The Power of Evil


How come you never see a headline like “Psychic Wins Lottery?” ~Jay Leno

When confidential information leaks out of an organization, people suspect a spy, not a psychic. ~John Allen Paulos, Innumeracy

Here we are back again to continue the examination of some common Christian beliefs, using Paul Hale’s An Ordinary Life, An Extraordinary God: Is Anybody Really Listening? as a sounding board. Here we’ll look at the monsters in the closet.

You see, like many not only is Paul a big God believer, he’s also a genuine believer in the powers of darkness to use mediums, spiritists and so forth. This tends to be a less explored area when it comes to critiques of the Christian religion, but such thinking is not uncommon. For many believers unseen dark forces are all around us, tempting us, and fighting over our very souls. In his book, one of the Hale’s first orders of business upon buying a house was exorcising it with prayer and praise songs, “claiming it for God.” People had been killed in it and stashed in the basement even while they were in the process of purchase, which is one of the more interesting tales in Paul’s book. So it’s understandable that the young couple had a case of the heebie-jeebies going in and wanted to “cleanse” the house. Alas, that is where that tale tapers off, so we’ll move on to Paul’s other tales of the occult.

Paul describes being asked by a co-worker to write what ails him on a card, in his own handwriting, to hand over to some readers at a psychic fair. Paul says he wouldn’t normally play along, but he decides to be ever so gracious and let the all-powerful God of the universe show his hand and work this out for His own purposes, because apparently God needs lots of help and can’t decide to do that on his own. So Paul prays over his card that it will be unreadable or otherwise blocked from the forces of Evil. This serves as a de facto admission by Paul that he believes psychics can tap into forces to perform supernatural acts. Paul did not attend the event where the people tried to ‘sense’ his card, but recounts his co-worker friend phones and says that two people shook while reading it, and declared the person “must be on drugs” or something. Is that evidence of divine protection? Paul, of course, thinks so. Again, as with other tales, Paul is passing along hearsay. He did not witness his card being read, nor can he report on how the readers reacted to any other cards. Was his the only one they shook at? Were all the other card readings 100% dead-bang accurate? Was his coworker friend so cagey not to tip off the psychic “readers?”  Would the readers have reacted differently if Paul had been there? Paul has no way of knowing.

Here’s what we do know: psychic powers and tarot readings and related shenanigans have never been shown to be reliable or scientifically validated. Paul can appreciate science at least some, because he’s tried to use it to corroborate the Genesis account. But, apparently, he doesn’t need it to evaluate what goes on at a psychic fair.

Tarot cards, Ouija boards, and other so-called occult practices are a lot like religion–you get out of it what you put into it. It’s quid pro quo. Want to piss off a professed psychic? Walk in and ask them, “What’s my name?” See, that’s not how the game is played. And like Paul’s rationalization for his God, psychics have their own mumbo jumbo for why this is so. Astrology didn’t work on Paul for the same reasons it won’t work on me. Neither of us are willing to play along, albeit for different reasons. What’s for certain is that you don’t need prayer for psychic powers to not work.

The Dark Powers would never subject themselves to scientific scrutiny, though, now would they? But why not? Because then we would know “evil” was real? Or dangerous? Why would one think that? Given that the goal of Evil/Satan is to pull as many people into hell as possible, wouldn’t subjecting itself to show that it scientifically works–meaning it repeatedly yields positive results in testing–draw even more people into it? It’s a cunning plan that cannot fail. But thus far Evil Powers have been strangely mute under scientific rigor.

Ah….but maybe God suppresses it so it can’t work. Well, wait. Then you’re saying evil only works when God permits it to work, as if God has his finger on the Evil Power light switch turning it on/off. But then that’s really God doing the evil, right? If I have a poisonous spider in a box, then I open the box so it can crawl out and bite you, knowing with perfect certainty that it will bite you, then I’m as culpable as the spider which, after all, is just being a spider.

Paul wasn’t finished with tales of the astrological merry-go-round. Another co-worker, Susan, who rode into work with him was always trying to get him to play along with the Zodiac game, too. But Paul always refused to give her his birthday so she could do a reading. Paul tells her if she can correctly guess his Zodiac sign, he’ll tell her when his birthday is (all the while silently praying she will guess wrong). She tells him, “One thing’s for sure, you’re not a Scorpio!” based on his personality not matching what astrology has to say about this sign. Naturally, that is exactly what Paul is. The co-worker continues to insist that it works, to which Paul replies, “Susan, the question isn’t whether or not it works, the question is why it works.”

