Tag Archives: organized religion

How To Tell If You’re In A Cult With The B.I.T.E. Model

5 Cult Leaders With Murderous Intentions – AmongMen

Like it or not, religion is a big part of many peoples’ lives. Whether you’re an ardent atheist or an impassioned believer, there’s no getting around it. There are still millions of religious people all over the world, living their lives and practicing their faith. Even though religion, in general, has been in decline in recent decades, it’s still a powerful force in many communities.

By and large, most religious people are every bit as ordinary and decent as non-religious people. They live their lives, love their families, and generally go about their business. For some, their religion generally enriches their lives and that’s a good thing. I know plenty of people like that.

However, this is not about them.

This is about those who take religious ideology to a dangerous and damaging extreme.

I’ve talked about this kind of extremism before. It has led to some legitimately harmful trends. In some cases, it has the potential to be an existential threat to the world at large. While any ideology can be taken to a harmful extreme, religion can be uniquely damaging because it deals in abstracts, beliefs, and spirituality.

There are things you can’t touch, measure, or quantify. As a result, they’re incredibly difficult to contest and argue against. You can give someone all the irrefutable evidence in the world. If their preferred holy book or cult leader says the world is made of cheese, that’s what they’ll believe and they’ll cling to that belief with all their might.

This sort of thing manifests most prominently in cults. Now, not every cult is religious in nature, but religion is often a powerful driving force in many. Most of the cults that make the news for all the wrong reasons were religious in nature.

How people end up in these cults varies. You can listen to former cult members from all walks of life and get a different perspective for how they fell into it, how they got out, and why they became so captivated. These stories are quite harrowing and I encourage everyone to seek them out. They have many lessons to offer.

Following these stories may also make you wonder what sets a cult apart from a traditional religion. Like I said before, most religious people don’t conduct themselves in the way cult members do. On top of that, those who are in a cult probably don’t think they are. To them, this is their normal, skewed as it might be.

Given how diverse cults can be, it’s not easy to determine when a certain religion or ideology has crosses that threshold. Some argue that certain Christian denominations and political movements are cults, but usually as a means of insult or denigration.

Thankfully, people far smarter than me have given this subject much more thought and study. There’s one particular model out there that I find to be quite useful in discerning cults from ordinary religious activity.

It’s called the B.I.T.E model. Developed by Steven Hassan, a mental health professional who has studied behavioral control tactics, it’s a handy tool for assessing the cult-like structure of both religious and political ideologies.

The model and the name are an acronym for four general patterns of behavior that tend to manifest in cults. They are as follows:

Behavior Control: Involves regulation and micromanagement of peoples’ behavior from how they dress, how they eat, and what they do with their time.

Information Control: Involves organized efforts to withhold, distort, or manage the information people see in terms of knowledge, news, and education.

Thought Control: Involves organized efforts to shape opinions and worldviews of everything from their moral code to the language they use. The ultimate goal is to instill a warped view of reality.

Emotion Control: Involves manipulating and channeling a wide range of feelings, both positive and negative. The result is often involves instilling fear of outsiders and any differing opinions, as well as a sense of worthlessness that only the organization can help them resolve.

It’s not a perfect model, but it’s one of the simplest and most comprehensive to date. The model is structured in a way to include both religious and non-religious ideologies. If you were to apply this model to organizations like NXVIM or basic personality cults, it would check the same boxes as any religious cult.

At the same time, it also helps highlight how certain religious and political ideologies do not count as cults. Some may fit certain parts of the model, but not all. For something to really be a full-fledged cult, it needs to check all four bases and in a meaningful way. That also helps sift through instances where someone tries to call something a cult as an insult.

With this model in mind, I encourage everyone to use it to evaluate their own religious or political affiliation. That may not be easy. Like I said, people in cults usually don’t think they’re in a cult. Many don’t even realize how deep they were into it until they leave.

That makes self-assessment of your beliefs and affiliations that much more critical. The B.I.T.E model might not be perfect, but it is both useful and insightful. We all need to be critical of our beliefs. Given how dangerous certain cults can be, it’s important we know the signs before it’s too late.

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Filed under health, politics, psychology, religion

An Unholy Way To Handle Claims Of Sexual Assault (According To Liberty University)

Scandal at Liberty University: How a Christian college dismisses students'  reports of sexual assault | Salon.com

Every now and then, we encounter a story in the news that is outright egregious, but not the least bit shocking. There’s no question the details are awful. No matter how cynical or jaded you are, there are real injustices in this world. Innocent people are victimized in horrible crimes. A part of us wants to be outraged, but it’s just too unsurprising to get worked up.

I feel like we’ve had a lot of those stories over the past two years. I get the sense that a lot of people have just become so numb to horrible news.

Even so, we should still take notice when a terrible injustice is exposed, even if it doesn’t surprise us. That means that when another high-profile religious institution is found to be culpable in some egregious misdeeds involving sexual assault, we should still try and take interest.

Now, organized religion and egregious sex crimes aren’t new. They aren’t even that shocking anymore. Even if you consider yourself religious and strongly value your faith, it’s hard to miss the headlines that expose heinous crimes of sexual abuse and efforts to cover them up. It’s become so common and belabored that “South Parkdoes jokes about it.

It’s still serious and egregious. There are still real-life victims who suffer this abuse, but cannot get justice because the abusers hide behind religion and religious institutions. Regardless of your affiliation, I hope that upsets you, even if it doesn’t shock you.

