‘The Billionaires’ Tea Party’ Movie Review

Since we’re in the political season and since America has just gotten seriously nutty with the upcoming election, I figured I’d catch up on some political video editiorials (documentaries). The Billionaires’ Tea Party is from 2010, but is definitely still relevant since Mitt Romney has been catering to this bunch (in particular the racist birthers). While I do realize that in every movement the absolute fringe is what’s caught on camera, director Taki Oldham is from outside the USA (he didn’t specify in the beginning but I assume it’s an Australian accent–I could be wrong though) and went in undercover to the Tea Party rallies and lectures…so what you see is what you get. Some Tea Partiers are calm, down to earth and frankly irrational and then some are completely insane like the woman who thinks Obama is out to get all nonblack people or another rallier who equated Obama with Hitler.

The Billionaires’ Tea Party —***Stars


Whenever someone throws out the Hitler word, left or right, I stop taking them seriously. In addition, the archaic references to communist Russia in association with Obama’s agenda are really the equivalent of the red fear in the fifties with Joe McCarthy (a position fulfilled now by Glenn Beck, thankfully he’s not a senator). The eerie part about what is captured in The Billionaires’ Tea Party is a religious zeal. This is a cult.

This is not to say the concerns of Tea Partiers are invalid. We all care about government waste, impositions on freedom and most importantly jobs. The problem is that the Tea Partiers are not being pragmatic. They are sticking to an ideology whether it works in every situation or not. I had to come to a moderate pragmatist position a couple years back after being Left then Libertarian then undecided. My conclusion is that it’s impossible for any political ideology to be completely correct.

For instance, the idea that all government is bad. No, it isn’t. The far left might vilify corporations in the same manner, but all corporations are not bad either. Some of what government does works and some of what government does fails. The same is true of big business. Government can also be a big bully, but the same is true of big business. The point is not to tear down government or big business, the point is to keep maintaining the checks and balances because power corrupts. We also need to consider if there are some things that government, subject to the will of the people, needs to provide including defense, infrastructure, environmental regulations and healthcare.

In the documentary, healthcare or “Obamacare” as it is derisively referred to, is the hottest button to push on a TP’s chest. And yet, for-profit healthcare should be questioned. Do we think bottom-line business structures are what’s best for sick people? I don’t know all the answers on this, but I do know there has to be some compromise. It’s interesting that even the Republicans make sure senior citizens know they won’t dismantle Medicare. Per Wiki, “Medicare is a national social insurance program, administered by the U.S. federal government since 1965, that guarantees access to health insurance for Americans ages 65 and older and younger people with disabilities…”  Hmm, kind of sounds like government run healthcare to me?

The other hot button is climate change and the consensus seems to be among all Tea Partiers that it is impossible for mankind to affect mother nature–which is the stupidest position ever. Even if climate change wasn’t agreed upon by mainstream science, of course there’s the potential for mankind to screw with mother nature. We’re the most powerful species on earth! The reason why most Tea Partiers deny climate change is honestly faith. They believe God made it so the earth could withstand humans. …However, God’s going to destroy this earth in the apocalypse because humans are damned sinners? Couldn’t part of that sin BE destroying nature?

The same people who deny climate change or dare I say “global warming” are the same people who deny evolution. It’s not that we know everything about  climate change yet and certainly there are alarmists who go too far, but let’s recognize that humans leave a footprint. It’s also not a communist plot to suggest we look for green alternatives to oil. That’s called progress–it’s called being smart.

The one thing about this film that absolutely appalled me was the Tea Party guerilla warfare tactics lecture. An ahole lecturer gave directions to go on to Amazon.com and rate liberal books and DVDs with one star. Then find far right books and DVDs and rate them with five stars–without reading or watching them!! And explicitly stated this. From the perspective of someone who has been rated and commented on and bashed thoroughly for my postings, published art and commentary, if Tea Partiers have followed this advice, you are completely dishonest and shameless. I have never–ever!–done this to a person with a counterpoint. I rate their talents as writers or filmmakers based on their intellectual capacity to make a good argument, whether or not I disagree with them does not matter.  Rating books and DVDs you have not seen is lying to the public in general. It’s a disgrace.

The Billionaires’ Tea Party is short and sweet as a film. I’m sure there are better TP representatives not depicted that could have been interviewed to create a more “fair and balanced” viewpoint and I’m sure there’s more to investigate. However, what is fueling this movement (and by now, there are suggestions that Americans are growing tired of Tea Partiers) is hatred of a black president whose name sounds Muslim, and a misunderstanding of his agenda. I don’t know if Obama is the best choice for America, but I know he’s not out destroy America either.

If Tea Partiers would stop with the hyperbole maybe there’s an intellectual discussion to be had. But remember, The Boston Tea Party was not about destroying government, it was a protest against lack of representation when taxed. And what happened after the American Revolution and we disavowed ourselves of the British government? We formed another government, one which allowed slavery, Native Americans were tread upon and where women didn’t get to vote. History isn’t always golden. We need to be careful to recognize progress and then set the appropriate limits to power.

‘For the Bible Tells Me So’ Movie Review

For the Bible Tells Me So, *** Stars

For the Bible Tells Me So is a documentary from 2007 exploring how people interpret The Bible in relation to homosexuality. It is an excellent introduction to the religious arguments from both sides but it does have a bias in favor of the gay community. What it really shows is how as society evolves, religion must keep up or expire due to lack of relevancy. And this documentary continues to be relevant into the current conversation on gay marriage.

People bring themselves to The Bible when they read it, as was most notably pointed out by a black lesbian woman in the film. If you’re black you may be disgusted by the references to slavery or ignore those scriptures with a preference towards scripture on spiritual freedom (which translates to physical freedom or a social gospel similar to what was put forth by the civil rights movement). If you’re a woman, you may be offended by the overwhelming male patriarchy present in the Old Testament or you may find the intended subservient role of Eve to suit you as a domesticated housewife. If you’re a white capitalist male you may read about Jesus and imagine him as a powerful figure capable of violence but restraining from it until the appropriate time (the end times), all the while ignoring any feminine characteristics or passing over verses that suggest you give all your money to the poor.

