Scamming the scammers

ScammersFrom the BBC (via Religion News Blog) comes feel-good news about Nigerian 419 scams: a coalition called 419 Eater is fighting back and, in one case, using an elaborate parody of church talk to achieve its goal. (An audio report by BBC Radio 4 is available here.)

The long, utterly futile spiritual journey of Prince Joe Eboh begins when he sends out a standard 419 email on April 21. A “scambaiter” writes back to Prince Joe, posing as one Father Hector Barnett of the Holy Church of the Order of the Red Breast.

Prince Joe’s story goes on for thousands of words, but before it is over he has painted a red circle around his right breast, joined the Holy Church of the Order of the Red Breast, sent $80 to Father Hector (plus $40 to DHL) and wasted lots of his undoubtedly valuable time.

As Bruce Cockburn warned us in 1981, “Everybody loves to see justice done on somebody else.” Is it a sin to feel Schadenfraude at Prince Joe’s being cast down? If it is, count me among the worst sinners.

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Meet John Ashcroft, honorary Branch Davidian (Creeping Fundamentalism IX)

KoreshVideoIn a video game called Waco Resurrection, a player steps into the mind of the would-be messiah David Koresh and gains energy from — well, of course, from Bibles that rain from the sky and spray bullets. The same Bibles can transform federal agents into Branch Davidians.

Those details are the clearest religious reference in this article (Kansas City Star, registration required) by Jeff Douglas of the Associated Press.

The members of C-level, a multimedia lab based in Los Angeles, collectively told FilmMaker magazine that Waco Resurrection is the first installment in EndGames, “a new game series based on alternative utopias and apocalyptic moments.”

Although the destructive confrontation at Koresh’s compound occurred during the Clinton administration, C-level sees in it the dread hand of neoconservatism and even of President Bush and Attorney General Ashcroft.

As the Borglike group told Time Out New York,

“in 2003, the spirit of [David] Koresh and the Waco tragedy have become paradoxical embodiments of the current political landscape-Koresh is both the besieged religious other and the logical extension of the neoconservative millennial vision. Our primary focus is the hypocrisy and contradiction that permeate the Waco showdown.”

And just how do Bush and Ashcroft enter the picture? The article from FilmMaker helpfully connects those dots:

“The apocalyptic rhetoric and militaristic posture of the Bush administration finds a striking mirror in the Branch Davidian episode. . . . Although the exact date was never specified, the tenth anniversary of the siege finds us in a unique cultural moment: nationalistic sentiment and holy war are official administration policy; the current attorney general, unlike his predecessor, ascribes to a fundamentalism very similar to that of Koresh; and the constitutional transgressions of the FBI/ATF have become law under the PATRIOT Act.”

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Back in the door: GetReligion cut off in Korea?

Just back in the door from Turkey and Greece and I am way, way jet-lagged. But there is always all of that back email to triage.

I will post tomorrow with my observations of a long layover today in a London lounge, mostly spent looking for religion ghosts in all those edgy, diverse British newspapers.

But first, this just in from a reader.

If anyone else out there has ideas about how to handle these kinds of things, please let us know.

Messrs. Mattingly and LeBlanc,

I thought it might interest you to know that is now censored by the South Korean government.

In an effort to keep video and images of Kim Seon-il’s beheading from entering the country, the government has shut down numerous websites including livejournal, blogspot, and typepad. Neither I nor any of your other readers in Korea have been able to read GetReligion for several days now, and this is likely to continue indefinitely.

I actually don’t know too much about the situation– pertinent websites are blocked — but I believe that (which I can’t access) has more of the details. I suppose this doesn’t actually have anything to do with religion and the press (though Kim Seon-il hoped to be a missionary in Iraq), but perhaps it’s pertinent in some manner.

Also, if it’s possible for me to receive GetReligion updates via email, I’m (private email address) and sure would appreciate it.

Covertly, James Hargrave

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Another step toward "Godism"

twocrownsHere’s an example of a critical story finding its way from the blogosphere into print: In March the Rev. Sun Myung Moon managed to get himself and his wife crowned — in a ceremony inside the Dirksen Senate Office Building — as Ambassadors for Peace.

The Washington Times reported briefly on the ceremony on March 24, but the paper, owned by members of Moon’s Unification Church, stuck to a deadpan style:

Several dozen religious and civic leaders were honored last night in Washington for their “exceptional dedication” as peacemakers.

“Crown of Peace” awards were presented at a dinner at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, the highlight of a three-day conference on peace and reconciliation, which ends today at the Washington Plaza Hotel.

To end divisions of pain, suffering and conflict, “one core principle is necessary — the principle of living for the sake of others,” said the Rev. Chung Hwan Kwak, chairman of the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace (IIFWP).

The Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the founder of the federation, and his wife, Hak Ja Han Moon, received Crown of Peace awards for their lifelong public service. In his remarks, Rev. Moon said historical divisions are solved when men and women form “God-centered families” and live in harmony with other such families.

As John Gorenfeld has reported on his Where in Washington, D.C., is Sun Myung Moon? blog, Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) participated in the ceremony — at one point carrying a velvet pillow bearing one of the crowns to be placed on the Moons’ heads.

