New Video from NonStampCollector: Biblical Slavery (It’s TOTALLY Different)

NonStampCollector (@nonstampNSC; YouTube; blog) has just released his latest provocative video. This time, he addresses the issue of biblical slavery.

Definitely watch this video! It is a GREAT encapsulation of the very weak arguments many people make in defense of slavery in the Bible. The “it’s totally different” refrain is particularly priceless (and quite accurate).

It’s also another excellent contribution to his larger argument that the ethics and morality dictated in the Bible cannot and should not be used to regulate a modern society simply because they are “biblical”. Rather, we should recognize that we have evolved and matured as a society over the past 2000-3000 years, and that many of the so-called “ethical” commands in the Bible are reprehensible and worthy of disregard.

Slavery was God-ordained and God-regulated in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, and the practice was retained and re-endorsed in the New Testament (e.g., Col. 3:22; 1 Pet. 2:18; Eph. 6:5). Claiming that it was “totally different” from slavery in the US South is a weak, easily debunked, and rather disturbing argument made in the defense of God’s ethical character.

Watch the video. I invite your comments.

(Also, for those of you wanting to read the script (or use it in a class), you can find the script and references here.)

NY Court of Appeals Upholds Raphael Golb’s Conviction on 29 of 30 Counts

Still Guilty - Raphael Golb

Dr. Raphael Golb, son of University of Chicago Oriental Institute historian Dr. Norman Golb, was found guilty on 30 felony and misdemeanor counts of identity theft, forgery, criminal impersonation, aggravated harassment, and the unauthorized use of a computer in the Criminal Division of the New York Supreme Court, September 30, 2010. On January 29, 2013, the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department upheld the convictions on 29 of 30 counts for which Golb was convicted.

Word from the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department this evening is that a three-judge panel ruled unanimously to uphold the convictions on 29 of 30 felony and misdemeanor counts for which Raphael Golb was convicted in 2010.

In November of 2010, the Criminal Division of the New York Supreme Court found Dr. Raphael Golb, son of University of Chicago Oriental Institute historian Dr. Norman Golb, guilty of 30 felony and misdemeanor counts of identity theft, criminal impersonation, forgery, aggravated harassment, and the unauthorized use of a computer.

Prior to the trial, Golb turned down a plea bargain agreement in which he would have pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors, paid a fine, served 80 hours of community service, and been placed on three years probation.

Instead, Golb was convicted of 2 felony counts and 28 misdemeanors, and was sentenced to six months in prison and five years of probation, in addition to incurring the cost of a jury trial defense and an appeal.

The Court of Appeals issued this decision:

People v Golb
2013 NY Slip Op 00436
Decided on January 29, 2013
Appellate Division, First Department
Published by New York State Law Reporting Bureau pursuant to Judiciary Law § 431.
This opinion is uncorrected and subject to revision before publication in the Official Reports.

Decided on January 29, 2013
Mazzarelli, J.P., Renwick, Richter, Gische, Clark, JJ.
9101 2721/09

[*1]The People of the State of New York, Respondent,
v
Raphael Golb, Defendant-Appellant.

Ronald L. Kuby, New York, for appellant.
Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., District Attorney, New York (Vincent
Rivellese of counsel), for respondent.

Judgment, Supreme Court, New York County (Carol Berkman, J.), rendered November 18, 2010, convicting defendant, after a jury trial, of identity theft in the second degree (2 counts), criminal impersonation in the second degree (14 counts), forgery in the third degree (10 counts), aggravated harassment in the second degree (3 counts), and unauthorized use of a computer, and sentencing him to an aggregate term of six months, unanimously modified, on the law and facts, to the extent of vacating the identity theft conviction under the first count of the indictment and dismissing that count, and otherwise affirmed. The matter is remitted to Supreme Court, New York County, for further proceedings pursuant to CPL 460.50(5).

One of the two felony counts was vacated and dismissed, but the Appellate Division unanimously denied Golb’s appeal and reaffirmed the guilty verdict on the other 29 counts, including one felony.

The chart below (updated from the who-is-charles-gadda.com website) lists each charge, conviction, and appellate decision of the convicted felon Raphael Golb.

