency is, ultimately, more of a circus act than it is a serious endeavor for the White House. If Trump were really serious, he'd be keeping the quitter governor at bay.
Sarah Palin has responded to Trump's flattery with flattery of her own: 
Palin penned an op-ed Friday for the conservative Breitbart news site, slamming Trump's critics and writing that "The elites are shocked by Trump's dominance, but everyday Americans aren't."
"Trump diagnoses our problems as incompetent leadership. Who can argue with that? How many politicians promised to secure our borders? So, why aren't they secured?" Palin wrote.
Now Ann Coulter, the queen of mockery and derision, has jumped on the Trump train:

Coulter (at Eagle Forum’s Collegian Summit:

I would like to be the head of Donald Trump’s Homeland Security,” Coulter said, adding, “I’ll get it all done before breakfast” because she “could kind of guess who the criminals are going to be at least 50 percent of the time.”
And, of course, on immigration:
“We’re assimilating you, you’re here and you’re going to be an American. There will be no celebration of Cinco de Mayo, there will be no Ramadan, in fact there won’t even be a Feast of the Immaculate Conception – we are an Anglo-Protestant country, and you will learn about the Battle of Valley Forge.”
In her typical, backhanded way, Coulter got a dig into previous generations of immigrants, saying they were more suitable because: “people proved their heartiness [sic] to get here by vomiting all the way across the Atlantic Ocean.”

In other words, she managed to mock my grandmother who came across the Atlantic from (the old) Bohemia on the Kaiser Wilhelm Der Grosse.* 

She sidestepped the sentiment of the Statue of Liberty's "Give me your tired, your poor ..." Desperation to survive fueled these immigrants just as much as today's, but Coulter wants you to know that GOOD immigrants come here to enthusiastically remake themselves in Coulter's image (!?!). 

The Mockery Of The 4Rs

By relegating "everyday Americans" to the rednecks, rubes and the religious right (the 4Rs), Palin, Trump and Coulter are mocking America in a way that shows their disingenuousness. The 4 Rs care nothing for other mindsets, religions or cultures in the way that America was meant to. In fact, the three are so horribly contentious when it comes to foreign relations (and cultures) that they mockingly glorify the "ugly American" with his crude attitude and imperiousness. The "voice" that they give to "America's dissatisfied and disenfranchised" is merely a show of contempt for everything and everyone not "true blue" American (read: WASP).

Trump in particular plays upon the gullibility of the 4Rs with his dazzling display of ostentation, and America looks the more foolish for allowing his ostentation to become a selling point in his bid for the Presidency. He's playing the billionaire counterpart of Lonesome Rhodes, with loud snippets of rage mixed with matter-of-fact "wisdom" and "honesty" - a facade that paints middle America as a country devoid of sophistication (such as his). 

It's a publicity ploy that has worked in the past, and Trump may be laughing that America has little memory of Lonesome Rhodes-like manipulators. 

Trump and God

The circus trio flies in the face of God's tenets of Faith, Hope and Charity.

 I think religion is a wonderful thing. I think my religion is a wonderful religion. 

That seems to sum up Trump's faith: no specifics, no hard stances (he's waffled on abortion), no profundities. He goes to church "when he can" (evidently God knows he's busier than God).

Trump, The Philanthropist is also a joke: his contributions to charity are so convoluted that it seems the money goes back to Trump himself. The charities he supposedly donates to, by the way, are not very faith-based, giving the lie to his support of religion. The Christian Right conveniently overlooks his Scrooge attitude because it sees in Trump a wedge for "social conservative" issues like same-sex marriage. 

And, just like prosperity gospel preachers, Trump's lifestyle promotes greed on the basest level.

Coulter's Christianity

Ann Coulter, the uber-Christian (in her eyes) mocks God through her righteous arrogance. Her eschatology:
She then mocked "the message of Jesus...according to liberals", summarizing it as "something along the lines of 'be nice to people,'" which, in turn, she said "is, in fact, one of the incidental tenets of Christianity". 
Incidental enough for Coulter to mock people, make them miserable, and still go to heaven apparently. 

Her attitude towards evangelism is one of bludgeoning non-believers (especially Jews - she calls it "perfecting" them) into conversion and if gunpoint is needed, so be it. Coulter's religion is one of the Queen Isabella/Thomas de Torquemada kind: believe what I believe or be tortured or kicked out of "Ann Coulter's America."

