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Friday, May 23, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Charges filed against youth minister

SARASOTA -- Jesse Knowlin wanted to become a teacher's aide and seemed to be the perfect candidate.

He was a youth minister at a Sarasota church. He had part-time work at a summer camp. He helped children get ready for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test at the Boys & Girls Club of Sarasota. And those who knew Knowlin raved about his honesty, his creativity and his patience with children.

Knowlin was arrested Wednesday, charged with performing a lewd-lascivious act on a person younger than 16, a felony. After questioning the second teenager, detectives added charges Thursday, bringing the total to seven counts of performing lewd-lascivious acts in the past year during sleepovers at his home.

Knowlin was being held Thursday night at Sarasota County Jail, and it was not clear whether he had hired a lawyer.

A Washington native who graduated from the Ringling College of Art and Design, Knowlin was a popular youth minister at Bethlehem Baptist Church and was known in teaching circles for winning the trust of students.

Detective Charles Riffe said that Knowlin met the two teenagers through church.

The Rev. Patrick Miller, Bethlehem Baptist's minister, is out of town this week, said Harold Bradshaw, a church board member. "We at Bethlehem Baptist Church are deeply grieved and sorrowed by these serious charges," Bradshaw says in a written statement.

Once he graduated from Ringling, Knowlin began working with students -- whether it was as a substitute at Sarasota School of Arts and Sciences or during the after-school program at the Boys & Girls Club.

By all accounts, he was hardworking and kind and developed good relationships with the students and staff.

"If anything, I thought he walked on water," said Pepar Anspaugh, the principal at Sarasota School of Arts and Sciences. "I was more than taken aback when I heard it. I said, 'No. Not him. It can't be him.'

"Turns out it was."

Allegations surfaced during the weekend, just before Knowlin resigned.

In the letters to the school district, Knowlin says he "wrongfully touched" the boys and that he "made the mistake" of not keeping his hands to himself.

"These were the only two people I have ever violated," Knowlin wrote. "I have never touched any child at school ever."


Thursday, May 22, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Daughter of Christian music star killed by car

Sent in by Atheist Tooth Fairy

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The 5-year-old daughter of Grammy-winning Christian music star Steven Curtis Chapman was struck and killed Wednesday by a sport utility vehicle driven by her brother, authorities said.

The girl, Maria Sue, was hit in the driveway of the family's home Wednesday afternoon by a Toyota Land Cruiser driven by her teenage brother, said Laura McPherson, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Highway Patrol.

The brother, whose name and exact age weren't available, apparently did not see the girl, McPherson said. No charges are expected.

"It looks like a tragic accident," she said.

Several family members witnessed the accident, which happened in Williamson County just south of Nashville. The girl died later at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, hospital spokeswoman Laurie Holloway said.

In a statement, Velvet Kelm, a publicist for Chapman, said Maria was the Chapmans' youngest daughter.

Chapman, who is originally from Paducah, Ky., and his wife have promoted international adoption and have three daughters from China, including Maria. They also have three biological children.

The singer's Web site says the couple was persuaded by their oldest daughter to adopt a girl from China. The experience led the family to adopt two more children and create Shaohannah's Hope, a foundation and ministry to financially assist thousands of couples in adoption.

The Chapmans did missionary work at Chinese orphanages in 2006 and 2007, according to the Web site.

"After our first trip to China, my wife and I knew our lives were changing — our eyes and hearts were opening to how big God really is, and we have wanted to experience more of that," Chapman says on the Web site.

"We've really wondered whether or not we should just go to China and stay there. But I don't think so. I believe God is saying, 'I want you to go, get your heart broken, your eyes opened, and then take this story back to the church in America and around the world.'"

The 45-year-old singer also has released a book about being a father titled "Cinderella: The Love of Daddy and his Princess." He has won five Grammy awards and 54 Dove awards from the Gospel Music Association, according to Kelm.


Questions from ATF:

My questions for Christians would be as follows:
  • Why would a loving god permit the 5 year old daughter of a well known Christian Music Star to not only be accidentally killed, but killed by that star's very own son (her brother)?
  • How much guilt will this dead girl's brother have to deal with for the rest of her life?
  • Why would this Christian god punish an entire Christian family in such a manner?
  • Could it be that God just sat back and did nothing to stop this, while the Devil had some of his mean old fun with this God-loving Christian family?

