The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

How Secularists Should Respond to the SCOTUS Ruling on Sectarian Prayer at Government Meetings

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 7, 2014

You’d have to be living under a rock not to have heard the news about Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows sectarian prayers at government meetings.  My skeptical colleague Hemant Mehta at the Friendly Atheist has an excellent breakdown on the background of this case – check it out here.

Essentially, the SCOTUS ruled that explicitly Christian and other sectarian prayers are allowed in the opening of local government meetings (just as they have been for years in the federal and state legislatures) under the Constitution.  Regarding this ruling, I think the devil is in the details; specifically, the SCOTUS did not rule that only Christian prayers were allowed.  It ruled that sectarian prayers are allowed… from any religion (or non-religion)… which means that anyone can make a motion to pray at such meetings.  Further, Justice Kennedy stated in his opinion that:

“If the course and practice over time shows that the invocations denigrate nonbeliev­ers or religious minorities, threaten damnation, or preach conversion, many present may consider the prayer to fall short of the desire to elevate the purpose of the occasion and to unite lawmakers in their common effort. That circumstance would present a different case than the one presently before the Court.”

Whoops, that’s already happened; just look at how there are some self-righteous fundamentalist religious jerks who misinterpret this ruling as saying that “only Christian prayers are allowed” – which is exactly the kind of thing more reasonably-minded members of the SCOTUS noted might happen.  Indeed, the problem here is that this ruling has a huge potential to cause even greater religious animosity and division at the same time our country is becoming ever more (non)religiously diverse (with as many as 20% claiming “no religion”).  Specifically, Justice Kagan said:

“The monthly chaplains appear almost always to assume that everyone in the room is Christian. … The Town itself has never urged its chaplains to reach out to members of other faiths, or even to recall that they might be present. And accordingly, few chaplains have made any effort to be inclusive; none has thought even to assure attending members of the public that they need not participate in the prayer session. Indeed, as the majority forthrightly recognizes, when the plaintiffs here began to voice concern over prayers that excluded some Town residents, one pastor pointedly thanked the Board “[o]n behalf of all God-fearing people” for holding fast, and another declared the objectors “in the minority and … ignorant of the history of our country.””

So… what is a secularist to do?  Shall we bemoan our fate, lamenting that “this was another win for the religious right”?  I think not.  In fact, I think this ruling can lead to a really big problem for the religious right; but don’t take it from me, take it from an evangelical Christian writer (and constitutional scholar) for Christianity Today magazine:

“So what’s the harm of government prayer? First, it leaves a few deeply resentful, with hearts hardened to Christianity. One need look no further than the two complainants here. Many more of our fellow citizens are confused about evangelical methods and motives when we hitch our wagon to Caesar, and they are misled about the nature of Christ’s invitation and a person’s freedom in response to him. Moreover, because what goes around comes around, municipalities in less friendly territory than Greece, New York, will seize this newly approved legality and use it to offer up invocational prayers that will be unrecognizable to evangelicals. Already this is occurring in the Town of Greece, where a Wiccan priestess has offered up prayers to Athena and Apollo. An atheist has also petitioned, by appealing to “inclusion,” that she be allowed to take a turn at rendering the invocation. She did so, not because she wanted to pray, to protest the city policy by rendering it absurd. The Supreme Court’s ruling means we will be seeing more of this mischief.” [emphasis added]

Did you hear that?  Mischief!  :)

la-abcarian-satan-pix-20140505

At the next county board meeting, ask if you can get a “Hail Satan!” (image source)

And he’s right.  Now that the SCOTUS has explicitly opened the door to sectarian (note, that’s a different word that “Christian”) prayers, then all those Christians who so badly wanted to win this case had better be prepared for people of other religious (or non-religious) beliefs to come calling for their turn to give invocations at local government meetings.  I’m guessing they won’t be too happy to have a Muslim imam, Jewish rabbi, Hindu priest, or humanist/atheist open with a prayer or statement; just look at how they threw a hissy-fit when a Hindu priest opened a session of the U.S. Senate with a prayer:

Well, these conservative Christians had better get used to it, because plenty of highly non-Christian folks are now more than ready to start attending local government meetings with the express purpose of opening them with non-Christian prayers/invocations.  For example:

**The American Humanist Association is planning to launch a program to “provide resources for atheists and humanists to deliver secular invocations during legislative meetings.”