For that reason, I also hope we can all share in the dismay and disgust regarding the recent revelations from Pro Publica about how Liberty University failed victims of sexual assault. If you haven’t read this recent report, I highly recommend doing so, but on an empty stomach. Some of the details are a bit graphic, but they’re still worth reading.

It’s a lengthy report that follows how multiple women who attended Liberty University, one of the most prominent Christian private schools in the United States, were sexually assaulted and the school failed to help them. In some cases, they were punished and shamed for the egregious sin of being victimized. It’s even more egregious than it sounds.

I won’t highlight every detail. Again, I encourage everyone to actually read the report. However, I will cite one excerpt that nicely sums up the environment that Liberty University created for victims of sexual assault.

Ten more former students told me they chose not to report their rapes to campus officials amid fear of being punished. “I knew I would face the blame for putting myself in that situation,” said Chelsea Andrews, a Liberty alum who said she was assaulted by a Liberty graduate student.

I hope it goes without saying that this is abhorrent. I also hope most reasonable people agree that we should be careful, understanding, and diligent when it comes to addressing accusations of sexual assault. I’ve said in the past that this can be tricky because sex crimes are difficult to prove and false accusations do happen, even if they’re rare.

In any case, lives can be ruined. People can be scarred for years because of what happened to them. We should definitely make an effort to improve how we handle these sorts of issues, but we should also actively work to not make things worse.

After reading this report, I won’t hide my underlying sentiment. By nearly every measure, Liberty University offers a case study in how not to handle claims of sexual assault. The fact it’s a religious school that touts conservative Christian values only makes it worse, not to mention hypocritical.

That also makes it unsurprising because, as we’ve seen, hypocrisy from organized religion is not that hard to find. However, this is a bit more personal for me because I actually know people who’ve gone to Liberty University. I’ve visited the area around Lynchburg, Virginia where the campus is based and have spent some extended time there.

That school is a big deal in that region. It’s hard to explain to people who have never traveled to that part of Virginia how big a presence they have. They’re not just another college within a college town. This is a university that is closely aligned with all things conservative and Christian.

It was founded by Jerry Falwell, a man who basically spent his entire adult life advocating for a Christian theocracy in America. That’s not hyperbole. Falwell and many like him actively promoted an ideology that sought to impose their brand of Christianity on every domain of American society.

That, in and of itself, should concern everyone who doesn’t want to live in a world devoid of fun, freedom, and anything remotely sexy. However, I’ve already touched on that thorny issue, so I won’t belabor it.

All you need to know is that Liberty University espouses an ultra-conservative brand of Christianity. That also means they impose strict codes of conduct on their students and faculty. I’m not just talking about rules against drinking, smoking, mini-skirts, and premarital sex. This is a school that forbids cursing, extended hugging, and R-rated movies.

Basically, it’s the antithesis of a party school. People go here to be educated in conservative Christian traditions. That’s why they’ve often been closely aligned with the religious right in America.

Now, that’s not to say everyone who goes to that school is some uptight carbon copy of Kirk Cameron. Some of the people I know went to that school found ways to drink, smoke, and get laid while attending. They just had to be extra careful than usual.

After reading this story, I find myself wondering how many gross misdeeds happened in the shadows that never came to light. That same code of conduct I just mentioned made it next to impossible to responsibly address matters involving sexual assault. You could go so far as to say it demonstrates the worst possible way to handle such issues.

Think of it in terms of both context and theology. Here is this very conservative school that is extremely anti-sex in any way that doesn’t result married people producing more Christians. That means any sex act, be it consensual or forced, is a gross violation of that code of conduct they hold so dear.

Then, imagine being someone who was sexually assaulted. You can try to report it, but in doing so, you just admitted to having sex. Even if it was forced on you, neither the code nor the theology seems to take that into account. They might not be able to prove the accuser assaulted you, but they already can prove that you had sex.

That gives them two options. They have to spend time, money, and resources investigating the incident, not knowing whether they’ll be able to find enough proof to warrant prosecution. The other option is to just focus on the fact that someone admitted to having sex, assume they were somehow responsible, and make whatever excuses are necessary to close the case.

One requires a lot of work and investigation.

One just requires assumptions and reinforcing time-tested traditions about blaming the victim.

That’s why investigations at places like Liberty will often focus on what the victim was wearing, what they were doing at the time, and why they put themselves in that position. It’s cruel on a level that defies description, but for religious schools, there are plenty of unfortunate precedents.

For those working these cases at Liberty, they had every incentive to take the path of least resistance. It’s easy to just shame someone who had sex. It’s a lot harder to actually prosecute a crime. That same process also requires that the institute admit some form of responsibility for not protecting people.

If nothing else, this Pro Publica report only confirms what we’ve seen with plenty of other religious organizations. When it comes down to doing the right thing by the people they’ve failed or protecting their power/influence/tax free status, these institutions will do whatever allows them to keep doing what they’re doing.

It doesn’t matter if their preferred holy book gives strict guidelines on what is right and what is wrong.

It doesn’t even matter if basic human decency is enough to surmise that this way of doing things is a gross disservice to victims.

All that matters is protecting the institution and the power it wields. I definitely felt that when I visited Lynchburg. You could say a lot of things about politics and Christianity, but you could not say certain things about Liberty University. That’s just what happens to an institution that is given that much prestige.

Sadly, I doubt these revelations will change that. Liberty University already dealt with some bad press regarding some acts of sordid adultery and some financial scandals. However, this school will still find a way to keep doing what it’s doing. Not enough people care and the school just has too much influence, both on the region and on the nation.

