31 December 2009


A Gallup poll released on Christmas Eve seems to agree with studies done by the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) and reported in previous posts:


Gallup reports increases since 2000 in those who have no religious preference (from 8 to 13%), that religion is not important in people's lives (from 10 to 19%), and that religion is out of date (from 20 to 29%).
When given the choice of Protestant (or Other non-Catholic Christian), Catholic, None, or Other, approximately 22% describe their religious preference as "Other" or "None." In 1948, that figure was only 2%.
About 78% of Americans still describe themselves as Christian, down from 91% in 1948.
In the late 1990s approximately 68% of Americans thought religion had answers to the world's problems. That has decreased to 57%. More people are seeing religion in a negative light.

You can find more information, along with graphs HERE.
Gallup concludes:

The United States remains a dominantly Christian nation. Almost 8 out of 10 Americans identify with a Christian religion. And the vast majority of those who identify with any religion identify with one that is Christian.

Yet, the percentage of Americans who in theory could celebrate Christmas this week as a specific component of their religious faith is down significantly from where it was 50 or 60 years ago. The most important reason for this shift is straightforward: there has been an increasing percentage of Americans who say they have no specific religious identity.

The fact that fewer Americans say they have a religious identity does not necessarily mean there has been a decrease in overall religiosity in America. It is possible that some proportion of those who don't identify with a specific religion are still personally or spiritually religious.

Although a little more than one out of five Americans do not identify with a Christian faith, the Christmas season has ramifications for a broader segment of society. A Gallup survey conducted last year showed that 93% of all American adults said they celebrated Christmas.

26 December 2009


Near Vail, Colorado the Eagle River Presbyterian Church has an annual tradition of creating a live nativity scene, but two smart donkeys ran off before they were set to play their roles. The borrowed donkeys had been placed in a pen on Wednesday night, but the animals escaped.
Footprints in the snow led a church member and a sheriff's deputy to an area near railroad tracks where the donkeys were found to be fine.

I wonder if those donkeys planned to hop a train to escape their fate of standing in a cold hut for hours, being stared at by strangers, and pretending to worship the son of an imaginary god.

(Source: Vail Daily http://www.vaildaily.com)

25 December 2009


(Click on image for larger view.)



(All green text has been summarized from the transcript of a speech by Barry A. Kosmin as reported in Freethought Today, December 2009. Black text contains my own comments about this subject.)

In 1960 Catholic candidate John Kennedy was obligated to make a speech to assure Protestant leaders that he would not allow his religion to interfere with his decisions as president. In a 180 degree turnaround, since the 70s it has become almost obligatory for our presidential candidates to assure people they will use their strong religious beliefs to help them govern.
With the rise of the Religious Right, it had seemed that a renewed era of faith and religion had been going on for decades.

As reported in an earlier post, statistics don’t support that impression. According to sociologist Barry A. Kosmin in his 2008 Summary Report of the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) secularity is gradually rising while religion is slowly eroding in this country.
The 1990s saw a “secular boom” with the nonreligious increasing by about 1 million per year. By 2008 those identifying themselves as Christian dropped from 86 to 76%. Today, half of American households do not belong to a religious congregation. On an average Sunday 73% do not go to church, and 30% do not believe in a personal God. When asked directly, “What is your religion, if any?” those who responded “None” rose from 8 to 15% from 1990 to 2008 and this group is increasingby about 750,000 per year.
Sociologists use the 3B’s - belonging, belief, and behavior ---to ascertain levels of religiosity.

I like the idea of using the 3B’s to determine religiosity. I know, and I’m sure most of you do, too, people who say they believe in God but don’t attend church or exhibit religious behaviors. On the other hand, I know people who don’t believe, but who belong to a congregation for business, community or family reasons. I worked for a born-again couple who were believers, but who violated nearly every Commandment on a daily basis. They lied, gouged their customers, cheated on taxes ---and each other. I quit that job because those Christians exhibited behaviors that were not ethical enough for this atheist. Then of course are terrorists, particularly Muslim terroists, believers whose behaviors ---such as flying planes into buildings, killing thousands of innocent people ---would not be considered “religious” by most.

By using the 3B’s, sociologists have determined that the average American has become much less religious since 1990. This tendancy has affected the economy, law, education, and the family. The Religious Right has failed to make much of an impact on the law or on public opinion in its efforts to stem the rise of secularity.
In many areas, Sunday blue laws have been elimintaed, gambling has been legalized, abortion, contraception and pornogrpahy are available, homosexuality has been decriminalized, mandated prayer and Bible reading are banned in public schools, civil unions or same-sex marriage has been legalized, more than ever heterosexual couples are choosing to live together and have children outside of marriage. Religious leaders spoke out against these changes, with little impact.
The reason it seemed that religion was gaining ground when it was not, was because the most religiously active people began identifying themselves with conservative politics which resulted in a political influence in the Republican Party that could not be ignored by the media. It also resulted in “culture wars” that seemed to divide us politically more than ever.

