essentialsaltes: (diversity)
Some of the same researchers involved in the 2003 American Mosaic Survey have released results of the 2014 study.

There a really glaring result relating to when people were asked to agree/disagree with the following statement across a variety of demographics:

This group does not at all agree with my vision of American society

Atheists 39.6% 41.9%
Muslims 26.3% 45.5%
Homosexuals 22.6% 29.4%
Conservative Christians 13.5% 26.6%
Recent immigrants 12.5% 25.6%
Hispanics 7.6% 17.1%
Jews 7.4% 17.6%
Asian Americans 7.0% 16.4%
African Americans 4.6% 16.9%
Spiritual, but not religious — 12.0%
Whites 2.2% 10.2%

First number is from 2003.

All of the numbers have increased. Some by quite a lot. Even white people, who are totally awesome and chill, went from 2.2% to 10.2%. Disagreement with conservative Christians nearly doubled to 26.6%. The previous study was not long after 9/11, but disagreement with Muslims jumped from 26.3% to 45.5%. Immigrants doubled. Hispanics, Jews, Asians, African Americans... all jump from single digits to double digits.

This is what polarization and demonization look like.
essentialsaltes: (devilbones)
Islands of Space by John W. Campbell is the kind of gee-whiz space opera that makes Buck Rogers look nuanced. A passel of superscientist men effortlessly invent multiple impossible inventions and generally behave like 12-year-old boys with their new godlike powers.

"The Bechdel test asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women..." FAIL

"Islands of Space is generally credited with introducing the concepts of hyperspace and the warp drive to science fiction." So that's something, anyway.

It's also interesting that the book interpolates the plot from his story "Dead Knowledge," which I liked quite a bit. Here, apart from the bare bones of the plot, all of the atmosphere and emotion has been drained away, probably because it would not have meshed with the whizbang mood of the novel.

I'm glad even the people of long ago smelled this one as a stinker. Ted Sturgeon thought it was crap (and he, of all people, would know). "This is a real lousy book."

Rachel Held Evans is probably best known for A Year Of Biblical Womanhood, chronicling her attempt to live according to the Bible's rules for women. But recently she was quoted in an article in (I think) Smithsonian about her hometown of Dayton, famous as the site of the Scopes Trial in 1925. She intimated that the attitudes in Dayton haven't changed much, and her story of asking too many questions in a community that has all the answers (and doesn't like pesky questions) was published as Evolving in Monkey Town. I couldn't pass up a title like that.

Sadly(?), the creationism/evolutionism angle is not really a major part of the story, just useful as a title that would get me to buy it (it worked!) [I gather that the title was originally the title of her blog]. It's actually a little maddening that what little she says about it seems to indicate that the question is still an open one in her mind. The book has since been retitled "Faith Unravelled", though that's a bit of a misnomer as well. It's more a story of her journey of faith. She starts as a model member of the local community, multiple winner of her school's Best Christian Attitude award, and a graduate of [William Jennings] Bryan College, a place literally founded in the wake of the Monkey Trial to defend a Biblical worldview. More recently than the book, Bryan College changed its statement of faith to include the belief in a literal, specially created, Adam and Eve, resulting in the departure of some faculty members.

As a thoughtful, reflective, skeptical, millennial, she navigates her theology to come to a place where she can recognize that (although no one wants to admit it, and some may be too unreflective to even be aware of it) every Christian 'picks and chooses' verses and interpretations of the bible based on their own particular biases and experience. I generally like her picks and choices, and it must be tough to swim against the stream. Asking questions no one wants to hear, and then coming up with unpopular answers. "I was called a socialist and a baby killer. People questioned my commitment to my faith, and my country, some suggesting that I may face eternal consequences for my decision [to vote for Barack Obama]."

At the same time, it's clear that her questioning has its limits. "Doubt is a difficult animal to master because it requires that we learn the difference between doubting God and doubting what we believe about God. The former has the potential to destroy faith; the latter has the power to enrich and refine it. The former is a vice; the latter a virtue."

