Monday, September 01, 2014

The Family Foundation's Fake Fast

TFF Preisdent Victoria Cobb with other gay haters
Few organizations in Virginia are more insidious than The Family Foundation ("TFF"), an affiliate of Focus on the Family and Family Research Council (although references to FRC have been conveniently scrubbed from TFF's website following FRC's designation as a hate group).  When not peddling lies and working to fan the flames of anti-gay animus, TFF supports efforts to force its hate and fear based version of Christianity on all Virginians and - true to its segregationist roots -  cheer leads GOP efforts to disenfranchise minorities.  Given the two rulings that have struck down Virginia's bans on same sex marriage, true to form, TFF has come up with a stunt to (i) garner media coverage and (ii) convince the gullible that it routinely fleeces that it is "fighting" for their beliefs.  The stunt?  A forty day fast.  Except one doesn't even need to fast to participate.  Pink News looks at this latest disingenuous BS from TFF.  Here are highlights:
The Virginia-based Family Foundation announced a coordinated ‘fast’ last month, in order to influence the US Supreme Court into rejecting same-sex marriage when it hears the first of a series of appeals cases in October.

The group had said: “The Supreme Court begins their session on October 6th. We fully expect them to take a marriage case sometime in the next year.

“Join us for 40 Days of Prayer, Fasting and Repentance for Marriage from August 27 through October 5, 2014.  “Our 40 Days will culminate on October 5th just before the court begins their session.”

However, they later quietly clarified that members don’t actually have to give up any food at all to take part in the ‘fast’.

They wrote: “We are asking the entire Body of Christ to join us for this feast – giving up physical food isn’t necessary – but feeding on the spiritual food provided is vital.”

As people don’t actually have to give up food to take part, the group opposed to re-defining the definition of marriage seem to be re-defining the meaning of a fast.

I continue to wonder when TFF will garner the formal hate group designation it so richly deserves.   Not that such a designation would convince Virginia Republicans to stop prostituting themselves to this heinous organization. 

Labor Day Morning Male Beauty


Did the Historical Jesus Exist?

A negative answer to the question posed in the title of this post strikes terror into the hearts (and small minds) of conservative Christians and the professional Christian class that lives a parasitic existence maintaining power and control through manipulation of the Jesus story and selective parsing of the Bible.  Yet, a growing number of scholars are coming to believe that, in fact, the historical Jesus purportedly depicted in the Bible never existed.  Add this to the fact that the human genome project has proven that Adam and Eve never existed as historical persons and the entire Christian story line completely collapses.  A piece in AlterNet looks at the growing belief by scholars that Jesus never existed as a historical person.  Here are excerpts:
Most antiquities scholars think that the New Testament gospels are “mythologized history.”  In other words, they think that around the start of the first century a controversial Jewish rabbi named Yeshua ben Yosef gathered a following and his life and teachings provided the seed that grew into Christianity. 

At the same time, these scholars acknowledge that many Bible stories like the virgin birth, miracles, resurrection, and women at the tomb borrow and rework mythic themes that were common in the Ancient Near East, much the way that screenwriters base new movies on old familiar tropes or plot elements. In this view, a “historical Jesus” became mythologized

For over 200 years, a wide ranging array of theologians and historians—most of them Christian—analyzed ancient texts, both those that made it into the Bible and those that didn’t, in attempts to excavate the man behind the myth.  Several current or recent bestsellers take this approach, distilling the scholarship for a popular audience. Familiar titles include Zealot by Reza Aslan and  How Jesus Became God by Bart Ehrman .  

But other scholars believe that the gospel stories are actually “historicized mythology.”  In this view, those ancient mythic templates are themselves the kernel. They got filled in with names, places and other real world details as early sects of Jesus worship attempted to understand and defend the devotional traditions they had received. 

