Want to Know About Religion? Talk to an Atheist.

Want to Know About Religion? Talk to an Atheist. September 28, 2010

From this article in today’s Los Angeles Times:

If you want to know about God, you might want to talk to an atheist.

Heresy? Perhaps. But a survey that measured Americans’ knowledge of religion found that atheists and agnostics knew more, on average, than followers of most major faiths. In fact, the gaps in knowledge among some of the faithful may give new meaning to the term “blind faith.”

A majority of Protestants, for instance, couldn’t identify Martin Luther as the driving force behind the Protestant Reformation, according to the survey, released Tuesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Four in 10 Catholics misunderstood the meaning of their church’s central ritual, incorrectly saying that the bread and wine used in Holy Communion are intended to merely symbolize the body and blood of Christ, not actually become them.

Atheists and agnostics — those who believe there is no God or who aren’t sure — were more likely to answer the survey’s questions correctly. Jews and Mormons ranked just below them in the survey’s measurement of religious knowledge — so close as to be statistically tied.

So why would an atheist know more about religion than a Christian?

American atheists and agnostics tend to be people who grew up in a religious tradition and consciously gave it up, often after a great deal of reflection and study, said Alan Cooperman, associate director for research at the Pew Forum.

“These are people who thought a lot about religion,” he said. “They’re not indifferent. They care about it.”

Atheists and agnostics also tend to be relatively well educated, and the survey found, not surprisingly, that the most knowledgeable people were also the best educated. However, it said that atheists and agnostics also outperformed believers who had a similar level of education.

The groups at the top of the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey were followed, in order, by white evangelical Protestants, white Catholics, white mainline Protestants, people who were unaffiliated with any faith (but not atheist or agnostic), black Protestants and Latino Catholics.

Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists were included in the survey, but their numbers were too small to be broken out as statistically significant groups.

Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University and author of “Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know — And Doesn’t,” served as an advisor on the survey. “I think in general the survey confirms what I argued in the book, which is that we know almost nothing about our own religions and even less about the religions of other people,” he said.

He said he found it significant that Mormons, who are not considered Christians by many fundamentalists, showed greater knowledge of the Bible than evangelical Christians.

The Rev. Adam Hamilton, a Methodist minister from Leawood, Kan., and the author of “When Christians Get it Wrong,” said the survey’s results may reflect a reluctance by many people to dig deeply into their own beliefs and especially into those of others.

“I think that what happens for many Christians is, they accept their particular faith, they accept it to be true and they stop examining it. Consequently, because it’s already accepted to be true, they don’t examine other people’s faiths. … That, I think, is not healthy for a person of any faith,” he said.

The Pew survey was not without its bright spots for the devout. Eight in 10 people surveyed knew that Mother Teresa was Catholic. Seven in 10 knew that, according to the Bible, Moses led the exodus from Egypt and that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

The question that elicited the most correct responses concerned whether public school teachers are allowed to lead their classes in prayer. Eighty-nine percent of the respondents correctly said no. However, 67% also said that such teachers are not permitted to read from the Bible as an example of literature, something the law clearly allows.

For comparison purposes, the survey also asked some questions about general knowledge, which yielded the scariest finding: 4% of Americans believe that Stephen King, not Herman Melville, wrote “Moby Dick.”


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  • I saw this article, and, really, am not sure what to do with it, other than figuring it kind of confirms a whole lot of what I have thought and said over the years.

    And so I'm going to read Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Shining.

  • I have long maintained that comparative religious studies should be compulsory from early on. The more educated one is on matters of religion, the less likely one is to believe.

  • Wrong.

  • Erin

    My agnostic friends are the smartest people I know. I enjoy talking with them about religion more than my fellow Christians, because they actually speak logically and from both sides of an issue, instead of shrugging and saying, “dunno, if it’s in the Bible that’s what I believe.”

  • Marie

    Thank you, I just spit coffee on myself!!

  • Argy-bargy

    I believe that faith is eminently reasonable, and that an unexamined faith is not a faith that is worth very much. It doesn't logically follow that an examined faith will necessarily lead to faithlessness.

  • Marie

    Thank you for this, John. Once again, a perfectly timed, aerial perspective. Reading this is comforting and even affirming because, for ME, it deflates the hot air from the forces which often engage me with the intent to diminish my credibility or even my value as a human participant simply because I disclose that I don't (dogmatically) "belong" anywhere. I admire, with great awe and interest, religious practices worldwide for their cultural beauty and the Divine threads, which, my own eyes find to be shaping and bonding whole communities together – and not just in a "holding" pattern (although I see how many opt to camp rather than climb). I see it in a "constructing" movement, more than anything else. It's quite beautiful. And my favorite part of all I watch and learn is how ALIKE all the religions are at their respective cores. Truly Divine, in my opinion.

    There is bias, I'm sure. I don't doubt my own inclination to draw common threads together. Perhaps all (ALL) religions aren't alike at their core, but I'm inclined to tag the pieces that are and smile at them.

    But "me"? I don't belong anywhere. I have no address in this respect. I don't want to, either. I USED to. And until I untied that (knotted) shoelace, I didn't know what all was out here. I was not curious and no one had inspired me (permitted me) to become curious. It was a negative force that finally had me reach for the shoelace (for which I am so thankful – blessing in disguise).

    It was like how a toddler believes his/her whole world to be the kitchen and living room because that's all they "know" or all they're allowed to experience. Then as time goes by, ohhh my goodness, there's a damn back yard and streets and PLANES up above….. And all of it is GOOD and okay.

    It's amazing, the variety of ways the world prays and dreams and meditates and intends and is careful and learns how to show love, receive love, give thanks…..

    But on the flip-side, I know first hand what it is to be declared naive, pagan, stupid, reckless, unworthy, unable to commit, unreliable…. all because a person may not "belong anywhere". I see, hear, read and feel where the danger of "power" comes into play. So I am shored up by two forces to maintain my choice of navigating this place: my own curiosity (in the name of wonderment, not doubt) and all those land mines (thank you for showing yourselves) I am learning to avoid.

    Your writing is, to me, a Divine landmark that I am grateful to have stumbled across. I trust it and it never takes away from my wonderment as I bump along these incredible roads.

    So thank you, again!! Please keep your bright light shining as far as the eye can see.


  • Ace

    There are plenty of us who are well educated, both generally and in religious matters, who are not athiests.

    Be careful of stereotyping.

  • I didn't know you were still paying attention John!! Good to hear from you.

    So…upon what do you base your judgement of "wrong"?

    It is hardly worth mentioning the well established fact that religious belief declines as [non-religious] education increases (not a huge decline, but statistically significant with science education is the biggest threat to religious belief). (Google "religion education correlation") I haven't found specific studies correlating comparative religious studies and atheism, but the subject article in your post pretty clearly shows that atheists/agnostics are more broadly familiar with religion in general than the believer. Whether formalized or not; that familiarity with the breadth and history of many religious traditions would be the result of comparative religious studies.

  • …and I didn't say it would necessarily lead to non-belief, but statistically it does in general. What is important in the Pew study is that the atheists/agnostics new more about disparate religions in general. Examining only one's own religion…or even getting an advanced degree in it…seems to only get one more entrenched in it (IMHO). My point only pertains to comparing the history and narratives of many religions.

  • Don't read too much into what I said, Ace. I am only talking about statistical correlation (further elucidated in my response to Mr. Shore's "wrong" retort above.

  • Here's my take on this, as a devout atheist.

    I was raised Methodist (which is pretty much agnostic with picnics). I can't say that I studied my faith, but I went to Sunday school and I listened, and was amused when motherly volunteers would quake at the simplest question. You know, "Were Adam and Eve married? Why doesn't God talk to us? Are Japanese people really Buddhists and just faking it? My uncle died but he didn't go to church so is he going to hell?"

    In High School, I took "History of Religion" with Mrs. Schwenke-Pfeffer. We actually did take a close look at ~10 world faiths. So I know that Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all trace back to Abraham, and know a little about Jainism and Zoroastrianism and Ba'hai and Buddhism and Hinduism, etc. All good stuff, the glue that helps hold society together.

    But like Stephen Hawking says, you don't need God to make the universe work. As you dig deeper into any religion, you discover stuff they teach that is pretty whack. When I understood that the Bible has been translated and edited over a few thousand years, with each scribe adding, inadvertently omitting, reinterpreting the words, I couldn't make the intellectual leap to stick with religion.

    That's where we atheists are lazy. God isn't necessary for the universe, but religion is necessary for society (see the glue thing, above). What I appreciate about people like Mr. Shore is that he knows that some scripture is whack, and people's interpretation of it is whack, but that doesn't mean it has no value or relevance. He's willing to put in the effort to understand and interpret it in a way that is meaningful to him, and share that insight with others.

    If atheists were willing to put a little more time into spiritual matters, we would be able to make a similar contribution. When we simply say, "this is b.s., what's on Showtime…?" we're part of the decline of civilization.

  • Argy-bargy

    A religion teacher named Schwenke-Pfeffer? How cool is that?? 😀

  • DR

    That is a ridiculous, arrogant, offensive suggestion. It's so weird to me to watch these things offered on this blog in particular.

  • A devout atheist, Dennis? What can that possibly mean? Are you as devout a non follower of Hera?

    Religion is "necessary" for society? Because…

    Atheists need to put in more time into spiritual matters to make a similar contribution, but don't because we are lazy? And this cause and effect is shown by…. what, exactly?

    If we don't, we are part of a declining civilization? Right. Let's put away the lab coats and ponder the deepities uttered by the Deepak Chopras of the world because, well, because he and other 'spiritual' leaders are not lazy!

    You know, Dennis, wow.

    Just wow.

  • ?

  • Why so, DR?

  • Please read http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/2010/09/28/atheists-agnostic… for a little more detail on the point I was making.

    So why does stating such things seem ridiculous, arrogant and offensive DR? Facts are facts…and John cited the study himself. Don't promote the stereotype of the too-easily-offended-believer.

  • errata: What is important in the Pew study is that the atheists/agnostics knew more about disparate religions in general.

