Potpourri, 2/21/14

    1. So many frauds, so little time
    2. Dissing Rube Goldberg
    3. WSJ thinks it’s still 1988
    4. Banning gay marriage?
    5. E-MASQL8 PLUS
    6. Paranoid and “on the wrong side of history” to boot


I hope to say something sensible about the following news. I hope I got the ranting and raving out of my system 12+ hours ago and can find the grace to delete the worst of it.

There is a Southern Baptist religiopreneur by the name of Steven Furtick in North Carolina. He runs a chain called “Elevation Church.” They’re known for spontaneous onrushes of people wanting to be baptized. NBC affiliate WCNC continues the story:

But parts of the mass baptism guide have drawn sharp criticism – from other Christians.
Page one shows that the first people instructed to respond to Pastor Steven’s call to baptism were not converts suddenly inspired but Elevation volunteers carefully planted in the crowd.
The guide instructs, “Fifteen people will sit in the worship experience and be the first ones to move when Pastor gives the call. Move intentionally through the highest visibility areas and the longest walk.”
“They had people in the crowd stand up who never intended to be baptized,” said James Duncan, a communications professor at Anderson University and critic of Furtick. “They were shilling for Steven and the intent was these shills stand up and everybody else follows.”
Duncan blogged about the baptism guide in a post he titled, “How Steven Furtick engineered a miracle.”
“Although Furtick says this is a miracle, it’s not a miracle,” Duncan said. “It’s emotional manipulation.”
The spontaneous baptism how-to guide describes its purpose as to “pull off our part in God’s miracle.” Church leaders have repeatedly referred to the mass response as a “miracle.” But the guide reveals plenty of human staging.

“Back in the day,” when Furtick’s primitive predecessors reigned (whose empires and personal residences paled in comparison to Furtick’s), this kind of thing was done more primitively, with much less Disneyfication and “production values.” For example, after the passionate sermon, alternating shouts, whispers, and promises of a lurid, fiery future:

Every head bowed, now, and every eye closed. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and sup with him, and he with Me.” Do you want to open the door of your heart to Jesus tonight? Raise your hand if you do … I see that hand. Is there another? God bless you, I see your hand, too. Is there another? Praise the Lord, I see those hands.

The musician on the stage noted with some confusion that there really were no hands raised. But after a few more rounds of evangelistic self-shilling, there were several. And in five or ten more minutes, dozens of people were coming down the aisle for an “altar call” (with no Altar).

The musician, part of a Proto-Praise Band, questioned his leader later.

“Shut up,” he explained. “You’re not fit to tie the shoes of this man, who knows how to get people saved. He taught me everything I know.”

Or words to that effect. The conversation was real. The Proto Praise Band Leader (let’s call him “Bill”) has gone to his eternal … whatever … via, I’m told, a violent speedboat or hydroplane crash. I forget what little detail I picked up.

[Here were two paragraphs describing Bill’s notorious sexual life and the hypocrisy of his employer, a “Christian University” that probably could have explained “shut up” pretty well itself had someone questioned profiting off a hypocrite like Bill. It officially told me to shut up or get out on a different matter. I got out, gladly, and shook the dust off as I left.]

The musician is an atheist today. He’s real. He was a friend of mine and probably would be a fiend still (and not just a cyberfriend), if not a Christian, had our rootless ways of life not parted us geographically. I don’t know how heavily Bill and his employer’s hypocrisy weighed on him, but if it weighed heavily, can you blame him (bearing in mind that we decide things emotionally; I know there’s no syllogism that connects “Bill is a creep” with “God doesn’t exist”) for his overreaction? When toxic religion is most of what you’ve known, you tend to forget that counterfeits thrives only when there’s also “the real thing” somewhere.

By the way: I count it a blessing that I did not get into the Proto-Praise Band as I wanted. And that I found a line and followed it out of the swamps a decade or so later (more below). My near miss is why I’m kind of passionate about this stuff.

