The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates Identifies as an Atheist

I think Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of the finest writers working today. Hardly a day, a news story, a crisis, or a controversy goes by in which the people I respect online don’t say something akin to, “TNC nails it,” followed by a link to his take. And they’re usually right.

Coates has recently been steeping himself in European history, which has included a couple of volumes on 20th century Europe in the midst of Hitler, Stalin, the Holocaust, and its struggles to repair, redeem, and unify. Considering the breadth and relentlessness of human violence and disorder, he figured something out:

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The Downside of TED Talks as ‘Secular Megachurches’

Bouncing off some of the issues about seculars and the need (or lack thereof) for religion and church-like ritual I and others have been posting about over the past couple of days, I tweeted this yesterday:


Ha ha ha, right? If you’ve read more than a handful of my work, you’ve already seen me go on and on about how I half-jokingly consider Apple my “religion” and The Steve (peace be upon him) my prophet. Ha ha ha. Old news.

But when I made that tweet, I had no idea that this piece by Benjamin Bratton in The Guardian would go up hours later (thereby confirming my psychic powers). The subject? How TED talks have become, as Bratton describes them, “middlebrow megachurch infotainment.”

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Imprisonment for Blasphemy and Religious Dissent Around the World Detailed in New Report

Human Rights Without Frontiers International, a Brussels-based nonprofit, has released a rather comprehensive report on those who have been imprisoned for religious dissent around the world, and the countries who imprison them. Of particular note to this audience is the report’s acknowledgment of the nonreligious.

This year, a specific section has been created for prisoners whose freedom of expression related to religious issues was violated on the basis of laws against blasphemy, defamation of religion or the Prophet and similar issues: Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tanzania, Tunisia and Turkey.

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Research Suggests the Brain Benefits Socially and Cognitively from Prayer

According to new research, the act of prayer can strengthen one’s will and refuel an exhausted brain. This comes to us from a post at Scientific American by Piercarlo Valdesolo, where we learn that Prof. Malt Friese and Michaela Wanke put participants through some emotionally and cognitively draining tasks — suppressing emotion and laughter while watching a funny video followed by identifying the colors of words that spell different colors as they flash by rapidly. Then the participants were told to pray for 5 minutes, and what happened?

Participants who were asked to pray about a topic of their choosing for five minutes showed significantly better performance on the [color identifying task] after emotion suppression, compared to participants who were simply asked to think about a topic of their choosing. And this effect held regardless of whether participants identified as religious (70 percent) or not.

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Are Psychotropic Drugs at the Root of Religion?

In an excerpt from his book Drugs: The Science and Culture of Psychotropic Drugs at The Atlantic, Richard J. Miller examines the claim that intense religious experience, and religion itself, can be traced back to the consumption of hallucinogenic drugs, or, “entheogenic” drugs.

It’s hard to deny that there is a strong connection between religion and these substances, with, as Miller notes, countless references to particular drugs in various religious texts (from “soma” in Hindu scripture to “the drug of forgetfulness” in The Odyssey), and considering the “spiritual” impact psychotropics have been shown to have. Take this bit of research by Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert cited by Miller:

On Good Friday 1962, two groups of students received either psilocybin or niacin (a nonhallucinogenic “control” substance) on a double-blind basis prior to the service in Boston University’s Marsh Chapel. [Read more...]


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