Tag Archives: Catholic Church

Polish metaller faces jail over Bible-tearing

Behemoth frontman Nergal, AKA Adam Darski, has been found guilty in Poland’s Supreme Court of “offending religious sentiment” over a Bible-tearing performance. He could go to jail for 2 years.

In 2007, Polish blackened death-metal band Behemoth took the stage in Gdynia, Poland, and did the exact same stage show they’d done everywhere else on tour. But that show included a moment in which frontman Nergal, also known as Adam Darski, tore up a Bible and called the Catholic Church “the most murderous cult on the planet.” As he tore up the Bible, he said, “they call it the Holy Book. I call this the book of lies. Fuck the shit, fuck the hypocrisy.”

Ryszard Nowak, head of the All-Polish Committee for Defence against Sects, took him to court. The crime? “Offending religious sentiment,” a law that remains on the books in Poland although some legislators would like to see it repealed. Darski prevailed when the judge found that his Bible-destruction was a form of artistic expression consistent with Behemoth’s style. But it didn’t end there; Catholics saw him booted from his role as a judge on The Voice of Poland, due to his “provocative behaviour, showing a lack of respect not only for religious beliefs, but also for illnesses and the disabled” in another performance in which he pretended to heal someone in a wheelchair.

The case against Darski went all the way to Poland’s Supreme Court where, late last month, a judge found him guilty of “offending religious sentiment,” a crime that can carry up to two years in jail:

The Supreme Court was asked to rule on legal arguments
thrown up by the musician’s trial in a lower court on charges of
offending religious feelings.

It said a crime was committed even if the accused, who uses
the stage name Nergal, did not act with the “direct intention”
of offending those feelings, a court spokeswoman said.

That interpretation closed off an argument used by lawyers
for Darski, who said he had not committed a crime because he did
not intend to offend anyone.

Both sides held their ground: “(The decision) is negative and restricts the freedom of speech,” Jacek Potulski, a lawyer for Darski, told Reuters. He said he was not giving up. “We are still arguing that we were dealing with art, which allows more critical and radical statements,” the lawyer said.

“The Supreme Court said clearly that there are limits for artists which cannot be crossed,” Nowak told Polish television.

Here’s Darski’s own take:

After emerging from court, Darski himself said that on the one hand “one should respect the court’s verdict.” However, he also claimed that his country’s mentality “is immature, trying to gag people,” and that he was in court for “the good cause”, namely the right to “freedom of speech.”

What do you think? In a country where laws against blasphemy rub shoulders with freedom of speech, which should prevail? Should people go to jail for these kinds of performances? Or should religious groups just look the other way?

New Yorker cartoon: the pagan version of blackface

Have we not come very far, or have we gone backward? This cartoon, by Danny Shanahan, appears in the Sept. 24, 2012 issue of the New Yorker.

I was under the impression that society had, to some extent, moved beyond the idea of witches and Wiccans as old, green, scary hags. Yes, the Halloween “witch” lives on — but as a relic of the imagination, not as a representation of a modern-day faith. After all, we’ve had Samantha, Phoebe, Piper, and Prue, and many other portrayals of witches and Wiccans, right? Yes, they were sensationalized and inaccurate, but at least these witches were shown to be powerful, respectful, and human.

The Sept. 24 issue of the New Yorker had a big section devoted to cartoons, especially political cartoons. This one, in particular, is shocking. It’s true that Wiccans adopted the “Yes, Wiccan” phrase — a pun on Obama’s 2008 “Yes, We Can” slogan — and put it on posters, t-shirts, and bumper stickers (though some items murkily seemed to show support for candidate Christine O’Donnell, who claimed she “dabbled in witchcraft.”)

But none of those campaign puns depicted witches like this — undead-looking skin, hands resembling claws, pointy hat, long nose, warts. This is the pagan equivalent of blackface, and it shouldn’t be running in any publication — particularly not one of the New Yorker’s standing.

Over at the Racism School site, they explain some of the reasons blackface is wrong:

* Started at a time when Black people were considered “Less than human”
* Shows Black people have no and deserve no dignity
* Used to de-humanize, belittle and make fun of those that are “Less than”
* Caused (and continues to cause) pain to Black people
* Made black people into caricatures (not human, a symbol to belittle)

Despite the changing face of Wicca in popular culture, it’s certainly not out of the woods, politically or socially. Wicca, as a religion, is still considered less than, or dangerous; its members are targets for moral panics; and the Catholic Church still publishes screeds against Wicca.

As a society, we still need to move forward. With this cartoon, the New Yorker isn’t helping.

