Tag Archive: Roman Catholic Church

Quote of the Day: Fundamentalist Catholicism

catholic education

Back in 2013, prominent conservative author George Weigel published “Evangelical Catholicism,” a manifesto for making the faith more like, well, evangelical Protestantism. In a shrewd review of the book, the great evangelical historian of American Christianity, Mark Noll, then teaching at Notre Dame, counted the ways. These include an embrace of biblicism, a call for personal evangelism, an emphasis on “friendship” with Jesus and even a celebration of adult baptism.

Thus did conservative Catholicism à la Weigel become inculturated with American evangelicalism (“inculturation” being the Catholic term for how the church engages with a particular culture, from 16th-century China to 21st-century Amazonia). And why not? Since the late 1970s, conservative Catholics and evangelicals have been allies in the culture war that has shaped American partisan politics.

Appearing shortly after the election of Pope Francis, Weigel’s book registers no concern that the Vatican and its episcopal appointees around the world would do anything to threaten the conservative “reform of the reform” of the Second Vatican Council undertaken by John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Whoops. Six years into Francis’ papacy, the spirit of Vatican II is back big time, and, in response, the evangelical Catholicism of Weigel & Co. has become fundamentalist, in the original sense of the term.

Fundamentalism derives its name from a group of 90 essays titled “The Fundamentals” that were published between 1910 and 1915.  Some of them argued for classic Christian doctrines like the Virgin Birth, Christ’s bodily resurrection and physical return, and his substitutionary atonement on the cross.  

But that project was driven by opposition to Darwinian evolution, which had made considerable headway in the mainline Protestant denominations. “The Fundamentals” promulgated a novel doctrine of the Bible’s inerrancy, insisting on the literal truth of its two creation stories in a way that fetishized Protestant biblicism.

Like their Protestant predecessors, today’s fundamentalist Catholics find themselves embroiled in what they consider a war for the soul of their church. Anti-traditionally, they have combined their new biblicism with (their understanding of) Catholic teaching and discipline into the supreme religious authority, beyond the power of the pope’s teaching authority (magisterium) or church council to change. 

Pope Francis’ modest reform agenda has thus become anathema to them. “There’s a breakdown of the central teaching authority of the Roman pontiff,” Cardinal Raymond Burke, their foremost American figure, recently told New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. “The successor of St. Peter exercises an essential office of teaching and discipline, and Pope Francis, in many respects, has refused to exercise that office.”

Exhibit A has been Francis’ decision to allow jurisdictions to permit Catholics who have divorced and remarried to take Communion, as if that were more of a scandal to the principle of the indissolubility of marriage than the fig leaf of annulment — and as if the Eastern Orthodox, whose claim to Christian antiquity is equal to Roman Catholicism’s, not only permits this, but allows second and third post-divorce marriages to take place in church.

In the just-concluded synod on the Amazon, the fundamentalists were scandalized by the call for married men to serve as priests in the Amazon region, as if Eastern Rite Catholic priests haven’t been married for centuries, and as if Pope Benedict this very decade didn’t authorize married Anglican priests who convert to serve as Catholic priests.

The fundamentalists were also scandalized by Francis’ reconvening a commission to study the history of women deacons in the church — a history well attested in the sources — presumably with an eye to authorizing the ordination of women as deacons sometime soon.

Most of all, the fundamentalists got their knickers in a twist over a two-foot-high indigenous carving of a naked pregnant woman, identified with an Incan figure called Pachamama, that was presented to the pope at the beginning of the synod and placed in a church in Rome (from which a young zealot removed it and threw it in the Tiber). In their view, it was a pagan idol, not an example of wholesome inculturation, as if portraying Pachamama as Our Lady of the Amazon was any more violative of Catholic belief than the assimilation of the Aztec Mother Goddess Tonantzin into the Virgin of Guadalupe.

— Mark Silk, Religion News Service, The rise of fundamentalist Catholicism, November 17, 2019

Prodigal Son: No One is Born Broken, Someone Breaks Us

prodigal son

Yesterday, I watched the first episode of Prodigal Son — a new crime drama produced for the Fox Broadcasting Company. Wikipedia describes the plot of Prodigal Son this way:

The series centers on Malcolm Bright, whose father, Dr. Martin Whitley, is the infamous serial killer known as “The Surgeon.” Malcolm was the one responsible as a child for enabling the police to arrest his father, and has not (of his own volition) seen his father in ten years. Now a profiler, formerly with the FBI (until he was fired) and currently working with the New York City Police Department, Malcolm is forced to confront his father after a copycat serial killer uses Dr. Whitley’s methods of killing, and now finds himself drawn back into constant contact with his father as he must both use Dr. Whitley’s insights to help the police solve particularly horrible crimes and battle his own inner demons.

One line in the show stood out to me. Malcolm Bright, played by Tom Payne (Jesus, on The Walking Dead),  said to his serial killer father, No one is born broken, someone breaks us. I thought, Wow, what a succinct repudiation and rejection of the Christian doctrine of original sin; of the notion that all humans are born into this world sinners; that all humans are, by nature, sinners.

As I type this post, the classic gospel song Deeper Than the Stain Has Gone, plays in the background. I have heard this song countless times over the years. It was the favorite song of a former friend of mine, Evangelist Don Hardman. Here are the lyrics:

1. Dark the stain that soiled man’s nature,
Long the distance that he fell.
Far re-moved from hope and heav-en,
Into deep despair and hell.
But there was a fountain opened,
And the blood of God’s own Son,
Purifies the soul and reaches
Deeper than the stain has gone!

Chorus

Praise the Lord for full salvation,
God still reigns upon His throne.
And I know the blood still reaches
Deep-er than the stain has gone.

2. Conscious of the deep pollution,
Sinners wander in the night,
Tho’ they hear the Shepherd calling,
They still fear to face the light.
This the blessed consolation,
That can melt the heart of stone,
That sweet Balm of Gilead reaches
Deep-er than the stain has gone!

3. All unworthy we who’ve wandered,
And our eyes are wet with tears;
As we think of love that sought us
Through the weary wasted years.
Yet we walk the holy highway,
Walking by God’s grace alone
Knowing Calv’ry’s fountain reaches
Deeper than the stain has gone!

4. When with holy choirs we’re standing
In the presence of the King,
And our souls are lost in wonder,
While the white robed choirs sing;
Then we’ll praise the name of Jesus,
With the millions round the throne;
Praise Him for the pow’r that reaches,
Deeper than the stain has gone!

Video Link

From birth, Evangelicals are taught that they are sinners, alienated from God, broken, and in need of fixing. Scores of Bible verses reinforce the belief that humans, by nature, are bad. Take Romans 3:

As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes . . . For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

David said in Psalm 51:5: Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

David’s son Solomon later said: For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not. (Ecclesiastes 7:20)

The prophet Jeremiah said: The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

The prophet Isaiah added: But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. (Isaiah 64:6)

Years ago, I attended the baptism of one of my granddaughters at a nearby Roman Catholic church. This was, by the way, the LAST of such services I’ve attended — much to the consternation of several of my children. During the ritual, the priest proceeded to cast Satan out of my granddaughter. That’s right, just a few months old, and she was already demon-possessed! I wanted to scream. How dare this cleric say my granddaughter was a sinner possessed by Satan, I thought. Of course, there was nothing out of the ordinary happening. Catholics and Protestants alike believe humans are, by nature, broken, and only Jesus can fix them. Whether through the water of baptism or his blood, Christians believe that only Jesus can repair and heal human brokenness.