The Clueless Christian Opportunist

As with everything she attempts, Sarah Palin doesn't know that her actions are mocking anyone or anything: her "Christmas" book (along with her upcoming book of "meditations") only serves as a reminder that Sarah Palin is a struggling opportunist of the Tea Party variety, grabbing at snippets of the spotlight with religion as a prop.

The woman who was "blessed" publicly by a visiting witch hunter never seems to know just how her very mention of religion is an affront to reasoning people ... and God. Her devotion to God is just as shallow as Trump's and Coulter's - she just doesn't know it.

Is It A Race Or A Cartoon?

The run for President has always been entertaining: it is an intense debate of issues, a series of political attacks, a scrutiny of personal lives all rolled into one enormous (and overly long) stream of consciousness presented to voters. It strives for some sort of decorum but rarely achieves it. But through it all, the voters hope that the candidates are at least somewhat sincere. 

Let's face it - the Trump circus train is anything but sincere: with people like Palin and Coulter pandering to a publicity-starved billionaire, sincerity becomes a non-issue, sidestepped by shallow bombast. These three know for a fact that they will never make a significant dent in the scheme of the race. The talk of a third-party syphoning enough votes to skew the election has been rendered moot during the years. These three are poking, prodding the electorate for fun.

Not nice, but then look at them:

Trump. Palin. Coulter. The future of America. You could laugh yourself sick with the very idea of them together trying to cure America's ills. But they do get attention, so I guess the laugh's on us. They are sincere ... in their

* In 1911, this was the largest immigrant ship afloat. My grandmother never talked about the horrors of Ellis Island, the "heartiness" inflicted on immigrants which would make Coulter proud. She came here to get married - at the age of 15 - to someone she didn't know. She signed the ship's manifest "Mrs. Frank Vojir" (illegally). In her own way, however, she eventually got back at the misogyny that prompted her crossing:
"He said I was only good for cooking and cleaning and taking care of young Frank. He had woman on the side. Then when I got what you call, ah, tuberculosis, he sent me and Frank to go live back on the farm in Plzen. He gave me tree tousant dollars to live for three years without to work. He did not know that I knew how to play - how you say - black market. Woman who was only good for cooking and cleaning came back with tirty-five hundred dollars. Then I divorce him."
(taken from the play, The Two Mrs. M's, by Dan Vojir)

Monday, August 3, 2015

Sanctuary Cities Are Necessary - But For Whom?

Sanctuary. It means to be in the midst of a safe haven where no one can castigate you, criminalize you, harm you. In no other form of media has the word been so emotionally charged than in Charles Laughton's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (indeed, it was the first thing that came to my mind when thinking of the word). 

Please view this 4-minute clip before reading my puny thoughts on the matter of sanctuary cities.

It is ironic that an accused "witch" is given sanctuary, while today's Christian Right is asking to have "Sanctuary Cities" established so that they can practice as much bigotry as possible while excoriating cities that give succor to illegal aliens.

Likening the fight against Obergefell v. Hodges to that of the fight against Dred Scott v. Sandford, Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver wondered aloud on Christian radio last week why there aren’t any “sanctuary cities” that protect people from abortion and gay marriage like they do for “illegal aliens.”

And on the other side of the coin:

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a 2016 GOP presidential candidate, is calling on mayors of sanctuary cities to be arrested as accomplices to the crimes illegal aliens receiving special treatment in their cities commit.

From The Daily Beast:
In the immigration debate, sanctuary cities are unicorns, mermaids, and Bigfoot all wrapped into one. 
Of course, it all started in San Francisco:

The rationale for the policy was that if an illegal immigrant was arrested on a non-immigration offense, and there was no federal warrant, local authorities could use their discretion to decide whether to alert their neighborhood office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

But, in the last 26 years, San Francisco’s sanctuary policy has been repeatedly modified and become less lenient. These days, local law enforcement will hand over to federal immigration agents undocumented immigrants who haven’t even gone before a judge.

So the Christian Right hates mythical sanctuary cities, but loves the idea of actual sanctuary cities for themselves.