Polish Catholics launch new exorcism magazine

Poland’s Father Aleksander Posacki with the debut issue of a new magazine devoted to exorcisms, called Egzorcysta.

This week, a brand-new magazine launched in Poland: Egzorcysta, a magazine all about exorcisms and spiritual warfare from a Catholic perspective. Poland is one of the most Catholic countries in Europe, with nearly 90% of the population belonging to the Catholic Church, and 50-60% observing the faith regularly.

But Poland has been a Catholic stronghold for a long time. Why the sudden increase in interest in exorcisms? Here’s what Father Aleksander Posacki, one of the magazine’s contributors, said:

“The rise in the number of exorcists from four to more than 120 over the course of 15 years in Poland is telling.

“It’s indirectly due to changes in the system: capitalism [which Poland adopted in 1989] creates more opportunities to do business in the area of occultism. Fortune telling has even been categorised as employment for taxation.”

Egzorcysta‘s chief editor, Artur Winiarczyk, added: “We are living in a time that is a veritable tornado of occultism, esotericism, divination, magic, energy healing and many other phenomena that suck people in.”

Unfortunately, what seems to be “sucking people in” is the exorcists themselves, who first convince people that their troubles (which could range from a bad string of luck to a serious mental illness) are the result of demonic possession — and then convince them that an exorcism will solve their problems.

This new magazine gives pro-exorcism Catholics an even wider platform to sell these claims — and to define the conversation around the practices of minority faiths and occult workers, whom Winiarczyk is suggesting could be causing people to become demonically possessed. For example, one article in the new issue calls New-Age practices “the spiritual vacuum cleaner.”

Of course, any religious organization has the right to publish what it likes, and promote ideas that are in line with its beliefs. That’s how they maintain a following. But when that comes at the expense of other, legitimate faiths and practices, that threatens Polish people’s right to freedom of religion.

It places a special burden on young people who might be questioning and exploring their faith — particularly those with more conservative, Catholic parents. If a teen is exploring paganism, the occult, or new-age ideas, and the parent believes they’re “possessed,” what then? And how does an exorcism resolve anything?

Polish Catholics oppose “Demon” energy drink — and bone-marrow donation?

Polish Catholic extremists say Demon — and Darski — are promoting evil.

Polarizing singer Adam Darski, also known as Behemoth frontman Nergal, is back in the news. This time, it’s because he has elected to become the face of the Demon energy drink in Poland. As usual, his Catholic foes are not amused.

According to a Polish website called “Satanism Shall Not Pass:”

Demon … was “promoting evil, atrocities and the destruction of human souls.” Franciszek Kucharczak, editor of the Gosc Niedzielny, a respected religious magazine warned: “We have to fight against evil. We cannot keep quiet and let young people be absorbed into destructive ideals.”

… it’s a beverage. It contains water, sugar, caffeine, and vitamins. Not “evil,” whatever that means.

At any rate, Darski explained that he’s not a huge fan of energy drinks in general, but that he wanted to support Demon, in part, because the company gives money to the DKMS foundation. That’s the foundation that helped Darski find a bone-marrow donor for his leukemia treatment in 2010.

Darski is a big enough celebrity — especially in Poland — that his promotion of both this product and of the DKMS foundation could bring in more funding, and more bone-marrow donors, to save people’s lives. That seems the opposite of “evil, atrocities and the destruction of human souls.”

Now, if I thought Poland’s conservative Catholics were this savvy, I would suspect them of heightening the publicity around the Demon energy drink in order to save adults and children with leukemia. But I’m not sure that’s the case. More likely, they’re grandstanding over something that has little to do with real problems facing the Catholic Church today — and trying to get in the way of a product whose proceeds may help people survive bone cancer.

As an aside, the Telegraph article also claims that Darski/Nergal has left Behemoth. Not so; they are getting ready to rehearse for their next album.

In Poland, Catholics go to war against Behemoth’s Nergal — for giving Satanism a voice

Catholic leaders in Poland took Nergal to court after he tore up a Bible on stage. Nergal won, but the fight isn’t over.

Catholic leaders in Poland, which has been a stronghold of Catholicism since World War II, have been on the warpath. Their target? Adam Darski, also known as Nergal, frontman for the Polish metal band Behemoth.

In 2007, a group called the All-Polish Committee for Defence against Sects circulated to political leaders a list of bands the committee claimed “promote Satanism.” The committee and its leader, Ryszard Nowak, hoped leaders would ban performances by these groups. They didn’t.