Well, hold on here a sec. Why would anyone come out of that encounter thinking astrology works? Weren’t we just offered a first hand account that what astrology has to say about Paul’s personality, according to Susan at least, is way off base? Why is failure to guess Paul’s birth sign left to be assumed as God’s protection, rather than a sign that psychic predictions and other reading is, at best, unreliable? Because that’s not the story Paul wants to tell. He just expects the reader to suspend their disbelief and assume God did it. But Susan didn’t need to tap into any powers to take a stab at Paul’s sign that prayer could shield her from. It was based on the knowledge she already possessed based on her previous astrological study.

If you’d like to learn more about how so-called psychics ply their trade, I recommend reading Psychic Blues: Confessions of a Conflicted Medium by Mark Edward, who was one of the top “psychics” in the business. It’s a good read.


Word Borgs


In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia. ~ George Orwell, Politics and the English Language


Language isn’t a static thing, it’s constantly evolving. At times that can be annoying. For instance Merriam-Webster says irregardless is a word, even with the qualification of “nonstandard.”

Some words take on new meaning over time. So when somebody says they are gay or refers to a fag today, it’s a safe bet they don’t mean they’re happy or are referencing a bundle of sticks. Most changes in language happen with little hubbub, but others result in cultural uproar. And that is where we find ourselves today with words that keep bobbing to the surface of the cultural headstream. Not only with respect to what those words mean, but who can say and use them.

Some might say I support gay marriage due to my status as a self-proclaimed freethinker, and that I only wish to oppose religion at every turn. This would be a severe error. My support has nothing to do with my disbelief in any particular cooked up mythological sky god. It’s about liberty. And to me, as long as that person isn’t doing any harm or foul to another person’s life, liberty or property and irregardless of my personal opinion of their life choices, who am I to stand in the way? Most religions just aren’t very Hoorah! when it comes to personal liberty, although their proponents might like to think they are.

See, marriage is just a concept, a union between things. Typically that’s the legal arrangement between two people who want to enjoy misery together for years to come. And in America, it has nothing to do with religion. Religion is incidental. Marriage in America more closely resembles classic Roman monogamy than what is in the bible. Amongst my more tolerant Christian friends who really don’t believe morality can be legislated the word is still a stumbling block, though. “Do whatever you want, get whatever benefits and whatnot, but you don’t get to use the M word. That’s the compromise.” Because apparently Christianity seems to think they have a lock on the rightful use of the term “marriage.” Even though it’s a ritual performed by countless cultures through centuries across the globe of varying faiths (or no faith) with no regard at all for Christianity. For Christians it’s an affront to the sacrament of marriage as outlined by God. But by this logic every marriage performed outside of Christendom is an affront. Surely weddings performed under another god’s name, or no god, is as vile an affront to heaven as gay marriage. I don’t recall any passage that singles out same-sex marriage being worse than any of that. Now I know there are those wishful faithful out there who want to believe God thinks gay marriage is A-Okay, but the OT God clearly condemns it, along with a bunch of other thou-shall-nots. The laundry list of nots in the OT is hefty, and by and large Christians ignore almost all of them. And marriage has changed plenty, too, from OT polygamy to mom and dad arranging it for you to this modern-day notion of marrying the person you love, or some such nonsense.

Others claim this is all an “attack” on Christianity and its values. But Christians weren’t pushed in front of this bus, they leapt there on their own. It runs something like this:

Homosexual: We want to get married like other people.

Believer: Not if we have anything to say about it.

And so we have this cultural battle, as we have had many cultural battles. Dancing and rock-n-roll anyone? Society moves forward. At no point do I recall the gay community coming forth and saying Christians had to change their belief. Some other inane things, yes, but not that. If Christians had just said, “We don’t approve, and it’s likely you’re going to burn in hell just like those strip joint operators, and that’s not a real marriage  whatever you say but fine, go ahead”…do you really think there would be a problem? And who isn’t really minding their own business here?