CHARGE
DATE
CHARGE
SUMMARY
VERDICT (Sept. 30, 2010)
APPEAL DECISION (Jan. 29, 2013)
1. 7/1/2008 – 12/31/2008 PL 190.79(3). Identity theft in the second degree
(E-CLASS FELONY) (1 of 2 counts)
Assumed identity of Lawrence Schiffman and committed/attempted to commit felony of Scheme to Defraud 1st Degree.
GUILTY
Vacated and Dismissed
2. 7/1/2008 – 12/31/2008 PL 190.79(3). Identity theft in the second degree
(E-CLASS FELONY) (2 of 2 counts)
Assumed identity of Lawrence Schiffman and committed/attempted to commit felony of Falsifying Business Records 1st Degree
GUILTY
UPHELD
3. 8/1/2008 – 12/31/2008 PL 240.30(l)(a) Aggravated harassment in the second degree
(1 of 3 counts)
Aggravated harassment of Dr. Lawrence Schiffman
GUILTY
UPHELD
4. 8/3/2008 PL 190.25(1) Criminal impersonation in the second degree
(1 of 14 counts)
Created larry.schiffman@gmail.com email account
GUILTY
UPHELD
5. 8/4/2008 PL 190.25(1) Criminal impersonation in the second degree
(2 of 14 counts)
Sent email from larry.schiffrnan@gmail.com to Dr. Schiffman’s students
GUILTY
UPHELD
6. 8/4/2008 PL 170.05. Forgery in the third degree
(1 of 10 counts)
Sent email from larry.schiffrnan@gmail.com to Dr. Schiffman’s students
GUILTY
UPHELD
7. 8/5/2008 PL 190.25(1) Criminal impersonation in the second degree
(3 of 14 counts)
Sent email from larry.schiffman@gmail.com to multiple NYU email addresses
GUILTY
UPHELD
8. 8/5/2008 PL 170.05. Forgery in the third degree
(2 of 10 counts)
Sent email from larry.schiffman@gmail.com to multiple NYU email addresses
GUILTY
UPHELD
9. 8/5/2008 PL 190.25(1) Criminal impersonation in the second degree
(4 of 14 counts)
Sent email from larry.schiffman@gmail.com to NYU Dean Stimpson
GUILTY
UPHELD
10. 8/5/2008 PL 170.05. Forgery in the third degree
(3 of 10 counts)
Sent email from larry.schiffman@gmail.com to NYU Dean Stimpson
GUILTY
UPHELD
11. 8/5/2008 PL 190.25(1) Criminal impersonation in the second degree
(5 of 14 counts)
Sent email from larry.schiffman@gmail.com to NYU provost
GUILTY
UPHELD
12. 8/5/2008 PL 170.05. Forgery in the third degree
(4 of 10 counts)
Sent email from larry.schiffman@gmail.com to NYU provost
GUILTY
UPHELD
13. 8/6/2008 PL 190.25(1) Criminal impersonation in the second degree
(6 of 14 counts)
Sent email from larry.schiffman@gmail.com to NYUNews.com, forwarding email from Provost office.
GUILTY
UPHELD
14. 8/6/2008 PL 170.05. Forgery in the third degree
(5 of 10 counts)
Sent email from larry.schiffman@gmail.com to NYUNews.com, forwarding email from Provost office.
GUILTY
UPHELD
15. 11/22/2008 PL 190.25(1) Criminal impersonation in the second degree
(7 of 14 counts)
Created email account seidel.jonathan@gmail.com
GUILTY
UPHELD
16. 11/22/2008 PL 190.25(1) Criminal impersonation in the second degree
(8 of 14 counts)
Sent email from seidel.jonathan@gmail.com to Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)
GUILTY
UPHELD
17. 11/22/2008 PL 170.05. Forgery in the third degree
(6 of 10 counts)
Sent email from seidel.jonathan@gmail.com to Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)
GUILTY
UPHELD
18. 11/24/2008 PL 190.25(1) Criminal impersonation in the second degree
(9 of 14 counts)
Sent email from seidel.jonathan@gmail.com to Risa Kohn (ROM’s curator for Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit)
GUILTY
UPHELD
19. 11/24/2008 PL 170.05. Forgery in the third degree
(7 of 10 counts)
Sent email from seidel.jonathan@gmail.com to Risa Kohn (ROM’s curator for Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit)
GUILTY
UPHELD
20. 11/24/2008 PL 190.25(1) Criminal impersonation in the second degree
(10 of 14 counts)
Sent email from seidel.jonathan@gmail.com regarding Norman Golb
GUILTY
UPHELD
21. 11/24/2008 PL 170.05. Forgery in the third degree
(8 of 10 counts)
Sent email from seidel.jonathan@gmail.com regarding Norman Golb
GUILTY
UPHELD
22. 12/6/2008 PL 190.25(1) Criminal impersonation in the second degree
(11 of 14 counts)
Sent email from seidel.jonathan@gmail.com regarding Stephen Goranson internet post
GUILTY
UPHELD
23. 12/6/2008 PL 170.05. Forgery in the third degree
(9 of 10 counts)
Sent email from seidel.jonathan@gmail.com regarding Stephen Goranson internet post
GUILTY
UPHELD
24. 7/1/2008 – 12/31/2008 PL240.30(l)(a) Aggravated harassment in the second degree
(2 of 3 counts)
Aggravated Harassment of Stephen Goranson
GUILTY
UPHELD
25. 8/7/2008 PL 190.25(1) Criminal impersonation in the second degree
(12 of 14 counts)
Created email account steve.goranson@gmail.com
GUILTY
UPHELD
26. 7/20/2008 PL 190.25(1) Criminal impersonation in the second degree
(13 of 14 counts)
Created email account frank.cross2@gmail.com
GUILTY
UPHELD
27. 7/20/2008 PL 190.25(1) Criminal impersonation in the second degree
(14 of 14 counts)
Sent email from frank.cross2@gmail.com regarding Bart Ehrman and the Jewish Museum
GUILTY
UPHELD
28. 7/20/2008 PL 170.05. Forgery in the third degree
(10 of 10 counts)
Sent email from frank.cross2@gmail.com regarding Bart Ehrman and the Jewish Museum
GUILTY
UPHELD
29. 6/1/2007 – 3/1/2009 PL 240.30(l)(a) Aggravated harassment in the second degree
(3 of 3 counts)
Aggravated harassment of Robert Cargill
GUILTY
UPHELD
30. 7/1/2008 – 3/1/2009 PL 156.05 Unauthorized use of a Computer
(1 count)
Unauthorized use of NYU computers to commit criminal offenses and otherwise in violation of NYU computer use policy
GUILTY
UPHELD

