Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Obamapocalypse

I have bad news for you.  I know it's the holiday season, and all, and this could be kind of a buzzkill, but duty is duty.

We're all going to die.

Well, that may be a bit of an exaggeration.  Most of us are going to die.  There's going to be an earthquake, followed by an asteroid impact that will kill huge numbers, then floods and pestilence and other fun stuff.  And you'll never guess whose fault it all is.  Never in a million years.

Let me give you a hint:  "Thanks, Obama."

Pastor Efrain Rodriguez, a self-styled Puerto Rican "prophet," has issued dire warnings to the United States.  We need to batten down the hatches, because it's too late to mend our ways, he says.  President Obama has led us too far down the road to perdition:
The President of the U.S. asked Congress for ALL Power.  He plans to have absolute control during this Emergency.  This means NO elections.  He has taken advantage of the imminency of this coming disaster.  This totalitarian power is a terrible danger.  This message should be sent to all Congressmen: you still have time to revoke this power.  Politicians, revoke the power you have given Obama.  You have no idea what you will face.
Sure.  The Republicans now control both houses of Congress.  It's completely plausible that the president would go to Congress and say, "Hey, I'd like to see a bill passed that gives me ALL power." And they would say, "Oh, sure!  Here you go!"

Then we hear about some of the awful things the president has done:
Obama does not love this nation, or Christ.  In his second term, he has shown his true intentions against everything that is Christian.  All the laws that he has signed indicate that he plans to persecute the church...  He signed laws never before signed.
Because signing laws that have already been signed makes sense, somehow?

We do find out some good news, however.  Obama is not the Antichrist:
Many believe he is the Antichrist, but he is not. He is only the antichrist's helper.  He does his dirty work.  Obama is only preparing the way for the Real Antichrist, who will be revealed after the church departs from this earth.
I didn't know the church was scheduled to depart!  Let me know when.  I'll be there to wave goodbye.

But the fact that Obama isn't the Antichrist doesn't mean he isn't a bad guy:
He does not chastise or penalize the homosexuals, or the muslims [sic], no matter what they do, yet he takes every action to penalize and extinguish the church of Christ.  He takes away freedoms from Christians, while at the same time giving freedoms to those who blaspheme God.  Even Putin, the Russian President, rebuked him for this.  Woe to you, poor, poor man!
At last count, Christians made up 74% of the citizens of the United States.  If he was penalizing them and trying to extinguish Christianity, don't you think people might object?  There are four churches within a couple of blocks in my home village, and last Sunday the parking lots were all full.

Funny thing, that.

But a little thing like reality doesn't stop Pastor Rodriguez.  We're all going to pay for Obama's sins.  It's all going to start with a "12 point earthquake," he says:
Jehovah will have absolute control over the earth that night.  This is what the 12 point earthquake means-The Presence of Jehovah on earth.  The Lord comes with His book to claim many souls before Jehovah, The Father, for His kingdom that night.
No, what an earthquake means is a shift of tectonic plates along a fault line.

You know, science.

But since a "12 point earthquake" clearly isn't enough chastisement, there's going to be an asteroid impact.  Obama will try in his dastardly fashion to make sure that the asteroid hits Pastor Rodriguez, because he's just that important:
Obama, the President of the United States sent approximately 40 missiles to PR, to try to break the asteroid in the sky, so that it would fall on land (in Puerto Rico), and not in the sea.  On a previous message, Efrain warned Obama to not press those buttons.  He told the Army not to do it. He said: "Do not interfere with Jehovah's plans."
This evil plan will fail, however, because god is screwing around with NASA:
NASA keeps giving dates and trying to justify themselves.  The prophetic letters written by Efrain indicate that The Lord would keep NASA in a state of confusion, bewilderment and agitation, since they chose to not consult with The Lord, and chose to not warn the people when they first received Jehova's warning through Efrain.  They even labeled the message as false, in a press conference in Florida.
Fancy that.

After that, there will be a flood that will stop all of the rivers on Earth, and then a pestilence that will "be worse than all of what came before it."  Then the Rapture.  And then things really go to hell.

Ludwig Ferdinand Schnorr von Carolsfeld, Apocalypse (1831) [image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons}

So we're really in for it, and it's all Obama's fault.  Myself, I'm rather looking forward to the whole thing.  The Four Horsepersons of the Apocalypse seem to me a good bit more interesting than Pastor Rodriguez, and being an atheist I'm pretty much fucked anyway, so I'll take my chances.

