Pub Skeptics Update

I didn’t bother to post an announcement here for the March Skeptics in the Pub event. Another announcement really wasn’t needed. An estimated twenty skeptics showed up at O’Flaherty’s (that’s a record!), and the conversation was—I daresay—even better than the beer. Next month: the world!

Skeptics in the Pub, Part Deux

It’s time for South Bay skeptics to gather at the pub again! Since last month’s get-together at O’Flaherty’s in San Jose went so well, we’ll be meeting there again tonight. We have fifteen freethinkers signed up to show up tonight (a veritable convention).

An Agenda

Just in case this “informal forum” doesn’t lift itself up by its own bootstraps, I’m offering up the following framework:

1. Personal Introductions

  • Personal Background (and how it inspired the skeptic in you)
  • Favorite Self-Label: skeptic? atheist? freethinker? contrarian? drunk?
  • Favorite Topics: religion, pseudoscience, alternative medicine, climate change, etc.

2. In the News

Scientology: in the FBI’s crosshairs?


Bacterial Intelligence

3. Hot Topics

Topics recently covered by noted skeptics



Climate Change


Related Links

Skeptics in the Pub

I’ve been meaning to start a local get-together for South Bay skeptics for some time now. Since nobody seems to be in a hurry to beat me to it, here goes.

Let’s start with O’Flaherty’s in San Jose, it being about as close a thing to a pub as we have in the South Bay. If the meet is successful enough to render O’Flaherty’s too cozy, we can move ourselves accordingly.

An Agenda

Just in case this “informal forum” doesn’t lift itself up by its own bootstraps, I’m offering up the following framework:

1. Personal Introductions

  • Personal Background (and how it inspired the skeptic in you)
  • Favorite Self-Label: skeptic? atheist? freethinker? contrarian? drunk?
  • Favorite Topics: religion, pseudoscience, alternative medicine, climate change, etc.

2. In the News

Astrology in Crisis, by Steven Novella (Jan 18)

Sign of the Times: Astrology story soars like a comet, (Jan 14)

Murder, Mass Die Offs, and the Meaning of Randomness, Michael Shermer (Jan 12)

Gun violence and bird die-offs in America

Pakistan rally backs blasphemy law — Al-Jazeera (Jan 9)

Deadly warning to Pakistan liberals — Al-Jazeera (Jan 7)

3. Hot Topics

Topics recently covered by noted skeptics

TestabilitySkeptics Guide 5×5 #100 (Jan 13)

  • Falsifiability: necessary but not sufficient
  • Can it be used to make predictions?
  • Some claims are non-falsifiabile by design (e.g. the claim that the earth was created to look like it’s billions of years old)
  • “The Big Bang theory … was once considered untestable”
  • The distinction between scientific and unscientific can be fuzzy (e.g. string theory)
  • Carl Sagan’s invisible floating dragon that breathes heatless fire.
  • Untestable propositions aren’t necessarily wrong; merely outside the domain of science.

Repressed Memories: Skeptics Guide 5×5 #97 (Dec 20)

You just think we’ve never met. You’re just repressing me, that’s all.

Mystery Spots: Skeptoid #240 (Jan 11)

Patronized your local gravitational anomaly lately?

Gluten Free Diets: Skeptoid #239 (Jan 4)

Is bread making you sick?

Related Links

The Dread Jensens

Back around the close of the 1970s, my friend next door showed me a newspaper article that seemed to be about my father. It was about a Bahá’í chiropractor—a Dr. Jensen—who was making prophecies about a coming calamity. My father, Dr. John Jensen, is a Bahá’í chiropractor with a Bahá’í fondness for doomsday visions. Fortunately—or unfortunately, as the case may be—the Dr. Jensen featured in the article was out in Montana, a long way from my home in central California. It was some other Bahá’í chiropractor named Jensen.

The old Montana State Prison

The old Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge, Montana

This was quite a coincidence, of course. It’s not like there are many Scandinavian Bahá’ís like there are hoards of Scandinavian Mormons.

Actually, my father’s dad was one of those Scandinavian Mormons, but that’s another story.

One thing the Bahá’ís and Mormons do share, though, is a peppering of heretics across the Rocky Mountain states. Must be something about mountains that brings out the heretic in people.

This Dr. Leland Jensen of Missoula, Montana was well known among researchers for his string of failed prophecies. He was also known for being convicted for sexually molesting of a minor. It was while doing time in the big house that Jensen received his calling, as so oft it happens. Upon release, Jensen founded his own Bahá’í sect, and commenced to doing what prophets do.

My father was and is quite different. He is a principled man who would never entertain prophetic delusions or manipulate people as the Montana Jensen did.

But my father did—and does—share Leland Jensen’s apocalyptic view of the immediate future. He is a Bahá’í, after all. It’s in the scripture. A lot of bad things are going to have to happen for the world to be cleansed before the last century ends.

