Questions for secularists

New York Times editor Bill Keller came up with a series of questions about religion that he is asking presidential candidates, an inquisition necessary in order to ferret out, among other things, which ones doubt the doctrines of evolution, the equivalence of all religions, and that there is a higher law than religion, namely, secular law.  Anthony Sacramone discusses these questions and even answers them.  He then counters with “The Sacramone Questionnaire for Nontheists”:

1. Do you think that anyone who believes in the supernatural is delusional? If so, do you believe they should be treated medically? Do you believe they should be allowed to adopt children?

2. Do you think anyone who believes in six-day special creation should ipso facto be barred from holding public office?

3. Do you believe the religious beliefs of historical figures should be eradicated when discussing them in schools? For example, that Louis Pasteur was a devout Catholic who prayed the Rosary daily?

4. Do you believe that the religious faith of those responsible for the birth of modern science—Galileo, Copernicus, Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton, Gregor Mendel, George LeMaitre (father of the theory of the big bang), Jesuit priests too numerous to mention, et al.—should be eradicated when discussing them in schools?

5. Do you believe that it should be noted that the rise of modern science occurred in the context of a civilization that was still explicitly Christian when teaching either European history of the history of science?

6. Do you think homeschooling should be illegal, as it is in some European countries?

7. Do you believe vaccines are a factor in the rise of autism cases? Do you believe parents should be allowed to opt out of vaccine programs?

8. Do you believe that global warming/climate change demands we de-industrialize?

9. Do you believe churches and all religious institutions should be taxed?

10. Do you believe that there is such a thing as life unworthy of life? Explain.

11. Do you believe assisted suicide and euthanasia should be made legal either on a state-by-state basis or by federal fiat?

12. Do you believe infanticide should be made legal? If not, when is a baby a human being protected by the rights any other human being enjoys?

13. Is there any point when an adult human being loses the right to life? If so, under what circumstances?

14. Do you believe polygamous marriage should be legalized, either on a state-by-state basis or by federal fiat? Do you believe that “minor-attracted adults” should be protected by law as a perfectly valid expression of human sexuality that was much more common in ancient Europe and among non-Western cultures? Do you believe incest and/or bestiality should be protected by law as perfectly valid expressions of human sexuality?

15. Do you believe that individuals are ultimately responsible for their behavior, or do you believe they are subject to too many internal (biochemical, psychological) and external (social pressures, strange belief systems) factors to be held accountable, such that many of our criminal laws should be seriously reformed or eradicated?

via The NY Times/Bill Keller Irreligious Litmus Test | Strange Herring.

Mormons rule on the Web

Go to Google and type “church.”  (Go ahead.  We’ll wait.)  How close to the top of results was Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (a.k.a., the Mormons)?  Now try a search for another word like “Friend.”  Or “Old Testament.”  Note how the Mormons keep coming up towards the top of the search.  (For that matter, note how often they come up in the Google ads on this blog!  I suspect this post will attract a lot of them!)

This phenomenon is noted in a Washington Post article by Michelle Boorstein, who writes about the Mormon PR machine and the way it makes use of the internet:

In the age of the Internet, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has found a way to dominate what is arguably today’s most important information source: the search engine.

It’s all about Mormons controlling their own image, church officials say. They’ve been doing that for a century or more. And now, with two of their own vying for the Republican nomination in the 2012 presidential race, and a Broadway hit and reality television generating huge interest in the denomination, much is at stake. . . .

They have always stood apart in the religious world when it comes to marketing. Savvy and aggressive, they were among the first to have a public relations shop, run public-service announcements and have a 1-800 number. The church at one time changed its logo to highlight the words “Jesus Christ,” then shifted to “Mormon” and even tried to trademark the word once it became better known. . . .
Image experts and researchers who study how people search the Web have been impressed by the church’s powerful use of the Internet. The site lds.org is the most-visited of any faith group, and Mormon church-wide conferences sometimes rank at the top of Twitter while they’re underway.

The Mormons also are the subject of publications and conference lectures for techies who specialize in the complex business of online searching, called “SEO” or “search engine optimization.”

These SEO experts debate how the church has managed to dominate the search engine box.

“They have infused SEO into their culture,” said Justin Briggs, a consultant who wrote a well-read blog post called “Breaking Down the Mormon SEO Strategy.”The church has run multiple campaigns to educate its flock about the power of search engines, and it produces high-quality information on spiritual topics such as the New Testament, Briggs said.While the details of the church’s Web strategy are proprietary, outside experts agree that the Mormons’ success is a combination of investment, focus and an unusually tight faith community. Adherents almost always attend their assigned local church, check in with official church announcements and zap anything written about Mormons around their very own blogosphere, called the Bloggernacle.