The rest of the appellate court’s decision reads as follows:

Defendant’s convictions arise out of his use of emails to impersonate actual persons. Nothing in this prosecution, or in the court’s jury charge, violated defendant’s First Amendment or other constitutional rights.

Defendant is the son of an expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls. Defendant set up email accounts in which he pretended to be other scholars who disagreed with defendant’s father’s opinion on the origin of the Scrolls. Among other things, defendant sent emails in which one of his father’s rivals purportedly admitted to acts of plagiarism.

Defendant’s principal defense was that these emails were only intended to be satiric hoaxes or pranks. However, as it has been observed in the context of trademark law, “[a] parody must convey two simultaneous – and contradictory – messages: that it is the original, but also that it is not the original and is instead a parody” (Cliffs Notes, Inc. v Bantam Doubleday Dell Pub. Group, Inc., 886 F2d 490, 494 [2d Cir 1989]). Here, the evidence clearly established that defendant never intended any kind of parody. Instead, he only intended to convey the first message to the readers of the emails, that is, that the purported authors were the actual authors. It was equally clear that defendant intended that the recipients’ reliance on this deception would cause harm to the purported authors and benefits to defendant or his father.

The court’s charge, which incorporated many of defendant’s requests, fully protected his constitutional rights, and the court was not required to grant defendant’s requests for additional instructions. The court carefully informed the jury that academic discussion, parody, satire and the use of pseudonyms were protected by the First Amendment.

