Sacred collanders and religious freedom

Many of my libertarian friends are part of the Pastafarian movement. And they really think it’s funny. And I have to admit that I’ve never quite gotten its appeal. It all sprang from some Oregonian dude’s attempt to mock intelligent design and became a huge worldwide sensation among atheists. The Flying Spaghetti Monster Church has a made-up deity and holy days and religious gear and silly formal beliefs and all that — all to show the stupidity of religious belief. Get it?

So this Austrian adherent wanted to show the stupidity of driver license regulations permitting religious adherents to wear headgear. So he put a colander on his head and took a picture. And, being that this is his religious requirement, he now has a license with a colander on his head. OK, so what’s the big deal? Well, again, I’m not sure I understand. But it’s seriously big news.

NPR’s “The Two-Way Blog” looked at the story and gave it the headline:

Austrian ‘Pastafarian’: License Photo Was A Win For Freedom From Religion

It was? How so? I mean, from the story we learn that Austria basically accepts the Pastafarians’ claim that they are a religion and treated them as religious adherents. That seems more like a win for religious freedom than freedom from religion, but maybe I’m missing something.

Eyder Peralta explains that Nico Alm was testing regulations. So he took the picture and then three years later (not sure why it takes three years), he got his license in the mail:

The result is, of course, humorous and it’s gotten worldwide attention and on our post, at least, started a series of hilarious pasta puns (“And people who discriminate against Pastafarians will be labelled antipasti?”). Perhaps it struck a chord because it pokes fun at government bureaucracy, perhaps because one man was able to pull a fast one on a set of regulations that overhauled European Union licenses, making them more like credit cards and much more serious, including a regulation that did not allow people to smile in their official pictures.

But, Alm notes, it also strikes at the tension between church and state:

“The Republic of Austria is still very closely attached, is trying to serve religion and churches without any apparent need,” Alm said. “And that’s just another thing I pointed out… that something is going wrong here that there is a part of the population that can exert certain special rights that people like me, that atheist people or non-believers cannot have.”

OK, I admit I had a couple of drinks at the airport bar before I got on the plane where I’m writing this … but someone needs to explain this to me. In what way does this “strike” at the “tension” between church and state? And does it show that atheists don’t get to wear headgear in their license? Because it sounds to me like it shows that they can.

We get a bit more explanation about how this is supposed to be a win for “freedom from religion”:

But Alm says his aim — as an advocate “for the clean separation of church and state” — was to win one for freedom from religion.

“There shouldn’t be any special rights for anybody because of their religious belief or non-belief,” he said.

He also said, his protest isn’t aimed at religions. He said he is no way poking fun at people who take their religion seriously:

“I am ridiculing the authorities,” he said. “If anybody is offended there is nothing I can do, but I am offended too, if logic and reason is offended.”

Alm said his next step is to get the Austrian arm of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster officially recognized by the government.

I think the problem might be that the reporter doesn’t understand Alm’s claims. He is specifically saying he’s not protesting religions but bureaucracy. I don’t think that’s the same thing as fighting for “freedom from religion.”

Just in general, we could use some much better explanation of terms and an understanding of what this protest was attempting to accomplish and how, exactly, it did that.

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Paul Ryan and the atheist bogeyman

As the resident libertarian here at GetReligion, I was curious about the flurry of stories about how a progressive Christian group is fighting Ayn Rand. So even though it ran over a week ago, I’m finally getting to this Religion News Service piece on the matter.

Ayn Rand died years ago but her influence has been tremendous. She is known for her two best-selling novels and for developing a philosophical system she called Objectivism. She’s also a really bad writer. But, hey, that doesn’t stop Dan Brown from making a lot of money.