**The Freedom From Religion Foundation has already announced “Nothing Fails Like A Prayer”, a nationwide contest for the best secular invocation delivered at a government meeting.

**And the Satanic Temple (yes, the same one that is petitioning to erect a statue of Satan outside the Oklahoma state house under their “religious monument” law) is getting in on the act, too.  In fact, they’ve already got the following prayer/invocation ready to go:

“Let us stand now, unbowed and unfettered by arcane doctrines born of fearful minds in darkened times. Let us embrace the Luciferian impulse to eat of the Tree of Knowledge and dissipate our blissful and comforting delusions of old. Let us demand that individuals be judged for their concrete actions, not their fealty to arbitrary social norms and illusory categorizations. Let us reason our solutions with agnosticism in all things, holding fast only to that which is demonstrably true. Let us stand firm against any and all arbitrary authority that threatens the personal sovereignty of One or All. That which will not bend must break, and that which can be destroyed by truth should never be spared its demise. It is Done. Hail Satan.”

I have a message for all the conservative Christians hailing this ruling: Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it  :)

 

 

Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Follow Up to Religious Fundamentalists’ Reaction to Sandy Hook Massacre

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 20, 2012

As I recently blogged, there was the all-too-predictable nutty and inhuman reaction to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School from the religious zealots in our nation in the past few days… it’s the fault of gays and atheists, don’t ya know!  Thanks to all who have reblogged (thanks to Phil at Skeptic Money :) ), tweeted, commented, and emailed me with feedback about that blog post.  I wanted to share with you all a really good bit of correspondence I got from my online friend “Other Jesus”, because it goes to the root of some deeper questions related to religion and how people do/don’t think about it.  Read on…

I liked your article. I was actually waiting for these groups to emerge. Most of the responses on all sides of the background debate have responded in predictable manner. I know the main characters are the anti- and pro-gun groups, the “more mental health” people, and the “we need more God in school…” religious folks. But some of the most annoying folks are the “prayers and hugs” crew in the periphery. Every tragedy like this evokes a “hug your kids and pray for the family of the victims”. How’s that working? (Don’t quote me on the above!)

The Huckabee premise deserves a more blatant study and response. So Mike thinks we need more God in school for protection. Meanwhile, some folks are calling for full-time armed security in schools (Sean Hannity, eg.). So what if God applied for the security guard job at a school? Well the principal would need to review His resume and he/she might ask for more explanation about the following:

1) Where was God during the murder of Able? Was it preventable?

2) Where was God during the murder of the Egyptian first born in the 10th Plague? What about His alleged
ties to the Angel of Death?

3) Wasn’t God in the land of His “chosen people” during Herod’s “murder of the innocents”? Did He take any steps to prevent the slaughter?

4) During the Great Flood, what did God do to protect the babies and young innocent children? Did he have any role in the cause of the flood?

Now these are events from long ago, so the principal might accept God’s excuse that “that was then, this is now”. So how about a more modern example? A school like Huckabee wants: With God fully in-place. Maybe God’s checkered resume can be redeemed.

5) Where was God on December 1, 1958? Was he watching a student play with matches in the basement of Out Lady of Angel’s Catholic school in Chicago? What did he do when the young man ignitee a trash barrel? Did he take any action to stop the fire before it killed 92 kids and three nuns?

I don’t think that the principal conducting the interview would have a hard time deciding whether or not God was qualified, despite the endorsement from Mike Huckabee.

