What’s the difference between a Pastor and a Priest?

Protestant-Catholic similarities and distinctions have been a theme of mine in several blog posts, and that is the case today as well. I have tried not to be too evangelical about such things, but rather enlightening, because the process of shifting from one to the other has been nothing if not educational. Today’s subject: the difference between Protestant ministers and Catholic priests, as best I can discern it.

The title above is a bit deceiving, because a Catholic priest can be referred to as a pastor, and some Protestant pastors—I’m thinking of the Episcopalians—are referred to as priests. And yes, I know we’re all supposed to be ministers and all that. But you get the drift—I’m talking about pastors as professionals from the near side of the Protestant Reformation and priests as professionals coming from the far side of it. So, after 40 years of observing the former—including 18 years in the home of one—and about 1.5 short years of watching the latter, here’s a list of differences and similarities.

1. Priests are men. Pastors are not necessarily men. (Don’t worry, it gets more interesting than this.)

2. Pastors can marry. Priests cannot marry, although some priests are married (but only if they were married clergy in the Anglican Communion and then converted). Indeed, many evangelical congregations don’t trust unmarried male ministers.  And Catholic congregations would, of course, require a good explanation for a married one.

3. Pastors may have biological children. So may priests. [Read more...]

Enough of the Inquisition! Christianity and Genocide

Some time ago, I was having lunch with a good friend. The conversation turned to Christianity, and he asked me what I thought of it. I mumbled though my sandwich some generally affirmative answer, and he responded with utter conviction: “But what about the Inquisition?” In his mind, this Christian-based atrocity (which executed three to thirty thousand people) constituted sure proof against the validity of Christianity.

Ugh… This fellow is a good friend, and he’s very bright, but what a knuckleheaded thing to say.

The logic of this church-morality argument goes like this: The Christian Church should be perfect, and the Christian faith is invalid if the church displays a grievous moral failure, which it has done many, many times. This argument is inconsistent with Christian beliefs, let alone common sense, both of which hold that the Church is not perfect.

This argument is not apostasy, it’s bad social science.

If one wanted to judge Christianity by participation in atrocities, one should compare the Church’s participation in atrocities versus that of other religious and secular institutions. As data for this comparison, here’s a list of the worst genocides of the last 100 years: [Read more...]

If People Leave the Faith, When Do They Do It?

I have recently undertaken a study of Christian deconversion–why do people leave Christianity. In reading about the topic, I came across an interesting study. A group of Dutch researchers studied religious (and other) transitions among 1,000 people. 653 of these respondents were raised in a religious home, and of them 186 left their church. Among those who left, when did they do so?
Percentage that leave the church by age group (n=186)

Age, % leaving church
13-14, 3.2%
15-16, 12.4%
17-18, 18.3%
19-20, 21.5%
21-22, 8.1%
23-24, 8.6%
25-26, 9.7%
27-28, 3.8%
29-30, 3.2%
31-34, 1.6%
35-39, 2.7%
40-49, 2.2%
50+, 2.2%

As a summary, 28% of their sample left the Christian church, and, those who left were most likely to do so in the high school and early college years. I suppose this provides justification to churches that emphasize high school and college programs.

(Citation: Need, Ariana, and Nan Dirk De Graaf. 1996. European Sociological Review
12(1)87-99. Table 3.)

Technical note: I probably would have analyzed the data differently–equal age ranges + looking at hazard of leaving over time, not raw percentages. This approach may over emphasize leaving in youth… but still I think that it’s story is basically right.

Danny Chen and the Beloved in the twilight of Chinatown

Happy Lunar New Year everyone! If you’re like a lot of Americans, you may not have much exposure to Chinese culture and yet you’ll know exactly where the nearest Chinese restaurant or buffet is. On a few occasions my friends want to go to a Chinese or pan-Asian buffet for a meal, and recently I looked around more carefully at the men and women that are working there. These days the staff at a buffet aren’t always Chinese or Asian, but they are clearly not well off. Some of them might resemble my Asian American peers who worked at their parents’ or a relatives’ restaurant out of duty and to earn a little spending cash. Many of these teens and young adults wound up going to college and landing middle class jobs. Theirs was the story of the classic model minority: started out working class, often under difficult circumstances, worked hard to make it to the middle class or higher and achieved it. [Read more...]

How Many Americans are Atheists? Fewer than You Might Think.

There is confusion in popular discussion about how many Americans are atheists. Here I review how many Americans are atheists, and why there are such varying estimates of this number.

Short answer: 3%-5% of Americans are atheists.

Atheists are people who believe that God does not exist. They are not the same as agnostics, who don’t know if God exists, or belief that it can’t be known.  Among people who believe in God, there’s a wide range of beliefs as well as certainty in those beliefs.

The most straightforward survey measure of atheism is to ask people if they believe that God exists. A Gallup poll in 2010 asks this, and it found that:
• 5% of Americans report that they are “convinced that God does not exist.”

Another quality measure is offered by the General Social Survey, probably the best-known, most rigorous social survey out there. It gives respondents a series of statements about their beliefs in God, and it asks which come closest to what they believe. The 2010 survey found that:
• 3% of Americans “don’t believe in God.”
• (Another 6% reported that they “don’t know whether there is a God and don’t believe there is any way to find out,” i.e., agnostics.)

These surveys, and other similarly-worded questions, give us the best estimate of how many Americans are atheists, and they consistently range between 3% and 5%.

However, there are two other approaches to measuring God beliefs that are often misinterpreted when it comes to atheism.

The first misinterpreted approach is to ask people [Read more...]