That same year, during a performance in the Polish city of Gdynia, Nergal destroyed a Bible and called the Catholic Church “the most murderous cult on the planet.” As he tore up the Bible, he said, “they call it the Holy Book. I call this the book of lies. Fuck the shit, fuck the hypocrisy.”

You can view the act, at roughly the 45-second mark, in this video:

You can’t hear about this without thinking of Sinead O’Connor tearing up a photograph of the Pope on Saturday Night Live in 1992. Even in America, where such acts have been protected for centuries, O’Connor’s move touched off a major controversy that damaged her career permanently.

The All-Polish Committee for Defence against Sects took Nergal to court over the Bible-tearing incident, claiming he “offended religious feeling.” On August 18 of this year, a Polish judge ruled that Nergal’s destruction of a Bible during a show was a form of artistic expression consistent with Behemoth’s style.

In a statement on the band’s web site, Nergal wrote, “I’m so glad to see that intelligence won over religious fanatics in my home country. Tho there’s still so much work to be done to make things right. But I’m sure that I’m on the right path to ultimate freedom! The battle is won, but the war ain’t over. Heil Satan!”

Of course, that wasn’t the end of it. Darski is starring in The Voice of Poland, a reality-TV show in which celebrities assist in the search for an outstanding singer. That offended Bishop Wieslaw Mering, head of the diocese of Wlocawek in northern Poland, who urged Polish television to pull the program from the air:

“A blasphemer, Satanist and lover of evil incarnate has the screen of public television at his disposal, and thus he will be able to spread his poisonous teachings more easily,” the bishop declared in a statement. “Non possumus! [This cannot be!].”

The Association of Catholic Journalists has circulated Mering’s statement.

Freedom of speech is a very new protection in Poland; censorship was abolished in 1990, while freedom of speech was officially added to the constitution in 1997. Freedom of religion, however, has been guaranteed by law in Poland since 1573. Of course, the same freedom of speech that protects Nergal’s right to criticize the Catholic Church also protects the Catholic Church’s right to criticize Nergal, his on-stage performances, and his negative views on Catholicism.

This whole situation is a reminder that, to many, Satanism is not a legitimate faith; it is one to be scorned, maligned, and silenced. Fortunately, Nergal is not backing down from the limelight. Particularly in his role on The Voice of Poland, he dresses pretty much like an everyday guy. Such visibility on what is likely to be a widely viewed television program, for someone who is a known Satanist, will hopefully show viewers that Satanists are normal, everyday people.

Readers, do you know any Satanists? What, if anything, have you learned about Satanism from spending time with them? Have your feelings on the faith changed because of it?

EDIT: As of October 17, Adam Darski has been forced to leave Voice of Poland. Read the update here: https://backwardmessages.wordpress.com/2011/10/17/satanic-singer-booted-from-polish-reality-tv-show/

The Harry Potter debate: When is magic evil, and when is it a miracle?

Does Harry Potter’s use of “evil” sorcery to defeat evil make him good? Or evil? Even the Vatican can’t decide.

As I mentioned last week, the Vatican has had a change of heart regarding the occult overtones in the Harry Potter multimedia franchise. After years of claiming that the young wizard’s tale would lead impressionable readers to practice witchcraft and sorcery, someone in Italy must have noticed that that wasn’t really happening.

In a review of the final film in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 2, the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, reported, “evil is never presented as fascinating or attractive in the saga, but the values of friendship and of sacrifice are highlighted.” Another critic noted, “the saga champion[s] values that Christians and non-Christians share and provide[s] opportunities for Christian parents to talk to their children about how those values are presented in a special way in the Bible.”

The Catholic Register also has positive words for the film, though the critic is uncomfortable with some of the language surrounding resurrection.

However, it’s unclear whether this positive spin on the Harry Potter world trumps such statements as then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s 2005 letters discussing how the wizard’s saga contains “subtle seductions, which act unnoticed and by this deeply distort Christianity in the soul, before it can grow properly.”

There’s also the statement from the Vatican’s chief exorcist, Rev. Gabriele Amorth, who said, “You start off with Harry Potter, who comes across as a likeable wizard, but you end up with the Devil … By reading Harry Potter a young child will be drawn into magic and from there it is a simple step to Satanism and the Devil.” Again, this is a statement from a half-decade ago; has Amorth changed his mind?

Michael D. O’Brien, author of Harry Potter and the Paganization of Culture, argues:

To believe that the Potter message is about fighting evil is superficial. On practically every page of the series, and in its spin-off films, evil is presented as ‘bad’, and yet the evil means by which the evil is resisted are presented as good.

