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The Charger Bulletin

Bill Nye Throws Down the Gauntlet on Creationism

by Ana Abraham | September 5, 2012

Scientific findings prove that the Earth is 4.54 billion years old. The long-held account of the church is that God created the Earth in six days, no more than several thousand years ago at the absolute most.

This view is known as creationism. Charles Darwin complicated the debate over the origins of the planet and life on it in 1859, with the publication of 20 years of his work, research and conclusions in a text titled On the Origin of Species. This particular text has since become a scientific standard.

Recently, a new player has joined the debate in a major way. Millions of American children are familiar with Bill Nye, whose show Bill Nye the Science Guy ran in the 1990s and was a very popular teaching aid in schools around the country.

Nye recently spoke out in a video for Big Think Edge, an online learning platform, about how creationism is not something that is appropriate for children to learn.

“The idea of deep time of billions of years explains so much of the world around us,” Nye stated. “If you try to ignore that, your worldview becomes crazy, untenable, itself inconsistent.”

He is commenting on the viewpoint of a group of creationists, the Young Earth Creationists, who interpret the Book of Genesis as literally as possible, tracing genealogy to come up with Earth’s age at no more than ten thousand years.

A national poll, called the Gallup Poll, has been tracking Americans’ views on this particular subject for the past 30 years.

Much to Nye’s chagrin, nearly half of Americans subscribe to views of creationism. Between 40 percent and 47 percent of those surveyed over the years have consistently said that they believed God created modern humans within the last ten thousand years.

Thirty-two percent believe in some form of religiously-led evolution, and only 15 percent believe in atheistic, or Darwinistic, evolution.

Responses to Nye’s video have brought out some interesting viewpoints. The video went viral quickly; Bill Nye is a very well-respected and well-liked figure, especially among those who watched his program as children.

Many commenters in the online debates have adopted the viewpoint that there can be a compromise between the two positions.

Science and faith have historically been in two different camps, but some believe that all the answers, and the truth about the history of the Earth and of humanity, may actually lie somewhere in the middle of the two.

Bill Nye the Science Guy is not so optimistic.

He says to adults, “If you want to deny evolution and live in your world, that’s completely inconsistent with the world we observe, that’s fine. But don’t make your kids do it. Because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future. We need engineers that can build stuff and solve problems.”

 

Amish Hate Crime Trial Begins in Ohio

by Ana Abraham | September 5, 2012

Samuel Mullet Sr. is an Amish man living in rural Eastern Ohio. He lives on an 800-acre compound where he is considered a religious leader.

He, along with 15 of his followers (some of whom are his children and most of whom are somehow related to him) stand accused of hate crimes in connection to 2011 attacks on other Amish people.

In the words of Prosecutor Bridget Brennan, in the Amish faith, “A man’s beard and a woman’s hair are sacred religious symbols…symbols of righteousness, religious symbols that God is present in their lives.”

Mullet and his followers allegedly forcibly cut the beards and hair of several members of their sect.

One such instance was photographed and released by the prosecution.

Defense counsel for Mullet is not denying that the photograph shows his client cutting the hair of Raymond Hershberger, an Amish elder, but instead insists the circumstances were not those that constitute a hate crime. Attorney Dean Carro said the reason for the actions of the 16 individuals was “compassion”.

Congress has defined a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.”

Since the hair cutting attacks are being seen as attacks on religious practice—one accused man allegedly said to victims Barbara and Marty Miller, “God is not with you,”—they are being prosecuted under the Matthew Shepard-James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

Much controversy has surrounded the question of how Mullet and his followers chose their victims. Reports indicate that the victims are mostly men and women who had helped others leave Mullet’s sect in the past, or those who Mullet and his followers believe live in a religiously impure way.

The sect calls itself the Bergholz Clan, named for the town where their compound is.

The FBI, in an affidavit, alleges that Samuel Mullet imposed very strict punishments on anyone in his community who disobeyed his wishes. He supposedly forced men to sleep in a chicken coop on his property, sometimes for several days at a time, and also had sexual relations with some of his married female followers to “counsel” them and “cleanse them of the devil”.

He has stated, on more than one occasion, that he is not running a cult.

In addition to the charges relating to hate crimes, members of the sect will also face charges of kidnapping, conspiracy and obstruction.

Some could face 20 years to life in prison if convicted. In response to the allegations, Mullet stated, “Beard-cutting is a crime, is it?”

The trial began in Cleveland, Ohio on Monday, Aug. 27, with jury selection.