Writing today for Salon, Gorenfeld presents a concise case for why the coronation is, well, problematic:

Moon, 84, the benefactor of conservative foundations like the American Family Coalition — who served time in the 1980s for tax fraud and conspiracy to obstruct justice — has views somewhere to the right of the Taliban’s Mullah Omar. Moon preaches that gays are “dung-eating dogs,” Jews brought on the Holocaust by betraying Jesus, and the U.S. Constitution should be scrapped in favor of a system he calls “Godism” — with him in charge. The man crowned “King of Peace” by congressmen once said, according to sermons reprinted in his church’s Unification News: “Suppose I were to hit you with the baseball bat to stop you, bloodying your ear and breaking a bone or two, yet still you insisted on doing more work for Father.”

Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune interviewed Davis, who defended his participation in the ceremony:

Davis said it was his understanding that the crowns represented the Moons’ achievements as “true parents, both to their own children and I guess to lots of children and other people. I think they were being feted for their promotion of parenthood, of family values and family traditions.”

That’s quite a thought. In its heyday, Moon’s cultlike Unification Church was famous for separating adherents from their families and promoting mass arranged marriages that violated American family traditions.

Lee Penn, a friend of GetReligion, pursued the story for The Christian Challenge magazine. Penn, who has devoted several years to extensive freelance reporting on the United Religions Initiative, reported on the presence of Archbishop G. Augustus Stallings of Imani Temple:

He is, among other things, the chairman of the Executive Committee of the American Clergy Leadership Conference (ACLC), a Unificationist organization. Stallings and the group have lately been involved in a crusade, inspired by Moon, to remove crosses from Christian churches, partly as an interfaith gesture and because of its alleged negative connotations.

Unificationist spokesmen claimed that 300 Christian congregations had removed the cross from their churches between April and August 2003.

Penn also reports that several members of Congress attended the ceremony, but that most left quickly when the event’s purpose became clear:

A knowledgeable source on Capitol Hill said that some legislators attended the March 23 banquet without knowing the real sponsorship and intent of the gathering. “There was a mass exodus from the event as soon as folks realized that it was a Rev. Moon event, and that he was there,” the informant said.

The Moonies claim in a video of the banquet that, in all, “81 U.S. senators and members of Congress … 26 ambassadors to the United States … and some 450 leaders from various fields…came to participate in an Ambassadors for Peace Awards … and Crown of Peace Ceremony.” If this is true, it would account for the “mass exodus” when assembled legislators realized whose party they were unwittingly attending.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has written before about Moon’s messianic ambitions. This isn’t likely the last manifestation of those ambitions.

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Maybe David Samuels really does read GetReligion

davidsamuels.jpgI think Doug and I now know what we want for Christmas. We want a blog software package that prevents people from making anonymous posts in the “comments” pages.

Actually, that isn’t quite right. At the moment we are trying to figure out what to think of a comment that was left in response to the recent post titled Creeping Fundamentalism V: The gospel of the New York Times. The problem with this post is not that it is anonymous. It isn’t. It is signed by “David Samuels.” The problem is that the writer did not attach an email or a URL that would allow us to confirm that this is THE David Samuels (pictured). And, in this case, that matters. Doug was able to confirm that this comment came from an IP address — — that did not match the address used by both “Paul Tillich” and “James Pike.”

So we think this really is David Samuels. Here is the post:

I am writing because I’m sick and tired of seeing a paragraph plucked from my five year old story for the Times Magazine on James Kopp being passed around on message boards like this one as an example of insidious liberal rationalist bias in the media. Read in context, the paragraph in question was clearly meant to provoke and unsettle my liberal friends who believe that sincere sacrifice in the name of a higher good — like revolution, or equality, or saving lives — is ALWAYS right, against which I presented the counter-example of James Kopp, a man who was undoubtedly sincere, and was also undoubtedly a killer (he pled guilty), and — as far as I can tell — sincerely crazy. I honestly don’t what degree of relativism makes the moral universe of the liberal elites go ’round — I grew up in a religious family, and still consider myself a religious person. In the context of my portrait of Kopp, I was quite clearly mocking the “shared but unspoken premise” that you seem to take for some kind of in-group wink-wink among journalists. I don’t think anyone could reasonably read what I wrote without coming away with a pretty complex portrait of James Kopp as a tortured human being in the grip of an ideology that sanctioned murder as a response to what it portrayed as the murder of the unborn. I also don’t think you’ll find a more sympathetic portrait of the men and women of the anti-abortion movement in the history of the New York Times.

Now that may not be saying all that much, but it might be interesting to go back and read what I actually wrote instead of waving my ancient paragraph around as a token of how sinned-against religious believers are in the media.

Posted by: David Samuels | April 5, 2004 12:25 AM

This is in reaction to my use of a 1999 quotation from a New York Times magazine feature written by one David Samuels in which he unfolded the story of an anti-abortion activist who had veered far outside the mainstream pro-life movement and into deadly violence. The quote in question came near the end:

It is a shared if unspoken premise of the world that most of us inhabit that absolutes do not exist and that people who claim to have found them are crazy. … Perhaps sacrifice in the name of a higher good — God, Marx, freedom or whatever the good of the moment happens to be — is admirable only as long as you support the cause. Or perhaps, in the absence of absolutes, we must judge beliefs not by their inherent righteousness but by their visible consequences.

