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JZ Knight, My Hometown Cult Leader

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I grew up in Yelm, Washington, home to the Ramtha School of Enlightenment (RSE) led by cult leader JZ Knight.  To be honest, as a young child growing up in the 80’s around Yelm, I didn’t know too much about the RSE.  I don’t recall discussing anything religious or spiritual with my parents, and can recall only going to church a handful of times, and those were only the “traditional” Christian churches.  Despite not knowing anything about what the RSE was, everyone in school knew where the RSE was.  It was the enormous house hidden behind the white stone wall, with only the top most levels of the house visible as the school bus drove us by.  All the stories about the RSE were about how rich JZ Knight was; truth be told, none of us really knew who she was, or what she did to get so rich.

I moved from Yelm to Minnesota when I was a teenager, and almost everything about the RSE dropped from my life.  From time to time I would bring her up as something from my hometown, something that no one around me knew about.  By this time I had also learned JZ was a channeller someone who claims to host a non-corporeal entity so the otherwise silent and invisible entity can communicate with the physical world (us).  To put it another way, she pretends a spirit is speaking using her mouth, and to make you really believe, she talks funny.

Time went on, and as I grew up to an adult I always thought of her as something in my past, a curiosity but nothing more.  Then came Facebook, I had liked a Yelm page which posted an editorial from the Yelm newspaper , and there she was, JZ Knight.

The Ramatha School of Enlightenment was suing a Virginia Coverdale over the release of a controversial video in which she insults gays, Catholics, Mexicans, and many other groups.  As a member of the Trans* community, these bigoted remarks naturally caught my attention.  I would post a link, but JZ has had the vast majority pulled down from the internet.  (The videos are still out there, and if you know how to search, you can find them, and if you are internet savvy, I suggest you take a look as they are quite entertaining.)

Apparently when you join the RSE, you are required to sign a confidentiality agreement where, and I’m paraphrasing here, you agree to not release, discuss, or disseminate materials from the RSE without the consent of the RSE.  This is not the normal behavior for a religion;  however, the RSE does not claim to be a religion, although they do claim religious privilege when it comes to what they believe.

Though Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment is a for-profit school that does not hold itself out as a church or organized religion, the foundation of its teachings are spiritual and center around beliefs in the teachings of Ramtha, a 30,000-year-old warrior spirit channeled by Knight.”  RSE

So they want to be treated as a religion when it comes to their beliefs, but want to be JZ Knight Incorporated, a for profit business when it comes to everything else.  This is a problem because JZ Knight Inc sells a product to its students.  They make a claim of being able to educate and elucidate, and charge you for the special opportunity to learn this secret knowledge.  In an injunction discussed below, the RSE describes itself as “engaged in the business of retail sales, seminars, and publishing.”  I am not personally aware of any church or religious organization which would describe itself in that manner.  Yet, if you realize you’ve been swindled, that the secret knowledge you’ve been promised is a lie, you are not allowed to sue for your money back, because the school then turns around and claims the religious protections guaranteed by the first amendment of the US Constitution.  As mentioned above, the court ruled in favor the RSE, claiming the non-disclosure agreement was binding, and covered the videos and materials Ms. Coverdale had disseminated online.

Virginia Coverdale, like most former students of the RSE, has suggested that an investigation into the relationship between Thurston County officials and the RSE should be undertaken.  It was in fact, because of this belief of uncovered corruption, that the videos of JZ Knight making bigoted statements was originally released.  Under the Public Records Act of Washington State, Ms. Coverdale has now submitted a “request for documents containing correspondence between [Thurston County] and any employee of JZK Inc., Ramtha School of Enlightenment.”

