Satanic statue part of holiday decorations at Illinois Capitol

The Satanic Temple of Chicago has installed a stately and elegant statue at the Illinois Capitol between the Christmas tree and Hanukkah menorah. Predictably, some people are pissed. Approximately 4.5 feet tall, the statue features a snake around an arm with the hand clutching an apple. The pedestal is emblazoned with the statement "Knowledge is the greatest gift." From CNN:

"We feel it's a First Amendment issue, we have other displays there -- a Hanukkah menorah and Nativity scene," (Secretary of State's office spokesperson Dave) Drucker said. "If you have displays of one type you need to be consistent and allow everyone to do so, aside from hate speeches and other unacceptable things."

The Satanic Temple says that its members are atheists who are often interested in community activism, according to the group's website.

"We do not promote a belief in a personal Satan," the website says. "To embrace the name Satan is to embrace rational inquiry removed from supernaturalism and archaic tradition-based superstitions." The group says it embraces the "struggle for justice" and believes people should "strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures," according to its website.

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Pastor floats over congregation to deliver sermon

On Sunday, Pastor Bartholomew Orr of Southaven, Mississippi's Brown Baptist Church flew down from the rafters to deliver a sermon about the unexpected second coming of Jesus Christ.

Gotta spend money to make money, I guess.

(UPI) Read the rest

Probing a mysterious network of dropshippers, evangelicals, crapgadgets, and semi-vacant Manhattan department stores

Jenny Odell is an artist and critic whose Bureau of Suspended Objects report on dropshipping (previously) was a fascinating dive into the weird, scammy world of crapgadgets and farcically poorly made fashion items sold through a network of "influencers" and turnkey ecommerce tool. Read the rest

Dutch church holds 27 days of round-the-clock services to protect immigrant family from deportation

A family of Armenian refugees have been sheltering in Bethel Church in The Hague for 27 days, avoiding a deportation order because officials are not legally permitted to interrupt a service -- and the church has been holding a nonstop, continuous service for the whole 27 days. Read the rest

Vardø, the witch capital of Norway

Chelsea G. Summers' beautiful article about a beatiful place recalls its ugly history: the murder of 91 "witches" in Vardø, Norway, part of a century-long persecution against which the Salem witch trials pale in comparison.

There’s no easy way to describe Vardø’s extreme, compelling weirdness. It’s hard to believe that Vardø once held a population of 5,000 in the many buildings that squat on concrete haunches around the harbor. Vardø’s hotels once burst with rich Russians who traded rubles for cod. The wharf once slapped with the sounds of fish being beheaded, gutted, skinned, salted and dried. The harbor once rang with the sounds of ships — at first small with sails, then larger with motors, then metal monsters — coming and going. Just 70 years ago, sailors swaggered in and out of Vardø’s bars and shops; just 25 years ago, more than 350 Sri Lankans staffed the fish processing plants. Now Vardø is a fraction of its former size, and its ghosts seems to hug you close.

Photo: Chelsea G. Summers Read the rest

Pope condemns the "wealthy few" who hoard the riches that "belongs to all"

Pope Francis continues his streak of fighting for economic justice (though he's an unrepentant monster on abortion, women's rights, and the rights of queer people). Read the rest

When golden-age science fiction and Scientology parted ways

Longreads posted an excerpt from from Alec Nevala-Lee’s new book, Astounding, recounting the events that led to L. Ron Hubbard creating a religion and its origins in the golden age of science fiction: Dawn of Dianetics: L. Ron Hubbard, John W. Campbell, and the Origins of Scientology.

In the summer of 1949, Campbell was thirty-nine years old and living in New Jersey. For over a decade, he had been the single most influential figure in what would later be known as the golden age of science fiction, and he had worked extensively with Hubbard, who was popular with fans. The two men were personally close, and when Hubbard, who was a year younger, suffered from depression after World War II, Campbell became concerned for his friend’s mental state: “He was a quivering psychoneurotic wreck, practically ready to break down completely.”

Hubbard had sought medical treatment for his psychological problems, which he also tried to address in unconventional ways. While living in Savannah, Georgia, he began to revise Excalibur, an unpublished manuscript on the human mind that he had written years earlier. In a letter to his agent, Hubbard said that the book had information on how to “rape women without their knowing it,” and that he wasn’t sure whether he wanted to use it to abolish the Catholic Church or found one of his own. He concluded, “Don’t know why I suddenly got the nerve to go into this again and let it loose. It’s probably either a great love or an enormous hatred of humanity.”

