Eddie Long Trapped Between Religious Dogma And Legal Jeopardy

It’s kind of hard to live in Atlanta and not write a few words about Eddie Long, the pastor of the metro area’s own New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, who is under national scrutiny after being accused of having sexual relationships with some of his young male parishioners. Lawyers fill the airwaves on local morning talk shows, giving the kind of blow-by-blow legal analysis that Greta Van Sustern did during the O.J. trial. People you haven't heard from in awhile call, wanting to know "what's going on down there with that preacher?" And in break rooms, on Facebook and Twitter, a lot of folks are arguing over whether or not these allegations could be true, and if they are, whether or not the acts themselves constitute anything other than consensual sexual activity.

Looking past the salacious details, I wondered—could the nature of organized religion be partly responsible for a story that we seem to see here over and over again about religious leaders from all religious denominations?

Casting himself as the Bible's ultimate underdog, Bishop Eddie Long went before thousands of faithful supporters at his megachurch last Sunday and promised to fight accusations that he lured four young men into sexual relationships.

"I feel like David against Goliath. But I got five rocks, and I haven't thrown one yet," Long said in his first public remarks since his accusers filed lawsuits last week claiming he abused his "spiritual authority." He stopped short of denying the allegations but implied he was wronged by them.

Eddie Long, Georgia Megachurch Pastor, Vows To Fight Sex Scandal Allegations

The churches I see here in Atlanta these days probably aren't that different from the ones I attended back in South Carolina as a child, except here, a lot of the pastors preach black prosperity. After a church gets a few hundred members, the pastor becomes a manager. After a church gets a couple thousand members, the pastor becomes an administrator. More than five thousand members and the minister is an executive, leading an enterprise with cashflows and payrolls more reminiscent of a mid-sized business.

However you may feel about him today, Eddie Long seems to have been a whirlwind force, a charismatic religious leader who turned a handful of followers into the largest black church in America. The excesses of his lifestyle that have been pictured on TV the last few days are being portrayed as if they are reminiscent of Roman emperors. Indeed, Mr. Long’s alleged behavior isn’t that much different than the activities of many Catholic priests who been found guilty of sexual misconduct.

Even thinking about leaving all that power and adulation behind has to be hard for Eddie Long.  Which brings me back to something that I see as a fundamental problem organized religion has—an insistence on perpetuating the kinds of practices, rituals and customs originally designed to function as agents of social control.

Untethering personal spiritual salvation from the dogmatic rules meant to reinforce the status quo may be the future of religion, not edifice building, or ritualistic prostration before a human representative of an unearthly god. 

Personal spiritual salvation, which is the foundation of most religions, is a pretty esoteric, mostly abstract condition that most people could probably achieve on their own if they were willing to work towards putting enough time and effort into it. Adding the physical component of church—the vestments, the buildings, the groupthink when it comes to interpreting the Bible—puts the heavy weight of building, supporting and maintaining an institution on top of a pastor’s commitment to spiritually guide his parishioners, the kind of weight and responsibility that may also breed a certain sense of entitlement for a job well done that a pastor's more secular counterparts in the corporate world often believe is a standard part of their compensation packages.

Many people in the public, especially here in Atlanta, are frustrated this week by the megachurch pastor because he did not stand before his congregation last Sunday and emphatically proclaim “I am innocent. These young men are lying.” These dogmatists want a declaration from Long that is presented as simply and starkly as he presents his interpretation of the Gospels, a pronouncement that is as definitive as the “homosexuality is a sin” rhetoric this very same pastor has spouted from the pulpit and elsewhere.  

But this self-proclaimed bishop is not just a man of God—he is also a very secular CEO of an multi-million dollar enterprise that employs hundreds and touches thousands of lives daily. An errant public utterance from CEO Long’s lips exposes the entire New Birth organization to the kind of legal jeopardy whose outcome could be calamitous to the church as an institution. Right now, Eddie Long is trapped between the religious dogma that he so enthusiastically teaches to his flock and the kind of legal jeopardy that can significantly impact the New Birth Missionary Baptist balance sheet.  

So the public and his parishoners, like it or not, are going to get more sly allusions to David and Goliath in the weeks to come. They are going to hear rumors of settlement talks. They are going to see new pictures leaked to the media. Some members who feel that their pastor has not convinced them, through word or deed, that he didn’t engage in homosexual activity will begin to wander away. 