Immediately the RSE sought an injunction against this release claiming it “will clearly not be in the public interest, and will substantially and irreparably damage” the school as well as harming “it’s right to due process of law, its right of free speech, and participation in the political process…”

As I have stated in previous postings, and on the podcast, I am a big fan scientific skepticism, the same rules of evidence apply to Ms. Coverdale’s claim of potential political misdoings, as any other claim.  First, who holds the burden of proof?  This lies on the those making the claim of possible misdoings by Thurston County officials.  Second, if true, would the claim be consistent with our current understanding of reality?  Yes, corruption of government officials by giving them favors or cash does is consistent with our current understanding of how the world works.  This does not mean the claim is true, it simply means the threshold of evidence is lower than if the claim was an extraordinary one, such as the government officials are actually grey aliens.

So as a scientific skeptic, my opinion is that Ms. Coverdale needs evidence, but if she produces said evidence I’ll believer her…..such as the evidence she has requested from Thurston County.  The evidence the Ramtha School of Enlightenment is seeking to keep from becoming public.  An important point needs to be made however.  The filing of an injunction by the RSE, is not evidence that Ms. Coverdale’s suspicion of political misdoings is correct.  There are many alternate hypothesis that are just as reasonable and plausible such as; the RSE has a culture of secrecy they are loath to part with, the RSE is incompetent, the RSE is mean, or the RSE believes everything in their injunction.  All of these are potentially just as true as Ms. Coverdale’s assertion, what we need is evidence, and as stated above, the request of Ms. Coverdale may give that evidence.

I’m going to end this already long blog post here.  I’ll keep you updated on this case, because as with JZ being my hometown cult leader, its resolution is important to me.  I will also go into the teachings of the RSE, and probably channeling in general in further posts.  People like JZ Knight raise my ire, she cheats people out of their money, she cheats people out of their dreams, she destroys families, and she’s not alone.

-Maddy

 

It Can Only Get Better

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A few days ago the HuffPo posted an article on how few atheists there are in Congress right now, or rather, that there are currently public atheists in congress right now.  I’m reminded of what a patient told me one morning as they were lying in bed, “when you’re on your back, the only way to look is up.”  Just a year ago a Pew Poll was released showing “Nones”, those of us who don’t identify with any religion, make up 20% of the population as a whole, and 33% of the population under 30.  This means that out of 535 members of Congress there should be around 107 who can identify with the concerns and needs of the “none” community. (107 is 20% of 535 for those of you who don’t remember your primary school maths)

When you’re tired of just looking up, and take a moment to turn your head side to side, you see just how many of those around  us are also laying on their back, under represented by those in power who make decisions.

The same Pew Poll mentioned above found there were 3.5 million Muslims in the US, which is about 1% of the total US population, meaning there should be 5-6 Muslims in Congress, yet there is only 1 muslim in congress.  This is one more representative than we have, and it is remarkable, given the fear and bigotry surrounding Islam is even greater than that surrounding atheism.

The LGB part of the LGBT community has 6 openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual members, while the Transgendered community is still searching for representation.  Perhaps Paula Overby will change that next year, which will help yet another under represented electorate, women.  There are 98 women in Congress, yes, almost 20%, the same percentage we should expect to see of atheists, agnostics, or other non spiritual or otherwise non religiously affiliated persons.  However, as many of you are undoubtedly aware, women make up a good deal more of the population than 20%

I don’t wish to be misunderstood.  I do understand completely that not every group in America can have a proportionate representation based upon their percentage of the American population.  There are approximately 250,000 Railfans in the US, that does not mean they deserve the 1/2 a congressperson their proportional demographic is equal to be properly represented.

Beliefs, and non-belief, of religion and spirituality though are important aspects of American Culture, many people base their entire lives and morals on what they feel is divinely written, spoken, or inspired.  There are many Americans who feel the laws of the country should reflect the instructions of their particular theology, from lefty hippies invoking crystals and oneness with nature or mega church evangelicals, they believe the country and the world would be a better place if we followed their teachings

Meanwhile we have to contend with people like this who believe those of us without belief in their god are destroying this country.  He is not alone, and the Left has no right to be haughty.  The 2012 Democratic National Convention took a verbal “yea / nay” vote on whether or not to mention “God” in their party platform.  The nays won out as you can clearly hear and see in the clip below.