At the very least, this story is out there and that could help inform anyone who is thinking of sending their children to this school. Even if you’re a devout conservative Christian, I hope the knowledge that this is how they handle matters of sexual assault gives you pause.

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Filed under Current Events, human nature, politics, psychology, religion, sex in society, sexuality

Dumbest Things Religious People Call “Satanic” (According To Reddit)

In the past, I’ve been very critical of organized religion and certain religious tenants. I still stand by those criticisms because I think they’re worth making. There are a lot of inconsistencies, injustices, and hypocrisies that motivated by religion. They should be pointed out, especially by those who consider themselves religious.

Even within those criticisms, I make it a point to say that most religious people are genuinely good people. They do not deserve scorn or denigration for believing what they believe. I have religious people in my family. They are kind, loving people and religion helps enrich their lives in so many ways. I would never want to take that from them.

At the same time, there are people who use their religion to justify absurdities, atrocities, and everything in between. Now, you don’t have to look far to find the atrocities, but those tend to be both depressing and overdone. Most people with an internet connection are aware of them.

With that in mind, I’d like to take a moment to focus on the absurdities, if only because they tend to be more hilarious. Specifically, I want to focus on instances where religious people take their doctrines so seriously that they condemn certain things they don’t like as “satanic.”

It’s not a new phenomenon. In fact, so-called “Satanic Panics” have happened many times before. Sadly, we may be in the middle of another one. They’re often taken way too seriously by all the wrong people. Eventually, it comes out that they’re entirely fueled by absurdity.

However, I don’t think enough people appreciate just how absurd it can get. With that in mind, I’d like to share a video that documents people who have seen religious zealots condemn something mundane as Satanic. It comes courtesy of the YouTube channel, OnTap Studios.

Some of these stories are hilarious. Others are disturbing. Also, Pokémon comes up more than once.

Whether you’re religious or not, I encourage you to listen to these stories and determine for yourself just how absurd these Satanic sensationalisms go. Enjoy!

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Filed under real stories, Reddit, religion, YouTube

Why Do Preachers Need/Deserve Private Jets? (A Sincere Question)

Televangelist Kenneth Copeland Defends His Private Jets: 'I'm A Very  Wealthy Man' - Flipboard

Whenever I talk about religion on this site, I try to be as respectful and tactful as possible. I don’t seek to offend or insult anyone who identifies as religious. I also don’t seek to denigrate certain religious practices, although I do believe a few warrant extra scrutiny. I’m sure I’ve overstepped those bounds in the past and for that, I do apologize.

All that being said, I have a serious question I’d like to present to those who are genuine and sincere with their faith.

Why do preachers need, let alone deserve, private jets?

I promise I’m not being facetious. I’m also not trying to make a larger point about certain religions. I would genuinely like someone who identifies as religious to explain this to me. Don’t just throw bible quotes at me. Explain it to me like I’m a child.

I know preachers having private jets isn’t new. However, recent events have made preachers and their spending habits a lot more noteworthy. Some make elaborate excuses as to why they have private jets. I still don’t get it.

These are not CEOs who run multi-billion dollar companies.

These are not heads of state who have to be able to travel the world at a moment’s notice.

These aren’t even celebrities who have achieved a level of success that affords them the option of some added luxury.

These are preachers who, for the most part, make their living giving sermons to adherents. I’m not saying that isn’t a noble profession. I went to church as a child. I remember the preachers and priests who led the sermons. They were genuinely nice people and they didn’t have private jets. One of them didn’t even own a car.

Now, I know these kinds of religious leaders are in a different hemisphere compared to the charismatic televangelists who have their own megachurches. I also know that more than a few adherents who utterly despise these people. One of them once told me, “That jet won’t help them escape where they’re going.”

Regardless of whether or not you believe that, I would still like someone to explain this practice to me. I get that charismatic people will attract crowds, money, and power. I get that those same people will abuse that power in one way or another. That’s just human nature.

What I don’t understand is how the adherents who believe, support, and send money to these people can accept this sort of thing and not have it clash with their faith somehow. Nearly every major religion has strict condemnations of greed and excess. How can this be justified?

Again, this is a sincere question. I hope to get a sincere answer because the absence of an answer is every bit as revealing.

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Filed under Current Events, politics, rants, religion

My Support, Advice, And Encouragement To All Those Fighting The (Horrible) Texas Abortion Laws

Texas enacts six-week abortion law without exceptions for rape or incest

Whenever I talk about politics, I try my best to be balanced. Even when I talk about hot-button issues like abortion, which I’ve done on multiple occasions, I make a concerted effort to see the bigger picture.

That said, I don’t think I can make such an effort with the recent events surrounding the blatantly draconian Texas abortion laws. There’s a line between being balanced on an issue and just being cruel, callous, and dense. I get the impression that those supporting this law aren’t even trying to be understanding.

In case you haven’t bee keeping up, Texas recently threw a massive grenade in the abortion debate. This new law wouldn’t just make abortion illegal by restricting it to six weeks, which is before most women know they’re pregnant. It would remove all exceptions while also allowing private citizens to sue those who aid women in seeking an abortion.

If you care at all about women having any control over their bodies, general women’s health, and the health of children, this law should concern you at the very least. At the very most, it should disgust you. In terms of allowing the state to both micromanage and punish women for what they do with their bodies, this is pretty damn blatant.

Now, there’s a lot I could say about this law and this issue. I think I’ve made my own position quite clear. I generally lean towards pro-choice side of the issue. It’s not that I think abortions are great and should be celebrated. I just find the pro-choice arguments more consistent form a moral, legal, and ethical standpoint.