My answer to that is a quote from the Great Beast. Crowley may have been an extravagant old fraud, but he sometimes had a piquant way with words:

"I slept with faith and found a corpse in my arms on awakening;
I drank and danced all night with doubt and found her a virgin in the morning."
essentialsaltes: (atheist teacher)
A History of American Secularism

A fascinating look at the idea of secular government from the Founders to the present, and how the idea has shifted from Enlightenment ideals to the Golden Age of Freethought in the 19th century, when the Great Agnostic Ingersoll could give the nominating speech for a Republican candidate for president (even in the good old days, when Republicans were the party of abolition). To the emergence of fundamentalism in the early 20th and its later common cause partnership with conservative Catholicism, and the response with the freethinker's coalition with liberal Protestantism and (secular) Judaism.

The historical detail is quite excellent, but as the time grows nearer the present, a hint of polemicism arises. I don't disagree with her, but the shift in tone is noticeable in the last chapter or so.

And yes, the blockquotes )
✓one-word title
essentialsaltes: (a)
Massimo Pigliucci has just about had it with the Skeptical & Atheist Movement. I think most of his targets are well-chosen. And I would join him in giving Dan Dennett a big hug.
essentialsaltes: (devilbones)
BioLogos (Francis Collins' pro-evolution pro-religion organization) funded Jonathan Hill, a Calvin College researcher, to conduct a study of American views on evolution and creationism.

For decades, the traditional (and easily comparable) data has been from Gallup polls that have asked the following question, starting in 1982:

Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings:
(1) human beings have evolved over millions of years from other forms of life and God guided this process,
(2) human beings have evolved over millions of years from other forms of life, but God had no part in this process, or
(3) God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so?

Although this seems to carve things up neatly into theistic evolution, 'atheistic' evolution, and YEC, people's actual beliefs are, if not more subtle, at least more complicated. The results of these Gallup polls is that the largest response has always been for choice 3, the YEC option, with Americans agreeing with this option at 40% or more.

The current poll included 3,000 American participants, and provides a much clearer look into people's actual beliefs, and the different factors that influence (or correlate with) different beliefs.

Professor Hill offers his summary of the research, and there is a link to the entire study results. He focuses in his summary most on what recipe produces (his word, not mine) a YE creationist (or atheist evolutionist).

The National Center for Science Education has also posted a quick look into the data.

One of the tidbits that caught my eye: "only 8% of the sample met the further restrictions of believing in 6 24-hour days of creation which took place less than 10,000 years ago". Despite 40% picking the YEC option in the Gallup poll, putting together a complete suite of YEC beliefs actually shows that quite a small number are 6-literal-day YEC. Of course the same goes for full-on 'atheistic' evolution: "atheistic evolutionists, who accept human evolution but do not think God played a role (even if they personally believe in God), represented 9% of the sample."

"Not surprisingly, the pro-evolution almost always justify their stance by noting that it represents the best science, while those classified as creationists cite the authority of the Bible and defense of Christianity as the main motivations for their beliefs. ... This suggests that the two groups are in effect hearing two different questions, with one group hearing a question about science, the other hearing a question about religion. "

"a mere 32% of the creationists and only 19% of those who do not think God was involved in evolution agreed that science and religion are “ultimately compatible.” Over half (53%) of the theistic evolutionists disagreed, saying that the two are ultimately compatible."
essentialsaltes: (atheist teacher)
Great article on the history of Elevatorgate and other episodes of misogyny and the war about misogyny in the atheism/skepticism movement - on Buzzfeed of all places. [See also my earlier journal entry]

In related news, I'd also like to point out, for the local Southern Californians, that there is an art exhibit opening up at the Center for Inquiry Hollywood tomorrow night (Sep 13).