Remember that the sqeaky wheel gets the oil, and we had a lot of squeakers out there: Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Ted Haggard, Oral Roberts, James Dobson, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, George W. Bush, all pushing the agenda of the Religious Right. These people kept themselves in the news and seemed like they were more influential and had more followers than was the reality.

In a 2006 report by Gruber & Hungerman, following the elimination of Sunday blue laws, church no longer holds a monopoly on Sunday activities. Church attendance falls by about 5%, 15% of those who regularly attended church attend less frequently, church donations fall by 13% (about $109 per person/year.) Spending by religious groups falls by 6.3%.

Yet, many still consider Sunday to be like a holiday reserved for religion and family. I worked for a company who paid 35% more to those who worked on Sunday. I always volunteered to work Sunday shifts because they were less hectic than weekdays or Saturdays, yet I was paid more because some people didn’t want to work on their Sabbath. Those who volunteered to work on religious holidays earned 2.5 times their regular pay.

While the number of Catholics dropped from 50 to 33% and the number of main-stream or liberal Protestants also dropped in the past two decades, many Christians have chosen to attend non-denominational mega-churches. A full 33% of those who identify themselves as Christian, say they are born-again or evangelical.
But the long-term effect of the Religious Right was a reaction against its judgmentalism, especially among women and young adults.

With the number of evangelicals rising at the same time “nones” are increasing, no wonder the people of this country are so divided on nearly every social issue.

Some think that the rise in religions other than Christianity in the U.S. has caused the percentage of Christians to drop, but surprisingly, all of the non-Chrisitan religious groups add up to less than 4% of the total population ---that includes all Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, and other fringe religions combined. The largest religious group among Asians is “nones” ---27%. Hispanics without a religious affiliation outnumber Latino pentacostals 4 to 1. Scholars often surmise that immigrants are attracted to this country because of its freedom of religion, but fail to take into account that many --- such as those seekiing to escape Muslim fundamentalism, persecution, and violence ---choose to come here because of its freedom from religion.
Besides the decrease in belonging to a relgious congregation and a decrease in religious behaviors, levels of belief have fallen, too. Fewer Americans believe in an inerrant Bible, fewer have confidence in religious leaders, and fewer tolerate religious involvement in public policy.
The 2008 report found 70% still believe in a personal God, but a full 12% believe in a deist-style higher power, 12% consider themselves agnostic, and 2% atheists. However, specific theological questions reveal greater numbers of atheists and agnostics than self-identifying questions.
Confidence in religious organizations dropped from 32 to 20%. Those who strongly agreed that religious leaders should not try to influence government increased from 22% in 1991 to 31% in 1998.
Several studies on religion and their publicly-reported findings have generated more interest in atheism, irreligion, and secularism ---more books, blogs, discussions, debates. And, of course, that has resulted in counterattacks against freethinkers.
Kosmin concluded his presentatioin with these words. “Nevertheless, I believe the evidence shows that the Zeitgeist*, if not the Force, is with the ‘nones.’ Secularization in America has occurred, is occurring and will continue to occur as the authority of religion and clergy erodes in our society.”

* Zeitgeist (from German Zeit-time and Geist- spirit) is "the spirit of the times" and/or "the spirit of the age." Zeitgeist is the general cultural, intellectual, ethical, spiritual, and/or political climate within a nation or even specific groups, along with the general ambience, morals, and sociocultural direction or mood of an era (similar to the English word mainstream or trend).

See my earlier post which summarizes this information.

Find interactive graphs on this study here.

23 December 2009


by Robert G. Ingersoll*

originally published in
The Arena, Boston
December 1897

(I originally posted this in December 2008, but it is worth reading each year. Enjoy!)

If I had the power to produce exactly what I want for next Christmas, I would have all the kings and emperors resign and allow the people to govern themselves.

I would have all the nobility crop their titles and give their lands back to the people. I would have the Pope throw away his tiara, take off his sacred vestments, and admit that he is not acting for God -- is not infallible -- but is just an ordinary Italian.** I would have all the cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests and clergymen admit that they know nothing about theology, nothing about hell or heaven, nothing about the destiny of the human race, nothing about devils or ghosts, gods or angels. I would have them tell all their "flocks" to think for themselves, to be manly men and womanly women, and to do all in their power to increase the sum of human happiness.

I would have all the professors in colleges, all the teachers in schools of every kind, including those in Sunday schools, agree that they would teach only what they know, that they would not palm off guesses as demonstrated truths.

I would like to see all the politicians changed to statesmen, -- to men who long to make their country great and free, -- to men who care more for public good than private gain -- men who long to be of use.

I would like to see all the editors of papers and magazines agree to print the truth and nothing but the truth, to avoid all slander and misrepresentation, and to let the private affairs of the people alone.

I would like to see drunkenness and prohibition both abolished.

I would like to see corporal punishment done away with in every home, in every school, in every asylum, reformatory, and prison. Cruelty hardens and degrades, kindness reforms and ennobles.