Since I’m a man and I can’t get pregnant, I know those words can only carry so much weight. I really do try to take the arguments made by the pro-life/anti-abortion side seriously. I even try to empathize with it on some levels. However, I can only do so much. I just can’t get around the fact that the anti-abortion stance cannot be enforced without undermining a woman’s bodily autonomy.

In that sense, I’m very much in favor of bodily autonomy. I wouldn’t want the state to force me to donate my blood or my organs to someone else against my will. That’s a hard moral and ethical line for me.

As bad as this law is, it’s hardly the end of the abortion debate. If anything, it’s likely a catalyst for more legal, political, and social battles. I expect those battles to get ugly. I expect the anger, hate, and vitriol to escalate and it was already bad to begin with. I honestly can’t think of an issue that stirs up this much heated discord and I’ve been to 4chan.

In the near-term, the front line of debate will take place within the courts. There are serious legal consequences for this law, both for the women involved and those who attempt to enforce this it. I think it’s likely that the Supreme Court will eventually hear another case on abortion rights. Depending on the details, it could very well end with a complete overturn of Roe v. Wade.

However, we’re not quite there yet. I know the implications of that have many women and pro-choice advocates feeling anxious right now. I sympathize with that. Unfortunately, there too many women in situations in which they cannot wait for the legal system to sort this out.

Until that time comes, I’d like to offer some basic advice to all those affected by this law and anyone who might know someone who’s effected. At the moment, the simplest thing you can do is donate to organizations actively fighting this law and helping the women in Texas who are affected.

New York Magazine put together a list of 20 organizations who are actively involved. Donating to just one of them won’t fix the issue, but it will help.

Also, the American Civil Liberties Union has already filed a lawsuit to combat this law. Regardless of how you feel about the ACLU’s position on other issues, they are very much on the side of protecting women’s bodily autonomy. Consider donating to them as well, if only for this issue.

Another thing you can do is educate yourself and others on the use of contraception. At the moment, emergency contraception, also known as the morning after pill, is not illegal under this law. However, given how anti-abortion advocates tend to oppose contraception as well, despite the obvious hypocrisy, expect it to be a target by anti-sex, anti-promiscuity advocates.

It’s critical that women affected by this law and others like it understand the morning after pill and how to use it. We also can’t expect the education system to do it. States like Texas already have notoriously sub-par and politically motivated agendas when it comes to sexual education.

In that sense, women in Texas should refrain from seeking information about sex and pregnancy from most public school teachers. They also shouldn’t get it from anyone affiliated with a religious organization or politicians, many of whom don’t seem to understand how women’s bodies work. In general, they should talk to a private doctor or at least one who doesn’t work at a Catholic hospital.

Finally, and most importantly, I would recommend that women in Texas make connections with friends or family who live outside the state. Those connections will be critical, should you ever find yourself in a situation where you need to seek an abortion. Some out-of-state health facilities are already feeling he impact of people taking this recourse.

I know that’s not always possible, especially for those lacking money or connections. That’s why it’s critical to make the effort while you’re not in that situation. Make a plan for yourself. Get other women to help you. I agree it’s not right that you have to make such a plan in the first place, but this is the situation. It sucks, but this is where we are.

The last bit of advice I’d like to give is to simply remember this law whenever you vote in the next election, be it national or local. I know that’s a bit oversimplified. I also know that states like Texas are very conservative and some prefer not voting over voting for a non-republican.

I get it. Our political structures are awful and messy. However, we’re stuck with them for now. The only reason politicians in Texas are passing laws like this is because they think they can get away with it and they’ll get enough votes to stay in office. The only way that changes is if voters prove them wrong.

Most polls state that the majority of people support preserving abortion rights. The best way to ensure the laws reflect that sentiment is to vote as such. I know it’s not an immediate solution, but for an issue this divisive, it’s important to take a long view approach.

I don’t claim to know how the abortion debate will change as a result of this law. I fully expect things to get worse and more heated before they get better. For now, though, this Texas law presents a major challenge. We have to be ready, willing, and able to confront it.

In the meantime, take comfort in the fact that George Carlin still summed this issue up perfectly years ago. Until someone does a better job, I’ll keep referring to this.

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Filed under abortion, politics, sex in society

Being Blessed Vs. Being Lucky: The (Major) Difference And Why It Matters

Picture, for a moment, the following scenario.

You’re at a prestigious awards ceremony. The nature of the ceremony and the award aren’t important. The only factor that matters is the awards are granted to only a few individuals who have achieved feats that few human beings have achieved. It’s an honor just to be nominated, but an even bigger honor to win.

With that in mind, imagine two different winners for two different feats. The first winner comes up onto the stage, accepts their award, and gives a heartfelt speech that’s something along the lines of this.

“Thank you so much for this incredible honor. It was a long, hard road to get to this point, but I’ve been so blessed with wondrous gifts and amazing support. To them and to the higher power that blessed me, I am eternally grateful!”

Chances are you’ve heard a speech like that before. We hear it all the time with athletes, celebrities, and major public figures. They achieve something spectacular and their first inclination is to say they are blessed. They don’t always thank a god for it, but it’s such a common refrain that most come to expect it. Some even joke about it.

That being said, try to imagine your reaction for the second winner. They come out on stage with the same immense joy as the previous winner. They also give a heartfelt speech of their own, but it goes like this.

“Thank you so much for this incredible honor. It was a long, hard road to get to this point, but I was just really lucky to be born with talent and amazing support. I like to think I’ve made the most of it. This award is just part of it. For that, I am so proud of myself and those who helped me!”