It’s been 2,000 years since Jesus was executed by the Roman government and buried in an unknown, unmarked grave. Since his death, a religion bearing his name has sprouted, spreading to every corner of the earth. The names of the sects may vary, but one thing they all hold in common: the brokenness of the human race. This same teaching can be found in other sects, including Islam and Judaism. Billions of people have been taught that they are inherently and totally sinful, and that unless they accept the fix religionists peddle, they will die in their sins and go to Hell, purgatory, or be annihilated after death. Century after century, decade after decade, and year after year, people are infected with the false, anti-human notion that they are broken.

Malcolm Bright was right when he said: No one is born broken, someone breaks us. It is absurd to look at an infant or young child and say, “you are a broken, vile, Hell-bound sinner who needs salvation.” What children really need is deliverance from preachers, priests, imans, rabbis and devoutly religious parents who do their darnedest to teach yet another generation that they are broken. You see, it is these promoters of original sin who break their charges. While countless Christians will object to my characterization of their sects, the fact remains that original sin (brokenness) is a fundamental belief of ALL Christian sects. Humans don’t become sinners — as if they had a choice. They are born sinners. Their innate sin natures are the result of Adam’s and Eve’s transgression against God. These first sinners did what, exactly? What did they do that was so bad that every human from that point would be born broken? Why, they ate fruit from a tree God told them not to eat. That’s it. The brokenness of humanity rests on a foundation of two hungry people eating a kumquat.

It’s time we put an end to the generational dysfunction caused by the doctrine of original sin. Imagine how different the world might be if parents, grandparents, and teachers affirmed the essential goodness of the human race, teaching children beliefs that empower them and promote self-esteem. Imagine how much less guilt there would be if we stopped indoctrinating children with Puritanical codes of conduct or other anti-human systems of control. Imagine what kind of world we might live in if we promoted the humanistic ideal instead of the belief that humans are sick, diseased, broken, worthless beings.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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How Does God Do It?

all powerful god

Warning! Honey wagons full of snark ahead, sure to offend Evangelicals, MAGA supporters, and prayer warriors.

Have you ever wondered how God does what he does — allegedly, anyway? God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. According to Evangelicals, their deity is an all-powerful God who is present everywhere, and sees, hears, and knows everything. Think about all the things we humans do each and every day, including the stuff we don’t want anyone to see. No matter where we are, the Evangelical God is watching us, and recording our thoughts, words, and deeds — pen and paper, digital or VCR? This God is also, supposedly, in the prayer-answering business. Now, the Evangelical God doesn’t answer Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Catholic, or Mormon prayers; that is unless their prayers are for forgiveness of sin and salvation. God only answers the prayers of True Christians®. Think, for a moment, about the billions of prayers that are sent Jesus’ way every day; every prayer a demand for a blessing, help, forgiveness, or travel directions. And if Evangelicals are to be believed, EVERY prayer is answered one of three ways by God: yes, no, not now.

It seems to me that there is not enough time each day for God to get his work done. Maybe that’s why most prayers go unanswered, and those that “seem” answered sure look a lot like self-fulfilled answers. Perhaps God is too busy watching our every move and recording each of them with indelible ink into the Book of Life or some other divine book to be bothered with feeding the hungry, ending war, stopping mass shootings, and healing the sick. Are not cemeteries flashing advertisements that remind us that God is a lousy faith healer; that God is best known for being deaf, blind, and indifferent?

President Donald Trump — a Christian and frequent metaphorical sex partner of Jerry Falwell, Jr. — believes he is the hardest working man to ever live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Yet, we know better. Trump is a slacker who spends his days watching Fox News, tweeting, eating fast food, playing golf, and undoing everything President Obama did during his presidency. So much Trump should be doing, yet he spends most of his time saying and doing things that help no one, ignoring the pleas of the poor, sick, and homeless. Much like God, wouldn’t you say? God doesn’t heal your dying loved ones, but blessed be the name of the sweet baby Jesus, he sure helps countless grandmas find their lost keys or snag parking spots by the front doors of their favorite grocery stores.

praying pope francis

Cartoon by David Granlund

Catholics say that Pope Frank is the vicar of Christ — Jesus’ representative on earth. Now, according to Evangelicals, Catholics aren’t Christians, so the Pope CAN’T be Jesus’ right-hand man. That got me thinking. Maybe, Donald Trump is Christ’s representative on earth. He’s a Christian man. Eighty-two percent of voting white Evangelicals voted for him in the 2016 presidential election. Trump’s been compared to some of the great leaders of the Bible; a man who is unusually blessed and empowered by the triune God of Christianity. And if Trump is the God-ordained CEO of planet Earth, is he not, as God is, accountable for all the unanswered prayers? Trump can do anything but fail. Evidently, anything doesn’t include the prayerful pleas of immigrants. Surely, this is enough of a reason to vote the man out of office in 2020. Not that anything will change, prayer-wise. If God is anything, he’s fair when it comes to ignoring prayers. Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, and Independents alike find that God is nowhere to be found.

It’s possible, I suppose, that God uses his angels to keep the machinery running. He might even use Satan and demons to help. Is that not what God did when he wanted to teach a man named Job a lesson? It was Satan who meted out God’s punishment of Job, including afflicting him with boils, killing his children, and destroying his residence and means of income. The Bible says Satan walks about the earth seeking whom he may devour. Evangelicals don’t believe that Satan can hear their prayers, but what if Jesus and Lucifer — brothers according to Mormonism — have an old-fashioned country party-line; and Lucifer is always on the line listening to the secret prayers of Evangelicals. This might explain why so many Evangelical preachers plead with God to deliver them from pornography and other sexual sins, yet they keep committing the same bad behaviors over, and over, and over again. These men of God ask Jesus to keep them pure, but sneaky Lucifer hears their prayers and somehow, some way, causes their holy fingers to type hotchristianbabes.com in Chrome and click GO. If only God had a private line.