A Woman's Room Online:

"A Woman’s Room Online is an installation art exhibit created by Amy Davis Roth in conjunction with The Los Angeles Women’s Atheist and Agnostic Group (LAWAAG) and hosted at CFI-Los Angeles.

This installation consists of thousands of real sexist and threatening messages sent to only a handful of women who work in online arenas. The viewer enters a small freestanding room, an office space that has been completely transformed and plastered with messages, a paper-trail of hate, sent electronically to the contributors starting in July of 2011 until today."
essentialsaltes: (A)
The Red Tree, by Caitlín Kiernan, centers on the titular plant and its penchant for driving people crazy and/or murderous. The story of its history is uncovered, bit by bit, by our protagonist, as she, unavoidably, also falls victim to its influence. I enjoyed most of the ride -- I'm not sure if it's because or despite some meta elements -- but the ending did not pay off for me, which is always a buzzkill.

Generation Atheist was briefly free on kindle, so I gave it a shot. A collection of 25 testimonies, er... personal narratives, of young atheists from a variety of backgrounds, from Jain to Mormon. They mostly discuss their transition from theist to atheist, and their dealings with community and family. Some are young atheist 'celebs' like Hemant Mehta & Jessica Ahlquist, while others are pseudonymous.

For me, it was interesting to see the similarities & differences between their experiences and my own. One of the main differences is the greater awareness about atheism in the general culture nowadays. I mean when I was a kid, the only atheist I knew was Madalyn Murray-O'Hair, who was an obnoxious windbag. And now there's Dawkins and Sam Harris (so that's two obnoxious windbags to choose from!) and the secular student alliance and other groups on high school campuses and so on.

But of course there's a lot of similarities between all the stories, so it's fortunate that it's a pretty quick read, and doesn't overstay its welcome.
essentialsaltes: (Quantum Mechanic)
A Mathematician's Apology is an interesting insight into the mind of a mathematician, an investigation of what mathematics 'really' is, and why one would want to mess about with it. It's a relatively brief work, written in 1940 when Hardy was in his 60s and, he sadly concluded, was quite finished as a mathematician. Probably the most famous quote from the work is Hardy's dictum that mathematics is a "young man's game." The edition I have on the Kindle also includes an introduction by CP Snow that is nearly as long as the work itself, and provides a lot more biographical detail, including details of his student life:

Hardy had decided-I think before he left Winchester-that he did not believe in God. With him, this was a black-and-white decision, as sharp and clear as all other concepts in his mind. Chapel at Trinity was compulsory. Hardy told the Dean, no doubt with his own kind of shy certainty, that he could not conscientiously attend. The Dean, who must have been a jack-in-office, insisted that Hardy should write to his parents and tell them so. They were orthodox religious people, and the Dean knew, and Hardy knew much more, that the news would give them pain-pain such as we, seventy years later, cannot easily imagine.
Hardy struggled with his conscience. He wasn't worldly enough to slip the issue. He wasn't even worldly enough-he told me one afternoon at Fenner's, for the wound still rankled-to take the advice of more sophisticated friends, such as George Trevelyan and Desmond MacCarthy, who would have known how to handle the matter. In the end he wrote the letter. Partly because of that incident, his religious disbelief remained open and active ever after. He refused to go into any college chapel even for formal business, like electing a master. He had clerical friends, but God was his personal enemy.

One of Hardy's claims to fame is having discovered the self-taught & idiosyncratic Indian mathematician Ramanujan, who had sent some of his bizarre discoveries to him. "[Hardy] was accustomed to receiving manuscripts from strangers, proving the prophetic wisdom of the Great Pyramid, the revelations of the Elders of Zion, or the cryptograms that Bacon had inserted in the plays of the so-called Shakespeare.
So Hardy felt, more than anything, bored. He glanced at the letter, written in halting English, signed by an unknown Indian, asking him to give an opinion of these mathematical discoveries."

Hardy was soon intrigued, and took the time to puzzle some of out. An interesting detail of which I was unaware is that...