The RNS piece begins by noting that progressive advocates are trying to tie Rand to the Republican budget:

But in a petition drive, video, ads, and websites, liberal Christians counter that Rand’s dog-eat-dog philosophy is the real inspiration for the GOP budget and its author, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

“You’ve got a guy who is a rising Republican star, and who wrote the budget, saying he’s read her books and Washington needs more of her values,” said Eric Sapp, executive director of the American Values Network, which produced the video. “If you’re a Christian, you’ve got to ask some serious questions about what’s going on here.”

In other words, Sapp argues, you can follow Ayn Rand or Jesus, but not both.

Now, I read Rand when I was 15 and really enjoyed it. My father pointed out to me that her fiction included some excellent ideas about the morality of individualism and the proper role of the state but that her larger philosophy had some serious problems, particularly for Christians. And, well, that’s pretty much where I stand today. Most Christians I know who also enjoy some of Rand’s ideas would tell you that they think she had some bad ideas, too.

The article eventually quotes someone pointing out this same general idea but I wonder if it was handled in a balanced enough fashion. I mean, I know atheists who absolutely adore Martin Luther King, Jr. but strongly disagree with his Christianity. I know lots of non-Confucians who quote Confucius. It was just somewhat weird to not engage that general idea that one can enjoy a particular author without agreeing with every single thing he’s ever written.

Anyway, we’re told that Rush Limbaugh, Alan Greenspan and Clarence Thomas all call themselves Rand fans. This is undoubtedly true. It’s also true that a Library of Congress survey of “most influential books” put “Atlas Shrugged” second only to the Bible. So they’re not exactly alone.

And even the anti-Rand sentiment is nothing new. Check out this hilarious Maureen Dowd piece in a 1987 New York Times about how folks in the Reagan administration read, gasp, Rand.

Rand’s anti-religious views are briefly detailed, including her particular opposition to Christianity and its teaching of self-sacrifice.

And then we got to this point of the article:

More than 6,000 people have signed a petition asking Ryan to put down Rand and pick up a Bible, according to Kristin Ford of Faithful America, a left-leaning online group.

I know from earlier research that Faithful America is heavily funded by George Soros. In 2008, for instance, I read he gave the group two $400,000 gifts (the substantiation for that is supposedly here but I don’t have time to go through the 237 pages just yet). Which is great. Soros’ generosity is legendary and he helps many hundreds of liberal political groups each year, including religious ones. And if the issue fits, he even supports programs run by libertarian outfits. But I also know that Soros is an atheist, like Ayn Rand.

And that got me wondering. Why would an organization backed so heavily by atheists be criticizing other people for following atheists? And why would these groups be doing so in the name of faith?

That’s a question I’d really like to see addressed in the reporting on this public relations campaign. It wasn’t even mentioned in this article. The same goes for the other Open Society Institute-funded groups mentioned in coverage of this anti-Ryan effort.

Anyway, the end of the article includes words from Ryan’s office along with others who throw cold water on the anti-Ayn Rand effort. The article goes through a recent letter Ryan sent the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops about how his budget aligns with Catholic teaching:

“Those who represent the people, including myself, have a moral obligation, implicit in the church’s social teaching, to address difficult basic problems before they explode into social crisis,” Ryan wrote in the April 29 letter.

Ryan argues that his budget is informed by the Catholic principal of subsidiarity, which holds that large bureaucracies should not assume tasks best left to individuals.

The GOP congressman also quotes the late Pope John Paul II’s warning that government welfare programs can lead to inertia, overweening public agencies, and ballooning budgets.

Jay W. Richards, a Catholic and author of Money, Greed and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution and Not the Problem, calls Ryan, like many Rand admirers, a “cafeteria Randian.”

“I suspect the progressive Christians are confusing that point,” he said. “You can agree with Rand’s critique of collectivism as enervating and soul-destroying without adhering to her overarching philosophy.”

So an interesting article overall with good information but it almost reads like two competing press releases — one from the anti-Ryan camp and one from the pro-Ryan camp. I might enjoy a bit more in-depth discussion on the topic of what Jesus has to say about the debt ceiling or whatever, including one where the view of religious adherents of strict separationism or a Two Kingdoms approach might also get a voice.