The arguments on both sides of this question—mythologized history or historicized mythology—fill volumes, and if anything the debate seems to be heating up rather than resolving. A growing number of scholars are openly questioning or actively arguing against Jesus’ historicity. Since many people, both Christian and not, find it surprising that this debate even exists—that credible scholars might think Jesus never existed—here are some of the key points that keep the doubts alive

1. No first century secular evidence whatsoever exists to support the actuality of Yeshua ben Yosef.  In the words of Bart Ehrman: “What sorts of things do pagan authors from the time of Jesus have to say about him? Nothing. As odd as it may seem, there is no mention of Jesus at all by any of his pagan contemporaries. There are no birth records, no trial transcripts, no death certificates; there are no expressions of interest, no heated slanders, no passing references – nothing. In fact, if we broaden our field of concern to the years after his death – even if we include the entire first century of the Common Era – there is not so much as a solitary reference to Jesus in any non-Christian, non-Jewish source of any kind. . . . . In none of this vast array of surviving writings is Jesus’ name ever so much as mentioned.”

2. The earliest New Testament writers seem ignorant of the details of Jesus’ life, which become more crystalized in later texts. Paul seems unaware of any virgin birth, for example. No wise men, no star in the east, no miracles. Historians have long puzzled over the “Silence of Paul” on the most basic biographical facts and teachings of Jesus. Paul fails to cite Jesus’ authority precisely when it would make his case. What’s more, he never calls the twelve apostles Jesus’ disciples; in fact, he never says Jesus HAD disciples –or a ministry, or did miracles, or gave teachings. He virtually refuses to disclose any other biographical detail, and the few cryptic hints he offers aren’t just vague, but contradict the gospels.

3. Even the New Testament stories don’t claim to be first-hand accounts. We now know that the four gospels were assigned the names of the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, not written by them. To make matter sketchier, the name designations happened sometime in second century, around 100 years or more after Christianity supposedly began.

4. The gospels, our only accounts of a historical Jesus, contradict each other. If you think you know the Jesus story pretty well, I suggest that you pause at this point to test yourself with the 20 question quiz at ExChristian.net.   The gospel of Mark is thought to be the earliest existing “life of Jesus,” and linguistic analysis suggests that Luke and Matthew both simply reworked Mark and added their own corrections and new material. But they contradict each other and, to an even greater degree contradict the much later gospel of John, because they were written with different objectives for different audiences.

5. Modern scholars who claim to have uncovered the real historical Jesus depict wildly different persons.  They include a cynic philosopher, charismatic Hasid, liberal Pharisee, conservative rabbi, Zealot revolutionary, nonviolent pacifist to borrow from a much longer list assembled by Price . In his words (pp. 15-16), “The historical Jesus (if there was one) might well have been a messianic king, or a progressive Pharisee, or a Galilean shaman, or a magus, or a Hellenistic sage.  But he cannot very well have been all of them at the same time.” 

Jesus appears to be an effect, not a cause, of Christianity. Paul and the rest of the first generation of Christians searched the Septuagint translation of Hebrew scriptures to create a Mystery Faith for the Jews, complete with pagan rituals like a Lord’s Supper, Gnostic terms in his letters, and a personal savior god to rival those in their neighbors’ longstanding Egyptian, Persian, Hellenistic and Roman traditions.
 Given the defects in the Jesus story line, it is frightening that the Republican Party has allowed itself to be hijacked by those who continue to claim the Bible is inerrant and literally "the word of God."  The GOP might just as well allow itself to be ruled by nursery rhymes. 

Bob McDonnell's "Crazy Wife" Defense Is Totally Unprecedented


As the Vatican continues to demonstrate its sense that it is above the law when it comes to the sexual abuse of children (see the prior post), in Richmond, Virginia, the criminal trial of Bob and Maureen McDonnell similarly shows the nasty reality of GOP "family values": sham marriages, unbridled greed, back stabbing, throwing one's spouse under the proverbial bus, and levels of dysfunction that are off the charts.  Perhaps I should not be surprised given what went on in the strong Republican neighborhood I lived in during the closeted period of my life.  Outwardly, everything was perfection with perfectly maintained homes and yards, but behind closed doors, some husbands beat their wives, many marriages were strained at best, and at least one husband was recently caught by one of his children having sex with a woman not much older than his children.  A piece in Talking Points Memo looks at the culmination of all of this in Bob McDonnell's "crazy wife" legal defense scheme.  Here are highlights:
Over five weeks of testimony, jurors have heard a barrage of details about the McDonnells’ finances and about their interactions with a wealthy Virginia businessman, Jonnie Williams, from whom the couple is accused of taking $177,000 worth of gifts and loans in exchange for lending the credibility of the governor’s office to Williams’ dietary supplements company.