The court also ensured that the jury understood the terms “fraud” and “defraud” by [*2]expanding their definition and advised the jury that “without the intent to deceive or defraud as to the source of the speech with the intent to reap a benefit from that deceit, there is no crime.” The court was under no obligation to limit the definitions of “injure” or “defraud” – terms used in the forgery and criminal impersonation statutes – to tangible harms such as financial harm (see People v Kase, 76 AD2d 532, 537-538 [1st Dept 1980], affd 53 NY2d 989 [1981]). The court also properly employed the statutory definition of “benefit” as “any gain or advantage” to defendant or to another person (Penal Law § 10.00[17]).

Defendant argues that it is constitutionally impermissible to include an intent to influence a constitutionally-protected academic debate within the concept of fraud, injury or benefit, that allowing injury to reputation to satisfy the injury element would effectively revive the long-abandoned offense of criminal libel, and that, in any event, the alleged truth of the content of the emails should have been permitted as a defense. However, the evidence established that defendant intended harm that fell within the plain meaning of the term “injure,” and that was not protected by the First Amendment, including damage to the careers and livelihoods of the scholars he impersonated. Defendant also intended to create specific benefits for his father’s career. The fact that the underlying dispute between defendant and his father’s rivals was a constitutionally-protected debate does not provide any First Amendment protection for acts that were otherwise unlawful.

Defendant was not prosecuted for the content of any of the emails, but only for giving the false impression that his victims were the actual authors of the emails. The First Amendment protects the right to criticize another person, but it does not permit anyone to give an intentionally false impression that the source of the message is that other person (see SMJ Group, Inc. v 417 Lafayette Restaurant LLC, 439 F Supp 2d 281 (SD NY 2006]).

We have considered and rejected defendant’s remaining arguments concerning the court’s charge. We similarly reject his claims that the statutes under which he was convicted were unconstitutionally vague or overbroad. None of these statutes was vague or overbroad on its face or as applied (see People v Shack, 86 NY2d 529, 538 [1995]; Broadrick v Oklahoma, 413 US 601, 611-616 [1973]). The People were required to prove that defendant had the specific fraudulent intent to deceive email recipients about his identity, and to obtain benefits or cause injuries as a result of the recipients’ reliance on that deception. The statutes criminalized the act of impersonation and its unlawful intent, not the content of speech falsely imputed to the victims.

The verdict was based on legally sufficient evidence and was not against the weight of the evidence, with the exception of the identity theft conviction under the first count. The theory of that count was that in the commission of identity theft in the second degree (Penal Law § 190.79[3]), defendant attempted to commit the felony of scheme to defraud in the first degree [*3](Penal Law § 190.65[1][b]). However, there was no evidence that defendant intended to defraud one or more persons of property in excess of $1,000 or that he attempted to do so (see id.). The People’s assertions in this regard rest on speculation.

THIS CONSTITUTES THE DECISION AND ORDER
OF THE SUPREME COURT, APPELLATE DIVISION, FIRST DEPARTMENT.

ENTERED: JANUARY 29, 2013

CLERK

(emphases mine)

If Dr. Golb stays true to form, he will almost certainly appeal this again, perhaps in some other jurisdiction. If nothing else, this case has demonstrated that certain people have tremendous difficulty putting down the shovel after digging themselves into a hole.

Still, I am pleased with the court’s decision. While the wheels of justice turn slowly, and afford the guilty every possible avenue of defense, the process has demonstrated that it works in the end.

UIowa Religious Studies PhD Student Cory Taylor to Lecture on Digital Modeling for Google Earth with Trimble SketchUp

Cory Taylor, University of Iowa Ph.D. student in Religious Studies will offer a free lecture and host a hands-on workshop on digital modeling for Google Earth with Trimble SketchUp on Thursday, Jan 24, 2013 at 12:30 PM in the UIowa Main Library, Room 1015A.

Cory Taylor, University of Iowa Ph.D. student in Religious Studies, will offer a free lecture and host a hands-on workshop on digital modeling for Google Earth with Trimble SketchUp.

Cory Taylor, a University of Iowa Ph.D. student in Religious Studies, will offer a free lecture and host a hands-on workshop on digital modeling for Google Earth with Trimble SketchUp (formerly Google SketchUp) on Thursday, Jan 24, 2013 at 12:30 PM in the University of Iowa Main Library, Room 1015A.

If you are interested in learning 3D digital reconstruction of ancient archaeological remains (or you want to model and visualize your new backyard deck before you start building), then please attend this FREE lecture, sponsored by the University of Iowa Digital Studio for the Public Humanities‘ “PDH4L” (Public Digital Humanities for Lunch) series.