I doubt a celebrity has given an acceptance speech like this before. If they did, chances are it would either be a joke or an elaborate act of trolling, which some celebrities are known to do. For the sake of this little thought experiment, imagine the person was sincere. How would you feel about them? Would be different than the first?

I crafted this scenario as a way of illustrating the difference between being blessed and being lucky. These terms tend to get used interchangeably. In common language, they’re somewhat synonymous. Even though dictionary definitions have some key distinctions, the standard usage of these words carries a particular meaning.

Part of that meaning stems from the general discomfort we feel about the universe being so chaotic and meaningless. We’re wired to seek patterns and surmise order. It doesn’t even matter if the patterns or order is real or an outright trick. When people can make sense of the world, we’re better able to function. It’s a big reason why humans have been able to adapt and survive with such success.

The ideas being lucky and being blessed reflect opposite sentiments of a similar principle. We see luck as a fluke. There’s no meaning behind it. It just happens randomly and without any defined goal.

A kid is randomly born with talent that makes them a great athlete.

A person randomly picks the winning numbers to win a big lottery prize.

A person just happens to be in the right place at the right time to meet the love of their life.

None of these situations are inherently right or wrong. That’s part of what makes it so distressing on some levels. The people who benefit from luck do nothing to deserve or warrant their good fortune. It goes against that innate sense of fairness that most sensible human beings have wired into their brains.

Being blessed, on the other hand, carries a very different connotation. To be blessed implies that some person, deity, or sentient force chose to grant someone such benefits. It’s not random. It’s part of a larger plan. It may not seem like one on the surface. It may even be an outright illusion. That ultimately doesn’t matter. The semblance of a plan is enough.

To be blessed also carried with it a sense of humility. Someone who just says they’re lucky doesn’t come off as moral or gracious. Even if they’re entirely ambivalent about it, they won’t inspire respect or admiration for acknowledging their luck. If they say they’re blessed, though, it changes the context.

A person who is blessed with talent means their achievements have a greater meaning.

A person who is blessed with picking winning lotto numbers means their good fortune is part of some larger plan.

A person who is blessed with meeting the love of their live means their love is somehow pre-ordained by fate.

The difference lies within the meaning. Being blessed conveys influence from a source greater than the person receiving the blessing. To show gratitude to that force is to accept that it’s not just about you. There’s a larger plan and you’re just part of it. That sounds humble, but at the same time, it detracts from the true extent of an achievement.

Luck or no luck, it takes effort and dedication to achieve something of value. Whether it’s an award for world’s largest nose ring or setting a record for most pop tarts consumed in a day, an accomplishment still requires work. Even lottery winners have to go out of their way to pick the numbers, get the ticket, and claim their prize.

To call that process a blessing is to dehumanize the actions involved. It undercuts the countless other factors in play. Some are entirely controllable. A champion of any sport usually has talent, determination, and a willingness to refine their skill. Others are simply beyond their control, from the conditions of an event to just the general randomness of a particular moment.

To assume these factors as part of some over-arching plan is to assume there’s a governing force that consciously cares about these random happenings. Whether that force is a deity or some idea of conscious fate, people will consciously devalue their own worth to believe they’re part of something greater. It might not be real, but that’s beside the point.

It helps us wrap our brains around incredible achievements and improbable events. It shows in how people can resent those who are just deemed lucky. Again, just look at lottery winners. Those who have enjoyed that rare level of luck can attest that they are generally looked down upon by those who gained their fortune in other ways.

This isn’t to imply that the whole concept of being blessed is inherently wrong. There may actually be a higher governing power behind certain peoples’ fortunes, be it an all-powerful deity or the shape-shifting lizard men of the Illuminati. There’s no evidence of it now, but as believers and conspiracy theorists will often point out, absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence.

That said, I believe the dehumanizing aspect of blessings over luck does more harm than good in the long run. Humility is an admirable trait, but there are better ways to encourage it that don’t involve assigning some arbitrary meaning to random events. In addition, saying someone or something is blessed has some indirect implications that are even less desirable than a random universe.

If one person is blessed, then that implies other people were deemed undeserving.

If one moment is blessed, then those that came before it are nothing more than prelude, no matter how much they meant to those involved.

If a people or society are blessed, then that basically declares that everyone else is somehow beneath them and that mentality rarely brings out the best in people.

Human beings are capable of remarkable feats. Many of those feats don’t require a higher power or some conscious force. They simply require an opportunity and a willingness to strive for something greater. Granted, opportunities can be random and there’s only so much anyone can do to control the luck they get. However, I submit that gives it even more meaning in the grand scheme of things.

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Filed under human nature, outrage culture, philosophy, politics

Dear America: Let’s NOT Have Another Satanic Panic

I’m a proud American. I love my country and I celebrate its highest ideals. I also believe most Americans are good, decent people who cherish these values as well. I don’t deny its flaws, nor do I deny its mistakes in the past, as well as the present. I genuinely want America to be the best it can be.

That’s why I’d like to make a plea to America and all my fellow Americans at the moment.

Please, for the love of whatever deity you believe it, let’s not have another Satanic Panic.

This isn’t just about politics, although there are some distressing links. This isn’t just about culture, even though the imagery is certainly present. This is me, a proud American, urging his fellow Americans to not give into the temptation to start blaming demons and devils for their problems.

It’s not just absurd and idiotic. We’ve done it before. I’ve written about it. The lives of innocent people were ruined because of it. On top of it all, none of it turned out to be true.