But Christians are in the trenches still. And really, if you run a bakery and you don’t want to bake a gay wedding cake, peachy. I’m fine with that. The vast majority of people are going to be fine with that. Your business. We shouldn’t need a special law for you to turn business down. That’s just a business opportunity for someone else. But in stomping down with your big outraged moral boots, may I suggest you take it a step further, if but for consistency. Hook up your business to public records and refuse business to sex offenders, drug offenders, and anyone convicted of DUI. Also anyone who has been divorced or remarried, as these are also generally no-nos in biblical parlance. You should probably check their FB page as well. Remember, God is always watching, and you don’t want to serve anyone outside His will. But really, people, WTH? There are so many grounds on this issue that Christians have not answered in a meaningful way. What seems clear is that Christians see this as bruising the vision they have of what America should be–a theocracy, and liberty only in so far as it adheres to their God’s laws. Or at least the ones they think count.

You might as well wake up to this, True Believers. The only person you can put under God’s law is yourself. Even if the courts and law ruled in your favor this remains true. Thankfully we don’t live in a theocracy and the courts, including the SCOTUS,  have decided to respect the liberty of others in many cases. I know many fear that might change. For my part, I don’t believe marriage is a “constitutional” right, straight or gay. The idea of the state being in the business of determining what is and isn’t a relationship doesn’t sit well with me. Then there is Erik Erickson of who says gay marriage and religious freedom are not compatible. Say what? Because I can think of a few legal things with which Christianity (varying depending on denomination and so forth) isn’t “compatible” but in no way infringe religious freedom including drinking, gambling, titty bars, and premarital sex…just as a running start at this. What makes same-sex marriage the deal breaker? Don’t forget that Christianity has been less than conducive to burgeoning legalities in the past as well, regarding such things as divorce, women’s rights, and interracial marriage. Bible verses were used to keep women under heel in submissive and sometimes abusive relationships and were used to engender racial bigotry, not to mention to support slavery. But society and culture changed, and so did Christianity. It survived. Now women can talk in church and even preach! Holy Bat Hell!  And where is the loss of religious freedom? Unless, you know, religious freedom to you is keeping people under heel and enslaved.

What Erikson fears is “within a year or two we will see Christian schools attacked for refusing to admit students whose parents are gay…churches suffer the loss of their tax exempt status for refusing to hold gay weddings…private businesses shut down because they refuse to treat as legitimate that which perverts God’s own established plan.” Never-minding why a so-called Christian school would essentially punish a child and not teach them because they didn’t like their parents, or the fact that maybe churches shouldn’t be tax exempt to begin with, does he really believe private businesses will be legally forced to shut down because they disagree with a portion of society’s lifestyle? And again, this is where the line is drawn? Are Christian mechanics going to refuse to fix gay couple’s cars? Christian schools are going to kick out students of gay parents? Christian barbers are going to refuse to cut a homosexual’s hair? Really? Seriously?? Because I’ll just go to a gay barber, who’s probably going to give me a better haircut anyway. Does this seem absurd? It’s the Christians drawing the argument. So real big Clue Stick to the head here. You’re not going to be legally shut down, it won’t be necessary. You’re going to shut down because nobody fucking likes you. You don’t have to approve of or be in moral alignment with people to do business with them. Erikson moans that such Christians will be “labeled bigots and criminals.” I don’t know about criminal, but bigots, yes. Tribalistic bigots.  And there is still no infringement of religious freedom. Refusing to provide a service for a paying customer is not religious freedom. At best it’s a personal freedom and matter of free association and at worst bad business. But for Erikson, who is afraid that under a nation that allows gay marriage Christian businesses won’t be able to express their deeply held conviction that homosexuals are going to rot in hell by refusing them service, this is the crux of the matter.

