America's Next Top Jesus Sculptor

(Good?) News from Ohio, folks.  The long wait for the replacement Jesus statue may finally be winding down, says Darlene Bishop, co-founder of the Solid Rock Church outside of Cincinnati whose “Touchdown Jesus” statue burned down in a freak (or God-sent?) lightning strike back in June.  According to Bishop, the field of potential savior-portrayers has been narrowed down to 5, and a decision will likely be made sometime this month.

The new portrait won’t be an exact replica of the old one.  Rather than a bust, the new one will likely be a full-body sculpture, and it might not even be in “touchdown” pose.  Importantly, this time the church plans to use different materials, perhaps Indiana limestone, than the former, extremely flammable wood & styrofoam combo.

Okay, it’s not much news, but this Ohio reporter will keep abreast of any (hopefully more interesting) developments, in deference to her Midwestern roots/ in recognition of the fact that for whatever reason, her previous posts on the subject have been among her most popular on V&V.

Christine O'Donnell's imaginary witchcraft


The oddest thing to me about Republican Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell’s “I Was A Teenage Witch” claims is that so much of the reaction has accepted her claim that such a thing might be possible.

It is not. Her claims of “dabbling” in what she called “witchcraft” are not true. The supposed witchcraft she describes is not something that exists. Such stories of bloody altars and Satanic covens are common and they are false. All of them. That is a matter of established fact.

The supposed witchery O’Donnell describes is simply the stuff of Satanic panic urban legends. Her descriptions come straight out of the fabrications of proven liar and con-man Mike Warnke. He made this stuff up. Her claims are about as credible as if she had said that she once conjured Bloody Mary by repeating her name three times in the bathroom mirror.

“I dabbled into witchcraft. I hung around people who were doing these things,” she said. This is not true. The wholly imaginary form of Satan-worshipping “witchcraft” in which O’Donnell claimed to have dabbled has never actually existed. You can’t dabble in things that don’t exist.

That Christine O’Donnell would repeat such well-established lies as facts — embellishing them with additional patently false claims of first-hand experience — is not surprising. Her entire political career has taken place within the strand of the evangelical Christian anti-abortion movement that is driven and shaped by this very same late-20th Century variant of the medieval blood libel. These imaginary Satanic baby killers form the core of her identity — they are the Other against whom she has always defined herself. They are the enemy in contrast to whom O’Donnell and her supporters are able to feel good and righteous and special. That these enemies do not, in fact,exist — that they have never, in fact, existed — only highlights the desperate insecurity of O’Donnell and her witch-hunting comrades.

There’s a lot more and it’s really interesting. Highly recommended.

Atheists, agnostics, Jews and Mormons know more about religion than you do

CC photo by Flickr user ASurroca

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public life released a report today on America’s religious knowledge, and the findings were…pretty surprising?

Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups on a new survey of religious knowledge, outperforming evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions.

On average, Americans correctly answer 16 of the 32 religious knowledge questions on the survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. Atheists and agnostics average 20.9 correct answers. Jews and Mormons do about as well, averaging 20.5 and 20.3 correct answers, respectively. Protestants as a whole average 16 correct answers; Catholics as a whole, 14.7. Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons perform better than other groups on the survey even after controlling for differing levels of education.

There’s quite a bit of data to go through there if you’re interested. Kinda-sorta interesting as well is how well practictioners know their own sects:

More than four-in-ten Catholics in the United States (45%) do not know that their church teaches that the bread and wine used in Communion do not merely symbolize but actually become the body and blood of Christ. About half of Protestants (53%) cannot correctly identify Martin Luther as the person whose writings and actions inspired the Protestant Reformation, which made their religion a separate branch of Christianity. Roughly four-in-ten Jews (43%) do not recognize that Maimonides, one of the most venerated rabbis in history, was Jewish.

And, not surprising, is how little Americans know about Eastern faiths:

In addition, fewer than half of Americans (47%) know that the Dalai Lama is Buddhist. Fewer than four-in-ten (38%) correctly associate Vishnu and Shiva with Hinduism. And only about a quarter of all Americans (27%) correctly answer that most people in Indonesia – the country with the world’s largest Muslim population – are Muslims.

Why Muslims

Mark Silk knocks it out of the park:

In recent years, the wise guys in the Republican Party have cottoned to the fact that the U.S. of A. has become a good deal more Latino than it used to be, and that it might not be such a good idea for the future of the GOP if it embraced (at least publicly) such anti-Latino-immigrant laws as Arizona passed a few months ago. Why not find a less politically potent body of Americans on which to vent one’s nativist animosity?

I give you: The Muslims. Unlike the Latinos, who are pushing toward 20 percent of the American population, they constitute less than one percent. And the largest portion of them are African-Americans who would never vote Republican anyway. But how to change the nativist narrative in time for November’s mid-term elections?

The Ground Zero Mosque, of course. Talk about godsends. In May, when the story emerged, the ratio of newspaper, broadcast, and blog coverage of the Arizona law to the proposed Islamic Center in Manhattan was 20:1. Last month, it was 10:1. So far this month, it’s been running at 1.3:1. That’s according to Lexis-Nexis Academic word searches of Arizona+law+immigration+Brewer and Ground Zero+mosque+protest. Add coverage of other anti-Muslim protests around the country and the ratio turns the other way.