But without a doubt, the most engrossing aspect of the trial has been the revelations about the McDonnells’ marriage. In testimony, the governor painted a picture of his marriage veering so far into soap opera territory that pundits began referring to it as the “crazy wife” defense. Legal experts told TPM that was an unprecedented strategy to deploy in such a high-profile criminal case.

When the former governor the took the stand, he cast his wife as a mercurial thorn in his side — not to mention that of the entire Executive Mansion staff. Under questioning by the defense, various other witnesses described Maureen McDonnell as a hoarder, "diva-ish" and "pathologically incapable of taking any kind of responsibility." One former aide testified that the governor was "in denial about Mrs. McDonnell’s mental capacity."

Defense attorneys are hoping that all this testimony proves to jurors that communication between the McDonnells was too strained for them to have been able to conspire together to promote Williams’ company.

Barbara “Biz” Van Gelder, a criminal defense attorney with Dickstein Shapiro, said it’s not unusual in a criminal case for one spouse to claim that he or she wasn’t aware of what the other spouse was doing, particularly in regards to finances. For example, a couple may share a joint account that just one spouse manages.

But “this is much different. This is saying not that they do that portion of the shared work, but this is like, ‘I’m not even talking to them so I don’t know,’” she told TPM.

Julie Rose O’Sullivan, a law professor at Georgetown and a former federal prosecutor, agreed that the McDonnell defense’s “crazy wife” theory was a departure from cases she’s seen.

“The more that he describes his wife as crazy, then it begs the question of well, if your wife was crazy, why didn’t you stop her?” he told TPM. “Why didn’t you shut her down? Like many defenses, this one is also a two-edged sword.”

Certain gifts that McDonnell himself received from the wealthy businessman, such as golfing trips and a ride in Williams’ Ferrari, don't quite fit that narrative (The Washington Post has an excellent graphic visualizing all the luxury goods, vacations and loans given to each member of the McDonnell family for reference). In those cases, McDonnell acknowledged that he shouldn’t have accepted the gifts but argued that Williams’ largess never earned him more than basic constituent access to the governor’s office.

So how might the "crazy wife" defense shake out once the trial goes to jury?

Cowan believes that the broken marriage story may not be enough to convince a jury that the McDonnells were unable to conspire to promote Williams' company.

"If at the end of the day the jury says, you did enough, you knew enough, then this is really not only a trainwreck for a political career, it’s also an incredible trainwreck to publicly display all of this for naught," Van Gelder said.

The Vatican Continues to Obstruct Justice in Sex Abuse Cases


I have noted many times that if Pope Francis is to restore any kind of legitimate moral authority to the Roman Catholic Church he needs to come down hard on those who engaged in the sexual abuse of children and youths and also on those who aided, abetted and covered up their crimes.  As the case of former Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, former ambassador of the Vatican to the Dominican Republic, indicates, Francis appears to be failing the test.  Indeed, as the Wesolowski saga suggests, apparently nothing has really changed and the Vatican continues to protect predators.  A piece in Religion Dispatches looks at the disgusting story.   Here are excerpts:

Former Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, ambassador of the Vatican to the Dominican Republic, is now a layperson awaiting criminal trial in the Vatican for sexual abuse of young people. After intensive negative press, the Vatican announced on August 25 that since he was no longer in their service, Wesolowski is not covered under diplomatic immunity and could potentially be extradited presumably to either his native Poland or the D.R. where he had been credibly accused of sexual abuse. There’s always more to a story than meets the eye, and in this case it isn’t pretty.

Major pressure came from a lengthy Sunday New York Times piece in which respected religion writer Laurie Goodstein offered grisly details of allegations of pedophilia against Mr. Wesolowski during his tenure in Santo Domingo. I’m hard pressed to recall a case as brazen and heinous.

Apparently this fellow regularly had a few drinks by the waterfront in the afternoon and then invited a shoeshine boy or other young man in need of money to accompany him to a secluded spot for sex. Though wealthier than its island neighbor Haiti, the Dominican Republic is a place where these kids make a few dollars for a day’s work. The clergyman, on the other hand, was probably paid in Euros so he could well afford to up the children’s wages geometrically in exchange for a little titillation.

