On Hitchens, Apologetics, and the Strangeness of Christianity

So Christopher Hitchens is dead. Waste no time speculating about his end, or what happened next. It is empirically unknowable. While Hitch’s pen was a sharp one, and I occasionally read his work, I confess I didn’t pay a great deal of attention to his antagonism toward religion, apart from reading the first 60 pages of God is not Great. No new arguments there, so far as I could tell.

For a time after the book was released Hitchens took to debating well-known Christian apologists in public forums. Of course Hitch thought Christianity—and religion in general—was more a force of darkness than light. The first few pages of the book let readers know that in no uncertain terms. His critics often retorted with comparative claims, saying things like, “Yes, Christians have done some bad stuff, but Pol Pot and Joseph Stalin were atheists, and behaved far worse than any of ours ever have.” Perhaps, but when we start comparing body counts, nobody looks appealing anymore.

Apologetics, be it of the positive or negative sort, has never much appealed to me. Not sure why. I slogged my way through [Read more...]

Christianity and Islam throughout the World (map)

Here’s one of my favorite maps.  It shows the percentage of Christianity and Islam in each country throughout the world.  Looking at it all surprises me just wide the reach is of these two religions that trace their roots back to the same person, i.e., Abraham.

 

Study: Atheists distrusted as much as rapists. QRS #2

Here’s a provocative study, conducted by psychologists, that concludes that Americans distrust atheists as much (and actually more) than they do rapists.

I include it in my “questionable religious statistic” category because, well, it’s a real stinker.

It doesn’t work at many levels, including committing a base-rate fallacy.

If your car gets dinged by somebody, it’s much more likely to be by a Christian than an atheist, because there are a lot more Christians in the country than atheists (about 2/3rds of Americans are Christians, about 4% atheists). This is true even if Christians are much less likely to ding your car (which I don’t know to be the case).  But, if it’s between atheists and rapists, we can expect it to be an atheist, again, there are more of them. Several million atheists, but far fewer rapists (thankfully).

It’s a little embarrassing for us in the social sciences that this study got published.

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“A new study finds that atheists are among society’s most distrusted group, comparable even to rapists in certain circumstances.

Psychologists at the University of British Columbia and the University of Oregon say that [Read more...]

Those Protestant Muslims Next Door

In a previous post I talked some about the non-Christian religious diversity among Asian Americans, and I mentioned some of the research that shows that since 9/11 most white Christian Americans still know little of their non-Christian friends be they Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim. Intrepid media makers have tried to address this problem by showcasing life in one of the densely-populated Muslim American areas in the country: Dearborn, MI. The first one (which has been very helpful in the classroom) is the 30 Days experiment by Morgan Spurlock.

David Stacy in 30 Days as a Muslim

For those unfamiliar with this series, director Morgan Spurlock asked his friend David, a white evangelical Christian from West Virginia, to try to spend 30 days as a Muslim in Dearborn. His task is to 1) act according to Muslim traditions including appearance and diet, 2) study the Qur’an daily, and 3) grow a beard. [Read more...]

Why I Love Teaching Sociology of Religion

Today after my students in Sociology of Religion took their final exam, I headed to Starbucks to read their evaluations. Just in case I needed a stiff one to get me through their comments, I ordered a dark roast. And then the fun started.

Now in my 5th year teaching this class, many of the earlier critiques were gone and all that was left were compliments. I smiled and laughed a few times as I turned over page after page of 40 very nice evaluations–the adjectives used to describe me included “amazing”, “very energetic” and “knowledgeable.”

What was different this time around? I think I found the right balance of texts and assignments. Unlike other sociology classes I teach at UNC, students who come to this class are not (for the most part) sociology majors. Many are religious studies majors, some are in biology, and many in English. All come because they are curious about religion, but not necessarily sociology of religion.

So I start them off with difficult readings from Daniel Pals’ Eight Theories of Religion on Weber and Marx, along with Karen Fields’ introduction to Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of Religious Life. I mix more contemporary readings for those weeks to show why those theories are still relevant. Then I have them go out and observe a religious service and apply one of those theories to what they observed.

Undergraduates are very skilled observers of the social world, and I always look forward to reading their observations about [Read more...]


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