That’s not to say there isn’t blame to go around on both sides of this argument. There are plenty of over-the-top gay activists with fingers dangling over keyboards ready to pop a blood vessel when, say, Dan Kathy says Chik-Fil-A supports the biblical notion of marriage–like that was a huge freakin’ revelation. But ultimately I blame you, Christian Nation, for making me endure all of this. Because face it, you picked this fight. It’s a fight as lost as was the Confederacy. It’s just a matter of what kind of ideological, screeching divide you’re going to tear between people on your way out. And all of this could have been avoided. It should have been no different from not expecting a Jewish restaurant to serve me pork. I wouldn’t walk into a Christian bakery and expect them to whip me up a penis cake. I’d expect them to say they’re not comfortable with that, and many other family oriented bakeries to say same. Likewise, I see no reason why people should expect them to sell a gay wedding cake. Less so than the penis cake, unless maybe it was a gay penis wedding cake…but I digress. We just say fine and move onto the next baker who isn’t so uptight. The only place it might be problematic is small, backwater town America where maybe there isn’t more than one baker. It doesn’t seem to me it should be necessary to have to go to the next town over because somebody doesn’t approve of how you’re going to use a cake or whatnot. It just seems petty. But nor do I think churches should have to perform gay weddings against their wishes. Marriage is a legal institution in this country, not a religious one, and no particular brand of godhood is required. Look hard enough, you’ll find someone to perform the ceremony you want. We’re diverse like that. (However, for you believers, should you want a purely religious wedding without the blessing/acknowledgement of the state and the benefits/tax burdens it bestows, go for it! Live it. Nothing stopping you. God will know, right? Otherwise, you can keep sharing the privilege with others.)

So here we are, where dissension of view is often no longer tolerable. Say something others don’t like–well, then, there must be sanctions against that. They must be forced to comply with *insert offended group here* ‘s world view and condone it as valid. And then there must be laws, rules and regulations, and committees and research and more bureaucracy to determine if somebody’s feelings somewhere, somehow, were hurt. When, if we just didn’t give a frak about how everybody else lived their life and weren’t looking to be offended at every turn, we’d be much closer to copacetic.

The Johnson Amendment

I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend. ~Thomas Jefferson

With the Trumpster still hammering on about the Johnson Amendment, it might be good to look at this again.

“It’s all good for churches to speak out on politics,” say the secularists, right before smugly adding, “if they want to give up their tax exempt status.” Kind of as a “gotcha!” That the religious tax exempt status somehow goes hand-in-hand with keeping mum on politics is assumed. The history of this is worth examining, however.

The Johnson Amendment, which can be found here, is not so much an amendment as a law. Under it, tax exempt 501c3 organizations are described as one “which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.” And, just as “In God We Trust” wasn’t printed on paper money until 1957, the Johnson Amendment has only been with us since 1954. Consequently, the same year that the words “under God” were officially added to the Pledge of Allegiance. When something is older than a large majority, it’s easy to think things have been that way forever. So it’s good to keep such things in perspective.

Senator Lyndon B. Johnson proposed the Johnson Amendment as a political push to silence other particular non-profits speaking out against his re-election. I know, a politician pushing self-serving legislation?? No way!!! Conversely, tax exemption for churches is something that goes back to the founding of the country and beyond. Historically, before 1954 it was in no way tied to what they could or couldn’t say in regards to politics. And, to point it out again, the Johnson Amendment says a candidate can’t be endorsed (or not). Most churches don’t believe they should be endorsing candidates anyway. They can still speak out on policy issues and, given the nature of what religion is, I hardly see how people would expect otherwise.

According to a 2012 NBC article  a Lifeway Research poll, which is part of the Southern Baptist Convention (don’t get much more fundamental than that), 87% of pastors didn’t believe they should endorse candidates from the pulpit. And only 44% had endorsed a candidate, and that was outside of their church role. The poll carried a +/-  3.2 percentage error. Again, if you want religious ideas to go the way of the horse and buggy, let them out into the public square. Religion would like to think of itself as unchanging truth when it comes to its teachings, but that is far from the case. Consider, for example, the historical milestones of women preaching and interracial marriage. All once frowned upon and forbidden and common place today. Religion will come around and adapt as it has always been forced to do, whether that is in regards to accepting powers shrugging it off (see King Henry VIII) or tossing out its musty hymnals to attract a more hip audience (see modern praise & worship). Either that or it will become irrelevant to the day and age.

No doubt there is a wishful desire on the part of some secularists that religious bodies could just be silenced in these regards. As appealing as it may seem to stifle the opposition, that’s not what living in a free, liberty-minded society is about. Many, if not most, secularists are merely nonreligious and content to coexist with a live-and-let-live philosophy. But there is definitely an anti-religious faction out there, the polarized opposition to religious fundamentalism. Religious fundamentalism is not interested in living in a free, liberty-minded society either, consequently. They also want to stifle lifestyle expression that doesn’t fall in line with their holy book and would rather sweep it under the rug and pretend it doesn’t exist. The rest of us get caught between the extremes.