Some SEO experts say the church and grass-roots groups of members also conduct “link-building campaigns,” rallying lots of people to click on a link, and thereby raising its placement in search-engine results.

LDS officials declined to comment on the church’s specific SEO plan, but some of its strategy is laid out on a site set up to help church members become more SEO-savvy. It asks members to help boost traffic to a different site about church teachings on self-reliance, which covers a variety of topics, such as the importance of keeping a three-month supply of food and water, creative ways to find a job and adoption services for people considering abortion.

The SEO advice site says the church is trying to snag Google users who type in general terms, such as “employment” and “debt management.” Among other things, it recommends that people write articles that can include LDS links.

But the Web has not been the sole focus of the Mormons’ image strategy. Last year, the church launched a marketing campaign called “I’m a Mormon,” using television ads, taxi and subway signs, and billboards to introduce people from a range of backgrounds as Mormons.

via Mormons using the Web to control their own image – The Washington Post.

Education & religion reconsidered

It has long been said that the level of a person’s religious commitment goes down proportionately to how much education that person has received.  But now it turns out that church attendance and Bible reading actually increases with education.  And so does theological liberalism:

People tend to become less religious as they become more educated, right? Not necessarily, according to a new study.

After analyzing data from a large national survey, University of Nebraska-Lincoln sociologist Philip Schwadel found that people actually tend to become more religious – by some definitions, at least – as they further their education.

“It all falls down to what you consider to be religious,” said Schwadel, an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “If it’s simply attending religious services, then no. Highly educated people are not less religious; in fact, they’re more religious.”

“But if it’s saying the Bible is the literal word of God and saying that only one religion is the true religion, then they are less religious,” he continued.

Schwadel used data from the highly regarded General Social Survey, a cumulative and nationally representative survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago biannually since 1972.

Social scientists rely heavily on the “gold standard” General Social Survey, which provides cumulative data collected regularly between 1972 and 2010.

His study will be published in an upcoming edition of the journal Review of Religious Research.

Schwadel found that with each additional year of education:

– The likelihood of attending religious services increased 15%.

– The likelihood of reading the Bible at least occasionally increased by 9%.

– The likelihood of switching to a mainline Protestant denomination – Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian USA or United Methodist – increased by 13%.

via Study: More educated tend to be more religious, by some measures – CNN Belief Blog – CNN.com Blogs.

So what do we make of that?

 

God’s approval ratings

The most breathtakingly presumptuous opinion poll of all time:

More than half of U.S. voters approve of God’s job performance, according to a new poll, making God more popular than all members of Congress.

The poll — which was conducted by the Democratic research firm Public Policy Polling (PPP) — surveyed 928 people and found that 52 percent of Americans approved of God’s overall dealings, while only 9 percent disapproved.

Questions about God were asked as part of a larger survey assessing American opinions of congressional leaders in the midst of the ongoing debt ceiling debate in Washington.

God’s approval rating exceeded that of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, as well as both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, with each party receiving only a 33 percent approval rating.

God also polled significantly higher than the scandal-ridden media baron Rupert Murdoch: only 12 percent of those polled viewed him favorably, compared to 49 percent who viewed him unfavorably.

“Though not the most popular figure PPP has polled, if God exists, voters are prepared to give it (sic) good marks,” PPP said in a July 21 press release.

The poll also gauged God’s handling of specific “issues.” When asked to rate God on the creation of the universe, 71 percent of voters approved and only 5 percent disapproved. Respondents were also generally appreciative of God’s governance of the “animal kingdom,” with 56 percent approving and 11 percent disapproving.

Younger respondents were more critical of God’s handling of natural disasters, with those ages 18-29 expressing a 26 percent disapproval rating, compared to 12 percent disapproval among those 65 and older.

The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

via Poll: God has better approval rating than Congress | The Christian Century.

Those numbers are decent at this point in the election cycle, but if God wants to be re-elected to the office of God and avoid a primary challenge, he should work on his appeal to certain demographics.   Oh, wait.  God is a King, not a president.  He elects us; we don’t elect Him.  He has to approve of us; we don’t have to approve of Him.  I know these social scientists were trying to be humorous, but the poll raises the question of whether or not our democratic, consumer-driven, truth-by-opinion-polling culture can long conceive of the God of Abraham and Isaac and the truths of His Word.