(NOTE TO SELF: Be very skeptical of anyone Mick Huckabee refers.)

And here are some other good points brought up by various people who read my article:

What really irritates me are those who claim that shootings happen at schools because God is not allowed in schools. However, that does not explain why students at a Jewish school in France (earlier this year) were killed by a gunman. Does God only dwell in Christian schools? The point is, belief in God has nothing to do with these tragic events. Horrible things happen because horrible people cause them to happen – it is not the result of divine punishment.

… and…

So how is it that shootings have occurred in churches, religious schools and if no sin is greater than another; why all the child molesting and rape in churches?   Has God been removed from there as well.

… and…

Also, I’d like to know how Mike Huckabee explains the fact that slavery and segregation were legal while much of that praying was going on in schools.

Hmm, good questions.  Food for thought, folks… food for thought.

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The Real Cause of the Sandy Hook Massacre: Gays and Atheists, Of Course!

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 18, 2012

You’d pretty much have to be living underneath a rock to not have heard about last Friday’s tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.  All told, 20 children and 6 adults were killed by the shooter, Adam Lanza, before he killed himself.  Understandably, people all over the nation are numb and puzzled about how something like this could happen.  I know that at the high school where I teach, it has certainly been a topic of much debate and conversation.  One of the most asked questions is “Are our schools safe?” – in general, the answer is yes.

In addition, at a time like this people are looking for answers and asking “Why?”  In answer, some are talking about the issue of gun control (the shooter had easy access to guns), while others are talking about mental health issues (society doesn’t pay enough attention to mental health); what seems to be common to these, and other, analyses is that they are based mostly upon media-fueled speculation at this stage.  Speculation runs rampant, and facts are frustratingly few and far between…

… Enter the God Squad.  These are the dim-witted troglodytes whom you could have easily predicted would crawl out of their caves spewing the usual disgusting, vile-filled claptrap about how this is all somehow “God’s punishment”, and how they know God’s feelings on the matter!  Here’s just a sample of the putrid idiocy pouring forth from the fundamentalist faithful…

MIKE HUCKABEE: Schools ‘Become A Place Of Carnage’ Because ‘We Have  Systematically Removed God’

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee suggested Friday that the absence of God  from the nation’s public schools may have contributed, in part, to the deadly school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that killed 26 people,  including 20 children.

Appearing on Fox  News, Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, was asked by host  Neil Cavuto how “God could let this happen.” Here’s his response:

It’s an interesting thing. We ask  why there’s violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from  our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of  carnage? Because we’ve made it a place where we don’t want to talk about  eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability — that  we’re not just going to have be accountable to the police if they catch us, but  one day we stand before a holy God in judgment. If we don’t believe that, then  we don’t fear that. And so I sometimes, when people say, ‘Why did God let it  happen?’ You know, God wasn’t armed. He didn’t go to the school. But God will be  there in the form of a lot people with hugs and with therapy and a whole lot of  ways in which he will be involved in the aftermath. Maybe we ought to let him in  on the front end, and we wouldn’t have to call him to show up it’s all said and  done at the back end.

and…

School carnage: Blame church, not God or guns

… My mother, atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair, fought to make the public schools  the armed camps they are today by removing prayer, the recognition of the  authority of God. In 1962 and 1963, I was attending an all-boys public high  school in downtown Baltimore, Md. The school was a magnet school before the term  even existed and was intended to prepare young men for college, majoring in  science and engineering. There were 1,800 teenage boys in the school, and there  was not a cop in the building – ever. The doors were unlocked and often the  un-air-conditioned rooms had open windows. There were no metal detectors, no  picture IDs, and students went in and out the doors on the honor system.

What  happens when you’re raised by America’s most famous atheist? Read William  Murray’s riveting and redemptive new book, “My Life Without God”

The authority of God was present, even though I am very sure many of those  young men, including myself, had some pretty vile thoughts that were not in the  least way moral. The presence of the authority of God, vested in the teachers by  His recognition every morning, was reinforced by the churches and the families  of the students.

