Freethought Today · Vol. 27 No. 6 August 2010

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

In the News: August 2010

Hitchens diagnosed with cancer

Christopher Hitchens, prominent author and atheist, has cancer and has cut short a promotional tour for his new memoir Hitch-22.

Hitchens, 61, released this statement June 30: “I have been advised by my physician that I must undergo a course of chemotherapy on my esophagus. This advice seems persuasive to me. I regret having had to cancel so many engagements at such short notice.”

The cancer has spread “a little” to his lymph nodes, Hitchens told conservative blogger Hugh Hewitt, who asked what he thinks about all the people praying or not praying for him.

Hitchens: “I think that prayer and holy water and things like that are all fine. They don’t do any good, but they don’t necessarily do any harm. It’s touching to be thought of in that way. It makes up for those who tell me that I’ve got my just desserts. It’s, I’m afraid to say, it’s almost as well-founded an idea. I mean, I don’t, they don’t know whether prayer will work, and they don’t know whether I’ve come by this because I’m a sinner.”

Civil unions bill vetoed in Hawaii

Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed a bill July 6 giving same-sex and unwed heterosexual couples the same protections married couples have.

The bill allowing civil unions passed 31-20 on the last day of the legislative session. Lingle, 57, is Hawaii’s first female governor.

Iceland, Argentina OK gay marriage

Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir of Iceland married her partner in Reykjavik on June 27, the first day a law legalizing same-sex marriage went into effect. Jonina Leosdottir, 56, a writer, and Sigurdardottir, 67, had been in a registered partnership since 2002. Both were previously married. Sigurdardottir has a son and Leosdottir has two sons.

Relatedly, President Cristina Fernandez signed a law July 21 in Buenos Aires that makes Argentina the first country in Latin America to legalize marriage for same-sex couples. The Catholic Church strongly objected.

New trial for polygamist Jeffs

The Utah Supreme Court reversed polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs’ 2007 conviction on two counts of rape as an accomplice and ordered a new trial. A unanimous ruling said the trial judge erred by not instructing the jury that to convict him, they had to find Jeffs knew unwanted sex would take place and intended rape to occur when he married first cousins Allen Steed, 19, and Elissa Wall, 14. Elissa had begged not to be married.

“We regret the effect our opinion today may have on the victim of the underlying crime, to whom we do not wish to cause additional pain,” wrote Justice Jill Parrish for the court.
Jeffs, 54, leads the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has about 10,000 members, mostly in Utah, Arizona, Texas and British Columbia. He was sentenced to two consecutive terms of five years to life in prison.

The reversal puzzled state Attorney General Mark Shurtleff: “I am left scratching my head as to how we in the executive branch of law enforcement can go about protecting children from the actions of religious leaders like Warren Jeffs.”

Atheist takes helm as Australian P.M.

Julia Gillard, 48, replaced Kevin Rudd on June 24 as prime minister of Australia. She’s the country’s first female prime minister and is an atheist.

“I was brought up in the Baptist Church, but during my adult life I’ve, you know, found a different path,” Gillard told The Australian. “I’m of course a great respecter of religious beliefs, but they’re not my beliefs. I am not going to pretend a faith I don’t feel. And for people of faith, the greatest compliment I could pay to them is to respect their genuinely held beliefs and not to engage in some pretense about mine.”

River Jordan not so deep or wide

“The River Jordan is deep and wide/milk and honey on the other side” is a lyric that’s lost its luster to the cold light of reality. According to Israel Today, a site sacred to believers is now a cesspool.

“The site along the lower portion of the Jordan River where Jesus was likely baptized by John the Baptist may soon be declared off-limits due to pollution,” the paper reported July 22. About 100,000 Christian pilgrims are baptized there every year on the Israel-Jordan border.

“The only thing flowing into the lower Jordan today is raw sewage from the nearby Palestinian town of Jericho,” the paper said. Severe drought has largely dried up the Jordan River.

Presbyterian numbers drop by half

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has lost half its membership since the mid-1960s, reported the Courier-Journal of Louisville, Ky., where the church is based. In 1965 it had about 4.25 million members compared to 2.1 million in 2009.

Church denies full funeral for singer

The Romanian Orthodox Church refused to give popular singer Madalina Manole a full funeral because she killed herself July 14 on her 43rd birthday by drinking Furadan, an insecticide. A priest was instead allowed to perform a simple service in a church courtyard.

Singer Tavi Colen said Manole was a believer who suffered from depression. It would break church law to allow a full service without written medical evidence that she was clinically depressed, said church spokesman Constantin Stoica.

Coffee fatwa strains Indonesian imams The Council of Ulemas, Indonesia’s highest Islamic body, decided not to issue a fatwa banning the world’s most expensive coffee, which is extracted from the feces of the civet cat.

“After a long discussion among clerics here, we decided that it’s not sinful for Muslims to drink the Luwak coffee,” Chairman Ma’ruf Amien told Agence France-Presse. “It’s not haram (forbidden in Islam) as long as you wash the beans with water first,” he said.

Kopi Luwak beans excreted by civets cost up to $500 per kilogram. Coffee consultant Michael Peter said the cats’ stomach acids produce a smooth-tasting brew.

Study: Fundamentalism leads to violence

According to a new study by two Texas Tech professors, college students with the deepest Christian fundamentalist beliefs are more likely to commit domestic abuse.

“There is a sense of entitlement that can come through with religion that can lead someone to hurt someone,” co-author and sociology professor Jerome Koch told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.

Josh Stephens, dean of students at Lubbock Christian University, denied there’s any connection.

The survey taken by more than 600 undergrads showed otherwise. Data showed the more fundamental the Christian beliefs, the more likely that students approved of or became violent in their intimate relationships.

Polls on Second Coming, afterlife

About four in ten Americans say they expect Jesus Christ to return within the next 40 years, according to a recent national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

Only 19% of those who graduated from college expect Jesus to return by 2050, compared to 35% of those with some college experience and 59% of Americans with no college experience.

A new CBS-Vanity Fair poll asked this: What do you think happens to people after they die?

The results:
Go to heaven, purgatory or hell 47%
Go to another dimension 14%
Reborn on Earth 8%
Become ghosts 0%
There is no afterlife 30%

Faith-healing couple indicted in Oregon

Timothy and Rebecca Wyland, Beavercreek, Ore., were indicted in mid-July for first-degree criminal mistreatment. They belong to the Followers of Christ, a sect which rejects medical care and relies solely on faith to heal.

Their daughter, Alayna, 7 months, has a mass of blood vessels called a hemangioma that has caused her eye to swell shut and has pushed the eyeball down and out and has eroded the eye socket.

Court documents said Rebecca Wyland anointed Alayna with oil each time she changed her diaper and wiped away the yellow seepage from her left eye.

Timothy Wyland’s first wife died of untreated breast cancer in 2006.

Outcry halts Iran woman’s stoning death

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, 43, an Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery, was given a reprieve but is still in prison. The sentence brought an international outcry (including an FFRF Action Alert to members).It’s unknown if the death sentence is still in place and will be carried out by a means other than stoning, which involves first being buried up to the waist for a man or neck for a woman. It was reported July 28 that Ashtiani’s lawyer vanished after police interrogation.

Iran executed 388 people last year, second only to China, according to Amnesty International.

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