It explains why we have so many denominations. The people who have a better grasp on Biblical meanings are usually experts like Biblical Archaeologists and Theologians, but they don’t regularly command the pulpit. Pastors are introduced to these fields of study when they get their degrees, after that their focus is to connect with their audience. If you don’t relate to your audience, you have no audience, thus being a pastor is not so much about God as about the people you speak to. If your audience is right-wing Republican you’re not going to get too far with hinting that Jesus was more of a socialist.

What is poignant about For the Bible Tells Me So is that it focuses on several different families who did not immediately accept their son or daughter’s coming out of the closet (with possibly the exception of the Gephardts). They accepted their kids, but not their homosexuality. It took time and many parents actually buckled down and studied the issue and found themselves overturning their prejudices simply because they were fed assumptions (like being gay is unnatural when you can find “gay” all over the place in nature). Sadly, for one mother, it took the suicide of her lesbian daughter to wake her up to her misconceptions. While she fights for change now, she did lose her daughter as a result of alienating her.

What conservative Christians don’t ever seem to get is that sexuality is a part of us–a big part of us! Therefore, when it is dismissed as just sexual deviancy, gay people feel like you’ve dismissed them as a whole. And sexuality is more than just banging your lover. It includes attraction, how you act in a crowd of friends or strangers, your responses to color and scent…the list is long. The easiest way to explain it is if you took a heterosexual woman and stripped away her sexuality–she would lose her identity. That’s what Christianity does to a gay man or woman when it tries to “fix” them.

The main pro-gay argument in For the Bible Tells Me So is that you have to interpret The Bible using cultural context. As an atheist I agree to a certain point. The problem is that if God was overseeing the Israelites and speaking through his earthly representatives and he didn’t correct people when they advocated stoning homosexuals then there’s still something wrong. This is supposed to be God’s book written by God with human scribes. If the book is full of bigotry due to cultural context then where is this God we worship today? God, again, just becomes ourselves and therefore there is no god at all.

The scripture most often quoted is from the book of Leviticus. Leviticus 18:22 says -“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.” Then in Leviticus 20:13 – “If a man lie with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.” The problem with quoting from the book of Leviticus is there is more to it than just punishing gay sex acts. If children curse their parents they are to be put to death. If a man has sex with his wife while she is menstruating they are to banished. There is no punishment for owning slaves, it actually approved of in Leviticus.

The other prime example used by literalist Christians is Sodom and Gomorrah. It’s said that these two kingdoms were destroyed because of homosexuality, or at least that’s what we are led to believe. Another interpretation is that because hospitality was so highly regarded at that time period that S & D were destroyed because of their unwillingness to provide rest and food for traveling strangers. You might think it extreme to rain down fire on a city that is inhospitable but so is stoning a couple for adultery or killing your kid when they talk back to you.

However, people want to interpret The Bible to keep in step with society’s more reasonable morality is fine with me, I just don’t see it being necessary. If God is there he watched as Matthew Shepherd was beat senseless and left to die and a host of other gay-related beatings and murders. It is the gay community that has worked diligently to prevent such tragedies–human effort!–against religious bigotry. Religion is now adapting to the reality of homosexuality not being a choice, but The Bible certainly didn’t help in this transition. The Bible is an outdated book that should be left to historians and mythologists. Our society’s new morality, while imperfect, is far superior to the prejudices of that “ol’ time religion.”

SIDENOTE: You’ll notice that the one family that still could not accept their daughter’s lesbian lifestyle was the African American family. They made progress, but not in comparison to their white counterparts. Homophobia is rampant in the black community.

‘American Mormon’ Documentary Review

American Mormon, *** Stars for warm-hearted propaganda

American Mormon (2005) is a “man-on-the-street” style documentary gathering public reactions and misconceptions on who Mormons are–but my problem with it is that I don’t consider it to be a documentary. It’s the start of a documentary missing the second hour.

At 60 minutes long this is another LDS propaganda piece because Daryn Tufts and Jed Kudsen simply do not go further into what Mormonism is. They take the reactions of the bystanders they interview and turn the documentary into a feel good piece about the practitioners of Mormonism. The thing is, I don’t think anyone was ever disputing that Mormons were not nice, personable people–but that doesn’t excuse Proposition 8 (the campaign against gay marriage in California and homosexuality in general), Mormon history, and questionable “truths.”

What American Mormon does show are the myths people believe about Mormons, everything from modern polygamy to Mormons living such sheltered lives that they border on being Muslim women wearing what Bill Maher refers to as “beekeeper suits.” It’s nothing of the sort. Mormons may be clean cut or give the appearance of being clean cut, but they’re really just normal Americans with a kooky, mainstream religion. No different really from Christians who are good people too.

My big problem here is that Tufts does not go into what the Mormon Church believes. Maybe that wasn’t the point of the documentary, maybe it was just about nonMormon perceptions. However, Tufts does dispel the modern myth of polygamy without referring to the past. It’s true that Mormons do not currently practice polygamy. It’s also true that their founder Joseph Smith did. If Jesus, as the founder of Christianity, advocated something but then Christianity decided to eliminate the practice then wouldn’t you think that’s kind of odd?

What was the reason that polygamy ended? Was it suddenly a moral revelation by LDS leadership or was it the fact that the US Government cracked down on Utah making it unwise to continue the practice of polygamy? In other words, there was nothing moral about giving up polygamy; it was pragmatic  in order to keep their power structure. While it is a myth that Mormons, except for fringe splinter groups, do not practice polygamy it is also a myth that revelation was what stopped polygamy. And if Joseph Smith practiced polygamy, how could it be wrong? Or is Joseph Smith fallible and therefore we should doubt his credibility–not just on polygamy but on all his visions and revelations?

