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Top Results from the Acts Seminar

Results of the 11-year project on Acts conducted by Fellows of Westar Institute.

  1. "The author of Acts was an accomplished storyteller who wrote a story with a decidedly apologetic purpose."
  2. "Acts was written in the early decades of the second century."
  3. "The author of Acts used the letters of Paul as one of his sources."
  4. "Except for the letters of Paul, no other reliable historical source can be definitively identified for Acts."
  5. "Jerusalem was not the birthplace of Christianity..."
  6. "Acts can no longer be considered an independent source for the life and mission of Paul."
  7. "Acts constructed its story on the model of the epic and related literature."
  8. "The author of Acts created names for characters as a storytelling device."
  9. "Acts constructed its story to fit ideological goals."
  10. "No longer can Acts be assumed to be historical unless proven otherwise. Rather, the burden of proof has shifted, Acts must be considered non-historical unless proven otherwise."

From Acts and Christian Beginnings: The Acts Seminar Report, Dennis S. Smith and Joseph B. Tyson, Eds. Polebridge Press, 2013.

(Originally published 2014/01/01 at


The War of the Last Two Pope's Against Modernity

Notes and quotes on The Pope's War: Why Ratzinger's Secret Crusade Has Imperiled The Catholic Church and How It Can Be Saved by Matthew Fox.

Not being Catholic, I confess that I have not paid much attention to the world of Roman Catholic church politics. Like many, I had a good impression of Pope John Paul II and an unfortunate impression of Pope Benedict XVI. But reading The Pope's War introduced me to a war, sometime overt but mostly covert, by John Paul II and Benedict XVI against modernity.

John Paul knew very well how to use the media to create a good impression. What many did not realize is that John Paul worked very hard to reverse the changes of Vatican II and that Benedict was his right hand man in that endeavor. Both were arch-conservatives who preferred that the Catholic Church be organized on a monarchical pattern, much like during the Middle Ages. So they actively persecuted Roman Catholics who questioned this approach (see the list here). Specifically, they sought to destroy Liberation Theology, and they completely succeeded. In the process, they sided with and frequently funded right-wing dictators in South America, in concert with the Reagan Administration and the CIA.

Liberation Theology was a movement designed to emphasize the responsibility of the church to take care of and represent the poor and oppressed. One thinks of the "social gospel", and it is hard not to reach the conclusion that this was the perspective maintained by Jesus himself, as witnessed in the canonical gospels. Yet John Paul and Benedict suppressed this movement, fearing that it had become Marxist and that it would undermine their authority. Given John Paul's history combating communism in Poland, this perspective is perhaps understandable, and it certainly fit into the CIA's concern about democratic movements that destabilized the CIA's influence around the world. Unfortunately, this was all a lie. Liberation Theology was not Marxist at all, but rather a legitimate expression of the social gospel.

Many forget that under John Paul, Cardinal Ratzinger was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the modern successor to the Holy Inquisition. Ratzinger's role was to suppress Liberation Theology and to entrench hyper-conservative elements in the Vatican bureaucracy. Consider that all of the Cardinals who participated in the recent election of Pope Francis were made cardinal by either John Paul or Benedict. Therefore, the Vatican hierarchy completely represents their conservative point of view. No exceptions.

Consider also the incredible level of support given by John Paul and Benedict to the most conservative of Catholic religious orders, at the expense of the traditional orders:

These organizations are characterized by the following principles, all of which mark them as fascist and authoritarian:

  • Women are subservient to men.
  • Sexuality and reproduction need to be controlled.
  • Opposition to modernity, especially relativism.
  • Secret tribunals with no representation or appeal.
  • Anti-communist and pro-capitalist.
  • Ideology over theology.
  • Absolute obedience to authority.
  • Preference for the elites over the people.
  • Militantly anti-intellectual.
  • Anti-progress.

There is a rather interesting connection of this conservative trend with Spanish fascism and links to Generalisimo Francisco Franco. Frank Cocozzelli wrote a series of 36 articles on this on Talk2Action, which have been reproduced here with his permission. If this connection is true, it should not surprise us that the last two popes should maintain links with right-wing dictators in the Western Hemisphere, at the expense of social and economic justice.

But what is particularly appalling about this is that while embarked on a campaign to dilute Vatican II, cripple Liberation Theology, and silence theologians who thought outside the conservative box (including the author - Matthew Fox), these same popes ignored - and therefore enabled - the clergy sex abuse crisis which has so badly damaged the Roman Catholic Church in the past 30 years. Not only did they suppress evidence of systematic abuse by priests and bishops around the world, including by the head of the Legion of Christ (Marcial Marciel), they refused to take action against any accused clergy for decades. Their denial of this issue is in keeping with their focus on retrenchment; they simply view criticisms from without as evidence of plots by a hostile media to damage the church. Their view of women is patriarchal, and their desire to protect the church eclipses any damage done by abusive clergy; therefore the sex abuse scandals simple were not important enough to deal with. Self-preservation and secrecy trumped honesty and integrity.

Unfortunately, in denying the credibility of the stories and accusations - not to mention the incredible pain suffered by the thousands of abused and ignored - the Vatican under John Paul II and Benedict XVI has lost all credibility, all claim to being a spiritual organization. The Catholic Church has become a neo-fascist boys-only club which protects a global pedophile culture.