Why did the DNC keep the god reference in, why were they so afraid to keep god out?  My opinion is that we None’s are not vocal enough at the polls.  We don’t necessarily have to vote Democrat, Republican, or any other party, but we do have vote.  We also have to make sure our families, our communities, and our representatives know we are here, and we’re growing.

We need to come out of the closet, we need to have representation, and we need to not allow the religious to impose their religion on us with out our consent.  If we do that, it can only get better.

-Maddy

Bill Maher & the Scientific Illiterate Left

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Real Time with Bill Maher is one of the few shows I love, and can honestly say with a DVR, Xfinity OnDemand, and HBO podcasts, I never miss an episode.  Real Time brings to America something that is missing from almost every other political talk show, Real Time brings opposing views, and then allows them to talk.  It was listening to the podcasted episode from 9/13/13, which prompted this posting.

Bill Maher is an outspoken atheist, something I can really get behind, there aren’t enough people in the popular media who are willing to speak out against all religion   He is also outspoken on the anti-science policies of the conservative right such as; climate change denial, anti-evolution, and basic human sexual reproduction.  However, these are the low hanging fruit, and one would expect an atheist who is as adamantly anti-theist as Bill to speak out against these religious based ideologies.

Bill fails when it comes to issues from the left such as GMO safety, science based medicine, biology, even occasionally fossil fuels.  When it comes to these issues, he displays his scientific illiteracy proudly, making it clear he should remove the plank in his eye prior to commenting on the speck of dust in his political adversary.

Edwin Lyman, Senior Scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, was explaining the environmental hazards posed by the damaged Fukushima reactor site which is currently leaking 300 tons of radioactive water a day into the ocean.

“In my assessment the dose associated with the leakage is not an immediate biological threat at this point, but it does tell us It does tell us they [Japan] don’t have control of the site, and that’s very troubling because there is still an enormous amount of radioactive material they have to clean up over the decades”

Bill immediately responds, asking Mr. Lyman why he doesn’t think the current rate of leakage is currently posing an immediate threat.  Mr. Lyman explains how the ocean dilutes, how 300 tons of radioactive water a day diluted into the ocean will not cause seafood or swimming to be any more unsafe.  Bill isn’t having any of that:

“I don’t like that low amount theory……I disagree with lots of people in the medical field about this.  The idea that you know, a small amount of poison is okay. I don’t like any amount of poison”

Mr. Lyman agrees the scientific consensus on radiation exposure is there is no safe level, and then goes on to briefly mention fringe pseudoscience health claims regarding radiation exposure.  It is upon this point that Bill shows his hypocrisy.

“Radiation is good for you?  Who are these people, and let me guess which political party?”

Many chuckles from Bill and the audience as this is an obvious reference to the Republican party, and their proud anti-science views, especially on matters of environmental importance.  Yet Bill seems blind to what he just did, how just moments ago he made an unscientific statement, and is now lampooning the right for making unscientific statements.

This is simply one example, and I’m only picking on Bill because 1, he can take it; and 2 because he is a well known face of the Left whose opinions on science reach a large audience of political like minded people.

Other examples include:

This isn’t just Bill though, this kind of thinking is to the Left what creationism is to the Right

Unscientific thinking permeates the culture, and is embraced by the Left and when it comes to food is mainstream.  Organic, farm raised, natural fill in the blank foods are hailed as more healthy than genetically modified foods, despite scientific evidence to the contrary.  Lost on the left is understanding that everything is a chemical, including water.  Supplements, vitamins, anti-oxidants, immune system boosters, detoxification, all pseudo-science happily being pushed by the Left into mainstream, none supported by actual double blind clinic trials.

As I stated above, I love watching and listening to Real Time, however one needs to listen with a grain of salt, and remember that when it comes to allowing one’s personal beliefs to color one’s understanding and acceptance of science, Bill is no better than those he is criticizing.