That high school has since merged with a girl’s school in another location,  for purposes of political correctness. The last time I checked, the old building  itself was the headquarters of the Baltimore City Schools Police Force,  something that did not exist when Baltimore’s population was nearly  double what it is now. Every kid at every school now has a photo ID. All  the doors of every school are locked. All doors have metal detectors and  drug-sniffing dogs roaming the corridors. I am told that every school in  Baltimore has at least one armed “safety officer.”

In the vast majority of America’s public schools, the authority of God has  been replaced with the authority of the iron fist of government. Morals? Without  the authority of God, there are no morals, and none are taught in the public  schools today. The ethics that are taught are situational, perhaps the same  situational ethics that led to the logic that caused the tragic shootings in  Newtown. …

and (of course it wouldn’t be complete without these assholes)…

Westboro Baptist Church Says It Will Picket Vigil For Connecticut School Shooting Victims

The Westboro Baptist Church, the controversial group known for protesting outside funerals of slain U.S. service members, announced that it will picket a vigil for the victims of Friday’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the second-deadliest school shooting in American history.

Shirley Phelps-Roper, a spokesperson for the group and, like most members of the organization, a relative of the group’s founder, Fred Phelps, announced on Twitter on Saturday the group’s plan “to sing praise to God for the glory of his work in executing his judgment.” …

So what are we to take away from this incredibly frakked up display of asshattery?  Apparently, we are to all repent and come to the realization that God’s pissed off at us (“us” being the United States) for not forcing children to pray in public schools (and by “pray” I mean “pray to Jesus Christ”, because that’s what these morons really mean), or because our nation actually has the audacity to recognize and respect the rights of atheists and gays, not to mention in the United States we actually acknowledge the separation of church and state.

Omaha, Neb., Monday, Dec. 10, 2007. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Yee-haw… Fun with Fundamentalism. Image Source

So what are we to make of this reaction on the part of the ultra-religious to the Sandy Hook massacre?  As I’ve noted before, the fundamentalist right-wing segment of our nation is starting to slowly dwindle, and there is a more secular demographic rising in this country.  I think part of what we may be seeing here is the gradual, but inevitable, unhinging of the religious right as they start to see their power over the rest of us who don’t share their twisted worldview slowly slipping away.  They cannot handle the fact that their worldview isn’t THE worldview which is forced upon the rest of society through the power of the culture and the government, and that is making them nuts.

I predict more of the same in the future: every time there is a hurricane, earthquake, or other natural disaster; every time there is a man-made disaster (such as the Sandy Hook massacre); every time anything bad happens, these self-described servants of the Almighty (who, of course, have the message straight from God himself, you know) will scurry in front of the TV cameras to spread their message of doom and judgement in a vain attempt to appear relevant.  And as time goes on, they will get ever more extreme with their message, as they marginalize themselves even more.

And that’s the key thing right there… what these preachers, prophets, and fundamentalist believers really fear is exactly what’s happening to them: they are slipping into irrelevance.  Let them, I say, because civilized society has no need for their sociopathic mythologies.

Posted in religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Science Does “All the Damn Work”

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 16, 2012

From my skeptical colleague and fellow blogger Steve over at TreeLobsters.com…

‘Nuff said :)

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Prayer, Miracles, and Damned Statistics

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 7, 2010

We’ve all heard the line: There’s lies, damned lies, and then there’s statistics. The implication is that people can use statistics to deceive themselves and others.  But the opposite is also true: people often deceive themselves due to a stark ignorance of numbers & statistics (often referred to as innumeracy).