And for folks who enjoy this sort of discussion on Ayn Rand, check out Katherine Mangu-Ward’s look at Ayn Rand and, well, Satan over at Reason. Also, Mediabistro seems to think the progressive group fighting Paul Ryan can best be described as “conservative Christians.” Good work there, team.

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The death of ‘Dr. Death’ (updated)

What ever happened to … Jack Kevorkian?

Until Kevorkian died today at age 83, the once-famous “Dr. Death” had not crossed my mind in many years.

Of course, Kevorkian’s passing is a major news story, and The New York Times, the Washington Post, The Associated Press and other major media quickly published in-depth obituaries. The top of the Post obit:

Jack Kevorkian, the zealous, straight-talking American doctor known as “Dr. Death” for his lifelong crusade to legalize physician-assisted suicide died on Friday at a Detroit area hospital, the Associated Press reported. He was 83 years old.

Dr. Kevorkian spent decades campaigning for the legalization of euthanasia. He served eight years in prison and was arrested numerous times for helping more than 130 patients commit suicide between 1990 and 2000, using injections, carbon monoxide and his infamous suicide machine, built from scraps for $30. Those he aided had terminal conditions such as multiple sclerosis, ALS and malignant brain tumors.

When asked in a 2010 interview by CNN’s Anderson Cooper about how it felt to take a patient’s life, Dr. Kevorkian said, “I didn’t do it to end a life. I did it to end the suffering the patient’s going through. The patient’s obviously suffering — what’s a doctor supposed to do, turn his back?”

Dying, he believed, should be an intimate and dignified process, something that many terminally ill are denied, he said.

Meanwhile, the fine folks at ReligionLink — who do such a magnificent job of keeping Godbeat writers on top of current trends — rushed out a primer on what Kevorkian’s death likely means to the end-of-life debate:

The death of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, a former pathologist who helped dozens of terminally ill people die with a suicide machine, has renewed a national debate on end-of-life issues that never went away completely, even after Kevorkian was sentenced to prison in 1999.

In fact, a Gallup poll in May found that physician-assisted suicide remains the most contentious moral issue in the country, with 45 percent saying it is morally acceptable and 48 percent saying it is morally wrong.

And the ferocity of the so-called “death panels” controversy during the health care reform debate  remains so potent that in January the Obama administrationreversed course on end-of-life counseling regulations due to concerns that passing the regulations would rekindle the furor.

Beyond the immediate reactions prompted by Kevorkian’s death, the debate over end-of-life issues can be traced to technological advances and new brain research, and also to questions being raised by believers, particularly in Catholicism and Judaism.

There’s much more detail on the ReligionLink site, and I encourage you to read the whole thing.

As for the obits themselves, there’s not much religion to be found. Wondering what, if anything, Kevorkian believed about the afterlife? I didn’t see any of those details in the obits I read.

The AP obit hints at some of Kevorkian’s clashes with religion:

Kevorkian, who died Friday at a Michigan hospital at 83, insisted suicide with the help of a medical professional was a civil right.

His gaunt, hollow-cheeked appearance gave him a ghoulish, almost cadaverous look and helped earn him the nickname “Dr. Death.” But Kevorkian likened himself to Martin Luther King and Gandhi and called physicians who didn’t support him “hypocritic oafs.”

“Somebody has to do something for suffering humanity,” he once said. “I put myself in my patients’ place. This is something I would want.”

Kevorkian jabbed his finger in the air as he publicly mocked politicians and religious leaders. He was a magnet for the news media, once talking to reporters with his head and wrists restrained in a stock reminiscent of the Medieval era.

But there’s no exploration of what Kevorkian believed about religion. I found mention of Kevorkian on the website but missed any reference to Kevorkian as an atheist in the obits I read.