Bruce, you are quite a snarky smart ass tonight. What point are you trying to make? Do I always have to have a point? Okay, you got me. Yes, I have a point. I want Evangelicals to think about the claims they make when it comes to their God. Is God really an all-powerful deity who is present everywhere, and sees, hears, and knows everything? What evidence do they have for making such claims? Doesn’t the evidence suggest that God is not omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient; that the only God answering prayers is us? Doesn’t the evidence tell us that the change we want in the world will only come through our actions, and not those of an invisible, non-involved God? If we want Trump removed from office, it’s up to us to do it. Hunger, poverty, war, global climate change, sickness, disease, and the Cincinnati Bengals winning the Super Bowl? None of these things is the purview of the Gods — be it the Evangelical God or any other deity. We alone have the power to make the earth a better place to live. We alone have the power to restore sanity to Washington. We alone have the power to provide every child with a better tomorrow. We know, based on the evidence at hand, that the Evangelical God is not the answer. And it’s a pretty safe bet that none of the other extant Gods is the answer either. Perhaps it is time to chuck organized religion in the dustbin of history and chart a new course. If scientists are right about global warming and unchecked population growth, time is running out for the human race — and dogs and cats too. Perhaps it is time to give the humanistic ideal a spin. Christianity, along with its Abrahamic brothers Islam and Judaism, has had centuries to make the earth a better place to live. Surely, it is fair to say that on balance these religions have failed, and they know it.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Black Collar Crime: Catholic Priest Arthur Perrault Sentenced to 30 Years on Prison

ken wolter arthur perrault

Arthur Perrault with one of his victims, eleven-year-old Ken Wolter

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Olivier Uyttebrouck, a writer for the Albuquerque Journals details in the following excerpt the sordid thirty-year story of Catholic priest and sexual predator Arthur Perrault:

St. Pius X High School leaders were hit with a “bombshell” in 1970 when they were told of allegations of sexual abuse against the Rev. Arthur Perrault, a teacher at the Archdiocese of Santa Fe’s flagship high school.

Those allegations remained secret for decades, but documents released this week pull back the curtain on how those school leaders and the archbishop responded.

And the documents show that, once again, a priest was simply moved to another post where he had access to new victims. They also show that Perrault was sent to St. Pius in the first place as a “good test period” to allow the archbishop to observe the 20-something priest after he was released from a Jemez Springs center that treated pedophile priests.

He was at the school four years and was later accused of molesting 11 victims during that period, from 1966-1970.

In 1970, St. Pius board members were approached by the father of a student, who asked to meet with them because “one of his sons that was at Pius had been involved with Father Perrault,” a board member recalled in a 1992 deposition. The father said that as a result of the abuse, his son “was so messed up that he had been thinking about suicide.”

The father, who is not identified in the deposition, said he discussed the abuse with then-Archbishop of Santa Fe James Davis. The allegations were electrifying, the board member said, because Perrault was chairman of the theology department at the archdiocese’s flagship high school.

“Look, we’ll take care of this but we can’t have any publicity,” Davis reportedly told the boy’s father. “We must be Christian about this.”

New details about the careers of Perrault and two other former New Mexico priests became public this week after a judge ordered the disclosure of nearly 1,000 pages of church records that had been sealed under a previous court order.

The records contain letters written by three archbishops of Santa Fe and other church officials, legal settlements, deposition transcripts, psychological reports and other records provided by the archdiocese to Albuquerque attorney Brad Hall, who has filed more than 70 lawsuits alleging sexual abuse of children by priests.

Among them is the deposition of a former St. Pius board member whose name was redacted from the transcript.

The board member said that Archbishop Davis wavered about how to respond. He at first agreed to remove Perrault, but later changed his mind. “It’s under our control and it’s our problem. Not yours,” Davis told four board members.

The father who made the allegation warned the board member that if Davis took no action, he would file a “sodomy suit” against the archdiocese, according to the deposition.

The threat prompted the board member to seek a private meeting with the archbishop, where he told Davis that the archdiocese faced a lawsuit if Perrault remained at St. Pius.

“I remember to this day what Archbishop Davis did,” the board member recalled. “He put his right arm on my shoulder and said, `We can’t have that. I’ll honor my commitment.’” Three days later, Perrault was dismissed from St. Pius.

Davis then authorized Perrault to work as chaplain to the student community the University of Albuquerque, a now-defunct Catholic college operated by the archdiocese.

The incident at St. Pius was not the first time, nor the last, that allegations of Perrault’s sexual attacks on boys would reach the ears of an archbishop of Santa Fe.

Perrault had been accused of sexual attacks before he arrived in New Mexico in January 1966.

The Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn., where Perrault was ordained in 1964, ordered him to undergo treatment at a facility in Jemez Springs operated by the Servants of Paraclete. The now-closed Via Coeli facility received priests from across the U.S. accused of sexually molesting children.

Perrault, then 28, was sent to Jemez Springs after “two alleged incidents of homosexual approaches to some of the young men with whom he was working,” in Connecticut, Via Coeli psychologist John Sanchez told Archbishop Davis in a 1966 letter.

….

Court records show that Perrault is accused of sexually abusing 38 children during his years in New Mexico.

Of those, 11 alleged attacks occurred during Perrault’s tenure at St. Pius High School from 1966 to 1970. The alleged attacks occurred at St. Pius, in Perrault’s home, or at two churches where he worked on weekends.

He has never been charged with a crime.

Letters written in the early 1980s show that later allegations against Perrault prompted then-Archbishop Robert Fortune Sanchez to order that he undergo a psychological evaluation.

That evaluation found that Perrault “acted out his homosexual orientation only with youngsters and has never had an ongoing, adult homosexual relationship,” psychologist Joseph VanDenHeuvel told Sanchez in a June 1981 report.

The psychologist said Perrault “made mention of the fact that he had `been in trouble’ because of illicit sexual activities with students,” VanDenHeuvel told the archbishop.

….

Just seven months after receiving the report, Sanchez assigned Perrault to a pastoral post at an Albuquerque parish.

“I am pleased herein to assign you to St. Bernadette Parish for weekend assignment to assist the pastor,” Sanchez told Perrault in a Jan. 6, 1982, letter.

“Thanking you, Father Arthur, for your service to the good people of St. Bernadette Parish, and to the Pastoral Center, while wishing you all the Lord’s Blessing throughout this New Year,” Sanchez wrote.

Perrault became the pastor at St. Bernadette in 1985 and remained there until he fled New Mexico in 1992, just days before an Albuquerque attorney filed a lawsuit alleging that he sexually assaulted seven children.

Perrault turned up last year in Morocco working at an English-language school for children, from which he was subsequently fired. It is not clear where he is now.

….

In early 2017, a judge handed down a $16 million judgment to one of Perrault’s victims. Olivier Uyttebrouck reports:

A judge handed down a $16 million judgment this week against a former New Mexico priest for failure to respond to a lawsuit filed by a man who alleges he was sexually abused by Arthur Perrault in the early 1990s.

Second Judicial District Judge Denise Barela-Shepherd handed down the default judgment Thursday after she found that Perrault had been properly served with the civil lawsuit, but failed to defend himself against the allegations.

She ordered Perrault to pay $1 million in damages and an additional $15 million in punitive damages. The Archdiocese of Santa Fe was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Perrault, who vanished from his Albuquerque parish in 1992, was tracked last year to Tangiers, Morocco, where he was teaching at an English language school for children.

Perrault was fired in May when school officials learned of the allegations, the director of the American Language Center in Tangiers told the Journal .

Kenneth Wolter, 35, filed the civil lawsuit last year alleging he had been sexually abused by Perrault at least 40 times in the early 1990s. Wolter was 10 or 11 at the time, and serving as an altar boy at St. Bernadette Parish, where Perrault was the pastor.

