I Spent a Decade Working for Churches (and It Was the Worst)
Before I started doing comedy and writing full time, I spent over a decade working for churches. Let me preface this by saying that I am not an angry atheist, or even someone who bashes organized religion. There are so many churches doing fantastic work for their communities and truly helping people with little or no attention from the media. I’ve worked for some that I’ve seen firsthand do tremendous work and even helped me with difficult times in my life. With that said, I’ve seen some of the most repulsive, sickening behavior you could possibly imagine by men and women claiming to be representatives of God. I worked with organizations in the smallest of towns and I’ve worked with some of the biggest names in religion, so I know what I’m talking about. I’m not someone judging from the outside. I’ve been a part of it, which, at times, felt like the worst thing that could possibly happen to me.
I worked with an organization called Master’s Commission, which is basically a Bible college that combines the educational part of ministry with actual hands-on work. I had been involved with the program in Cincinnati, Ohio, and in Orlando, Florida. A pastor in Louisville, Kentucky, named Tony had seen the work that Master’s Commission had done and contacted my boss in Orlando about starting one at his church.
The Best Little Hell House in Texas
Brother Thomas turns to me and says, “We’re shorthanded in the abortion room.” I’ve gone to work as a volunteer at a Hell House, an evangelical Christian haunted house in Cedar Hill, Texas, designed to scare kids away from sinning. “I’m either going to put you in the abortion room,” Brother Thomas says, “or the drunk-driving room.”
“The abortion room would be great,” I say, feeling mildly uncomfortable that I’m much older than the rest of the teenage volunteers.
“When the visitors come in,” Brother Thomas says, leading me to the room where a fake abortion performed by actors using grocery store meat to simulate a discarded fetus is supposed to scare kids away from premarital sex, “what I need you to do is yell in a strong voice, ‘Watch the steps!’ If we don’t say, ‘Watch your step,’ and they fall, we’re liable.”
At Hell House, Jesus steers kids toward the Lord. But he can’t prevent lawsuits.
What the hell is a “hell house”? If you’re not familiar, Hell House is a Christian alternative to the standard haunted house. Instead of Freddy Krueger, these costumed evangelists scare the holy Jesus into you—literally.
In this house of horrors, being gay results in dying of AIDS and premarital sex can lead the homecoming queen down a slippery slope of prostitution. Youth groups visit and are led through a series of “real life” horrific scenes designed to create terror and revulsion. Hell House outreach manuals include astute tips on creating authentic abortion room scenes, such as: Purchase a meat product that closely resembles pieces of a baby to be placed in a glass bowl.
Kansas Creationists Are Claiming That Science Is a Religion
You’ve really got to hand it to creationists. Say what you will about their unyielding ignorance, blind devotion, and shitty museums, but like an eager virgin on prom night, they never ever seem to give up. It’s almost embarrassing to atheists, including theassholes on the atheism subreddit, how hard these people campaign and twist to get their point across, while we sit here endlessly masturbating with our evolved thumbs.
This week in Kansas, nonprofit group Citizens for Objective Public Education, representing a handful of parents and their undoubtedly reluctant children, filed suit against the Kansas State Board of Education for including a science handbook as part of a nationwide refurbishment of the science curriculum, primarily because it includes sections on the dreaded scourge evolution. By itself, this is decidedly annoying; students have a hard enough time trying to grasp the core fundamentals of science without having an anti-intellectualist special interest group fucking with their bare bones public school education. But what is so deeply exasperating about this lawsuit in particular is their line of reasoning, namely that accepting evolution “will have the effect of causing Kansas public schools to establish and endorse a nontheistic religious worldview in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution.”
I’ll let that sink in. Defining atheism as a religion in order to remove science and humanities, justified as separation of church and state in order to promote their own actual religion. I promise you that somebody fucked their wife in the missionary position to celebrate being so clever. If there’s anything that says “God’s Will,” it’s semantic loopholes and egomaniacal reappropriation.
The Religious Right’s Anti-Vaccine Hysteria Is Reviving Dead Diseases in America
I’ve never really understood the fear of vaccines, mostly because there’s no real, hard evidence linking them to autism, autoimmune disorders, sudden infant death syndrome, or anything else. The only thing you can really like it to is making sure you don’t get sick. But, like abortion, evangelical Christians have been using vaccination hysteria as a way to galvanize support, even after Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s landmark 1998 paper linking vaccines to autism and bowel dysfunction was roundly debunked as bad science.
To be honest, I get the religious argument against inoculation way more than the scientific one. I think it goes like this: even if vaccination is not compulsory, it is a sin to thwart God’s will—if He would strike me down, I would be stricken. If I believed in a pissed-off white-bearded dude in robes up in heaven with a lightning bolt gun, I wouldn’t want to anger him or her either. It certainly makes more sense than the new age version of vaccine refusal, where suburban yuppies just slide their kids another Kombucha instead of bringing them to the pediatrician.