What American Mormon does is the same thing that the recent Mormon commercials “…And I am a Mormon” do. They provide an image without actually telling you what the Mormon religion believes. This is dishonest and yet it works and will continue to work because Americans want to be fair-minded and tolerant of other religious views. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t accept Mormons into society, far from it. I’m saying we should know what Mormonism really is and that if Tufts and Kudsen want to promote Mormonism they should do a follow up to this film and lay down what it is Mormons actually believe instead of leaving the issue hanging as they did with this film. If they were really sincere they should cover the history of Mormonism from good to bad. Christianity has had to endure this kind of investigation from both nonChristian scholars and Christian scholars (the History Channel is full of specials on Christianity in this manner). I may be too hard on Tufts on this point, because after all this was meant to be light-hearted. I’m just bothered by the incompleteness of it.

Otherwise, Tufts is enjoyable host and I found myself laughing at the reactions of the people he interviewed since one of my best friends growing up was Mormon and he was just a nerd like me. Tufts showed us that Mormons can be stereotyped but often the stereotypes are to their benefit. Almost everyone thought that Mormons were “good people.” The danger here is that good people can believe bad things or outright lies and being good doesn’t determine truth. Some atheists can be downright nasty, but what they’re saying can be completely true. We shouldn’t confuse a nice personality for truth.

As I recall from the film, there was only one person who came close to the weirdness of Mormonism when she said something to the extent that Mormons believe they can rule their own planet. That is true. If you want a primer in Mormon beliefs start with The Thinking Atheist’s video on the subject done with a little humor. As you read about Mormon history you realize it’s just a guy who made up a religion that was successful because of its persistence. The Mormon culture itself is very attractive due to that “clean cut” image, but when something is not true and you begin to see the holes appear  it becomes dissatisfying. Christianity is harder to decipher due to its age and has the same problem of truth. Mormonism is relatively easy to decipher, but once you’re in it, it’s hard to leave that culture.

I know any Mormons reading this are going to say I’m being biased for calling American Mormon propaganda, but it is a fair evaluation. If the documentary was complete it would explore more than just “man-on-the-street” interviews. We would get background information on the history of public perception of Mormonism including Mormon bigotry and Christian views of Mormonism as I know from growing up Christian there is a whole field of books, lectures, videos and other related media dedicated to proving that Mormonism is not Christian and that it is a cult. Christians are still actively against Mormonism even as inroads are being made into the American public as a whole.  I’m not sure it’s even fair to call Mormonism a cult by now as it is in the mainstream (Christianity was once a cult too) though technically we can call it that. Religions tend to lose cult status once they achieve acceptance by the public at large. Mormonism is certainly succeeding.

What American Mormon proves simply is that Mormons have a sense of humor and can be self-deprecating in how they are viewed. There’s more to the story though…

‘Fat Head’ Movie Review

Fat Head Documentary, **** Stars

In response to Morgan Spurlock’s Supersize Me (2004), we have Tom Naughton’s Fat Head (2009) and I cannot recommend this movie enough. I wish I had discovered it sooner in the deluge of documentary rebuttals to well known, more popular films. Yes, you’re going to hear a hell of a lot more science than Supersize Me but it’s done in an entertaining way and you may find yourself angry at the diet industry, the government and Spurlock himself. Director Tom Naughton rips into the “bologna” which is what is sticking out of his mouth on the DVD cover as a parody of Spurlock’s fry-filled mouth and comes up with some surprising research that has been ignored. In fact, he shows how the government has paid for bad science and we are all the victims of it which has some pretty dire ramifications.

When I first saw Supersize Me I have to say I didn’t suspect any foul play. I figured it was pretty stupid for anyone to eat McDonald’s food every day and then not exercise at least a little, but Spurlock wasn’t far off base in that most Americans either refuse to exercise or honestly have little time do it. Also a high fat diet is bad for you, at least that’s what our doctors and nutritionists tell us? We have changed over from a hard labor workforce to a sedentary workforce behind computers and wireless mobile devices. Our last blue collar heroes are hard hat construction workers and repairmen and we’d probably be surprised by how much their labor has been cut down by technology. So eating lots of fat and not moving results in weight gain, nothing new there.

Spurlock’s movie went further though. The villain was not our personal responsibility or the success of technology but the fast food restaurants themselves. With their gluttonous appeals, fatty flavors, seductive advertising and cheap prices they were the culprits. Let’s demonize them, sue them, regulate them, etc, …and everyone will become healthy and thin again.

Well, that was bullshi-er, bologna according to Fat Head. The only thing that Supersize did was make Morgan Spurlock rich and jumpstart his career. I do like some of the TV programs he’s produced as they are experiments in human behavior, but now I question the setup for those experiments. Tom Naughton and other critics have repeatedly asked for Spurlock’s food log from the Supersize Me experiment and he has refused. This is not peer reviewed research and, quite frankly, is dishonest. If you make a claim and are not going to open up your findings for others to critique for errors, then where is your confidence in your findings?

Unfortunately, Fat Head will never make as much money as Supersize Me (don’t quote me, that’s just a guess) because it doesn’t indict the usual villains–corporate food giants. It has elements that repel what I hate to say is liberal Hollywood marketing–personal responsibility, science that goes against sacred cows, and a general feeling that McDonald’s is not so bad. Fact is, Naughton’s food log doesn’t restrain itself to just McDonald’s but to almost every fast food place you can think of. His strategy is based on the science and commonsense. Really, it’s pretty simple: avoid carbohydrates and take walks. That’s it.

And guess what? He lost weight. Not only that, all his other vital statistics were in complete order or better than normal. You’ll have to watch Fat Head for the science because to me that was the most impressive part of the documentary–science is never easy to break down for the rest of use without degrees, but Fat Head does a good job. In particular pay attention to the Lipid Hypothesis as these claims have been taken for gospel by our government.