"But I mentioned that there were two persons who do not come out of the story with credit. Out of chivalry Hardy concealed this in all that he said or wrote about Ramanujan. The two people concerned have now been dead, however, for many years, and it is time to tell the truth. It is simple. Hardy was not the first eminent mathematician to be sent the Ramanujan manuscripts. There had been two before him, both English, both of the highest professional standard. They had each returned the manuscripts without comment. I don't think history relates what they said, if anything, when Ramanujan became famous."

Snow also talks of Hardy's abiding love of cricket, and how he (Snow) would have to study up on the latest scores before visiting Hardy, in order to help cheer Hardy up in his later years of illness.

But to finally get to the man himself in his own words, Hardy more or less rejected the idea that the pursuit of mathematics is justified by its technological fruits:

"The mass of mathematical truth is obvious and imposing; its practical applications, the bridges and steam-engines and dynamos, obtrude themselves on the dullest imagination. The public does not need to be convinced that there is something in mathematics.
All this is in its way very comforting to mathematicians, but it is hardly possible for a genuine mathematician to be content with it. Any genuine mathematician must feel that it is not on these crude achievements that the real case for mathematics rests, that the popular reputation of mathematics is based largely on ignorance and confusion, and that there is room for a more rational defence."

He also considered that, even if mathematics was unimportant, it might well be right for those with an aptitude to pursue it. "Poetry is more valuable than cricket, but Bradman would be a fool if he sacrificed his cricket in order to write second-rate minor poetry."

There is virtually no mathematics in the work, but there are occasional allusions to things that were unfamiliar to me: "Farey is immortal because he failed to understand a theorem which Haros had proved perfectly fourteen years before; the names of five worthy Norwegians still stand in Abel's Life, just for one act of conscientious imbecility, dutifully performed at the expense of their country's greatest man." [I haven't the faintest idea what that refers to.]

Getting back to heart of the matter: "THERE are then two mathematics. There is the real mathematics of the real mathematicians, and there is what I will call the `trivial' mathematics, for want of a better word. The trivial mathematics may be justified by arguments which would appeal to Hogben, or other writers of his school, but there is no such defence for the real mathematics, which must be justified as art if it can be justified at all."

And here's one last awkwardly timed prediction: "There is one comforting conclusion which is easy for a real mathematician. Real mathematics has no effects on war. No one has yet discovered any warlike purpose to be served by the theory of numbers or relativity, and it seems very unlikely that anyone will do so for many years."
essentialsaltes: (islam)
It's sort of the inverse of the straw man fallacy.

Person 1: "I believe X."
Fallacy dude: "Well, that is indeed an option, but no one could seriously believe that."

Example captured in the wild: "So you seem to be suggesting that St. Peters Basillica and the Taj Mahal are the result of natural processes alone. In my original post I suggested that this was indeed an option for the naturalist although what I intended to point out is that it is too absurd to take seriously and thus we have a defeater for naturalistic belief."

Call me crazy, but it's quite true that I believe no supernatural processes were involved in building the Taj Mahal.

(Just to be clear, in the discussion so far, this person himself recognizes that a naturalist may regard mental processes as equivalent to or supervening on physical processes, and are thus natural processes. So it's not that the naturalist is claiming that the Taj Mahal was built by the wind or something.)
essentialsaltes: (Mr. Gruff)
This post has been a long time coming. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean it's particularly good, informative, or insightful.

[ profile] jimhines' cartoon has been flying around recently:

While this was about science fiction cons, it applies perfectly well to atheist/skeptic/secular cons. That community has had some recent high-profile incidents, and some longer simmering arguments. I've been mostly watching from the sidelines; not because I don't care, but because I haven't been directly involved. I haven't been to any of these conventions. I don't really know the people involved, and certainly have no knowledge of the actual incidents. So I didn't think I had much to add other than a huge chance of foot-in-mouth disease.

essentialsaltes more than likely puts his foot in his mouth somewhere in here )
essentialsaltes: (Mr. Gruff)
Results of a psychological survey of 1000+ atheists. (Here's a shorter summary article.) The researchers at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga identify six subtypes:

Intellectual Atheist/Agnostics (IAA)
Activist Atheist/Agnostics (AAA)
Seeker Agnostics (SA)
Ritual Atheist/Agnostics (RAA)

I'd say I'm IAA with a healthy dose of AAA. Maybe a soupçon of Antitheist that rears its ugly head when I haven't had my coffee.