Unknown is whether Wolter will be able to collect any portion of the $16 million judgment from Perrault, said Levi Monagle, one of three Albuquerque attorneys who represent Wolter.

“Money wasn’t the point of this for us,” Monagle said Friday. “Ken (Wolter) didn’t do this for the money. The message made on behalf of the victims was Ken’s main priority.”

Wolter testified at a hearing in January that he wanted to send Perrault a message on behalf of his 38 known victims “and the silent people who haven’t come forward.”

He asked Barela-Shepherd to award a total of $38 million in damages, or $1 million for each alleged victim. Barela-Shepherd did not explain in her order why she handed down a $16 million judgment.

Perrault, 79, sent Barela-Shepherd a letter in November denying that he had abused Wolter, court records show. He also said that he had no assets and could not afford to hire an attorney, or to return to Albuquerque to attend the January hearing.

….

Last Friday, a jury found Perrault guilty of sexually abusing an altar boy. Perrault was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

The Associated Press reports:

In ordering the sentence, U.S. District Judge Martha Vazquez said it was the worst case of child sex abuse she has handled over the course of 26 years.

….

Prosecutors had asked the judge for special consideration of a life sentence for Perrault, once a pastor at an Albuquerque parish and a chaplain at Kirtland Air Force Base.

He was convicted in April of six counts of aggravated sexual abuse and one count of abusive sexual contact with a minor under 12.

“It is a long sentence but certainly a fitting one given the length of his conduct and devastating impact,” U.S. Attorney John Anderson said.

Perrault pleaded not guilty after he was returned to the U.S. from Morocco in 2017 and maintained his innocence at the sentencing. His defense team plans to file an appeal.

The abuse counts stemmed from the treatment of one boy at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque and at Santa Fe National Cemetery. The two sites are within federal jurisdiction, which allowed U.S. authorities to file charges with no statute of limitations.

Ruminations About My Mother: What We Have Now

guest post 

A guest post by MJ Lisbeth

A week and a half ago, my mother passed away.

Although she attended Mass and didn’t eat meat on Fridays during Lent, she was hardly the Catholic version of a “Holy Roller.” She never talked about her concept of God, and of our many conversations, I can’t recall more than a couple that included any talk about our beliefs or even religion. What little she knew of Roman Catholic doctrines, she learned in Catholic schools during the ‘40s and ‘50s. And she knew even less of theology in general, or the Bible itself; even in my generation, Catholics weren’t encouraged to learn about those things for themselves. She often expressed disagreement, or even disdain, for much of what she heard from priests and fellow parishioners. I was only partially joking when, during one of our conversations, I exclaimed that she believed even less than I, an atheist, of what the church teaches.

The real reason she sent my siblings and me to Catholic schools, she said, was that she felt it offered “a better education” than the local public schools—and, on the money my then-blue-collar father was making, secular private schools were out of the question. To me, that is consistent with what she once told me was the main reason she continued to attend mass on Sundays (and on weekdays during times of crisis): “It’s comforting. It’s something that doesn’t change.” In other words, although I don’t doubt that she believed in God and adored Jesus, I think that she saw the church and its educational institutions as things she could depend on when other things in her life changed or failed.

Of course, I do not share my mother’s trust in the church, and not only because I survived sexual abuse from a priest. Other experiences, including my formal education, and my inquisitiveness, would undermine my ability to believe. I think that my mother understood as much, and saw my loss of faith in both the church and in God as more or less inevitable. (As far as I know, she never knew about the abuse.) My mother sometimes talked about what she might have done differently: She would have gotten more education (she didn’t finish high school), developed a career of her own and had her children later than she did. I have to wonder whether her church-going habit would have withstood such changes.

As it was, she began to hold views, and engage in practices that would have been unthinkable in the church of her youth. She was never homophobic or transphobic, but she told me—years before it became a popular view—she thought people should be allowed to marry people of their own gender. She expressed that belief even before I “came out” as transgender and started my own gender affirmation process. Although she didn’t think abortion “is a good thing,” she understood that there are times when it’s better than allowing a child to be born to someone unwilling or unable to be a loving, nurturing parent. Oh, and she had a Do Not Resuscitate order, which was carried out along with her wish to be cremated.

Signing the order to remove my mother’s life support was “the hardest thing I ever had to do,” my father said. But he knew of my mother’s wishes, and he has the same wishes for himself. While he has never declared himself an atheist or agnostic, my father doesn’t have much, if any, more belief in the church, or religion generally, than I have. Nor does one of my brothers, even though he was baptized into another church; something he did, he admits, mainly to be accepted by the family of the woman he married.

My sister-in-law, however, is firm, even adamant, in her religious beliefs. So are my other two siblings, who have remained in the Catholic Church, and their spouses, who were raised by families more devout than ours. Not surprisingly, all of those in-laws and the two still-Catholic siblings disassociated themselves from me as I began my gender-affirming process. As you can imagine, having to deal with them for the first time in many years has been stressful. Just as difficult, though, is having to countenance not only their religiosity, but their smugness about it. They believe that the only way to mourn my mother, or any other deceased, is through expressions of their religiosity, including ostentatious prayers. They do not understand that my way of mourning is more private because, for one thing, I’m simply more introverted and, for another, I care more about the relationship I’ve had with the person I just lost than with any appearance of piety. To them, the fact that I will enter the church only for my mother’s memorial mass—and not for any other ceremonies or prayers—is proof not only of my immorality (why else would I “change” my sex? they ask) but also that I didn’t truly love my mother. In their eyes, only the Godly—which is to say, those who adhere to their religious practices—can truly love anyone; never mind that one sibling and spouse, at least, have constructed their lives to avoid contact with those of different races and economic classes from themselves.

My mother did not approve of their “holier-than-thou” attitude, let alone that they shut me out of their lives. But she still loved them. Likewise, she didn’t always approve of everything I did—including, at first, my turning away from the church and faith altogether—but she loved me. And I love her. That is all we have now; that is all we ever could have, or could have had—whatever else we did or didn’t believe in.

I’m not THAT Kind of Christian

catholic one true church

This post is primarily about Protestant Christianity — and yes, Baptists and Campbellites are Protestants. I will leave it to Catholic and Orthodox Christians to duke it out over which sect is the rock upon which Jesus built his church. (Matthew 16:18)

Over the past decade, I have learned many things I didn’t know before about the monolith we call Christianity. Generally, most people believe that Christianity is one religion with a plethora of expressions. However, I have learned that there are numerous Christianities and Jesuses, with every sect, church, clergyperson, and congregant believing that their flavor of Christianity and their vision of Jesus is the right one. While it seems that Christianity is a big tent, a closer look reveals countless pup tents within, and never-ending arguing, fussing, and fighting over which pup tent is the One True Tent®. The Bible says of Christianity: one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, but the internecine wars continually fought by Christians show that the faithful can’t even agree on the basics. Of course, the way the various parties settle the disputes is by saying that every brand but theirs is false Christianity. Long-time readers will likely remember this or that Christian objecting to my caricature of Christianity by saying, I’M NOT THAT KIND OF CHRISTIAN! Usually, they go on to accuse me of all sorts of ulterior motives such as I hate God/Christianity or got hurt in some way back in my Christian days, and I am now trying to settle the score. When I ask them to give evidence for their beliefs and practices being Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxy, most often they present a honey wagon (manure spreader for you city slickers) full of Bible verses, HIS-story lessons, doctrinal treatises, quotes from authors, and personal anecdotes. In doing so, all they do is prove, at least to me, that Christianity is a quagmire of conflicting, contradictory beliefs and practices. Yet, it is we unbelievers who are to blame for our lack of recognizing and understanding the ONE TRUE FAITH®! If we would just ignore all the competing Christianities and Jesuses and accept their Christianity and Jesus as the one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, we too could have our sins forgiven, and be guaranteed a home in their God’s Heaven after we die.