 

Iranian Woman’s Stoning Sentence Delayed

by The Associated Press | September 15, 2010

Move over, balloon boy. The newest story to face outrageous media coverage and subsequent fervor from those who have become engrossed in it is the case of an Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning in Tehran. In fact, the case has been rousing an international uproar from people like Brazilian president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, Pope Benedict XVI, Nobel Peace Winner Shirin Ebadi, and French president and First Lady Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni that such campaigning has helped to bring about a crusade for saving the forty-three year old woman, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who was convicted of adultery in July.

FILE - This undated file image made available by Amnesty International in London on Thursday, July 8, 2010, shows Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a mother of two who was sentenced to death by stoning in Iran on charges of adultery. Ashtiani is now facing a new punishment of 99 lashes because a British newspaper ran a picture of an unveiled woman mistakenly identified as her, the woman's son said Monday. (AP Photo/Amnesty International, File)** EDITORIAL USE ONLY NO SALES**

Though Ashtiani, who is currently having her stoning sentence reviewed by the Iranian Supreme Court after global pressure and criticism, awaits possible execution, she has not left the headlines. According to reports, Ashtiani was convicted of an “illicit relationship” with two men in 2006 just after her husband was murdered the previous year, a murder in which she is suspected to have participated in. An August claim showed a woman identified as Ashtiani confess about being an accomplice. However, her lawyer, Javid Houtan Kian, says she was probably just tortured into confessing. Beyond that, Ashtiani appears to have been flogged 99 times by authorities in Iran, following a British newspaper running a picture of an unveiled woman who, reports are now saying, was mistakenly identified as her.

Regardless, the Iranian stoning sentence is at the center of a human rights issue that questions the brutality of the punishment. In support of Ashtiani’s freedom, French foreign prime minister Bernard Kouchner has called her stoning sentence “barbaric” and stated that he would go to Tehran to save her, if he needed to. French First Lady Carla Bruni was labeled a prostitute by Iranian media after she signed a petition along with other celebrities to save Ashtiani. Yet, Iran has cut warring words with human rights activists. Despite the support for her stoning sentence to be lifted, Iranian Foreign Ministry Ramin Mehm anparast says the West is sensationalizing the case into something political and unreasonable while Iran is simply following legal protocol: “Western nations must not pressurize and hype the case up. Judicial cases have precise procedures, especially when it concerns murder. If releasing all those who have committed murder is to be perceived as a human rights issue, then all European countries should release all the murderers in their countries.” As of now, the fate of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is yet to be determined.

Hooray for Ignorance!

by Matt DiGiovanni | September 15, 2010

Recently in the news there was the story of Pastor Terry Jones, the head of the Dove World Outreach program, who planned to hold burn the Qur’an day on the ninth anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Is this really what some people have resorted to? Burning a religious book that, if nothing else, can be enjoyed for its literary and poetic value? What does Pastor Jones hope to accomplish by burning the Qur’an? He probably had some idea in his head, but in reality the two main results would be a fire and a large number of angry people.
In the end, following statements and actions from both important American figures including General David Petraeus, who made a statement that the burning would endanger American troops, and Muslims in the Middle East, who held protests with effigies of Pastor Jones and flag burnings, Pastor Jones cancelled the burning. His reasoning, however, was that he had supposedly made plans to speak with Imam Feisal Abdel Rauf, the leader behind the mosque planned blocks from Ground Zero, in New York City on Saturday. Rauf denied this, but the Qur’an burning was still, at least temporarily, canceled.

Matt Di Giovanni, Editor-in-Chief

I struggle with the immense ignorance that it takes to swallow the words of people and groups such as Pastor Jones’ church and the famous Westboro Baptist Church. Haven’t people learned that violence, hate, and inflammatory actions traditionally lead to results that are less than desirable? Some would argue that the right to free speech protects groups like this, and yes, that is true. There was no army or police force there to attack and detain Pastor Jones to prevent his event, but free speech comes with certain responsibilities, and in my mind, one of those is to use common sense.

Many people in today’s world don’t have the luxury of free speech, so please don’t stomp on that right by abusing it. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely do not advocate snuffing out any ideas that I or others disagree with, but as a nation, and even throughout the world, people need to step back and look at the big picture to see the true results of their actions.

‘South Park’ cuts image of Mohammed after threat

by Stephen James Johnson | April 22, 2010

From the Associated Press.

LOS ANGELES (AFP) – The latest episode of satirical cartoon show “South Park” has been censored after a radical Muslim group threatened the show’s creators for their depiction of the Prophet Mohammed.

A spokesman for the Comedy Central television channel confirmed to AFP that the network had added a series of audio bleeps to the episode broadcast late Wednesday, which effectively removed all references to Prophet Mohammed.