For example, at this time of year, at least in Christian circles, there is a lot of talk going around about prayer and miracles – usually in the guise of stories about supposedly “miraculous” healing.  And the media loves to give air time to these kind of anecdotal stories with nary a whiff of skepticism.  However, to its credit, ABC News did a segment recently with Elizabeth Vargas where she gave a fair amount of face-time to skeptic Michael Shermer.  Here are some excerpts from Shermer’s account of the interview at the really groovy SkeptiBlog…

Would I Ever Pray for a Miracle?

I really like how Shermer goes into the issue of large number statistics, confirmation bias, and believers counting the “miraculous hits” while discounting the enormous number of inevitable misses…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in mathematics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

God’s Protecting Florida… Except When He Isn’t

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 23, 2009

We all know that politicians do and say silly things, but I think Gov. Charlie Crist deserves a special mention for the dumbest remarks in the last week.  Apparently, according to the governor of Florida (Crist), the reason why Florida hasn’t been hit by a hurricane for as long as he’s been in office is because of him.  And why does he take the credit for “protecting” Florida in this manner?  Because he was praying for the protection…

Crist noted that just before his election in 2006, Florida had been affected by a total of eight hurricanes in 2004 and 2005.

“Do you know the last time it was we had a hurricane in Florida? It’s been awhile. In 2007, I took my first trade mission. Do you know where I went?” said Crist, a Methodist, referring to a trip to Israel.

He then told of going to the Western Wall and inserting a note with a prayer. He said it read, “Dear God, please protect our Florida from storms and other difficulties. Charlie.”

“Time goes on _ May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December _ no hurricanes,” Crist said. “Thank God.”

Unfortunately, Gov. Crist displays a great deal of selective thinking while making this claim, because in 2008 Tropical Storm Fay hit the state of Florida, killing 36 people and causing about $560 million in damages.  Also known as “counting the hits & ignoring the misses”, in this case Crist credits his prayers to God for “protecting” his state from deadly weather, but he then goes on to ignore the impact of Tropical Storm Fay.

I suppose God wanted those people to die, right governor?  Or is it that killer tropical storms aren’t covered under the prayer insurance plan, yet killer hurricanes are?  And all the other times God was answering your prayers for protection… except when God doesn’t answer your prayers it’s “just a mystery”, I suppose.  Gov. Crist, this one’s for you:

facepalm

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The Power of Prayer… Fails

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 22, 2009

We have all heard on numerous occasions about “the power of prayer” to heal the sick & dying.  Stories abound about supposedly miraculous recoveries that are attributed to intercessory prayer – that is, prayer on behalf of someone else who is ill.  Sadly, the reality is that the power of prayer… fails.

Case in point: a couple in Oregon is facing jail for relying only upon prayer to cure their child of pneumonia.  It seems that whomever they were talking to wasn’t listening, because the kid died.

Parents face jail for praying instead of getting doctor for baby

A US judge has rejected defence arguments that claimed selective and vindictive prosecution in the manslaughter trial of a couple whose 15-month-old daughter died of pneumonia while they prayed for her recovery.

Clackamas County Circuit Judge Steven Maurer told lawyers for Carl and Raylene Worthington that he had already determined the Oregon City couple had a duty to seek medical care for their daughter, Ava, despite their religious beliefs.

“There are limits, especially when it comes to the protection of young children,” Maurer said.

The couple face manslaughter charges in the death of Ava, who died of pneumonia in March 2008. A state medical examiner has said she could have been treated with antibiotics.

Now, don’t get me wrong here.  Though I am an atheist, I can understand people wanting to pray to make themselves feel better in times of great stress, such as during the hospitalization of themselves or a loved one.  I was in the hospital recently myself, and a colleague of mine called me – he told me that he’d pray for me, and I thanked him.  I didn’t thank him because I thought his prayers would help at all (they don’t), but I instead thanked him because it showed me that he cared about me.  But this is beside the main point of this entry.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Judging Science & Faith

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 16, 2009

So here’s a tough question for you… in a nation where we respect religious liberty, how does the state handle situations where those religious beliefs are in direct conflict with established medical science?  I’m specifically referring to a situation in Minnesota where a judge has ordered that a boy receive chemotherapy for his cancer despite the parents’ religious objections.