Looking at the Hunchback clip again, something is very definitely wrong when it comes to today's idea of sanctuary ... and who should be given sanctuary.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Huckabase: Control of His Flock Is Slowly (Poof!) Disappearing.

One of the reasons that Christian Fundamentalism is on the wane may be that people have become tired of its "socially conservative" leaders. "Personality" may mean a lot to the American electorate, but dogmatism chips away at "personality" and leaves political (and even spiritual) supporters looking elsewhere for leadership. 

The "flock" thins out.

It has long been believed that sheep are very very dumb creatures. Actually, they are not, but from a human perspective, their flocking instinct (used for survival against predators) looks very stupid - tending to follow another sheep anywhere, even into dangerous, irrational territory.

"Feed my lambs, feed my sheep" has become a common metaphorical rule for pastors worldwide, but when looked at closely from a human standpoint, it becomes a tool to incite tyranny over others. In other words, a pastor must CONTROL his flock - and every aspect of it. In Biblical times, unfortunately (for sheep), sheep were considered dumb, the dumbest being the one that struck out on his own, because he had no cognizance of what might lay ahead of him. A shepherd usually wouldn't go after it, because leaving the flock alone might make it vulnerable to predators. In other words, individuality in the flock was frowned upon.The lone sheep was a pariah. Sound familiar?

Much of Christian Fundamentalism is concerned with control: if a pastor told his "flock" that not everything in the Bible is to be taken literally, there can be a loss of control. Literal interpretation of the Bible is paramount in keeping people in line. Absolute, God-written, control.

"God said it. I believe it. That settles it."

Huckabee The Lousy Shepherd

The bottom line? In a look further down the list, the contender who appears to be losing ground in Iowa is Mike Huckabee. He’s at only 5 percent in the new Quinnipiac poll, down from 11 percent in a comparable May survey. That sort of makes sense: Mr. Huckabee’s God, grits, and gravy populism isn’t that far off Trump’s anti-immigrant and bellicose positions.

In calling for civil disobedience to same-sex marriage, Huckabee virtually fenced in his flock. In supporting Josh Duggar in his scandal, he alienated them. His mild condemnation of Trump divided his flock. He did everything he could to make his flock vulnerable. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Trump Bump - To The Extreme Right. Will It Last?

Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump

Exposure may be the key to the Donald Trump polls, but even more indicative to the numbers is the plethora of people running against him: latest count, 16. So, in a sense, it matters not that he is leading a pack of conservatives, but only that he has a handle on 15% of the GOP - for now.

It may be a severe case of xenophobia. Or admiration for trumped up power (sorry). Or a warped interpretation of a Rambo Jesus (Robert Jeffress, see below). Whatever the reason fueling the Trump Train, it's bound to sicken America: America has never suffered a case of xenophobia like this since 9/11. America has nevered lowered its standards for admiration quite like this. America has never pictured Jesus as a brash bully. 

Xenophobia Reigns!

As she has said in her book, Adios, America: "Immigration is how the Left decided to punish America." This is rabid xenophobia cloaked as patriotism. Coulter even has even been interviewed with an "Ann Coulter's America" banner for a show. It doesn't matter that Ann Coulter bashes everyone in "her" country but the worst xenophobes and racists (she once defended the CCC, the group Dylann Roof stated was his inspiration).

Coulter, of course, thinks Trump the best candidate for President because of his stance on immigration. She has never said what kind of job he would do on any other issues: his bullying attitude and total lack of statesmanship, for example, would disqualify America for any peace talks or foreign negotiations. Cowboy diplomacy didn't work for Bush and it certainly wouldn't work for someone like Trump.

Bigger! Better! More Gilding!

Trump's sense of power as opposed to real power has always been circumspect: his power is much less than that of the Wizard of Oz. Instead of "Pomp and Circumstance," his persona is more reminiscent of Billy Flynn in Chicago singing "Give 'em the ole razzle-dazzle." People who prize clown paintings on black velvet only know that Trump has billion$ and is seemingly successful with a bootstraps philosophy.

Reality check: Trump's worth is far lower that the $9 billion he says (current estimates at $4.1 billion). He has filed for corporate bankruptcy in 1991, 1992, 2004 and 2009. He was born into a well-to-do family and has never known what it's like to be middle class, much less poor: his father built a real estate empire through government financing programs as a result of FDR's New Deal.* In other words, his bootstraps were attached to silver spoons. 