The degree of Campbell's involvement in shaping early Scientology lore came as quite a surprise. Read the rest

Residents of Sydney's gayborhood are getting hate-mail signed by "Jesus"

People who live in the LGBT-identified Sydney neighborhood of Darlinghurst are getting letters through their door signed by "Jesus" that blame queer people for extreme weather (drought, hail); "Jesus" also takes credit for felling the (admittedly horrible) former PM Malcolm Turnbull. Read the rest

"Devil" shot while breaking up teen dances was indeed one of god's messengers (1922)

In 1922, the devil appeared at several teen dances in Hutchinson, Minnessota. Apparently he'd manifest "in the middle of the dance floor with fire streaming from eyes, mouth and tail" and attempt to break up the sinful festivities. A reward of $5,000 was offered to anyone who would shoot the devil next time he turned up. At the next party, a boy, 14, took his best shot and hit Lucifer right in the abdomen. Turned out that the devil was a local Methodist minister.

(Weird Universe) Read the rest

Sights and sounds of Haitian vodou

Between 1947 and 1954, avant-garde dancer and experimental filmmaker Maya Deren visited Haiti and immersed herself in vodou. Supported with a Guggenheim Fellowship grant, Deren intended to study and film the trance dancing of vodou ceremony. Ultimately, Deren became an active participant in the rituals. She documented her experiences in the 1953 book Divine Horsemen: The Voodoo (Living) Gods of Haiti and the footage that resulted in the entrancing 1981 film above, completed two decades after Deren's death by her third husband and his wife. Now, the Psychic Sounds Research & Recordings label has remastered and reissued Deren's audio recordings from Haiti on vinyl. Audio sampler below. From the label:

Maya Deren journeyed to Haiti to make a film of ritual dances, instead, she came to be accepted as a Voudoun initiate, whose devotees commune with the cosmic powers through invocation, offerings, song and dance of the Voudoun pantheon of deities, or Loa, whom are witnessed as being living gods and goddesses, actually taking possession of their devotees. Deren describes the relationship between magic, science and religion bringing a uniquely lyrical voice to her narrative. This paints a multi-textured, infinitely complex portrait of a spiritual tradition with roots stretching back to the very dawn of humanity. Joseph Campbell calls Divine Horsemen 'the most illuminating introduction that has yet been rendered to the whole marvel of the Haitian mysteries as 'facts of the mind.'' Included in this album are some of the first recordings ever made during religious ceremonies near Croix de Missions and Petionville featuring selections that serve as a soundtrack to the film she shot documenting Voodoo ceremonies and festivals conveying the incantatory power of the ritual drumming and singing.

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Catholic League insists that it's only rape when priests "penetrate" children

Bill Donohue, the president of the ultra-conservative Catholic League, has called the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's report on the official coverups of the priestly rape of children an "obscene lie," insisting that rape was relatively rare, because most of the sexual abuse committed by the priesthood doesn't qualify as rape, because the priests didn't penetrate their victims. Read the rest

Pope Francis declares death penalty inadmissible

In a change to Catholic doctrine, Pope Francis wrote that it is always "inadmissible" to inflict the death penalty because of the inherent dignity of human life.

"Consequently the church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person," and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide," reads the new text, which was approved in May but only published Thursday.

This helps folks talk about abortion with a straight face but it's not as if a selective approach to the sanctity of life bothered many to begin with. It doesn't seem to be going down well. Read the rest

Google Translate's deep dream: some translation requests yield weird religious prophesies

Feed 19 repetitions of the word "dog" to Google Translate and ask it for a Maori conversion and you get this: "Doomsday Clock is three minutes at twelve. We are experiencing characters and a dramatic developments in the world, which indicate that we are increasingly approaching the end times and Jesus' return." Read the rest

Republicans were so eager to pass the #TaxScam that they didn't notice they were taxing the churches they depend on

In the rush to vote through Trump's trillion-dollar-plus tax gift to the super-wealthy, Congressional Republicans voted on unfinished drafts full of notes, erasures, and incoherencies, with no one really sure what they were casting a vote in favor of. Read the rest

Stephen Colbert explains Jesus' position on ripping children from their parents to Jeff Sessions

Jeff Sessions says that the Bible commands him to cruelly separate thousands of children from their parents, but Colbert -- a devout Catholic -- begs to differ. (Thanks, Rutherford B Hayes!) Read the rest

Behold the face of God

...as imagined and averaged out by 511 American Christians surveyed by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

When the researchers averaged out the features on the more commonly-selected pictures, they found that the average view of God is significantly different than how Michelangelo portrayed the Almighty. Instead of a large, old man with a flowing white beard, the averaging image showed a beardless, younger face.

God is a Pittsburgh bus driver. Read the rest

Towards a theory of theomorphic religious robots

Gabriele Trovato is an Italian human-computer interaction researcher at Tokyo's Waseda University; along with colleagues from Peru's Pontificia Universidad Católica, he presented Design Strategies for Representing the Divine in Robots (Sci-Hub mirror) at March's ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human Robot Interaction. Read the rest

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