Actually, I would join Samuels in encouraging everyone to go read this story for themselves — even if that means spending some money to do so.

It is ironic that my view of the article is similar to that of the writer. I agree that he is taking a jab at all kinds of people who embrace moral absolutes, including those on the left. That is why I always use the second half of his quotation, instead of quoting him as saying, “It is a shared if unspoken premise of the world that most of us inhabit that absolutes do not exist and that people who claim to have found them are crazy,” and leaving it at that.

It is also true that his article dug deep into the mind of this conflicted, crazed anti-abortion activist, in a manner that can be called sympathetic. Then again, many would question whether it was fair to say that James Kopp in any way represented the mindset of the pro-life movement. Was this another case of guilt by association?

Finally, I can see that Samuels is gently mocking the views of his “liberal friends” in elite zip codes. Of course, it is hard to mock an attitide without saying that it exists. And it helps if one states it plainly. Which he did. And we thank him for doing so.

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Communion most foul: How not to use a cellphone in a holy place

This is the kind of brief “news” story that makes me (a) laugh out loud and then (b) once I have laughed out loud, a wave of depression crashes in and I am tempted to rethink my opposition to the death penalty.

I work and teach on a university campus, which means that I spend untold hours watching young people use cell telephones and meditating on how these devices are changing our lives. Pop test: name creative ways that cellphones (with digital cameras) might be used to cheat on tests. Anyway, it is in this context that I pass along this item from The Living Church. I cannot provide a URL for this because a friend (a recovering Episcopalian stuck with a lifetime subscription) scanned it in. This comes from an organist-choirmaster in a parish that was not named (for obvious reasons):

When it’s time to receive communion, it is our custom for the choir to communicate first, so here we are, all kneeling at the communion rail, me last in the far corner of the L-shaped rail. Five or six people removed from me, and around the corner of the L at an angle from which I can see and hear everything, is one of my basses. As we await our turns, from deep within the folds of his choir robe, this fellow’s cell phone announces its presence by playing a spirited version of the opening measures of the Finale of the William Tell Overture. By the second — extended — playing, he has fumbled through the ample recesses of his garment (he is a large man) and extracted the offending instrument. He mutters a few words into it, closes it, redeposits it in the depths of his robe, and receives the wafer on his tongue.

I am appalled but think, “Well, that ends that.” No. The best, as the saying goes, is yet to come. As the chalice bearer approaches, this dolt’s phone rings again. Experience being the best teacher, he answers on the first ring but this time begins a conversation! As the chalice arrives, he says (I’m not kidding), “Wait a minute; I’m taking communion” — the chalice-bearer is standing there, waiting patiently — and takes the phone away from his ear. With his other hand, he guides the chalice to his lips, takes a hurried swig, and returns to his phone conversation.

There isn’t much else to say. But I sense a Washington Post Style cover story on the way! I wish I could write it myself. So this raises the GetReligion reader-response question for the week (or at least for today, maybe, I may ask another): What is the worst cell-phone sin that you have witnessed in a religious sanctuary?

Come on people, you can do it. Pitch in and we can top the comment total for “When bad music happens to a Good God.”

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When does a blog piece turn into actual journalism?

A personal note from Tmatt. In the past week, my longer post on the same-sex marriage editorial flap at Baylor has kind of run off and developed a life of its own. This past Sunday, a shortened version ran on the op-ed page of the Dallas Morning News. And, after noticing that the Baylor story seemed to have some legs, I have re-written the material again for use as my Scripps Howard syndicate column this week. The home page for my columns is, by the way.

But this leads me to a question I have wanted to ask, seeking some feedback concerning this blog. The focus of is the mainstream media’s coverage of religion news. So far, Doug and I have offered quite a bit of short, quick commentary on articles in the media, but we have also ventured into some personal opinion writing about “what it all means.”

So here is my question: When does blog writing actually turn into journalism? When does it turn into an actual editorial column? Another way to ask the question is to ask whether you, the readers, prefer short, chatty pieces with a dash of personal commentary, or the longer pieces (“What would Richard Ostling do?”) that try to weave references to several news articles into a larger trend piece. I mean, is there an official length — 600-plus words, let’s say — where this “blogging” thing evolves into something else? What think ye?

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Lost in Translation: Trying to speak blogosphere

I am still trying to learn the ropes in this blogosphere stuff. So I am wondering how to translate comments left by “michigancatholic” about our post on press coverage of the new reports on sexual abuse among Catholic clergy.

So is the following garble or a cryptic comment in an unknown tongue — blogese — and I simply have not been given the gift of translation? Here is the remark:

CATHOLIC.SYS corrupted; Overwrite exception cathkernel.sys at V2.bat; general fault at V2.exe
Reboot (Y/N)?
Posted by: michigancatholic at March 1, 2004 12:09 AM

General fault at V2 or is that VII? Is that case sensitive?

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