But as a funny postscript to all of this, there's no such thing as a wacko without one or more equal and opposite wackos, so it comes as no surprise that there are other preachers out there saying that Pastor Rodriguez is a false prophet, and that they know what's really going to happen.  Rodriguez is called a "deceiver" over at Before It's News, and his message labeled as "religious spam" at Church of God News.  But that doesn't mean that the Tribulation isn't going to happen; it just means that he got some of the details wrong.  So he's not god's spokesperson, I am!

No you're not, I am!

No, me!

No, not you, either, it's me!  Me, I tell you!  Meeeeeeeee!

Frankly, I have no problem with all of this infighting.  I'm just going to pop some popcorn and sit back to watch.  After all, the more time the apocalyptoids spend yelling at each other, the less time they'll have to send hate mail to me.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Space suits and straw men

Before you jump to a wild explanation for something, it's a good idea to rule out prosaic explanations first.

Take, for example, the strange deity Bep Kororoti, worshiped by the Kaiapo tribe of Brazil.  Erich von Däniken and his ilk just love this god, and when you see a photograph of someone wearing a Bep Kororoti suit, you'll understand why:

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

In his book Gold of the Gods, von Däniken says that this is clear evidence of contact with an alien wearing a space suit:
João Americo Peret, one of our outstanding Indian scholars, recently published some photographs of Kaiapo Indians in ritual clothing that he took as long ago as 1952, long before Gagarin's first space flight... ...I feel that it is important to reemphasize that Peret took these photographs in 1952 at a time when the clothing and equipment of astronauts were still not familiar to all us Europeans, let alone thse wild Indians!... Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth in his spaceship Vostok I for the first time on April 1961... The Kaiapos in their straw imitation spacesuits need no commentary apart from the remark that these 'ritual garments' have been worn by the Indian men of this tribe on festive occasions since time immemorial, according to Peret...
Nope.  No commentary needed.  No questions, either.  Consider how this shows up on the dubiously credible site Message to Eagle:
The inhabitants of the Amazon jungle, the Indians Kaiapo [sic] settled in the State of Pará in northern Brazil, have detailed legends of sky visitors, who gave their people wisdom and knowledge. 
The Kaiapo Indians worshipped in particular one of these heavenly teachers.  His name was Bep Kororoti, which in Kayapo [sic] language, means "Warrior of the Universe"...  It is said that his weapons were so powerful that they could turn trees and stones into dust. 
Not surprisingly, his aggressive warrior manners terrified the primitive natives, who at the beginning even tried to fight against the alien intruder. 
However, their resistance was useless. 
Every time their weapons touched Bep Kororoti's clothes, the people fell down to the ground.
Eventually Bep calmed down, we find out, and began to teach the Kaiapo all sorts of stuff.  He also had lots of sex with Native women, apparently while still wearing his space suit, and today's Kaiapo claim descent from him.

The whole thing has become part of the "Ancient Aliens" canon, and even was featured on the show of the same name (narrated, of course, by the amazingly-coiffed Giorgio Tsoukalos).

So anyway.  The whole thing boils down to the usual stuff.  You have a god coming down from the sky, dispensing knowledge (and various other special offers) to the Natives, then returning from whence he came.  Evidence, they say, that the Kaiapo were visited by an alien race in ages past.

All of this, however, conveniently omits one little fact.  Probably deliberately, because once you point this out, the whole thing becomes abundantly clear.  Writer and skeptic Jason Colavito found out that not only did Bep Kororoti live in the sky and come visit the Kaiapo...

... he was the protector spirit of beekeepers.

For reference, here's a drawing of some traditional beekeepers, done by Pieter Brueghel the Elder in 1568:


Notice a similarity?  Yeah, me too.

I know we all have our biases and our favorite explanations for things.  But when you deliberately sidestep a rational, Earth-based explanation for one that claims that damn near every anthropological find is evidence of ancient astronauts, you've abandoned any right to be taken seriously.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Big Brother on the shelf

I'm probably in the minority here, but I think "Elf on the Shelf" is freakin' creepy.

Maybe I'm just not much into whimsy.  Or maybe I've watched too many horror movies.  But I find that little face, with the wide eyes and the fixed grin, a tad... sinister.

