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Battle Creek Police Department Needs More Than a Makeover

Hall of mirrors, Petrin Hill, Prague. 1998

It’s refreshing to see former-denialists at the Battle Creek Enquirer now admitting the obvious… or at least hinting that they’re aware of the obvious: things seem to be getting better for the Battle Creek Police Department under the leadership of those having replaced he old guard.

Still, I’ve got my reservations. Two, just off-hand. The first concerns the Enquirer, whereas the second concerns BCPD Interim Chief Jim Blocker’s endgame. Think with me for a moment..

First, consider this admission from the Enquirer in a recent editorial:

“We’d be remiss, however, if we failed to acknowledge the renewed sense of purpose and professionalism that has coincided with Blocker’s six weeks in the job.

Given the events of the past two years leading right up to last week’s filing of a lawsuit by two recently suspended officers, Blocker’s positive, forthright approach to the job has been a breath of fresh air.”

That’s true enough, but the Enquirer, for those unaware, has been in the BCPD’s corner from the get-go! The Enquirer was predictable in their denialism. Time after time after time, the Enquirer downplayed the reality of the situtation within the department. But that’s not all the Enquirer did. The paper also took to the business of apolgetics, defending the BCPD and administration, poking fingers and taking shots at those working diligently to shed light on dark corners within the BCPD and city government. Over and over again, the mantra was much the same: things ain’t so bad… were it not for those meddling kids at PaleoRadio and that dastardly city commissioner, Jeff Domenico! Apparently, though, even when things weren’t so bad, the Enquirer was breathing contaminated air.

(It’s one thing to be on the wrong side of history. It’s quite another thing, however, to pretend you were on the right side all along.)

Then there’s BCPD Interim Chief Jim Blocker’s cure for the Cereal City blues:

“stricter guidelines on appearances, for example, and an emphasis on projecting a professional image to the public.”

Image and appearances are a-okay but only so far as they go.

Blocker is not only a veteran detective, he’s a major in the Michigan Army National Guard. Consequently, he’s accustomed to hearing and thinking about the necessity of projecting a professional image to the public. But what is image without substance? Window dressing. And what do we call it when institutions project an image of themselves that doesn’t accurately reflect the substantial reality of the institution or of those associated with it? We have a word for that, after all: propaganda.

But let’s give Blocker the benefit of the doubt, assuming he intends to bring substantial changes to the inner workings of the department as much as he plans to reshape its public image — I think this is only fair. For his cure to work, Blocker, along with the people at the Enquirer and those on the city commission, will have to bite the bullet, admitting with clarity what they’re now only admitting between the lines: the boys and girls in BCPD blue will need more than a change of clothes… they’ll need to be decontaminated.

Tear Down The Walls – A Response to Newtown Tragedy

ReaganBerlinWall

(originally posted on Facebook, December 17th, 2012

Ronald Reagan stands in a cluttered, crowded center in Berlin and proclaims, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” The crowd erupts with joy and an anxious feeling of moving toward the next step. To the next level of freedom.  This was a pivotal moment in world history, in which a symbol of bigotry and hatred was finally dismissed from it’s duties.  A time where universal morality prevailed.

Today, there are still walls to dismantle. There are still objects standing in the path of morality, the path of freedom. I am not speaking of political freedom however. I’m speaking about freedom of the soul.  The walls we face today are not as obvious as the Berlin wall, boldly dictating the dividing lines between lofty words like “good” and “evil.” These walls are our own, derived from our own mental state. Constructed by the individual, and painstakingly kept and maintained.  These walls encompass our ability to reason, our ability to co-exist. Everything.

In the wake of the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, it’s blatantly obvious that our Walls are alive and well. We support our personal walls with arguments back and forth about gun control, God in School, and mental Health Issues. While these are worth while debates, I’m struggling not to think bigger. How did we get to this point? How could our society cultivate this type of monster? In what ways could we have prevented this? Many possibilities arise from these simple inquiries.

We’ve heard it all. “It’s the boy’s sick mind.” “It’s the mother’s fault. It’s the school for not having a plan for this type of thing.” “It’s the mental health organizations that have failed us.” “It’s the gun.”  In essence, all of these can be conjured into one giant finger pointing in every direction, waving wildly through the air. I simply feel like we should offer the more honest thought.  It was us.

I say this not to offer ourselves down to the level of the trigger man, but to say that we, as an entire world, have brought this to our own doorstep. Not as an individual, but as one giant adapting and evolving organism called Human existence. We categorize, finalize, prejudge, hold a grudge, hate, demonize, threaten, and profile people out of our realm, outside our Walls. “They are not among us. They are less.”  The wall goes higher. “Why try to connect with them? What can they do for me?” Wall going higher. “I don’t care about anyone but friends and family. The rest be damned.” Higher.  Should we blame one organization or individual entirely, or look inward to find that maybe we all could hold a very tiny portion of responsibility?

