A Realization as the Catholic Sex Abuse Scandal Hits Altoona

Embattled Attorney General of Pennsylvania Kathleen Kane (D-Suspended) took a break this week from taking as many people down with her as possible to do Attorney General type things, suspended law license be damned.  About a mile and a half from my front door, AG Kane spoke at the Blair County Convention Center and tore the local Catholic diocese to shreds.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane said Tuesday that hundreds of children were sexually abused by about 50 priests over more than 40 years in the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese, and some bishops attempted to cover up the crimes.

While a grand total of zero charges will be filed as a result of this investigation due to statute of limitation issues, the information contained in the report is worse than any prison sentence.  This report has it all.  Police collusion, Bishops wielding enough political power to chose police and fire chiefs, a standardized settlement list detailing how much “hush money” victims would get for each grope or thrust, and a Church so lost that it was fighting vicious legal battles against victims they knew full well had actually been abused by priests, calling them “liars” mercilessly and taking victory laps in the press after each rotten victory.  The report contains at least 100 posts worth of information, and with no charges being able to be filed, I feel it is an ethical imperative to amplify some of this information, to make sure people don’t forget and to try and see how deep this rot runs through the Church.

But this is not that post.  This is not any of those posts.

For those of you who do not know, I was sort of raised Catholic.  To avoid telling the whole story again, until I was 11 or so I was raised as a totally lapsed Catholic.  I knew who Jesus and Mary were, and I celebrated Christmas and Easter, but we never went to church or anything.  God was just something that was, it wasn’t a huge part of your life.  When I was 11, in some order my mother’s mother died and my mom was diagnosed with rather serious breast cancer.  This combination was my mother’s “come to Jesus” moment and I suddenly found myself not only at church every Sunday, but expected to take the Sacraments and get Confirmed in time.  While my mom found Jesus, I went in a differing direction.  Having just seen my oldest sister convert to Judaism for her wedding, I was much less inclined to believe there was a particular “right” way to worship, especially after having avoided the indoctrination of youth so many of my friends experienced.  I spent Sundays learning the arcane teachings of Cathol.  I had to study to earn my first Communion and there was some that wanted me to join the First Communion class.  See, not just anyone is supposed to eat the flesh of Jesus, then wash it down with some delicious fruit of the vein.  You’re supposed to attend classes to learn the significance of ritualized cannibalism.  The problem was one of age.  I was 11 or 12, while the First Communion class was first or second graders.  The decision was made to allow me to “test out” of the class.  As long as I showed the parish priest that I had grasped the material, I would be permitted Communion and spared the embarrassment of joining a class full of 7 year olds.

My mother drove me to the church in the early afternoon.  I know it was not on a Sunday, but my memory doesn’t help past that reconstructing a time frame.  I thought I would meet the priest in the church, but was surprised when my mom dropped me off at the old dilapidated house just before the church’s driveway that served as the rectory.  I remember her telling me to call her when I was ready to be picked up, and then she must have driven away, leaving me there.  The inside of the house was dark, cluttered, and old.  The knick-knacks brought to mind my grandparents house in the dead coal graveyard their town had become.  It smelled a lot like their house as well.  The old priest and I sat in a living room that my mind has decorated with a piano, with me sitting on its bench.  We used an old copy of the Catholic Catechism and we spent 30 to 40 minutes talking about the Catholic faith.  I could tell you how he would touch my arm while pointing out something in the book, or how he would rest a hand on my shoulder when making an important point, but both could be memories born in my mind rather than honest recollections.  I do remember him inviting me to stop over anytime I had a question, or even if I just needed to talk.  His door would always be open.

I remember that the visit upset me a great deal.  No, not because he did anything improper towards me sexually, but rather the indoctrination aspect of it all.  At 11 and 12, before I had suicide bombed any of my brain cells with idiotic teenage drug use, I was testing at genius IQ levels and loved listening to adults talk, let alone talk to them myself.  I didn’t have the “from the cradle” brainwashing most of the kids he spoke with had experienced, which allowed me to understand as he tried to convince me of the reality of hellfire and the saving, simple truth of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.  It sickened me and slammed the door to Christianity, a door that had previously been looking invitingly like the obvious choice, firmly shut for decades (until the 12 Steps found me sniffing around the rotting corpse of Christianity once again much later.  But that as well is a different post.).  My mother was struggling to work full time at a high stress job while suffer through seemingly endless courses of chemotherapy, treatment that only had a coin flips chance of succeeding.  To prepare her for this fight, God saw fit to kill her mother as a “good luck” gift.  It was the first time I thought “wait. how is this God omnibenevolent then? I didn’t understand that I had stumbled upon the problem of evil at that point, but I did realize that if this so-called God did in fact exist, that I could not worship it.  It wasn’t deserving of worship.

I haven’t thought of that day in decades.  When I examine the building blocks of my current world view, there are many days during high school that involve the church and have had a much greater lasting impact on me.  Priests who would have a much stronger influence, considering the priest of this story passed away before my Confirmation classes began, making this time spent together the only time I was ever alone with him.

Today the Altoona Mirror printed some of the names of priests accused by the grand jury.  Page A4.


I remember the house.

I remember my mom telling me to call when I was done.

I remember sitting across from Father Regis Myers.  Alone.

If the existence of this story didn’t call it’s worth into so much question, this is when I would say “There but for the grace of God go I.”

I’m angry.  I used to be angry at him and religion, for the indoctrination of children, for brain washing and for teaching the unforgivable concept of Hellfire.  Now I’m angry for a different reason.

