Ready for the rapture, guv’nor?

Screen shot of movie website

Screen shot of movie website

Felt obliged to translate the concept of “the rapture” into cockney rhyming slang, for this one, but “screen capture” didn’t really seem quite authentic enough.

There’s a new movie about East End gangs fighting to get the spear that pierced the side of christ, so they can unite it with the holy grail and bring about the rapture, according to Libby Purves in the Times. No, really.

I have instantly cast it in my head. Ray Winstone – lovable cockney villain – and Vinny Jones – as unlovable cockney villain – must be the gang leaders. I bet there are dozens of actors from Only Fools and Horses and Minder who haven’t had a well-paid screen role for years. Half the cast of the Bill could go on without rehearsal. There could even be a cameo role for Dick van Dyke. Shane Ritchie would direct. He could contribute the deep knowledge of ancient Jewish texts that he gained by swimming in qabbalah water. So, it would be, like totally, authentic.

All my dreams turn to dust. There’s a website for this project. It writes the Rapture in a gold Quake font on a mainly black background. So, it looks like a gamers’ site. It’s not genuine rapture-ready nonsense. It’s using the Rapture as a fantasy plot ingredient, equally as credible as the myth that East End Kray-style villains were loveable cockney rogues rather than dangerous psychopaths.

On a cursory look, it seems pretty low budget, even engagingly amateurish. Martin Kemp is the only professional cockney so far identified as being in it. Indeed the press notices on its site are mainly references to the sort of local papers that put in a photo of a whole under-14 five-a-side football team, so their relatives will all buy a paper. It’s written by a Scottish politician’s son with what looks like a comically-bleached head of hair. It might even turn out to be quite entertaining. At least, if the film-makers are lucky, it might get picketed and condemned as an abomination by real rapture-ready folk and get loads of press coverage and make some serious money.

Medjugorje apparitions

At the same time that the Archbishop of Canterbury is boosting the claims of one religious “miracle” site – accepting “visions of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes as historical fact”, the Pope is trying to put a stop to another, at Medjugorje. (Please don’t make me spell it again.) What’s the difference between Lourdes and Medjugorje?

According to Simon Caldwell, in the Spectator, the “the world-famous pilgrimage site (Medjugorje) may soon be exposed as a fraud.” The Pope’s opposition to it seems to be a factor. (H/t The Times)

A Yugoslav priest, Father Vlasic, got a nun pregnant and sent her to Germany, promising to follow and marry her. (A promise that he had no intention of keeping.) He replied to her anxious letters with typical religious bullshit. However, her landlord read the letters and sent them to the Vatican.

Six years later Father Vlasic is ‘spiritual leader’ of six children who say the Virgin Mary appears to them daily in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina. But the local bishop is having none of it. The priest writes to Pope John Paul II to say that Satan is working through the bishop and to request direct intervention against him. But, worse luck, the Vatican official with copies of his love letters takes an interest in the case and sends them to the bishop in question.
Disgraced, the priest then heads for Italy where, with a new mistress, he sets up a mixed-sex religious community devoted to the apparitions and continues to party like a bad dog for the next 17 years until the Vatican official who ruined everything for him becomes Pope Benedict XVI.(from the Spectator)

Then, unsurprisingly, the shit begins to hit the fan for Father Vlasic…..

He is in big trouble, accused of heresy, schism and sexual immorality ‘aggravated by mystical motivations’, as well as ‘the diffusion of dubious doctrine, manipulation of consciences, suspect mysticism and disobedience towards legitimately issued orders’

The Spectator article suggests that this about more than just dealing with one shady character.

By striking at Vlasic, the Pope is aiming a killer blow at the Medjugorje phenomenon itself.
Why would Benedict want to do this? Perhaps because the claims are not true.

That sounds as good a reason as any, were it not for the fact that false claims don’t normally cause religions much stress. How could religion survive, if it suddenly became too scrupulous about making up stories?

There’s more to the story than simple “truth”, including a lot of Bosnia-Herzogovina political jiggery-pokery. (If you want detail, read the Spectator link. There’s a limit to how much this can be paraphrased and I’m already pushing it.)