  • Tim

    I'm not sure if I agree with John's "Wrong" response. An important qualifier to that question would be to determine if there was any bias in that education. If the teaching materials carries a decidedly anti-religious bias, the student would probably be less likely to believe.

    If someone determines to really dig in and critically examine the various holy texts of the biggest world religions, if they emerge with any bias, it would at least be far likelier to be their own bias and not that of the professor or author who teaches from their own religious worldview.

    Josh McDowell started out as an agnostic student at junior college doing a paper examining the historical evidence of Christianity in order to refute it. At the time he thought Christianity was a sham. His continued education and life of Christian ministry is the result of his study of religion.

    Just wondering, Mike…would you be OK with a compulsory comparative religious studies program if it excluded ALL ancillary materials aside from the holy texts representing each religion? Would it be OK if the program facilitator was disallowed from offering their own religious worldview?

  • Of course it would be mandated the the facilitator NOT offer their own religious/a-religious world-view. The subject matter would be simple fact-based content on religion throughout history. Using just holy books would be far too limited though. I would starting back in ancient pagan religions/myths to see how they evolved and differed. It would then follow the timeline to the advent of monotheism (about the most important turning point in religious adherence IMO) Students would compare and contrast the miracles and events and claims of 'contemporary' religions with pagan religions.

    I couldn't flesh out the entire curriculum here, but the syllabus would be entirely and objectively fact-based without promoting or defaming any one narrative.

    Full disclosure: My feeling is that when looking at 'contemporary' religions in the context of all all religions in history; we find that there is little to distinguish today's belief systems from [more] ancient, debunked belief systems. Oddly; this seems the most damning refutation of today's popular apologetics, yet it is seldom taken from its sheath….probably because it is so time-consuming to educated on all that history. Still… theologians that attempt to defend it simply fall back to Well, the devil made pagan religions look like today's religions just to trick us.


    Hmm. I can't tell you how many people I've surprised by being a Christian who actually knows stuff that's in the Bible. In fact, it would seem that some non-believers actually get pretty angry that I can answer questions about it – and *still* follow Christianity.

    Mind you, I haven't actually been to church in years, but… private faith doesn't mean abandoned faith.

    My dad became Mormon some years ago – and yes, they do indeed, study. Then, he studied the Bible and the Book of Mormon for personal interest before he became a Mormon.

    I cannot say I know as much as I should or would like to about other religions, but I do know enough to cringe whenever somene refrences "worshipping Buddha" on a TV show.

    I was also puzzled over the responses to a recent article at Huffington Post – it was about an atheist billboard in Oklahoma and included in the article was some hullabaloo about the meeting of a Satanist group in OK city. The usual crowd of predominant atheists showed up in the comments taking offense that atheism was compared to "another supernatural belief where people worship a supernatural being" …. and I was puzzled because I thought that most Satanists didn't *actually* worship Satan. I think there are some branches that do – but the majority branch is actually – a form of atheism. Something about "embracing the dark side of human nature" as philosophy and not actually believing in or worshipping anything, but borrowing "satan" symbols to frighten and piss off Christians. — I remember knowning one like this on a message board I went to years ago…. I could be mistaken about this, though.

  • Alicia

    I wouldn't describe Methodists as agnostics with picnics. Maybe your church was, but most of my home town is Catholic and most of the rest is Methodists. I've met some pretty scary, pretty militant Methodists who love to tell me all the delightful places I'm going when I die.

  • I believe that says more about the people who got the answers wrong than the people who got the answers right. My take, anyway.

    There are, certainly, Christians who are also well-educated and intelligent. From the survey statistics, however, they are a minority within their faith. Of course, you can't necessarily reach that conclusion with a correlating data from, say, a study on intelligence and levels of education within each core group.

  • withOUT I meant to say, darnit. You can't necessarily reach that conclusion withOUT corollary data.

  • This is a really fascinating result. As I said above in my response to Mr. Burns, I think it says more about Christians themselves than atheists. And of course, there are exceptions to every rule; my dad is a long-time atheist, who has no interest in studying *any* religion. He would not necessarily know more about any faith than a proponent of that faith.

    I'm a big fan of adult education when it comes to religion. I missed the confirmation process as a teen after my mom had her crisis of faith, so thirty-ish years later, I finally decided to become a confirmed Episcopalian. The confirmation process was much more meaningful and extremely educational as background on the history of the Episcopalian church and the epistomological differences between Episcopals and the Catholics as well as the other branches of Protestantism. I doubt I would have appreciated all of that information as a teenager.

  • …but borrowing “satan” symbols to frighten and piss off Christians.

    I will confess getting tickled at some believers reactions when they discover that I am a non-believer. I am not into tattoos or anything, but if I did get one, it would be a small UPC bar code of the number 666. Being a computer scientist and an atheist, it works on a number of levels. I wonder if there is a tattoo artist with the skill to make it precisely enough that I could actually scan it at the grocery store.

    Of course it would be nothing but good humor to me, but I wonder how many believers would actually freak out?

  • Argy-bargy

    Haha, or the Beast would know where to find you easily…seeing as you were marked and all.


  • 14 out of 15 for me. I almost feel smug… but I know I can do better.

  • Mike, in addition to being the daughter of an atheist, I was also married to an atheist. We were always ordering stuff from evolvefish.com and other places. One of the favorite shirts I gave him for some birthday or holiday, can't remember which: "So many Christians, so few lions." His mother hated it, which of course was the point. He was also particularly fond of his Satan fish on his car.

    Some of my Christian friends can't seem to understand why I find these things funny, but I just do. My old truck had a "Jesus, save me…from your followers" bumper sticker, and my current car has the Flying Spaghetti Monster on it. I like to mess with people a little bit.

    A UPC tat would just be hilarious. Can you picture doing a video essay on people's reactions?

  • Mindy

    Thanks for sharing this, John – it makes sense on several levels, and verifies what I figured was probably (generally) true.

    Funny – my 15 yr. old and I were discussing this very article in the car this morning on the way to school – because SHE brought it up! She has European history this year and they've just studied the Reformation, so she was quite righteously indignant that so few Protestants could identify Martin Luther and John Calvin, as SHE, my blessed non-believer, is all OVER who they are! Indignant in the way only a teen-aged girl can be.

    I guess I should be impressed that this is what she was reading on these here Interwebs, right??! The 12 yr. old pretty much slept through that conversation. She is so NOT a morning girl. 🙂

  • Argy-bargy

    John! I just saw this article and was wondering how I was going to ask you to post and/or comment on it! A scary synchronicity??

  • Shadsi, atheism simply means non belief.

    You are atheistic about all (or at least most) of the religions of human history… save one. No part of your non belief in all these other belief sets adversely affects you as a person or helps describe and inform your morals and ethics, any more than atheism in regards to the christian god translates into some kind of meaningful description beyond the clearly stated non belief. It certainly doesn't equate with satanism. Those who worship satan are not, by definition, atheists any more than you are because, although you reject almost the entire pantheon of gods like they do, you do hold some kind of belief in a supernatural agency.

    Agnostics don't know (or won't say). I think of those who presume agnosticism simply as cowardly atheists too timid to come out of the We-can-never-know-for-sure closet. They like to pretend they are intellectually honest in their uncertainty because they honestly don't know, but fail to account for the absence of good reasons to consider supernatural agency as equally likely.

  • Then you come to your beliefs honestly because you did so as an adult. I worry how many of us come with childhood baggage that is the primary engine to our current religious belief. I suspect (reading about how many of us commentators have non trivial mental health issues) that childhood religious indoctrination can come with a pretty hefty price we identify as flaws in our selves.

    Perhaps you would have benefited as a teen with a mandatory comparative religion course. Something I've noticed is that many believers never really consider that not all religions that make contrary truth claims can all be true. And this raises the question how can we know if the one we tend to favour really is closer to that goal of being true than others. A comparative religion course would help start this journey from an informed beginning.

  • DR

    I actually don't have any problems with the merits of this article, I think Christians are probably the least likely to be educated post-religious experience because for many, religion simply becomes all they need. So the point of the article is accurate.

    The issue I have is with Mike Burn's assertion. I've seen this kind of thing before. These studies generally focus on people who have already left the church, were ambivalent about it from the beginning – studied – and left. The data does *not* provide – at least what I've read – the population of people who do study, do educate themselves on the church both past and present and decide to stay. Those people are rarely interviewed. So for me, the conclusion that once people are educated simply leave is one that is obvious when one is only asking the population who has indeed, left.

  • DR

    I answered above.

  • DR

    I love this comment, so insightful.

  • I know you are trying to "enlighten" me, but I get the impression that you only glossed over what I wrote.

    I was saying that I had *heard* that most Satanists DO NOT ACTUALLY WORSHIP SATAN or any supernatural entitites – they merely take the mantle of "satanism" as an edgy thing – they like to wear and use the symbolism and basically treat it as atheism with added symbols for fun. *FROM WHAT I'VE HEARD* it's sort of like Pastafaranism – Pastafarians are atheists who like to take a ridiculous symbol to mock religion. No Pastafarian *actually* worships the Flying Spagetti Monster.

    Oh, and please refain from calling one of my very best friends a coward, hmm? I have a longtime online friend who is an agnostic. She's really more atheist/skeptic leaning, but we've talked about religion often and there are two reasons she gives for being an agnostic rather than an atheist and neither of them have anything to do with fear of religious society. Firstly, she just likes to keep "open the possiblity." She doesn't think there's a God, but she's honest enough to say that she doesn't know. (I call myself Christian, but I'll freely say "I believe" rather than "I know" because I don't *know.* No one does). Secondly… she's had too many run-ins with the rude, "everyone who isn't an atheist is below us" type of atheists and DOES NOT WANT TO BE ASSOCIATED WITH THEM. She's told someone off for callinig her "wishy washy."

  • DR

    Agreed. My agnostic/atheist friends often embody the spirit and manner of Jesus to me. What I also love about them is when they "love others", give money and time to the vulnerable, etc? They are doing it with no eternal pay off at the end. Just because it's the right thing to do. There's something very powerful and important to that.