As I wander in and out of big tent Christianity, I have noticed that there are three general banners under which the various sects/pastors/congregants pitch their tents: Evangelical, Progressive, and Liberal. Ask the tent-dwellers to define these banners — well, good luck with that. As with everything in Christianity, definitions abound. This post is my attempt to define these three groups, knowing that the moment I do, offended self-righteous Christians are going to vehemently object and say, I’M NOT THAT KIND OF CHRISTIAN! Of course, I am deaf to such objections, so here we go.

Evangelical

Generally, Evangelicals believe the Protestant Bible is the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God; God is a triune being; and Jesus is the virgin-born son of God who came to earth, lived a sinless life, died on a Roman cross, resurrected from the dead three days later, ascended back to Heaven, and is seated at the right hand of his Father, awaiting the day when he will return to earth to judge the living and the dead, and make a new Heaven and Earth. (And yes, I am aware of the differences between Calvinists, Arminians, Oneness Pentecostals, Charismatics, Holiness sects, et al.)

Generally, Evangelicals believe all humans are born sinners and in need of redemption; that salvation and the forgiveness of sins comes through Jesus Christ alone; that all other religions are false; that non-Christians go to Hell (the Lake of Fire) when they die, and Christians to Heaven (God’s Eternal Kingdom).  (Again, I am aware of the disputes among Evangelicals about what constitutes salvation and whether human instrumentality plays any part.)

I have long argued that Evangelicals are inherently Fundamentalist. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) Christians who are on the far left end of the Evangelical spectrum object to the Fundamentalist label, but what they really need to do is admit that they are no longer theologically Evangelical; that their beliefs and practices fall under the Progressive or Liberal Christian banner.

Progressive

Generally, Progressive Christians and Evangelicals have similar core beliefs. Progressives tend to reject creationism, choosing instead to embrace theistic evolution. Progressives also tend to ridicule Evangelicals as anti-intellectual Bible thumpers. Ironically, many Progressives are former Evangelicals, or as the joke goes, Evangelicals who can read. Progressives also tend to be more liberal politically and socially, though I recently ran into a few so-called Progressives on Twitter who are ardent supporters of Donald Trump.

I have found many Progressives to be every bit as insufferable as Evangelical zealots. While they distance themselves from the social Fundamentalism of Evangelicals, theologically their beliefs are, in the main, every bit as Fundamentalist. It is not hard to prove my contention. Just ask a self-labeled Progressive if all religions lead to Heaven and if atheists will go to Heaven when they die. Honest Progressives will answer NO to both questions. Unfortunately, many Progressives genuinely want to be viewed as friendly people, so they will refuse to answer the questions, saying, “Only God knows for sure.”

Liberal

Generally, Liberal Christians have a reductionist view of the Bible, rejecting many (most) of the beliefs Evangelicals and Progressives hold dear. (Please see Is Liberal Christianity the Answer for Disaffected Evangelicals?)  Evangelicals believe that Liberal Christians are outside of the One True Faith®, as do many Progressives. In their minds, Liberals have given away too much to be still considered Christians. Liberals tend to promote works-based salvation and or preach what is commonly called the social gospel. Liberals focus on people and the present instead of personal salvation and the future.

Under these three banners, you will find countless sub-categories of Christians, proving that there is no such thing as singular Christianity. What would help is if all the Christian sects of the world would get together and come up with a biology-like system of identification for Christianity: kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. That would put an end, then, to followers of Jesus saying to me, I’M NOT THAT KIND OF CHRISTIAN! Every Christian could have a religion identity card of sorts they could show when questioned about their faith. Oh wait, that wouldn’t work, would it? Christianity is a relationship, not a religion! Or so countless Christians say, thus proving yet again that whatever Christianity might have been died over 1,900 years ago, and lies buried in the same grave as a dead Jewish man named Jesus.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Christians Say the Darnedest Things: The Spells in the Harry Potter Books are Real!

These books [Harry Potter] present magic as both good and evil, which is not true, but in fact a clever deception. The curses and spells used in the books are actual curses and spells; which when read by a human being risk conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text.

— Dan Reehil, pastor of St. Edward Catholic Church and School in Nashville, Tennessee, Nashville Tennesseean, August 31, 2019

Pastor Reehil removed all of the Harry Potter books from the St. Edward School library.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Masturbation is a Soul-Threatening Sin

sin of masturbation

The reasoning in favor of masturbation is quite curious: if we tell people it is wrong and that God disapproves, what happens to those [implied multitudes] who aren’t able to stop? They grow up thinking God hates them or that they are some miserable, shameful, dirty creature that belongs under a rock. Therefore, let them do it . . .

It’s essentially a secular libertarian, or even utilitarian argument, not a Christian one. It’s contradicted whenever the same advocates decry pornography and contend that exposure to it might begin a terrible and perhaps lifelong addiction. As pornography is addicting, so is masturbation, and often they coincide. So do we also argue that pornography ought to be freely available, as a good thing, lest those who can’t break the habit feel condemned and worthless and turn against God as a result?

Do masturbation champions advocate free availability and moral sanction of cocaine and heroin, or approve of alcoholism (or oppose remarkably successful programs like AA)? Do they also take a position that homosexual acts are permissible and moral simply because the lifestyle is extremely hard to break (as we know it is)? Why make an exception for masturbation?

The Catholic Church disagrees, of course, It regards masturbation as a mortal, soul-threatening sin. And it will continue to do so, no matter what the prevailing zeitgeist may be. If something is wrong, it’s wrong. What period of history (or cultural decadence) we happen to be in has no bearing on that wrongness. Strong Church authority is precisely what prevents these “slippery slope” descents into sexual compromise.

Masturbation is a form of non-procreative sex. It perverts sexuality and has an adverse effect on proper, healthy sexual development. It turns sex into something entirely selfish, rather than giving and other-directed. This “if it feels good, do it” mentality is in perfect harmony with the sexual revolution and humanist ethics and hedonism, but in perfect disharmony with traditional Christian sexual morality.

— Dave Armstrong, Biblical Evidence for Catholicism, Masturbation: Thoughts on Why it is as Wrong as it Ever Was, August 14, 2019

D-Day in New York – It’s About Time

guest post

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

On August 15, Catholics will celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. That is, supposedly, the date on which the Virgin Mary was bodily hoisted into Heaven, thus ending her earthly life.