If prejudice continues to exist towards atheists in general, one source may stem from the perceived negative experiences by religious people interacting with a very small sub-segment of the overall population of non-believers, mainly the Anti-Theists. In other words, our research showed over 85% of the non-believers sampled to be more or less your “average Joe” when it came to being “angry, argumentative and dogmatic”, they fall right in line with current societal norms

However, it's true and unsurprising that the Antitheists are more dogmatic, angry, and disagreeable than your average bear.
essentialsaltes: (Secular)
In an otherwise fine article in TIME about service organizations, and the particular good they can do for veterans, Joe Klein seems to go out of his way to offhandedly insult me and other non-religious Americans:

"But there was an occupying army of relief workers [in Oklahoma, after the tornados,] led by local first responders, exhausted but still humping it a week after the storm, church groups from all over the country -- funny how you don't see organized groups of secular humanists giving out hot meals -- and there in the middle of it all, with a purposeful military swagger, were the volunteers from Team Rubicon."

I mean, did I personally, give out any hot meals in Oklahoma? No. But I did give some money to the Oklahoma fund set up by the Foundation Beyond Belief, which ultimately raised some $45,000 for Operation USA, and the local food bank.

Why did I give to a charity run by humanists? Because in the past, assholes like Joe Klein have turned disasters into some kind of competition. It's not even enough to stop giving money to religious charities (though I did that long ago). Joe Klein was there with Team Rubicon, which as far as I can tell is a secular organization, but that's apparently not going to be enough to convince Joe that secular people are helping out. I'm not trying to 'win' this 'competition'; I'm not looking for recognition [as a child, I was too much influenced by Charles Emerson Winchester III's views on charity and anonymity]. Or a pat on the back. But I can't take a slap in the face like this without producing an angry blog post. So there.

Fortunately, the Friendly Atheist has already done a fantastic job tracking down information about the contributions of local and national secular groups after the Oklahoma disaster, including the giving out of meals of an unknown temperature, in partnership with Panera and Krispy Kreme. Funny how you don't see religious restaurants giving out food.
essentialsaltes: (atheist teacher)
Objecting to religious messages on license plates isn't just for atheist scum, anymore. This guy is going ahead with his suit against the 'Rain God' on the OK plates:

"The appeals court’s decision says Cressman “adheres to historic Christian beliefs” and believes it is a sin “to honor or acknowledge anyone or anything as God besides the one true God.”"

To be fair, we have no idea if he objects to other religious license plates that have been issued (or proposed) by various states.

From the incandescent rage desk comes this story of a teacher fired from her job at a Catholic school because her abusive ex-husband is "threatening and menacing". Unfortunately for her, she taught religion classes, and the Supreme Court has indicated that religious schools have much greater leeway to fire employees who are 'ministers'. Anyway, since they're worried about the safety of the students, I guess it only makes sense that the school kicked out her four kids as well.
essentialsaltes: (atheist teacher)
From survivors of the genocide in Rwanda.
Like him, many other people converted [from Christianity] to Islam en masse after the Genocide. He renounced it during the American invasion in Afghanistan. He said that he was tired of being indoctrinated. They were always asked to pray for the souls of brothers and sisters who lost lives when fighting the enemy in Iraq and Palestine.