The message is not Utopian, not suggesting that we shouldn’t protect ourselves. The message is more of a basic question. If everybody, EVERYBODY, decided to look at this nasty, mixed up world and thought “I can leave this better than I found it”, what kind of world would that cultivate? Would it be perfect? Absolutely not. Would there still be famine, murder, and hate? Yes. But maybe, just maybe, we would find that our own actions, though small in our lives, would accumulate to a better world, a place better than what was there before.

Ghandi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  I believe it’s time to critically consider this, instead of just posting it as a status and counting the likes. I’m not calling for a Revolution, I’m calling for a reLOVEution.  A change in the way we act to strangers. An attempt to be a bright spot in a random person’s day, rather than another cold grey face that barely acknowledged them. To tear my own personal walls down a bit in this instance, instead of building it higher. The world needs compassion more than anything right now. It doesn’t need more stone and mortar.

And again, we are faced with another pivotal moment in our time. Another decision ultimately must be made. In the crudest of terms, either build up or tear down the walls in which our ideals hide behind. Universal morality waits quietly as we as a nation, or better yet a world, continue to struggle with the reality we have chosen.  I have my chisel, and I have my sledge hammer. I’m ready to take the first swing.  All I can hope is that you are too.

TEAR DOWN THE WALLS!

Joe Elder is both the co-host of PaleoRadio and one of the co-hosts on Southpaws. You may reach him at hojotees@gmail.com. Find him on Facebook, Twitter and Instragram.

Grand Rapids Press Opens Pandora’s Box in Miracle Article

PaleocratPunch

The Grand Rapids Press recently printed a story by religion columnist Charley Honey, entitled, “In defense of miracles and other unlikely events.” Here’s an extended quote from the piece, followed by my remarks:

“As one who has written about faith for 20 years – and who has witnessed some of its more extraordinary manifestations – allow me to say a few words on behalf of miracles and other unlikely events. I will start with an experience I had on a bike a few years back.

I was riding the Old Kent Trail and stopped for a rest on the trestle bridge spanning the Grand River. Feelings of anxiety and insecurity dogged me. I felt the need for some reassurance that someone bigger than I was keeping track of things. I looked out at the river and said to myself, “So, what’s it all about, God?”

At that instant a huge gust of wind roared up, violently whooshing the trees on the far riverbank. I laughed. It was like, “OK, message received!”
The most rational explanation here is a random swell of wind that coincided with my thoughts, easily interpreted as divine revelation. That could be the case. It could also be the case that something extra-ordinary happened there, with messages received on both ends. But of course there is no way to prove that – or disprove it.”

So let me get this straight…

After 20 years writing about faith, after having supposedly witnessed some of faith’s more extraordinary manifestations, and after naming the piece, “In Defense of Miracles and Other Unlikely Events,” this is what Honey decides to run with? He could’ve titled the piece, “Na-na-na-na-boo-boo, stick your head in my non-verifiable religious woo-doo!” And to end it with, “But of course there is no way to prove that — or disprove it.” That’s it? Really? (A subtle summoning of the fallacy recently repopularized by Josh Wheaton, the central character in the not-so philosophical film, God’s Not Dead?)

Honey’s piece in a word: Pandora’s Box!

Contrary to Honey’s better wishes, the reality of the situation is this: it’s hard even to imagine the kind of world Honey describes, a world wherein diverse groups with differing worldviews take seriously the anecdotal claims of those outside their group. In a word: it’s unrealistic, period.

Think, even for a moment, how this really works–you know, in reality.

Religious individuals and groups have not only experiences they claim to be divine, they come equipped with pre-existing worldviews wherein any and all anecdotal claims make sense. Sometimes, these worldviews collide–especially on anecdotal matters! More often than not, personal experiences give way to groupish convictions regarding not only what may or may not happen in the hypothetical, but also what can or cannot happen in actuality.

Let’s keep this simple, sticking with Grand Rapids. And let’s limit this to Christianity. Aside from being Grand Rapid’s largest religion, most Christian denominations in the area believe themselves to share “One Lord, one faith, one baptism” with other self-identifying Christian denominations. (Read: “We agree on essentials, disagree on non-essentials.”) Plus, practically every brand of Christianity is present in Grand Rapids; we have Christian Reformed churches, Baptist churches, Roman Catholic churches, Eastern Orthodox churches, Mormon churches, Oneness Pentecostal churches, Unitarian-Universalist churches, Charismatic Word Faith churches, Lutheran churches, Presbyterian churches, Methodist churches, Episcopalian churches, home churches, etc. etc. etc. Each of these local churches have their own views of reality, often differing sharply on beliefs that, within their worldview, both underlie and precede how adherents of that worldview interpret the world, including how they valuate diverse personal experiences occurring within what they otherwise deem to be a shared reality with members outside of themselves and/or the group.