I’m angry at the Church for giving him access to children.  I’m angry at my mother for leaving me alone with him, trusting him for no other reason than he pretends to talk to God.  I’m angry at him because now I have his request that I become an altar boy after my communion in my head and no idea of his intentions.  I’m angry at the police for the protection they gave these predators.  I’m angry at the bishops for  abusing their political power and at the mayor’s for allowing them to do it.  I’m angry at the bishops for callously moving child abusers from parish to parish with no thoughts about the victims other than as a number on some pay out chart.  Strangely enough, for someone who considers themselves an anti-theist, I’m angry at the embarrassment they brought to the priesthood.  The priest I was confirmed by was a good man who does not deserve the shame this brings down on the whole priesthood.

I was not abused by Father Regis Myers.

Don’t thank anyone for that joyous outcome.  No one stopped it.  No one prevented it.  I just hit the “please don’t sexually abuse me” lottery.

Yeah.  I’m angry.

“Decapitate her head off…”: Where that good ole Christian love crosses into the “Wait, What?!?” zone.

This post originally had a long introduction about the show Duck Dynasty.  I’ll include part of it at the end because I wrote it and it is somewhat amusing, but I decided the show doesn’t really need an introduction at this point, so why make you read 5 long paragraphs to get to the story?  This introduction explaining that fact was originally much longer as well, until I decided that I didn’t really need to justify my removal of the original introduction with a 4 paragraph long explanation.  I ended up editing 2 additional paragraphs out of this shortened introduction/justification/explanation because I kept going into details that had nothing to do with either the introduction, the reasoning for shortening the introduction, or the story itself.  Finally, immediately before I hit the “Publish” button, I deleted 7 lines I deemed superfluous.

As I assume you are aware, Duck Dynasty is a thing.  (From the channel that also brings you Donnie Loves child-killers/airheads /nose-pickers/mothers of Indigo children/Graduates of Google U./brain-swelling/subjecting children to unnecessary  suffering/Jenny)  Those of you who follow the insanity of the far right more than likely also know that show member Phil Robertson was suspended from the show a while back for comments he made in an interview that could possibly be interpreted as both racist and homophobic.   The Christian far right collectively lost its shit over the suspension, making it into exhibit A in their ongoing attempt to convince someone (anyone) that Christians, who make up around 77% of the United States population, are actually a persecuted minority seconds away from the FEMA sponsored gas chambers.  This suspension, along with the Christian right’s massive persecution complex and their preschool level understanding of the First Amendment has resulted in Phil Robertson becoming a star on the far right lecture circuit.  On March 20th, 2015, that stardom found Phil speaking at the Vero Beach Prayer Breakfast, resulting in, resulting in, resulting in…… Shit.  I don’t even know how to explain this properly.  Here’s the link to RightWingWatch for ya.

It starts off as a normal sounding home invasion.

“Two guys break into an atheist’s home. He has a little atheist wife and two little atheist daughters. Two guys break into his home and tie him up in a chair and gag him.”

Questions immediately spring to mind.  How old are these “little atheist daughters?”  Cause if they are under, say, 10, then can you really call them “atheists?”  I mean, sure they probably believe what their parents do, but not because of any deep examination of the issue.  They’re kids, they probably believe anything their parents tell them.  And if they are teenagers, then one of them is probably a Catholic and the other a Buddhist because they are teenagers.  Seriously, what teenager agrees with their parents?  Teenage rebellion, anyone?  “Screw you dad, Jesus loves me, you’re going to Hell, and Father Myers only fucks little boys, so I’m safe.”  Moving past they “perfect indoctrination” problem…..

“And then they take his two daughters in front of him and rape both of them and then shoot them”

Remember, this story is at a prayer breakfast.  Just something to keep in mind.  Now for as well thought out as this story is, (which really makes me wonder about Mr. Robertson.) there are some holes starting to show up.  Like, they said that they tied the atheist guy to the chair and gagged him, but what is his little atheist wife doing while they are raping and murdering his little atheist daughters?  Did they tie her up as well and just forget to mention it?  Is she just enjoying the show cause she’s an atheist?

“and they take his wife and then decapitate her head off in front of him.”

Department of Redundant Redundancies section redundant sector department, paging Mr. Phil Robertson.  I would be much more critical of this part of the story, but he said “decapitate her head off” which is so fucking idiotic that I can’t help laughing every time I read or hear the phrase.

So, his daughters are raped and murdered, the wife has had her head decapitated right off, and the guy has been forced to witness each action.  Something tells me Phil is getting ready to make his point.

And then they can look at him and say, ‘Isn’t it great that I don’t have to worry about being judged? Isn’t it great that there’s nothing wrong with this? There’s no right or wrong, now is it dude?’”

That’s his point?  Seriously?

Dude, you inbred, brain dead, bigoted waste of beard hair and skin cells, lack of belief in a supreme law giver of the Universe doesn’t mean atheists reject all laws and morality without thought.  You do have to worry about being judged, just not by a creator God.  You will be judged by your peers, by society, by law enforcement, by the judicial system, and by the inmates at your future home who are going to shank the fuck out of you for killing and raping children.  There most certainly is something wrong with invading someone’s home, then torturing, raping, and murdering a family.  There are multiple logical ways to conclude that those actions are wrong without resorting to the commands of an invisible sky daddy.  I have more to say on this, but I don’t want to ejaculate prematurely, so let’s take this slow for a minute.  Besides, I think Phil just realized one or two audience members are still eating.

“Then you take a sharp knife and take his manhood and hold it in front of him”

Did you catch that? The switch from “they do this, they do that,” to “you take a sharp knife.”  Is this Phil Robertson’s ultimate sexual fantasy?  It certainly seems like he’s spent some serious time thinking it up.  Anyway, I wonder if they served sausage links at this breakfast?

and say, ‘Wouldn’t it be something if this [sic] was something wrong with this? But you’re the one who says there is no God, there’s no right, there’s no wrong, so we’re just having fun. We’re sick in the head, have a nice day.’”