I would like to see the millionaires unite and form a trust for the public good.

I would like to see a fair division of profits between capital and labor, so that the toiler could save enough to mingle a little June with the December of his life.

I would like to see an international court established in which to settle disputes between nations, so that armies could be disbanded and the great navies allowed to rust and rot in perfect peace.

I would like to see the whole world free -- free from injustice -- free from superstition.

This will do for next Christmas. The following Christmas, I may want more.

*Robert G. Ingersoll (1833-1899) was an abolitionist, lawyer, Civil War veteran, political leader and orator, noted for his defense of agnosticism, freethought, and humanism. He spoke on a vast number of subjects including Shakespeare, Reconstruction, religion, slavery, and woman's suffrage. During a time when oratory was public entertainment, he recited his speeches, sometimes more than three hours long, from memory. Despite being referred to as "The Great Infidel," he attracted huge numbers of people willing to pay $1 or more ---a large sum at that time ---to his lectures.
**In 1897 when this was written, the pope was Italian, as had been nearly all previous popes.

18 December 2009


"Inca Sun" copyright 2009 by C Woods

The Winter Solstice is drawing near, a time when we celebrate the sun and the day on which long nights will begin to gradually grow shorter.

Robert G. Ingersoll, an agnostic, was celebrated as a talented orator who attracted large crowds on his lecture tours. He was sometimes referred to as "The Great Infidel." Please enjoy the following which was written by Ingersoll in 1892.

AGAIN we celebrate the victory of Light over Darkness, of the God of day over the hosts of night. Again Samson is victorious over Delilah, and Hercules triumphs once more over Omphale. In the embrace of Isis, Osiris rises from the dead, and the scowling Typhon is defeated once more. Again Apollo, with unerring aim, with his arrow from the quiver of light, destroys the serpent of shadow. This is the festival of Thor, of Baldur and of Prometheus. Again Buddha by a miracle escapes from the tyrant of Madura, Zoroaster foils the King, Bacchus laughs at the rage of Cadmus, and Chrishna eludes the tyrant.

This is the festival of the sun-god, and as such let its observance be universal.

This is the great day of the first religion, the mother of all religions — the worship of the sun.

Sun worship is not only the first, but the most natural and most reasonable of all. And not only the most natural and the most reasonable, but by far the most poetic, the most beautiful. The sun is the god of benefits, of growth, of life, of warmth, of happiness, of joy. The sun is the all-seeing, the all-pitying, the all-loving.
This bright God knew no hatred, no malice, never sought for revenge.
All evil qualities were in the breast of the God of darkness, of shadow, of night. And so I say again, this is the festival of Light. This is the anniversary of the triumph of the Sun over the hosts of Darkness.

Let us all hope for the triumph of Light — of Right and Reason — for the victory of Fact over Falsehood, of Science over Superstition. And so hoping, let us celebrate the venerable festival of the Sun.

15 December 2009


This is a milestone: my 100th post.

One evening in the 1990's when I visited my mother, the TV news presented a segment about the current flurry of priests accused of sexual abuse.
My mother, who was in her 80's at the time, had always been embarrassed to talk about sex, but she suddenly opened up. She told me something I already knew, that Catholic clergy were not the only ones who were sexual predators.
I knew that most sexual abuse perpetrated by clergy was with adult women. Next came heterosexual abuse of girls. The Catholic church has been the one to receive most of the attention in sexual abuse cases, and I wouldn't doubt that is ---at least in part --- because most of the abuse has been homosexual. When it is heterosexual, I'm sure many don't consider the abuse to be quite as bad. But any child abuse is abuse. Sexual abuse is sexual abuse whether it be homosexual, heterosexual, with adults or children.
My mother had been a Christian of some Protestant sect or other her entire life. She started by telling me that in the 1960's at her current Presbyterian church, the teenaged daughter of her friend, Mrs. M., had been wooed by the married minister in charge of Christian education. The daughter was not a particularly savvy girl, which probably made her the perfect prey.
At first the minister paid extra attention to her. Her parents were pleased that he had taken the girl under his wing. Her parents were unaware when the attention had escalated to kissing and fondling. They found out it had progressed to intercourse after Mrs. M. asked her daughter about a ring she wore one day.
The girl finally admitted that the minister had given her the ring with a promise to leave his wife and marry her. She had just turned 16.
It took just a few minutes for Mrs. M. to be on the phone with the head pastor and several church deacons.
When it all came to light, unsurprisingly the minister had been asked to leave his previous parish for similar behaviors. And, in a flash, he was transferred to another church where he probably repeated his preadatory behaviors.
Any church that ignores such behavior, or slaps the offenders on theirs wrists and passes them on to other churches, shares in the abuse.