Any party based on nativist insecurity needs an “other,” but what happens when that “other” gets dangerously close to becoming one of “us,” or just necessary to maintain your party’s viability? You pick a new “other.” Muslims: Still not white, but, more advantageously, they worship a nominally different god. At least Hispanics tend to be Catholic (read: socially conservative).

Wonder who will be next once these Christian theocrats discover that this “shariar-lawr” looks suspiciously like their aim of prayer  and creationism in schools and no rights for women. Who’s left to hate?

Welcome to the Terrordome

Sometimes, it’s a little hard to like Majority Leader Harry Reid. Okay, not sometimes: Often. Sure, once in a while he’ll accomplish the historic passage of a Republican health care bill, but, generally, he’s blasé at best and offensively useless at worst. Or maybe just offensive.

Offensive it is, again. Yesterday, in addressing the recent (cynical) outrage over the planning of an Islamic community center near the World Trade Center site, his spokesman, Jim Manley said, “The First Amendment protects freedom of religion. Senator Reid respects that, but thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else.”

Built somewhere else, you say? Well, I’ll counter with this. No Mormon tabernacles should be built in or near Washington County, Utah. Washington County, see, was the site of the Mountain Meadows massacre, where Mormons, with help from American Indians, slaughtered betwee 120-140 men and women of the Fancher-Baker Party who were traveling from Arkansas to California.

The date of the massacre was September 11, 1857.

Before Americans hated Muslims, they hated Mormons, and before Mormons, they hated Catholics. Hell, even way before that, Presbyterians hated Anglicans, and Anglicans hated the Puritans. We have a long tradition of hating people of different faiths—and, being Mormon, Harry Reid should damned well know that.

Harry Reid had an opportunity and squandered the hell out of it. Rep. Keith Ellison, on the other hand, shows that Democrats could have seized this to show at least an iota of leadership (heretofore unknown to congressional Democrats):

“The truth is that we’re a party of principle. We believe in the idea of religious liberty.”

In 1773, a Baptist minister Isaac Backus wrote: “When church and state are separate, the effects are happy, and they do not at all interfere with each other: but where they have been confounded together, no tongue nor pen can fully describe the mischiefs that have ensued.”

Thomas Jefferson may be out of vogue in Texas educational circles, but in the  pantheon of the Founding Fathers, he cannot be ignored. And, he did famously write:

“Where the Preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word ‘Jesus Christ,’ so that it should read ‘a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion.’ The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.”

Way back in 2008, Colin Powell had quite a response when asked about then-Senator Barack Obama possibly being secretly a Muslim: “Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America.” That should have had the same stab-in-the-gut effect as your dad saying “I’m not mad, son, I’m disappointed.” But, for many—those without shame—it didn’t have any effect at all.

In the same way, folks screaming about the “GROUND ZERO OMG TERRORISM MOSQUE OMG 9/11 MOSLEMS,” need to step back and realize how un-American—how shameful—it is to tell people of any faith that they are banned from practicing wherever they want. That it’s their faith that drove planes into American buildings—good, Christian buildings.

How the fuck dare you.

Triumph for Religious Tolerance

I was glad to hear that the New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission has voted to allow the construction to move forward for an Islamic Center near ground zero.  The plan is moving ahead despite vehement protests from the usual suspects (Sarah Palin, calling for a “refudiation” of the mosque, Newt Gingrich, et al.), as well as some less likely suspects (the Anti-Defamation League, as Pop mentioned in yesterday’s Morning Constitutional, objected to the location of the Islamic Center, saying that its construction “in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain – unnecessarily – and that is not right.”).

Some proponents have pointed out the details that the objectors got wrong– for instance, that the site is not AT ground zero, but two blocks from it.  Matt Sledge at Huffington Post points out that it’s not exactly a mosque that’s being built either: the building being planned is “a cultural center with a prayer room.”

Beyond the details, though, are the principles at stake.  Of course, for the right-wingers fighting the plan, there’s political gain to be had in stirring up religious prejudice and bigotry under the guise of patriotism.  But NY Mayor Bloomberg, in explaining his support, captured why this is such an important issue, and why it touches on deep-seated American values:

Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question – should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here. This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions, or favor one over another.

The World Trade Center Site will forever hold a special place in our City, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves – and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans – if we said ‘no’ to a mosque in Lower Manhattan.

Bloomberg went on to say that “this is an important test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetime – as important a test – and it is critically important that we get it right.”  Kudos to the commissioners for the unanimous vote that gets it right.