(Also, check out Cory’s biblical studies blog, Ex Libris, here.)

For more details about the lecture, click here.

the difference between mark driscoll and westboro baptist church

Question: What’s the difference between Mark Driscoll and Westboro Baptist Church?
Answer: Westboro makes signs.


Other than that, neofundamentalist Mark Driscoll and Westboro Baptist are theologically about the same when it comes to the sectarian nature of their soteriological claims.

Here’s what “Pastor Mark” tweeted today:

In case he deletes it, here is a screencap of the tweet:

Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church tweeted the following on January 21, 2013 just before President Barack Obama's second inauguration: ""Praying for our president, who today will place his hand on a Bible he does not believe to take an oath to a God he likely does not know."

Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church tweeted the following on January 21, 2013 just before President Barack Obama’s second inauguration: “Praying for our president, who today will place his hand on a Bible he does not believe to take an oath to a God he likely does not know.”

And here’s a transcription of what he wrote:

“Praying for our president, who today will place his hand on a Bible he does not believe to take an oath to a God he likely does not know.”

Remember the difference:

Westboro Baptist Church child protestor.

Westboro Baptist Church child protestor.

Westboro Baptist says: “God hates fags!”

Mark Driscoll screaming,

Pastor Mark Driscoll

Mark Driscoll: “God Hates YOU!

…and apparently President Obama too, but he’s “praying for him“, so it’s not disingenuous or condescending or self-righteous or otherwise dickish in any way.

(and for the record, here was Westboro Baptist’s tweet for the day. Like I said, Westboro Baptist makes signs, but it’s the same sentiment as Driscoll toward gays.)

Dig This Summer in Israel at Tel Azekah with the University of Iowa

The Lautenschläger Azekah Expedition

I’d like to invite all who are interested to join us this summer for the second season of exploration at Tel Azekah, Israel. The University of Iowa is proud to be joining with Tel Aviv University and the University of Heidelberg as part of an international consortium of universities participating in the Lautenschläger Archaeological Expedition at Tel Azekah.

Tour the Holy Land and spend a summer doing archaeological research for university course credit.

For more information, visit the Azekah Facebook page, or visit the Iowa Azekah Information page. Biblical Archaeology Review also has information on Azekah. You can also read through last year’s Azekah blog.

2013 season details are also available here.

Excavation dates: July 13 – August 23, 2013.

Excavation Directors: Dr. Oded LipschitsDr. Manfred Oeming, Dr. Yuval Gadot

Iowa Team Director: Dr. Robert Cargill

Consortium members: You will meet students from around the world, including those from Collège de France, Duke University, Georg-August-Universität-Göttingen, Heidelberg University, Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg, Macquarie University, Moravian College, Moravian Theological Seminary, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Tel Aviv University, Universität des Saarlandes, Université de Lausanne, University of Iowa, Univerzita Karlova v Praze, and the University of Zurich.

Accommodations: Students stay in the Nes-Harim guest-house, a mountaintop village of fully air-conditioned wooden cabins, located on in the midst of a green and lush forest. Students enjoy accommodations and full board, with three delicious meals a day, their own private bar, as well as full complementary Wi-Fi internet services in classes and the surrounding area.

Schedule:

Saturday Evening: The excavation week begins on Saturday evening, with buses that bring students from Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, or weekend trips to the Nes-Harim guest-house. After a quick dinner, students attend opening lectures and introductions to the week ahead.

Saturday to Thursday: Students wake up very early to work and begin digging as the sun rises over the Judean hills and the Elah Valley. At 9:00 we gather for wonderful Israeli breakfast served on-site at beautiful Tell Azekah, eating and enjoying the breathtaking view of Judean Lowlands. Afterwards, we continue digging until noon, at which point students take the short bus drive back to the Nes-Harim guest-house. Students eat lunch, shower, nap, read, and enjoy time until the time for pottery washing. In the afternoon, students gather for pottery washing where they clean pottery collected that morning in the field, and look for seal impressions and ancient inscriptions. Later, and in the evening, students enjoy dinner a rich academic program, complete with lectures from the world’s leading archaeologists, and enjoy guided tours of the lovely landscape where the ancient history of various nearby excavations is recounted by leading scholars.