In the early days of the apparitions, Our Lady was not only partisan on the Herzegovina question but preoccupied by it and described the rebels as saints. One of them, Father Iveca Vego, soon made a nun pregnant. Was he having an affair at the time his sanctity was declared? The local bishop, Pavao Zanic, was convinced that Vlasic was puppet-master to the seers and a principal source of the messages imparted by the apparitions.

However, Medjugorje is now such an international money spinner that the Catholic Church is finding it very difficult to dismantle. All its attacks are being misinterpreted and the pilgrim dollars are still flooding in.

All the evidence indicates that the phenomenon is a calculated and cynical con. Medjugorje has grown wealthy and it is no coincidence that so have the seers.

Hmm. How unsurprised am I? They got rich from a get-rich-quick scam? Maybe God just decided they’d be freer to have daily visions if they didn’t have to fret about not having plasma TVs and BMWs.

Libby Purves linked to various Catholic and Orthodox sites with opinions about Medjugorje. Many of the sites blame the phenomenon on the devil.

A priest with the charmingly Medieval name of Father Malachi is reported as having said:

“I think Medjugorje is a Satanic hoax.”

(Ratzinger, Malachi? Was there a Catholic competition for the best Hammer Horror Tribute name? The winner got to be Pope?)

“It is a phenomenon which is absolutely diabolical, around which revolve many underground interests. Holy Mother Church, the only one able to pronounce, through the mouth of the Bishop of Mostar, has already said publicly, and officially, that the Madonna has never appeared at Medjugorje and that this whole sham is the work of the demon.” (from a link picked at random from the page full of links on Unity Publishing.)

So, while the Medjugorje believers think that Mary made a personal visit, many of their opponents think that demons intervened directly in the world.

The rest of us would just see greedy bastards. Who can, of course, only carry out their scams in the context of belief that daily supernatural intervention in the world is perfectly likely. It’s the churches that give these scams any plausibility.

All the same, it’s good to see the Catholic Church making efforts to stop at least one fraud.

Dawkins on Darwin

Richard Dawkins is presenting a short Channel 4 series on Darwin. It’s mostly pretty damn good. It’s clear and enthusiastic and really enjoyable. I was really pleased to see that Dawkins opposes the faux-evolutionary nonsense that is used to justify predatory capitalism.

However, I’ve got to put in a couple of gripes, just to stop this blog being suspected of mere sycophancy:

Why does he keep referring to Darwinism? There is no Darwinism. Dawkins must be getting too many trolls and, absent-mindedly, paying attention to them.

There is also some justice in Libby Purves’ argument that Dawkins has set up too simple a choice between believing in evolution and believing in god(s). In the first programme, he addressed a collection of school students who had been led to believe that accepting evolution ran counter to the religions they were brought up in. So, they didn’t believe in it. He showed them some clear evidence and some of them felt obliged to question their faith. Libby Purves argued that this was a bit of a false example, as there are huge numbers of god-believers who accept the evidence for evolution.

Dawkins’s response seems a bit lame to me.

She goes on to say, “OK, he is provoked, as we all are, by nutters. But most believers are not creationists.” I expect it’s true that the few believers Libby Purves meets over canapés are not creationists. But “most believers”? Most believers in Bradford? The Scottish Highlands? Pakistan? Indonesia? The Arab world? South America? Indeed, North America? Polls suggest that more than 40 per cent of the British population are creationists. For the subset who call themselves believers, the figure must be considerably more than 50 per cent. Please don’t say “most people”, when what you really mean is Islington and Hampstead Garden Suburb.

Well, stop there Dawkins. “Polls suggest..” What polls? Please don’t say “polls suggest” when what you are really presenting sounds like made up numbers.

Most people know bugger all about evolution, let alone have views on it.

But, assuming that Libby Purves is talking about the UK, most people that I know who have any views on evolution take it for granted. In fact, I have never knowingly come across an outspoken creationist. And I certainly don’t live in Islington or Hampstead. Nor would I recognise a canape if it leaped off a silver salver and bit me on the nose. In fact, as a non-Islington-resident prole, I sort of resent the implication that proles are stupider than the rich.

Anglicans and Catholics don’t have any problem with the theory of evolution, for a start. So the mainstream UK religions aren’t encouraging people to doubt it. South America? Big place. Mostly Catholic, so I assume that evolution is generally accepted there.