Now the main question I have is when Naughton, who is a programmer by profession, did some calorie calculations on Supersize Me and found that Spurlock’s claims were not adding up? Spurlock said he consumed 5000 calories a day by eating at McDonald’s. Naughton played out several different meal scenarios to show it wasn’t possible with 3 meals a day… so where were the extra calories coming from? In other words, Spurlock was lying or was incompetent. Was he eating on the side? Or off camera? This annoys me because it’s the same reason why I became disgusted with Michael Moore–skewed, biased research and intentionally misleading edits.

But leave it to a programmer on a small budget to call Spurlock out. Maybe there’s more to this story, maybe Spurlock has some valid answers for us–but he’s not responding. It will also make you feel better about yourself for wanting to eat fat because it’s not as bad as you think. Naughton isn’t advocating a diet of fast food, he’s simply asking that you to question the prevailing wisdom based on sound science.

SIDENOTE: Since this is Freethunk, I have to point out that part of Naughton’s conclusions were based on our historical diet of animal fat and that taking in lots of grains and bread or eating a strictly vegan diet would be unnatural. Our bodies weren’t designed by evolution to be vegan and Fat Head suggests that the sugar that results from carbohydrates may result in other health issues. Basically, our bodies crave animal fat because we need animal fat (take that Seventh Day Adventists).

For creationists, doesn’t this present a problem? Creationists say that before the fall of man (Eve being tricked by a talking snake) that humans only ate “nonmeat” because there was no death in the Garden of Eden. In other words, they ate fruits, vegetables, and salad. The reason Naughton’s documentary is called “Fat Head” is one of the doctors interviewed says our brains are fat–they need fat! So without animal fat for our brains and overall health what did Adam and Eve eat? Nuts? A lot of nuts? There really isn’t a comparison between the fat in nuts and the fat in meat, as this movie makes the point, to be of comparative value. Without animal fat in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve would have had poor nutrition. God’s perfect design thus suspect. Of course, the fallback is that God remedied any nutritional issues by miraculous healing, but that still suggests a flaw when a system is not designed to be self-sufficient. Otherwise, how could you determine if the human body was designed perfectly? Because God said so? Well, we’re back to the same old circular reasoning…

SIDENOTE 2, added 3/8/2012: I was thinking about this article due to the recent comments since I tend to upset people (you should thank me, even if I’m wrong I’m making you think). I want to add  that I think part of my comment was wrong in that it is perfectly reasonable to presuppose a mythological setting and find the conditions that would work. In other words, “magic” or supernatural settings could replace science, Biblically speaking. For example, there are Vegan Bodybuilders, something I was not aware of when writing the first side note–see http://veganbodybuilding.com/ and if you are to say that the Garden of Eden had all of the available foods/supplements that these athletes take, then certainly Adam would have six pack and Eve would be toned and hot (whoo-hoo!).  Animal fat may not have been necessary (putting aside predation and the desire for a juicy hamburger) and I think can be debated as to the effects on health and the other big issue brought up by the movie: depression. This is a good article for an overall view on the subject of fat and its effects.

On the flipside, if you type in “Fat Vegetarians” you may be surprised to find they exist and that a vegan or vegetarian diet does not solve your problems. I already was aware of this due to knowing a handful of people who went vegetarian but it made no difference for their weight gain. There are even Fat Vegans, see http://veganhope.com/2010/01/11/yes-im-a-fat-vegan/ So in addition to presupposing all of the available nonmeat food groups in one place you would have to assume that Adam and Eve either worked out or had their metabolisms perfectly set whether they were lazy or active (Adam did go around naming all of the animals, so he must have been busy).

Fat Head, the movie is about the science of fat and losing weight in the here and now. It is not commenting on anything religious. Freethunk is about doing that, for bettor or worse, thus my first sidenote. I have nothing to do with the director. I just think he did a good job and presented a good case and much like the sermons I’ve heard that use movie examples I put in my own atheist opinions at the end. As a result I almost always learn something from readers. The information in the movie also supports the craving for fat and the historical relation it has to evolution. My first sidenote was more off the cuff and a jab at creationism, which I’m prone to do (I was raised on creationism). Fat doesn’t have to be from animals (I mentioned nuts for example). So if the setup is that God provides ample quantities of nuts and any substitutions for animal life like Omega 3 covered by consuming algae (assuming Eden had access to marine plant life) then there you have it.  The Garden of Eden provided the correct nutrition until a talking snake came by and ruined the whole thing.

‘Marjoe’ Movie Review

Marjoe, *** Stars

Marjoe is a documentary on con artist evangelism from 1972 that won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. …How come we still haven’t learned our lesson?

And surprise, surprise, Marjoe snookers the American South, the Bible Belt. According to Wiki, “…the movie was not shown widely in theaters in the Southern United States, based on the fears of the distributor over the outrage it would cause in the Bible Belt.” The very people who needed to see this film are the very ones it was kept from.

Of course Pentecostals, Charismatics and any other denomination prone to emotionalism will say that while Marjoe was a fake, the experiences were real. BUT Marjoe was a fake! He was trained to be the perfect child evangelist by his parents who gave him the stupidest name ever (a combination of Mary and Joseph). His mom choreographed all of his actions on stage for dramatic effect. At home, if he didn’t do right he got punished by a pillow over the face.

Later when Marjoe left his child evangelism and from all appearances joined his fellow peers in the hippie scene–drugs and rock and roll, he decided to go back because he needed to make money. And as misguided as that was, he certainly earned it. Believers got their religious experience, they felt the Holy Spirit and they renewed their faith–because for Christianity to work, you have to keep coming back and back for that emotional spiritual high like a drug.

It’s a shame all those little old ladies with the fat dangling from their underarms weren’t such sexual prudes because all they were doing is the same as their younger counterparts–going to a concert. Marjoe himself said he was influenced by how Mick Jagger moved his hips. And instead of feeling sexual lust, those old ladies wanted to feel something just as effective–the spirit coursing through their bodies like an orgasm so they could shake and fall back faint. Their husbands had long since stopped touching them and to get a compassionate hand on the face, head or shoulder was like being naughty without breaking the rules.