Once again, not believing in a God has nothing to do with wholesale rejecting morality as well.  Everything these two home invaders (we’ll call them Phil and Robertson for fun.) do is morally reprehensible on multiple levels.  For society to function there needs to be an agreed upon set of moral codes.  Anyone that feels only the word of God, along with the threat of hellfire and God’s ever watchful eye, is the only reason people behave morally, the only reason people don’t rape and murder indiscriminately, scare the living fuck out of me.

Seriously.  I don’t rape women. Rape is morally wrong.  It is a violation of another person’s bodily autonomy, which I, as a primate, can understand through a lack of consent on the victims part, then by placing myself in the same situation with the same lack of consent, use empathy to conclude that the action is morally repugnant without resorting to any authority figure ordering me not to do the act.

Someone who only refrains from committing a morally repugnant act, say murder, or rape, because some God told them not to do the act is a ticking fucking time bomb.  What if there is conclusive proof tomorrow that God does not exist, or we find the dead body of God on the surface of Titan.  Do these people, constrained only by their belief in their deities laws, suddenly turn Alabama and Mississippi into Rapeville, USA?  Do these people have to remind themselves not to rape and kill every day?  “Oh shit, that girl is hawt.  And all alone on this country road.  I bet I could rape her, decapitate her head off, and hide her in the forest and no one would ever know  I did it.  It would be so…Wait a second.  God would know.  Fuck.  Damn all seeing sky daddy.”

A confession.  I have never had to stop myself from raping someone.  Not once.  I have never found myself planning a rape, only to talk myself out of it at the last minute because of the consequences or any other reason.

Because rape is fucking wrong, and I rarely find myself thinking about performing acts that harm other people.  What kind of a person only acts morally because of God?  What kind of a person only acts morally because of earthly authority figures?  (Note: I am saying morally, not legally.  There are actions that are legally wrong that are not morally wrong, and there are many people who only act legally because of authority figures and the threat of punishment.  For example, drug use.  I have yet to come across an argument I buy that claims I am committing a moral wrong by using any drug.  <Note2: Not using then driving.  Not using then working.  Not using then babysitting.  Just using a drug, then sitting down to a book or tv.>)

Don’t just read this page.  Go to the link and listen to Phil Robertson say this shit himself.  If you want, download the current episode of the Cognitive Dissonance podcast, which includes the speech and commentary on it as well.  People are clapping and laughing as he begins, but all you hear is silence by the end.  I think his well thought out rape, torture, and murder fantasy went a bit too far even for his intended audience.

At least I hope it did, because if this passes for mainstream Christian commentary, we’re in a lot more trouble than I ever imagined.

And here’s a bit of what I cut out, as promised:

So there’s this “reality” television show on the A&E channel that a depressing and disturbing number of people tune in to watch each week, which is either a stunning indictment of the taste of U.S. television viewers, or a sad indication that no matter how many countless channels cable or satellite provide, there really is nothing worth watching on tv.  The show is titled “Duck Dynasty,” and unfortunately it is not the saga of several families of British ducks (the noble House Mallard, of which King Donald belongs, the cunning House Widgeon, which gave birth to Queen Daisy, House Gadwall, House Pintail, and House Shoveler, of which the brothers Lord Huey, Lord Dewey and Lord Louie control respectively through advantageous marriages, the mysterious Ring-Necks, sworn to protect the realm and remain neutral in political disputes, the dangerous Green-Winged Teals, a group of religious fanatics who tattoo their wings green upon joining the order,  the majority of the population, the Common Mergansers, whos lack of power and wealth make them but pawns to the other houses, and the hidden, possibly supernatural group of ducks known only as Rubber.) as we follow their lives as they scheme, rape, intrigue, rape, pillage, rape, plunder, rape, swim, rape, murder, rape, back stab, and rape their way to the top of medieval duck society and the seat of total power, The Corkscrew Throne.  (Some people may wonder why rape is every other action performed by these ducks in my show pitch.  To those people I simply say this: look up the sex lives of ducks.  Male ducks would fit in perfectly in frat houses all over America.)

Is That Hypocrisy I Smell?

Fresh from being unreachable by the press during the Saturday rally/protest in Bedford, county DA Bill Higgins carefully read Sunday’s newspaper coverage of the protest before coming up with his tactical response, finally figured out something to say, quote, “reached out to the Mirror Sunday in an email after coverage of the rally noted he was unavailable. A message left at Higgins’ cellphone was not returned Saturday afternoon.”

I don’t blame the guy for ducking the media until he figured out his response.  It’s just that the awaited response is so damn weak.  From the Altoona Mirror (Making it happen for you!  Unless you aren’t a subscriber, then pay wall!)

Bedford County District Attorney Bill Higgins said in an email that he is a “tireless advocate” for giving youth second chances, but much of the discussion on a high-profile desecration case has left out the voice of the religious group that was affected by a teen’s alleged actions.

“Love, Inc. has a right to practice their faith unmolested, and as District Attorney I have an obligation to see to it that their rights are respected,” Higgins said.

They do have that right.  And if anyone actually molests a member of Love, Inc. while they are trying to practice their faith, I will be back on that street corner in Bedford with more signs defending their rights.  Are we really supposed to believe that this kid snapping a picture with their statue, a picture that no one even knew existed until someone saw it on Facebook and immediately went into maximum pearl clutching mode, in any way infringes on their rights to worship as they believe?  It’s a picture, Bill.  No actual damage was done to the statue.  It is still there.  Right beside the road.  In fact, I stopped by the statue the other morning for an exclusive interview with a statue of kneeling Jesus.  You see, that is now the actual one voice left out of this story.  What about the poor statue?

Foster Disbelief: Good morning, Mr. H. Christ.  My name is Foster Disbelief, though you can call me JR.  How are you feeling today?

Statue of Jesus: ……….

FD: I came out here today to ask you a few questions about your recent desecration.  Are you feeling up to it?