    If it weren't for an atheist in my life telling me I was an ignorant, stubborn, self-absorbed horrible citizen and he didn't trust me at my core as a result of my belief system? I would not love what I love and be living my faith with same kind of devotion and awareness that I do today. Atheists and agnostics can be some of the most powerful teachers we have.

  • DR

    And Mike, I'm sorry for that drive by shooting of a reply. I should have challenged that after I had some coffee (that was really rude, I apologize).

  • Mindy

    tildeb, I consider myself agnostic, and not the least bit of it is based in cowardice or temerity. But thanks for that.

    I honestly *don't* know what exists beyond our understanding – but I have several good reasons to suspect that a connection (what most call God by one name or another), beyond what we can yet understand or test for, exists in this universe of ours. To insist that I have absolute knowledge that it does not would feel ridiculous and ingenuous to me.

    I think about even a century ago when so much of what we use every day and what we use in diagnostic medicine, for instance – what is invisible and cannot be touched or smelled or heard – did not yet exist. And I imagine that scholars of the time, the great intellects and doctors and scientists who were on their own cutting edge, felt like they had pretty much everything figured out. They couldn't imagine that in a few short decades we'd be able to easily view brain function, pulsing in color, on a screen, or operate on an ailing fetus then let it continue its gestation to birth. They couldn't fathom that invisible digital signals would transmit sound and pictures through the air. They had no inkling that a human being would walk on the moon, that unmanned aircraft would carry out battle missions, that we'd cook food with invisible microwaves.

    To assume that we've figured everything out at this juncture in time is a bit grandiose, don'tcha think? Human beings have long used stories and myths to explain what we don't understand, and maybe that's all religion is – but so what? That doesn't make the existence of something we still don't understand impossible. My version of God, eventually, long after I and my children and theirs are gone, may well be figured out, by science. I can imagine that it's possible. But I know, in the deepest reaches of my heart, that something well beyond our current understanding is at work behind the scenes.

    I am not a big fan of organized religion and its intersection with the body politic, but I am a fan of faith and spirituality on a private level, and I acknowledge that communities built around shared faith *can* serve society very well. As for my own beliefs, I have no proof. I have no tests of validity. I cannot falsify my theory. But I have faith that something is there.

  • Just for kicks, I looked it up on Wiki.

    Levayan Satanism:


    And a quote from the page:

    "Satanists do not believe in the supernatural, in neither God nor the Devil. To the Satanist, he is his own God. Satan is a symbol of Man living as his prideful, carnal nature dictates. The reality behind Satan is simply the dark evolutionary force of entropy that permeates all of nature and provides the drive for survival and propagation inherent in all living things. Satan is not a conscious entity to be worshipped, rather a reservoir of power inside each human to be tapped at will. Thus any concept of sacrifice is rejected as a Christian aberration—in Satanism there’s no deity to which one can sacrifice.[10] "

    Which is what I'd thought it was about. Which is kind of weird – me being a Christian and apparently knowing more about Satanism than most of the educated-about-all-religions atheists on Huffpost.

  • Matthew Tweedell


    I’m surprised by some of the claims you make that seem less than well-informed of religious philosophy. Besides the skewed understandings of Christianity and Islam, you say Buddhism isn't a religion as it doesn't have any god(s) while I keep a pendant with Tara on it hanging in my bedroom. Now you say that it's no true Satanist that doesn't recognize the supernatural, when the truth is that atheistic Satanism is most common in modern practice. And you’ve yet to give us your own definition of the supernatural by which to reject the existence (or likelihood) of such a thing, which I am more than willing to do while you’re not so willing to call yourself a theist if we define God in terms of something that you clearly seem to believe in, such as truth.

    Also, as I’ve told you before, atheism is the inverse state to theism: There are no atheist entities in a class that contains no theist ones; yet there need be no atheists for there to be theism present. Now the fig tree is not a believer, but the fig tree is not an atheist. It is rather “disbelief”, than “non-belief” that characterizes this state. (And the dictionaries agree.)

  • And yet the vast majority of the professionally curious do indeed deny believing in such religious ideas. That percentage goes up to 94.5 for evolutionary biologists. Perhaps its because religious beliefs have no means for establishing their veracity but make claims far above their pay grade that is part of the affect Mike mentions. It isn't education in the larger sense that tends to 'kill' religious belief. It's exactly the other way around: the devil really is in the details, and the more informed one is about the details, the easier it is to understand and appreciate that religious beliefs, although no doubt personally meaningful, add nothing to what is knowable and can be more easily seen to actively impede understanding and appreciating what is knowable.

    And before people blow a gasket over that claim, consider the facts: according to a 2004 Gallup poll, 81% of Americans believe in heaven, 70% in hell, 78% in angels, and 70% in the devil. A Pew survey in 2008 showed that 60% of Americans believe in a personal god (with 71% “absolutely certain” of his existence) and 63% see their preferred religious texts as “the word of God. 74% of Americans believe in life after death, as do 61% of American Hindus. 62% of American Buddhists believe in Nirvana.

    What these stats show is widespread belief not only in the absence of evidence but in contrast to it. This is an important component of why the US has fallen to #48 in global education rankings in science. These beliefs – and the reasons that attempt to justify them – have a negative affect on the welfare not only of the country today but on the ability for future generations to compete in a real world sense. It is not a small issue nor one that should be allowed to continue unabated at the behest of feel-good liberalism.

    Religious beliefs and how we inform those beliefs have real world consequences, much like the religious notion based on scripture that homosexuality is a sin and therefore wrong. It is the thinking that is at fault here (the kind that allows scripture to over-ride civil rights) and it is exactly the same thinking that directly competes with any kind of public education to instill the kind of proven epistemology that yields solid critical thinking that results in deepening knowledge accompanied by solid practical and competitive applications. In the real world, knowledge is paramount. And we are allowing anti-intellectualism and anti-science beliefs to gain traction at a time when we most need to get our educational house back in order and back on track. Your humility that drives your refusal to tackle this problem head on, Geoffrey, is entirely misplaced.

  • Mindy

    I very much agree with your point on childhood indoctrination, tildeb. When I married, my then-husband was a Catholic, and I agree to raise any potential children as Catholic in order to get married by the priest who was his lifelong father figure. Anyway, we started down that road, both girls were baptized a few weeks after arriving home, and our oldest went through First Communion. Even back then, she thought it made no sense. She never believed. She went along with it because she was a good kid, but it meant nothing to her, and I knew it, her dad knew it. By the time Lil Bit was that age, we divorcing, and we agreed that the fake Catholicism wasn't working for any of us. He is now an Episcopalian, and the girls are both SO glad that we didn't make them continue. They like learning about religion and the holidays and traditions, but they don't own it themselves. As I noted elsewhere, I am committed to supporting any religious exploring they choose to do – but I want them to be the ones to choose it. I hated imposing something even I didn't believe on my children – talk about feeling disingenuous!

    As it is, we have great conversations about religion. Their aunt worked in Kuwait for several years and has recently moved back here, so they've learned a lot about Muslim traditions from her. I think it's great. What you know, you needn't fear.

  • Mindy

    Yes. To your final paragraph, a resounding YES. I will respect religion when it respects civil rights. Until then, I will continue to fight to keep it out of the public arena. I may have my own personal faith, but I know that it is mine and only mine, and I have absolutely no right to "inflict it" upon anyone else. Aside from the fact that I am pro-science and pro-intellectualism, I am also well aware that we must, as a nation, remain vigilant to the danger of religious groupthink, regardless of which religion it is.

  • Atheists and agnostics can be some of the most powerful teachers we have.

    Amen to that.

    Being challenged on my own ideas is a fantastic way to provoke me to actually dig deeper and work out what I really believe and why. Dialogue with atheists and agnostics has done wonders for my own faith and understanding of theology.

  • It's all god DR

  • Now if only we could get those same high stats to reflect your position, Mindy, I would very happy to keep me gob shut on such matters and stop being a 'fundamental atheist'!

  • Matthew Tweedell

    I'm guessing that was a typo? where you wrote, "60% of Americans believe in a personal god (with 71% 'absolutely certain' of his existence)" 😯

  • I didn't know that. Thanks, S. I stand corrected!

  • Matthew Tweedell

    YAY! Mike Burns becomes a theist!!! (well, a pantheist, anyway) 😉

  • errata: It's all good DR.

  • And the flip-side, Tildeb, is the stunning reversal of those "professionally curious" when compared to the population as a whole. From Wiki (which links to the survey):

    Among members of the National Academy of Sciences (sometimes considered to be the world's leading scientists) 72.2% expressed disbelief and another 20% were agnostic concerning the existence of a personal god who answers prayer.

    Among those that actually look for the answers (and a considered preeminent in the world at doing so), over 70% are atheistic. Including the agnostics, that only leaves about 8% that believe in any semblance of a theistic god (i.e. biblical god) that is involved in any form with humanity.

    As I mentioned before; science education is the greatest threat to religious belief.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    See how little you would have to change to become a theist though? Just every once in a while change the word you use for certain things.

  • And you may very well be right, Mindy, but it is a stretch to suggest that what you think of as a divine agency is in fact a natural influence when there is no evidence that such an influence is there. And then to get into all the specifics about the nature of this influence and how it somehow interacts with us on a personal level is to my way of thinking beyond the pale not because personal transcendental and transformative experiences are not true but because I think we have no reason to think it accurately reflects anything out there. It reflects something biological and chemical going on in here (pointing at the head). For that there is much evidence.

    It is mostly to the majority who are certain that their religious beliefs are true that I call out. And without evidence to back up an active role of some supernatural agency, I see no reason for agnosticism. I may not know if a pink elephant will fall on me tomorrow, but I think it is silly to pretend the the possibility for and against are about equal or that I am a fundamentalist non believer if I think there is zero evidence to suggest the possibility. And the agnostic usually justifies the I-don't-know as if the chances are about even it might turn out either way without any reason for the possibility and much against it. Given that condition, agnosticism seems to me to be a cop-out to seem reasonable when it is not based on reason at all.

  • omg too funny!

  • MT, I stand corrected for my misunderstanding about satanism by Shadsie. As for Buddhism, I keep saying that it my opinion because of the definition of what constitutes a religion. Although Buddhism has elements of the supernatural, it is a very strange kind of religion that has no god and no worshiping of it.