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

Of course, there's more than just the resemblance to Chucky that's a problem, here.  Its creators, mother/daughter team Carol Aebersold and Chandra Bell, thought it up in 2004, and wrote a children's book that rocketed into the number one bestseller spot in 2008.  Since then it has only increased in popularity; in 2012 the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade featured an Elf on the Shelf balloon.  This has led to its face appearing damn near everywhere.  The Atlantic writer Kate Tuttle says that The Elf on the Shelf is "a marketing juggernaut dressed up as a tradition," and that the idea is basically to "bully your child into thinking that good behavior equals gifts."  I think that's pretty accurate.  The whole thing seems more about selling stuff than it is about having fun, but maybe I'm a curmudgeon.

Okay, I'm definitely a curmudgeon.  But still.

However, there are people who go even further than I do.  Just a couple of days ago, an article appeared over at Education Action Group News about Professor Laura Pinto of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, who claims that the purpose of The Elf on the Shelf is to get children to "accept the surveillance state."

She calls the Elf "an external form of non-familial surveillance," which I suppose would be correct if the Elf was actually real.  "If you grow up thinking it’s cool for the elves to watch me and report back to Santa," Pinto writes, "well, then it’s cool for the NSA to watch me and report back to the government."

Isn't that a bit of a leap?  This takes the Slippery-Slope Fallacy and elevates it to the level of the Falling-Off-A-Cliff Fallacy.  It takes more than a silly doll to condition children to let themselves be browbeaten by authority.

And of course, it's not like we haven't been doing this sort of thing for years.  Many perfectly rational people were raised on "He knows when you've been sleeping, he knows when you're awake, he knows when you've been bad or good, so be good, for goodness sake!"

Which, I have to admit, is kind of sketchy in and of itself.  In terms of creepiness, those lines are right up there with "Every Breath You Take" by The Police, in which Sting informs his girlfriend, "Every breath you take, every move you make, every bond you break, every step you take, I'll be watching you," which I hear gets played a lot at weddings, despite sounding more like a reason for a restraining order than a marriage license.

But I digress.

My general opinion is that Elf on a Shelf is just the latest in a long line of marketing ploys designed to make parents completely crazy around the holidays, and that other than that, it's pretty harmless.  I'll be surprised it's turning kids into Sheeple.  But you never know.  Subtexts and subliminal messages are always possible.  Personally, I'm still a little suspicious of My Little Pony, which I'm convinced was created to give kids the impression that talking in a high-pitched grating whine is "cute."

And to judge by the little children I've seen lately, it seems to be working.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Billboard of shame

It is a puzzle to me why some people seem so concerned about what other people are doing in the privacy of their own bedrooms.

My general attitude is that if it's between consenting adults, have fun.  I don't need to have an opinion about it.  Hell, I don't even need to know about it.  It is, to put it bluntly, none of my damn business.

Which brings us to PFOX (Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays).

Yes, I know that the acronym shouldn't be PFOX, it should be PAFOEGAG.  But I have to admit that "PFOX" is easier to remember.

According to PFOX's homepage, here's what they're about:
PFOX is a national non-profit organization committed to helping ex-gays and parents and friends of gays who want help, hope and community. PFOX exists to educate, support, and advocate for individuals and parents on the issue of same-sex attraction, and increase others’ understanding and acceptance of the ex-gay community.
Of course, my opinion is that you can be an ex-gay person about as easily as you can be an ex-blue-eyed person.  But PFOX begs to differ:
Each year thousands of men and women with unwanted same-sex attractions make the personal decision to leave behind their former gay identity. And through gender affirming programs, including counseling, support groups, faith based ministries, and other non-judgmental environments, they are largely successful. Their decision is one only they can make.
Calling "pray away the gay" programs "non-judgmental" might be a contender for the Chutzpah Hall of Fame, given that at least once a week we hear about another pastor of a "faith-based ministry" who is calling for gays to be killed, as per the bible.  (Here's one of the recent ones.)