Then my mother told me a story of her own experiences with a predatory minister.
My mother's parents were deeply involved in their local church. My grandfather was the church treasurer and my grandmother taught Sunday school, helped to clean the church, and cooked for every church social event. They were good friends with Reverend X. and his wife and often visited at each others' homes.
My grandparents often asked one of their children to walk to the church to deliver bookkeeping sheets or cookies for a meeting. My mother told me that starting around the time she was 12, when she arrived alone, the minister would grab her and kiss her. At first she didn't understand what he was trying to do, but she squirmed away from him. Afterward, she tried to convince one of her sisters to accompany her to the church or else she would try to sneak in and out without Reverend X. noticing her. She was not always successful.
My mother was a sickly child and very shy. She was also small and frail. I'm sure the minister saw her as an easy victim.
My mother was afraid to tell her parents, after all they were friends of the minister and his wife. She was afraid no one would believe her. And she feared that if the incidents became public, she would be blamed for breaking up the minister's family. So she said nothing. This went on for more than 12 years and stopped only when she married my father, moved to a different neighborhood, and attended a different church.
Once, before she was married, she exited a bus on a dark evening on the way home from work. Walking to her home, she found a girl sitting on concrete steps crying. My mother didn't know the girl well, but stopped to ask if she could help. The girl was reluctant to speak to my mother, but finally admitted that Reverend X. had exposed himself to her. My mother told her about her own experiences. They both decided not to tell anyone else.
And that was the only person my mother had confided in until she told me her story more than 6 decades later. She had never told my father.
(Even though the creepy minister is long dead, I write "Reverend X" instead of his real name because some of his children and/or grandchildren are still living. There is no point in embarrassing them about something that happened so long ago and that they had no part in.)

The reason I am writing about this now, is that I recently happened upon a box of old books I hadn't looked at since my mother's death.
In one book I found this hand-written inscription:

"My mother's full name

May the grace of God aid you in the search for better things.

Your friend and pastor,
Xxxxxxx X. Xxxxx

April 10, 1927"
I hope my mother found better things than this creep once she was able to distance herself from him.
I wouldn't doubt that a part of my mother's revulsion of speaking about sex was because of the era in which she grew up, but I'm sure some of it was due to the behaviors of this sexual predator. He certainly betrayed the trust of two young girls and probably many more of his parishioners, as well as that of his own family.
In my attempt to show that being religious
is not a guarantee of moral behavior,
this post is part of a series of reports featuring
the bad behavior of religious people, past or present....

Look for other posts showing the bad behavior
perpetrated by members of other religious groups.

05 November 2009

PAULA KIRBY - former Christian

Paula Kirby, a resident of Scotland, is a former Christian, a writer, consultant, and project manager, specializing in freethinking and secular organizations. Her columns appear in the Washington Post. They are well-written and thought provoking.

Click on this link for her archived articles: Paula Kirby Archive

04 November 2009

MUSLIMS BEHAVING BADLY #1 - Stoning a 13-year-old

In my attempt to show that being religious
is not a guarantee of moral behavior,
this post is part of a series of reports featuring
the bad behavior of religious people, past or present....

Look for other posts showing the bad behavior
perpetrated by members of other religious groups.
According to Amnesty International, 13-year-old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was stoned to death by 50 men in front of 1000 spectators 10/27/09. She was accused of committing adultery when she attempted to report that she had been raped by three men.
The men were not arrested.

David Coperman of Amnesty International said: “This was not justice, nor was it an execution. This child suffered a horrendous death at the behest of the armed opposition groups who currently control Kismayo... This killing is yet another human rights abuse committed by the combatants to the conflict in Somalia, and again demonstrates the importance of international action to investigate and document such abuses, through an International Commission of Inquiry.”
According to In the News (UK), women are more likely to be stoned to death because of their unequal treatment before the law and courts. A woman's testimony is worth half that of a man and the age of criminal responsibility is lower, making Iranian women especially vulnerable to conviction.
"Stoning people to death is an inhumane punishment, specifically designed to increase the suffering of the victim," Amnesty International UK's director Kate Allen said.

31 October 2009

CHRISTIANS BEHAVING BADLY #13 -Demonic Tricks or Treats?

In my attempt to show that being religious
is not a guarantee of moral behavior,
this post is part of a series of reports featuring
the bad behavior of religious people, past or present....

Look for other posts showing the bad behavior
perpetrated by members of other religious groups.

That crazy purveyor of doom, Pat Robertson, and his Christian Broadcasting Network, have done it again. Now CBN has decided that demons have infested Halloween candy. Yep, according to the CBN website, demons sneak into bags of Halloween candy at grocery stores.

According to Kimberly Daniels of CBN, Halloween is a gateway to hell.
“[M]ost of the candy sold during this season has been dedicated and prayed over by witches... Curses are sent through the tricks and treats of the innocent whether they get it by going door to door or by purchasing it from the local grocery store. The demons cannot tell the difference.... Halloween is much more than a holiday filled with fun and tricks or treats. It is a time for the gathering of evil that masquerades behind the fictitious characters of Dracula, werewolves, mummies and witches on brooms. The truth is that these demons that have been presented as scary cartoons actually exist. I have prayed for witches who are addicted to drinking blood and howling at the moon.”
Mmmmm? First she calls Dracula, werewolves, mummies, and witches "fictitious characters," then says "these demons that have been presented as scary cartoons actually exist." Fictitious or real? Which is it, Kimberly?