    Whatever the supernatural may be, we can know nothing about it. But if it interacts with the universe, we can find evidence of its affect. No such evidence has yet to be found.

    I write of god as it/he is commonly assumed to be: an active agent that is of the world and yet apart from it, existing as an entity that is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, and benevolent. I do not believe such an agency exists because there is no evidence in its favour nor argument that makes such an entity necessary. And I hold no belief in it exactly the same way you hold no belief in Muk Muk of the Volcano: neither you nor I have any reason to hold any belief in the proposition. This is the default we use in every other aspect of our lives… except religion. We use this special exemption from reasonable cause for religious faith alone, and we do so because without such an intentional exemption it there is nothing left to religiously believe in.

    As for me having skewed understandings of christianity and islam, I have the privilege of assuming that such divine works of scriptural revelation mean what they say and and say what god wants them to mean without special and sophisticated interpretations.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    Well, when you ask scientists, almost all of them natural scientists, about a god who "answers prayer", what do you think you'll get? The way of thinking that has been drilled to come naturally to them would define answered prayers in terms of results with statistical significance against a control in which prayer is absent in terms of some arbitrary empirically measurable prayer objective.

  • Mindy

    Could 71% of that 60%.

  • DR

    Thanks my friend.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    "Whatever the supernatural may be, we can know nothing about it."

    Ah, but to say that you we can know nothing about is to know something about it—something very important in fact.

    "No such evidence has yet to be found."

    What makes you think not? We see an atom of U-232 decay, and have determined that the cause by which that instant of decay presents is not of the natural world. All sorts of quantum matters are, as far as we will ever be able to tell, due not to limitations in measurement capabilities but inherent in the very laws of the universe itself, "random". BUT they are only random when we are "able to tell", because the event as it exists in our space-time appears as it is, and speaking of possibilities is what we do for lack of information—"future" exists because information arrives on wave crests propagating out from, for instance, U-232 decay. The nature of causality in the universe reduces to meaningless, *except* as meaning emerges from it, phenomena of the universe called observers group phenomena of the universe and label them agents.

    "… an entity that is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, and benevolent."

    That would be "God". Your continued use of "god" (which I believe is ungrammatical without an article) misleads about the implied characteristics. Tara, for example, IS a goddess.

    But about that, haven't I explained somewhere how to understand those things? And is not Truth all of the above? Well, obviously, the benevolent part can seem a matter of opinion, but I assure you that if you assume otherwise, all you'll end up doing is reversing what should be labelled "good" and "evil".

    "We use this special exemption from reasonable cause for religious faith alone…."

    Actually, I believe I've pointed out before a couple of times where your own conceptions lack reasonable cause.

    "I have the privilege of assuming that such divine works of scriptural revelation mean what they say…."

    If you assumed that, you would believe in God, as they lay out, with sufficient clarity, all about Him that you’d need to figure it out.

  • Mindy

    I don't necessarily believe the agency is divine. I believe it is not yet understood. There is no evidence because we are not scientifically advanced enough to identify it. I call what I believe in "God" because it is something as yet unnamed.

    It is not an entity. It is . . . . connection.

  • You are right Matthew, just a simple, subtle change can toootaly change the meaning…

    i.e. Just by changing 'knowledge' to 'Knowledge' you get things that mean the opposite! 🙂

  • Matthew Tweedell

    I think you're right. I just still thought it odd that almost half of those who DON'T believe in a personal god DO believe in angels.

    Perhaps some people interpret "personal god" as a god that's just theirs personally? (or perhaps a god who tells them about his love life?)

    Thanks, Mindy.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    Interesting observation. I *have* noticed that what often is presented as Truth and Love is anything but. Stupid technicalities… so I'll still have to miss having you to argue with up on the big Blog Post in the Sky.

  • Karen

    Way to go tildeb! 13 of 15 for me :-0.

  • Karen

    So, my take on this is, the more I know about other religions, the more similarities I see. It is so much easier to be accepting of "others" because we're not so different after all.

  • Can I just say I'm enjoying the debate between the self-labeled atheists and agnostics almost as much as the debates between self-described Christians. 🙂

    And true, the students who ask the most questions are the ones who know they don't know everything and aren't ashamed to admit it. No matter what the subject.

    But (speaking from my experience as a Christian teacher in both parochial and public high schools and universities), the most engaging, memorable, and fun (as well as faith-defining and enlightening) conversations have been with self-proclaimed atheists or agnostics who pick my brain or present their own arguments.

    Hey that's true of commentary on here too

    So, another lovely post and great commentary.

  • Valarath

    "And yet the vast majority of the professionally curious do indeed deny believing in such religious ideas. That percentage goes up to 94.5 for evolutionary biologists." Until I see how this survey was conducted and how they arrive at these numbers, I simply cannot believe them. First, because they can make mistakes, as this TED talk regarding statistics suggests ( http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/peter_donnelly_… )

    The one book I can recommend to answer most of the questions, assumptions and not-cited statistics mentioned here, is Timothy Keller's "The Reason for God, Belief in an Age of Skepticism". It really answers questions very well.

    BTW, I am a M.A. going for my PhD, married to a M.Sc. going for her PhD in natural sciences, and we're both stronger than ever in our belief; actually, as someone said here, the more we study, the more we believe.


  • John! Ix-nay on the "Stephen King wrote Moby Dick" stuff! DON'T GIVE HIM ANY IDEAS!!!

  • I agree, the more a person learns about religious issues, the harder it is to swallow.

  • Great post. The more a person learns about religion, the harder it is to swallow.

    Back when I was was a young boy, my mother could have kept me a Christian longer if she had kept me out of church or if she had refused to answer my questions. The answers I received are the main factor that kept me from ever truly embracing Christianity. Vague half answers and obvious falsehoods do not make for convincing arguments. I am not a trusting person by nature and my default attitude towards people is suspicion, so no one was able to get me on board with the Bible. Although I must say I have had some fun and excitement exploring the crazy world of Stuff That People Believe.

  • Mike Burns, I just love unsubstantiated claims. The assumption here, of course, is that if one knows more stuff about more stuff, one is less likely to take the claims of any particular religion seriously, because they are, in the usual parlance, contradictory. The religious tenets of Christianity, say, and Buddhism cannot both be right, is the way this argument usually goes.

    The problems here are manifold, beginning with a simple question, usually unasked – Why can’t they both be right, since the two religious traditions are so different, they don’t even address themselves, on the whole, to the same set of existential issues, let alone offer competing, and contradictory, conclusions.

    My personal experience, for what it’s worth, is that the more I find out about all sorts of stuff – black holes and dark matter and new species and extinct species and the history of Europe and other stuff that interests me – the less any claim that “education kills religion” makes sense if one is paying attention. Learning that one can spend a lifetime learning and still not scratch the surface of all there is to learn is a humbling experience. Included in that humility is the refusal to deny the veracity, either objectively or existentially, of any set of religious beliefs.

  • The survey was done by 3,412 randomly sampled adults who were asked these and other questions in the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey. This national poll was conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life from May 19 through June 6, 2010, on landlines and cell phones, in English and Spanish.

    I will find out more information when the server is able to handle my request but PEW has a sterling reputation for data collection and analysis. In other words, this should be – if history is any indication – an accurate random sample. If so, then I’m sure you can understand the confusion your comment has caused. Oh… I see you addressed that below.

  • I discovered the same thing. There are of course some big differences in tenets of the various faith, but there is strong common ground as well. We can be joyful of our similarities using them to work together to build stronger connections and communities, and we can graciously and respectfully acknowledge the differences, knowing that our different beliefs and perspectives on faith make us unique.

    We can look at things that way, now only if we would.

  • Marie

    "It is… connection."

    Bingo. Thank you, Mindy.

    And before anyone jumps out of a bush with "Ah HAH, but connection to WHAT/WHOM?!!"

    I, too, refrain from naming. My beliefs are private and resemble no religion. I won't discuss them, save to say "my heart navigates me". They are sacred and always developing. I honor them by guarding them and I try to honor the people around me by not influencing them (or overpowering them) with "my" experience.

    But if I had to answer the "what/whom" question up there, I would be compelled to make sure no one feels left out. So I would answer with a word recognized and understood, in meaning and importance, by every creature on this planet: "HOME"

  • But the absence of causal evidence doesn't stop people from claiming that prayer works, MT. The "thinking that has been drilled into them" is the only way to determine the veracity of this vacuous truth claim… and it is vacuous. Prayer as a variable does not cause effect. And that is in direct contrast to the many scriptural references that it does.

    And what's with the qualifier 'natural' when it comes to scientists? Is there a breed of investigators we can call 'unnatural' scientists? Is there some method of inquiry that can still be called science that that examines the non natural (whatever that might mean?)

    You point is that asking scientists to determine the efficacy of prayer will not yield efficacy, not because of the absence of causal evidence but, because of some very particular kind of thinking that is inappropriate for the job. That's just a case on your part of special pleading… to exempt these kinds of religious claims from having to substantiate their veracity.

  • Ace

    "As I mentioned before; science education is the greatest threat to religious belief."

    Hmmmm… I'm not convinced. While I know my athiest and agnostic friends in school were more apt to choose science majors in their studies, I also knew folks (such as myself) who took degrees in science fields (BS in Geology myself, for example) and still hold religious beliefs.

    I do think a solid science education may well be the greatest threat to young-Earth creationism and other similar stuff, but as the entirety of human religious belief as a whole? Bit of a stretch.

    Chicken and egg problem. And that whole "Correlation does not equal causation" thing pops up again.

  • Ace

    Yea, I actually knew of one satanist in college, through a couple mutual acquantances. Apparently he lived by the single solitary commandment of "Do As Thou Wilt" as he put it.

    And boy did he ever. Cheating, stealing, lying, whatever. And he was quite proud of "not being a sheep" and "not brainwashed" and all those other things (of course he belonged to a fraternity, so I'm not so sure about the veracity of either of those claims).