There was no reason for the panic. There were no Satanic cults secretly torturing or abusing children. It was all made up. It was basically Christian Conservative fan fiction that people took too seriously. Much like the character of the devil they fear has no basis in Christian theology. It’s just a boogie man for adults.

None of it amounted to anything other than baseless fear and ruined lives in the 1980s. Now, it seems too many people have forgotten what a huge waste of time that was because concern about Satanic cults abusing children are back and more political than ever.

Much of that is because of a bullshit conspiracy theory that I won’t name or link to. You probably know who I’m referring to. They’re the one that thinks Tom Hanks is part of a Satan worshipping cabal. As it just so happens, this same cabal includes everyone who leans right politically absolutely hates.

If they’re to the right of Ronald Regan, they’re a Satan Worshipper.

If they didn’t vote republican in the last four elections, they’re a Satan Worshipper.

If they support position that doesn’t involve cutting taxes, ignoring racist policies, or overfunding the military, they’re a Satan Worshipper.

I’ve been avoiding this absurd, asinine, infuriating excuse for a conspiracy theory for years. It’s just too stupid to take seriously, let alone discuss in an honest, balanced way. However, thanks to the recent outrage surrounding Lil Nas X and his homoerotic, Satan-centered music video, I worry another panic is brewing.

Much of it is coming from the same part of the political spectrum as it did in the 1980s. This time, however, isn’t just a bunch of Christian conservatives with too much time and money on their hands. People who don’t even identify as religious are buying into this crap.

It’s not just about theology anymore. It all comes back to this age old belief that there’s a group of objectively evil supervillains who are causing all the problems in the world. Satan worshippers who eat children and deal in human trafficking is as evil as you can get. There’s nothing complicated or nuance about it. It’s the ultimate good versus evil match-up.

Except, and I cannot stress this enough, it isn’t real.

That evil conspiracy doesn’t exist. I could cite any amount of evidence, but I know that won’t convince those who ardently cling to it, even after its many predictions end up being wrong. Instead, I’m just going to point out one simple issue.

For any conspiracy of any level to function in any capacity, it requires that those involved are completely obedient, always keep their secrets, and never make mistakes. Since these conspiracies involve people and people, in general, are imperfect beings, they’re not just difficult to maintain. They’re impossible.

Human beings can’t keep secrets.

They can’t avoid simple mistakes.

When it comes to something as evil as Satan worship and child sacrifice, you’re just can’t keep that sort of thing a secret. Also, people that evil generally struggle to organize. It’s why most serial killers act alone. That kind of evil is an aberration. Building a conspiracy around that is like trying to herd a thousand cats all strung out on crack.

I’d sincerely hoped that after the events of the last election, the talk of evil Satan worshippers and conspiracies around them would die down. Sadly, I think Lil Nas X revealed there’s still a contingent of people out there who think the evil Satanic cabal is still out to get them.

That’s why I’m making this plea. My fellow Americans, this is not the way to a better tomorrow. Fighting invisible evil enemies will only ever succeed in making real enemies, both in our minds and among our fellow Americans. No good can ever come from something like that in the long run.

Moreover, believing and obsessing over a conspiracy of Satan worshippers acts as both a distraction and a delusion. Fighting something that isn’t there only keeps you from fighting actual problems involving actual people who are doing real harm, but not in the name of Satan.

It’s easy to think that there’s some centralized force of evil in the world. It makes the cause of all our problems seem tangible. It makes you feel like you’re a soldier on the front line of an epic battle, fighting alongside others who are every bit as committed as you. Unfortunately, this mindset is both dangerous and counterproductive.

There are real problems with America and the world. However, those problems don’t come from Satan, demons, or some secret cabal of lizard people. They come from other people. They come from your fellow humans, as well as your fellow Americans.

It’s complicated and messy. Just winning an epic battle against evil isn’t an option. We have to put in the work. We have to take responsibility. We have to operate in the real world with real people who have real issues. That’s how we do the most good for ourselves and our fellow Americans.

Once again, I urge everyone reading this to learn the lessons of the past and embrace the challenges of the present. Let’s hold off on another panic. Satan isn’t conspiring against us or our country or our fellow citizens. The cabal isn’t real, the conspiracy is fake, and Tom Hanks is a national treasure. If you really want to fight true evil, start by doing good by your fellow citizen.

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Why Non-Religious Cults Are Becoming (Almost) As Dangerous

Most religious people are not dangerous or ignorant, nor are most of the priests, rabbis, mullahs, and monks who lead them. I want to make that clear early on. I know I’ve been very critical of religion in the past and I stand by much of those criticism. However, I do not want to give the impression that it makes sincere adherents unworthy of respect.

I have religious people in my family. They are good, decent people and their religious beliefs means a lot to them. I do not want to denigrate that in any way.

That said, extreme religious cults are dangerous. They are worthy of criticism and, in some cases, outright scorn. People have died because of these cults, including innocent children. If we’re going to be a better people now and in the future, we need to be vigilant of these dangerous cults. Otherwise, more people will suffer.

How we go about that is beyond my expertise. There are organizations with people far more qualified to pursue that effort, such as Cult Escape and Dare To Doubt. I urge others to support those efforts, regardless of your religious affiliation. There are a lot of people out there trapped in these cults who need help.

However, there has been another troubling trend in recent years that may complicate that effort. It involves cults that aren’t necessarily religious, in nature. Some have religious elements, but also mix in politics and conspiracy theories. The goals and methods aren’t always the same, but the outcome is similar.