I have a few suggestions for those who believe demons may be in their Halloween treats.

First, try some old religious tricks.

1) Apparently a crucifix can stop a vampire. A few little demons in a bag of M&Ms ought to be easily eliminated with a few passes of one.

2) Genuflect over the candy. If you can't remember in what order you make the sign of the cross, take a hint from the film "Nuns on the Run": "Spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch." Hey, if it helps a basketball player to make a foul shot, why not try it on your candy.

3) Perhaps a prayer might help. If you think it can save someone's life, then a prayer certainly ought to save you from Halloween demons.

4) Jews have rabbis at food processing plants to assure the food is kosher. Churches could assign local ministers and priests to processing plants or grocery stores to bless the candy, thus certifying it to be demon-free?

5) Take your candy to church on Sunday. When no one is looking, sprinkle a little holy water on the wrappers.

6) Cut those candy bars into cross shapes. Throw out anything that is not part of the cross ---because it will indeed be wicked. Eating the cross should not hurt you.

But the very best way to rid your candy of those pesky demons is to find a more powerful god. If your god is so impotent that he can't throw the devil out of candy meant for innocent children, let alone preventing it from being contaminated to begin with, it's time to search for a bigger and better supreme being.

Now, if you still believe there are demons in your Halloween candy, I have a bridge you might want to buy.....

If you have a creative suggestion for ridding your candy of demons, please leave a comment.

(with the exception of the quotation from Kimberly Daniels)
text and image copyright 2009, C. Woods

30 October 2009


Reason, according to my dictionary is "the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments by the process of logic; that which is practical, or possible; common sense."
If we all have the ability to reason, then why do so many people believe what is illogical or makes no common sense at all? Why do they believe in things without evidence?

In my opinion, it is just wishful thinking. One wishes that crystals and pyramids have healing powers. One hopes there is an afterlife. One would like it if one's personality conforms to an astrological sign. One hopes prayer will make a difference. But wishing doesn't make it so. People who believe such superstitions are apparently BEYOND ALL REASON.

There is no scientific evidence that any of these things are true. Not one problem, be it medical, scientific, political, or social, has been resolved by mere hope or faith. We need to reason out problems, develop solutions, experiment to see what works, then work long and hard to resolve problems.

* * * * *

ABBEY, EDWARD, American writer, controversial environmentalist (1927-1989):
• "Reason has seldom failed us because it has seldom been tried."

ALLEN, ETHAN, American Revolutionary (1738-1789):
• "Those who invalidate reason ought seriously to consider whether they argue against reason or without reason; if with reason, then they establish the principle that they are laboring to dethrone: but if they argue without reason (which, in order to be consistant with themselves they must do), they are out of reach of rational conviction, nor do they deserve a rational argument. (Reason the Only Oracle of Man, 1784)

• "The idea of God implies the abdication of human reason and justice; it is the most decisive negation of human liberty, and necessarily ends in the enslavement of mankind, both in theory and in practice." (God and State, 1871)

• "Phony pretexts repeated often enough become real reasons. Things that...are not true become true in the public mind simply through endless repetition."

BUDDHA, spiritual leader(c. 563 BC - 483 BC):
• "Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it."

BURROUGHS, JOHN, American naturalist, author (1837-1921):
• “Our civilization is founded upon reason and science.”

DARROW, CLARENCE SEWARD, American criminal lawyer (1857-1938):
• “Anybody who can believe those old myths and fables isn’t governed by reason.”

• "The time has come for people of reason to say: Enough is Enough! Religious faith discourages independent thought, it's divisive and it's dangerous."

• "A great error is more easily propagated, than a great truth, because it is easier to believe, than to reason, and because people prefer the marvels of romances to the simplicity of history." (1794)

• "He who will not reason is a bigot; he who cannot is a fool; and he who dares not, is a slave."

EDISON, THOMAS, American inventor (1847-1931):
• “To those searching for truth -- not the truth of dogma and darkness but the truth brought by reason, search, examination, and inquiry, discipline is required. For faith, as well intentioned as it may be, must be built on facts, not fiction -- faith in fiction is a damnable false hope.”

FRANKLIN, BENJAMIN, American statesman, scientist, author (1706-1790):
• “I hope....that mankind will at length, as they call themselves responsible creatures, have the reason and sense enough to settle their differences without cutting throats...”
• "The way to see by Faith is to shut the eye of Reason." (Poor Richard, 1758)

• "I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use."

HARRIS, SAM, American non-fiction writer (1967- ):
• "Religion gives people bad reasons to be good, where good reasons are actually available."
• "There is no society in history that has ever suffered because its population became too reasonable — too reluctant to embrace dogma, too demanding of evidence."

