There are a couple of stories from this past week that I wanted to mention:
• A three-judge panel on the First Circuit Court of Appeals, two of whom are Republican appointees, have struck down part of DOMA, ruling that it violates the Constitution for the federal government to deny benefits to same-sex couples legally married in their home state.
• You may remember a notorious net kook named Dennis Markuze, who engaged in a longstanding campaign of harassment and threats against atheist bloggers (including me). A concerted effort last year finally spurred the Montreal police to take action against him, and he's now pled guilty and received an 18-month suspended sentence. I hope for his sake that he's gotten the mental health help he clearly needed and that this will be enough to keep him from reverting to his old ways.
• As was widely reported, a Pentecostal preacher named Mark Wolford who advocated snake-handling died at 44 after being bitten by one of his pet rattlesnakes. In so doing, he followed in the footsteps of his father, who was also a snake-handling preacher and who also died at very nearly the same age from the bite of one of his snakes.
By all accounts, a rattlesnake bite is a slow and excruciatingly painful way to die, and I don't wish that on anyone. On the other hand, people who delude themselves into believing that religious faith gives them miraculous protection will very often suffer the consequences of that erroneous belief. (After being bitten, Wolford refused medical treatment, instead preferring to rely only on ineffectual prayer until it was much too late.) If nothing else, I hope his death is an object lesson to any others who labor under this delusion.
• An article this week revealed that Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, authorized large cash payouts to pedophile priests as an incentive for them not to fight being defrocked. This contradicts Dolan's earlier denials that such a practice ever took place.
The excuse offered by the church is that laicization is a slow, bureaucratic process that takes even longer if the priest resists, and the church is obligated to take care of his needs in the meantime. This is a clear lie, because laicization has happened much faster in cases when the Vatican wanted it to: most notably in the case of Emmanuel Milingo, a Zambian bishop who ordained four married men as priests in December 2006 and was laicized by Vatican decree six days later. And, of course, absolutely none of this explains why the church hierarchy didn't simply call the police, and let the justice system see to the clerical predator's needs while he was awaiting trial.
• Fazil Say, an internationally acclaimed Turkish pianist, may be facing jail time in his home country after being charged with blasphemy, for quoting the epic Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam no less. How much longer can modern democracy exist side-by-side with ignorant medieval norms?
• And just to end up on a brighter note: here's the moving story of a Mormon couple who lost their faith together, and who both benefited greatly from the transition: "We were finally adults, taking our firsts together, learning about each other without barriers... when we left God out of it, we were free to love each other completely, to share the burden of our grief as two individuals with no one else."