Let's hope his fan base notices when the gilding wears off.

The Christian Right Is Right!

If Pope Francis is a pariah in the immigration debate to the Christian Right, then Trump is its Golden Boy. Furthermore, he shows only the faintest patina of compassion:
On Friday Trump introduced grieving relatives and declared: 'People came into the country illegally and killed their children. The illegals come in and the illegals kill their children.
Using victims' families as shameless political props is not compassion, but exploitation. But since his compassion is not the same kind as the progressive "bleeding heart" sanctuary churches, pastors like Robert Jeffress support Trump unequivocally: churches protecting immigrants following "Jesus of their imagination." Jesus, you see, said to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's (apparently forgetting that his church does not pay taxes). He was also a lot more than "meek and mild", rarely ever spoke of love and looked a lot like Silvester Stallone. Jeffress stopped short of calling Trump the Second Coming, but he put his imprimatur on Trump nonetheless. 

The 15%

So the 15% in GOP polls is comprised of xenophobes ala Ann Coulter, poor Tea-Partiers bedazzled by wealth and the Christian Right who doesn't like anyone coming into the States who can't give to their churches. 

This is a number that will dissolve as time goes by, but the hilarity will be thoroughly enjoyed (see David Letterman's latest Top 10).


Trump was born in New York City in 1946, the son of real estate tycoon Fred Trump. Fred Trump’s business success not only provided Donald Trump with a posh youth of private schools and economic security but eventually blessed him with an inheritance worth an estimated $40 million to $200 million. It is critical to note, however, that his father’s success, which granted Donald Trump such a great advantage, was enabled and buffered by governmental financing programs. In 1934, while struggling during the Great Depression, financing from the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) allowed Fred Trump to revive his business and begin building a multitude of homes in Brooklyn, selling at $6,000 apiece. Furthermore, throughout World War II, Fred Trump constructed FHA-backed housing for US naval personnel near major shipyards along the East Coast.

Editing Saint Sarah: Give The Guy A Gun To Shoot Himself

Yes, she's gone and written another pseudo-book, in pseudo-literary style. She had to, you see, because she is, after all, the gift that keeps on giving to late night talk show hosts and snarky writers like me. 

And yes, it's a "devotional." 
Joining the ranks of St. Theresa of Avila (The Way Of Perfection), The Book of Common Prayer, The Oxford Book of Prayer, and  Coffee With Jesus, Sarah Palin is penning one of the most noteworthy (if not collectable) inspirational books of modern times.  
That's how a fevered, overworked publicist might promote Sarah Palin's new book, Sweet Freedom: a Devotional, but a publicist less prone to use such overheated hyperbole just came up with this: 
Palin's book will include 260 meditations that use "biblical principles" to tackle contemporary issues, including economics, debt, social justice, marriage, parenting, human trafficking and more. 
The future publicist, however, may not have as much of a problem as Mrs. Palin's editor (or fleet of editors). Dealing with her, her commandment that absolutely nothing be edited in the first place because everyone wants to hear her unvarnished wisdom, her innovations ("Will the book light up? I read something about illuminated manuscripts.") and her insistence that God told her to write whatever she wanted. 

We can only guess what the editor has to struggle with. For example, the "list of meditations" might include:

I Can See God From My House
Meditating On The Divinity  Of A Mooseberger
The Bridge To Nowhere Was Really A Bridge To Somewhere In My Mind
Immaculate Conception Be Thou My Goal
Abstinence Is Not Only A Virtue, But A 
Divine Propaganda
and ...
The God-Given Brawl

And interspersed between these deep thoughts are Mrs. Palin's insights are absolutely de riguer on the matters of:

Economics: "Good economics starts at home - that's why every woman should take home economics courses in school." 

Marriage: "Children are the product of marriage. but marriage is not the product of children, unless there's a shotgun involved." 

Social Justice: "Whatever Glenn Beck hates"

Human trafficking: "It needs stoplights". 

Parenting: "Good parenting can't happen without good cash - and lots of it."

Before we take up a collection for the poor editor's psychiatry and hospital bills, we 
need to remind him/her that their profession was chosen - they were not born that way and they can choose to opt out of the project any time they want. 

I think I heard a door slam at Regnery.