Okay, enough of my interpretation of those experiences. Marjoe is an incomplete, but fascinating look at how tent revivalism works behind the scenes and the angst of someone who is so good at what he does but knows it’s morally wrong. He doesn’t believe in the faith he preaches but he knows why it rationally works. At one point he says to the camera that the little old ladies collapse in the spirit (slain in the spirit) because they’ve worked themselves up in a frenzy just by waiting in line to get on stage (ever feel butterflies in your stomach?) and then while they’re already shaking from the excitement of being spotlighted and touched by the star of the show it doesn’t take much to give them the cue to fall back. There’s nothing supernatural about it.

What is devastating is that Marjoe is working with several other evangelists who apparently do believe in their message (?) and yet they are the first ones to count the offering money (the take) before the patrons have even left. It’s all about working the audience and then calling in the money. This is the TBN crowd before TBN hit it big with the likes of Benny Hinn.

At the end of the movie, Marjoe’s girlfriend is asked by a cameraman if she thinks Marjoe is a con artist? Marjoe’s girlfriend deflects the question by chastizing the cameraman (who she knows on some level) and saying something to the extent, “How could you ask that?” The answer is obvious. Marjoe is a con artist but his subjects have already conned themselves. It’s almost hard to see the crime at times because if he did come out on stage and say it was all fake they wouldn’t believe him.

Marjoe was nearly lost as a film as it was only on VHS, a poor version, and was out of print. In 2002 the negative was found in a New York City vault and restored. It would be nice to see this minor classic shown on mainstream cable as it shows the exploitation in action from the early seventies and clips from when Marjoe was a kid. I honestly only found out about this film while listening to an audio version of Christopher Hitchen’s God is Not Great where he refers to the child abuse of Marjoe.

PositiveAtheism.org has an article on Marjoe Gortner where the authors actually visited the former evangelist. One of the most insightful quotes from the article is Marjoe’s own observation, as it seems he still had respect for his believing audiences: “During his years on the Bible Belt circuit, he came to see the Evangelical experience as a form of popular entertainment, a kind of participatory divine theater that provides its audiences with profound emotional rewards.” He goes on to say that these same people don’t go to concerts, to movies, to dances, etc, and they’re looking for an approved-of emotional release which the rest of us take for granted. They participate in a form of social entertainment that they do not recognize as entertainment. Like I said, they’ve conned themselves.

BTW: Read the last paragraph in the Positive Atheism site article. It is very telling story about human nature and how to work “belief” when you’ve already exposed yourself as a fraud. This is an experience Marjoe shared from lecturing at colleges.

‘American Grindhouse’ Movie Review

American Grindhouse - ***Stars

American Grindhouse (2010) is a broad overview of the exploitation genre. One could make the argument that most of film is exploitative because of its need for quick profit and profit means you fulfill some desire within the audience–art be damned!But of course, when we refer to grindhouse and exploitation we are focusing on sex, violence and oddly enough morality. The documentary had a lot of territory to cover and it is not extensive, more like an introduction to film history or the film history that we should be taught because while independents were exploiting audiences, the big players like MGM, Universal, and Columbia were exploiting the independents. They would wait to see if an independent film was a huge success on a low budget and then make their own big budget production knock-off. It often works the same way today.

What is interesting for Freethunkers on viewing this documentary is the shattering of the prevalent illusion that films are getting worse: more sex, more violence, more blasphemy and more everything against family values. Looking at the periods of the late sixties and seventies it is almost shocking to see the level of blood and sexual violence. Many of today’s productions seem tame by comparison and the past is only saved from its hardcore elements by its lack of realism with blood that is ridiculously red or bad acting. The nudity was certainly there which elevated into big production porn and sadly most pornos these days are unimaginative but bright spots do appear for what we call reality porn or low budget scenarios like vampire nuns. If you want to check out what porn will hopefully continue to branch out into then preview “Ultimate Surrender” with female wrestling that ends up in someone being penetrated.

Now if Christians think that film was clean before the sixties they need to give American Grindhouse a viewing. Before the Hays era, a religious moralist who was called into clean up Hollywood standards, there were nipples on screen and there was a pretty high level of violence. The filmmakers gave audiences something they couldn’t see anywhere else and while it didn’t reflect the hum-drum of daily American life, in some instances it was an exaggerated parody of the more extreme aspects of it. The fact is, much of film is inspired by current events and gossip–what was talked about in secret after church services. Couples cheated on each other, husbands beat their wives, children were sexually abused, racial violence persisted and all in all the culture was not as reasonable as it is today. Again, our culture is getting better, not worse. The apocalypse may be canceled.

The other interesting aspect to exploitation films is the morality or educational angle. Filmmakers were able to make hits out of movies that showed how babies were born (the documentary shows one rather graphic birth sequence that should be shown to all of our young teenage girls–yeah, that big head will come out of your vagina as a result of unprotected sex) or movies that showed how sex happens within marriage. Drug movies moralized at how crazed and criminal people could become such as the classic Reefer Madness (The Seventies Show did a great little parody of this flick). Violence, in general, was acceptable as long as it showed the bad elements getting their just due and that crime does not pay.

Religion was not overlooked as exploitative with an interesting comparison to the early grindhouse picture roadshows. They would travel from town to town like carnival evangelists. They didn’t save your souls but they would show you something new. John Landis, near the end of American Grindhouse made the interesting observation that the biggest and most successful grindhouse picture in the last decade was The Passion of The Christ by Mel Gibson. Why did Christians, who feel it is inappropriate to hear foul language, view graphic violence or see nudity feel it necessary to see the depiction of their savior getting the living shit beat out of him? Much like Hostel or the Saw series, it was their version of a torture film with a happy ending.

