Atheists seeking market share

Get ready for a bunch of ads promoting atheism, funded by at least four different sects of atheists, each seeking market share.  From the New York Times:

Just in time for the holiday season, Americans are about to be hit with a spate of advertisements promoting the joy and wisdom of atheism.

Four separate and competing national organizations representing various streams of atheists, humanists and freethinkers will soon be spreading their gospel through advertisements on billboards, buses and trains, and in newspapers and magazines.

The latest, announced on Tuesday in Washington, is the first to include spots on television and cable. This campaign juxtaposes particularly primitive — even barbaric — passages from the Bible and the Koran with quotations from nonbelievers and humanists like Albert Einstein and Katharine Hepburn.

The godless groups say they are mounting this surge because they are aware that they have a large, untapped army of potential troops. The percentage of American adults who say they have no religion has doubled in the last two decades, to 15 percent, according to the American Religious Identification Survey, conducted by researchers at Trinity College in Hartford and released in 2008. But the ranks of the various atheist organizations number only in the tens of thousands.

That is one reason for the multiple campaigns: the groups are competing with one another to gain market share, said Mark Silk, founding director of the Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life, which is also at Trinity College.

“There’s a competitive environment for ‘no religion,’ and they’re grabbing for all the constituents they can get,” Mr. Silk said. . . .

Several of the campaigns are pitched not just to nonbelievers, but also to liberal believers who might be alarmed about breaches in the wall of separation between church and state. The atheist groups believe that people who are religious and politically liberal have more in common with atheists and seculars than they do with religious conservatives.

“We must denounce politicians that contend U.S. law should be based on the Bible and the Ten Commandments,” said Todd Stiefel, a retired pharmaceutical company executive who is underwriting most of the ad campaign that cites alarming Scripture passages. “It has not been based on these and should never be. Our founding fathers created a secular democracy.”

The most expensive campaign is staged by the American Humanist Association. Mr. Stiefel’s foundation donated $150,000 — three-quarters of the cost, part of which goes for television and cable advertisements. That campaign plucks out bracing Scripture passages about women, homosexuality or the wrath of God, like this one from the Old Testament:

“The people of Samaria must bear their guilt, because they have rebelled against their God. They will fall by the sword; their little ones will be dashed to the ground, their pregnant women ripped open.” (from Hosea 13:16, New International Version).

This is contrasted with a quote from Albert Einstein saying that he “cannot imagine” such a God.

The campaigns range from friendly to confrontational. On the confrontational end of the spectrum, American Atheists, which was founded in 1963 by Madalyn Murray O’Hair, will just before Thanksgiving put a billboard on the busy approach to the Lincoln Tunnel from New Jersey heading into New York.

It features a Nativity scene, and the words: “You Know it’s a Myth. This Season Celebrate Reason.”

David Silverman, the president of American Atheists, said that the idea of the campaign is to reach people who might go to church but are just going through the motions. “We’re going after that market share,” he said.

The United Coalition of Reason, a group in Washington, is sponsoring billboards and ads on bus shelters in about 15 cities that say, “Don’t Believe In God? Join the Club.”

The ads by the Freedom From Religion Foundation take a more inviting approach, with big portraits of some famous and some workaday people, listing their hobbies and professions and giving a punchy, personal declaration of independence from religion. The group, which has been running advertisements on and off since 2007, has spent about $55,000 this year to put up 150 billboards in about a dozen cities.

via Atheists’ Holiday Message – Join Us – NYTimes.com.

Religion means "be careful"

In a discussion of how Roman Catholic church bureaucracy and the American Academy of Religion both try to keep the lid on supernatural experiences, the notable Lutheran sociologist Peter Berger cites some interesting etymology:

Sociologists who deal with religion often like to refer to the etymology of the Latin word religio. Supposedly it derives from the verb religare—to re-bind. If so, this points to a very valid insight, most fully formulated by the classical sociologist Emile Durkheim—namely, that religion provides the symbolic ligature that keeps a society together. I understand that Latinists reject this etymology for a different, and actually more interesting one: Religio derives from relegere—to be careful. In other words, the supernatural is a very dangerous reality—one has to approach it with great caution. This understanding was brilliantly formulated by Rudolf Otto, arguably one of the greatest twentieth-century historians of religion, in his book The Idea of the Holy. Religion is always based on an experience, on whatever level of intensity or sophistication, with a reality that is intensely dangerous. . . .