If Fred Phelps wants to believe that vaccines violate the word of god, thats fine. It’s no skin off my back if the evangelical community wants to believe that god doesn’t trust them with their own bodies. The problem for me is that some day I plan on impregnating a woman with my penis. Nine months later, we’ll be blessed with a little wriggly child (preferably a boy), and I want to make sure that he grows up big and strong and doesn’t accidently contract an old disease—especially one that most doctors don’t know how to treat anymore—because my neighbors decide not to vaccinate their child.
Remember measles? That old-timey disease we officially eliminated in the United States 13 years ago? Thanks to the wonder of inoculation, measles should be entirely nonexistent in this country, but yesterday the Center for Disease Control reported 159 cases from January through August of this year. This puts our country on track for the worst measles year since 1996, when there were 500 reported cases—which is disturbing, especially because doctors and nurses aren’t really trained to look out for measles anymore, because of the whole “elimination” thing.
Pee-Wee Herman’s Dinosaurs Are Actually a Creationist Museum
The Cabazon Dinosaurs are a couple of giant concrete dinosaurs located out in the desert near Palm Springs, California.
They’re best known for their appearence in the movie Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, but have also featured in Paris, Texas, Fallout: New Vegas, and the video for the song “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”
You may have also heard of them described as “those big dinosaur things you go past on the way to Coachella.”
The Cabazon Dinosaurs as they appear today.
The dinosaurs were built back in the 60s by a former Knott’s Berry Farm model sculptor named Claude K. Bell as a roadside attraction to attract people to his restaurant. However, after Claude’s death, they were sold to a group who turned them into a creationist museum.
I decided to take a visit last week.
The theories put forth are all fairly standard creationist-museum stuff: evolution isn’t real; God created everything, etc., etc.
As always with these type of places, the “facts” are presented in dense, impenetrable blocks of text. Like the sign pictured above, which contains easy-breezy sentences like: “Evidently a tectonic event fluidized an unconsolidated sand deposit.”
Presumably they do this in the hopes that people won’t spend too long picking apart what they’re saying, and just assume that the point they’re making is true.
This museum differs from other creationist museums in one major way, though. As they believe that dinosaurs probably still exist. Here’s why:
-The Loch Ness Monster, which is actually a plesiosaur, was spotted 52 times in 1933 alone.
- In 1910, the New York Herald ran an article titled, “Is a Brontosaurus Roaming Africa’s Wilds?”
Muslim Brotherhood Supporters Are Burning Egypt’s Churches
Yesterday, while the world was focused on the grisly and violent dispersal of the pro-Morsi sit-ins in Cairo, which have so far resulted in at least 638 deaths, Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority, which makes up less than 10 percent of the population, faced their own crisis as Islamists burned Coptic churches, businesses, and schools in predominately Christian towns across the country.
The Coptic rights group Maspero Youth Union estimates that as many as 36 churches were set on fire across the nine counties home to the largest Coptic communities. Ishak Ibrahim, a researcher at the Egyptian NGO Initiative for Personal Rights, added that one monastery, two social-services offices, and three schools were attacked, and seven churches were burglarized. (The violence continues—Nile Revolt activists are keeping a tally on violence against Christians.) Ishak fears things will only get worse. “Most churches burned were in the main towns of each county,” he said. “More [fires] are expected in distant villages in coming days amid the absence of police and army.”
It’s not clear whether the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters deliberately chose to target Christians (some government buildings were also attacked) or if the attacks were premediated, but in any case the the Coptic community has been devastated. I talked to three eyewitnesses to the assaults from three different counties. All have different perspectives, but none of them expect the government to intervene. They said the police and military only arrived long after the attacks, or never came at all.
VICE: Can you tell us what you saw?
Marco Ramsy, an activist from Sohag, a city on the west bank of the Nile: At 8:30 AM, [members of the Muslim Brotherhood] were gathered at Al Thaqafa Square, which is the main square in Sohag, where they always gather for their protests and marches—this is also where Mar Guirguis church is located. By nine, I saw a church bus being attacked by the protesters and burned while they yelled, “Islameya! Islameya!” [Islamic state] and cursed about Copts. When they couldn’t break into the church because of the steel doors, they broke the advertising boards in front, and then they broke into the [church’s annex]. Then they started attacking all the shops around the church including the pharmacy of Dr. Mounir, which was right beside the church. They set fires to cars, then stormed buildings, including an apartment right in front of the church—people were running and trying to escape. This lasted until 11:30, when Ministry of Interior armored cars stormed in and fired tear gas. They fought until 1 PM.
Later in the evening, I went back to see how things were. The three chapels were burned and looted, the administrative buildings were completely burned down. When the curfew started [at 7 PM], I went to the hospital to check on victims. I was told that people had gunshot and pellet wounds. Around the same time the Church of the Virgin was also attacked [on the other side of town]. I was told that it endured similar damages.
How are you sure the Muslim Brotherhood are the ones responsible?
I am certain because I’ve been going to protests since [November 2011], and I know very well how [the Muslim Brotherhood] are and how they act. A lot of them wore the green headbands and carried the green flags [of the Muslim Brotherhood]. Also the gathering point by the church is where the Muslim Brotherhood protesters usually meet.