So what happens when anecdotes collide with pre-existing worldviews held by diverse individuals and/or groups? Well, you probably already have a pretty good idea as to how this plays out.

Consider…

What happens when a Baptist hears about eucharistic miracles, Marian apparitions, or anecdotes about purgatory from Roman Catholics? What happens when Pentecostals tell the Eastern Orthodox about the wild manifestations occuring at revivals, such as people speaking in tongues and being drunk in the spirit? Are Presbyterians impressed with Mormon tales of burning bosoms confirming Mormon beliefs to be true, or of the wondrous visions and tales of Mormon prophets? Are Oneness Pentecostals bedazzled by anecdotes coming from gays and lesbians attending Universalist-Unitarian churches contending that, “God makes people gay and loves us just the way we are”? How do Jehovah’s Witnesses take claims of prosperity or deliverance offered by adherents of Word Faith?

These questions could go on and on and on! More to the point, this exercise didn’t even require us to consider questions as to what the opening of Pandora’s Little Box of Antecdotes would mean for the unquestioned and uncritical reception of anecdotes from Muslims, Jews, Hindus, New Agers, pagans, Scientologists, believers in aliens, and the rest. (Imagine that universe!) But enough is enough, as I’m sure you’ve already caught my drift ten-thousand times over, and then again.

In final analysis, Honey may be a daydream believer, but he’s no apologist; and whether it was intentional–I highly doubt that it was–Honey is really suggesting a new religion of sorts, a kind of Utopia where in-group and out-group anecdotes are considered equally beyond question and criticism. Either way, intentional or otherwise, the terms of his defense land both him and his readers face-to-face with the very real wall of resistance–not in the least by already-existing worldviews antagonistic to Honey’s already-existing spiritualistic relativism.

Allow me, then, to conclude with a twist on Honey’s use of Hamlet:

“There are more things in reality, Charles Honey, than are admitted of in your philosophy.”

Jeremiah Bannister is the creator of PaleoRadio and the editor of PaleoRadio.us. He can be reached at jeremiah.bannister@gmail.com or at 269.317.1263. You may also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instragram.

Hello, Mainstream Media, We’re PaleoRadio!

Press Conference

Remember that feeling you got when the Washington Post followed up on a story first made known to the world by the folks here at PaleoRadio? No?

Hows’bout now?

The story isn’t new, and neither is mainstream media coverage of stories first reported by PaleRadio. Here’s a recap:

1. WXMI Fox 17 followed the trail blazed by PaleoRadio on this story, this story, this story and this story… you’re welcome, and thank you! We do, however, hope that WXMI Content Manager Will Frederick will relay the message that the Paleo in PaleoRadio is pronounced like the paleo in paleolithic and paleo diet… and that PaleoRadio is one word.

2. WWMT Newschannel 3 walked atop footprints in the sand left by PaleoRadio on this story*, this story, and this story… you’re welcome; and for all the disagreement between WWMT News Director Steve Koles and PaleoRadio Editor Jeremiah Bannister over Newschannel 3′s reluctance to give proper attribution to PaleoRadio on-air, we here at PaleoRadio were blown away to see our URL on the video in your recent story covering the Hug/Moye incident, so here’s a big THANK YOU!

3. Washington Times – Is covering the aftermath of Hurricane PaleoRadio… and to thee, the folks at PaleoRadio would like to say, “Thank you, and hello!”

*We were unable to locate WWMT’s coverage of PaleoRadio’s investigation in to then-BCPD Chief Jackie Hampton’s brother, Michael Hampton.

A complimentary reflection from the editor’s desk:

It’s my hope that the many compartmentalized audiences following PaleoRadio (est. 2006) over the years will recognize their connection to the same institution, as well as to one another.