Statue: ………….

FD: Right.  No need to stand up, just stay right there as you are.   Okay, so do many people take pictures with you?

Statue:  ………….

FD: You’re right, there’s no need to beat around the bush with small talk.  You’re a tough one, Statue Jesus.  What were your thoughts when this teen was posing with you in that position, miming either receiving oral sex from you, or getting electrocuted with your holy power upon laying his hands upon your head?

Statue: ………..

FD: Caught you off guard there, didn’t I?  Didn’t expect someone to come up with an alternative description for that pose?  Why are all these people immediately assuming he was pantomiming oral sodomy?  Filthy, gutter bound minds?

Statue: ……….

FD:  Yeah, I know he really was posing like he was about to fuck your face.  That’s not the point.  The point is, it is a still picture, a snapshot, and it’s easy to get the wrong impression from an out of context picture.  But I want to talk about your feelings.  How horrible did his actions make you feel?

Statue:  …………

FD: Mmmm.  Was this the first time anyone used you like that?

Statue: ……….

FD: Did you enjoy it?

Statue: ………..

FD: Some people have been saying that you were asking for it.  Okay, not really some people, one person.  Okay, it was me.  I’m claiming that you were asking for it.  The only time that phrase has ever been used legitimately in the history of the world when referring to sexual assault.  Were you?

Statue:  …………

FD: Did this teen and his picture in anyway limit your free expression of religion?

Statue:  ………….

FD: If you didn’t want to talk, you could have just refused the interview.  Seriously, I can’t believe I drove out here for that.

Statue: ……………….

It was a picture, Bill.  Taken at a statue that is approachable by the public.  Fully clothed.  Harmed no one.  Violated zero rights.  Well, other than the imagined right to not be offended, but that seriously isn’t a real right, Bill.  Moving on……

Higgins stressed that, despite reports, the boy “will, in all likelihood, be placed into a diversionary program, perform a few hours of community service, answer to a probation officer for a few months and end up with no criminal record whatsoever.”

Not.  The.  Point.

You can suggest whatever sentence you feel like, Bill, but if he gets in front of an offended Judge who’s been having a bad day, he could still sit in juvie for 2 years.  But that’s not the point either.   If the punishment was a five dollar fine, suspended, I’d still think it was too harsh.  Because either the law, or your interpretation of it, are unconstitutional.  His Facebook picture was no more offensive than one of the signs I brought to Bedford.  (You should have seen the one I left in the car*.)    His picture and my sign caused the same amount of actual harm.  Both are legal.  Your interpretation of this law is turning it into a blasphemy law.  Even you have to know that blasphemy laws are unconstitutional.  You are the county DA.  I’m assuming law school was somewhere in there.

He also noted that many who are speaking out against his decision to charge the teenager have taken to attacking his character.

At Saturday’s rally, Truth Wins Out Executive Director Wayne Besen said Higgins “sounds more like a talk show host” than an attorney.

“My motivations in prosecuting this case are based solely on the law,” Higgins said.

“Personal attacks and character assassination directed at me and my family are unproductive, unwarranted and, quite frankly, and I will not respond to them in any way, shape or form.”

Oh, this is my personal favorite part of his reply.  Remember this Facebook comment from our good friend Bill, when this story first started?

“I guess I should take solace in the fact that the liberals are mad at me – again,” Higgins said Thursday on his Facebook page. “As for this case, this troubled young man offended the sensibilities and morals of OUR community. … His actions constitute a violation of the law, and he will be prosecuted accordingly. If that tends to upset the ‘anti-Christian, ban-school-prayer, war-on-Christmas, oppose-display-of-Ten-Commandments’ crowd, I make no apologies.”

Based solely on the law.? Check.  Personal attacks and character assassination is unproductive and unwarranted?  Check.

When this story started, your first action was to pander to the GOP base.  You don’t get to pretend you are above the fray now that people are actually paying attention.

I’d ask how these people get elected, but I live in the area, so I unfortunately know.


*Jesus Christ: Super Bukkake Star  With image.  But there were kids there, and I wasn’t going to put their parents in the position to have to explain that one to them.

I Get Replies, You Get Replies, We All Get Replies…..

I’d like to consider myself a special little snowflake, but I just finished reading this reply, word for word, on the American Atheist’s post about the event.  On their site the reply was made by a and here at Foster Disbelief it came from a mysterious “Ed,” but it is, as I said, word for word.  So, same person, different names, or really shitty form letter?  You be the judge.  Moving it from the comment section of this post to here so more eyes get a glimpse of it.

The law is needed , not only to protect the desecration of the statue depicting Jesus , but also all statues and monuments that are venerated for the people and or ideas they represent . Without this law other memorials and monuments would be fair game for abuse . Think what that would mean . Would you want , for instance , radical Muslims desecrating the Lincoln memorial , Arlington Cemetery and or The Statue of Martin Luther King ? Many of them would be lining up to pose as this youth did but on other statues and monuments that possibly you respect and or hold in awe and reverence . If the kid would have used a statue he owned and or on his own property , then his 1st amendment rights would apply . This law is to protect from abuse those publicly displayed venerated statues and monuments be they secular or religious .

And my reply:

Oh, for fucks sake.

If radical Muslims want to take a picture of themselves face fucking Abe Lincoln, WHO THE FUCK DOES THAT HURT?

It’s a statue. No damage was done to the statue. PERIOD. People can take any kind of photo they want “desecrating” people I consider heroes, and it does zero, read none, read nada, harm to me, or anyone else.

Let me spell this out for you, since you don’t seem to be able to grasp this. If radical Muslims harmed a statue of Lincoln, or if KKK members pushed over a statue of MLK, or if Satanists vandalized a Nativity scene, or if this teen would have covered the statue of Jesus with spray paint, EXISTING LAWS WOULD ALREADY PUNISH THE OFFENDERS. If you want to make the case that the teen shouldn’t have used the statue as a backdrop for his picture because it wasn’t on his property, then charge him with trespassing. (Although you better get a time machine to post the NO TRESPASSING signs in that case.)