"I kept on wondering whether those Iraqis and Palestinians prayed for us when the Genocide was happening at our doorsteps. I can't generalize, but I think they - like most of the world - didn't care. Maybe they were busy watching the World Cup"
essentialsaltes: (atheist teacher)
A Wicked Company (a phrase due to Garrick, IRC) centers on the radical enlightenment crowd at Baron d'Holbach's salon, principally the Baron himself and Diderot. The book does a nice job of comparing and contrasting the Enlightenment of Voltaire and Rousseau with that of Diderot and d'Holbach. The latter are definitely more my kind of people (particularly since Rousseau turns out to have been a selfish, paranoid asshole). I enjoyed the first half or so of the book, but it was a little annoying that every time a new personage would appear, a mini-biography would ensue. But the last half came to be sort of a slog. After a time, the salon ceased to fizz with new ideas, but like this book, it went on and on.
essentialsaltes: (atheist teacher)
I'm a short way into A Wicked Company, which is primarily about Diderot and the Baron d'Holbach, but so far the salient things I've learned are:

Philippe I, Duke of Orleans was a cross-dressing 'notorious' homosexual and successful military commander. He also carried out his familial obligations, producing Philippe II, Duke of Orleans, who was an atheist. As Regent, the younger Philippe opposed censorship and pursued other enlightened reforms that never really went anywhere.

Finally, Rousseau really liked to be spanked.
essentialsaltes: (Shoot)
It’s important to look at the true fundamental causes of events like
the school shooting. Plenty of people are pointing to guns. More
insightful people are looking into our mental health safety net, or
other aspects of our culture. But only the most insightful people can
see through all these distractions to the root cause.

Bryan Fischer of the American Patriarchy Association: "God is not going to go where he is not wanted" and apparently God is sulking in his tent because organized school prayer has been ruled unconstitutional.

Mike Huckabee: "We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools … Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?"

But wait… that would mean that the deaths of these schoolchildren and teachers should be laid squarely at the feet of the Supreme Court, since they were responsible for Engel v Vitale, etc.

What other nefarious things have the Supreme Court been up to recently? In 2008, for the first time ever, they "ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms" in a case in Washington DC. Then in 2010, the Supreme Court incorporated that ruling to cover all of the states.

So don’t get hoodwinked – these attacks on the Supreme Court are attacks on the staunchest defenders of the Second Amendment! These peace-loving Christians are using their Illuminati mind-control tricks to weaken our right to own guns!
essentialsaltes: (wingedlionbook)
The Girl in the Glass, by Jeffrey Ford has a lot going for it, but the villain of the piece is so insane and his plans so unbelievable that it sadly ruined a lot of the great chemistry of the first half, when the mystery was still a mystery. Our protagonists are a likable little trio of conmen spiritualists in Depression era New York. But an enigmatic encounter with a real live dead ghost sends these flim-flammers with hearts of gold to investigating the disappearance of a young girl. There's a lot to like in the first half or so, including the amusing and authentic (if occasionally exaggerated) shenanigans of the seance trade. But it devolves into the not very believable comic book antagonist vs. a Magnificent Seven of carny folk. Still amusing enough, but not very believable or satisfying. I did like the epilogue, so at least it didn't end on a sour note.

Don't Sleep, There are Snakes, by Daniel L. Everett, was not entirely what I expected, so I feel a little cheated. But it's still fascinating stuff most of the way through. Everett was a missionary, and he and his family went and lived with the Pirahã people of the Amazon. His particular missionary group accentuated learning the language for use in making a translation of the Bible, rather than direct conversion efforts, so Everett perforce became a linguist.

The first part of the book are about his experiences in the jungle with the Pirahã people, including some harrowing accounts of his wife and daughter contracting malaria and his almost comically (if it wasn't so horrifyingly) inept attempt to get them to medical attention. The whole section is the best part of the book and gives you a good sense of just how different the Pirahã are from what is easily imaginable in our culture. No number words, no color words (other than comparisons to other things -- red things are 'like blood'), and more intriguingly, the Pirahã pay no attention to anything they haven't personally witnessed (or, a bit more dubiously, what someone they've talked to personally witnessed.) Yet at the same time, this doesn't mean that they are entirely without the supernatural -- demons exist and are seen by them, occasionally in the form of other Pirahã 'acting' the parts of demons. Scare quotes are really necessary, since I still don't have a good understanding, and I don't think Everett does either, of what the Pirahã really mean by demons.