    I wasn't surprised when he ended up getting arrested for drugging a girl at a party and raping her either. I don't recall if the charge stuck or if he got off because I quit talking that whole group of people by then but generally his philosophy was to do whatever the hell he wanted, when he wanted.

    I'm not sure I would call that "relgion" satanism though. More like toddlerism.

  • The reason why this survey is important is because it reveals the old canard that atheists are generally ignorant about religions and religious beliefs. Although many are quite happy to keep promoting this false idea because it allows people to disregard and reject legitimate criticism on the basis that the person who does not believe must do so out of ignorance, this survey shows what happens to our assumptions and assertions when we bother to actually find out if they are true: our beliefs are neither a reliable nor dependable means for finding out what is true.

  • Toddlerism! That's very funny, Ace, and so apt.

  • This sense of connection, Mindy, is very real and powerful. I'm not trying to reduce or dismiss that feeling whatsoever.

    But there is pretty good evidence that its causation is brain-based, meaning that we need to be more careful about attributing its cause to something out there, something that has no evidence to support its existence, something that our science can't yet determine, and so on.

    If your inquiry really is to understand the cause(s) of the experience, then we need to follow the evidence even if it disturbs our sense of self, our sense of god. And that is not an easy nor trivial undertaking.

  • MT, I'm not going to go into a detailed dissection of your comments because this isn't the place for it.

    But I do want to say that when we start any investigation by first assuming that we begin with the correct answers is not an honest inquiry. It is a garrison mentality that justifies looking for whatever seems to defend our answers best and grabbing hold of whatever appears to do so while rejecting what does not, of skipping from point to point grabbing and discarding as we go without ever following where the evidence actually leads us. That's what I see you doing, and I find it discouraging not because we disagree but because there is nothing I can offer that will be meaningful to you if it does not already agree with your preconceived answers. And the truth of this assertion lies entirely with you for your own consideration: what would it take for you to change your mind about your beliefs?

    Without any answer to that, there is no dialogue, no discourse, no discussion; there is only attack and defend. You see your beliefs as a matter of Truth; I see our disagreements as finding out what is probably true, probably accurate, probably correct. And I can be wrong, I freely admit, and I can be taught. That's the great thing about commenting. I may not like it, but it does me good.

    Because we have such different goals with these exchanges, it is little wonder that it too soon breaks down into conflict. And I don't think it's interesting for others to read.

  • Ace

    "Toddlerism" is in fact the philosophy a great bulk of the human species does in fact follow anyway. Most just aren't as willing to admit it and own up to it as this guy was.

    I recall sitting a few seats away from him in the dining hall while he explained to some others sitting at his table that, while being raised Jewish, he considered himself, by virtue of being the single greatest guiding factor and influence in his own life, to be God. He was his own God. Which is not really that different from how a lot of folks live their lives (whatever higher power they do or don't espouse), but few have the balls to admit it to themselves, much less publicly.

    He was one of those people it's hard not to find instantly repulsive, but even now, his blunt honesty is something I have to grudgingly admire.

  • Mindy

    Bing, bing, bing! EXACTLY, Karen. That is the key.

  • Mindy

    I get that, Ace. The honesty was . . . good? At least he didn't hide his many vices or justify them in some absurdly circular way – but wow. Wouldn't a whole world of HIM be interesting?? Something about leaving out the whole idea of the impact your actions have on others is quite scary. Glad to hear he got arrested – let's hope it stuck.

    I do like toddlerism. And it's cute when a two year old believes everything he can see belongs to him. Not so cute when an adult behaves the same way!

  • Mindy

    Agreed, tildeb. I'm talking about connections across continents. I'm talking about many events that, individually, can be written off as coincidence but taken together provide a pretty powerful argument for "something bigger."

    And the thing is, before all of these things happened, I really had no sense of god – I was much more an atheist-leaning agnostic. These things brought home to me that I shouldn't dismiss the possibility.

  • Mindy

    may I just say – high five, tildeb.

    We may not agree on everything, but this – oh yeah.

  • Mindy

    I just took the quiz so I could see all the questions. Surprised myself and got 100% right. I've always been a good test taker, but those were pretty straight-forward questions. Interesting.

  • Tim

    I appreciate your full disclosure, Mike. I have to agree that too little time is spent in Christian education examining the various claims that Christianity was a rip-off of older debunked pagan religions. I've heard a story or two about Christian students who had finally been exposed to those claims at the university level and were devastated. Largely because the curriculum presented those claims as fact.

    Now I'm certainly no theologian. Simply an armchair apologist. However, in over 2000 years of time, those damning refutations have remained in their sheath…not because of the time it would consume to vet those claims, but because so much history fails to bear out the validity of those claims. For instance there were no historically factual comparisons between Mithraic and Christian traditions until the 2nd century when a comment by Justin Martyr accused Roman Mithraists of aping the rites of Christian communion. IOW, any similarities between Roman Mithraic tradition and Christianity were simultaneous. The only factual vestige of Mithraism predating Christianity, was the deity's name.

  • Tim

    I always cringe at the, "God said it, I believe it, that settles it!" people. What about Paul's admonition of being like a Berean? One can't call it belief if one doesn't know what they believe. Sheeesh!

  • If the possibility is to be taken seriously – and I see no reason why it shouldn't – then we have to have some means to 'connect'. And that means we're back to studying the brain – a biological mechanism that can be investigated for this connection and afford us evidence of its effects using the methodology of science. Again, if we are to know about something that has effect in the natural world, then critical examination of the claim should be possible using an epistemology that reliably works.

    I'm not saying that we can arrive at any definitive answer any time soon because our knowledge of the brain as you know is still in its infancy. But I am saying that whatever answers may exist of this possibility, it will come to us through science and the knowledge it creates and not through the unknowable beliefs of theology.

  • Tim

    What kid WANTS to go to church? My son doesn't want to go to school either. I am a believer and my ex-wife who used to be, abandoned church when she divorced me. Her excuse…"I'm tired of doing what's right". At least she is honest about it.

    On the weekends I have my kids, I expect them to attend church regardless of whether or not they believe in God or Jesus. When they are adults, they can choose whether or not they want God in their lives. I tell them that the worldview they get from television, video games, movies, and their peers, defames and rejects my faith as worthless or even bad. While I admit the church isn't perfect, I want them to have exposure to what I see as good. Building housing for displaced children in Sudan and Uganda. Sending Christmas presents to children all over the world. Collecting clothes, food, and blankets for the homeless. Visiting the dying in hospitals and AIDS hospice. Buying a weeks worth of groceries for any family that can't stretch their budget to the end of the month. Trying every week to convince people that in spite of the state of their affairs, or the condition of man's inhumanity to man, Jesus came to say that we can be free from that condition. He loves us and is with us, and He wants to change the world one person at a time from the inside out….if we'll let Him.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    "And that is in direct contrast to the many scriptural references that it does."

    Prayer works just as Scripture informs, Tildeb. It does not reveal any causal mechanism however nor does it claim any statistical advantage in non-local material causation within any set timeframe over, let's say, just sitting round watching a flock of sheep, for example.

    I'm somewhat surprised you didn't know this, but natural sciences are generally understood not to include social/behavioral sciences and the formal sciences—for example, political science and science of language. I don't know what you mean by "non-natural", but those sciences are not typically understood as studying nature as their object.

    And no—what you say is my point or my pleading is not that—I'm simply saying that prayer doesn't work like that. That's not what prayer is all about, nor could it be and yet allow that we might exist.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    "That’s what I see you doing, and I find it discouraging not because we disagree but because there is nothing I can offer that will be meaningful to you if it does not already agree with your preconceived answers."

    Bullshit. You've always been the one found to have unwarranted assumptions.

    "what would it take for you to change your mind about your beliefs?"

    I've said these before: either the definitions would have to change or the universe would have to turn out to be as it fairly obviously is not. I have learned what things mean, leaned how the world is—the empirical evidence so gathered and my ability to intuit from it conclusions and "reasons" inform my beliefs, which faith in turn empowers the hopes that I have, which drive love, without which my "life" could not be really life, in the sense that we as humans know it.

    "You see your beliefs as a matter of Truth; I see our disagreements as finding out what is probably true, probably accurate, probably correct. And I can be wrong, I freely admit, and I can be taught."

    I have reminded repeatedly that I'm quite aware in general of the uncertainties in what I think or say. I do not say things with such unqualified certainty as you where I'm so mistaken as you have been on occasion (such as now when you think you view the world so much different).

    "Because we have such different goals with these exchanges, it is little wonder that it too soon breaks down into conflict."

    What are your goals? The only goal I discern from this is for you to be right without really having to engage any possibility to the contrary.

  • I've never met a bad catholic I didn't like!

    My brother returned a year ago from spending six months working in Sudan for the UN with R&R in Kenya. Talk about an eye-opener and we have, in great detail. He's still trying to wrap his head around how people can justify their treatment of other people – even family members – in such ways. He just keeps using the word 'foreign' to express how different are the ways of others elsewhere.

    We tend to see the expressions of religious beliefs here in the west as a fairly benign social activity, with these theological differences between people as relatively subtle and relatively an individual concern. When one leaves the safe confines afforded to us by our secular governments based on laws informed by enlightenment values, it is a shock to the system to go places where children are killed by religious congregations because it is believed by family members that the child has been possessed by demons and the rest of the congregation is okay with that.

    When one sees genocide carried out with such a strong sense of community by people who share a brotherhood of faith and justify their actions based very much on these same religious differences we find here, one can't help but view religious beliefs with a jaundiced eye no matter where it is found.

    When one hears comfortable people suggesting that such differences are actually trivial and that all religions seem to share a common core and all equally worthy of respect, then it's very hard to line that up with how these differences play out in an atrocious toll of human suffering elsewhere.

    My brother has lost more than his innocence; he has lost his ability to trust religious belief to be a force for good or that a sense of community through shared religious beliefs is worth the risk. All he knows is that religious belief has its own is currency, one that can easily be divorced from the values of goodness and benevolence that we may mistakenly assume are inherent in it. Something more is needed to safeguard the social body from religious belief staying benign within it rather than becoming malignant. Recognizing that both are possible from the same source is a really important understanding regardless if one is a believer or non believer.