Think back with me for a moment. In fact, let’s start from the beginning, summing it up in one paragraph. Here goes…

The very first people to learn of PaleoRadio were watching Bannister & Sutherby on Battle Creek’s AccessVision in 2006. Others became aware of PaleoRadio later while it was on WOCR, the campus station at Olivet College in Olivet, Michigan. For thousands, it was the program’s presence on YouTube. Others outnumbering even those would be the people first hearing PaleoRadio over the airwaves on WPRR in Grand Rapids, Michigan–and don’t forget the podcast audience! And what of those who’ve learned of us only recently, seeing mainstream media outlets cover stories first made known to the world by PaleoRadio–we have a research genius in Contributing Editor Autumn Smith! Many people discovered PaleoRadio via the Center for Inquiry of Grand Rapids, the Distributist Review, Ed Brayton of Freethought Blogs, and from the guys over at Reasonable Doubts. Heck, shortly after hitting the airwaves in Grand Rapids, Linda Gellasch had Jim Sullivan, then-producer of PaleoRadio, and I on WYCE to discuss the program and our philosophy. Of course, many people learned of the show because of our coverage of the Occupy Movement. And we’ll never know how many first heard us by simple word of mouth! I say all of that to say this: PaleoRadio’s following is really, really diverse, and this has to do, in-part, with the fact that so many different people have learned of PaleoRadio in so many remarkably different ways!

(This is both a bust and a boon, but that’s for another time.)

I’m a proud man–and I’m admittedly braggadocios–but I don’t think I’m being macho or grandiose to insist I’m within my right to say: PaleoRadio has been and currently is a force to be reckoned with… a force both loved and hated by people all over the world since its spontaneously having come into existence on the set of Bannister & Sutherby in 2006!

So, to all of you, allow me to say, “Thank you, and you’re the greatest friends, fans, followers and foes a media man like myself could’ve ever hoped for!”

Sincerely,
The Original Paleocrat, Jeremiah Bannister

Superfriends (and Superfoes) in Battle Creek’s Press Release Responding to Media’s Coverage of Hug/Moye Incident

superfriends

Written by Jeremiah Bannister
Research by Autumn Smith

After last night’s news coverage by both Dave Spencer of Fox 17 and Julia Fellows of Newschannel 3 regarding the controversial video obtained and published by PaleoRadio capturing Battle Creek Police Officer Christopher Hug’s arrest and treatment of Kenneth Moye, the City of Battle Creek has issued a press release, entitled, “City leaders discuss 2012 use of force incident timeline.” (You may read the press release by clicking on the image below.)

Press Release 1

(VIDEO & BLOG – “BCPD Cover-Up: Officer Body-Slams Local Resident)

Editor’s Note – The debate over whether Hug used excessive force seems to be all but settled here–though there’s always the possibility that the Michigan State Police officials scrutinizing the incident may conclude otherwise. The reason is simple: sides were settled in the city’s story. It’s all about narratives.

Allow me to explain, using a comparison to one of my all-time favorite vintage cartoons: Superfriends.

First, consider those exonerating Hug. Let’s refer to them as the Legion of Doom. The Legion would be comprised of:

1. Then-Police Chief Jackie Hampton, who resigned his post amidst all the controversy–much of it having landed at his doorstep!

2. Then-City Manager Ken Tsuchiyama, who, like Hampton, resigned his post after having quite enough of the nagging media rain clouds associated with Hurricane PaleoRadio.

3. Lastly, there’s the not-so-dynamic duo of Deputy Chief Jim Saylor and Inspector Maria Alonso. These folks have had a rought time of things lately, finding themselves in the fires of simultaneous lawsuits. One suit is on their own behalf, arguing that the city denied them due process–and that the city has ruined there careers. The other suit, however, names them as defendents, arguing that they are, to one degree or another, culpable for unauthorized secret cameras being placed in the BCPD women’s locker room.

On the other side–those who are skeptical of Hug’s exoneration–we’ve got the Hall of Justice. Members of this group within the story are:

1. Interim Police Chief Jim Blocker, “who has worked to address the incident since his appointment on Feb. 25.”

2. Two unnamed officers who’d witnessed the event. These officers had made additional claims, stressing that they had prohibited by Sgt. Jim Walters from filling out an accurate report on the incident. They were also refused the right to review the video so as to determine one way or another whether they say the incident rightly.

3. City Attorney Jill Steele, who, upon seeing the video, disagreed with those exonerating Hug. She went further than mere disagreement, requesting a “meeting with police use of force officials to review the legal use of force.”

4. Lastly*, there’s Dr. Darrell Ross, of Valdosta State University in Georgia. Ross is an expect brought in per the request of Blocker and Steele. After reviewing the video, he “determined that excessive force was used in the incident between Hug and Moye.”

* I know I said Ross was the last one, but I really ought to put Calhoun County Prosecutor Dave Gilbert on the side of the Hall of Justice within the city’s narrative. After all, the narrative aligns him with parties unconvinced by the Legion of Doom’s exoneration of Hug. At bare minimum, an asterisked ally.

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out, to see how city officials and members of the media choose to frame the incident, how they choose to portray the characters and the institutions involved. Who will be a superfriend? Who will be a superfoe? Who knows? Nevertheless, and nuance notwithstanding, I don’t think it takes Superman’s exceptional vision to read the writing on these walls of Jericho…

BCPD Cover-Up: Officer Body-Slams Local Resident!