This case unfortunately offers many insights into how the Roman world works. Vatican officials protest too much when they speak of a new approach, showing how seriously they take clergy sexual abuse. The Archbishop was “whisked away by the Vatican” so as to avoid trial in the venue where he’s alleged to have committed the crimes. That act reflected the same old same old approach to clergy sexual abuse under Pope Francis as under his predecessors until, as I read it, public pressure was simply too great. Kudos to the New York Times and other media outlets that will not let this case fade away.

I doubt sincerely that the clergy fellows will cut him loose for prosecution in other locations.. . . . while the Vatican’s rhetoric is promising, the timing and expected next steps make clear that not much has changed at all. 

So far, the so-called punishment is an insult to Catholics everywhere. “Reduction to the lay state,” Wesolowski’s fate thus far, is only a serious matter if you bank on clergy privilege. Goodness, most Catholics live in the lay state all of our lives and live to tell it. Only the notion that clergy are qualitatively different (read: better) than lay people makes being stripped of such titles bothersome.

As the New York Times article concluded, the whole sordid tale gives Catholics pause about taking children to church at all.

The Vatican could have waived immunity and let Dominican (and presumably Polish) law take its course. It did not have to secret this man away before the news of his crimes hit. But it could, so it would, and it did. This latest twist about lifting immunity is meant to convince that they were really doing the right thing all along. It rings suspiciously hollow.

A certain slime factor hovers over this case—evil so deep and enduring that few people want to talk about it. The sheer number of victims and their willingness to come forward despite whatever stigma they might endure give this case special status. The colonialism alone is repulsive; the legal ramifications boggle the mind; and the religious implications for a very Catholic country are staggering. If this is how the new guidelines work with regard to sexual abuse victims, I say back to the drawing boards because no one wins and the children always lose.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sunday Morning Male Beauty


The Myth of "The Virginia Way" and the McDonnell Corruption Trial


Having lived half my life now in Virginia I am well acquainted with what often is a pretense of civility - especially in politics - when behind the veneer things are down right cut throat and dirty.  No one is more skilled in knifing you in the back than genteel Virginia belles and gentleman.  Feigned courtliness doesn't lessen the pain of the knife slipping between one's ribs.   One positive aspect of the Bob and Maureen McDonnell criminal corruption trial is that it has perhaps once and for all destroyed the myth of "the Virginia Way" - the myth that civility and the best interests of the public are forever foremost in the minds of Virginia politicians.   The truth is that Virginia politics is a snake pit where greed and seeking advantage through any means are the norm.  A column in the Richmond Times Dispatch looks at the issue.  Here are excerpts:

No verdict is necessary in the Bob and Maureen McDonnell corruption case to know that the wrenching scandal is certain to change Virginia politics. It will probably get worse before it gets better.

The historic five-week trial will lay waste to the notion of the “Virginia way,” a quaint concept that elections and governance are conducted with mannered dignity by men and women who — because they have an agonizing sense of public mission — know what’s best for the rest of us.

This idea has been on life support for years, weakened by the rise of two-party competition, beginning in 1969 with the election of the state’s first modern Republican governor, Linwood Holton. The GOP wanted in on the big feed that had been reserved almost exclusively for Democrats for most of the 20th century.
Having used the poll tax and literacy tests to disenfranchise African-Americans and poor whites, Democrats kept the electorate small and manageable — and largely in the dark about their continuing manipulations of the system.

 

Favor-seeking and back-scratching — acts that a federal jury could criminalize by finding the McDonnells guilty of trading booty and bling for state support of a disputed dietary supplement — have long been the rule in Richmond.
But it wasn’t called that. Rather, it was known as “sound policy,” a way to preserve the state’s business-friendly climate — and, by extension, the control of cliquish conservative, often-prosperous politicians who did the corpocracy’s bidding.
This arrangement may have helped profits, but it didn’t always help Virginia’s people. . . . Politics was a members-only activity, the prerogative of the few. It was intentionally opaque. If the personal became public, it was dealt with swiftly and sternly.

It’s no wonder, then, that Garrett Epps, who famously chronicled the clash between Old and New Virginia in his 1977 novel, “The Shad Treatment,” now refers to his home state as the “Banana Dominion.”