The day before, the 14th, just might be D-Day, at least in New York State. That day will mark the beginning of a one-year window in which survivors of child sexual abuse can file civil suits against their abusers, under terms of the Child Victims Act (CVA) passed earlier this year.

Nearly everyone expects a flood of suits to be filed that day. Some will have waited years, even decades for this opportunity: previously, if a child was molested in New York State, he or she could file a lawsuit or seek criminal charges until he or she was 23. Given what we’ve seen, it’s easy to see how this works against victims: it often takes decades for someone (as it did for me) who was molested or abused as a child to speak about it.

After the one-year window provided in the CVA has passed, victims can still file civil suits until age 55 and seek criminal charges until age 28. While these provisions are an improvement on previous statutes — which were among the most victim-unfriendly in the nation — the Empire State will still lag behind its heavily-Catholic neighbor Massachusetts, which gives victims 35 years to sue their abusers.

What galls people such as I, though, is that it took sixteen years for the state legislature to pass the CVA. Although I rarely have kind words for politicians, I must say that some members of the State Legislature–among them Assembly members Brad Hoylman and Linda Rosenthal, both Democrats from Manhattan — should be commended for their efforts. That it took so long is mainly a testament to how hard some organizations fought against them.

Will it surprise any of you to know that two of the main opponents of this Act–and its “window” in particular — are the Boy Scouts of America and — wait for it — the Roman Catholic Church? Although New York is one of the “bluest” states in the country, the Church still wields a fair amount of influence in the politics of both the state and New York City. Church leaders howled that the “window” will result in a flood of lawsuits that could impose “financial hardship” on the state’s dioceses and archdioceses. They have a point: California passed similar legislation in 2003, and within a few years, the dioceses of San Diego and Stockton filed for bankruptcy.

Still, the protestations of Church leaders in New York are at least somewhat disingenuous, if not entirely hypocritical. In claiming that the “window” could lead to thousands of lawsuits, the Church in New York is tacitly conceding that many children (and adults), over many years, have indeed been sexually exploited by priests, nuns and other authority figures such as deacons. But what is less-widely known is that, in a way, the dioceses of the state have implemented some version or another of the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP), which allows victims to file claims for past sexual abuse. There can be little doubt that this program was implemented because Church leaders knew that passage of the CVA (and similar laws in other states) was all but inevitable, and that by giving victims nominal compensation on the condition of confidentiality, they could forestall a number of lawsuits.

And, while some victims might reap substantial payouts for lawsuits filed under the CVA, it will probably take years to settle and collect. The IRCP process, in contrast, takes months, and therefore may appeal to older victims who don’t want to spend significant portions of their remaining years in a court case. I have little doubt that Church leaders knew this, too.

It will be interesting, to say the least, to see what happens to the individual dioceses as well as the church as a whole as a result of New York’s CVA. For years, individual parishes and Catholic schools (including the one I attended) have been closing, mainly in the five boroughs of New York City, but also in other parts of the state. While few people expect the Archdiocese of New York or the Diocese of Brooklyn to go belly-up, mainly because they still own lots of valuable real estate and other assets, it’s not hard to imagine some of the less-affluent dioceses upstate filing for protection.

I realize that I have focused on the effect the CVA will have on the Catholic Church. So have most of the media. As I mentioned, the Boy Scouts will also be affected. Although the Catholic church is the largest denomination in the State and City (though many claimed members have long since stopped practicing the religion, or even renounced it altogether), there are a number of other religious organizations that could be affected. Chief among them, I believe, are the Hasidic and Ultra-Orthodox communities. (In Orange County, there is a village, Kiryas Joel, which is essentially governed by Satmar Hasidic interpretations of Halakhic law, and most of whose residents speak Yiddish.) In addition, there are a number of insular religious communities ensconced in upstate enclaves and some outer-borough New York City neighborhoods. It’s hard not to believe that some current or former members of such communities will come forward as a result of the CVA.

Whatever happens, I am glad that some people who suffered sexual abuse from priests and other religious leaders will have an opportunity, however brief, to break the hold of their abusers and hold them to account.

Black Collar Crime: Catholic Priest Joseph “Jack” Baker Accused of Sexual Assault

joseph jack baker

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Joseph “Jack” Baker, pastor of St. Perpetua Parish in Waterford, Michigan, stands accused sexually assaulting a child.

The Oakland Press reports:

Father Joseph “Jack” Baker, 57, is on an electronic tether following his arraignment July 8 in 29th District Court, according to the Wayne County Jail website. Judge Laura Redmond Mack assigned a $500,000 personal bond at arraignment, which doesn’t require bail to be posted.

Baker, pastor of St. Perpetua Parish in Waterford since 2008, is one of six metro Detroit priests facing sexual abuse charges as part of an ongoing investigation by the state’s attorney general’s office. He was arrested July 8 in Wayne County and is charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct – sexual penetration with a person under 13 years old, multiple variables. Court records list the offense date as Feb. 1, 2004.

Baker is also a former associate pastor at St. Hugo of the Hills Parish in Bloomfield Hills and Sacred Heart Parish in Dearborn, and former pastor at St. Mary Parish in Wayne. He also was administrator at St. Benedict in Waterford in 2011, campus minister at Wayne State Medical School Campus Ministry and administrator at three churches in Inkster. He was ordained in 1993.

Attorney General Dana Nessel is calling the case “just the tip of the iceberg,” and said her office is reviewing “hundreds of thousands of pages of documents and files” seized last fall from Michigan’s seven diocese.

Good Omens: Dear Fundamentalist Christians, Don’t Like a TV Program? Don’t Watch It

good omens

Frequently, it seems that Evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics are outraged over a program on network TV, Netflix, Amazon Prime, or many of the other media streaming services. We live in a day when the choices of what to watch are endless. As someone who loves watching television, I am thrilled that I have so many excellent programs to choose from. Of course, there are some channels that I don’t watch. One in particular is the Hallmark ChannelGag me with a spoon! Fundamentalists, of course, love the Hallmark Channel. Its programming regularly reinforces their moralistic religious worldview. Fundamentalists watch the Hallmark Channel, I don’t. See how easy that is? It’s all about choice. We all choose to view what we want. No one is forcing Fundamentalists to watch programming that they deem sinful, offensive, or contrary to their version of Christian decency. For the life of me, I don’t understand why Evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics, if they are so offended by what is on the screen, don’t turn off their televisions, or better yet get rid of them altogether. (Please see The Preacher and His TV.) Psalm 101:3 says: I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me. If what is on the TV is so wicked, why do Fundamentalists continue to own televisions? Perhaps, it is time for them to become Amish and throw their hellivisions into the trash. Of course, most Fundamentalists won’t do this. Why? Because they like watching TV just like most of us. Remember, Fundamentalists scream long and hard (no I am not talking about their sex lives) about the moral failures of our society, yet they, all too often, imbibe in the very “sins” they condemn.