As nice and neat and TV-like as it would be to watch Long confess his sins in front of a national audience, it just isn’t going to happen. There are many moving parts in a legal case. If the plaintiff's lawyers mishandle a few procedures, or employ less than optimum deposition strategies, it is possible that Long could walk away from all of this. Whether he will be found guilty or innocent in a court of law I don't know, but for anybody who is accused of wrongdoing to hand opposing counsel their case on a silver platter is ludicrous.

Walking away from the doubts about Eddie Long's judgment that are floating around everywhere, from his congregation to the larger Atlanta community, will be a much harder case to make.

Drill, Baby, Drill: What will we look for when we mine on Mars?

It's unlikely that there's anything on the planet that is worth the cost of shipping it back

Surprising Science
  • In the second season of National Geographic Channel's MARS (premiering tonight, 11/12/18,) privatized miners on the red planet clash with a colony of international scientists
  • Privatized mining on both Mars and the Moon is likely to occur in the next century
  • The cost of returning mined materials from Space to the Earth will probably be too high to create a self-sustaining industry, but the resources may have other uses at their origin points

Want to go to Mars? It will cost you. In 2016, SpaceX founder Elon Musk estimated that manned missions to the planet may cost approximately $10 billion per person. As with any expensive endeavor, it is inevitable that sufficient returns on investment will be needed in order to sustain human presence on Mars. So, what's underneath all that red dust?

Mining Technology reported in 2017 that "there are areas [on Mars], especially large igneous provinces, volcanoes and impact craters that hold significant potential for nickel, copper, iron, titanium, platinum group elements and more."

Were a SpaceX-like company to establish a commercial mining presence on the planet, digging up these materials will be sure to provoke a fraught debate over environmental preservation in space, Martian land rights, and the slew of microbial unknowns which Martian soil may bring.

In National Geographic Channel's genre-bending narrative-docuseries, MARS, (the second season premieres tonight, November 12th, 9 pm ET / 8 pm CT) this dynamic is explored as astronauts from an international scientific coalition go head-to-head with industrial miners looking to exploit the planet's resources.

Given the rate of consumption of minerals on Earth, there is plenty of reason to believe that there will be demand for such an operation.

"Almost all of the easily mined gold, silver, copper, tin, zinc, antimony, and phosphorus we can mine on Earth may be gone within one hundred years" writes Stephen Petranek, author of How We'll Live on Mars, which Nat Geo's MARS is based on. That grim scenario will require either a massive rethinking of how we consume metals on earth, or supplementation from another source.

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, told Petranek that it's unlikely that even if all of Earth's metals were exhausted, it is unlikely that Martian materials could become an economically feasible supplement due to the high cost of fuel required to return the materials to Earth. "Anything transported with atoms would have to be incredibly valuable on a weight basis."

Actually, we've already done some of this kind of resource extraction. During NASA's Apollo missions to the Moon, astronauts used simple steel tools to collect about 842 pounds of moon rocks over six missions. Due to the high cost of those missions, the Moon rocks are now highly valuable on Earth.

Moon rock on display at US Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, AL (Big Think/Matt Carlstrom)

In 1973, NASA valuated moon rocks at $50,800 per gram –– or over $300,000 today when adjusted for inflation. That figure doesn't reflect the value of the natural resources within the rock, but rather the cost of their extraction.

Assuming that Martian mining would be done with the purpose of bringing materials back to Earth, the cost of any materials mined from Mars would need to include both the cost of the extraction and the value of the materials themselves. Factoring in the price of fuel and the difficulties of returning a Martian lander to Earth, this figure may be entirely cost prohibitive.

What seems more likely, says Musk, is for the Martian resources to stay on the Red Planet to be used for construction and manufacturing within manned colonies, or to be used to support further mining missions of the mineral-rich asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

At the very least, mining on Mars has already produced great entertainment value on Earth: tune into Season 2 of MARS on National Geographic Channel.

Harvard scientists suggest 'Oumuamua is an alien device

It's an asteroid, it's a comet, it's actually a spacecraft?

(ESO/M. Kornmesser)
Surprising Science
  • 'Oumuamua is an oddly shaped, puzzling celestial object because it doesn't act like anything naturally occurring.
  • The issue? The unexpected way it accelerated near the Sun. Is this our first sign of extraterrestrials?
  • It's pronounced: oh MOO-uh MOO-uh.
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Study: The effects of online trolling on authors, publications

A study started out trying to see the effect of sexist attacks on women authors, but it found something deeper.

Surprising Science
  • It's well known that abusive comments online happen to women more than men
  • Such comments caused a "significant effect for the abusive comment on author credibility and intention to seek news from the author and outlet in the future"
  • Some news organizations already heavily moderate or even ban comments entirely; this should underscore that effort
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