The second part of the book is primarily about the Pirahã language and what it means more generally for linguistics. Much of this is also fascinating, but near the end of this longish section, he has moved on to deep issues in the theory of linguistics, battling both Chomsky's universal grammar and the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Hey, I took a linguistics class in college, so I don't consider myself ignorant, but much of this was really above my head, and/or beyond my interests.

The third part of the book is really just a single chapter, barely an epilogue, and this is where I feel gypped roma'ed. One of the things that sold me on the book was the throughline that it was the story of a Christian missionary who went to the Amazon and lost his faith. Everyone loves a good deconversion story, don't they? But apart from a few hints scattered here and there, this perfunctory chapter is the only discussion of this part of his story. And although he doesn't talk a lot about his internal debate, it's not even very compelling. Maybe it was something like Stockholm Syndrome, as it seems that the Pirahã's general happiness combined with their disdain for anything not personally witnessed contributed to Everett recognizing the emptiness of his own faith.

[OK, I will quote one bit, just for hilarity, and again perhaps as insight into what the Pirahã consider demons who are really real:

The morning after one evening's "show" [of slides of the life of Jesus] an older Pirahã man, Kaaxaoói, came to work with me on the language. As we were working, he startled me by suddenly saying, "The women are afraid of Jesus. We do not want him."

"Why not?" I asked, wondering what had triggered this declaration.

"Because last night he came to our village and tried to have sex with our women. He chased them around our village, trying to stick his large penis in them."

Kaaxaoói proceeded to show me with his two hands held far apart how long Jesus' penis was -- a good three feet.]

But I wonder if this story of deconversion might just be too personal and painful for Everett to talk about in detail. It was hard enough for him to talk to people in his life, since it took him some 15 years before he told anyone about his atheism. And in what little he says, it's clear that this revelation ended his marriage. And his Wikipedia entry makes clearer that two of his children refused to speak to him for years.
essentialsaltes: (notpraying mantis)
Society Without God presents the results of Zuckerman's yearlong stay in Denmark, interviewing Danes (and a few Swedes, and a couple miscellaneous) about their religious beliefs and the religious culture of Scandinavia. Although Zuckerman is a trained sociologist, he's also a secular person himself, and admits here and there that he has an axe to grind. Nevertheless, the result provides some great straight-from-the-horse's-mouth information on a culture that is overwhelmingly secular, and ranks highly on any number of socioeconomic factors that contribute to happiness and stability.

He spends some time discussing why the Scandinavian countries have turned out so secular. I think the most convincing to me is the idea that these societies take care of their people so well, that this stability and support obviates not only material needs, but spiritual ones as well. Another more interesting idea that gets explored a little bit is the idea that the Scandinavians were just never very religious in the first place. With Christianity being largely imposed from above for political reasons by kings or arbitration, one can wonder about the depth and sincerity of belief in the countries, even after 1000 years.

In any event, belief in one or more gods is a minority position. However, many of his subjects profess a belief in 'something'. And it's also clear that many of the subjects just don't want to talk about it. Possibly they are 'hiding' the unpopular view that they actually believe in god. Or possibly it's just that their culture seems to be very reticent to talk about religous matters. I think one subject said it would be much easier to talk about sex with his grandparents than gods. Here's another example:
"Q - If I were to ask you, “Do you believe in God?"—and I‘m not going to say what that means, just that question—how would you respond?
A - It’s none of your business. [laughter] No, I would be polite, but I would kind of want to talk about something else."