Monday, May 19, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor charged with armed robbery

WOODSTOCK, Va. - A Luray area pastor will appear in a Shenandoah County court today on charges he robbed a dollar store at gunpoint this month.

Police charged 55-year-old Hobert Wayne Bryant with robbery, use of a firearm during the commission of a felony, and eluding police during the May 8 incident.

Employees at a local Dollar General store told police a man wearing a blue coat, dark knit hat and sunglasses entered the store some time after 4 p.m., displayed a gun and demanded the contents of the cash register before fleeing in a white Ford Taurus.

Woodstock police later stopped Bryant driving the same car. Inside, police found cash, a disassembled shotgun and a 40-caliber, semiautomatic shotgun.

Bryant has been the longtime pastor of Rocky Branch Baptist Church, near Luray.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Einstein letter calls Bible 'pretty childish'

Famous scientist also dismisses belief in God as product of human weakness

LONDON - Albert Einstein: arch rationalist or scientist with a spiritual core?

A letter being auctioned in London this week adds more fuel to the long-simmering debate about the Nobel Prize-winning physicist's religious views. In the note, written the year before his death, Einstein dismissed the idea of God as the product of human weakness and the Bible as "pretty childish."

The letter, handwritten in German, is being sold by Bloomsbury Auctions on Thursday and is expected to fetch between $12,000 and $16,000.

Einstein, who helped unravel the mysteries of the universe with his theory of relativity, expressed complex and arguably contradictory views on faith, perceiving a universe suffused with spirituality while rejecting organized religion.

The letter up for sale, written to philosopher Eric Gutkind in January 1954, suggests his views on religion did not mellow with age.

In it, Einstein said that "the word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish."

"For me," he added, "the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions."

Addressing the idea that the Jews are God's chosen people, Einstein wrote that "the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are also no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything 'chosen' about them."

Bloomsbury spokesman Richard Caton said the auction house was "100 percent certain" of the letter's authenticity. It is being offered at auction for the first time, by a private vendor.

Quirky beliefs

John Brooke, emeritus professor of science and religion at Oxford University, said the letter lends weight to the notion that "Einstein was not a conventional theist" — although he was not an atheist, either.

"Like many great scientists of the past, he is rather quirky about religion, and not always consistent from one period to another," Brooke said.

Born to a Jewish family in Germany in 1879, Einstein said he went through a devout phase as a child before beginning to question conventional religion at the age of 12.

In later life, he expressed a sense of wonder at the universe and its mysteries — what he called a "cosmic religious feeling" — and famously said: "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."

But he also said: "I do not believe in the God of theology who rewards good and punishes evil. My God created laws that take care of that. His universe is not ruled by wishful thinking, but by immutable laws."

Brooke said Einstein believed that "there is some kind of intelligence working its way through nature. But it is certainly not a conventional Christian or Judaic religious view."

Einstein's most famous legacy is the special theory of relativity, which makes the point that a large amount of energy could be released from a tiny amount of matter, as expressed in the equation e=mc2 (energy equals mass times the speed of light squared). The theory changed the face of physics, allowing scientists to make predictions about space and paving the way for nuclear power and the atomic bomb.

Einstein's musings on science, war, peace and God helped make him world famous, and his scientific legacy prompted Time magazine to name him its Person of the 20th Century.


An abridgement of the letter from Albert Einstein to Eric Gutkind from Princeton in January 1954, translated from German by Joan Stambaugh. It will be sold at Bloomsbury auctions on Thursday:

... I read a great deal in the last days of your book, and thank you very much for sending it to me. What especially struck me about it was this. With regard to the factual attitude to life and to the human community we have a great deal in common.

... The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this. These subtilised interpretations are highly manifold according to their nature and have almost nothing to do with the original text. For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are also no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything 'chosen' about them.