Notable directors interviewed for American Grindhousewere John Landis, director of Animal House and American Werewolf in London, Joe Dante of Gremlins and Piranha, and Herschell Gordon Lewis of Blood Feast and 2000 Maniacs. Like I said, a nice overview so you can write down certain films to continue your studies…especially the nudist films.

‘8: The Mormon Proposition’ Movie Review

8: Mormon Proposition - *** Stars

Since my renewed interest in Mormonism as of late, I ran some searches on NetFlix to see what the new crop of documentarians had come up with. While light on selections, 8: The Mormon Proposition did pop up and caught my interest. To some, this film may seem dated because it covers the 2008 battle in California over gay marriage, but I think it is extremely relevant once you understand the machine that was put in place to trample on basic civil rights–it will be back!  And, much like other nonMormons who watched this film, I was amazed to learn how involved The Mormon Church was in getting “8” passed. History is doomed to repeat itself if we don’t learn who is behind all of this fear and hate.

If you’re not familiar with what happened in 2008, in a nutshell, The California Supreme Court decided that gay marriage was a constitutional right and therefore opened the doors for all gay couples to flood to the courthouses and tie the knot–oh happy days. But did they think that the straights were going to stand for that? Absolutely not. Proposition 8 was put on the ballot in order to amend the CA state constitution to define marriage as and I quote Section 2. Article I. Section 7.5, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”

The wedding parties were over. Gay men and women were relegated back to being second class citizens. This may not have been the case if it weren’t for one religious institution that is a driving force in maintaining their definition of marriage. The Mormon Church has enough money and loyal sheep to go after any state that dares to suggest that it’s time to separate religious bias from the state.

The filmmakers backtracked to the same scenario in Hawaii in 1998.  Per Wiki, “Following a 1993 decision by the Hawaii State Supreme Court that found the state’s refusal to grant same-sex couples marriage licenses discriminatory, voters in 1998 approved a constitutional amendment granting the Hawaii State Legislature the power to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples, which resulted in a law banning same-sex marriage.” This was the work of The Mormon Church. They built up the money and resources and then made a deal with the Catholic Church to front their opposition because they knew, that generally speaking, American voters don’t really like Mormons. The Catholic Church thought it was a good idea and so the formula was started and from there it branched out into ecumenical bigotry.

With California it was a bigger fight because let’s face it, San Francisco is a gay mecca. And that’s when the film gets a bit scary–okay, not just a bit. Putting aside The Catholic Church, Christians in general do not respond to one channel as far as their leadership. They are divided by denominational and nondenominational lines. They are in a religious free market of pick and choose your church for what it offers (upbeat music, traditional hymns, social justice sermons, Biblical literalism, you name it). This is why I can drive down a stretch of road and see one Christian church after another, some even side by side. It’s pretty obvious that Christians don’t get along until it comes time to vote  or go see a newly hyped Christian movie or concert. Megachurches are simply the success of the religious free market and have found a way of “celebritizing” their pastor and coming up with enough appealing offers to retain and gain members.

The Mormon Church, on the other hand, is one brain. If you are a Mormon you follow The Mormon Leadership because they are prophets and their word is God’s word. Yes, there are Mormon splinter groups, but they are few and far between. Most Mormons are raising their hands in allegiance to Utah. And if Utah says to vote for proposition 8 to stop the gays–that’s what a good Mormon will do. Not only that, a good Mormon will donate financially to the campaign–there is no option not to. 8: The Mormon Proposition showed questionable tactics of Mormon leadership stopping by their follower’s homes, showing them how much money they made and how much money they could afford to give. Then they stood there as those poor families wrote out a check.

For a time, I was trying to be considerate about religious believers and the idea that one can be incredibly smart but also incredibly irrational, but is that true in this case when someone else is doing the thinking for you? It’s fine if every Mormon researched the arguments and came to the conclusion that gay marriage was wrong, but there is no need to. One brain means no discourse. Even good Christian Americans would be appalled if their local church came to their door, invited themselves in and pointed out their payroll earnings–then told them they needed to tithe this specific amount. They would never stand for it and would kick them out the door.

Only a cult gets in your face like that and while I was assuming The Mormon Church had surpassed cult status due to its growing membership and entry into mainstream acceptance–this is still a cult, one big ass cult. And I mean cult in the modern sense–oppressive brainwashing, and a certain nastiness under the skin of pleasant facial expressions–smiling “fuck you” at the rest of the unbelieving world.

So the Mormon Church funnels in a huge amount of money into this political campaign, provides training videos and seminars on how to be politically involved and still retains it’s tax exempt status. 8: The Mormon Proposition covered this debate too and it is obvious that with actions taken like this The Mormon Church has no right to be tax exempt. Religion is supposed to be about religion, it’s separate from government, that’s why we cut it a break on taxes–but what was done here was ridiculous and amounts to a political organization. There’s room for political overlap, but not overt political force.

Overall, 8: The Mormon Proposition does a good job and it is a biased piece but mainly for the reason that the LDS leadership refused to be interviewed. As usual, they stay in the shadows. I believe one of the best things freethinkers could do on the web and in any pop culture avenue is to make the faces of The Prophets known and what they stand for to the American public. Otherwise the face of The Mormon Church will continue in the direction of Mitt Romney and Glenn Beck. When you see this prophetic bunch, they are a bunch of old farts with antiquated views. If you’re Mormon and you’re reading this, please separate yourself from the one brain. I know it has consequences but this cult based on a money-digging polygamist is out of control.

Dragons or Dinosaurs – A DVD Review of Darek Isaacs Film

Dragons or Dinosaurs (2010) is going to be impossible to review because it goes in to too many different subjects and arguments beyond comparing dragon legends to dinosaurs. Essentially, the main premise is a lead-in to an overview of creationism which is fine if the video was subtitled “An Overview of Creationism” but I was expecting something much different. What I was anticipating was an actual exploration of dragon legends and art and how they related to dinosaurs. The first section of film starts with a broad overview of the subject and then touches on a couple of different instances which were somewhat interesting, but then Darek Isaacs (the director/producer) never goes deeper beyond references to “Behemoth” and “Leviathan.” I’ve been hearing about Behemoth and Leviathan since I was a kid. There’s nothing ever new with creationism it seems.