Earlier this week, the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property (ASDTFP) — a Roman Catholic organization — put up an online petition that called on Netflix to immediately cancel Good Omens — a television series adapted from the late Terry Pratchett’s (an atheist) and Neil Gaiman’s (view of God: “I think we can say that God exists in the DC Universe. I would not stand up and beat the drum for the existence of God in this universe. I don’t know, I think there’s probably a 50/50 chance. It doesn’t really matter to me.”) 1990 fantasy novel, Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch. Never mind the fact that Good Omens is not on Netflix, it’s on Amazon Prime. Damn, if you are going to protest a TV program, at least you can do is make sure you have your facts straights. After several days of being roundly mocked in news stories and on social media, ASDTFP corrected their petition. Thanks be to Loki, their faux outrage is now directed at the right streaming company. So far, 20,621 offended souls have signed the petition.

Other programs ASDTFP objects to include the Cartoon Network promoting “gay pride,”  Fleabag on Amazon PrimeArthur on PBS, and  Miracle Workers on TBS. The man behind the Good Omens petition is none other than Fundamentalist Catholic apologist John Horvat II.  What is it about Good Omens that so offends Horvat II and the fine Catholics at ASDTFP?  Their petition states:

The Amazon series “Good Omens,” based on a book by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, portrays the agents of Good and Evil as fighters in an arbitrary struggle devoid of meaning and truth. This series presents devils and Satanists as normal and even good, where they merely have a different way of being, and mocks God’s wisdom in the following ways:

• An angel and demon are good friends, and are meant to be earth’s ambassadors for Good and Evil respectively.

• This pair tries to stop the coming of the Antichrist because they are comfortable and like the earth so much.

• God is voiced by a woman.

• The Antichrist, who will oppose the Kingdom of God, is portrayed as a normal kid that has special powers and a mission to destroy the world which he doesn’t really want to do.

• There are groups of Satanic “nuns” that are chosen to raise the Antichrist.

• The four riders of the Apocalypse, God’s means of punishing sinful earth, are portrayed as a group of bikers.

In the end, this is a denial of Good and Evil: morality and natural law do not exist, just humanitarianism and an ultimately useless creed. This is another step to make Satanism appear normal, light and acceptable. We must show our rejection. Please sign our petition, telling Amazon that we will not stand silent as they destroy the barriers of horror we still have for evil.

So, let me get this straight: Horvat II and his merry band of God/Jesus/Mary worshippers is all bent out of shape over how fictional Bible characters are portrayed in Good Omens? Okay then . . .

Neil Gaiman tweeted the following after hearing about the petition drive:

“I love that they are going to write to Netflix to try and get #GoodOmens cancelled. Says it all really. This is so beautiful … Promise me you won’t tell them?”

Gaiman later tweeted:

“Says it all.” They are asking Netflix, a company who does not broadcast #GoodOmens to “cancel” Good Omens, a show broadcast on another network, and already complete and out. I find it difficult to respond to them with anything other than flippancy. No, not difficult. Impossible.

A tweet by Evangelical Christian Isaac Peterson perhaps explains best the sentiment behind the outrage over Good Omens:

isaac peterson tweet

In Peterson’s mind, the Bible belongs to Christians and it is “cultural appropriation” for Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman to take and use what doesn’t belong to them — damn heathens that they are. First, Good Omens is based on the book Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, and not the Bible. Not that it would matter. The Bible is a work of fiction too, so what’s the harm in adapting its stories and themes into TV programs and movies? According to Wikipedia, the plot of the book goes something like this:

It is the coming of the End Times: the Apocalypse is near, and Final Judgement will soon descend upon the human species. This comes as a bit of bad news to the angel Aziraphale (who was the guardian of the Eastern Gate of Eden) and the demon Crowley (who, when he was originally named Crawly, was the serpent who tempted Eve to eat the apple), respectively the representatives of Heaven and Hell on Earth, as they have become used to living their cosy, comfortable lives and have, in a perverse way, taken a liking to humanity. As such, since they are good friends (despite ostensibly representing the polar opposites of Good and Evil), they decide to work together and keep an eye on the Antichrist, destined to be the son of a prominent American diplomat stationed in Britain, and thus ensure he grows up in a way that means he can never decide between Good and Evil, thereby postponing the end of the world.

In fact, Warlock, the child who everyone thinks is the Anti-Christ, is a normal eleven-year-old boy. Due to the mishandling of several infants in the hospital, the real Anti-Christ is Adam Young, a charismatic and slightly otherworldly eleven-year-old living in Lower Tadfield, Oxfordshire, an idyllic town in Britain. Despite being the harbinger of the Apocalypse, he has lived a perfectly normal life as the son of typical English parents, and as a result has no idea of his true powers. He has three close friends – Pepper, Wensleydale and Brian – who collectively form a gang that is simply referred to as “Them” by the adults.

As the end of the world nears, Adam blissfully and naively uses his powers, changing the world to fit things he reads in a conspiracy theory magazine, such as raising the lost continent of Atlantis and causing Little Green Men to land on earth and deliver a message of goodwill and peace. In the meantime, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse assemble: War (a war correspondent), Death (a biker), Famine (a dietician and fast-food tycoon), and Pollution (the youngest–Pestilence having retired after the discovery of penicillin). The incredibly accurate (yet so highly specific as to be useless) prophecies of Agnes Nutter, 17th-century prophetess, are rapidly coming to pass.

Agnes Nutter was a witch in the 17th century and the only truly accurate prophet to have ever lived. She wrote a book called The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, a collection of prophecies that did not sell very well because they were unspectacular, cryptic and all true. She, in fact, decided to publish it only so she could receive a free author’s copy. This copy is passed down to her descendants, and is currently owned by her multi-great granddaughter Anathema Device. Agnes was burned at the stake by a mob; however, because she had foreseen her fiery end and had packed 80 pounds of gunpowder and 40 pounds of roofing nails into her petticoats, everyone who participated in the burning was killed instantly.

As the world descends into chaos, Adam attempts to split up the world between his gang. After realizing that by embracing absolute power, he will not be able to continue to grow up as a child in Lower Tadfield, Adam decides to stop the apocalypse.

Anathema, Newton Pulsifer, Sergeant Shadwell (the two last members of the Witchfinder Army), Madame Tracey (a medium and Shadwell’s neighbour), Adam and his gang, Aziraphale and Crowley gather at a military base near Lower Tadfield to stop the Horsemen from causing a nuclear war and ending the world. Adam’s friends capture War, Pollution, and Famine. Just as Adam’s real father, the devil, seems set to come and force the end of the world, Adam twists everything so his human father shows up instead, and everything is restored.

In the aftermath of the prevented Apocalypse, Crowley and Aziraphale discuss their restored property and the possibility of a second Apocalypse between humanity and the combined forces of Heaven and Hell; Shadwell and Madame Tracey decide to get married and move into a bungalow together; Anathema receives a sequel to Agnes Nutter’s prophecies but does not read it so as to not be bound by them; and Adam evades his grounding to go scrumping.