It's also interesting that, although belief in gods or an afterlife is very rare, Danes typically still consider themselves Christian, and I think about 80% of them belong to the national church (which collects taxes from them). Zuckerman makes a very apposite analogy with modern American Judaism. Many American Jews are very secular, but nevertheless carry out the various rituals. Many have bar (and bat) mitzvahs, despite a lack of actual belief; the Danes are similarly Confirmed in the church.

But it is so interesting to see what 'being Christian' means to them:
"From Annelise, a 47-year-old manager at a telecommunications company: Being an okay person, being nice to people, not hurting anyone, helping when help is needed, that sort of thing. But nothing spectacular, you know. Just being nice."
"From Anika, a 36-year-old stay-at-home mom: Being Christian means to look out for the poor and the challenged in our society . . . to feel compassion, to be able to think of other people than yourself . . . to look out for the weak, the poor . . . to not discriminate . . . but to think that everybody has the same value."

There's precious little mention of Jesus, or sins, or redemption.

There's a lengthy, but not very insightful, interview with a believer in Asatru.

But the most interesting interview is with a guy who at first identified as a Christian and a (somewhat tepid) believer in God. Then he was interviewed again after having lived in the US for several months...
"And that puzzled me because I thought the United States would be more like Denmark—believing in, you know, rationality."
"And I was just like, what is Hillary Clinton praying?! I don’t know. It’s just scary—that even the Democrats are so religious. So if I was to live here I would have a problem voting for a president, because I don’t want a religious leader."

Ultimately, the experience of bumping into American-style Christianity destroyed his belief in God:
"Yeah, because when I came here I believed in God and I was Christian—but in a Danish way. So there’s a lot of stuff in the Bible that just doesn’t make sense, but—you know—sure, I thought God was up there and he helped us, he tried to make a book and we tried to behave according to the book, and you know, humans make errors so maybe the book isn’t 100 percent correct, but you can kind of do it. But when I came here and saw all the people being so—explicit—like Jesus died and he was the Son of God and he was born by a virgin. And I added it all up and said, okay if I need to say I‘m a Christian, then I need to believe in all this stuff. Because there’s so much that you have to buy into in order to be Christian. And I didn’t buy into it. I don’t believe it."

And what will he tell the people back home?

"I think I would say to them, maybe you don’t believe me, but the American society is—all politics and media discussions—is based on that everybody is very devoted Christians. Meaning that you cannot hold an office, you cannot be a president, you cannot be whatever, if you don’t publicly say that you believe in God and all of your sentences end with God bless America or whatever. That we, as Danes, have to be very, very careful with joining the United States when they want us to go to war or they want us to join them in whatever endeavors they want us to join with them, because the religious fanatics in the United States have a very, very high influence on what’s going to happen in the United States, and I don’t think Danes know that. I think that if Danes knew that, they would be very—I don’t think they would be afraid—but I think they would say, “No, no, we don’t want to be a part of that.” And I don’t think they know. But I‘m going to tell them."
essentialsaltes: (Wrong)
All Costa Cruises did was kill a few passengers and pretty soon people looking for a luxurious vacation are giving them the cold shoulder. OTOH, you can get ridiculous deals on their cruises.

I dunno if you can see this deal I got through email, but it's much the same Western Med cruise we took with them (and on which they killed a few people a few years later). Was $1840, now just $399. That's a 78% savings, and you even get to wave at the wreck of the Concordia (which should be there until it's salvaged in January 2013).

[Of course, [ profile] popepat can probably get you a pretty good deal with an outfit that hardly ever kills its customers.]

Wasn't so long ago in this country that black people and Mormons got lynched by angry mobs. [Black people still aren't doing so hot, but authentic lynchings are mercifully rare these days.]
And now we have one of each at the heads of our major parties heading for an election showdown. What a country!

At long last, my missionary work among the Christians has come to an end. I've been booted from the forum for some reason or other. It would appear to be Chick-Fil-A that did me in somehow, though I'm pretty sure I never mentioned gay marriage at all.


essentialsaltes: (Default)

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