What's Next for Touchdown Jesus


As you’ll recall, last month a 62-foot statue of Jesus burned down after a lightning strike.  It happens that this monstrosity is right along the highway I take from the airport when I visit my family in Ohio, so I got to see the skeletal remains of TD Jesus when I was there last week.  I was


curious about the church’s plans– perhaps after the fire, they’d had an epiphany that there are more worthy uses of $250,000 than reconstructing hideous flammable statuary?  Ha!  Of course not.  Pastor Darlene Bishop brushed off such suggestions, saying that Solid Rock Church gives plenty of money to humanitarian causes and that the statue has touched countless people’s lives (even, she said, causing some to reconsider their plans to commit suicide).  Plus the destruction of the statue was great PR for Jesus!  So plans are underway to rebuild the statue, though this time it will apparently be made of fireproof materials.

As it turns out, the natural disaster was no economic catastrophe for Solid Rock Church, since they’d actually had the statue insured for $500,000.  Said Darlene Bishop, “Now we get to build a whole brand-new one, paid-for.  We are blessed.”

Darlene’s husband, co-pastor Lawrence Bishop reiterated the plan to rebuild, saying rather ominously “The first Jesus was resurrected in three days. It’s going to take us a little longer than three days but he will be back. He’s like the Terminator. He’s coming back.”

Candidate for Congress Ed Martin thinks Barack Obama wants to stop you from being saved

Via TPM, we learn that Ed Martin, who seems to get his energy from the tea party movement, is afraid that the president wants to take away your freedom to worship. His logic? Well:

One thing I like to say is: America is great, not because of our genetics. We’re great because we created a place and space where people can be free. And they can choose Christ, they can choose to be faithful. They can worship, and they find their way to the Lord. And — or some of them don’t. We sure want them all to, but some of them don’t.

Part of that freedom — when you take a government and you impose, and take away all your choices. One of the choices you take away is to find the Lord. And to find your savior.

And that’s one of the things that’s most destructive about the growth of government. It’s this taking away of that freedom. The freedom — the ultimate freedom, to find your salvation, to get your salvation. And to find Christ, for me and you.

And I think that’s one of the things that we have to be very, very aware of. That the Obama Administration and Congressman Carnahan are doing to us.

Lightning Strike Proves God Hates Your Stupid Statue

In case the article Pop linked to in today’s Morning Constitutional wasn’t enough for you, here’s video of the ridiculously huge and gaudy (and apparently enormously expensive– $250,000!) Touchdown Jesus statue in flames.

As YouTube commenter THeSLoTH77 wrote, “It’s a sign… It’s a sign that churches squander away an unbelievable amount of money that could have been used for something good for mankind and not their egos.”

And as the person who tipped me off to the story observed, “It’s a weird and wonderful world.”

It was always pretty hilarious to drive past TD Jesus, but I’m certainly not sorry to see it go.  Oh, Cincinnati…

Adventures in Hypocrisy

For your daily dose of schadenfraude…

If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s worth watching this video of Indiana Rep. Mark “Morally and Physically Repellent” Souder, the family values-touting Republican who just announced his resignation after admitting his affair with a staffer.  In it, the woman with whom he was cheating on his wife interviews Souder about his passionate support for abstinence education.  Ha.  Real glad he was doing his best to keep teens from engaging in sex outside of the sacred bonds of marriage.  The video, which up until yesterday was featured on Souder’s website but has naturally been saved for posterity:  Rep. Souder and Tracy Jackson, discussing abstinence

Seriously, shouldn’t we be waayyyy past the point when any politician can legitimately lay claim to the “family values” title?  How many times does this sort of hypocrisy have to come to light before we as a society acknowledge that no politician ought to be dictating to us what to do with our families and in our bedrooms?

Plus, an update in another fun family values story, the sordid case of George Rekers– the anti-gay Baptist minister and clinical psychologist revealed to have gone on a 10 day jaunt in Europe with a male prostitute.  First of all, I think the moment when reporters discover you’ve taken a male prostitute with you to Europe is the time where you ought to go ahead and admit that you’re self-loathing and closeted.  NOT the time to protest that you hired this guy to carry your luggage or that you were trying to show him the error of his homosexual ways.

Anyway.  Rekers has already resigned from the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (not because he realizes he has no business telling people how not to be gay, but so that he can focus on his fight against “the false media reports that have been made against me.”  Right.)  NYT points out another potential ramification of the scandal:

Regardless of what occurred in Europe, the trip could affect cases in the United States. Dr. Rekers’ involvement, for example, has been critical in a suit challenging a Florida law banning adoption by gay parents. His testimony was a major part of Attorney General Bill McCollum’s defense of the statute, for which the state paid Dr. Rekers $120,000.

Mr. McCollum has distanced himself from Dr. Rekers. “It is safe to say that if this case moves beyond this stage, Mr. Rekers will have no further involvement in the case,” said Ryan Wiggins, a spokeswoman for Mr. McCollum. “We will certainly not be recommending him in the future.”

According to the article, it might not be so easy to find another “expert” to replace Rekers in the Florida case.  McCollum told reporters that “There were only two willing to step forward and testify, and we searched a long time.”  Hmmm, maybe because there isn’t actually any credible evidence supporting the absurd notion that gay people shouldn’t be allowed to adopt?  A Florida Circuit Court declared Florida’s adoption law unconstitutional back in 2008; the case is now in appellate court, where the AG will apparently have to move forward without Rekers’ testimony.