If your sensibilities are so delicate, if your beliefs are so fragile, if your heroes are so questionable that someone taking a picture damages them, then I have to suggest the problem may be with you, not the picture taker.


And not to belabor the point here, but who gets to decide in your world what constitutes “desecration?” What if instead of the picture he actually posed for, the teen instead snapped a pic with his arm around Jesus’ shoulders giving a “thumbs up” sign? I know certain Christians who would consider that blasphemy. Was that “desecration?”

What if I visited the Lincoln Memorial and was so overcome with reverence for the man that I posed for a picture on my knees in front of him? You may think that I was just kneeling in honor of a great man, with no way of knowing that I was really representing the bitching blow job I would so give Abe. (And that, if historical rumors can be believed, Abe would have been totally down with.) Is that “desecration?”

Say I heard about Islam and without studying up on their beliefs, was so impressed with the supposed Prophet of God that I build a statue of Muhammad in honor of the man? Do I really need to tell you that no matter what my intentions, radical (or hell, moderate as well) Muslims would consider that “desecration?”


And while I am thinking about it, do you really think this law is preventing any of the things you listed in your reply? This is an obscure Pennsylvanian law, not a national law. To the best of my knowledge it has only been used once before, and other laws could have covered that case quite nicely. (A case where something was actually done to the display. You know, more than being a prop in a picture you find offensive.) It is not needed. Anything it supposedly protects is already protected by other laws. Any extra protection it grants symbols is blatantly unconstitutional.

Sorry about repeating myself, but I can not stress this enough.

If your sensibilities are so delicate, if your beliefs are so fragile, if your heroes are so questionable that someone taking a picture damages them, then I have to suggest the problem may be with you, not the picture taker.

Part of me just wants to ignore this and enjoy the afterglow of protest.

Luckily for me, it was the part of me that is easily ignored.

You know, when I first decided I wanted to write a blog, I thought that I would devote most of my time and effort to atheism and the atheist community.  After all, the blogs that inspired me all dealt with non-belief, chief amongst them PZ Myers’ Pharyngula.  Don’t get me wrong, I was also influenced by Ed Brayton’s Dispatches from the Culture Wars, as any of my readers can tell you, so there was always also going to be a bit of politics and social issue stuff, but I honestly thought the majority of my posts would be about atheism and the atheist movement, with a healthy dose of skepticism thrown in.  I mean, look at my book shelf.

Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Michael Shermer, Benjamin Radford….

And yet, the more I posted, the more I strayed from posting about atheism.  I never stopped posting about fringe religious elements and the Christian conservative control of the GOP, but that was much more due to the social issue ramifications than anything to do with an atheist, or skeptical movement.  And as much as I didn’t want to be just another liberal, progressive political blog, the more I posted, the more that is what I became.

Why?  Look at my book shelf.

Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Michael Shermer, Benjamin Radford….

Why People Believe Weird Things was my baptism in skepticism. The God Delusion my intro into the “New” atheism.  I loved The End of Faith so much that Harris became my second favorite author with a last name beginning with “H.”  And not only did I love Radford’s team up with Joe Nickell for Lake Monster Mysteries, but Monstertalk was my favorite podcast.  Two of my favorite magazines are heavily involved with Radford and Shermer.  From what I could tell, organized skepticism and atheism was entwined with these men.

And yet I found myself drifting away from skepticism and atheism as movements.  Why?

Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Michael Shermer, Benjamin Radford…..

First there was “Elevatorgate” and Dawkins showed his privilege.  Oh, but if only that was the only bit of sexism to make itself known in the community.  For those of you not involved in atheism or skepticism as a community or movement, I will spare you the details.  Those of you involved know exactly what I am talking about.  As time moved on, the list grew longer and longer.  DJ Grothe inserted foot firmly in mouth.  Sam Harris let us all know that he isn’t the sexist pig we’re looking for.  Go ahead and Google Radford and Shermer.  All I’ll say is Karen Stollznow was the best host of MonsterTalk.

PZ has a interesting post up today, it is worth reading the whole thing.

You won’t get your philosophical atheist utopia at all if that utopia considers the dignity of all human beings to be a secondary matter. You will effectively kneecap the whole movement if you don’t care about social justice, and worse, are more afraid of driving out the hateful and intolerant who are already inside our ranks than of embracing the needs of the many millions outside of them.

It’s already happening, though. The disenchantment with the movement is growing.

Libby Anne wonders, Do They Care about Women, or Simply Bashing Religion?.

Frankly, I feel used. These atheist activists are the sort of people who want to use my story as proof that religion is horrible to women but aren’t willing to listen to what I have to say about sexism in our culture at large. They are the sort of people who are eager to use the shooting of young education activist Malala Yousafzai by the Taliban to prove how horrible religion is for women but somehow fail to mention that Malala is a Muslim who speaks of drawing her inspiration to fight for gender equality from the Koran. This is not standing up for women. This is exploiting women as merely a tool in a fight against religion.

I’m done. I’m so, so done.

Katha Pollitt thinks that Atheists Show Their Sexist Side, and are currently having a “sexist tantrum”.

Alas, the ability to take such instruction is in good part something Sam Harris thinks women sadly lack. “There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree intrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women,” said the bestselling author of The End of Faith. “The atheist variable just has this—it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.” It seems to me, judging from recent events, that atheist men are the fragile flowers here—they, not women, are the ones wilting under criticism. Perhaps they can’t stand it that women are withholding that “extra estrogen vibe” that used to make conferences so much fun. (Amanda Marcotte, of the steel-trap mind, has a fine time slapping Harris around at Pandagon. Remind me never to get into a fight with her.)