I don’t care for the suppression of expression. History has shown that fundamentalism, whatever the brand,  thrives under suppression and persecution. And the petulant Left seems to be trying their own play at this here of late. It’s a bad idea no matter what ideology it springs from. The persistent faithful’s (and political dogma can be a sort of faith) attempts to make the rest of a free society fall in line with their particular moral code has led to bitterness and resent in like respect. More and more we are a polarized country when it comes to politics and culture with a middle ground of interlocution melting faster than the polar ice caps. The best way to test ideas is not to shut them down, but to drag them out into the daylight to be examined and debated.

Senator Lyndon B. Johnson proposed this restriction on tax-exempt organizations. His target wasn’t churches, as I believe I heard Trump once suggest, but was a political push driven by the fear of communism to silence a couple of secular non-profits speaking out against his re-election. Churches and other non-profits were just fallout from the bill. While it’s not hard to imagine a politician pushing self-interested legislation, that doesn’t inherently mean the legislation is bad. This was not a new issue when Johnson brought it to the fore, and the law should be judged on merit, not just what Johnson may have hoped to get out of it.
Both more and less seems to be made of the Johnson Amendment than is warranted. Both secularists and religious proponents alike seem to like implying that churches aren’t allowed to speak out on political matters, and that isn’t so. Per the IRS “churches and other 501(c)(3) organizations can engage in a limited amount of lobbying (including ballot measures) and advocate for or against issues that are in the political arena.” Churches are more than welcome to speak out on abortion, taxes, healthcare, or whatever. What they can’t do is directly endorse (or oppose) a particular candidate as previously noted. Given what dirt that often comes out on candidates down the road, I can’t imagine why they would want to, either.
Those pastors intent on opposing the Johnson Amendment have organized Pulpit Freedom Sunday, aimed at directly flying in the face of this law. Their consequences? Nothing. And it is worth noting that the number of churches that have ever lost their tax exempt status under the Johnson Amendment is exactly zero. That makes the net sum effectiveness of the law, at least against churches, zero. And, consequently, the abolition of the law as a boon for churches also zero. At least from a pure endorsement perspective. This isn’t really about freedom of speech. Who cares if Pastor Bob endorses Trump from the pulpit? What it comes down to, as it so often does, is money. Money for candidates, and money for churches.
It should be pointed out that it is possible for tax exempt organizations to endorse candidates if they file as, for instance, a 501c4. Churches and other organizations, including schools and the ASPCA among many, file under 501c3. This allows their donors to take tax deductions for their contributions, whereas this isn’t allowed under a 501c4. If they wanted, churches could create separate sister organizations under the 501c4 and get the political input they crave (and some other charities do exactly this). Of course, then contributions to that tax exempt organization would not be tax-deductible, and churches don’t much like that because it cuts back on the giving. Turns out, people aren’t as eager to donate to Jesus when they can’t deduct it from their taxes. But here’s the deal. You can’t deduct from your taxes monies paid to directly support a political campaign, so why should you be allowed to deduct from your taxes monies paid to indirectly support a political campaign through a 501c3? The answer: you shouldn’t. So, there is a workaround here. Churches just don’t want to utilize it. This is why they make it a freedom of speech issue for themselves instead of a campaign finance reform one. And, of course, if the Johnson Amendment were repealed, it gets repealed for everybody, not just churches, who are as singularly self-focused here as Johnson.
Many secularists would like to see churches lose their tax exempt status as a righteous civic duty that brings them in line with the rest of society. It’s a civic duty that would bring many a ministry to its knees, as most churches are not mega-churches or headed by pretentious people such as Joel Osteen. But the secularists that think this have not thought the issue through. Paying in means you get a say. Paying in means you have more political power than ever. Paying in destroys separation of church and state. It’s a bad, bad idea. This is the reason churches remain tax exempt, and why 501c3 tax exempt organizations are not allowed to support (or oppose) particular candidates–so they, churches or otherwise, don’t become tax loopholes for political activism.
So,  while I’m all for preachers having the freedom to speak their mind from the pulpit, I do agree that, as a campaign finance reform measure, the Johnson Amendment is a good thing. And that, as par for the course, Donald Trump has mischaracterized the issue with overblown rhetoric. Again.