This sentence in the Times obit stood out to me:

In 1976, bored with medicine, he moved to Long Beach, Calif., where he spent 12 years producing an unsuccessful film about Handel’s “Messiah,” painting and writing, supporting himself with part-time pathology positions at two hospitals.

Did faith — or lack thereof — play any role in his production of the “Messiah” film?

If you spot any news reports that tackle the questions raised in this post or address the issues pointed out by ReligionLink, please share the links in the comments section.

Update: Be sure to check out the comments for some great links. Thanks, readers!

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Study: non-Christians’ brains atrophy

The other day we looked at the way the media handled a study that showed that Protestants who don’t identify a “born-again” experience had less hippocampal atrophy than Catholics, non-believers and those who do claim a “born-again” experience. I noted that all the headlines I could find highlighted that “born-again” Christians had “smaller brains.”

In the previous post, I looked only at how odd it was that Catholics and non-believers were spared this indignity, even though, the story claimed, all scored lower than Protestants.

A commenter read the study and pointed out that the greatest atrophy in the right and left hippocampi were put in a chart, which I’ve typed in below:

Left Hippocampus atrophy
.06 Other Protestants
-.01 Life-Changing Religious Experience (new)
-.05 Born-again (new)
-.15 Born-again (baseline)
-.22 Catholic
-.28 None
-.45 Life-Changing Religious Experience (baseline)

Right Hippocampus atrophy
-.05 Other
-.12 Catholic
-.15 Life-Changing Religious Experience (new)
-.15 Born-again (baseline)
-.20 None
-.21 Born-again (new)
-.32 Life-Changing Religious Experience (baseline)

(The commenter had “no religion” and “baseline LCRE experience” in the lowest spots for both hippocampi but I found different results.) Again, we see that the main thing is that “other” Protestants had the least atrophy in both their left and right hippocampi. But what’s also noteworthy is that those who are not Christian — reporting a non-Christian religious experience at the time they entered the study or reporting no religious belief, have the greatest atrophy. Born-again Protestants, whether newly converted or in their past, generally have less atrophy.

Out of curiosity, I read up a bit on the hippocampi and was surprised at just what a small part (if terribly important) part of the brain they were. But I note that this study didn’t measure the size of the hippocampi so much as the relative size at the beginning and end of the study. So when the headlines tell us that one group has a “smaller brain” than another group, they are wrong. At least, there’s no way they could know it from this study. This study measured how much this tiny portion of the overall brain atrophied over time.

So much of the coverage was flawed that I’m troubled by the whole episode.

Now, since I’ve spent so much time harshing on the media coverage of this study, I thought I’d also point out a story on the same study that did not follow the herd. It was headlined “A little bit of belief can be a godsend for your brain.”

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Survey says: I have better sex than you

Yesterday I pointed out the curious manner in which journalists wrote up a study showing that non-believers, Catholics and evangelical Christians have smaller brains than Protestants who don’t claim a “born-again” experience. But at least that study, though having a small sample size, was done by real academics at a real university using typical methods of analysis.

Today I see that ABC News is peddling sheer quackery with a big story about a “survey” that was done “on-line.” This is sort of like if Rush Limbaugh asked listeners to call in and give their views on how President Obama is doing and then announced the results of the “survey.” It really doesn’t tell you much.

Anyway, this story is just abominable. The headline tells us “Atheists Have Best Sex Lives, Claims Psychologist.” Which is a pretty weird headline, first off. Like, why do we care what a single psychologist has to say?

Let’s get to the lede:

Darrel Ray, raised a fundamentalist Christian in Topeka, Kan., shed a heavy cloak of guilt surrounding sex after he left the church in the late 1970s, and wondered if his experience reflected that of others.

Today, he has finished research that he said bore out his hypotheses — that religion and good sex don’t mix. In an online survey of 14,500 people who had come from a religious background, he discovered that once they had abandoned their churches, their sex lives improved.