Why would women join a movement led by sexists and populated by trolls? If this is atheism, I’m becoming a Catholic.

Tauriq Moosa says the reason he became an active atheist is now why he’s not one.

I won’t be part of a movement resolutely more focused on shielding rich, white dudes than by being inclusive of marginalised, non-male, non-white people. Count me out. Call me back when we give a shit about women and you can admit those of us writing in a small corner of the internet actually care about moral action, not money, for what we do.

The only people who can survive off atheist clickbait are people who write books called The God Delusion. It’s not fucking bloggers.

I will make a prediction, right here and now. The number of people identifying as “nones” will grow in this country in coming years, because we’re on the right side of history, and because organized religion is happily in the process of destroying itself with regressive social attitudes, scandals, and their bizarre focus on other-worldly issues that don’t help people. The number of people identifying as atheists will stagnate or even shrink, because organized atheism is happily in the process of destroying itself with regressive social attitudes, scandals, and their bizarre focus on irrelevant metaphysical differences that don’t help people.

I can’t say that’s a bad thing. The name of atheism has been burdened with unfair and inaccurate stigma for a great many years, and we’re now drifting into an era in which atheism will be burdened with a totally fair and accurate stigma.

Unless we change.

I don’t know that we can.

I’m pissed.

I took part in a nice little bit of atheist activism today.  There were men, women and children in attendance, working together, because atheism isn’t a men’s issue, or a women’s issue, it is a human issue.

I don’t want to be a political blogger.  I want to be part of an atheism/skepticism movement, a community that I can be proud of.

I’m so sick of watching my heroes prove themselves pigs.

(And yes, I am going to do something besides bitch about it.)

Now go enjoy your weekend.  I’ll be back on Monday.

Cartoonish DA Tells ACLU: “Come Get Some!”

After reading yesterday about the local teenager being charged with “desecration” for taking an idiotic picture then sharing it with his friends on Facebook, I immediately knew what I would be posting here at Foster Disbelief.  Just writing about it and expressing my fears and outrage didn’t seem like enough though.  This was in my backyard and being covered in my local fishwrap.  I’ve seen the statue before, and I’ve spent time in the teen’s hometown.  When I was in high school, I actually had several friends from down his way.  In addition to the close proximity to me of the events, the story also scared the hell out of me.  While I don’t routinely pose for pictures with Jesus statues, taken so it appears the Son of God is about to receive a shot of my holy spirit right in the face, I do post much that many in my area would consider blasphemous.  With this teen being charged for offending the religious feelings of locals, since he did no actual damage to the statue at all, and the evidence against him being pictures he posted on Facebook, I started to wonder how long it would be until one of my posts “offended local sensibilities.”  Yes, there is a First Amendment in this nation that supposedly protects my speech, but then again, this teen is being charged with a misdemeanor, publicly shamed, and exposed to threats of Christian violence.  Some people think that I blog under a nom de guerre due to my past status as a heroin addict, but to be completely honest, with the depth of the heroin problem Altoona has been struggling with since the 1990’s and the law enforcement strategy of gleefully targeting addicts by using fellow addicts*  as a weapon in the war on drugs, having a non-violent drug felony on your record is pretty common around here.  I am rather sloppy in protecting my actual name; to be honest, I really do not care if it gets out.  I am open about both my felony and my atheism to those who know me.  The only reason I don’t use my real name here is that I do not want the less grounded local fundamentalists to be able to tie my name to my posts with no effort at all.  My last name is extremely uncommon, and my home phone and address are listed.  I would rather not have threats delivered to my home because after I offended an unhinged person, all they had to do was grab the phone book to find out where I lived.  And then a story like this comes out, and I start to wonder if I should be more careful in protecting my identity.

Once I decided that just blogging about the story wasn’t enough, I tried to figure out what else I could do.  First off, for what I believe to be only the second time in the history of Foster Disbelief, I asked my readers to share the story.  Then I wrote a message to The Friendly Atheist and sent him the details.  Hermant Mehta wrote a post about the story and exposed a huge audience to the story.  (He also linked to and quoted from my blog post, which I didn’t ask for but greatly appreciated.)  I have a few more messages out to atheist bloggers and podcasters, and after being covered on The Friendly Atheist, I am sure it will draw attention from many in our community.  My final e-mail then went to the ACLU, and while I do not suffer from delusions and have no doubt others contacted them as well, the Altoona Mirror this morning brought a smile to my face and once again proved that we can all make a difference, as long as we make ourselves heard.  (The story is behind a pay wall, so I will be quoting most of it here.)

The American Civil Liberties Union is expressing interest in the case of an Everett 14-year-old charged with “desecrating” a statue of Jesus.

On Thursday, a Pittsburgh-based ACLU attorney said the state law cited in the case – a rarely invoked ban on “defacing, damaging, polluting or … mistreating” venerated symbols – poses constitutional problems. State police charged the teen Tuesday, several weeks after he posted photographs online of a simulated sex act with the Everett statue.

“There are some serious First Amendment issues with this statute” if merely gesturing next to an image is enough to be charged, said Sara Rose, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

The case has been debated nationally, with news websites and bloggers on both sides of the issue discussing the charge. An ACLU media representative said several people have sent her office copies of the article.

“Bloggers on both sides….several people have sent her office copies of the article.”  That’s me!  And a whole bunch of other people, but me as well!  Unfortunately, any good feelings from making a difference and having my voice be heard quickly faded when I read the reaction of the Bedford County District Attorney, a man who clearly has vastly different ideas of religious freedom from those not basing their understanding of the Bill of Rights on their religious beliefs.

Bedford County District Attorney Bill Higgins, who is in Puerto Rico for a Lions Club gathering, did not return a message seeking comment.