HECHT, JENNIFER MICHAEL, American poet, philosopher, author (1965- ):
• "A reasonable scale of probability--what is likely--forbids believing a whole range of imaginative possibilities, even though we do not know anything for sure."

HITCHENS, CHRISTOPHER, British-American author, (1949- )
• "Faith is the surrender of the mind, it's the surrender of reason, it's the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other animals. It's our need to believe and to surrender our skepticism and our reason, our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something. That is the sinister thing to me. ... Out of all the virtues, all the supposed virtues, faith must be the most overrated."
• "Gullibility and credulity are considered undesirable qualities in every department of human life — except religion.... Why are we praised by godly men for surrendering our “godly gift” of reason when we cross their mental thresholds?" (“The Lord and the Intellectuals,” Harper’s July 1982)
• "Religion is poison because it asks us to give up our most precious faculty, which is that of reason, and to believe things without evidence. It then asks us to respect this, which it calls faith."

• "Ignorance worships mystery; reason explains it; the one grovels, the other soars." ("Humbolt" speech)
• "Take from the church the miraculous, the supernatural, the unreasonable the impossible, the unknowable, and the absurd, and nothing but a vacuum remains... Religion has not civilized man — man has civilized religion." ("The Ghosts" speech)
• "The notion that faith in Christ is to be rewarded by an eternity of bliss, while a dependence upon reason, observation and experience merits everlasting pain, is too absurd for refutation, and can be relieved only by that unhappy mixture of insanity and ignorance, called 'faith.'"

JEFFERSON, THOMAS, 3rd U.S. President, founder of the University of Virginia (1743-1826):
• “Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion." (to Peter Carr, 8/10/1787)
• “Man once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without rudder, is the sport of every wind.” (to James Smith, 1822)
• "Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear."
• [The spirit of truth] is “that frame of mind by which men who acknowledge their own fallibility, and who desire above all things to discover what is true, should adjudicate between conflicting arguments.... Reason, reason alone, should determine their opinions.”(A History of Rationalism, 1900)

• "Have courage to use your own reason! - that is the motto of enlightenment."

LOCKE, JOHN, English philosopher (1632-1704):
• "Every religion, as far as reason will help them, makes use of it gladly - and where it fails them, they cry out: "It is a matter of faith, and above reason!"

• "Reason is the greatest enemy of faith...."
• "Reason must be deluded, blinded, and destroyed. Faith must trample underfoot all reason, sense, and understanding, and whatever it sees must be put out of sight...."
• "Reason should be destroyed in all Christians."

• "Religion has ever been anti-human, anti-woman, anti-life, anti-peace, anti-reason and anti-science. The god idea has been detrimental not only to humankind but to the earth. It is time now for reason, education and science to take over." (Speech, 1990)

PAINE, THOMAS, English-born American patriot (1737-1809):
• “The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is reason. I have never used any other, and trust I never shall.” (The Age of Reason)
• "Reasoning with one who has abandoned reason is like giving medicine to a dead man."
• "When men, from custom or fashion or any worldly motive, profess or pretend to believe what they do not believe, nor can give any reason for believing,... being no longer honest to their own minds they feel no moral difficulty in being unjust to others."
"The Age of Reason [by Thomas Paine] was
responsible for making more people into infidels
than any other book except the Bible."
—Gordon Stein
PAGELS, HEINZ, American physicist (1939-1988):
• "I like to browse in occult bookshops if for no other reason than to refresh my commitment to science." (The Dreams of Reason)

RABAN, JONATHAN, Britsh writer (b. 1942):
• “Arguing with people’s supernatural delusions is a losing game. But ideas are different. Ideas are negotiable: one can expose their false premises, concede their partial truth, disentangle their conclusions, rob them of their magic by force of sweet reason.” (“Our Secret Sharers”, My Holy War, 2006)

RUSSELL, BERTRAND, English mathematician, author, Nobel Prize winner (1872-1970):
• “If you think that your belief is based upon reason, you will support it by argument, rather then by persecution, and will abandon it if the argument goes against you. But if your belief is based on faith, you will realize that argument is useless and will therefore result to force either in the form of persecution or by stunting and distorting the minds of the young in what is called education.”
• “Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.” (Is There a God?)
• "My conclusion is that there is no reason to believe any of the dogmas of traditional theology and, further, that there is no reason to wish that they were true. Man, in so far as he is not subject to natural forces, is free to work out his own destiny. The responsibility is his, and so is the opportunity." (Is There a God?)
• "Religion is something left over from the infancy of our intelligence, it will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines." (attributed)

SMITH, GEORGE H., American author and educator (1949- )
• "I am arguing that faith as such, faith as an alleged method of acquiring knowledge, is totally invalid and as a consequence, all propositions of faith, because they lack rational demonstration, must conflict with reason." (Atheism: The Case Against God)
• "Just as Christianity must destroy reason before it can introduce faith, so it must destroy happiness before it can introduce salvation." (Atheism: The Case Against God)
• "Reason is not one tool of thought among many, it is the entire toolbox. To advocate that reason be discarded in some circumstances is to advocate that thinking be discarded — which leaves one in the position of attempting to do a job after throwing away the required instrument." (Atheism: The Case Against God)

• "I call him free who is led solely by reason."