There are many religioupreneurs today. They forget that what “works” in business (setting aside whether it’s sleazy even there) isn’t necessarily legitimate in religion. They target market niches. They market-test messages and music. They learn the techniques of emotional manipulation that would make a millionaire of any Amway agent who mastered them.

In short, it’s a racket.

That’s not all it is. Bill’s musical muse (let’s call him John) was still married to his first wife, last I knew, and writing reasonably sober and straightforward Christian choir anthems and Cantatas. They’re not my cup of tea, but I won’t mock and deride them as I’m tempted to do with so much Contemporary Christian Music.

Furtick takes commercial racket up a notch (or is it down a notch?), though. Check out these brainwashing Sunday School materials. Do you think a 15-year-old girl (or boy) brought up on that crap will feel free to expose the delectable “little secret” she shares with “The Visionary”? I wonder if The Visionary has underlined the Bible verses about millstones around the neck?

I cannot for the life of me figure out why people would willingly sit under the preaching of such a cultic humbug.

Kudos, by the way, to WCNC, which surely would not be such, well, journalists, actually reporting on the misdeeds of local frauds and humbugs, were they wholly-owned subsidiaries of the Chamber of Commerce, as are some nameless media I know. Because make no mistake: Elevation Church is a commercial racket. It’s probably a force to be reckoned with in Charlotte. And a H/T to Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick on Facebook, who made no comment.

You really need to get into the Ark, dear reader.

Short of that, at least get to a Church that knows the difference between Pastor and unquestionable Visionary. Once I left the orbit of “Independent” or congregational churches for Calvinism, about 9 years post-Bill, I never again had to put up with the kind of spiritual abuse Bill and Furtick typify.


The Wall Street Journal unfairly refers to “Rube Goldberg Democrats” and calls ObamaCare an “unworkable contraption of nonperformance.”

It owes an apology to the competitive designers of Rube Goldberg machines, which generally work much better than ObamaCare.


The Wall Street Journal also tries to gin up an American “strategic interest” in Ukraine:

The U.S. should want to pull Ukraine into the Western orbit as a matter of human dignity and strategic interest. A Europe-leaning Ukraine can join the company of free nations and fulfill the aspirations of its people. A Ukraine tilted toward the corrupt authoritarian regimes allied with Moscow will be a source of regional unrest at best, and part of a revived Russian empire if Mr. Putin has his way.

Oh. If their in Putin’s orbit, they’re not in ours. Duh. How could I have been so obtuse. I guess I was thinking it wasn’t 1988 any more.


One sign that the Dhimmitude has begun is that my side now generally refers to “banning same-sex marriage.” Dumb, dumb, dumb and false.

Come, let us reason together:

[I]n no state of the Union does a ban or prohibition of same-sex marriage exist …

The Oxford English Dictionary features several entries for the word “ban” that are relevant to this discussion.
One is: “A formal and authoritative prohibition; a prohibitory command or edict, an interdict.”
Another is: “A proclamation issued against any one by the civil power; sentence of outlawry.”
A third is: “Practical denunciation, prohibition, or outlawry, not formally pronounced, as that of society or public opinion.”
If public opinion polls are to be believed, then not even bans in the third sense exist in America today.
On the conjugal view, marriage is a comprehensive union of persons. “Comprehensive” here means that relational unity is achieved across every dimension of the spouses’ personhood, including the bodily union that is achieved through the coordination of the spouses’ reproductive systems for the sake of the good of procreation.
Thus, on the  conjugal view, marriage between two persons of the same sex—regardless of those persons’ intentions, sexual attractions or desires—is not possible. Indiana is not “banning” same-sex marriages in not recognizing same-sex relationships as “marriages.” It is simply refusing to equate X and not-X.

The ellipsis in the block quote replaced this:

This is true no matter where one stands in the marriage debates and no matter how one understands marriage.