“I guess I should take solace in the fact that the liberals are mad at me – again,” Higgins said Thursday on his Facebook page. “As for this case, this troubled young man offended the sensibilities and morals of OUR community. … His actions constitute a violation of the law, and he will be prosecuted accordingly. If that tends to upset the ‘anti-Christian, ban-school-prayer, war-on-Christmas, oppose-display-of-Ten-Commandments’ crowd, I make no apologies.”

Let’s take a break here for a second, and see what Wikipedia has to say about  District Attorneys: (bolding mine, as always)

The district attorney (DA), in many jurisdictions in the United States, represents the government in the prosecution of criminal offenses. The district attorney – an elected or appointed official – is the highest officeholder in the legal department of the jurisdiction – generally the county in the U.S. – and supervises a staff of assistant (ADA) or deputy district attorneys. Depending on the system in place, district attorneys may be appointed by the chief executive of the region or elected by the voters of the jurisdiction.

In a moment, we will talk more about whether or not this “troubled” young man actually broke the law, and if that law is even constitutional.  But right now I want to dwell on an elected official who “represents the government, the highest officeholder in the legal department” of Bedford County, a man who’s job is to, without bias or malice, prosecute criminal offenses, making the following statement: ” If that tends to upset the ‘anti-Christian, ban-school-prayer, war-on-Christmas, oppose-display-of-Ten-Commandments’ crowd, I make no apologies.”

Last election, Blair County filled a vacant spot on the bench with an election for Judge.  When the Republican candidate (eventual winner, Wade Kagarise) came to my door during his campaign, I couldn’t help but notice that the most prominent statement on his handouts, other than his name and the office he was running for, was the statement pledging his firm opposition to abortion.  Out of all types of political pandering, this is perhaps the type that annoys me the most.  There is absolutely no reason anyone in Blair County needed to know the candidates stance on abortion to cast an informed ballot in November.  He was running to be a Judge on the Blair County Court of Common Pleas.  Roe V. Wade is not likely to come in front of his bench to be challenged.  He presides over criminal trials, child support and custody cases, and a myriad of other types of cases, none of which his stance on abortion rights has any bearing on.  He stressed his opposition to abortion rights because he knew it would get him votes from the overwhelmingly conservative local majority, not because that information was relevant on his qualifications to be a judge.  I bring this sort of political pandering up because Bill Higgins is using Facebook and this case to win himself votes the next time he is up for re-election.  He sounds like a host on Fox News, not a representative of our criminal justice system.  Either he actually believes the insanity he is spewing, in which case it terrifies me that he has the power to prosecute, or he is parroting right wing talking points to score points with the rabid local far right.

Either way, how can any non-Christian accused of a crime read that statement and not worry about malicious prosecution, or prosecutorial misconduct?  Let me be clear that I am not accusing DA Bill Higgins of either act, merely pointing out questions that may arise in the minds of non-Christians who find themselves prosecuted by his office because of idiotic, antagonistic, bigoted, prejudicial, unprofessional, inflammatory statements of his that make it clear that as the highest ranking official in the Bedford County legal department, he only represents the Christian majority.  Statements like that word salad of Christian far right delusions should cause him to have to recuse himself from every case where the defendant is not a member of the Christian religion.  I know that if I found myself on the wrong side of court opposing him,  I would wonder how much of his prosecution was due to the law, and how much was due to my beliefs.

Okay, let’s get back to the ACLU and the story, shall we?  Once again, you can find the pay wall here:

Rose said the state law is cited rarely enough that she had never researched it until this week. News accounts indicate a Wilkes-Barre college student was charged under the law in 2010 for urinating on a Nativity scene; in the 1980s, Pittsburgh authorities threatened a charge against an unnamed vandal who daubed pro-Palestinian graffiti on a public Hanukkah decoration.

At the root of the issue, Rose said, is the law’s distinction between “objects of veneration” and other items. While the Wilkes-Barre student could have been charged with urinating in public and the Everett teen could arguably be charged with public lewdness, she said, a special law protecting religious items from that violation is harder to justify.

And while not all symbolic speech is protected, the fact that the boy took photographs, posted them publicly and commented on them with friends is enough to be considered “expressive” and therefore legally protected, she said.

It’s an issue she said ACLU attorneys have faced in the past: The courts have repeatedly ruled that flipping a middle finger, while offensive, is a matter of free speech and not a criminal act, Rose noted.

Prosecutors have faced similar difficulty enforcing flag-protection laws, which also punished “desecration” of revered items until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled them unconstitutional in 1989.

Once again, he did no damage to the statue.  DA Bill Higgins is claiming that taking a picture he finds offensive is criminal.  Until the pictures were seen online, no one even knew a “crime” had been committed.  There was no public nudity, no defacing or vandalism of property, nothing.  Just a picture some people find offensive.

That is not criminal.

As the ACLU seeks to contact the teenager, it could take at least several weeks for a hearing on the misdemeanor charge to be held. Bedford County President Judge Thomas S. Ling said the next set of juvenile court hearings is scheduled for Oct. 3.