Written by Jeremiah Bannister
Research by Autumn Smith

In October of 2012, Kenneth Moye, a resident of Battle Creek, was violently beaten by Battle Creek Police Officer Chris Hug. Moye was beaten unconscious. Worse yet, he was body-slammed to the pavement! (Seriously, the maneuver Hug pulled off is the kind of thing you’d typically expect to see on WWE’s Monday Night Raw! WATCH THE VIDEO on PaleoRadio’s Facebook page!) Adding insult to injury, Moye was arrested for resisting arrest. After recovery, and after a little legal back-and-forth with the city, the decision was made to settle with Moye for over tens of thousands of dollars… and to allow Hug to keep his position… without penalty.

But, as expected, there’s more to the story.

Battle Creek Police Officer Tom Rivera witnessed Hug maliciously attack Moye. He was straightforward about it in his report, stating that he believed Hug’s use of force was both extreme and excessive–a critical criticism, as Hug has worked within the department as a trainer in defensive tactics. (Read: proper use and escalation of force) But Rivera was stopped short by Sgt. Jim Walters, who insisted that those details be excluded. Rivera claims that he was told he wasn’t even permitted to review the video. (In fact, Rivera saw the video for the first time only after it was published on PaleoRadio’s Facebook page!) For the BCPD, Hug’s macho man stunt was a tale best denied.

Enter: Calhoun County Prosecutor Dave Gilbert.

Officers from the BCPD approached Gilbert with news of this cover-up in April, 2013. During the discussion, the officers were told that, if true, this would be criminal activity–falsification of government documents is a felony. Within only a few hours, however, Gilbert pivoted positions when speaking to the media, insisting that he had not been made aware of any criminal activity within the department.

With the wave of their magically malicious wand, the BCPD and the County Prosecutor’s Office made sure the treacherous deeds of the day had been kept off the books and in the shadows.

Alas! PaleoRadio, loathers of secrets, lovers of light!

As the story unfolds, and it will–we’ve received word that Dave Spencer of Fox 17 may be covering our story later this evening!–we here at PaleoRadio encourage you to reflect seriously on the details. These details will be a few years old, and a litany of persons relevant to the investigation have bid farewell to city work.

For instance, some details will be familiar. Per usual, the Battle Creek Enquirer completely dropped the ball, as did every other television and radio news affiliate in the region. And as has come to be expected, the BCPD didn’t punish Hug–an internal “investigation” found him innocent of wrongdoing–and the prosecutor’s office decided against charging Hug with any crime at all.

But many details have changed! In fact, many of the people who may have been key players have since left public service. Former City Manager Ken Tsuchiyama is gone, as is former Police Chief Jackie Hampton. Then there’s Deputy Police Chief James Saylor and Inspector Maria Alonso, who right now are pressing federal charges against the city, claiming that they were denied due process… and that their careers were ruined. (And remember, this suit is happening while both Saylor and Alonso are named as defendants in an entirely different case brought by three female officers–two active, one formerly active–claiming that superiors had, among other things, secretly placed cameras throughout the BCPD women’s locker room for three months!) These people are gone or on their way out, which makes connecting dots for determining culpability a rather cumbersome task.

Ah, no worries, we here at PaleoRadio eat cumbersome tasks for breakfast…


Jeremiah Bannister is the creator, host and editor of PaleoRadio. Contact him at 269.317.1263 or at jeremiah.bannister@gmail.com.

Autumn Smith is an independent citizen journalist serving as a contributing editor to PaleoRadio. Contact her at 269.223.7812 or email her at autumns@reachoutjobsearch.com

Jehovah Loves the Insanely Faithful

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Here’s another gem from the The Watchtower magazine the Jehovah’s Witnesses recently gave me. This one comes from pg. 25 and is entitled, “Making Jehovah Your God.” The piece is aimed at encouraging Witnesses to commit their lives more fully to Jehovah and focuses on the lives of three men: Father Abraham, King David and the prophet Elijah.

With each of these men there is a story in focusFor Abraham, the focus was on his willingness in Genesis 22 to act upon a thought or feeling that in order to prove his love and obedience to his new-found deity, he was to sacrifice his only son, he and Sarah’s miracle baby Isaac. There’s no indication that he sought any counsel. In fact, there’s no indication that Jehovah conversing with him was anything different from what modern believers describe when insisting that God has told them to go on a mission trip or to give up chocolate for Lent. More than this, however, Abraham lied repeatedly about his intentions–he lied to pretty much everyone of importance in his life–failing even to mention the meddlesome fact that he intended to murder his own son! Abraham harbored these intentions for three days while walking alongside (and likely conversing with) his son and servants.