Apocalyptic Christians Are Boring
When I started reading Endtime, I thought getting a magazine devoted to the end of the world every two months would be fascinating—I’d get loads of insane theories, wacky photoshop jobs, and far-out interpretations of news stories from the Middle East. I was right about the photoshopping (get a load of that cover!), but wrong about everything else. As I learned from previous issues of this publication, publisher/editor/company founder Irvin Baxter believes that there is a war coming that will wipe out a third of humanity; that a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine will result in animals being sacrificed on the Temple Mount for the first time in 2,000 years; that a global government, led by the Antichrist, will emerge and persecute Christians and Israel before a big, end-of-the-world fight between good and evil. These are fairly nutty things to believe, but as it turns out, hearing about them makes for pretty mind-numbing reading.
After the letters to the editor section—where Irvin answers questions such as, “Is a third of the world population really going to die in that big war?” (yes) and “Is there really going to be a river of blood five feet deep at the Battle of Armageddon?” (yes, but it won’t be that deep all the way from the Plain of Megiddo to Jerusalem)—the July/August issue of Endtime features a long, somewhat meandering story on the Israel-Palestine peace negotiations organized by US Secretary of State John Kerry that concludes casually by saying that there will some day be peace in Israel because the Bible says so, “but probably not now. The Sixth Trumpet War that will kill one-third of the human race will probably happen first.” Oh, that clears that up then, I guess.
The Cult Who Kidnaps Christians and Is at War with the Chinese Government
Above: The female Jesus, Lightning Deng (left) and Eastern Lightning founder, Zhao Weishan.
In some ways, Eastern Lightning are hilarious. For starters, the cult’s core belief is that Jesus Christ has been reincarnated as a middle-aged Chinese woman called Lightning Deng who now lives in Chinatown, New York. Then there are the bizarre evangelizing attempts to recruit China’s rural communities—stuff like the sudden appearance of live snakes painted with scripture and mysterious glow sticks hidden in people’s homes that somehow (I’m really not sure how) signal the second coming of Christ.
Leaders of Christian groups warn their members against the “flirty fishing” methods supposedly adopted by Eastern Lightning ladies to convert Christian men to the path of their female Christ. Lastly, of course, there’s the name, which sounds more like an energy drink or AC/DC cover band than a cult. Perhaps that’s why, these days, they often use the alias “Church of the Almighty God.”
To their victims, though, Eastern Lightning aren’t a joke. In fact, to some they must seem kind of terrifying. The cult operates by infiltrating China’s underground house churches (proper ones are banned in China) and integrating themselves into the community, before allegedly seducing, kidnapping, bribing, or blackmailing members into joining them. Highly organized and comprised of over a million members, according to some estimates, Eastern Lightning train their leaders to build trust slowly over months before making their move.
Their activities have not gone unnoticed by the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the two sides are currently engaged in a low-key fight to the death.
Unmasking Lucien Greaves, Leader of the Satanic Temple
VICE: Is the Satanic Temple a satanic, or a satirical group?
Doug: That is a common question. I say why can’t it be both? We are coming from a solid philosophy that we absolutely believe in and adhere to. This is Satanism, and to us it couldn’t be called anything other than Satanism. However, our metaphor of Satan is a literary construct inspired by authors such as Anatole France and Milton—a rebel angel defiant of autocratic structure and concerned with the material world. Satanism as a rejection of superstitious supernaturalism. This Satan, of course, bears no resemblance to the embodiment of all cruelty, suffering, and negativity believed in by some apocalyptic segments of Judeo-Christian culture. The word Satan has no inherent value. If one acts with compassion in the name of Satan, one has still acted with compassion. Our very presence as civic-minded socially responsible Satanists serves to satirize the ludicrous superstitious fears that the word Satan tends to evoke.
Reminds me of a darker version of the Yes Men.
Yes. Just as the Yes Men use very catching theatrical ploys to draw attention to a progressive agenda, we play upon people’s irrational fears in a way that hopefully causes them to reevaluate what they think they know, redefine arbitrary labels, and judge people for their concrete actions. I believe that where reason fails to persuade, satire and mockery prevail. Whereas many religious groups seem to eschew humor, we embrace it.
Read the whole interview
Teenage Exorcists, Part 2
Sick of taking responsibility for the shitty things that have happened to you in your life? Help is on the way, in the virginal and strangely vacant form of three Bible-thumping teenage exorcists from Phoenix, Arizona. Eighteen-year-old Brynne Larson and her friends Tess and Savannah Sherkenback (18 and 21, respectively) claim to be able to confront the demons lurking inside traumatized people and draw them out using nothing more than a crucifix and a few choice words. But are these teenage exorcists really empowered by the Almighty, or merely by Brynne’s father, a failed televangelist named Reverend Bob?
In our new film, the girls and Reverend Bob give us exclusive access to their tour of Ukraine, during which they attempt to save the souls of recovering drug addicts and exorcise people’s “sexually transmitted demons.”
Watch the documentary