The way I would have structured it would be to do the overview and then go from location to location and focus on the specific legends region by region; where people think the stories came from and what dinosaurs might the legends be. They sort of do that sporadically, but it’s not organized. It’s almost if Isaacs can’t wait to get to all the old arguments about the flood, dating methods, the fossil record, etc, that we’ve heard time and time again. Even from a creationist perspective I kept thinking “stay on subject” and “you’re going to bore the hell out of kids.” If you think the DVD is not aimed at kids then why the intro and interruptions with the book plug for Danny the Dragon (never mind that there is already a Danny the Dragon book written by a different author–maybe the two Dannys can battle it out).

Otherwise, despite what I consider a structuring problem and a delving deeper into the dragon legends, the production values and interviews are relatively good. It’s a shame we do not get opposing viewpoints, but this is an opinion piece more or less of Isaacs creation. Many of the creationists involved are scientists in some manner and I would not call them unintelligent, they are simply irrational and frankly don’t present anything new. I don’t even feel qualified to counter some of their arguments on topics ranging from geology to radioactive dating (better to be read by other professionals in the field and it’s all on the web, folks). Most evolutionary scientists have better things to do then reviewing this propaganda. It is left up to a cartoonist to ask some obvious questions about this nonsense.

Here is my basic argument. In Dragons or Dinosaurs, one of the commentators mentions how many times the King James’ Bible mentions dragons and then later Bible translations changed the word so that it no longer felt like a mythological reference such as using some other animal instead of dragon. Accessing BibleOnTheWeb.com (a great resource) I searched for the word “dragon” in the King James version (Old Testament only) and got several references:

Deuteronomy 32:33 – Their wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps.

Nehemiah 2:13 – And I went out by night by the gate of the valley, even before the dragon well, and to the dung port, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem, which were broken down, and the gates thereof were consumed with fire.

Job 30:29 – I am a brother to dragons, and a companion to owls.

Psalms 44:19 – Though thou hast sore broken us in the place of dragons, and covered us with the shadow of death.

Psalms 74:13 – Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength: thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters.

Psalms 91:13 – Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.

Psalms 148:7 – Praise the LORD from the earth, ye dragons, and all deeps:

Isaiah 13:22 – And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate houses, and dragons in their pleasant palaces: and her time is near to come, and her days shall not be prolonged.

Isaiah 27:1 – In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.

Isaiah 34:13 – And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof: and it shall be an habitation of dragons, and a court for owls.

What do all these dragon references mean? Are they just other animals or mythical references? Further study is required, but I do have to ask why God feels it necessary to punish leviathan if leviathan, according to this DVD, is a dinosaur? Sounds more like a reference to Satan. Per Wiki, leviathan “…is a sea monster referred to in the Bible. In Demonology, Leviathan is one of the seven princes of Hell and its gatekeeper.” I’m not sure that qualifies as a dinosaur? Creationists can say the reference is more general, as in a sea monster, but again, why punish an animal living in the ocean. More likely we are dealing with myths when it comes to both Behemoth and Leviathan–there is no need to compare them to any animal. Again, per Wiki “Later Jewish sources describe Leviathan as a dragon who lives over the Sources of the Deep and who, along with the male land-dragon Behemoth, will be served up to the righteous at the end of time.”

So my next search was for the word “unicorn.” And here we go:

Numbers 23:22 – God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.

Numbers 24:8 – God brought him forth out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn: he shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce them through with his arrows.

Deuteronomy 33:17 – His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth: and they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh.

Job 39:9 – Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib?

Job 39:10 – Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? or will he harrow the valleys after thee?

Psalms 22:21 – Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.

Psalms 29:6 – He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn.

Psalms 92:10 – But my horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn: I shall be anointed with fresh oil.

Isaiah 34:7 – And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness.

Start to get my point? If we are to assume references to dragons in the Bible are dinosaurs, then what are unicorns? Or are creationists saying that the traditional understanding of unicorns is correct?

Think I’m being unfair? Let’s try a search for “satyr”:

Isaiah 13:21 – But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there.

Isaiah 34:14 – The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest.

What else would a satyr be but half man, half goat?You can make multiple arguments about why these Biblical authors would reference dragons, unicorns or satyrs, but that IS the point. The Bible is not a trustworthy source for scientific investigation. It’s full of myths or mythological words that are mistranslations or misunderstandings or simply references to ancient myths. We may be dealing with nonexisting creatures or creatures that were ill-named as pointed out by Apologetic Press (with a Christian bias). Apologetic Press explains unicorns as a type of wild ox (and references the “infidel” Isaac Asimov–yes, they referred to him as an “infidel”) and satyrs as hairy men or goats. They also can excuse such references as poetic or metaphors to relate to the people of their time who believed in such creatures. How are we to separate fact from fancy? If satyr is used as  a playful reference, then did Satan really speak to Eve through a snake? Why isn’t that allegory? Christian literalists love to have it both ways. If it is too fanciful then we can chalk it up to poetics, but if it is part of the accepted creationist theory then it is fact–in other words, animals lining up two by two is fact but a satyr is just thrown in to relate to pagans. To me, ultimately if God is wanting to get his history across he is a lousy communicator to give us a book that has to be studied by theologians, archaeologists, linguists and mythologists just to understand it.

Now, leaving that all behind, let’s ask more of the obvious. All of those interviewed kept insisting that dragon art and dragon legends could not exist without living dinosaurs. Humans had to co-exist with dinos for them to be able to produce this material all over the world. Sounds like the same style of argument that Erich Von Daniken made in Chariots of the Godsit’s all too incredible for human imagination, must be aliens! Ironically, it was a Christian author and young earth creationist Clifford Wilson who proved him wrong with the release of his book Crash go the Chariots.