In his survey, “Sex and Secularism,” which he publicized last week, Ray drew a direct correlation between guilt and sexual behavior. Not surprising, but he also learned that guilt eventually subsides.

“We find guilt is a pretty big thing,” said Ray, the author of, “The God Virus: How God Infects Our Lives and Culture.”

OK, then. I wonder if Ray — clearly a subtle man — uses the term “fundamentalist” to mean, you know, “fundamentalist” or to mean “Christian of some kind.” Perhaps we could learn more about the particular upbringing, but I guess that’s asking a lot considering that reporter Susan Donaldson James thinks an unscientific online survey with absolutely no scientific validity deserves the hype for her report.

The story is a complete mess. Take these two lines:

Atheists, he concluded, had the best sex of all. “They can speak with some authority,” he said. “They were raised in very secular homes.”

All his respondents — over 18 and all sexual orientations — had abandoned their churches and described themselves as agnostic or without a religious belief.

So all of his respondents left religious backgrounds but, on the other hand, his atheist respondents were raised in secular homes? One of these two sentences doesn’t work in this story.

Anyway, which academic institution sponsored this “online survey”? Who peer reviewed it? What are Ray’s academic credentials? Let’s see:

Ray, 60, is an independent researcher who has worked as an organizational psychologist in corporations for 30 years. Before that, he spent a decade as a clinical psychologist.

Not just that, but his assistant was a student at University of Kansas. And if that doesn’t impress you, the “online survey” that they conducted “drew 2,500 responses an hour”! That metric could not be more meaningless, could it? I mean, yes, you post a link to your “online survey” over on P.Z. Meyer’s emporium and Metafilter or whatever, and I’m sure you can get 2,500 hits from atheists in a given hour. So what?

Anyway, we’re told that he “only surveyed those who had said they were once religious, not those who today practiced their faith.”

Wait, so how do we know that atheists have “better” sex than non-atheists? What controls were put in place? What was the control group? I mean, if you were to believe in completely uncontrolled online surveys, which you are too smart to do, the most we could say is that atheists who were once religious claim that their sex lives improved once they quit their religion. But we couldn’t say that atheists have better sex than other people because no other people were surveyed. It’s like if I surveyed myself and decided that I have the best sex life in the world.

The story goes on to pretend that there is scientific value in the survey, noting that the “respondents were predominantly highly educated and affluent. They included hetero, same-sex and intersex couples. In the first day, he received 2,500 online responses.”

Wait, so there was one hour that he got 2,500 responses and also the first day total was 2,500? Did Rain Man write this? It’s just bizarre!

Then we get to this weirdness:

“His results make a lot of sense — why people who are religious emphasize guilt in sexual behaviors,” said Tara Collins, president of a multidisciplinary group of researchers at Kansas University’s psychology department, who gave Ray feedback after he presented his survey results.

Collins and others were impressed, but they did express concern about his causal statements and urged him to make some modifications. Ray, she noted, had not looked at the satisfaction level of those who continued to practice their faith.

His research will not be published by an academic institution because it has not been peer-reviewed.

What? What, exactly, were they impressed with? What is there to be impressed with by an online survey of self-selecters? Other than nothing, that is. I had to look Collins up because I couldn’t believe any academic would say anything like this. Turns out she’s not an academic. She’s an undergrad student at KU. Why the story doesn’t describe her as a student, but as “president” of a psych department group is just odd. I’m going with the theory that Susan Donaldson James is also an undergrad student at KU who won a contest to put a story up on a big web site like ABC’s. Please don’t tell me she’s paid to write this stuff.

In any case, did you notice the last line of the excerpt? Which comes in the 20th paragraph, by the way? Of course it’s not peer reviewed! So why did you spend the previous 19 paragraphs pretending it was real scholarship? It’s a freaking online survey. An online survey! Come on, ABC, this isn’t 1997 when the interwebs confused us. It’s 2011 — if you’re a journalist who doesn’t know that online surveys are easily manipulated, hard to control and perhaps completely meaningless, you can turn in your press credentials at the door.