Thursday afternoon: Students depart for weekend trips on Thursday afternoon. Two options are available during the excavation weekends (Thursday afternoon – Saturday afternoon):

  1. Students may take part in organized tours to other parts of Israel (for an additional fee).
  2. Students may take advantage of the complimentary bus service to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem (leaving the guest-house on Thursday afternoon and returning on Saturday afternoon). Studetns are responsible for their own accommodations on the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv weekends.

Friday and Saturday: Free time to enjoy weekend tours or free time in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.

Saturday afternoon: Buses bring students from Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, or weekend trips to the Nes-Harim guest-house.

Weekend Tours: Each weekend, students will take tours of various sites in the Holy Land including, the Sea of Galilee, Tel Aviv, Caesarea, the Mediterranean coast, Jerusalem, Qumran, En Gedi, Masada, Dead Sea, Bethlehem, the Herodium, and the Jordan River. And this year, I am planning a special trip weekend for Iowa students to Petra, Jordan – the city carved from stone.

University course credit: Students interested in earning university credit for the excavation can join one or two of the academic courses. (Cost per course: $300 total)

  • Archaeology and History of the Judean Lowland: one session (July 13th - August 10th) 3 credits
  • Archaeological Fieldwork – Theory and Methods: one session (July 13th - August 10th) 3 credits
  • An additional course, Theological Aspects of Archaeological Work, is also available through the University of Heidelberg:  one session (August 3rd - August 23rd)

Click here for further information about the academic program.

Program Cost: The cost of the summer excavation program depends on how long you participate. I encourage all Iowa students to come for 3 or 6 weeks.

Registration fee: $50 USD

Weekly cost (Saturday night to Thursday evening): $585 USD. This price includes: participation in the excavation, weekly room accommodations (up to 4 people in a room), full board (morning coffee, breakfast at the field, fruit break at the field, lunch, afternoon coffee and dinner), 24-hours internet service, transportation from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to the camp on Saturday night and from the camp to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem on Thursday afternoon, transportation to the site and back on working days and transportation to midweek tours, security and first aid in the Nes Harim accommodations, all academic lectures and workshops, afternoon archaeological programs and social activities, educational mid-week tours to archaeological and historical sites in the region.

Breakdown by week:

  • Two weeks: $1170 USD ($1150 USD for return team members)
  • Three weeks: $1755 USD ($1725 USD for return team members)
  • Four weeks: $2340 USD ($2300 USD for return team members)
  • Five Weeks: $2925 USD ($2875 USD for return team members)
  • Six Weeks: $3510 USD ($3450 USD for return team members)

Price does not include: Flights to and from Israel; personal health insurance; weekend tours and board; free time room and board from Thursday evening to Saturday evening.

Iowa students and staff participate in the 2012 excavations at Azekah.

Iowa students and staff participate in the 2012 excavations at Azekah.

If you are interested in participating in the excavation, or as traveling/participating with the University of Iowa team, please contact Dr. Robert Cargill at robert-cargill@uiowa.edu.

To download the registration form, click here and email it to: azekah.excavations@gmail.com.

 I’m looking forward to seeing you all this year at Azekah!

RESERVE YOUR SPOT TODAY!

Manti Te’o ought to date Clint Eastwood’s empty chair

Manti Te’o ought to date Clint Eastwood’s empty chair. It just makes sense.

Manti Te'o with Clint Eastwood's Empty Chair

and

Here’s Deadspin breaking the story.

Background here.

For a quick summary, watch here.

Don’t miss Seth Meyers’ line here: “These Te’o jokes are all very funny but let’s all try and remember that a person who never existed is dead.”

Even more here, with timeline and quotes from Te’o.

Is the Internet bringing about the end of organized religion?

Finding a way outNo, the Internet will not bring about the end of organized religion. But it is making it much easier to leave.

There is a thoughtful article at AlterNet by Valerie Tarico entitled “Does the Internet Spell the Doom of Organized Religion?“. In the article, Tarico argues that “the biggest threat that organized religion has ever faced [is] the internet.”