So anyway.  PFOX is pretty clearly an anti-LGBT organization, despite the appearance of the word "friends" in their name.  And this became clearer with the appearance along I-95 near Richmond, Virginia of the following billboard:


There are two things that make this billboard simultaneously appalling and hilarious:
  1. The model for both the left-hand and the right-hand photograph is the same person, Kyle Roux of South Africa.  I.e., these aren't twins, it's one guy.
  2. Kyle Roux is an out, and proud, gay man who had no idea that his face was being used (twice) on an anti-gay billboard.
"It just seems like there no place in today’s world for an organization that is promoting this as being some kind of deviant or distasteful lifestyle," Roux told reporters when he found out about the billboard.  "Because I’ve lived my life openly gay and happy for my entire life."

On a more serious note, there aren't just two lies on the billboard, there are three.  The third lie is that twin studies support homosexuality as a choice.  Way back in 1993, Whitam et al. published a study that showed that the concordance between homosexuality in monozygotic (identical) twins was 65% -- far higher than you'd expect by chance.  The authors are unequivocal in their conclusion, although they are clear on the point that the mechanism is not known.  They state in their final paragraph, "We are left then with the conclusion that biological factors are strongly operating in the determination of sexual orientation with the precise nature of these factors yet to be understood."

Which raises the question of why someone would lie outright about the science, not to mention the identity and sexual orientation of a model on their promotional materials.  The answer, of course, is that they have to lie, because scientific research has increasingly supported the conclusion that sexual orientation isn't a choice.  But this runs counter to their basic argument, which is that anything other than straight-up vanilla sexual intercourse within the confines of marriage is a sin.  So it's either change your message -- pretty unlikely -- or lie about the evidence.

So PFOX, or PAFOEGAG, or whatever, have been left pretty red-faced over the whole thing.  Not that it's going to alter their approach.  Which is kind of a shame, because while people are born with their sexual orientation already wired in, no one is born an asshole.  Being gay isn't a choice; harassing gays is.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Subordinate Clauses

Well, it's only a couple of weeks out from Christmas, so I expect a lot of you are excitedly trimming trees and buying presents for friends and family and listening to Christmas music.  Despite being an atheist, I love this holiday.  I think a nicely-decorated Christmas tree is lovely; we'd have a tree this year if I could get out of my own way long enough to go get one (which, with luck, will happen this weekend).  Plus, I really enjoy giving presents to friends, so having an excuse to get stuff for people I care about is awesome.

I even like most Christmas music, especially the older carols.  For example, I grew up singing the lovely French carol "Il Est Né, Le Divine Enfant" and still feel nostalgic every time I hear it, and I think that "O Holy Night" and "Angels We Have Heard On High" are absolutely gorgeous.

Some of the newer ones, on the other hand, bring "annoying" to new heights.  For instance, I doubt there's been a more banal set of lyrics ever written than "Little tin horns and little toy drums, rooty-toot-toot and rummy-tum-tum."  And my considered opinion is that whoever wrote "Let It Snow" should be pitched, bare-ass naked, headfirst into a snow drift.

Still and all, I like this holiday and a lot of its traditions.  Which is why I was alarmed to find out that Santa, the Jolly Old Elf, is actually...

... Satan.

Or at least, so says James L. Melton, of the Bible Baptist Church of Sharon, Tennessee.  Melton is virulently against Santa, and not just because of the usual "put Christ back into Christmas" stuff you hear, exhorting Christians to focus more on the religious traditions than the secular ones.  No, Melton thinks it's worse than that.  He says that Santa is literally Satan, and that you shouldn't put out cookies and milk on Christmas Eve, you should put out devil's-food cake.

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

What are his arguments, you may ask?  I was thinking of just giving a summarized list, but some of his reasoning (if I can dignify it by that name) needs to be seen in the original.  So here are a few examples.
SANTA LIVES IN THE NORTH 
Tradition holds that Santa Claus lives at the North Pole, a place ABOVE the rest of us.  
JESUS CHRIST LIVES IN THE NORTH 
"Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King." (Psa. 48:2)
I don't think Psalm 48 was referring to the North Pole, but what do I know?  I'm no biblical scholar, of course.  Maybe the bears that god sent to the Prophet Elisha to eat the children who had teased him for being bald were polar bears, I dunno.
SANTA WEARS RED CLOTHING  
Santa wears a red furry suit.  
JESUS CHRIST WEARS RED CLOTHING 
"And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God." (Rev. 19:13)
Well, there were lots of guys on Star Trek who wore red, and as I recall, they weren't all-powerful.  In fact, nearly every episode, several Red Shirts ended up dying in nasty ways.
SANTA IS OMNISCIENT  
Children are taught that Santa "knows when you've been good, and he knows when you've been bad".  
JESUS CHRIST IS OMNISCIENT 
"The eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good." (Pro. 15:3) "And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?" (Mat. 9:4) 
Is it just me, or is the idea of an omniscient being spying on you at all times a little... creepy?  I don't care whether it's Santa or Jesus, I'd rather not have someone watching me in the bathroom.
SANTA FLIES AROUND GIVING GIFTS 
Santa has the ability to defy the laws of gravity and fly around giving gifts to people.  
JESUS CHRIST ASCENDED AND GAVE GIFTS UNTO MEN 
"But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men." (Eph. 4:7-8) 
So, what are you saying, Reverend Melton?  That if I'm good this year, Jesus will bring me a Little Tin Horn and a Little Toy Drum?