David Gorski from the Science Based Medicine blog did an excellent and thorough piece on this topic back in 2009 here.  Also big thanks to the Skeptoid Podcast, and to Twitchy for links.

Atheist Questionnaire for Candidates

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Last week a questionnaire focusing on issues important to many members of the atheist community was emailed to both Representative John Kline, and his opponent Ms. Paula Overby.

A big thank you to my fellow Washingtonians at the Ask An Atheist podcast for use of their questionnaire.  Below is my email to both candidates, unfortunately only Ms. Paula Overby has responded.  I have placed her responses in bold.

My email and the responses as follows:

Thank you for your time, I know it is valuable.

Just looking for an agree or disagree for the following statements; you may of course feel free to elaborate as you see fit. All answers will be posted to the http://www.transatheistpod.com blog, and a copy of this questionnaire has being sent to Representative John Kline.

I do believe that anyone wanting to represent the citizens of our district has an obligation to respond to legitimate questions. In my experience our current representative, John Kline, screens questions, offering his own editorial in support of his own agenda. I do not consider that to be representative government.

Thank you for your inquiry.

Paula Overby

1. The planet Earth is closer to 4.7 billion years than it is to 6,000 years old.

True

2. The diversity of life on Earth is best explained through biological evolution by natural selection.

True, though the term natural selection is not precise and a simple response to this question is clearly not a thorough response.

3. Vaccinations are not responsible for childhood autism.

True. 14 studies including millions of children in several countries consistently show no significant difference in autism rates between children who got the MMR vaccine those who didn’t. The anecdotal evidence suggesting a link in no way justifies the fear that it generates about vaccines and the enormous benefits derived from vaccination.

4. Deckard was a Replicant.
I don’t know. If you are asking about Blade Runner? Yes, I’ve seen it.

5. It is very unlikely that the United States government is hiding flying saucers or alien bodies.
True. though it’s still fun to imagine.

6. Atheists and agnostics are just as capable of living happy, rewarding, and moral lives as religious believers.

That has been my experience with Atheists I have known.

7. A well-qualified candidate’s atheism would not prevent me from voting for or endorsing their candidacy.
True. Though I am Christian myself, I fully support separation of Church and state. As a participant in transgender ministries I have worked with faith leaders in Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Native American spirituality.

8. I believe that a strong separation between church and the state is the best way to preserve religious liberty.

True.  It is apparent to me that the strong government intervention in religious traditions has had a very negative impact on faith communities in the United States. I find that faith communities are seeking greater autonomy and higher levels of responsibility for the values of their own communities.

9. I believe that the United States of America is not officially a Christian nation.
True. According to separation of church and state there can be no national religion. It is not even clear that Christians are a majority. It depends on widely variant definitions.

10. I would support legislation that would remove “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance and restore it to its pre-1954 version.

It would not be a priority but I would certainly be willing to vote in favor of it.

11. George Lucas was mistaken to make prequels to his “Star Wars” trilogy.

Can’t really agree with this one. My son absolutely loves “Star Wars” and I love my son.

Religious condescension from the Left

In the midst of a brilliant defense of the establishment clause of the Constitution, comes some sad condescension from the Left.  While the Reverend Paul Raushenbush (@raushenbush) does agree, that incarcerated atheists shouldn’t be required to attend programs based upon religious principles, as most 12 step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous.  He does then turn around and undercut that position by commenting how a good number of atheists are able to get around and deal with the “higher power”.

I don’t wish to be too hard on Paul Raushenbush, he seems to be an ally on LGBT rights (although I haven’t researched him thoroughly), and his liberal stance on theology is much more palatable than the religious right we’re so used to dealing with.  As members of the Trans community we must accept that our allies will usually come from people with religious and or spiritual beliefs, there are just more people with superstitious beliefs, than without.

This however does not mean we should let them off the hook when they are wrong.

Link to HuffPo article here