I believe that if the ACLU represents this young man, the law will be ruled unconstitutional.  I think it is a rather open and shut case, to be honest.  No matter how much it offends you, I can flip you off and you can not arrest me for it.  We have a right to our own religious beliefs, and a right to freedom of speech, what we do not have is a right to not be offended.  The statements DA Bill Higgins made on Facebook sure the hell offend me, yet I do not think he should be arrested for it.  And as much as I question such statements being said by a representative of the government, and feel it reflects poorly on his ability to prosecute non-Christians without bias, I do not claim that he doesn’t have the right to make nonsensical statements.  What worries me the most is that the parents of the teen deciding that they just want their son to plead guilty to the misdemeanor and put this all behind them.  Perhaps they even feel that he broke the law, but even if they are just as outraged over the charges as I am, I could understand why they would want it all to just quietly go away.  The teen is already facing threats of violence over the issue.  Hopefully, those threats as well as the statements of DA Bill Higgins lets my readers understand that I am not exaggerating how insanely conservative the central part of Pennsylvania is for a state that votes blue in most national elections.  Our electoral votes may go Democratic, but the center of the state is as scary for atheists as any part of Georgia, Mississippi, or Texas.  I think it would be worth the backlash to fight this unconstitutional law because I am an atheist who sees how tightly the Christian religion is wrapped around local government in my state, and because of the gerrymandering of districts, races in areas such as mine are over after the primary with the only question being how conservative will the winner be this time.  I look at the words of DA Bill Higgins and then wonder if I will ever hear a knock at my door, resulting in my arrest for something I wrote, or for a picture that I posted, not of Jesus giving me a scrubby, but something that offended the wrong people with the right powers.  While it would be worth it for me, perhaps this teen and his family will have a different result to the equation.  His name is already out in the public domain (Thank you, Bedford County Free Press).  I have no doubt that if he fights it and his family stays in the area he will be ostracized at school and his family will face the type of Christian love reserved for those who dare have a different religion, no religion, or merely just a different understanding of Jesus and ask that their rights be respected as well. (Ed Brayton over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars specializes in telling the stories of the retaliation faced by those who take part in church/state separation cases.  Unless things changed since I last heard, he is even writing a book on the subject.)

If the teen and his family are not willing to fight this law, maybe it is time for me to get myself arrested again.  *sigh*


*The use of “addicts as weapons” in the war on drugs.  The Drug Task Forces in the Altoona area and surrounding counties claims that they are going after drug dealers.  And during one of the bimonthly drug round ups, one or two (up to five in a especially good month) dealers are included in the thirty or so people arrested and charged with selling drugs.  How does this happen you ask?  By targeting addicts, and using addicts as weapons.  It is standard operating procedure to try to turn arrested addicts into confidential informants (C.I.s).  In exchange for a reduced sentence, or withdrawal of charges, these C.I.s are given task force money to buy drugs, thereby setting up the seller for arrest.  There are many reasons this is a shady practice.  From discussions with C.I.s and situations I witnessed, C.I.’s are allowed to use some of the drugs they bought with no punishment.  Some C.I.s are then rewarded with money for their actions, money law enforcement is very aware is going to be used to purchase drugs.  Otherwise, in exchange for performing observed buys, the task force enables an addict to continue their addiction.  Sooooo ethical.  Perhaps it would be a tolerable (perhaps not, but I’m trying) practice if it took dealers off of the streets.  But as I said,  actual dealers make up a very small percentage of those arrested and charged with these methods.  The vast majority of the time the C.I. calls up one of their fellow addicts, someone who uses with them and therefor trusts them, and tells them that they have 100 dollars or so but can’t find anything.  Of course, if the person they called could somehow find some, they would be more than willing to share with them.  Which results in the target taking the money and buying dope for the two of them and then both of them getting high.  The target will even be thankful that the C.I. thought of them, and helped them out, until the day of the raid comes and the target finds out he is now somehow a drug dealer, even though he never sold a bag of dope in his life.  You may think this is all sour grapes; you may think it is justified to get users off the street; you may think we should all rot in a cell for ever experimenting with drugs in the first place.  You are free to hold your opinions, just do not delude yourself that drug task forces outside the larger cities are sweeping up truckloads of drug dealers.  Actual dealers use drug runners and other techniques to insulate themselves from shady tactics such as these.  Meanwhile your tax dollars are being used to shove your neighbors through the system for being addicts on trumped up charges for crimes that would never be prosecuted in a large city.  But regardless of the human cost, it sounds like they’re making progress in the War on Drugs, so fight on.



Promising News

From Dispatches From The Culture Wars:

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of an atheist man from Missouri who was denied parole on a drug charge because he refused to submit to a religious rehab program and the state refused to send him to a secular one. The denial of his original grievance and his loss at the district court level are rather alarming, but it’s a good thing that the appeals court reversed them.

Randall Jackson was sent to Western Reception, Diagnostic, and Correctional Center (WRDCC), a rehab program that required the saying of the famous serenity prayer and other religious elements. When Jackson complained about that, WRDCC told him to just pretend that it all meant something else. When he filed a grievance with the Missouri Department of Corrections and requested to be sent to a secular rehab program, he was denied. He appealed that denial and was again rejected and forced to stay in the program. He finally left the program and was then denied parole for failing to complete it.

Which is promising, however:

This is not a complete victory. The appeals court remanded it back to the district court to actually hold a trial in the case and issue a ruling. And with the district court being the same one that dismissed the case “with prejudice” in the first place, I’m skeptical that he can get a fair outcome. But then it would likely be appealed again to the much more reasonable appeals court. What needs to happen ultimately is that referrals to religious rehab programs as a condition of anything needs to be outlawed. It’s almost inconceivable how that could not be a violation of the First Amendment. You can read the full ruling here.

This is an issue that I think mainly gets swept under the constitutional rug due to a lack of complainants with standing.  (I could very well be wrong, I admit not having looked into the amount of cases challenging similar laws.  Feel free to correct me.)  Personally, when confronted with the option of traditional 12 step treatment programs, either in place of incarceration or as a condition of parole, I was never willing to risk further incarceration by challenging the religious nature of the programs.  I shut up and dealt with the programs  I am sure a healthy percentage of people facing the same choice make the same decision.  It is a shame, because not only do the 12 step based programs have extremely poor success rates, in my opinion they are completely useless for anyone coming to them with an atheistic mindset. There are other treatment programs.  Not every rehab is based on the religious 12 steps.  If we want to get serious about treating addiction in the United States, we need to see what treatment programs the evidence supports, and start referring people to them, instead of sweeping the whole problem under a 12 step rug.