There are plenty of others, including Santa's elves being evil spirits, and Santa and Jesus both having white hair.

Then he ends by saying that because Santa is sometimes called "Saint Nick," and an old slang for the devil is "Old Nick," that proves it.  And that was when this linguistics geek sat up and said, "Hey now.  You've left the realm of goofy pseudo-theology and started to mess with false etymology. Them's fightin' words."  Because I happen to know that "Old Nick" is the devil because the German word for demon is nickel (yes, it's a cognate to the name of the metal, which was called kupfernickel, or "copper demon," because its ore looked like copper ore but it didn't produce any copper).  "Saint Nick," on the other hand, comes from the name Nicholas, which means "victory of the people" (from the Greek nike, victory + laos, people).

Of course, Reverend Melton would still think the similarity was significant.  He even says that it's no coincidence that "Santa" and "Satan" are spelled from the same letters, something that was pointed out twenty years ago by the "Church Lady" on Saturday Night Live.

So we're not talking about someone who's rational, here. If you look at other things Melton's written about, you find out on his home page that he's also against Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and rednecks, that he's all for capital punishment, and he thinks kids need to be spanked regularly.

He also said that he doesn't believe in evolution, which is no great shocker.  He says that you can't use biochemistry to support evolution, because biochemistry is "where scientists mix genes and chromosomes in their effort to prove relation between man and animal."

So it's not like Melton has that firm a grasp on reality.

And I doubt whether his message is going to have much impact.  Too many people like Christmas and get into the traditions, whether they approach it from a religious or a secular stance.  I'm thinking that very few of us are going to give up giving holiday gifts because "Santa is a COUNTERFEIT GOD" (the stuck caps lock courtesy of Reverend Melton).

As for me, I hope to get my tree up this weekend.  I've also gotta get cracking with getting gifts for people.  I might even play some Christmas music today.  Time to get ready, 'cuz Satan Claus is comin' to town.

Um.  Santa Claus.  My bad.

Rooty-toot-toot.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Right message, wrong place

It's an uncomfortable situation when you agree wholeheartedly with a group's ultimate goals, and deplore the means by which it's trying to achieve them.

Such is the situation I find myself in with respect to the latest publicity stunt by the environmental group Greenpeace.  Spurred by a United Nations climate change conference being held in Lima, Peru, Greenpeace activists illegally entered the site of the Nazca Lines World Heritage Site to put down pieces of yellow cloth to spell out a message to delegates.


The stunt has outraged Peruvians, not to mention archaeologists, historians, and anyone with a shred of cultural sensitivity.  The 1,500-year-old site is extremely sensitive to damage; even tourists are required to view the lines from the air.  Only on rare occasions is anyone allowed to go to the site on foot, and they are required to wear special footwear designed to minimize damage.

"They are absolutely fragile," said Luis Jaime Castillo, Peru's Deputy Minister of Culture.  "They are black rocks on a white background.  You walk there and the footprint is going to last hundreds or thousands of years.  And the line that they have destroyed is the most visible and most recognized of all."

Peru's government is planning on suing Greenpeace for damages, as well they should.  As for Greenpeace, it issued an apology, to wit:
Without reservation Greenpeace apologises to the people of Peru for the offence caused by our recent activity laying a message of hope at the site of the historic Nazca Lines. We are deeply sorry for this.

We fully understand that this looks bad. Rather than relay an urgent message of hope and possibility to the leaders gathering at the Lima UN climate talks, we came across as careless and crass.