People get sucked into an ideology.

They get caught up in a trend that evokes strong emotions within them.

They connect with like-minded people who reinforce and reaffirm their beliefs.

They start attacking or shunning outsiders or anyone they don’t agree with.

They stop doubting their beliefs and are openly scorned if they dare raise questions, making it next to impossible to leave.

It’s a common story that many endure, but now it’s happening without the religious angle. Now, people are falling into cults that offer little in terms of theology, but still descend into a toxic mix of groupthink, hero worship, and self-delusion.

You have organizations like Nxivm, which billed itself as a self-help program that sucked people in and reshaped their thinking at the hands of a sociopath leader.

You have charismatic public personalities like Jordan Peterson and Tony Robbins, who may not set out to create cult-like movements, but still create a community wrought with cult-like behaviors.

Then, there’s Q-Anon.

Believe me, I do not want to go into details about that. I’m afraid to even post any links. I do not want someone to get sucked into that ultra-toxic rabbit hole, which has led to real-world violence and torn families apart.

These are serious issues that affect real people, as well as their families. Thanks to the world-wide reach of the internet and clunky nature of social media, it’s a lot easier to fall in with the wrong digital crowd. You don’t have to be religious. You just have to be willing to buy into a certain ideology or narrative. No miracles are necessary.

That is dangerous and I suspect it’s going to get worse in the coming years, especially as mainstream religion continues to decline. Will it be as dangerous as the religious cults of old? Well, that depends on a number of factors. At the moment, even the worst non-religious cults have major shortcomings.

Religious cults can, by definition, hide behind the guise of religion. That comes with plenty of benefits, including the kind that allows them to avoid paying taxes. Religion also has legal protections, as evidenced by the constant push for “religious freedom.”

Non-religious cults don’t have the same advantages. In fact, it’s not unreasonable to say that these types of cults couldn’t even exist without the internet or the widespread connectivity of modern media. They also don’t have the overall structure that many religious organizations have. That means they’ll only be able to do so much.

On top of that, the nature of the internet makes it a lot harder for cults to keep their members in line. At any point, an adherent could get curious and start looking up opposing views that could cast doubt on their beliefs. There’s only so much a cult can do to control a person from behind a computer screen.

Even with those limitations, they’ve still done plenty of damage. They’re likely to do plenty more and we should be very concerned about that. The world is already a chaotic place. Extreme religious cults have already done plenty to add to that chaos. The last thing we need is for non-religious cults to do the same.

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Catholic Priests Defy The Vatican To Sanction Same-Sex Unions (And We Should Cheer Them On)

I tend to be very critical of organized religion and those who take religion to extremes. I make no apologies for that, but I do make an effort to be fair. That’s why I go out of my way to highlight that most religious people, regardless of the religion they follow, are generally good, decent people whose faith genuinely enriches their lives.

That’s worth acknowledging because people can do genuinely good things in the name of their faith. It’s a beautiful thing. Just look at someone like Fred Rogers. That’s religious devotion at its finest.

I know I don’t highlight those stories enough. In my defense, the stories of people who actually practice what they preach and do genuine good for the world rarely makes the news. Then again, the news relies almost entirely on doom and gloom these days, so that shouldn’t be surprising.

That makes the effort to highlight the good a lot harder, but it’s still worth doing. To that end, I want to highlight a good story about religious people that stemmed from a bad story about a religious institution with a history of unholy behavior.

Recently, I bemoaned the Vatican’s decision to essentially cling to their traditions of marginalizing LGBTQ people. They still call homosexuality a sin and refuse to bless same-sex unions. Never mind the fact that Catholics still get divorced and eat shellfish, the Vatican still refuses to embrace change.

At a time when religion, as a whole is in decline and support for LGBTQ rights is growing, this just feels backwards, even by the standards of the Catholic Church. However, not all those who identify as Catholic feel the same way.

Even though the Vatican is set up as the central power of the Catholic world, there are those who go against that power. A few priests are daring to defy the Vatican and I want to take a minute to acknowledge their boldness. This is what Reuters has reported.

Reuters: Rebel priests defy Vatican, vow to bless same-sex couples

A dissident band of Roman Catholic priests leading a disobedience campaign against the Vatican said on Tuesday they would carry on blessing same-sex couples in defiance of Church orders.

The Vatican said on Monday that priests cannot bless same-sex unions and that such blessings are not valid, in a ruling that disappointed gay Catholics who had hoped their Church was becoming more welcoming under Pope Francis.

In some countries, parishes and ministers have begun blessing same-sex unions in lieu of marriage, and there have been calls for bishops to institutionalise de facto such blessings. Conservatives in the 1.3 billion-member Roman Catholic Church have expressed alarm over such practices.

“We members of the Parish Priests Initiative are deeply appalled by the new Roman decree that seeks to prohibit the blessing of same-sex loving couples. This is a relapse into times that we had hoped to have overcome with Pope Francis,” the Austrian-based group said in a statement.

“We will — in solidarity with so many — not reject any loving couple in the future who ask to celebrate God’s blessing, which they experience every day, also in a worship service.”

Whether you’re religious or not, let’s take a moment to applaud these priests. They’re doing something that Jesus himself once did. They see a powerful institution doing something wrong and they’re protesting that by doing what’s right.

In the process, they’re providing love, tolerance, and acceptance to a marginalized group that has suffered plenty, often in the name of religion. You can call that ironic, but I prefer to call it heroic. They have to know on some levels that they’re going to get in trouble for this.