I omitted that originally to let Bradley make his ontological point about real marriage, but now let’s talk about that “no matter where one stands” gauntlet:

On the revisionist view, marriage is “the name that society gives to the relationship that matters most between two adults,” as one federal judge put it in 2011. It is “a couple’s choice to live with each other, to remain committed to one another, and to form a household based on their own feelings about one another, and their agreement to join in an economic partnership and support one another in terms of the material needs of life,” as Harvard historian Nancy Cott testified in 2010 in opposition to California’s Proposition 8. Other revisionist definitions are very similar.

Thus, on the revisionist view, same-sex couples are able to form marriages, and do so rather frequently: Marriage is either a choice or a label. The present legal and juridical debates over how marriage is publicly defined is, therefore, about whether certain jurisdictions will publicly and legally recognize (affirm as really being) marriages between two persons of the same sex.

But if this is the case, it is apparent that no jurisdiction presently bans same-sex marriages; in no jurisdiction are they criminalized or illegal; they cannot be banned at all. On revisionism, marriage (let alone same-sex marriage) is either a choice or a label, and nowhere in America are (same-sex) couples prohibited or banned from making this choice or invoking this label. Those couples can even solemnize or religiously affirm their unions by being blessed in whatever church will bless their union.

Talk of “bans” on same-sex marriage indicate a fundamentally flawed grasp on what is really being argued, by anyone, in the debate. The question before various courts and state legislatures is not whether to lift bans or abolish prohibition on same-sex marriages. The question is whether every jurisdiction must, on the conjugal view, equate marriages with same-sex relationships; or, on the revisionist view, legally celebrate and recognize marriages that already exist. But for neither camp is any present legal or juridical battle about lifting a ban on same-sex marriage. It couldn’t be, because no such bans exist.

I hope I didn’t overstep the bounds of fair use of this excellent Ethika Politika synopsis (emphasis added).


E-MASQL8 PLUSThe smart-pill oversell


Most of this seemed like “same old same old” (with the exception that Damon Linker, like Jonathan Rausch, understands that common, flippant “arguments” for same-sex marriage “pose a very real threat to the religious freedom of millions”) until the end, and then it positively bristles:

It’s also worth considering the famed philosopher John Gray’s views on history, namely that nothing is inevitable, and nothing is as illusory as the idea that history is progressing in a particular direction. Excerpt from Daily Telegraph interview with Gray, who is an atheist and a philosophical pessimist:

Perhaps the biggest misconception about John Gray is that he thinks all progress is a myth. In fact, he happily concedes that in lots of ways life now is a lot better than it was, say, 200 years ago. “What I’m really saying is that a lot of people nowadays cling to the idea of a slow evolution of human history – something I believe is more fantastic than the belief that God will raise us from the dead.”

All the advances in human rights that we’ve seen – religious freedom, racial equality, equality for gays and so on – are reversible, he believes. “We like to think that we can’t go backwards, but we can. We do it all the time. And the best recent example of that is torture.”

Before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Gray wrote an article jokingly suggesting that if we were going to wage wars of liberation to modernise people, we should also modernise torture. This prompted a predictable chorus of infuriated shrieks. “But what happened? In the blink of an eye the world’s pre-eminent liberal democracy rehabilitated torture, reclassifying it ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’.”

This, by the way, is why I believe the Holocaust was the most important event in human history since the life of Jesus. It shows that progress is never permanent, and that it can simply mean that we become a lot more effective at being barbarians. But I digress. Gray has argued elsewhere — in his book Black Mass — that Christianity is in part responsible for Nazism and Communism because it introduced the idea of apocalypse resulting in a utopia in which humankind is perfected. It’s an interesting idea. Ideas have consequences, but not always the consequences we expect.

So again, airheads, don’t give me this “wrong side of history” crap. And don’t tell me I’m paranoid for thinking my now-living descendants, if not I myself, face serious persecution because we won’t reduce serious issues to speciously formal “equality.”

* * * * *

“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.