Here is a summary of the argument:

  • “A traditional religion, one built on “right belief,” requires a closed information system.” The internet opens the user to all sorts of ‘unapproved’ information. This is absolutely the case. No longer are churches and church-affiliated colleges the storehouses of knowledge and information. Today, it all lives on a collective web of resources not controlled by the church or any organized religious entity.
  • Christian opposition to science is not just about attempting to suppress facts and information that expose and disprove false religious claims, but, “They see in science not only a critic of their outdated theories but a competitor for their very best product, a sense of transcendent exuberance.” That is, it is the emotional connection that many science educators are now able to employ on the Internet that is truly challenging the church. It is not just the facts (for we have known these for years), but it is the successful packaging of these facts into digestible, entertaining, relevant, artistic, and even wonder-invoking, emotional videos and summaries (in a manner similar to what  religion has done for years), that is truly challenging the church.
  • Quick and convenient side-by-side comparisons (we call them “synoptic” in biblical studies) of various religious claims, especially of the absurd and sensational, allow Internet users to quickly compare ridiculous religious claims with similar ones that the user might personally hold. The user can the quickly recognize the similarity and logical association between the absurd and the previously held claims, and then dismiss them both as irrational. This is a by-product of the Internet’s ability to disseminate information and of the scientific community’s recognition (finally!) that is important to communicate the relevance of new (and old) discoveries to the public, as well as the information.
  • The internet exposes the “Kinky, Exploitative, Oppressive, Opportunistic and Violent Sides of Religion”. This is a two-fold problem for organized religions. On the one hand, problems with appalling religious faith claims (like God commanding genocide, ordaining slavery, etc.) can be highlighted on the Internet (when they are often ignored or conveniently overlooked in Sunday School). But a second problem is the exposure of problems with the clergy, who suddenly find their financial and sexual misdeeds exposed everywhere on the internet. Simply put, it’s harder to cover up crimes committed by churches and its leaders that it was before the Internet.
  • The internet has created a community of like-minded folks who are easy to find, which provides a safe place to land for people coming out of organized religion. One of the most appealing aspects of religion is a built-in community of like-minded people who often support each other in times of struggle and provide an identity to the believer within a community. Before the Internet, it was difficult to find or create a similar community outside of one’s local religious community. However, the Internet has provided such a place, where those leaving a community of faith can instantly discover a large and very diverse community of rationalists and “non-believers” committed to the same ideals of morality and justice to which former believers are accustomed, but that are not rooted in theistic claims. The Internet provides a new community of friends, even in small towns dominated by members of a singular faith community that have ostracized the recently departed.
  • Interfaith communities and groups exploring spirituality that exist outside of dogmatic organized religious institutions can be found on the Internet, which allows those departing organized religions either to depart gradually from the faith, or, to remain at a level of belief and spirituality with which they are comfortable without the constant corrective pressures of unprovable doctrines and dogmas.

The article overlooks (or perhaps takes for granted), one of the most powerful things the Internet does, which also happens to be its simplest and most original feature: hyperlinks. In its infancy, the Internet was a way to link one document to another. No more having to go “look it up”. No more having to take the author’s word for it. Instant verification is now possible with links (and with a ton of cataloging help from Google :). Any claim can be almost instantly checked, challenged, or verified. This ultimately does away with the need for a single authority (like a parent or a priest), but instead allows the user to judge a claim based upon both an evaluation of the evidence itself and comments about the credibility of the evidence and the arguments from a whole collective of experts and authorities, all contributing to the evaluation of particular claims.

Note that this is different from a simple democratic vote on ‘truth’ – an accusation that opponents of sites like Wikipedia often use to characterize the site incorrectly. On the Internet like in scholarship, not all links and commentators are weighted the same. Links into a page from established news sources and scientific journals are counted as being worth more than a self-published LiveJournal page touting the alien origin of the pyramids. Credible sources are weighed more than self-published material. This is how Wikipedia works. It’s also how Google’s search algorithms work: placement in Google’s search results is the product of the number of visits to a particular site, the number of links to the site, and the credibility of the links linking to the site as calculated by still other algorithms evaluating the credibility of the other sites linking into the site.