“I can confirm that Comedy Central added additional audio bleeps after the cut of the episode was delivered by the producers,” the spokesman said.

Comedy Central would not confirm that the changes were linked to statements made by the New York-based Revolution Muslim group earlier this week.

The extremist group said South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker risked the same fate as slain Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, who was murdered by a Muslim extremist in Amsterdam in 2004.

Revolution Muslim posted the address of Stone and Parker’s Los Angeles production offices, but denied they were encouraging violence.

“We have to warn Matt and Trey that what they are doing is stupid and they will probably wind up like Theo van Gogh for airing this show,” the group said.

A spokesman for the group denied the statement was an incitement.

“Revolution Muslim only wants those offended to be able to voice their opposition by letters to the show’s creators,” a spokesman told CNN.

The Muslim group’s statement followed the April 14 episode of “South Park,” where the Prophet Mohammed appeared wearing a bear mascot costume in order to avoid his image being shown.

“South Park,” which follows the surreal and often profane adventures of four schoolchildren in a fictitious Colorado town, has regularly lampooned religions during its 13 years on the air.

Atlantic Online blogger Andrew Sullivan accused Comedy Central of “wussing out” by censoring Wednesday’s episode.

“‘South Park’ has long had Jesus and Satan, they have ridiculed Mormonism, eviscerated Scientology, mocked Catholicism and showed the Buddha actually doing lines of coke,” Sullivan noted.

“None of the adherents of these other faiths have threatened to kill Matt and Trey, but, of course, some Sunni Islamists did so. So what does Comedy Central do? They wussed out even further.”

Cartoon depictions of the Prophet Mohammed in Scandinavian media outlets in recent years have led to violence and plots to murder those responsible.

In 2005, Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten published 12 drawings focused on Islam, several of which were seen as linking the religion and the Prophet Mohammed to modern terrorism and suicide bombings.

The cartoons led to angry protests by Muslims worldwide, leaving dozens of people dead and causing major damage to Danish embassies and other facilities.

Bishops Have Duty to Report Sex Abuse

by Liz De La Torre | April 21, 2010

Rocked by evidence of protecting offender priests and with Pope Benedict XVI under fire for letting sex abuse cases go rampant, the Catholic Church stands in the midst of one of the most widely publicized scandals of the decade. What is the Vatican’s response to the clerical reproach that has the entire world waiting for justice? Simply put, “Civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed,” a statement published online which calls all bishops to report suspected or known abusers to police.

This statement, implemented Apr. 12, does not address allegations that the Catholic Church has been concealing these sex abuse cases nor does it address the fact that its confidentiality clause allows for offender priests to thwart and bypass justice. Although the Vatican claims the policy has always been in effect, it has never been enforced until now. Still, victims have argued that it is too late for this policy to be mandated and that if they really wanted to enforce this rule, the Vatican would have made a public announcement instead on relying on the internet to deal with such an important issue. It is also unclear about actions taken for failure to report and punishment for offender priests who actually are reported. In addition, people are questioning how reliable or trustworthy bishops or other clergymen will be in reporting these crimes and just how willing they are to turn in their associates. Such is the case with a 1985 letter that reveals Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, postponing a decision to defrock a priest for “the good of the Universal Church” after waiting years to answer a request about a priest who molested children in California.

Others are skeptical of the effectiveness of the policy and even move for harsher punishment: “Let’s keep this in perspective: it’s one sentence and it’s virtually nothing unless and until we see tangible signs that bishops are responding,” said Joelle Casteix, director for the Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests. “One sentence can’t immediately reverse centuries of self-serving secrecy. It would be far more effective to fire or demote bishops who have clearly endangered kids and enabled abuse and hid crimes, than to add one sentence to a policy that is rarely followed with consistency.”

Jewish artifact burial site raises concerns in NJ

by Stephen James Johnson | April 8, 2010

From the Associated Press.

LAKEWOOD, N.J. – Environmental regulators in New Jersey are trying to decide what to do about an unlicensed religious artifact burial site.

A rabbi coordinated the dumping of 2,000 trash bags full of Jewish text and clothing on private land in Lakewood during Passover. Orthodox Jews are not permitted to discard the items, called shaimos, by normal means.

Some neighbors complained, calling it an illegal dump. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection issued a warning last week and ordered that the site be cleaned up.

The agency, however, says it is sensitive to the religion’s requirements. For now, it is allowing the bags to stay until it decides how to relocate them.

The rabbi is expected to discuss options with DEP officials next week.

___

Information from: Asbury Park Press, http://www.app.com

Pope names Mexican-born Gomez to take over in LA

by Stephen James Johnson | April 7, 2010

From the Associated Press.