Once reaching the mountain, he continues deceiving everyone involved, assuring them that he and Isaac will be right back. Abraham couples this with a weird barrage of last minute attempts to name-and-claim his alternative sacrifice into existence, assuring Isaac, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Upon reaching the mountaintop, Abraham binds his son, raises his blade to the sky, and at the last minute hears yet another voice tell him that the point has been made and that it’s now okay to kill a ram instead of his son.

The story abruptly ends, never talking about the aftermath of the insanity. No mention of how Sarah felt once realizing what the hell Abraham was up to. There’s no reference to the psychological ramifications this may have had on any and all of those involved. Nothing of Isaac, nothing about the servants, nothing at all.

For Kind David, all the attention was on his rendezvous with Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 12. King David sees Bathsheba, lusting after her from a distance, only to close that gap with a little skin on skin. Bathsheba gets pregnant. But there’s one irksome fact he just can’t dodge: Bathsheba is married to a man named Uriah. Uriah is a patriot, a soldier fighting for the king and the kingdom; but Uriah had to go. So David plotted against him, placing him on the front line of a battle. It was a death sentence.

After Uriah was dead, David took Bathsheba for his own. But Jehovah let the prophet in on this nasty little bit of treachery, so he confronted David. Once David realized he was busted, he repented. But that wasn’t enough. Jehovah looked the fool  in the eyes of his enemies, and Jehovah cares deeply about that kinda thing. Apparently, the best (or only) option was for Jehovah to kill the baby Bathsheba was delivering via a divinely-induced abortion.

As for Elijah, the Watchtower honed in on the epic face-off between Jehovah’s prophet and the prophet of Baal in I Kings 18. Long story short, Elijah was fed up with the claims of the prophets of Baal, so he challenged them to a duel of sorts: a prayer-off!

This prayer-off was different, though. Each side was to build an altar, pray to their god, and wait to see which god cared enough show himself. In one corner, 450 prophets of Baal slashing their flesh, babbling prophecies and dancing about. In the other corner, one prophet of Jehovah, Elijah. He wasn’t cutting his flesh but he was talking some serious godsmack, asking whether Baal had gone to the side–read: Is Baal hiding around the corner, taking a whiz? The prayer-off ends with Jehovah responding to Elijah’s prayer with a rather superb display of fire pouring out of heaven devouring the altar drenched multiple times with water so as to clear up any doubt that fire from heaven was magical.

But that wasn’t all! Oh, no, Elijah then went on to slay the 450 prophets of Baal with his sword. Predictably, this murderous stunt landed him in the hot seat with kingdom royalty–the priests functioned as state officials. So Elijah, fearing for his life, fled to an isolated place where he felt so sorely alone. (Go figure!)

These stories are wildly popular narratives. Most Americans know something or other about Father Abraham and King David, though the tale of Elijah is a little more obscure–I was surprised that The Watchtower chose Elijah over Job, but whatever.

It makes me wonder, though. Why are these stories so popular? They’re recklessly barbaric tales involving insanely faithful ancients doing treacherous things that most Americans–even most modern American believers–deem morally offensive and/or outright illegal! Do most people not cringe upon hearing someone insist that Jehovah, Jesus or Allah instructed them to prove their faith with a divinely-inspired willingness to lie, cheat and steal? What drives believers to view such sickening stories as legendary tales of faith and good works to be understood and appreciated by modern people? And what may we really learn from the popular reception of these stories, particularly among those who otherwise harbor a healthy distaste for the kind of immoral and illegal behavior enshrined in these stories?

I’m sure people have their answers–I once had my own–and I’m as sure that they’re answers are as curiously complex. So I’ll keep my answer to The Watchtower’s invitation to make Jehovah my god to the point: All things in your pitch considered, I think I’ll leave Jehovah to those better able to stomach his insidious inspirations and diabolical demands.

PS – May something be said of The Watchtower artist’s decision to place a Jesus lookalike on Abraham’s altar? Penny for your thoughts.

Can I Get a (Scientific) Witness?

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A few weeks ago, Jehovah’s Witnesses stopped by the house to leave me with what was intended to be their thought-out response to a number of questions that arose during our last discussion a few months back. The bone of contention at that time: how their Young Earth Creationism and bible-literalism smack in the face of what we know both of ourselves and of the cosmos via science. The common refrain during the discussion was, “I’m not sure how to answer that, Jeremiah. We’ll have to speak with other Witnesses and get back with you.” So I was a little peeved once I realize that the long-awaited reply took the form of the April 1, 2005 edition of The Watchtower entitled, “Science and the Bible: Do They Contradict Each Other?”

It was bad… oh, so bad.