In general I find it painful that you claim a privileged position and try to defend it by two walls of pride, an external one as a man and an internal one as a Jew. As a man you claim, so to speak, a dispensation from causality otherwise accepted, as a Jew the priviliege of monotheism. But a limited causality is no longer a causality at all, as our wonderful Spinoza recognized with all incision, probably as the first one. And the animistic interpretations of the religions of nature are in principle not annulled by monopolisation. With such walls we can only attain a certain self-deception, but our moral efforts are not furthered by them. On the contrary.

Now that I have quite openly stated our differences in intellectual convictions it is still clear to me that we are quite close to each other in essential things, ie in our evalutations of human behaviour. What separates us are only intellectual 'props' and 'rationalisation' in Freud's language. Therefore I think that we would understand each other quite well if we talked about concrete things. With friendly thanks and best wishes

Yours, A. Einstein


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Pastor charged with sexual assault of teenage girl

A Northern Illinois pastor faces charges of sexually assaulting a teenage girl.

Forty-year-old Jonathon Christopher Powell faces two counts of criminal sexual assault of a victim between 13 and 17 years old.

According to the church's Web site, Powell is a senior pastor at New Hope Baptist Church in the village of Machesney Park. ed: (This information has already been removed from their website)

A telephone message left at the church after business hours Monday was not immediately returned. No telephone listing for Jonathon Christopher Powell could be found.

Powell is being held in the Winnebago County Jail on $250,000 bond.


Saturday, May 10, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

High School Freethought

by Lucia Guatney, Cherry Creek High School

If you saw things the way I do, you'd think that the title of this article was an oxymoron. High school, from my personal experience at least, is rampant with anti-intellectualism and general ignorance (lamentable considering that it's supposed to be a place where ignorance is eliminated). It seems that only a minuscule minority of students cares about anything other than which friend is dating which other friend, which band just came out with a new album, or anything outside of their social lives.

That's why it seemed so important to me to start a freethought group. Not just because there was a lack of skepticism (though there are quite a lot of creationists), but also to get students to start thinking and caring about the world around them.

I went to my first CFI conference (The Secular Society and Its Enemies) last November in the splendid city of New York. I hadn't a clue that meeting fellow student freethinkers could be so much fun. For the first time since I'd entered high school, I was in an oasis of thought with intelligent discussions taking place all around me. Not only were there speakers with fascinating subjects, but there was also the opportunity to talk to fellow student freethinkers and other attendees. Later that evening, I was in shock to find myself having dinner right across from Richard Dawkins in the Beekman Pub, and conversing about campus activities with all the other students at the conference.

Lucia (standing, right) receives an ovation at the Beekman Pub

About a week after the conference, I e-mailed Richard Dawkins because I felt the need to thank him not only for dining with us but for his books which had helped me appreciate science ("appreciate" being an understatement; more like "love passionately to death") so much. He wrote back telling me that he had remembered who I was, and not only that...he told me that he'd been "bowled over" when I told him that I was fourteen at the time. I looked up the words in the dictionary—they mean "highly impressed". Imagine how I reacted.

If you imagined me falling out of my chair and giggling madly, you imagined correctly.

As proud as I was to have bowled over my own personal hero, I was a bit mystified. What had I done that impressed him so much in those five minutes I'd spent talking (rather incoherently I think) about my attempts at starting a freethought group?

And then I began to remember that the vast majority of high school students didn't care or think about the things that freethinkers tend to value so much. That's when my purpose for starting a freethought group became clear. What I intend to do is make it into something like an everlasting CFI conference or Beekman Pub, where refreshing intellectual conversations occur.

It hasn't been easy.

Though I know that there exists a substantial population of students interested in freethought, my group has yet to gain official recognition because I've had many problems finding a faculty sponsor. But, it's a big school. I reckon that persistence will eventually find me one. And then, I can get down to business making my freethought oasis.

Lucia Guatney is a freshman at Cherry Creek High School in Greenwood Village, CO. She also runs the blog Splendid Elles.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor found guilty of money laundering

CLEVELAND, OHIO -- Artis Caver, former pastor of Harvest Missionary Baptist Church, has been judged harshly by a jury of his peers.

Caver was found guilty Thursday in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court on 25 counts of money laundering, perjury and theft stemming from accusations he stole nearly $400,000 from the church's bank account.