Oh, and of course, cash spent on bumping certain websites to the top of Google searches as “advertisements”. Note, for instance that a simple search for “science and religion” on YouTube (acquired by Google in 2006) elevates and highlights “Scientology” and “Baha’i Faith” videos to the top. These are paid ads, which is ironic, in that it is now organized religion that is paying top dollar to have its message artificially promoted (since it is having less success threatening, ostracizing, and killing “heretics” to keep its message on top).

Personally, I don’t think the Internet will spell the end of organized religion, or of disorganized religion for that matter. What it will do, however, is hasten the dissemination of information, both credible and non-credible, and will allow users to begin to accumulate claims and information from sources other than parents, close friends, and clergy. There will always be fringe groups, hate groups, believers in aliens, and conspiracy theorists, and the internet will, in fact, lend them additional undue exposure as well. Likewise, just because information is more readily available to a greater number of people does not ensure that users will know how to use this newly found, often unvetted information, which many readers do not (and often cannot) confirm as credible.

(This, btw, is why accreditation and credible schools and scholars still, and always will matter: accreditation and scholarship are the antidote to popular myth, hate, fear, impulse, and unsubstantiated claims, beliefs, and ideologies. Methodologically sound and objective research (as opposed to personal revelation and unverifiable, or worse yet, easily disproved claims) is the best means by which to discover and evaluate knowledge and information. This is the realm of the academy, and it is increasingly relevant and necessary. And yes, THIS is why tenure matters!)

Ultimately, I’d argue that the Internet makes information that used to be available only in the elite classrooms of the world now available to the public.

Or perhaps better said: the Internet is the closed course that we wish we could take, that suddenly got moved to a larger room.

Dr. Hector Avalos Responds to Claim that Sandy Hook Massacre Was Result of Banning Prayer, 10 Commandments in Schools

Dr. Hector Avalos, Professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University.

Dr. Hector Avalos, Professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University.

My colleague, Dr. Hector Avalos of Iowa State University, has written a letter to the Editor of the Des Moines Register that swiftly exposes the fallacy of claiming that “a lack of prayer in schools, along with a refusal to display the Ten Commandments in schools” allowed the Sandy Hook Massacre to occur.

Dr. Avalos writes a well-reasoned argument that is succinct and rooted in facts. He writes:

Second, there is no statistical correlation between the exercise of prayer, or respect for the Ten Commandments, and some immunity to mass shootings. Perhaps Austin forgot that 10 Amish girls were shot in 2006 at an Amish school in Lancaster County, Pa. Amish schools allow prayer, and respect the Ten Commandments.

Give it a read.

In Memoriam: John William McKenzie Brady

John William McKenzie Brady (16 January 2004 - 31 December 2012)

John William McKenzie Brady (16 January 2004 – 31 December 2012).
(Image from: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10100115784359039&set=a.10100116350684119.2278370.2803809&type=1&theater)

On Friday, January 4, 2013, the funeral for John William McKenzie Brady (16 January 2004 – 31 December 2012), affectionately known as “Mack”, the eight-year-old son of Penn State Schreyer Honors College Dean, and my friend and colleague, Dr. Christian M. M. Brady, and his wife, Elizabeth Brady, will be held at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 208 W. Foster Ave. and Fraser Street, State College, PA, at 10 a.m. with the Rev. Larry J. Hoffer officiating.

I and my fellow scholar-bloggers are asking that you take a moment to reflect on the passing of this beautiful young child. You can send Dr. Brady your condolences with a message. Or, you can post a picture of Mack (available at Dr. Brady’s blog) on your blog or Facebook page as a show of support.

I’d also like to encourage you to contribute to the scholarship Penn State is establishing in the memory of Mack Brady:

The Bradys ask that memorial gifts be directed to a scholarship being established in Mack’s honor to benefit a member of Penn State’s men’s soccer team. In announcing the scholarship, Dean Brady said that through such an annual award to a player his son “will, in some sense, ‘be on the field’ that he had hoped to play on someday.”

Memorial gifts may be made online at http://givenow.psu.edu or by sending a check, payable to Penn State with “In memory of Mack Brady” in the memo line, to: Penn State University, One Old Main, University Park, PA 16802.

Please take a moment to remember Mack and the Brady family tomorrow at 10 am.

Rest in peace, Mack.

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