STEPHEN, SIR LESLIE, British author (1932-1904):
• "The division between faith and reason is a half-measure, till it is frankly admitted that faith has to do with fiction, and reason with fact." (Essays on Freethinking and Plainspeaking)

SWIFT, JONATHAN, British author/theologian (1667-1745):
• "It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of what he was never reasoned into."

• "What I conclude is that religion has nothing to do with experience or reason but with deep and irrational needs." ("WIll Secularism Survive?" Free Inquiry)

TWAIN, MARK, American author, journalist, humorist (1835-1910):
• “Many...people have the reasoning faculty, but no one uses it in religious matters.”

VOLTAIRE, FRANÇOIS MARIE AROUET de, French author, philosopher (1694-1778):
• “The truths of religion are never so well understood as by those who have lost their power of reasoning.”
• "You will notice that in all disputes between Christians since the birth of the Church, Rome has always favored the doctrine which most completely subjugated the human mind and annihilated reason."

WASHINGTON, GEORGE, 1st U.S. President, commander-in-chief Continental Forces (1732-1799):
• “We have abundant reason to rejoice that in this Land the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition..."

This post is not complete. I future-dated it to give myself time to complete it, but life interfered. By the time I got back to it, it had already posted, so everyone might as well enjoy it in its unfinished state. I will be adding more quotations and additional biographical info in the future, so check back again.

28 September 2009

HOMESCHOOLING - Is it dividing us?

Because I used to work in the field of education someone asked me, a few days ago, what I thought of homeschooling.
My first reaction is that I am against it. However, it's not a simple question, nor is the answer simple.
I decided to read up on homeschooling. When I searched for books that were critiques of homeschooling on Amazon, I found very few, but I found dozens of books to help the homeschooler and many critiquing public schools. I also searched online to find some pro and con arguments for and against home schooling. I also found lots of websites telling home schoolers how to silence their critics.
I found that there are many reasons people choose to homeschool their children. There are, of course, the ultra-religious who don't want their children mixing with people of different faiths, who want to shelter their children from learning about evolution or other worldly matters. There are also people who want to give their children the opportunity to pursue their own interests and give them quality one-on-one attention. These two opposite ends of the homeschool spectrum want to either keep their children from thinking for themselves or encourage them to think for themselves.
As long as parents can show they are qualified to teach their children, or if they can hire someone to tutor subjects with which they are not qualified or comfortable, I believe they have the right to school their own children. I also believe they have the right to send their children to private (including religious) schools if they wish, as long as tax-payer money isn't being used to support the schools in any way.
Unfortunately tax payer money is used to support religious schools. Depending on the state, tax payers may pay for school buses to private/religious schools, school nurses, books, and other supplies that supposedly do not involve religious teachings. In my experience, nearly everything is taught from a religious point of view in a parochial school.

Taking students from the public school works for and against the schools. Parents of home schoolers still pay taxes to support the schools, yet if their children don't attend the schools, they aren't using the resources. This is to the schools' advantage.
On the other hand, those who can either afford to pay for a private school or afford the time needed for home schooling, are depriving the public schools of valuable resources. The mother that home schools could be volunteering to work with the public school's PTA, being a chaperone on field trips, tutoring students who need extra help with reading. Parents of public school students who must work may not have the time to volunteer for those activities.
Some school activities cost money (such as field trips.) Most schools will cover the cost of those who cannot afford it. But when the richest 10 or 20% of students aren't contributing to the cost of the bus, the fuel, or the museum entrance, a higher percentage of students may need to have their trip funded.

I admit, I had to admire some of the home schoolers. While I often hear parents say they can't wait until school starts so they can get rid of their children, home schoolers have made a commitment to spend all day, every day, with their children and many seem to love it. I know many a parent who would be burned out within a week.
There are, of course, advantages to home schooling. One is that, in most states homeschoolers are required to devote a certain number of days and hours to schooling, but there are no set days or times. If a parent works in, say, construction, s/he can plan a winter vacation while spending some of the summer on learning. Some choose to travel in the spring or fall when rates are lower. Some continue teaching all summer to maintain retention that is often lost over long breaks.

I have been in a position to know the personal cases of about a dozen home-schooled children. Most of the home-schooled children with whom I had significant personal contact were in good to excellent situations. My problem is that 25% of the children I know personally and that were home-schooled were in what I consider to be poor situations.