Otto coined the term “numinous” to refer to this experience. His German language too seems to break down, as he falls back on Latin to describe the numinous—it is a mysterium tremendum, both terrifying and alluring. It is totaliter aliter—totally other than the fabric of everyday life. Above all, it is extremely dangerous. This is why, in the Bible and in other sacred scriptures, the first words spoken by an angel to a human being is “Do not be afraid!”

via Defanging the Supernatural | Religion and Other Curiosities.

This, I think, is what is missing in so much of today’s Christianity:  the fear of God.  We have tamed our own religion.  We are no longer “careful,” and so we have lost the “numinous” and thus the sense of holiness.   I would argue that the historic liturgy and sacramental spirituality retain that sense, whereas so much of the trappings of contemporary Christianity, in its worship and art forms, have the effect of domesticating  the supernatural and rendering it banal.

Religion blocks consumerism

In another odd experiment, it seems as if religious people are less susceptible to buying things according to their brand, which to secularists is often a means of enhancing status and self-worth:

Prof. Ron Shachar of Tel Aviv University’s Leon Recanati Graduate School of Business Administration says that a consumer’s religiosity has a large impact on his likelihood for choosing particular brands. Comsumers who are deeply religious are less likely to display an explicit preference for a particular brand, while more secular populations are more prone to define their self-worth through loyalty to corporate brands instead of religious denominations.

This research, in collaboration with Duke University and New York University scientists, recently appeared in the journal Marketing Science.

There is considerable statistical evidence that consumers buy particular brands to express who they are to the outside world, Prof. Shachar says. From clothing choices to cultural events, people communicate their personalities and values through their purchases.

Prof. Shachar and his fellow researchers decided to study the relationship between religiosity and brand reliance. . . .

Researchers discovered that those participants who wrote about their religion prior to the shopping experience were less likely to pick national brands when it came to products linked to appearance or self-expression — specifically, products which reflected status, such as fashion accessories and items of clothing. For people who weren’t deeply religious, corporate logos often took the place of religious symbols like a crucifix or Star of David, providing feelings of self-worth and well-being. According to Prof. Shachar, two additonal lab experiments done by this research team have demonstrated that like religiousity, consumers use brands to express their sense of self-worth.

via American Friends of Tel Aviv University: Shopping Religiously.

I suppose this simply proves that religious people are not as “worldly.”  It also suggests how pathetic it is to be “worldly,” having to turn to corporate logos as a substitute for religious symbols.

HT:  <a href=”http://www.futurepundit.com/archives/007649.html”>Future Pundit</a>

Christian persecution intensifies in Iraq

Islamic militants in Iraq have turned their attention to their Christian neighbors, declaring that Christians are legitimate targets and bombing Christian neighborhoods.  This follows a recent assault on a church during the worship service that killed more than 40.  From the BBC:

A series of bomb and mortar attacks targeting Christian areas has killed at least five people in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

Six districts with strong Christian majorities were hit – more than 30 people have been injured.

The attacks come days after Islamist militants seized a Catholic cathedral and more than 40 were killed. . . .

“Two mortar shells and 10 home-made bombs targeted the homes of Christians in different neighbourhoods of Baghdad between 0600 and 0800 (0300 and 0500 GMT),” an unnamed official told AFP news agency.

An interior ministry source, quoted anonymously by Reuters, said the attacks were directly linked to the siege of the cathedral.

“These operations, which targeted Christians, came as a continuation of the attack that targeted the Salvation church,” the source said.

The BBC’s Jim Muir, in Baghdad, says it is unclear whether Christians were killed. However the intention is clear – to underline a threat from the so-called Islamic State for Iraq, an umbrella group linked to al-Qaeda, that all Christians in the country are now a legitimate target.

via BBC News – Christian areas targeted in deadly Baghdad attacks.

The Four Gods

Baylor sociologists Paul Froese and Christopher Bader have conducted research into people’s conception of God. They published their findings in a new book America’s Four Gods: What We Say About God — And What That Says About Us. They found that Americans have four different assumptions about what God is like. They also found correlations between the kind of God someone believes in and their political and moral beliefs. Here are America’s four Gods:

The Authoritative God. When conservatives Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck proclaim that America will lose God’s favor unless we get right with him, they’re rallying believers in what Froese and Bader call an Authoritative God, one engaged in history and meting out harsh punishment to those who do not follow him. About 28% of the nation shares this view, according to Baylor’s 2008 findings.