VATICAN CITY – Archbishop Jose Gomez was named Tuesday to succeed the archbishop of Los Angeles, the Holy See’s most significant acknowledgment to date of the growing importance of Latinos in the American church.

The appointment is also evidence that Pope Benedict XVI wants a strong defender of orthodoxy leading the largest diocese in the nation: Gomez, 58, is an archbishop of Opus Dei, the conservative movement favored by the Vatican.

The Mexican-born Gomez was named coadjutor for Los Angeles, which means he will take over the archdiocese when the current archbishop, Cardinal Roger Mahony retires on Feb. 27 next year, his 75th birthday.

The appointment of Gomez, who now leads the Archdiocese of San Antonio, puts him in line to become the highest-ranking Latino in the American Catholic hierarchy and the first Latino cardinal in the U.S.

Hispanics comprise 70 percent of the 5 million Catholics in the Los Angeles archdiocese, and more than one-third of the 65 million Catholics in the United States. In a separate nod to Latino Catholics, Benedict in 2007 named the first cardinal for heavily Latino Texas, Archbishop Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston.

“This just recognizes the reality on the ground that the center of gravity of U.S. Catholicism is moving to the South and West and is becoming increasingly Hispanic,” said David Gibson, a Catholic author who writes about religion for PoliticsDaily.com.

Mahony, who was dogged by the clergy sex abuse scandal, developed a reputation during his quarter-century tenure in Los Angeles as a liberal-leaning leader and was often the target of Catholic conservatives. Under church rules, bishops submit their resignations at age 75, but the pope often asks prelates to stay in their posts for several years more.

Mahony, nicknamed “Hollywood” because he was born there, is the longest-serving U.S. cardinal since theSecond Vatican Council, the modernizing reform conferences of the 1960s.

Gomez was scheduled to appear at a morning news conference in the Los Angeles cathedral. The pope will likely name Gomez a cardinal in the future, given that Los Angeles is such a large and important archdiocese whose leader has traditionally worn a red hat.

The new coadjutor said in a statement that he was grateful for the appointment and the trust that the Vatican’s nuncio had in him. “I will try with all my strength to earn that trust,” he said.

Gomez will have to oversee the fallout from the abuse scandal that came to light during Mahony’s tenure.

In 2007, Mahony agreed to a record-setting $660 million settlement with more than 500 alleged victims of clergy abuse.

A federal grand jury is also investigating how the Archdiocese of Los Angeles handled claims of abuse, and has subpoenaed several witnesses, including a former Los Angeles priest convicted of child molestation and a monsignor who served as vicar for clergy under Mahony.

Mahony’s attorney has said the cardinal is not a target of the investigation.

Gomez will face scrutiny of his own track record on responding to abuse claims in his previous posts. The abuse crisis, which had eased in the U.S., has gained new attention because of a flood of new cases in Europe.

Gomez was born in Monterrey, Mexico, and studied theology at the University of Navarra in Spain. He was ordained an Opus Dei priest in 1978 and worked in the Galveston-Houston area and in Denver before being named archbishop of San Antonio in 2004.

Opus Dei was founded by Saint Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer in Spain in 1928. Escriva held that sainthood could be achieved by anyone, from homemaker to professional, by carrying out everyday tasks extraordinarily well.

The movement, which enjoys a unique status at the Vatican, was depicted as a murderous cult in Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code,” which Opus members and the Vatican have denounced as defaming the church.

Hispanics are the fastest-growing group in the American Catholic church. More than 50 percent of U.S. Catholics under age 25 are of Latino heritage, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

___

Associated Press religion writer Rachel Zoll contributed from New York.

Dutch gays, Catholic church put aside dispute

by Stephen James Johnson | March 3, 2010

From the Associated Press

AMSTERDAM – Dutch gay rights groups have called for an end to protests against a Catholic church southwest of Amsterdam after it said it would no longer seek to bar homosexuals from taking communion.

The Sint-Jan church in Den Bosch says it will leave it up to believers to decide whether they are ready to receive communion.

Mass at the church on Sunday was disturbed by protests. The demonstrations began last month after an openly gay man in a nearby village was chosen for a prominent role during Dutch carnival celebrations but was refused communion by his local priest — offending many in the village.

Most Dutch people support gay rights, but the Catholic Church teaches that homosexual activity is sinful.

Outsider image so hot even ex-insiders want it

by Stephen James Johnson | February 25, 2010

From the Associated Press.