As a child in a Bahá’í household, I learned about a horrible calamity that would soon cleanse the world of its blind materialism and render it receptive to the light of faith in Bahá’u’lláh. We weren’t sure what exactly would happen but we knew it would necessarily be bad—something along the lines of Zechariah 13:

In the whole land, declares the LORD,
two-thirds will be struck down and perish;
yet one-third will be left in it.
This third I will bring into the fire;
I will refine them like silver
and test them like gold.

Two-thirds of the people of the world would perish, and many of the survivors might wish they had perished as well. It was a retributive promise laid over the real danger of the Cold War. It was easy for a child to internalize.

Noted skeptic Michael Shermer has also heard of Leland Jensen. Shermer discussed Jensen at length in his book How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science:

On a brisk April 29 morning in 1980, Dr. Leland Jensen, a chiropractor and leader of a small religious sect called the Baha’is Under the Provisions of the Covenant, led his devoted followers into fallout shelters in Missoula, Montana, to await the end of the world. Within the first hour, Jensen believed, a full third of the Earth’s population would be annihilated in a nuclear holocaust of fire and fallout. Over the course of the next twenty years most of the remaining population would be ravaged by conquest, war, famine, and pestilence. (page 192)

What I find interesting about this Leland Jensen episode, beside the curious parallels in my family, is the way that Jensen and his followers handled the failure of Jensen’s prophecies. It reminds me of the rationalizations offered by Bahá’ís in response to the failure of mainstream Bahá’í prophecies of peace and calamity in the 20th Century:

Psychologists who studied Leland Jensen and his Baha’i sect … discovered that when the end of the world came and went, they did not quietly disband and go home. Psychologist Leon Festinger applied his theory of cognitive dissonance to failed prophecy, and argued that the stronger one’s commitment to a failing cause, the greater the rationalizations to reduce the dissonance produced by the disappointment. Thus, paradoxically, after the 1980 debacle in the bomb shelters, not only did Jensen and his followers not abandon the cause, they ratcheted up the intensity of future predictions, making no less than 20 between 1979 and 1995! Jensen and his flock applied one or all of the following rationalizations:

  1. the prophecy was fulfilled—spiritually
  2. the prophecy was fulfilled physically, but not as expected
  3. miscalculation of the date
  4. the date was a loose prediction, not a specific prophecy
  5. God changed his mind in order to be merciful
  6. predictions were just a test of members’ faith.

How We Believe, page 202

Why Do You Reject Your Lord?

One of the songs I remember best from my Bahá’í youth I may have heard only once or twice, and that, only in part:

World, world, world, world, why do you reject your Lord?
When will you receive your Savior, Bahá’u’lláh?

The couplet echoed in my head until it was as though I’d heard it a hundred times.

I think I remember it being sung in a three-part harmony, with the slow, plodding tempo of a funeral march. I thought it was quite beautiful then, but over the years it began to seem haunted with the dark, lonesome misery of a cult chant. The idolatry in it is almost palpable.

Here’s the complete lyric, according to an obscure Internet source that I don’t see any point in citing:

World, world, world, world, why do you reject your Lord?
When will you receive your Savior, Bahá’u’lláh?
Peace, peace, peace, peace, this is what we’re waiting for.
Love shall conquer all the hatred, Bahá’u’lláh.
Joy, joy, joy, joy, inside of every man,
If only he would discover Bahá’u’lláh.
World, world, world, world, everything has been fulfilled.
For the Prince of Peace has come – Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’u’lláh.

Our Daily Bread: Holy Irrational

Yes, that’s right. In this context, “wholly” and “holy” are interchangeable.

Think that the Bahá’í Faith teaches harmony between science and religion? Think again!

Your sciences shall not profit you in this day, nor your arts, nor your treasures, nor your glory. Cast them all behind your backs, and set your faces towards the Most Sublime Word…

Bahá’u’lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, pg. 97-98

Perhaps Bahá’u’lláh’s actual meaning is not as it appears. Need an authoritative interpretation? Here. Have three:

Continue reading

Our Daily Bread: Blind thine eyes

Today’s sweet slice of salvation directs us to block all sensory input, wash our brains, empty our wallets, and close our minds so that we may fully and properly adore Bahá’u’lláh, the Promised Idol of All Ages:

Blind thine eyes, that thou mayest behold My beauty; stop thine ears, that thou mayest hearken unto the sweet melody of My voice; empty thyself of all learning, that thou mayest partake of My knowledge; and sanctify thyself from riches, that thou mayest obtain a lasting share from the ocean of My eternal wealth. Blind thine eyes, that is, to all save My beauty; stop thine ears to all save My word; empty thyself of all learning save the knowledge of Me; that with a clear vision, a pure heart and an attentive ear thou mayest enter the court of My holiness.

—Bahá’u’lláh, The Persian Hidden Words

Our Daily Bread: It's All About Growth

growth [ grōth ]

noun (plural growths)
medicine tumor: a mass of cells with no physiological function, e.g. a tumor that forms in or on an organ

Encarta® World English Dictionary

Pathology An abnormal mass of tissue, such as a tumor, growing in or on a living organism.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language

The words “growth” and “expansion” occur six times in a recent announcement of the Bahá’í Universal House of Justice, not because growth and expansion are occurring so much as they are anticipated.