Sure, I see some similarities between Good Omens and the Bible, but Good Omens is hardly Cecil B. DeMille’s Ten Commandments. Peterson doth protest too much.

Second, since when in a free society is the Bible or religion in general off limits? Sorry, but religious books, beliefs, and ideas are fair game for critique, criticism, and ridicule. Third, is Peterson really arguing that Good Omens “hurt” his feelings and those of people who treat Christianity with the “proper” modicum of reverence and respect it deserves? Behind Peterson’s feigned offense is the idea that if religious beliefs are “sincere” then they should not be criticized. I wonder if people such as Peterson have really thought about how stupid this kind of thinking really is? We humans “sincerely” believe all sorts of bat-shit crazy stuff. Smart, educated people can and do believe things that defy reason and common sense; you know, beliefs such as a virgin having a baby, dead people coming back to life, walking on water, turning water into wine, walking through walls, and healing blindness with mud and spit, to name a few. Many of these same people believe the earth is 6,023 years old, a universal flood destroyed the world a few thousand years ago, a man named Moses led millions of people on foot across the desert from Egypt to Canaan, and God lives inside of them, talking to them each and every day. Think about all the anti-scientific woo people believe: you know like vaccines cause autism and essential oils cure a plethora of diseases. The world is awash in nonsense. Should we not combat bad thinking and ideas, especially if they cause psychological and physical harm? Pray tell, why should religion be exempt from similar treatment?

What Horvat II and ASDTFP, along with the American Family AssociationOne Million Moms, and Parents Television Council — whom all have articles and petitions on their websites expressing outrage over TV programming — need to do to quell their outrage is this: DON’T WATCH TV!  Don’t like Good Omens? Don’t watch it. Exercise your free will and change the channel. Better yet, get rid of your TVs. You see, the real issue here is that these groups want to control what the rest of us watch. If they can’t watch Good Omens, by golly we can’t watch it either. And therein is the core of Fundamentalist thinking: controlling others. Think about the current culture war these very same people are waging against LGBTQ people, same-sex marriage, fornication, masturbation, birth control, abortion, Democrats, socialism, liberal Christians, and a host of other “sins.”  Their goal is to legislate and ban any behavior or group they deem “sinful” and an affront to the Christian God.  Bound by their religion’s moral strictures and chains, Fundamentalists demand all of us submit to the same bondage. Sorry, but that ain’t going to happen. Those of us who have escaped the pernicious claws of Fundamentalist Christianity, along with our unwashed, uncircumcised Philistine brethren in the “world,” have no intentions of letting Fundamentalists have their way.

Time to binge watch Good Omens this weekend.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Teach Them to Read and They Won’t Have Kids — Or Go to Church

learning to read

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

1979: Marla, a college classmate of mine, had just returned from a stint as a Peace Corps community health educator in Ethiopia. Her work entailed, among other things, teaching health and “life skills” to school children. She interpreted “life skills” in her own way, she told me. That meant she was “encouraging young women and girls to have agency over their own bodies” in a country where, even today, women’s and girls’ access to resources and community participation is restricted, even though they do most of the agricultural labor. (An Ethiopian co-worker has told me as much.) Among other things, she tried to teach those young women that they had a right to gynecological and reproductive health care—and to decide whether or not they were going to reproduce.

One day, Marla said, she had an “epiphany”: She realized what would do more than anything else to promote women’s health care, and cut the birth rate “in half.” It’s something that she found herself doing, even though “it wasn’t part of the job description.”

What was the most helpful thing Marla, with her degree in microbiology, did for the women and girls she met in Ethiopia? She taught them how to read. Most of them didn’t know how, in any language, when she arrived. Her literacy sessions, she said, were more effective than all of the lessons she gave in hygiene or contraceptive usage.

What Marla’s experience taught her has been borne out, not only in Ethiopia, but in other parts of the world. To put it simply, the more educated women become, the fewer children they have. And, the fewer children people have, the healthier those children are likely to be.

I found myself thinking about Marla’s experience after writing about how the Roman Catholic Church is rapidly losing followers in the US, western Europe and Australia. So are other traditional mainstream Christian churches. Even the children of Evangelicals are starting to drift away.

One reason why young people are disengaging from the Church is, of course, the clerical sex-abuse scandals. One need not be a victim of such exploitation to lose one’s trust, not only in priests and other “representatives of God,” but in the institutions they uphold. But even if people were not coming forward (as I did nearly two years ago) with accounts of long-ago molestation, the “shepherds” would have a hard time keeping the young in their fold and, needless to say, in their influence.

Church officials could blame the Internet, video games or any number of other things for the loss of young congregants. But if those leaders really want to know why they’re “losing Europe” and other places, they should pay attention to what Marla and others have observed.

Actually, they may have. Why else would they insist, even at this late date, upon female subservience? Why do they still teach that abortion is wrong, even if it saves the life of the mother?

I can’t help but to think that such doctrines are a tacit admission that churches need high birth rates—which, of course, means restricting the rights of women—in order to continue in their present forms. The vast majority of any church’s followers didn’t consciously choose to be members: Either their parents raised them to be congregants, or they made a “profession” or “admission” of faith under duress, or at a least without a true understanding of what they were pledging. The surest way to ensure growth in the church is, therefore, to have more children. And it’s in those areas where women are less educated and more oppressed—and thus give birth to more children– where the church is growing.

Of course, there are a number of reasons why educated women have fewer children. One is that the more time they spend getting an education, the later in life they’ll have children—which means fewer children. Another is that education shows women (and men) that whatever the rewards of having children, there are other ways to find fulfillment in life. They are less likely to “be fruitful and multiply” – as well as other Biblical dictums—literally, if at all.

Thus a cycle begins. Smaller families tend to be less religious, or at least less religiously orthodox, than larger families. While religiosity often leads to large families, it can’t be said that a lack of religion is a cause of smaller families. Still, the inverse correlation between piety and family size cannot be denied. And kids raised with less religious indoctrination are less likely to see the need for it or, for that matter, for having lots of kids when they grow up.

Oh, and if a girl in a small family grows up with an educated secular mother, she is also as likely to see the value of education as she is to not see the value of religion in her life. So, for that matter, is a boy: Moreover, he is less likely to believe that a woman can’t, or shouldn’t, do whatever a man can. If his mother can head a corporation or university, why not a religious institution? He, not to mention his sister, can’t be blamed for wondering why women aren’t allowed to say mass, let alone take on any other prominent role in the church. If that boy or girl has children, he or she is less likely to bring them to such a church.

Many observers are now talking about ways in which the church needs to do to “reform” itself. While the current Pope may be sincere in his intention to root out predatory priests and to re-focus the church’s mission on helping the poor, I am not holding my breath when it comes to the church’s position on abortion or female subservience. Call me a cynic, but I can’t help but to think if the Church is indeed “giving up” on Europe, it still finds hope in the Global South of high birth rates and other forms of gender inequality. There, the Church will continue to grow—until, of course, the women get educated and stop having babies. Marla was right, and Church leaders know it, whether or not they know Marla.