Fast-forward to 2014: Not only have Virginians been told for more than a year by newspapers and prosecutors about the alleged misdeeds of the McDonnells on behalf of the fully immunized Jonnie Williams Sr., Bob and Maureen also have — as the cornerstone of their defense — shared tawdry details of their life together apart. It may be TMI — too much information — but get used to it.
Political candidates have long bared their souls, but usually according to a script. The idea is to establish a bond with voters; that they’re inclined to support the candidate who is most like them.
McDonnell mastered this. Running for attorney general in 2005 and governor four years later, he was an easygoing, typical suburban kid from Fairfax County, talking about kitchen-table issues with friends and family. Now we know the conversation apparently was conducted with flying plates.

In Virginia, political parties and the political press will now feel compelled to more closely vet candidates and officials. But the magnified scrutiny will likely extend to those who usually receive little or none: spouses and children.
The picture that emerged of the McDonnells — one painted by the prosecution and, to a lesser degree, the defense — is of a sprawling family for which gift-taking was a full-time enterprise. Living in the fishbowl that is the Executive Mansion, they availed themselves of Williams’ gaudy largesse: a Rolex watch, designer togs, five-figure checks as wedding presents, weekends at posh resorts, golf outings and sports equipment. The McDonnells chose not to notice that eventually the public would.

Next year, Virginians decide control of the House of Delegates and state Senate. Partisan redistricting will protect many seats, particularly those of Republicans, whose brand has been badly dinged by the McDonnell mess. Their tailor-made districts can’t protect them from shame.

Viral Coming Out To Chistofascist Parents Video - The Ugly Face of Religion

Last Tuesday a 20 year old college student posted a secretly recorded video of his coming out to Christian conservative parents.  What the video captured was not pretty and underscores my belief that raising gay children in conservative Christian homes is tantamount to child abuse.  Thankfully, the video has gone viral and is helping to expose the true ugliness of many "godly Christian" parents.  It also underscores the conscious embrace of ignorance by such parents who reject all modern medical/mental health knowledge and insist that being gay is a "choice."  As is all too typical, the outcome is that the young man is thrown out of his home and verbal and physical abuse.  Fortunately, an online fund has been established which will help support this victim of "Christian love" now that he is homeless and cut off from family.  The New Civil Rights Movement looks at this story.  Here are some highlights:
Daniel Ashley Pierce from Georgia posted a video to his Facebook page Tuesday. That video, which was later posted to Reddit and YouTube, has gone viral, with almost 850,000 views in just two days. It depicts his family's response to him coming out. In the video, Daniel's mother says she knew since he was "a tiny little boy" that he is gay, but she also say that he has "made a choice" to be gay.

Daniel's boyfriend set up a GoFundMe page to help Daniel with living expenses. The New Civil Rights Movement has been told by a person in touch with Daniel that he is safe, living with a trusted relative, and he's "overwhelmed" by all that's happened.

The video begins with a woman, possibly Daniel's mother, saying, "Daniel, I want to tell you before I say anything else, that I love you."

"You can deny it all you want to," the woman continues, "but I believe in the word of God, and God creates nobody that way," Daniel's mother tells him. "It's a path that you have chosen to choose."

Daniel, who is 20, talks about his biology and psychology classes. He tells his family he believes that "scientific proof trumps the word of God."

"You go by all the scientific stuff you want to," she responds. "I'm going by the word of God."
The woman then says, "we will not support you any longer."   "You will need to move out, and find wherever you can to live," she adds. "Because I will not let people believe that I condone what you do."

As the exchange heats up, there sounds like a slap, the camera is jarred, and Daniel says, "You're not going to fucking hit me." Someone else says, "Son of a bitch," and it sounds like a physical altercation is underway. Daniel is called "a damn queer," "a disgrace," and "a little piece of shit."  Someone, likely a woman, says, "I'll beat you..." 

In the end, the family disowns Daniel, some members appear to get physically, emotionally, and verbally abusive, and they hide behind their Bible.
So there you have it.  The true face of religion, a pervasive force for evil in the world. For those who have not seen it, here's the video:

White/Christian Rage Against Progress.