Judge rules family can’t refuse chemo for boy

A Minnesota judge ruled Friday that a 13-year-old cancer patient must be evaluated by a doctor to determine if the boy would benefit from restarting chemotherapy over his parents’ objections.

In a 58-page ruling, Brown County District Judge John Rodenberg found that Daniel Hauser has been “medically neglected” by his parents, Colleen and Anthony Hauser, and was in need of child protection services.

While he allowed Daniel to stay with his parents, the judge gave the Hausers until Tuesday to get an updated chest X-ray for their son and select an oncologist.

If the evaluation shows the cancer had advanced to a point where chemotherapy and radiation would no longer help, the judge said, he would not order the boy to undergo treatment.

However, he said, if chemotherapy is ordered and the family still refuses, Daniel will be placed in temporary custody.

I posted about something similar in my entry titled “What’s the Limit on ‘Respecting Beliefs’?” but this is a far more serious situation – in fact, it is one of life & death.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in medical woo, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Swine Flu Conspiracy Hogwash

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 28, 2009

Well, it’s all over the news, folks.  I’m speaking about the outbreak of swine flu around the world which has so many people concerned.  Now, for reasons outlined clearly with various medical authorities, there is legitimate cause for concern, but at the same time people need to think as rationally as possible to deal with the situation.  Here are some tips from the Centers for Disease Control to help you do just that.

Unfortunately, in situations such as these there are a considerable number of kooks & crazies that come crawling out of the woodwork to muddy the issue and spout (sometimes dangerous) nonsense.  I’m specifically referring to conspiracy theorists who are convinced that the swine flu is part of grand, nefarious plot by someone or something… out there  **cue spooky music**

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in conspiracy theories, medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

What is the Limit on “Respecting Beliefs”?

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 31, 2009

I saw a recent post on another skeptical blog – PodBlack Cat – which mentioned a news story about a girl in Mississippi who claimed to be possessed in her high school classroom (read the news story here). Apparently, this young woman began to “speak in tongues” and began making predictions, some of which included predictions of other students’ deaths. Upon witnessing this event, some students got in touch with a local TV station, and now the whole thing has a kind of surrealistic feel to it.

I see three things with this story that are just plain silly. One, the claim by the girl that she was possessed (according to her, by God); two, the claims on the part of other students that she was possessed not by God but the Devil; and three, perhaps most importantly, the fact that a local news station actually treated this whole fiasco seriously. A modern 21st-century television station doing a news story on a kid who claims to have been possessed? Are you kidding me?! That must have been one slow news day.

Let me take each of these points on, one-by-one…

#1. The girl claims that she was transmitting the voice of God because, according to her mother:

… she believes God is using her daughter to touch students at Pelahatchie High School.

The supposed process by which “God’s voice” was transmitted was something known as “speaking in tongues.” According to some charismatic/evangelical Christian sects, this is a mark of being in direct touch with the divine, but scholars of anthropology & linguistics refer to such phenomena as glossolalia. From the Skeptic’s Dictionary, the entry on glossolalia states

When spoken by schizophrenics, glossolalia are recognized as gibberish. In charismatic Christian communities glossolalia is sacred and referred to as “speaking in tongues” or having “the gift of tongues.”

and…

Glossolalics behave in various ways, depending on the social expectations of their community. Some go into convulsions or lose consciousness; others are less dramatic. Some seem to go into a trance; some claim to have amnesia of their speaking in tongues. All believe they are possessed by the Holy Spirit and the gibberish they utter is meaningful. However, only one with faith and the gift of interpretation is capable of figuring out the meaning of the meaningless utterances. Of course, this belief gives the interpreter unchecked leeway in “translating” the meaningless utterances. Nicholas Spanos notes: “Typically, the interpretation supports the central tenets of the religious community”.