After pointing out that the “online survey” wasn’t peer reviewed, the reporter quotes Mark Regnerus, a Ph.D. in sociology who has written two books on sexual behavior. He points out that the survey was not scientific. We’re into the twenty-something paragraph at this point, keep in mind:

“It appears that it was a ‘fill it out if you want to’ kind of survey that is not random, not nationally representative, and relies entirely on self-selection,” he said. “In other words, they have data from people who felt like filling out a survey on atheism and sex. As a result, I am not surprised at their findings.”

He points to some of his own research on sex and guilt and notes that Ray is not an established researcher at a university and the survey used research methods that don’t meet the standards of most published social science.

Ray responds by pointing out that Alfred Kinsey’s research was done the same way. He’s right. This is the major problem with Kinsey’s results and why he thought that, like 48% of all women were prostitutes or whatever. (Only slightly exaggerating here.) In any case, the story goes back to pretending like Ray’s research is meaningful and points to other discoveries he made.

This story does a disservice to all believers and nonbelievers in that it presents shoddy research as something of value. But it does even greater harm to statisticians and sociologists. Some journalists may not get religion, we know. But they sure as heck don’t get science or statistics either.

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Study: nonbelievers have small brains

OK, so Religion News Service has a provocative story on a provocative study that I’ve seen in a few papers. But the headlines that are running with the story are curious, to say the least.

Basically the study says that Protestants, like myself, without a “born-again” experience (I’m assuming, although the article doesn’t tell us anything about how that term is defined in the story, that my baptism doesn’t get counted as a “born-again” experience) have bigger brains than … Catholics, Protestants with a “born-again” experience, and the religiously unaffiliated.

And yes, I realize the entire study is somewhat obnoxious and I say that even though my peeps supposedly fared the best.

But do the headlines boast that my kind of Protestants win the brain-size prize? Do the headlines say that Catholics have tiny amounts of gray matter? Do they assert what I put above? (And yes, I realize that the religious unaffiliated would include more than just non-believers.) Or do they say that “born-again” Christians are idiots? Let’s roll the tape:

USA Today: Study suggests ‘born-again’ believers have smaller brains

Houston Chronicle: Study: Born-again Christians have smaller brains

Beliefnet: Study suggests ‘born-again’ believers have smaller brains

I mean, technically it’s true. The study, which looked at a grand total of 268 adults, did say that “born-again” Christians had smaller hippocampal volume. But wow do the headlines above give a different impression than picking on Catholics, nonbelievers or the unaffiliated. Here’s the abstract for the study, in case you’re interested.

And if you want an indication that most people only read headlines and skim the rest, take a gander at the comments of the USA Today story where everyone seems to think that the study proved that nonbelievers are smarter than Christians.

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Pod people: raptures, McGreevey & Osama

For this week’s Crossroads podcast, we talked a bit about media coverage of the group claiming the rapture is looming, as well as that surprisingly sad story about former governor Jim McGreevey and the abominable coverage of a Mass intention for Osama bin Laden. Host Todd Wilken threw me by asking for my thoughts about Matt Drudge. I defended news aggregators but cautioned that news consumers must be more cautious and skeptical while reading links.

Anyhoo, earthquakes were supposed to start in New Zealand last night, if Harold Camping’s prediction and analysis were right on. It will be interesting to see what coverage of the group will be like once the date passes. I really haven’t been terribly impressed either with the coverage of the group and its beliefs or how they are viewed by Christians and other religious (and irreligious) groups.

This Los Angeles Times piece was awesome for how it interviewed Camping’s longtime producer, a Christian “who believes Jesus will return some day but that it is a sin to presume to pinpoint a date.” I realized upon reading that how little of the media coverage explained Christian beliefs on Jesus’ return, much less the pre-millennial, post-millennial, millennial streams of thought and their relative strength of support.