  • Lisbeth

    Mindy, where did you find the quiz? I'd be interested in taking it too.

  • Mindy

    I agree . . . I think. 🙂

    Without delving into the specifics of "how I see it," if you will, I believe in something outside us human forms. But yes, the connections would ultimately reside within the brain, I suppose, so your comment makes sense.

    I am soooo not a scientist, yet I find brain research utterly fascinating.

  • Mindy

    Actually, Tim, my kids enjoyed the exercise of going to church – or at least they didn't hate it. Mostly for the donuts, I think, but ….

    I get what you are saying. And I didn't have a problem with it then because our parish priest at the time was a phenomenal man. He was a great speaker and storyteller, and his homilies always used Bible passages to relate to real life in a modern, meaningful way. He embodied the Christian spirit and thus the parish was very inclusive – so much so that when our new Archbishop arrived on the scene, he was banished to a tiny, elderly parish in the suburbs. They put him through hell. Had he remained in our parish, I might still be going there!

    Anyway, all of those "good works" are absolutely necessary for kids. But there are other ways to do that, ya know. My kids and I traveled internationally with a secular foundation to work in orphanages, their school collected goods for a women and children's shelter and then we delivered them, carried in a truckload of goods and organized the items, etc. They still remember a teen mother and her baby who came to our house once a week for dinner through a Mentoring Moms program I did. They "helped" her with the baby, and we did our best to model healthy family life for her. We volunteer for lots of things, and do it through schools and community organizations – as well as religious ones.

  • Mindy

    Here's a link to it, Lisbeth – a friend had it on her Facebook page.


  • Mindy

    Well, I'm a big fan of toddlers, but I do get that it is much easier to enjoy your own than other people's!

    Except that you can give other people's kids back to them. Your own, you gotta keep, even when they are being especially toddlerish. ;->

  • Matthew Tweedell

    So true. That is exactly why God made atheists and why being a good whatever-religious-term-you-describe-yourself-by is not possible without a healthy dose of agnosticism!

  • Sometimes I consider myself a goddess when I'm writing original fiction. And I can be quite the cruel goddess. But that's really different because I don't consider myself an actual deity – and even with the writing it is more of a feeling of being a conduit for the universe and/or working out my own issues by creating a world.

    I've heard it said that "There is nothing more pure or cruel than a child."

    I worked at a zoo once – just the petting zoo keeper. One of the head keepers snuck me into the small mammal house when they had a baby white tiger on display to play with the baby tiger after hours. Even small – what strength! He was trained not to bite "No biting!" – tap on the nose and to keep his claws in, but I came home with such scratches on me! He was about the size of an average toddler but with twice the strength – rubbing on my legs nearly knocking me over. Yeah, an adult tiger punting you would leave you dead – even without biting and claws – with strength alone.

    I work around horses now – and yeah, I let the barn cats jump into my lap sometimes, but I wouldn't let a horse.

  • Well the characteristics such as miracles and messianic claims have been well vetted. I think it is less a matter of not knowing about about other claimed messiahs and more a matter of educating today's population about them. It is the believers' responsibility to justify why Appolonius' raising the dead was hogwash while Jesus' doing the same was the real deal.

    Here is a clip from a National Geographic program called Rivals of Jesus.

    You can watch [what looks like] the entire thing here:

  • Ace

    Mindy – I don't mind other people's kids. Specifically, I don't mind them BECAUSE I can pass them back to Mom & Dad when they start acting up. They're cute and fun for a while though. 😛

    Shadsie – Yea, cats are like that. Big, little, doesn't matter, they're all little sadists. It's a good thing they are cute and fluffy. 😛

  • Sorry, Ace, but I just HAVE to jump in this for a second…

    You write [Toddlers are] utterly self-centered (and, arguably, at least historically necessary for survival) but empathy and reciprocity is something that children have to develop and learn […]


    This is not true but you will not be the last to say the same thing. It just seems to be true even when it's not.

    Without question, even infants exhibit empathy. By the time they are mobile, children not only exhibit empathy but also reciprocity and sympathy. When feeling secure, toddlers will consistently offer their active help even to strangers.

    This notion that children are selfish and self-centered creatures is simply not true. But it's not true because I say so; there are many such studies that reveal this to be the case. And what is revealed is that (at least with infant studies) empathy and reciprocity seems to be innate and not learned.

    Now back to regular scheduling…

  • Lisbeth

    Thanks Mindy! Well, I took it and missed two of the questions and I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about different religions and denominations. It was very straight forward though. Thanks for the link! By the way, I always enjoy your insightful comments.

  • Ace

    Tildeb – LINKS PLZ.

    I haven't seen those studies.

  • Ace

    (Though if it's true, it makes people like That Guy even scarier, if being a selfish b*st*rd is a decision, rather than innate)

  • For me, this is an old argument, stale. Part of the problem, for me, is the reliance on surveys to "prove" something. Instead, talk to all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds and find out about their experiences. Some people had horrid religious experiences, but that isn't the fault of the system of belief, but the fallible people who distorted the tenets of the faith to fit some preconceived ideas about what the religion taught.

    Talk to others, and discover they are perfectly at peace accepting stuff various sciences tell us about the way the world is (as best we can understand it at the moment) and also believing in God, the saving power of the crucified and risen Christ, and all sorts of other things.

    Part of my problem with this entire subject is that too often people who yell "science!" have no idea what science really is. When they say, for instance, that someone rising from the dead in the manner Jesus is said to have done violates nature or natural law, I want to know if that person really understands what those words mean.

    Finally, the notion that our world would be better off in some manner fashion or form without religious belief of any kind might be fine for someone, or even a group, to hold. Yet, as a colleague of Richard Dawkins said in response to Dawkins insistence on this point, that's fairy tale thinking. Human religions are multiple, not singular. Systems of belief run the gamut from detailed to generalized statements about human conduct. Some are polytheist, others monotheist, still others non-theistic. Far too much of our own time is wasted talking about "religion" as if it were a singular phenomenon.

    I do not care if an individual is an atheist or not. Fine with me. What I do care about a great deal is when someone who professes to be an atheist, and insists this is "the only response" to our current scientific way of understanding the world, displays monumental ignorance on a great number of topics, all the while claiming we religious folks are a bunch of ignoramuses.

  • Tim

    I'm aware of the Appolonius' comparison to Jesus. I wouldn't call his miracles hogwash. Specious, maybe. I would only justify my belief in the miracles of Jesus because of the nine different documented accounts (seven of which were eyewitnesses) of Jesus' miracles, plus an additional 27 books written within 40 years of Jesus' death.

    As far as I know, Appolonius of Tyana has no reliably dated documentation other than Philostratus' who wrote about Appolonius roughly 120 years after the philosopher's death. There were claims that Philostratus possessed the diary of an acolyte under Appolonius, but apparently no other documentation or corroboration can verify that.

    Thanks for the links. I've been meaning to ask, how does one embed links or youtube html into a reply?

  • I got 100 percent – though on the very last question, I guessed.

    I think that the people who tend to be the most knoweldgeable about religion are those that are interested in it. If you are interested in something, you study, you do your homework. Most Americans are content to say "Hey, I believe in God" or to have someone tell them they're going to Heaven and not even think about anything it entails.

    Atheists, on the other hand… seem to act like they need to "know their enemy" and will study for that reason.

    And then there are people who do take up serious nerdly religious study (like me) and, to the surprise of some, actually stay religious.

    It pretty mucy boils down to "is this a serious interest of yours either way?" And most Americans – just aren't that serious about it.

  • I will reply here because it's so much closer to the LINKS PLZ you asked for:

    Try here, a good article here, and a less lengthy but equally interesting article here. Most of these is about morality exhibited by babies through behaviour and preferences.

    As I said, many, many studies. Morality is a hot topic these days and there was good talk about it by several big name researchers over at Edge lately (Paul Bloom's presentation here.)

  • Ace, I posted a response but because it has four links it's held up in moderation. I'm sure it will appear once John has a moment to clear it.

  • Ace

    “Not so cute when an adult behaves the same way!”

    I kind of see it the same way it’s not a big deal if my 10-lb cat decides to playfully pounce on me when my back is turned, but if a 400-lb tiger did the same (even playfully), I’d be cat food. There’s no real difference between my cat and a tiger except for the scale destruction of which they are capable (which is why I think only an idiot would try to keep a tiger as a pet, though some people do try!)

    Same goes for people.

    Though frankly, the borderline-sociopathic behavior that toddlers naturally display isn’t really cute to me at all (probably one of the reasons I don’t have kids frankly).

    It’s perfectly natural at that age and stage of brain development to be utterly self-centered (and, arguably, at least historically necessary for survival) but empathy and reciprocity is something that children have to develop and learn, or, well, we’d end up with a whole world of that guy. And there are too many of that guy in this world already…

  • Thanks for the link, Mindy!

    Now that I've actually seen the questions, this whole story takes on a completely different light. (15/15, incidentally).

    What this survey doesn't show is whether Christians understand what they believe. When the article says that "In fact, the gaps in knowledge among some of the faithful may give new meaning to the term 'blind faith'", it is grossly misleading. Nothing in this survey relates to the core articles of faith of Christianity.

    These are all pretty much general knowledge questions – the two political legislature questions don't even really have anything to do with religion. As such, it's no surprise that when the results are sliced purely according to education level, independent of religious affiliation, we see that the education of the respondents is by far the most reliable indicator of score.

    There is a faulty connection being made in the article. The headline should read:

    "Want to know the answers to general knowledge questions? Ask someone with a high level of education."

    Of course, they wouldn't sell so many newspapers with that spin…

  • The site is here.

  • @Sentinal

    "The headline should read: 'Want to know the answers to general knowledge questions? Ask someone with a high level of education.' "

    Dunno if you realize the implication of your statement, Sentinal! It's not flattering to believers…and is really no different than the thrust of the original title.

  • 14/15 (guessed on the last one)

  • I think you're jumping to a conclusion here, Sentinel: the actual survey is here but I think your comments are referring more to the internet quiz itself.