Jurors in Judge Nancy Margaret Russo's courtroom deliberated for about two hours before reaching the verdicts.

Caver was found guilty on single counts of theft and forgery, three counts of perjury and 20 counts of money laundering stemming from 2000.

The pastor, indicted by a Cuyahoga County grand jury in December, had used the majority of the money to rescue his failing bus business, AFC Charters Inc., according to Assistant County Prosecutor James Gutierrez.

The 56-year-old Caver, now pastor of New Life Cathedral in Cleveland, was led away in handcuffs after the verdict as a handful of members of the financially struggling Harvest Missionary Baptist Church stared in silence.

Gutierrez was pleased with the verdict and applauded the work of investigators.

"The evidence was overwhelming, and the jury did not take too long to agree," Gutierrez said. "But it's a sad day, actually. And it's a sad day for the members who he's preaching to now, because they think he didn't do anything."

Gutierrez said Caver "violated a sacred trust, and that's what is so repulsive about the case."

A few of Caver's former church members gathered outside the court after the verdict and expressed both joy and pain.

"You've got to forgive him, but I just don't like what he has done to the church," said Annie Jackson. Jackson said she and fellow worshipers bear no hatred, adding, "We've got to leave it in the hands of the Lord."

Another member, Albert Brooks, fears the church will never recover financially.

"I want the church to be the way he found it: debt-free. And that has not happened. We are still struggling."

In 2007, church members settled a civil-lawsuit against Rev. Caver out of court.

Story Link

Monday, May 05, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Church recognizes Virgin Mary appearances in France

The Roman Catholic Church has officially recognised a shrine in the French Alps where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to a young shepherdess - the first such recognition in France for almost 150 years.

But the presence of a government minister drew instant political fire, with the French Left claiming that the country's staunchly secular values were being undermined.

Notre Dame du Laus, which already draws some 120,000 pilgrims each year, was formally acknowledged by the Vatican after three years of research into its credentials by a team of theologians, historians and psychologists.

There have been suggestions it could grow to rival Lourdes, the last place in France to receive the Church's official apparition stamp – in 1862 – and which today struggles to cope with five million pilgrims each year.

About 6,000 Catholics, including more than 20 bishops and cardinals, attended a solemn Mass at the sanctuary of Benôite Rencurel – who was 16 when she first reported seeing the Virgin Mary in 1664.

About 6,000 Catholics, including more than 20 bishops and cardinals, attended a solemn Mass at the sanctuary of Benôite Rencurel – who was 16 when she first reported seeing the Virgin Mary in 1664.

The shepherdess was described by one observer as the French champion of apparitions, because she saw the Virgin Mary around 2,500 times over 54 years – averaging once a week.

Hordes of pilgrims already go to the site in the hope of salvation or a cure. Most recently, a Belgian woman insisted that she had been miraculously cured of a slipped disc after visiting the shrine.

Church authorities in the southeastern town of Gap had long struggled to convince the Vatican to beatify the shepherdess – a request it refused as recently as 2003.

Jean-Michel di Falco Leandri, the Bishop of Gap, told the gathering: "I recognise the supernatural origin of the apparitions and facts experienced and recounted by Benôite Rencurel, between 1664 and 1718.

"I encourage the faithful to come and pray and to seek spiritual renewal in this sanctuary," he said.

The bishop denied that the official recognition was a marketing ploy on behalf of the Catholic Church.

He said: "You're not obliged to believe in apparitions, even official recognised ones. But if they are a help in your faith and daily life, why reject them?"

However, there was controversy over the presence of Hubert Falco, the secretary of state for territorial development. Mr Falco said he had attended as a private individual and a Catholic, but that he was a believer in the secular state and "open to all religions".

However, the radical Left Party said his presence was an "unacceptable confusion between the values of the republic (including secularism) and religious practices that relate to the private sphere".

Mixing religion with politics is explosive in France. President Nicolas Sarkozy recently caused outrage among defenders of secularism by intimating that France needed more believers.

"A man who believes is a man who hopes," said the president at Saint-Jean de Latran in Rome late last year, when he met the Pope.

The Pope will visit France in September to mark the 150th anniversary of the Lourdes apparitions.