They are likely going to get criticized. They’ll likely face protests from hardline conservative Catholics who cannot tolerate any deviation of any kind from certain traditions, no matter how outdated or intolerant they are. The fact these priests still went through with it says a lot about their character, as well as their faith.

It’s also worth emphasizing that what they’re doing is commendable in ways beyond the religious angle. They are just a small group of individual priests. The Vatican is a vast, powerful organization with immense wealth and influence. They have the benefit of being able to say with a straight face that their authority comes directly from a deity.

That’s a power that many governments envy. Some claim they’re inherently divine, but the results are often less-than-divine.

That power matters because it means they can change if they wanted. It would be a lot easier than what these rebellious priests are doing. The Pope could just come out and say that homosexuality isn’t a sin anymore for the same reason eating shellfish isn’t a sin anymore. He did it with purgatory. Why not do it with homosexuality?

That’s the problem with powerful organizations, though. When they’re powerful, they have the luxury of taking the path of least resistance. The easiest thing for powerful organizations to do is not change. It’s much less strenuous on the people and the systems around them to just keep doing what they’ve always been doing.

It keeps them in power.

It means less work for them and those who support them.

It means less thinking, contemplating, and second-guessing that maybe they’re doing something wrong.

At best, it’s lazy. At worst, it’s callous and negligent. Contrast that with the Catholic Priests who dare to go against such power. They know what they’re doing will bring consequences. They know they’re going to upset some powerful people, but they do it anyway.

That’s brave.

That’s bold.

That’s a level of spirit that religious and non-religious people alike can respect.

Regardless of your affiliation or your opinions of Christianity or Catholicism, take a moment to acknowledge that these men of faith are doing something great. They’re offering love and acceptance to their fellow human beings, even though they’re marginalized and demonized. It’s probably the most Christian thing they could possibly do and I, for one, salute them. I suspect Jesus would, as well.

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The Vatican (Unsurprisingly) Won’t Bless Same-Sex Unions And Why That Still Matters

When the Vatican makes the news for all the wrong reasons, few are surprised anymore. For the past few decades, major scandals and stories of horrific abuse have become common knowledge. It’s not a conspiracy. It’s not fake news. This stuff happened and the Vatican doesn’t bother denying it anymore.

Despite this, they still wield a great deal of power, authority, and reverence for millions of people. People still see the Vatican as the central authority for their faith. Even when more terrible scandals come out, it barely shocks anyone anymore. It’s tragic and infuriating, especially to the victims.

That’s why when the Catholic Church makes a sweeping moral judgement that affects millions of people, including those who aren’t Catholic, it evokes a special kind of frustration. This is an organization whose corruption and hypocrisy has directly led to widespread suffering and death. They do not any moral authority, especially on matters pertaining to sex and family.

Remember, this is an organization run by a bunch of old men who have taken a vow of celibacy. Getting advice from them on matters of sex is like getting advice from a vegan on how to cook a steak.

So, with that in mind, when the Vatican comes out and says same-sex unions are sinful and unworthy of their blessing, it should not carry any weight. It should not be taken seriously, either. They have as much credibility as Jenny McCarthy’s position on Quantum Field Theory.

Unfortunately, because they still wield the zeal of centuries-old religious authority, a lot of people do take them seriously. That’s why we shouldn’t be too surprised when they announce that their attitudes towards things like same-sex relationships is the same as it was several centuries ago.

AP News: Vatican bars gay union blessing, says God ‘can’t bless sin’

The Vatican declared Monday that the Catholic Church won’t bless same-sex unions since God “cannot bless sin.”

The Vatican’s orthodoxy office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a formal response to a question about whether Catholic clergy have the authority to bless gay unions. The answer, contained in a two-page explanation published in seven languages and approved by Pope Francis, was “negative.”

The note distinguished between the church’s welcoming and blessing of gay people, which it upheld, but not their unions. It argued that such unions are not part of God’s plan and that any sacramental recognition of them could be confused with marriage.

Again, this organization’s deplorable history with covering up egregious sex crimes should bar them from making such judgements. If they didn’t have religious tradition to hide behind, their statement would be a joke worthy of its own Onion article.

For countless Catholics, as well as same-sex couples and millions who identify as LGBTQ, it’s no laughing matter. What the Vatican is doing shouldn’t surprise anyone, no matter how frustrating it is in the grand scheme of things.

It’s easy to just cling to tradition. It means they don’t have to change. They don’t have to come out and say they were wrong about something for hundreds of years. They also don’t have to apologize and face possible legal issues for all the abuse they enabled over many years.

To the powers that be in the Vatican, it’s the path of least resistance.

To everyone else, it’s pure cowardice.

Now, please don’t misconstrue that as a sweeping judgment on all Catholics or those who respect the Vatican. As I often say whenever I criticize religion, most religious people, including most Catholics, are decent people. Many are actually in favor of LGBTQ rights, including same-sex marriage. They don’t hold the Vatican in that high regard and for understandable reasons.

However, the Vatican’s refusal to break free of old dogma is a testament to how stubborn and flawed this institution has become. Between all the scandals that have come out in recent years and the overall decline in religiosity, the powers within the Catholic Church are doing themselves no favor by clinging to their dogma.

At the same time, they’re continuing the stigma and harm that LGBTQ people continue to face all over the world. Many of the hate and oppression they face is religiously motivated. The Vatican is in a position to condemn it, but they choose not to. That is a moral failing on their part and one that further undermines their credibility, as a moral organization. Then again, how much moral authority can an organization have after covering up rampant child sexual abuse?

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