One of the creationists even references Carl Sagan and his book Dragons of Eden and that Sagan got it wrong when he speculated that dragon myths were a result of primitive fears of reptiles. The correct answer apparently is we lived with these reptiles/dinosaurs which I’m sure Sagan, if still alive, would dispute wholeheartedly.

As mentioned in my Freethunk Newsbite on Darek Isaacs, there is one glaring alternative explanation–found fossils. This is also dismissed by the creationists in the video because they say that the ancient artists would not be able to reconstruct the anatomy of a fossil like a paleontologist. Unfortunately, the primitive art did not show me that was necessary. There was no art that was a detailed, anatomical representation of a T-Rex, there was possibly art that could be inspired by a T-Rex. If you found a T-Rex skull with all of those nasty teeth–only the skull–wouldn’t that run your imagination wild? Sorry, I think it is a valid explanation, though certainly we do not have a definite answer.

Also, what about Asian dragons? What dinosaurs do they represent? Is it possible that human imagination is more “imaginative” than creationists give us credit for? When I look at Asian dragons I see a combination of snakes and lion heads–a chimera of sorts. I’m not saying that is where it came from, but no where did I hear creationists suggest that dragons could be the combination of two different animals. Chinese dragons have a very distinct  non-dinosaur look with frills, flowing mustaches and unusual ornamentation. It’s nice to match up a crude cave drawing to a sauropod because it has a long neck, but what about the highly detailed art. The more detail, the more fanciful it seems. Unless these are dinos we’re not aware of, their heads are so ornamental that they contrast with other dragon art such as European dragons. Also, one creationist in the video made the implication that dragon art often featured 3 toes like a T-Rex would have. If you look up Chinese Dragon in Wiki, you get this: “In the Zhou Dynasty, the 5-clawed dragon was assigned to the Son of Heaven, the 4-clawed dragon to the Zhuhou (seigneur), and the 3-clawed dragon to the Daifu. In the Qing Dynasty, the 5-clawed dragon was assigned to represent the Emperor while the 4-clawed and 3-clawed dragons were assigned to the commoners.”

It’s more meaningless references that simply add up to speculation that is confusing. It never fully adds up with a matching of one piece of art to a specific dinosaur and then another and another and we should expect to match the art to the dinosaurs known to have been in the regions the art was made. I can draw the conclusion that we have dragon legends all over the world simply because we have reptiles all over the world and the power of human imagination. I can throw in fossil remains because certainly, while our ancestors were not paleontologists, they saw more muscles and tendons than the average American eating his pre-killed McDonald’s burger.

What Isaacs doesn’t explore are the actual implications of dinosaurs and humans co-existing. In many ancient cultures, we have tribal art with the bones and teeth of prey used to make jewelry or to carve on. Where are the T-Rex teeth from the triumphant kill of the “dragon” that have been made into a necklace? Where are the dinosaur bones with the spear tip embedded into them or signs of a human killing them for meat like they did the mammoths? Where are the fossil remains of a smaller dinosaur predator with the remains of raccoon in its stomach (or pick any modern mammal)? And lastly, if the flood is the reason for all of the fossils on earth, then where are the human remains found amongst dinosaur remains or even modern mammal remains found in the same manner. Isaacs has left too many unanswered questions and filled his exploration with old hat creationism that does not relate to his premise.

This is the “Flintstones Syndrome” and like The Flintstones humans would have had interactions with living dinosaurs and yet we don’t have evidence of that. And how ridiculous it would be to try and live with dinosaurs? When you study how efficient some of the predators were at killing (big and small) and how huge the herbivores got–would humans have been able to deal with that? They would have been stepped on or eaten as snacks, much like the inside cover of my Best of Freethunk book which has a T-Rex eating Jesus on the cross. Nature always has a balance between predator and prey, there is no balance if you throw every known creature onto the planet at once. Mammals only began to thrive when their dino competition was wiped out.

I think Darek Isaac’s initial premise is a valid one for exploration: where did all the dragon legends come from? But his conclusion is simple-minded and flies in the face of mainstream science. As usual, there may be multiple explanations for the art and legends and denying the power of human imagination is a big mistake. In mythology, artists draw based on observation and then combine or exaggerate. Humans in general can come up with outrageous images without being able to draw. That’s why we have mermaids and then subsequently mermaid sightings by sailors. That’s why we have Bigfoot and decades of sightings including stories and art. Because Isaacs discounts an old earth he doesn’t reach another conclusion, that over the course of more than his accepted 6,000 years, the legend of the dragon transformed and multiplied giving us the variety of art and myths. I’m sorry to disappoint, but Beowulf is not paleontology (and yes, Beowulf was brought out as a witness to dragons in this exploration, I’m not kidding).

I’m sure my review here is incomplete. I definitely beg comment for any of my own inaccuracies. However, I believe I have presented many of the obvious problems with the DVD’s conclusions. Dragons or Dinosaurs is a nice piece of blind propaganda. I encourage everyone to watch it themselves because my hope is that even the Christian can step back and ask, “Is this what I really believe?”

SIDENOTE: Again, too much material to cover but this DVD and creationists in general are jumping on the discovery of T-Rex soft tissue. I have yet to hear of Mary Schweitzer, the discoverer of the tissue, coming out and saying that it means the T-Rex died within the last 6000 years. Fact is, some of the tissue samples are providing more evidence that birds are related to dinosaurs. Soft tissue from fossilized bones does not automatically equal a young animal, it simply means we didn’t realize it was possible. Per Wiki, “Until these finds, most scientists presumed that fossilization replaced all living tissue with inert minerals.” This finding is also still being debated so to say it is evidence for the Bible is more pie in the sky thinking. Creationists need to realize they have bigger questions to answer like: Why did God design T-Rex with those massive teeth to kill? And if you don’t already know, creationists say that what we know as predators today were once vegetarians in the Garden of Eden. Now I’m sorry, even if you don’t accept evolution, that’s just stupid. Try feeding a shark a salad.