Allow me to summarize with the intended takeaway from the feature:

“One religion writer observed: ‘The lesson to be learned from Galileo, it appears, is not that the Church held too tightly to biblical truths; but rather that it did not hold tightly enough.’”

(Intrusio – The quote above is taken from, uuuuuummmm, Eden Communications’ Mark Van Bebber… sure, you know him, that one religion writer from Films for Christ? Anyway, The Watchtower doesn’t mention him or his organization by name; in fact, like a myriad of quotes in their publication, there is no reference whatsoever. Apparently, the folks over at The Watchtower propaganda mill aren’t sticklers for proper citation… or for recognizable sources.)

So how exactly did The Watchtower arrive at this conclusion? Brashly, predictably. Here’s the rundown:

A few jabs at Greek philosophers here… a couple shots at Roman Catholics there… an assurance that the bible is generally accurate when talking about natural phenomenon… here’s a reference to ancient speculation regarding what moderns now refer to as the water cycle… oh, and lookie here, there’s even a reference to something a few prophets vaguely referred to as “statutes of the moon and stars” … wrapping up with a reminder of how amazing it is that the ancients in Israel knew what the rest of the world took thousands of years to discover.

Voila! Convinced now, Jeremiah?

Um, give me a second… (wait for it)… no.

Even so, I’m not exactly sure how to take all this. I mean, there’s a part of me that can’t help but to feel offended. This was supposed to be the Witnesses respectfully though-out response to what they all admitted to be respectfully thought-out questions and criticisms. I felt like one of those poor guys who have family members come back from vacation with nothing more than a stupid hat reminding everyone that all they got was a stupid hat. Seriously, lame.

Then I got to thinking, this likely is just that: the best they could come up with! This consideration wasn’t so much offensive as it was saddening–so saddening, in fact, that I felt a sense of guilt for even being offended in the first place! If this was the best they had to offer–as their actions seem to indicate–then what ought I to think, and how ought I to feel? And what should I say upon their return? Surely they’ll ask…

Un-com-fortable!

And as much as I hate judging books by their covers, I think the cover of the April 1, 2005 edition of The Watchtower may prove a reasonable exception. After all, it seems awfully symbolic of the entire “science and Young Earth Creationism” debate to have the planets, stars and telescope photo edited into a picture of a man looking all sorts of perturbed while reading his bible! All being read and done, this picture alone would’ve sufficed…

RELEVANT INVITATION – Not satisfied with religious mumbo-jumbo parading itself as science? Consider watching Cosmos: A Space Odyssey, featuring Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Better yet, if you live in or around Grand Rapids, consider joining others like-minded souls at Mayan Buzz Cafe on Sunday nights for an evening of coffee and Cosmos! The show airs at 9 p.m. EST on the Fox network but people start rolling in around 8-8:30. Hope to see you there!

The Media’s Madness Over Mental Illness Lacks Perspective

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Manning an M60 machine gun atop a Humvee while standing guard near the piers at Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Connecticut.

“Because we only talk about mental illness in relation to violence, it seems natural to connect them. But these connections lead us to bad judgments.” From “Guns, Media and Mental Illness After Newtown,” by B.D. McClay.


In light of tragic events in Fort Hood, I’ve decided to speak openly about something rather personal. I don’t speak of this often but I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder since 2002. It didn’t come as a shock–it came as a mental breakdown during my first year in the United States Navy. I was stationed at Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Connecticut. At the time, I was part of the base’s Auxiliary Security Force (ASF). As someone qualified to use an M60, most of my time was spent manning the guns atop a Humvee at various gates as well as standing watch at the end of the piers where the submarines were in port. In short, an undiagnosed bipolar sailor whose job it was to guard the base with M60s, handguns, and military rifles had a mental breakdown.

So far, so bad. But how did things play out?

Simply put, I realized I was having a mental breakdown and called the base hospital. My fiance–the woman I’m now married to–accompanied me to the base, where we explained the nature of our visit to my shipmates standing guard. I was a wreck, crying, then laughing, then getting angry, then crying, then laughing because I was crying, on and on and on. Within a few hours, I was off (of my own accord) to a civilian mental clinic where they would analyze me, diagnose me, medicate me, and involve me in group therapy. After two weeks, I was sent back to the base where the Navy began discharge procedures.

Why do I tell you this? After all, it’s grossly embarrassing. I loved what I was doing, and I loved my shipmates. Plus, I was soon to start A School for sonar technicians. The last thing I wanted was, I dunno, a nervous breakdown resulting in my being diagnosed bipolar and discharged from the Navy. But I wasn’t violent, and I definitely didn’t go racing around town for guns to kill my shipmates. More importantly, since being discharged, I’ve met and spoken with so many veterans also diagnosed with having mental health issues. Of all those men and women, none were raging murderers. In fact, and unsurprisingly given the data, most of these people were strongly opposed to violence–myself included.