What’s left? Basically North America and Islam. I don’t know enough about the many shades of Islam to judge on this one, although I am pretty confident that most muslims are as unknowing and uninterested in evlutionary theory as most other people. I do think I know that North America is bursting with people who don’t understand accept evolution.

I have to agree with Libby Purves when she said “OK, he is provoked, as we all are, by nutters.” I completely agree with Dawkins that there more than enough of these idiots and that they have to be opposed. But, I don’t think it’s always wise to help them talk up their anti-science madness by presenting a false dichotomy between accepting science and believing in deities. It’s accepting the terms of reference of the creationists, their idea that there is a “debate” between ID and evolution.

This “debate” can only benefit the nutters. Scientists don’t have to accommodate the creation myths of the vikings or the yoruba by constantly “debating” whether evolution or the mixture of fire and ice or the formation of dry land from water is true. (In fact, these myths seem far more logical and metaphorically “true” than the middle eastern creation myths.) Why waste too much time and effort challenging the myths that come from the middle east?

Still, whines over. Bloody good tv overall, to be honest.

Sorry, dead people

The fashion for apologising for things that happened many centuries ago has now hit the Vatican, which is about to publish a book saying it might have made a bit of a mistake, according to the Times and Telegraph .*

According to the Telegraph,

In 1307, King Philip IV “the Fair” of France, in desperate need of funds, ordered the arrest and torture of all Templars. After confessing various sins their leader, Jacques de Molay, was burnt at the stake.

And the Church quickly declared them all heretics. The new -found paper supposedly shows that pope Clement dissolved the Templar Order but said they weren’t heretics. Though the evidence for their non-heresy seems quite unconvincing, by the standards of the day, considering how little it took for a hedge-witch or a dissenting peasant to get tortured and killed for heresy (by both Catholics and Protestants) over the next few hundred years. It is tempting to suggest that the surviving Templars must have still had a fair bit of that Holy land wealth left with which to buy a relatively favourable judgement.

Now, 1307 is 700 years ago. The Vatican could teach any existing government a thing or two about keeping politically sensitive secrets.

What is the point in this? Given that the Templars were monk-knights, they shouldn’t even have any direct descendants who could accept an apology for wrongs done to their 175th generation-back ancestors. It’s obviously a soundbite thing. The Templars’ much-vaunted “secrets” have been attracting publicity again, in the silly da Vinci Code movie for a start.

Just in case, some people might be put off the Catholic Church because it did wrong in the 14th century, it’s going to apologise and set the record straight. It doesn’t cost anything. It’s not like they are going to make France hand back any of Phillip the Fair’s ill-gotten gains is it?

Much as I hate these ritual apologies to people who don’t exist any more, on behalf of the people who wronged them, but also don’t exist any more, why stop there? Why not apologise for the Crusades and the things the Catholic Church rewarded the Templars for doing? It wouldn’t make any more sense but at least it would show the beginnings of a sense of moral responsibility.

* (Look I don’t read these papers in real life. Honest. But, they are online….)

Sued God fights back in court

In the court case in which Ernie Chambers is suing god, it seems that God has now decided to defend himself. Libby Purvis says in the Times that:

God apparently left a robust response on his lawyer’s desk. Theologically, it’s actually quite sound…if you ever accept theology as sound.

(I followed the link on the words “robust response” just to see what theist apologetics might look like straight from the mouth of God but I just ended up at Forbes magazine. Don’t tell me God edits Forbes magazine. Then again, that might explain a lot. You’d certainly have a better chance of a compensation payout if you decide to treat Forbes magazine as God’s representative on earth for legal purposes)

Indeed, Libby Purves has been putting out some interesting posts recently.
For instance:
PC users holier than Mac fans

An analytical blog has discovered that Windows users are 20% more likely to read religion stories online than Mac users. “Could it be that the occasional brush with a “blue screen of death” gives the Windows user a greater sense of their own mortality? ” it asks.

Is the world flat discusses the astonishing rubbish talked on The View

I do not think this mindset would be socailly acceptable on TV if it were not for the Creationist extremes in the US which reject other facts such as evolution. It’s enough to make Dawkinses of us all…

The last Libby Purves post mentioned here sparked some creationists to spout their stuff in the comments. You know the “uncanny sense of deja vu”………