Republican congressional candidate Stephen Fincher, a farmer and gospel singer from Frog Jump, Tenn., campaigns at the National Guard Armory in Ripley, Tenn., Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2010. Ask national Republicans to name a model 2010 congressional candidate, and they're likely to mention Stephen Fincher. (AP Photo/Lance Murphey)

NEW YORK – Ask national Republicans to name a model 2010 congressional candidate, and they’re likely to mention Stephen Fincher. A 37-year-old farmer and gospel singer from Frog Jump, Tenn., Fincher has raised more than $675,000 in his bid to succeed retiring Democratic Rep. John Tanner.

His nontraditional background suits the GOP just fine.

“He’d never run for office before, never been to Washington, D.C., before,” marveled California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who met Fincher on a recruiting trip for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “He said, ‘Listen, Mr. Kevin,’ he said he couldn’t look his children in the eye and say he watched this country change and didn’t do something about it.”

That a political novice like Fincher could become a top GOP contender to win a historically Democratic district speaks volumes about the unpredictable political environment that has come to define the 2010 midterm elections.

Voters are angry. President Barack Obama’s job approval ratings have sunk, particularly among the independents who helped put him in office. The Democratic and Republican parties are both unpopular. Independent voters are growing in stature and anti-tax tea party activists have become a potent political force.

The fractious atmosphere has sent both parties scrambling to find challengers and open seat candidates who fit the national mood, while they also try to protect incumbents from being steamrolled by it.

“Arguably, both political parties need to earn back voters’ trust,” said Brian Walsh, a spokesman for theNational Republican Senatorial Committee. “Republicans lost it and we need to gain it back.”

It’s not a slam dunk for Republicans, who long to retake control of both the House and Senate amid voter unrest.

They must contend with a party identity tarnished during George W. Bush’s presidency and the pressures of tea party activists who believe the GOP has become too moderate. Tea party-backed candidates are running in dozens of Republican primaries across the country, setting up potentially messy and expensive intraparty battles.

And at least nine former GOP House members are running to recapture seats they held during Bush’s presidency. Current and former members of Congress also are the GOP’s nominees or front-runners for the nomination in six Senate contests so far.

That doesn’t help the GOP make an argument it’s the party of change. Newcomers like Fincher and little-known state legislators like Scott Brown do. Republicans scored a huge victory last month when Brown — with help from independents, tea party activists and the GOP establishment — took the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s seat away from Democrats in Massachusetts.

“There seems to be a spirit among the kind of challengers who’ve said, ‘I don’t really know a lot about politics, but I know what my community is all about,’” said Rep. Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican who heads his party’s campaign operation for House seats.

Brown’s candidacy was well-suited to the anxious political environment. He focused on a narrow, fiscally conservative message while casting himself as an independent thinker untethered to partisan demands. While he was a featured speaker before conservative activists last week, he also voted with Democrats this week to end a Republican-led filibuster of a jobs bill backed by Obama.

Like Brown, Fincher isn’t quick to identify himself as a Republican. He calls himself a conservative on his campaign Web site, adding, “My roots run deep in Tennessee, not politics.”

Democrats also are advising their candidates to stress their political independence and avoid becoming caricatured as captives of Washington.

Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who chairs the House Democrats’ campaign operation, points to his party’s 5-0 record in House special elections last year as proof that his party can still win with the right candidates and message.

That record will be tested again this spring, with special elections to fill three House seats, all held by Democrats:

_The Pennsylvania seat of the late Rep. John Murtha.

_The Florida seat of former Rep. Robert Wexler, who resigned last month to run a Middle East think tank.

_The Hawaii seat of Rep. Neil Abercrombie, who’s said he will resign Sunday to run for governor.

Van Hollen said incumbents facing re-election battles are being urged to “vote in an independent-minded way — sometimes with the majority, and sometimes not. Sometimes with Obama, and sometimes not.”

Of the former GOP lawmakers running to reclaim seats, Van Hollen said, “Voters don’t believe that turning the keys back to the guys who drove over the ditch in the first place is a good alternative.”

Republican Steve Chabot, running for his old seat in a Cincinnati-area district he lost in 2008 to Democrat Steve Driehaus, is working hard not to fall into that trap.

Despite his seven terms in the House, Chabot believes he can still position himself as the independent outsider in the race and frame Driehaus as being too deferential to Democratic leaders in Congress.

“Rather than do what’s right for the people here, he’s followed Nancy Pelosi’s lead on virtually everything,” Chabot said of Driehaus.

Republicans consider Driehaus’ seat one of their best targets, but Chabot said he’s raising most of the money for his race in and around his district.

“I’ve always felt you’re very much on your own when you are running,” Chabot said. “If the party is able to help, we appreciate that, but we are not depending on it.”

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