So it seems that “speaking in tongues” and the subsequent translation of this supposed divine language is dependent solely upon being a member of a specific religious sect which is privy to the Godly message. As a young man, I attended a church for a time that was into this sort of thing, and I have to tell you that not once did any bit of it make any sense to me. I had the distinct impression that whenever someone in that church either spoke in or translated the “divine language” that they were basically making it up in their heads in an effort to reinforce their belief system.

It is also interesting to note that it is very difficult to distinguish such behavior from that exhibited by some who are mentally ill. Ironically, many other Christians are very suspicious of those who “speak in tongues”, but not because they are concerned about mental illness.

#2. This brings me to my second point – the reaction from the other students, who were presumably also Christian, was universally negative. In fact, rather than believing the message from the “possessed” girl was from God, most thought it was Satanic in nature. In fact, some students reacted (or over-reacted) so strongly that, as the news article states

“It made some students cry and leave school,” Sparks [a student] said. “Some have not returned yet.”

Sparks and his classmates said they think an evil spirit possessed the girl. They were so convinced that Sparks and his friends brought Bibles to school and had a devotional.

possessed

So now we have a very interesting situation set up in that school. At least one student, the girl in question, seems to believe that she is a vessel for the “voice of God” while a number of other students believe that she is being possessed by Satan or demons of some sort. Note the dichotomous thinking here: the students (and presumably their parents) assumed that the voices were coming from either God or Satan. No one ever seemed to consider that perhaps these voices had another, less supernatural, source (e.g., the entire thing could just be made up). Why not?

#3. Which brings me to the third point – how the media used this non-story as a way to “fill the news hole.” This is one of my biggest problems with much of the media in the United States – rather than present news that has been responsibly vetted with the purpose of informing, too many in the media nowadays seem to be only interested in getting ratings. And that means taking non-stories and inflating them to over-sensationalize them. And what better way to get ratings in the buckle of the Bible Belt than to smear a story about kids & their parents squabbling over which supernatural entity supposedly possessed a girl in her high school classroom? And by covering the story in such a sloppy manner, the media lend an air of validity to it, reinforcing the nonsense.

The appalling lack of responsible reporting on the part of this TV station is so thick you could cut it with a knife (sadly, this isn’t the only example). First, they actually treated the story with a certain degree of seriousness; second, notice that nowhere in the coverage of this entire sordid affair is there any evidence that the journalists (if you can call them that) in question actually attempted to find a scientific/skeptical point-of-view on the whole question of glossolalia or demonic possession.

This kind of behavior on the part of the media only serves to perpetuate ignorance, because much of the time it is justified under the guise of “respecting the beliefs” of those people involved in the story. But at what point does “respecting beliefs” become silly, or perpetuate ignorance & lack of critical thinking, or even become outright dangerous?

For example, consider how some in the media give a platform to morons like Jenny McCarthy to rant on and on about how vaccines cause autism (they don’t – period). Or how the media allow douchebags like Kevin Trudeau to peddle their snake-oil “natural cures” while convincing the gullible to avoid scientific medicine for treatment of cancer? Or what about “respecting the beliefs” of those who would, rather than take their sick children to the hospital, pray for a miraculous healing – even if it results in the child’s death?

There is a fine line here that the media must walk. However, too many in the media have gone too far in one direction: “respecting beliefs” at the expense of an accurate & responsible portrayal of reality. There are good examples of the media covering a story on the paranormal responsibly, such as Anderson Cooper’s coverage of one of Sylvia Browne’s most high-profile blunders, but sadly that sort of good reporting is all too uncommon.

However, skeptics should not withdraw into frustration & cynicism and give up hope. Rather, we should get out there – through meetings, face to face discussion, blogs (like this one), media events, etc – and educate people and the media. If all we do is complain, then we can only blame ourselves for the inevitable spread of nonsense.

Posted in media woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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