When the Universal House of Justice got word of the global economic crisis that broke back in September, they anticipated a weakening in the world’s immunity to religion, and acted promptly, alluding to the Bahá’í prophecy that the “Old World Order” is doomed to collapse:

Behold how even in the short span of time since we raised this warning in our Ridvan message, financial structures once thought to be impregnable have tottered and world leaders have shown their inability to devise more than temporary solutions, a failing to which they increasingly confess.

Message to the Bahá’ís of the World, October 20, 2008

It is the weakening of the morale of a society, after all, that religions like the Bahá’í Faith feed upon:

the continued strengthening of the [Bahá’í] community should be matched by a further decline in the old world order

So they’ve got right to work. They’ve primed “scores of clusters” for “systematic expansion”:

Scores of clusters around the globe are being primed for systematic expansion, and we expect to see a wave of intensive programmes of growth launched in the months leading up to Ridvan next year.

They don’t just strike everywhere with their clusters, but rather, target specific weak points:

identify receptive segments of society and share with responsive souls the message of the Faith

Large-scale crises are always a promising time for those who would stand to benefit from crisis. The question for Bahá’ís, I think, is how might this crisis be different? What will make the crisis at hand the crisis of victory? Looking at America, I see people turning to their traditional saviors. Looking abroad, I don’t see much that is different for the Bahá’ís this time around, and it’s because of this: the Bahá’í Faith doesn’t appear to have changed, except that it’s not quite as new as it was before. What the Bahá’í “Administrative Order” appears to be banking on is their recent effort to “systematize” and “develop human resources.” Perhaps Bahá’ís are better organized and prepared to convert new seekers than they were before.

Our Daily Bread: No more questions, thank you!

Happy New Year, everyone!

Today’s slice of sustenance is a reminder of the mind-numbing principle under which I was raised. I remember learning just how much of a problem this would become for me around New Year’s Day, 1988, when my parents stunned me by reacting quite desperately and angrily to my doubts as a young Bahá’í.

Bahá’ís talk a lot about their principle of “independent investigation of truth,” but this only applies to those who haven’t yet found the truth—the Bahá’í Faith. Since I was born a Bahá’í, there was nothing for me to investigate:

what would it profit any man to strive after learning when he hath already found and recognized Him Who is the Object of all knowledge?

—Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh

But that’s not all. It’s not enough to cease looking for truth; it’s equally important to abstain entirely from questioning Bahá’u’lláh:

Blessed is the man that hath acknowledged his belief in God and in His signs, and recognized that “He shall not be asked of His doings”. Such a recognition hath been made by God the ornament of every belief and its very foundation. Upon it must depend the acceptance of every goodly deed. Fasten your eyes upon it, that haply the whisperings of the rebellious may not cause you to slip.

—Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Aqdas

The question and answer period has ended.

This insight—this epiphany—gave special meaning to “New Year” for me at the outset of 1988. Within six months, pending long days and nights of reconsideration and reflection, I would completely detach myself from any belief in my religion of birth.

Our Daily Bread: Of Sheep and Men

When I left my religion of birth, the Bahá’í Faith, it was due to one characteristic of that religion more than anything else: its contempt for humanity.

We previously discussed the authoritarian character of the Bahá’í Faith. We revealed the fact that the Bahá’í religion bases human virtue solely upon recognition of Bahá’u’lláh’s divine authority and obedience to him. What we didn’t mention is the poor opinion of men that underlay this authoritarianism:

Regard men as a flock of sheep that need a shepherd for their protection. This, verily, is the truth, the certain truth.

—Bahá’u’lláh, Kitab-i-Aqdas

This view is expressed in more than one place by Bahá’u’lláh:

Men at all times and under all conditions stand in need of one to exhort them, guide them and to instruct and teach them.

—Bahá’u’lláh, Lawh-i-Maqsud

I once held a very dim opinion of Christians for regarding men as sinners, and I still disagree with the view, but I now understand that Christian view leaves room for transcendence. I cannot say the same for the Bahá’í view of man. To Bahá’u’lláh, men are lower than sinners: they are blind, ignorant, utterly helpless, and, for the most part, unable to act virtuously except when threatened. Even the most submissive, deterministic views of Muslims seem to give humanity more credit.

Men are seen as so low, in fact, that they cannot even understand their own scriptures:

Man is unable to comprehend that which hath streamed forth from the Pen of Glory and is recorded in His heavenly Books.

—Bahá’u’lláh, Lawh-i-Maqsud

Thus the Bahá’í doctrine of the Covenant, which guarantees the sheep that they will never be left without a shepherd. This “Covenant”, Bahá’ís boast, is what makes the Bahá’í Faith special, and I agree; only I see it as a sign of what is most wrong with the Bahá’í Faith: its distinctive contempt for humanity.