Church camp for atheists

Atheists are seemingly doing everything they can to organize themselves into a religion.  Apparently they just don’t believe in the content of religion but are fine with the rituals, culture, and institutions of religion and want versions for themselves.   Remember church camp, where children go off into the semi-wild for fun, crafts, fellowship, and above all religious instruction and experience?  Well, the atheists now have the exact same thing for their kids:

Camp Quest Chesapeake is a summer camp for atheists. Or the children of atheists. Plus: agnostics, secular humanists, freethinkers and other self-identified members of the non-religious community. This summer is the camp’s first appearance in the Mid-Atlantic — the second-largest launch in Camp Quest history.

The first Camp Quest opened in the Cincinnati area in 1996, founded by Edwin Kagin, a former Eagle Scout who was annoyed with the religious overtones in modern Boy Scouting. Camp Quest had about 20 campers. In 2002, it incorporated, launching a branch in Tennessee. A few years ago the organization hired its first paid employee. There are now 10 Camp Quests in North America and a few more in Europe. . . .

“Think of how many hundreds of religious camps there are in this country,” Kagin says. (The Christian Camp and Conference Association alone has 865 members, and there are many more who don’t belong to the organization.) “Camp Quest is a night light in a dark and scary room for children of freethinking parents.”The site for Camp Chesapeake was the group’s second choice. They originally tried to rent from a Methodist camp, but the Methodists edged away when they learned whom they were renting to. One religious blog has dubbed Camp Quest a “Re-Education camp.”

“We want kids to know what critical thinking is, and how to use it,” says Menon, whose day job is with the federal government. “And there’s an ethics component. We want kids to know that they should do the right thing” even if they don’t believe in heaven.

Which some might. Camp Quest offers daily lectures on world religions from an informational perspective. Also, lectures about famous freethinkers such as iconic physicist Richard Feynman and “Harry Potter” star Daniel Radcliffe.

Other atheist camp activities include atheist swimming, atheist nature hikes and atheist stargazing.

via Camp Quest is atheists’ answer to Bible school – The Washington Post.

Christians are generally criticized when they attempt to baptize every little thing so that there is a Christian version, as opposed to a non-Christian version of secular activities.  But I’ve never heard of Christian swimming.  But there is atheist swimming.

I wonder if there are some atheists who say things like, “I don’t believe in organized atheism, but I am a very materialistic person.”

When government embraces religion

A speaker at the National Press Club called for making religion central to our foreign policy. He made a lot of sense at first, but then fell off the deep end:

The best way to address Jihadist terrorism is to make religion a central component of American foreign policy, according to Douglas Johnston, an expert on foreign policy and religion, who spoke at the National Press Club on June 23.

“We’re dealing with symptoms and not the real cause,” Johnston said in a critique of current U.S. policy. “And that’s the problem.”

The International Correspondents Committee hosted the event to coincide with the launch of Johnston’s new book, “Religion, Terror, and Error: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Challenge of Spiritual Engagement.”

The book argues that what is required today is a longer-term strategy of cultural and religious interaction, backed by a deeper understanding of how others, especially the Muslims, view the world and what is important to them.

As a first step, the State Department must immediately appoint religion officers at its embassies overseas, just like the military attaches, according to Johnston. They must be given a prominent role with clear-cut policy directives based on the fundamental American principle of tolerance and accommodation with other religions.

In this context, he suggested the experiment should begin at home with American Muslims. He lamented the fact that they feel alienated and shunned.

“It’s a shame that we’ve failed to embrace them wholeheartedly,” Johnston said.

As a first step, he said efforts should be made to arrange for Imams of mosques in America to deliver sermons at churches, and pastors should go to mosques to talk about their religion.

Johnston, who runs the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy in Washington, added that the whole approach should demonstrate the essence of what he called “organic suasion,” meaning “change and healing from within.”

He also advocated spreading Madrassa education with emphasis on critical thinking.

“We’ve got very positive results through our projects in Pakistan and how it can change the attitude of Madrassa students,” said Johnston, a former Naval officer and veteran of the intelligence community who holds a Ph.D. in political Science from Harvard.

Most of the panelists essentially agreed with Johnston’s premise, saying religion should take center stage, rather than a back seat, in the formulation of American foreign policy.

Arrange for Muslims to preach in Christian churches, and vice versa?  The government would arrange that, as a “first step”?  Surely it would be better for the government to keep religion in the back seat–or even persecute it–than to give it “center stage” in an inevitably syncretistic civil religion.

via Johnston: To counter Jihadists, put religion at center of foreign policy | The National Press Club.

HT:  Aaron Lewis


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