Admittedly, I am on the other side of the aisle from O’Brien. Not only do I not believe magic is evil, I don’t even agree that the magic depicted in Harry Potter is intended to represent literal sorcery. Was Jesus’ resurrection of Lazarus sorcery? After all, he says some magic words and Lazarus comes back to life after four days in a tomb:

41 So they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying.
Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said,
“Father, I thank you that you listened to me.
42 I know that you always listen to me,
but because of the multitude that stands around I said this,
that they may believe that you sent me.”
Lazarus, come out!

43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”
44 He who was dead came out, bound hand and foot with wrappings,
and his face was wrapped around with a cloth.
Jesus said to them, “Free him, and let him go.”

I may get in trouble with Christian readers for saying this, but honestly, the only reason this isn’t considered evil sorcery is that it’s presented as a miracle — in the same collection of stories that says sorcery is evil. Yes, the Bible is full of contradictions; arguably this is one of them.

So, here’s the question: is O’Brien right? Is the good vs. evil message in Harry Potter “superficial”? Is the use of “evil” to fight evil the real message of the saga? What do you think?

And the latest moral panic is … books?

Andrew Smith’s “The Marbury Lens” is among the young-adult books in WSJ writer Meghan Cox Gurdon’s crosshairs — she says it’s inappropriate for teens.

In what rulebook, operations manual, or parenting guide is it written that children and teens are pure, innocent, and morally untainted? Where is it written that they never have sexual or violent ideas, aggressive feelings, or fears inspired not by media fictions but by real life or their own fertile imaginations? The idea that kids are blank slates, happy and pure of thought until corrupted, is at the root of every child-related moral panic, from the crackdown on comic books to in the 1950s to the current outrage over … young-adult books. It doesn’t seem like we’ve come very far, does it?

Last month, Wall Street Journal writer Meghan Cox Gurdon penned a screed decrying the current state of young-adult fiction. It’s a state she describes as, “Darker than when you were a child, my dear: So dark that kidnapping and pederasty and incest and brutal beatings are now just part of the run of things.”

In the course of her article, Gurdon goes after a number of YA books, describing their content in lurid detail (almost echoing Justice Scalia’s recent descriptions of the gore and violence contained in youth literature dating back to the Brothers Grimm). These concepts, she argues, threaten “a child’s happiness, moral development and tenderness of heart. Entertainment does not merely gratify taste, after all, but creates it.”

Personally, I’m wondering whether it has dawned on her that reading accounts of teens’ dire straits might a) shine a light on the fact that far too many children experience trauma, or b) that reading about such experiences might actually help readers develop that “tenderness of heart” toward such experiences that Gurdon is fighting for. It doesn’t seem to have crossed her mind; instead, she posits, “books focusing on pathologies help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures.”

Fortunately, Gurdon’s piece opened a dialogue. One of those dialogues was with Lauren Myracle, author of “Shine,” one of the books on Gurdon’s blacklist. Myracle and Gurdon chatted last week on NPR’s Talk of the Nation, and Myracle responded to Gurdon’s claims:

Do books normalize dangerous behaviors? My answer would be people aren’t dummies. Some are, but most aren’t. Kids aren’t, either. I think that kids are, again and again, not given enough credit for being smart and for being critical thinkers.

(Remember when the Harry Potter books came out, and religious leaders were convinced they’d inspire kids to become demon-worshipping wizards? The Vatican is now championing the final Potter film.)

YA author Frank Portman, author of King Dork and Andromeda Klein, chimed in on his own blog. He writes:

For Meghan Cox Gurdon, a book that fails to advance, or even merely complicates, that agenda, let alone actually impedes it, is a bad book, worse than useless, unsuited to the task at hand, which is, essentially, social engineering.

But, of course, that’s not at all how or why people read novels. In fact, some of the best novels, like other forms of art, were created with precisely the opposite agenda in mind: to rile, to irritate, to provoke, to test, to undermine conventional assumptions and to discourage conformity. I’d even go so far as to say that the books that have meant the most to me over the years, “young” and otherwise, have been the ones deliberately constructed in order to make the parent’s job harder.

Portman also goes after the anti-Gurdon movement, which tagged many missives on Twitter with the tag #YAsaves. Young-adult fiction, Portman points out, isn’t there to save lives any more than it’s there to make parents’ jobs easier. It’s there to be art. To be fiction. For teens who enjoy reading. End of story.

What’s the darkest thing you’ve ever read in a young-adult fiction book, and how did it affect you when you read it? Share your tales in the comments.