If one looks at what motivates the increasingly lily white/far right Christian base of the Republican Party, it's really all about hanging on to power and privilege with a good measure of wanting to take the nation back to an imagined time when "things were better."  Of course, that envision time may have been good for white, heterosexual Christians, but it wasn't some glorious period for others, including blacks, gays, non-Christians and many others.  As things have improved for others in terms of civil rights and equality at least in theory under the law, the reaction of the Christofascists and white supremacist types is to feel that they have lost something.  Keeping others downtrodden and disadvantaged is sadly key to their sense of self worth.  A column in the Washington Post looks at this sad phenomenon.  Here are highlights:
When we look back on what happened in Ferguson, Mo., during the summer of 2014, it will be easy to think of it as yet one more episode of black rage ignited by yet another police killing of an unarmed African American male. But that has it precisely backward. What we’ve actually seen is the latest outbreak of white rage. Sure, it is cloaked in the niceties of law and order, but it is rage nonetheless.

[T]he real rage smolders in meetings where officials redraw precincts to dilute African American voting strength or seek to slash the government payrolls that have long served as sources of black employment. It goes virtually unnoticed, however, because white rage doesn’t have to take to the streets and face rubber bullets to be heard. Instead, white rage carries an aura of respectability and has access to the courts, police, legislatures and governors, who cast its efforts as noble, though they are actually driven by the most ignoble motivations. 

White rage recurs in American history. It exploded after the Civil War, erupted again to undermine the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision and took on its latest incarnation with Barack Obama’s ascent to the White House. For every action of African American advancement, there’s a reaction, a backlash.

The North’s victory in the Civil War did not bring peace. Instead, emancipation brought white resentment that the good ol’ days of black subjugation were over. Legislatures throughout the South scrambled to reinscribe white supremacy and restore the aura of legitimacy that the anti-slavery campaign had tarnished. 

Influential white legislators such as Rep. Thaddeus Stevens (R-Pa.) and Sen. Charles Sumner (R-Mass.) tried to make this nation live its creed, but they were no match for the swelling resentment that neutralized the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, and welcomed the Supreme Court’s 1876 United States vs. Cruikshank decision, which undercut a law aimed at stopping the terror of the Ku Klux Klan.

Nearly 80 years later, Brown v. Board of Education seemed like another moment of triumph . . . . But black children, hungry for quality education, ran headlong into more white rage. Bricks and mobs at school doors were only the most obvious signs. In March 1956, 101 members of Congress issued the Southern Manifesto, declaring war on the Brown decision. Governors in Virginia, Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia and elsewhere then launched “massive resistance.”. . . .
They shut down public school systems and used tax dollars to ensure that whites could continue their education at racially exclusive private academies. Black children were left to rot with no viable option.

A rash of voter-suppression legislation, a series of unfathomable Supreme Court decisions, the rise of stand-your-ground laws and continuing police brutality make clear that Obama’s election and reelection have unleashed yet another wave of fear and anger.

It’s more subtle — less overtly racist — than in 1865 or even 1954. It’s a remake of the Southern Strategy, crafted in the wake of the civil rights movement to exploit white resentment against African Americans, and deployed with precision by Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

Now, under the guise of protecting the sanctity of the ballot box, conservatives have devised measures — such as photo ID requirements — to block African Americans’ access to the polls.  

Add to this the tea party movement’s assault on so-called Big Government, which despite the sanitized language of fiscal responsibility constitutes an attack on African American jobs. Public-sector employment, where there is less discrimination in hiring and pay, has traditionally been an important venue for creating a black middle class.

So when you think of Ferguson, don’t just think of black resentment at a criminal justice system that allows a white police officer to put six bullets into an unarmed black teen. Consider the economic dislocation of black America. Remember a Florida judge instructing a jury to focus only on the moment when George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin interacted, thus transforming a 17-year-old, unarmed kid into a big, scary black guy, while the grown man who stalked him through the neighborhood with a loaded gun becomes a victim. Remember the assault on the Voting Rights Act.  

Only then does Ferguson make sense. It’s about white rage.
 Here in Virginia it is note worthy that one of the organizations that pushes for voter ID laws, maintaining "law and order" and advocates for "family values" is comprised of the direct descendants of those who supported Massive Resistance and segregation.  It's called The Family Foundation.  Under their world view, only white, heterosexual, conservative Christians should have rights and they exhibit rage towards anyone who in their minds seeks to diminish their special rights and privileges.   These people are the antithesis of the Gospel message.