    You seem to also miss the two main points worthy of consideration from the actual survey: those who do not believe in god do not do so out of theological ignorance compared to the theological ignorance of the general believer (US), and those who are certain there is god (69%) and almost certain (17%) are no more theologically 'educated' than those who do not believe in god (6%) or who are uncertain (6%) if they do or don't. Although there is a correlation between higher levels of education and less certainty in religious beliefs (as there is on basic reading levels), the more obvious correlation is that the more certain one is about one's religious beliefs, the lower the level of education.

    Your headline could just as easily read Religious certainty indicates higher levels of ignorance in general theological knowledge.. Might that spin sell more newspapers?

  • I guessed (wrong) on that last one, too.

  • Your repeated references to "theological ignorance" underscore my point precisely, though: there is no theological knowledge which is being tested here.

    These questions are not concerned with "theological general knowledge". They're general knowledge questions with a religious slant. There's a massive difference between the two.

    And it makes the opening line hugely misleading when it talks about "knowing about God" (ie., theology) rather than "knowing bits of trivia about various religions".

  • See MB's comment above at 5:44 am September 30.

  • That doesn't sound flattering, but…

    I have to wonder about how much people put on formal education. What about people who self-educate?

    My parents were blue-collar and couldn't afford to send me to the schools I wanted to go to. I wound up going to community college to study graphic design – that's it, just graphic design, nothing fancy or scholarly, and it still hasn't gotten me very far in life because of a crippling condition I have.

    But I read, dangit. I was always the "smarty pants" kid in school because instead of just reading what was assigned to me, I was a nerd who read *at home, on my own.* My favorite television was always PBS… I like Discovery Channel, Travel Channel… when I watch TV… (I watch a lot of foreign animation stuff rather than regular TV all the time).

    I think I'm more educated than a lot of people who could afford to go to "real school" even though I muck a barn for a living because I just happen to read a lot and educate myself. But it's nothing I can hang on a wall, nothing people of the world actually *respect.*

    I bet there are many, many like me.

  • Mindy

    No doubt, Shadsie. No doubt. You want to LEARN. You are driven to take in information, think about it, consider it and let it inform the decisions and choices you make. Let it shape how you treat others and who you are.

    Some people prefer to be spoon-fed information, prefer it to be in line with what they already think they know or believe, and then give it little thought until it is called into question – at which time they loudly parrot what they've been told. They don't engage in critical thinking.

    Active listening and critical thinking are two skills that it seems have been left by the wayside in too much of American education. That really needs to be turned around. [understatement of the year, perhaps?]

  • I thought the question on transubstantiation was almost a trick question.

    The Catholics believe that the bread and wine actually become the body and the blood. Most other Christian churches do not. Baptists, for instance, believe that it is a *symbol* and nothing more – in a Baptist church, you aren't actually drinking blood and eating flesh, but wine and bread that are symbolic. (Also, in my old church, the wine was grape juice because the Baptists are very against alcohol).

    My father tells me that Mormons replace water for the wine for similar reasons.

    The general "I believe in God!" Or "We're this denomination though we aren't involved becuase my parents say so," American who isn't going to know these things, and even churchgoers might think everyone does it like their own church. And, I think even churgoing Catholics might be confused on the details of the transubstantiation thing because it's an odd litlte doctrine that's not quite as central as the "Jesus died for our sins and was ressurected" thing.

  • I can tell you straight up that my high school was not that great. I was the one of the few kids in art class who actually wanted to learn about and do art while most took it as an "easy grade" and would sit around talking about illegal desert keg parties.

    My senior English class – I opted to take the "regular" class because I was at a crossroads of not knowing exactly what I wanted to do in life when said class had been divided into the "class for the people who wanted to go to college" and the "class for the people we've given up on." _ SERIOUSLY. I was certainly advanced enough for the college class but opted for the lower class because I hadn't made any definite decision on where I wanted to go and *knew* my family *could not AFFORD* university (so I saw no reason for taking an advanced class if I was going to have to go through the community college system, anyway). In the lower class, we read John Grisham because it's "supermarket shelf stuff that is likely the only thing these kids are going to read." *rolls eyes.* My teacher, for her part, *knew* that I didn't belong in that class, and was only there because I was poor and troubled.

    But, yeah, just shows I went to a high school that had pretty much "given up" on a large portion of its students in a blatant way… and can still outplay most people on "Jeparody."

    I clean up horse poo for a part-time/partial living …. and I can tell you what "transubstantiation" and "apocastais" mean.

    (And this is why I get very, VERY angry when people dismiss books of history and myth because they were "written by goatherds." Workers of simple, dirty jobs are some of the wisest people I've known). Lowly does *not* equal stupid.

  • @Shadsie

    (And this is why I get very, VERY angry when people dismiss books of history and myth because they were “written by goatherds.” Workers of simple, dirty jobs are some of the wisest people I’ve known). Lowly does *not* equal stupid.

    If we are talking about holy books; I do not dismiss books of history and myth because they were "written by goatherds". I dismiss them because everyone of the era was profoundly ignorant. (though if we, as a species, are here in 2000 years, the same will be said about us). They didn't know why people got ill. They didn't know why people got well. They didn't know why the sun moved across the sky. They didn't know why sometimes they experienced drought or floods. They knew comparatively nothing about the world and lacked any way of possibly knowing much of it. Their only recourse to explain the unknown was via gods.

    Indeed; I would speculate that the goatheard who spent their day observing the weather and seasons and livestock probably had a better understanding of the natural world than many of their contemporaries.

    And don't forget…ignorant does not equal stupid. The former is fixable, the latter is not.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    @Mike Burns

    "They didn’t know why people got ill. They didn’t know why people got well. They didn’t know why the sun moved across the sky. They didn’t know why sometimes they experienced drought or floods. […] Their only recourse to explain the unknown was via gods."

    Has anything much changed really?

    I suppose you can now tell us why the sun moves across the sky? Because the earth rotates, you can now say. And of course this it does as a result of how it formed, but the thing is, there's still no reason ultimately that is HAS to.

    I suppose you think you can tell us why people get ill. But viruses, bacteria, and so forth are just the corporal substances, which may be present with, or even without, an illness; in and among them exists the spirit that causes signs to appear and that spreads in the taint of uncleanliness. The name "influenza" still refers to the "influence" of a certain evil spirit that can be shown to spread through reSPIRation. Yet with many illnesses, even with all modern knowledge and technology, you just can't say exactly what their formal/material causes are.

    But people have always had more than the physical matter of causation in mind when asking the question of why anyway, and to that your up-to-date answer (unless you've got a legal case to build against somewhat) can be no more satisfactory than that of an ancient goatherd.

    In fact, it seems that what you speak of as "why", is really just a matter of "how". And having a really technical explanation of the inner workings of a TV, remote, and satellite feed is not nearly as helpful most of time as simply understanding, "press here to turn it on and here to change the channel".

  • Matthew Tweedell

    *somewhat –> someone

  • Matthew Tweedell

    (and yes, I'm well aware that the influenzing spirit was that of the cold, but it was still necessary to distinguish it from that which *is* the common cold.)

  • FORMAL education, unfortunately, only goes to those who can AFFORD it. Until some great leveling force makes it available to *all* who want it, it will always go to the rich (and to those willing to stay in debt all their lives).

    Practice classism on me and I'll hit you with my manure-rake.

    Just because I believe in God doesn't mean that I am stupid or ignorant of everything. I really don't have much more of a lay-person's knowledge of science – mostly because my passion is more in the arts and because my brain shuts down when confronted with mathematics – not good at math. Reading, language, history – I ace, math, not so much.

    Just because I'm a Christian doesn't mean I don't like science, though, or evolution. ENS makes… a lot of sense to me. The stuff I know about nature and animals, both wild and domestic make it make sense. I actually wonder why the idea didn't catch on before Darwin – it seems so "duh!" But, unlike the more Fundamentalist of my brothers and sisters, I obviously am friendly toward more symbolic interpretations of certain parts of the Bible – (which may make me not a "real" Christian in some peoples' eyes).

    All in all, I just get a little fed up with atheists who think they *automatically* know more than I do about *everything* or are just plain smarter than I am by the *single* virtue of lack of belief in God. The sterotype of the "stupid Christian" doesn't hold water – not with *all* of us…. just as the sterotype of the "smart atheist" – I've met some rock dumb ones in my life.

    If you are willing to pay for me to further my education, perhaps do some world travel, I'd take it up.

  • @Shadsie

    Practice classism on me and I’ll hit you with my manure-rake.

    Pull up on those reigns there Shadsie. My point was simply that, of course, one can educate themselves…it's just not easy. My formal education is in engineering and computer science, but I am pretty much self-taught in areas of cosmology, geology, biology, religion and more. It is not easy and it can take a long time. (I started out in community college too. )

    Let's not pretend that a formal education is not something desirable. You feel slighted by not getting a formal education…because you know a formal education is a good thing. To my mind, the greatest benefit is forcing you to study things you don't want to…that's called well rounded. It is unfortunate that not everyone can get the education they desire. Hopefully Obama will make good on his plan to make a secondary education free for the taking to those that want it. Of course a formal education is, on the whole, better than self-education. If it weren't, we wouldn't have formal education.

    All I am saying is that it is important that a self-educator push themselves in some unpleasant directions and recognize the innate biases in every person. It's easy to study things that you enjoy or find affirming. It is quite another thing to muscle through the unpleasant and challenging.

  • @ MB

    Shadsie is very sensitive to atheist criticism. She (assuming she's a she) ordered me not to respond to anything she wrote, but then relented over time when she understood my intentions a little better (I presume…?!). I'm sure come to the same conclusion about you when you write as eloquently and to the point as you do. As for free higher education? If so many people get this hot over universal health care when its in their best interest, I sincerely doubt universal education has any shot whatsoever.


    I just wanted to mention that university education (at least north of the border) isn't so much about learning detailed information (although it is that) as it is first understanding and second appreciating the benefits of criticism. And this can appear very much – how did you phrase it? – like 'classism'. That has the kind of negative connotation that value is determined by accident of birth, and I wanted to clarify why this isn't so.