“They divide the world by good and evil and appeal to people who are worried, concerned and scared,” Froese says. “They respond to a powerful God guiding this country, and if we don’t explicitly talk about (that) God, then we have the wrong God or no God at all.”

The Benevolent God. When President Obama says he is driven to live out his Christian faith in public service, or political satirist Stephen Colbert mentions God while testifying to Congress in favor of changing immigration laws, they’re speaking of what the Baylor researchers call a Benevolent God. This God is engaged in our world and loves and supports us in caring for others, a vision shared by 22% of Americans, according to Baylor’s findings.

“Rhetoric that talks about the righteous vs. the heathen doesn’t appeal to them,” Froese says. “Their God is a force for good who cares for all people, weeps at all conflicts and will comfort all.”

Asked about the Baylor findings, Philip Yancey, author of What Good Is God?, says he moved from the Authoritative God of his youth — “a scowling, super-policeman in the sky, waiting to smash someone having a good time” — to a “God like a doctor who has my best interest at heart, even if sometimes I don’t like his diagnosis or prescriptions.”

The Critical God. The poor, the suffering and the exploited in this world often believe in a Critical God who keeps an eye on this world but delivers justice in the next, Bader says.

Bader says this view of God — held by 21% of Americans — was reflected in a sermon at a working-class neighborhood church the researchers visited in Rifle, Colo., in 2008. Pastor Del Whittington’s theme at Open Door Church was ” ‘Wait until heaven, and accounts will be settled.’ ”

Bader says Whittington described how ” ‘our cars that are breaking down here will be chariots in heaven. Our empty bank accounts will be storehouses with the Lord.’ ”

•The Distant God. Though about 5% of Americans are atheists or agnostics, Baylor found that nearly one in four (24%) see a Distant God that booted up the universe, then left humanity alone.

via Americans’ views of God shape attitudes on key issues – USATODAY.com.

Isn’t it true that none of these, in isolation, is anything like the Christian God?  Surely Christians believe that God has ALL of these qualities.  Christians believe that God is a Trinity, that He is complex and a mystery.  (And if natural laws, such as we are seeing with quantum physics are complex and mysterious, shouldn’t God be far more so?  And yet people insist on these simplistic, anthropomorphic, unitarian deities.)  While each of these deities can be adapted into an ecumenical paradigm in which all religions “have the same God,” the Christian God is completely different from these four, each of which is some variation of a transcendent deity looking down on the creation.  Notice that there is no category for God Incarnate.

No wonder churches are so weak and Christians’ faith is so anemic, if they don’t have the right God.

The rest of what I said: on religion & facts

There wasn’t room for everything that I said in that interview the Washington Examiner did with me. So as not to waste anything, I’ll post the outtakes here:

1. A recent Pew study found that atheists and agnostics scored higher on a religion quiz than did people of faith. How important are facts to faith? And/or can God thrive when his followers lack an understanding of the facts?

Some people think religion is just a matter of what goes on in their heads. They make up something that works for them, they think, selecting from the great cosmic smorgasbord to construct a kind of spirituality that makes them feel better. Though Christians are guilty of this too, Christianity does not work like that. It teaches that God became Man, that Jesus is literally God in the flesh. And that somehow when He was executed by torture He bore the sins of the world, taking our punishment and letting His goodness count as ours. And that He rose again, physically, from the dead.

The whole Christian faith rests on facts. We can theorize, we can intellectualize, we can debate abstractions. But what if these things really happened, as historical objective facts? Then the theoretical discussions don’t really matter.

One of my pet peeves in theology is the way many Christians approach the problem of evil, how a good God could allow all of these bad things to happen. That’s a profound question. But the answers given often assume that God is some abstract deity looking down on the world from above. But Christianity teaches that God came into this world of suffering, that He Himself not only suffered but took the world’s evil into Himself, and that He redeemed it!

Not that this answers all of the questions, but it certainly complicates the issue and underscores the difference between the Christian God and God as most people conceive Him.


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