A further development that is of concern are the links that the Roman Catholic Church has in the USA to uber-conservative political groups, such as a membership in the Heritage Foundation. Without digressing into excruciating detail, let me ask the question: Why would a church involve itself in conservative politics in the USA? A church devoted to the message and teachings of Jesus Christ?


Cross-posted from


The Myth of Christian Persecution in the United States

Posted in

Cross-posted from with permission from the author.

The myth of Christian persecution in the United States

Christian Persecution in the USA is a myth

Many Christians walk around with a Gibraltar-sized chip on their shoulders, crying about how they are being treated unfairly and compare themselves with David in that mythical story we all know so well.  They fly into rages when unbelievers have the unmitigated gall to throw up a billboard here and there about godlessness because we all know there are almost NO Christian billboards out there…

The fact is that Christians are very much privileged in the United States.  Christianity is an ideology in the US that enjoys implicit, unreflecting, and uncritical acceptance and one would have to be a complete idiot to counter the fact that the mythical delusion of Christianity is dominant here. Christians are continuously told that they are special and deserve privileges. Many stores take the Christian sabbath into account and are not open for business on Sundays.  Most Christians don’t have to work on their holidays.  They can assume that television programming will be geared toward their holidays.  They can generally construct holiday displays such as nativities without fearing vandalism.  “Merry Christmas” is a greeting that they will most often hear during this time of year and can, with impunity, ignore and be ignorant of the holidays celebrated by other religious groups.  In fact, many school events will probably address Christian holidays.  There is no shortage of churches for a traveling Christian to worship at and whenever someone talks about or thanks god, Christians can assume it’s their god.  Almost every hotel in the United States has bibles in their rooms and when there is a need, Christians have many charities to donate to or get assistance from.

Persecuted?  Please…  Unlike those who do not believe in a deity, Christians won’t be discriminated against because of their religion and can assume that their opinion won’t be ignored because of their religion and they never have to worry about living in a place where they are not welcome because they will almost never encounter groups that exclude Christians.  While it can be a gut-wrenching decision for an unbeliever to “come out”, Christians don’t worry about revealing their religion to parents, friends, etc.  Without worry of being labeled a bigot amongst their own, the Christians can discriminate in ways not otherwise allowed.

Christians can wear evangelistic clothing or jewelry without fear of persecution, as well, and can promote their religion on cars or houses without fear of vandalism.  They rarely have to worry if their religion will hinder their professional ambitions, but if you are known as atheist, it becomes very difficult to find or keep a job. In fact, Christians can assume that most neighbors and coworkers share their beliefs and many Christian owned businesses participate in advertising in directories of other Christian-owned businesses.  In short, Christians can assume that almost anywhere they go and anything they do, they’ll feel normal.

Many of the laws in the United States come with built-in exemptions for Christians and their beliefs and Christians can assume that most politicians are Christians who represent Christian interests and this is reflected in that almost without exception, government prayers are Christian in nature.  Yes, many of these privileges are seeing a decline as more and more of the godless are becoming vocal and getting involved, and so Christians interpret this as persecution, but this is only because privilege is all they have ever known. They have been on top of the food chain in this country for so long that they are largely clueless that in a free society, such privileges are inappropriate.

There is a reason so many unbelievers refuse to be accommodating and stand idly and quietly on the sidelines. It's because so many unbelievers get routinely thrown under the bus.  There is a reason so many unbelievers cannot keep their mouths shut while the children of our Nation are getting indoctrinated every Sunday morning, rendering them totally and completely unequipped to integrate into a post-modern society. It's because they are being taught that the earth was created six-thousand years ago, that a nine-hundred-year-old man crammed an army of animals into a boat for forty days, that donkeys and snakes talk and all the other countless and totally insane fairy tales that they are taught as unmitigated truth.  That unbelievers should be tolerant and accommodating is an insult to the collective of human intellect and against the very backbone of basic human rights.

Of course, you will never get them to admit that as long as they continue suffer under their memetic viral delusions.  They will continue to whine like petulant children until they either come to their senses and embrace reason and abandon their silly, outdated and completely ridiculous superstitions, indoctrination and dogmatic garbage or they manage to die off without infecting their own progeny.

It is because there is still so much persecution of unbelievers in the world, and because there is still so much discrimination, hatred, bigotry and outright violence against unbelievers that being "nice" to fundamentalists is fast becoming a thing of the past.  You can only beat a dog so much before it bites back.

If you are unable to fight this discrimination directly, perhaps due to the threat of losing a job or being shunned by family, then support organizations that do.  I recommend joining American Atheists, Inc. Since 1963, they have been the premier organization laboring for the civil liberties of atheists and the total, absolute separation of church and state. American Atheists was borne out of a court case begun in 1959 by the Murray family which challenged the recitation of prayer in public schools.


Al Stefanelli is an American author, writer and journalist. His book "A Voice Of Reason In an Unreasonable Word - The Rise Of Atheism On Planet Earth" is available in paperback and digital formats.  Al also serves as the Georgia State Director for American Atheists, Inc.

(Originally published 2012/02/14 at


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