Admittedly, I haven’t spoken to every veteran in the United States. Additionally, their stories, along with my own, are anecdotal–and riddled with a host of personal biases, I’m sure. But so are the instances of people with (or without) mental health issues going on a killing spree, and that’s really my point. Not every person with mental health problems is a raging lunatic–to conjure up the spirit of the National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre–much less a raging murderer lying in wait.

And while reflecting on these things, bookmark this entry concerning a study regarding the cost of unmet mental health treatment for veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. According to a study by the National Council for Behavioral Health, “The report calculates that of the 2.4 million active duty and reserves who were deployed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, almost 30 percent (730,000 men and women) will have a mental health condition. More than 18 percent will suffer from PTSD, major depression or a combination of both disorders.” 

Sadomasochistic Christianity on Display at Liberty University

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“Religious liberty has never been more under attack.” Sen. Ted Cruz (R, TX)

Case-in-point, Senator Cruz? Wow, really, you’re talking about the Affordable Care Act? And to think, for a second, I was almost taking you seriously…

I hear this kind of religiopolitical sensationalism all the time. (Correction: I’ve heard that kind of religiopolitical sensationalism all my life!) Having attended dozens of churches pastored by dozens of End Times enthusiasts and newspaper exegetes, I can admit to hearing that nonsense, I dunno, a few gazllion times, give or take. Eventually, it reminded me of the ancient Jewish proverb regarding visitors & fish: after a while, shit just gets old.

“Ah, man, I accidentally pulled my speech about how Obama disagrees with Jesus on the Second Amendment! Where is my speech about Obamacare’s assault on that old tyme religious opposition to birth control? No, that’s not it, either. That’s my speech about how Obama plans to put Christians in jail for decorating Christmas trees. Screw it, these things always read the same anyway. I’ll just fill in the blanks, no one will know the difference. *scribble, scribble, scribble* Voila! Thank the trinitarian Jesus for boilerplate, baby!”

And who is Cruz trying to kid, anyway? He’s speaking at Liberty University! The school has over 12,000 residential students and 90,000 online students, making LU the largest Evangelical Christian university on the planet… and it’s right here in the gool ol’ U.S. of A. The campus includes a theological seminary, a cinematic arts school, a college of osteopathic medicine, a law school, and a school of music. The students are at least nominally Christian as they must adhere to The Liberty Way, an obligatory university standard regarding faith and practice. With the exception of scientific work–LU embraces the long-discredited religious belief in Young Earth Creationism–graduates from the school go on to do work in most every relevant field within the American political economy! Lo, the hardships of being a Christian in the U.S.

So what could make an arena of relatively educated Christians gobble up Cruz’s recycled nonsense?

Truth: Among other things, the reception of Cruz’s apocalyptic message has less to do with the reality of America’s political, cultural or legal situation so much as it is to do with the cognitive dissonance experienced by conservative Christians in attendance as a result of the school being a culture that embraces a pessimistic dispensational eschatology (read: Rapture Madness!) while simultaneously advocating a kind of sado-masochistic social dominionism that wishes to subject “all things American” to Jesus via the partisan vehicle of the Republican party. It’s the same sort of mental gymnastics required of Christians who, on the one hand, loathe themselves as radically depraved worms totally undeserving of Jesus’s mercy while, on the other hand, going on to insist that they’re a chosen race, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation that shouldn’t hide their light under a bushel so much as they should shove it in the faces of any and all neighbors who happen to disagree with them. It’s tantamount to insisting that Jesus wants everyone to shine brass on a sinking ship… or else there’s hell to pay!

In fairness, Cruz probably kinda sorta believes what he’s peddling. The same holds true for those listening to his speech at Liberty University. But in so far as everyday life is concerned, these folks know better. All of them! They’re members of the biggest religious club in town: Christianity. They live, move and have their being in relative peace, enjoying what they otherwise boast of as a religious liberty unrivaled by any nation in human history. They attend church, talk about religion publicly, witness to friends, attend Christian concerts, watch Christian television, read Christian magazines, listen to Christian radio, participate in worship groups, start Christian businesses, attend Christian schools, like Christian Facebook pages, listen to Christian podcasts, run as Christian politicians, etc. etc. etc. The list could go on and on and on, ad nauseam!

BOTTOM LINE: I think that, if nothing else, an openly religious senator talking openly about religion to an openly-religious audience in an openly religious school in the overwhelmingly religious state of Virginia within the predominantly religious United States ought to be sufficient to prove the obvious: religious liberty in modern American is doing juuuuust fine.

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