As it happens, at least two of Camping’s studio staff are Jewish – including his cameraman – and are among the many non-believers in his employ. The most outspoken in-house critic happens to be his longtime producer, Matt Tuter, 53, who believes Jesus will return some day but that it is a sin to presume to pinpoint a date.

“He leaves out numbers he doesn’t like,” Tuter said of Camping’s numerological analysis of the Bible. Tuter said he can no longer keep track of all the times Camping has predicted the end of the world.

Tuter thinks $100 million is a conservative figure for the money Camping has spent publicizing May 21. On Friday, employees at Family Radio headquarters in Oakland were given a paid day off, though some of them chuckled at the irony that the money would not appear in the paychecks until June.

Across the country, nonbelievers are throwing parties.

Wow, $100 million? That’s amazing. The Times piece is interesting, and sad, but does that thing that grew boring weeks ago — pitting Camping’s group against atheists. As if these two groups are the most representative of either rapture adherents or skeptics of Camping.

Of course, it’s a much better piece than this Live Science analysis of how the Rapture would impact carbon emissions.

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No chaplains in NYT foxhole

About a month ago, I did a post on media coverage of atheists in the military.

I voiced a few concerns about the stories by The Associated Press and the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., but thought the pieces were pretty nicely done overall.

Into the journalistic foxhole, I’d like to welcome The New York Times, which this week decided to lower the bar on coverage. In the Times’ foxhole — er, story — there are no believers in God, only atheists. The atheists’ perspective is, apparently, the only one that matters in this one-sided report.

The top of the Times story:

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. – In the military, there are more than 3,000 chaplains who minister to the spiritual and emotional needs of active duty troops, regardless of their faiths. The vast majority are Christians, a few are Jews or Muslims, one is a Buddhist. A Hindu, possibly even a Wiccan may join their ranks soon.

But an atheist?

Strange as it sounds, groups representing atheists and secular humanists are pushing for the appointment of one of their own to the chaplaincy, hoping to give voice to what they say is a large — and largely underground — population of nonbelievers in the military.

Personally, I’d prefer more concrete numbers than atheists describing themselves as a “large” population. But that lede is fine. It’s catchy and certainly makes me want to read more of the story.

The problem is that, as you keep reading, the story makes broad generalizations without any named sources or data to back them up.

For example, there’s this sweeping paragraph:

But winning the appointment of an atheist chaplain will require support from senior chaplains, a tall order. Many chaplains are skeptical: Do atheists belong to a “faith group,” a requirement for a chaplain candidate? Can they provide support to religious troops of all faiths, a fundamental responsibility for chaplains?

Exactly who are these skeptical chaplains? That’s impossible to know because the Times doesn’t quote a single chaplain. In fact, the story provides direct quotes from only three sources — all atheists.

Exactly how did the Times determine that many chaplains are skeptical? Did the reporter actually talk to any chaplains? Did the reporter rely on the atheists for this detail? Again, the story doesn’t say.

Later in the story, there’s this:

Defense Department statistics show that about 9,400 of the nation’s 1.4 million active-duty military personnel identify themselves as atheists or agnostics, making them a larger subpopulation than Jews, Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists in the military.

But atheist leaders say those numbers are an undercount because, they believe, there are many nonbelievers among the 285,000 service members who claim no religious preference on military surveys. Many chaplains dispute that interpretation, and say that most people in that group are religious, just not strongly so.

Fewer Jews in the military than atheists? That statistic surprised me. In some quick Google searching, I found some links that seemed to back up that claim and others that would refute it. I wish the Times had provided some more details and analysis of that claim.

And once again, we have many chaplains cited but exactly zero quoted. But plenty of space is given to the military atheists “who worry about being ostracized for their worldviews.”

Many readers say the Times slants its news coverage to the left. Trust me on that. Surely I don’t need to cite named sources.

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