    What university teaches is that criticism is the value people bring to one's ideas and opinions and conclusions. Being presented with (perhaps and hopefully) better reasons and/or better information than one has put forth is a net benefit even if it involves changing one's mind… sometimes completely. And that's okay. In fact , it is highly desirable in the discipline of forming opinions.

    Without going through the process of living, working, and breathing in a highly critical university environment (and I mean that intellectually where almost everything personally believed is wide open to debate by very smart, well informed, and articulate students as well as faculty) it is unlikely that a person will automatically look for value from criticism if this experience is lacking. It is perfectly natural to assume that if someone is criticizing an idea one cherishes, then one will feel attacked and take it personally. It takes a while to understand that ideas for many university educated people are like the bubbles of dialogue in comics that can be poked and prodded and sometimes burst by people who appreciate finding out what's true over and above what's believed. In other words, criticizing ideas is not meant to be personal. Yet that criticism can appear as very insensitive and mean-spirited when two people do not share the goal of determining what is true through criticism. Sometimes it is intended to be mean and dismissive, as I know you've discovered on other sites, but sometimes it isn't. And that's how I view the intentions of most people on John's site: people who exchange ideas and opinions they think will benefit others even if it appears argumentative and nit-picking.

    I find Mike's comments to always be worth reading for me because he offers the value of his criticism in this spirit of discerning what's true… and in far fewer words than I use – a skill I never mastered in my university programs!

  • Of course a person can educate themselves, but a ‘formal education’ does offer the advantage of condensing a broad range of materials into one syllabus and can expose a student to things they might not seek out or stumble across themselves.

    I think the only intellectually mature position is to continually seek knowledge. Read/study the things that support and refute what you think you [think you] already know. It is not easy to know when you have a comprehensive understanding of a topic. One example is evolution by natural selection (ENS). It is amazing to see how some deride the theory when they are stupifyingly ignorant of just what ENS is, what it says, and what the evidence is. …all the while thinking they know what the hell they are talking about.

    Of course one can educate themselves, but one does not necessarily have a way to know what they do not know.

  • Some of my statements there were general – the hyperbole was just that – nothing meant to be taken personally or as an attack.

    I realized what I'd written was a bit harsh-sounding in a way I didn't really mean / that what I was getting at would have come across better in voice than in text, but, I kinda went "Meh, I've got things to do. They're probably smart enough to see what I'm getting at " and left it alone.

    I certainly did not mean anything as a personal attack, and I apologize if it came across as such.

  • Mike, I'm intrigued.

    Since you seem so keen on promoting an atheist worldview, and you're convinced that learning about religion tends to lead the student to atheism, would you be in favour of widespread religious education in schools?

    I'm mean, of course it wouldn't work on everyone, but if it converted a majority that would be a start, surely?

  • What Mindy said…

    As I said here:

    This would only supply basic, objective history and fundamental tenets. No truth claims would/could be promoted nor could any religion be defamed…it's 'just the facts ma'am'.

    Also; I am not "keen on promoting an atheist worldview". I am keen on promoting critical thinking and education. I think it is unfair to children to be told something is true, to believe it on nothing but authority, to seldom/never be exposed to contradictory ideas and to be derided for questioning the validity of their religious inculcation.

    Give children the information and let them decide for themselves when they are old enough.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    Facts… are Truth, guys.

  • I am talking 'truth' with a small 't'…meaning objective, actual truth, not subjective beliefs.

  • Sentinel isn't the least bit intrigued, MB: he's just baiting you.

    In the same way many people imagine 'radical homosexual agenda', so too does Sentinel imagine a 'radical atheist agenda.'

  • Matthew Tweedell

    I think you're confused: It's the absolute that is capitalized.

    But still, I think it's self-contradictory to speak of teaching such as not to promote any "objective, actual truth" claims.

  • Mindy

    Widespread religious education and comparative religious studies are two completely different animals, Sentinel.

    Religious education is what one receives in a parochial or other private religious school – the beliefs of one particular religion are assumed True and incorporated into the class material in a variety of ways, services are attended, etc. In my city, we have a very strong parochial system, as well as many private Christian schools – Lutheran, Baptist, etc. We also have quite a few Jewish schools as well.

    Comparative religious studies, on the other hand, assumes no Truth *or* falsehoods, but rather defines the belief systems, holy books, prophets and gods of different religions, examines the history of each, etc.

    It is a hugely different framework of education.

  • Mike,

    It sounds like you're advocating only a very superficial coverage of religion. Of course, by teaching the "fundamental tenets" you'd already be going far beyond that is covered in this Pew survey, so that would be a good start. But it still sounds like you're suggesting a curriculum that would result in… how can I put this… a low level of education.

    But according to your thesis, a low level of education seems to promote religious beliefs.

    If religions are all delusional and unfounded and lacking in truth, surely the more a student learns about them the better? Wouldn't that be the surest way to innoculate a student against religious beliefs? (And yes, I know the school hours are limited, but come on – this is important!)

    Shine that light of knowledge and learnign into the very heart of the religion. Examine every corner of it.

    Unless, of course, you're scared that you'll find something of absolute, transcendant objective Truth inside.

  • tildeb,

    While I'm grateful for your attempts to clarify what I write, putting words into my mouth doesn't actually help.

  • Unfortunately 'truth' has been co-opted by the religious and given another meaning entirely with 'Truth' (and 'Knowledge'). If a word can be sodomized, the 'Truth' is the sodomized version of 'truth'. I am not so arrogant that I would ever capitalize 'truth'.

  • This is compulsory education for primary schoolers…not a graduate degree in religious history … and the first amendment has something to say about how it is presented.

    …and, no, I am never afraid to learn any new truth ('Truth' is bulls**t self-delusion)…that is how I arrived at my current position. I am always happy to be shown that I am wrong. On matters of God, I have been looking actively for years and come up with bupkis. …but I do have a long list of really crappy arguments!

    So, in less than 200 words, what would your syllabus look like?

  • Boy! Talk about bad sentence structure…

    I have been looking for years and have only heard a long list of really crappy arguments. Seeking 'truth' is how I arrived at my position.

  • N Waff

    Perhaps atheists know religions like people know trivial pursuit.

    My example is atheist Brian Flemming and his film, The God Who Wasn't There. After redefining Bible passages, at the end of the film, he goes into this childhood church and points to the different pews where he sat and got "saved" this year, then was sitting there and was "saved" that year and "saved" again over there.

    The Bible teaches that the "born again" or "saved" event happens once. For him to say what he did demonstrated that he doesn't understand the Bible. He presents himself as someone who knows it, can critique it and tear it apart, but his own film demonstrates that he really doesn't.

    And that's a reflection of his knowledge in the rest of his film.

  • From Dan Dennett in response to the Pew study:

    Atheists tend to be those curious and truth-loving folks who do take a good hard look at religious professions of faith, and hence they tend to know what they are walking away from.

    Many of those who have thought long and hard about religions – and hence know the answers – don’t actually believe the doctrines that they rightly identify as belonging to the church they are affiliated with.

    They know, for instance, what a good Catholic is “required to profess” as Pope Benedict (when he was Cardinal Ratzinger) often said, and so, if they are Catholics, they profess it. But they find that they cannot actually believe it. Many people maintain their loyalty as vigorous members of their denominations while quietly setting aside the dogmas, either utterly ignored as irrelevant or wreathed in protective layers of metaphor.

    The Pew study also reveals why atheist critiques of religious doctrines are largely a waste of effort: Few people believe them in any case; they just say they do.

    Don't assume for a moment, NWaff, that most atheists don't believe because they don't understand; if anything, atheists know all too well the theologies they dismiss. Although you will always be able to find examples of those whose knowledge is 'wrong' according to various religious sophisticates and simpletons, the evidence to support arguments for belief in some supernatural agency falls squarely on the shoulders of believers. Without that evidence, non belief of atheists is the same default position we take for all other extraordinary claims we come across in the rest of our lives.

    The faulty argument you are putting forth here is called the Courtier's Reply. The results from the Pew study reveals it's an argument as hollow as the wings of unicorns.

  • This reply was intended to be in reply to N Waff.

  • And yet, Sentinel, you seem to assume that what you know about atheism is informed. Why don't you pop over to Aa href="http://allthingswildlyconsidered.blogspot.com/2010/09/atheist-quiz.html">All Things Wildly Considered and see how you do?

  • The should read All things Wildly Considered. My brain, these buttons, all too much sometimes.

  • Soulmentor

    I think I might be in the agnostic category. Being gay forced me to actually THINK about religion and do a lot of my own personal study and introspection. As a result, I got all but one answer correct on that survey. It was about the transubstantiation of the Catholic eucharist that tripped me up. I had known the right answer for 40 years but I had just read something about it, only glancing at a lead paragraph and read it wrong. But for that I would have gotten 100%.

    I doubt my evangelical sister who fears for my soul would do half as well.

  • On the matter of of Comparative Religious Studies; PBS is presently running [what is turning out to be] and excellent, 6-hour series called God in America. This is a joint production by Frontline and The American Experience. I am half way into it at present, but it is turning out to be a pretty even-handed summary of the origins and historical roles of religion in the United States. You can watch it in its entirety at http://www.pbs.org/godinamerica/view/ . You might be able to DVR it is your local PBS station is re-running it.

    It is, obviously, a pretty serious investment in time…but a proper education does not usually mean fast and easy.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    Perhaps I’m now ready to advocate a different manner of defining the world, but, as for Muk Muk of the Volcano, I simply don’t have to deal with any followers of him in my everyday life. It still seems to me that since we do have to interact with elements strongly entrenched of Christian culture, it would be a good idea to try to understand what on earth Christianity is talking about. For instance, we might understand that the true worship is willingly and lovingly to live and to act in accordance with the will of the Almighty. So when you speak of a strange kind of religion with no worshipping, perhaps you speak of a strange kind of worshipping that, when singularly constituting one’s practice of religion, makes religion wholly superficial! However, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with giving meditative ritual a prominent place in the contemplative life. Allowing that ritual to be unquestionably determined by or to represent submission to any sort of religious authority, however, is quite un-contemplative indeed!