We have now met with the Peruvian Culture Ministry responsible for the site to offer an apology. We welcome any independent review of the consequences of our activity. We will cooperate fully with any investigation.

We take personal responsibility for actions, and are committed to nonviolence. Greenpeace is accountable for its activities and willing to face fair and reasonable consequences.

Dr Kumi Niadoo, the International Executive Director of Greenpeace, will travel to Lima this week, to personally apologise for the offence caused by the activity and represent the organisation in any on going discussions with the Peruvian authorities.

Greenpeace will immediately stop any further use of the offending images.
Which is all well and good.  But the damage goes beyond the appalling thoughtlessness of tramping all over a protected and irreplaceable archaeological site.  It blows a gaping hole in their message, which is that environmentalists care about the Earth and its people, and have our best interests at heart.  In a time when the issues of climate change, resource acquisition, and responsible environmental management are teetering on the edge, Greenpeace has given policymakers a big old shove in the wrong direction, and given the purveyors of the status quo more leverage in convincing people that environmentalists are irresponsible and thoughtless radicals.

How can anyone have thought this would be a good idea?

As much as I am in agreement with most of Greenpeace's goals, the end does not justify the means.  Not only is the damage to the monument itself an affront, but the damage they've done to their own message might be worse in the long run.  People who were in the "undecided" camp on environmental issues will be that much more reluctant to side with a group that seems not only to lack any cultural sensitivity, but common sense as well.

And the last thing the environmentalists need right now is to make more enemies.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Here's looking at you!

One of the most iconic images from the movie trilogy The Lord of the Rings is the Eye of Sauron, the flaming, all-seeing slit-pupilled eye at the pinnacle of Sauron's castle of Barad-Dûr.  The idea is terrifying; putting on the One Ring allows Sauron's eye to see you, wherever you might be.  You become invisible to everyone else, but uniquely visible to the Dark Lord and his servants.

So it's no wonder that the concept captivated the imagination.  And now, an artist in Russia is making a replica of the Eye of Sauron as part of an installation on the top of a 21-story building in Moscow.

Which has caused the powers-that-be of the Russian Orthodox Church to freak out.


"This is a demonic symbol," the Russian Orthodox Church’s head of public affairs, Vsevolod Chaplin, told Govorit Moskva radio station in an interview.  "Such a symbol of the triumph of evil is rising up over the city, becoming practically the highest object in the city.  Is that good or bad?  I’m afraid it’s more likely bad.  Just don’t be surprised later if something goes wrong with the city."

This is hilarious on several levels.

First of all, the installation, "practically the highest object in the city," is all of one meter tall.  Next to the way the Eye of Sauron was represented in the movie, this thing would be about as impressive as Mini-Me.  

Secondly, the Eye is going to be lit for seven hours.  That's it.  If lighting up a one-meter-tall art installation for seven hours is enough to cause the Triumph of Evil, maybe Evil deserves to win.

Third, I don't even see how the Eye of Sauron could be considered a symbol of evil's triumph.  Sauron was defeated, remember?  The One Ring got melted, and Barad-Dûr collapsed into a heap of rubble, taking the Unblinking Eye along with it.  So if anything, it should be a symbol of the fact that Evil doesn't always win.

But fourth, and most importantly; it seems to have escaped the higher-ups in the church that The Lord of the Rings is fiction.  I.e., it's not real.  Sauron never existed, and therefore by extension his Eye didn't either.  I know this is some pretty complex logic to expect them to follow, but even so.

You have to wonder how such superstition survives.  What kind of worldview do you have to espouse to believe that a rather underwhelming art installation representing a fictional character could cause god to curse a whole city?  This raises magical thinking to new heights.  Higher than 21 stories, even.

And I also wonder what the church leaders are going to try to do about it.  Pray, possibly, because there's nothing like fighting a non-existent threat with a useless solution.  The seven-hour lighting is supposed to happen tonight, and I hope we find out one way or the other.

What I think is likely is that the church will hold some kind of pray-in, the installation will be lit up on schedule and turned off on schedule, and nothing untoward will happen.  Then the church leaders will conclude that the pray-in deflected god's wrath, further reinforcing their view that they've understood the universe correctly.  Hallelujah!  God is so great!

Kind of makes you feel like what Frodo did was all for nothing, doesn't it?