Student #1: The parents were born-again Christians. The 7th-grade boy who was supposed to be home-schooled rarely got up before noon and I never saw one iota of schooling going on except when the once-a-week math tutor showed up. His parents worked, so they weren't there to school him during the day and were often out in the evenings, too. The boy was very bright and liked to read and surf the internet, so he was able to pass his tests, but (except for math) there was no formal schooling happening. He was hyper-critical of other children his age, well actually of almost everyone.
As they say, the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree. Both parents considered themselves morally superior to almost everyone else. They both considered themselves to be highly-intelligent. They were extremely judgmental and voiced opinions such as "Gays should be exterminated." I once heard one of them refer to a client as "a dirty little atheist." I have to assume they had no idea that I was an atheist, too.
In my opinion, they were the most morally bankrupt people I ever met. They cheated on their taxes, gouged their customers, didn't pay their bills. Their company resumé claimed they worked on projects that former employees worked on before they ever worked for the Born-Again company. Mr. Born-Again claimed a chemistry degree from a large university, yet he could not calculate the area of a room nor teach his son 7th-grade math. In reality, he attended only one semester of college. He was having an affair when in his out-of-town office. Mrs. Born-Again was always on the emotional edge which was exacerbated when she suspected her husband's infidelity.
I have no idea what happened to this boy or family after seventh grade. For his sake, I just hope he didn't turn out to be gay.

Student #2: From a conservative Christian family. This child seemed to have no friends. Maybe once a month, there were other children in his back yard, but usually they were with a woman visiting his mother, not there to see him. He didn't play little league nor was he involved in any other sports teams in the community, nor anything like scouting. Occasionally he rode his bike in the neighborhood alone. I would think other children from his church would have been friends with him, but they were not. Except for his mother, a hand-held video game seemed to be his best friend.
I do believe schooling was going on in the home. His parents were college graduates. Weather permitting, his mother read to him outside, but I have seen him look at a book by himself only once. While she read, he was usually throwing a stick into the air, rolling in the grass, tossing stones into the street. He may have been listening. It was difficult to tell.
Although he seemed to be of normal intelligence, he exhibited very immature behavior, yelping at nothing, beating with a stick on the cover of his sand box. Was 14 too old for a sandbox?
I have had no contact with this boy for several years because his parents moved to another state. However, I foresee this child as having a great deal of difficulty with socialization when he gets to the point that he will be with other students ---or even in the work place. He has been taught all of his life that others ---not of his religion ---are evil at worst, riff-raff at best.

Student #3: This girl had been home-schooled during her elementary years by parents who wanted their daughter to learn at her own pace. When she was placed in a public school in 7th grade, she had a very difficult time adapting. When tests were given, most students completed the tests within 20 or 30 minutes, but everyone had an entire class period (50 minutes) if needed, to complete each test. After 50 minutes, she would be only about half-way through it and would demand more time. Her teachers allowed her to skip the next class to complete the exam, but advised her that, within a few weeks, she needed to complete tests in one class period. I might add, the girl tested highly for intelligence with no learning disabilities.
She told her teachers that, at home, she could take an entire day or a week to complete a test if she wanted to, and thought it was terrible that she was given a time limit. I don't blame the girl; I blame her parents. Why didn't they acclimate their daughter to normal school procedures And didn't they know that no matter what field the girl chooses, she will most likely have to follow a schedule and meet deadlines?
The student also was extremely disruptive and told her teachers that, at home, she could interrupt her mother whenever she pleased. After a month in a public school, her parents decided she wasn't ready and withdrew her.

I might add that pubic schools aren't perfect. There are disruptive students, those who think they are superior to others, some who have problems with socializing and socialization, those who learn more quickly or more slowly than others. Some have difficulty learning at all. And then of course are the bullies, drug addicts and instigators.
Public schools often have a cookie-cutter mentality of conformity, although with new educational methods and cooperative learning, I believe that is slowly changing.
I also know not all public school teachers are good teachers, or even good people. However, schools have oversight. A bad teacher will be found out sooner or later. Homeschoolers have no or very little oversight. It is possible that a parent could be locking a child in a closet or beating the child daily if she doesn't know her lessons, but we would never know.
Megan Holland (see below) says oversight ranges from the strictest state New York, to Alaska where students don't have to be registered, have no requirements, don't have to pass state tests, don't need to report attendance. Some students excel in a learn-at-your-own-pace atmosphere, but a parent in Alaska can simply keep a child at home without teaching anything because there is no oversight. An example was given of a family that taught nothing but the Bible and the father's strict religious interpretations of it.
Robert Kunzman (see below) who found many homes that used creative ways to teach concepts, still finds the lack of oversight troublesome. He gives examples of a homeschooled 12-year-old who didn't know what 3 times 3 equaled. In another situation, a parent constantly berated her child for not grasping certain concepts when it was obvious to Kunzman that the child had a learning disability.
In most public schools, one teacher does not teach all subjects. In the middle school with which I am most familiar, a single student has different teachers for twelve different subjects, plus a few teachers' aids. If the teaching style of one teacher doesn't meet the learning style of the student or if their personalities clash, or if a teacher just isn't a quality educator, the child still has the opportunity to do well in other classes with different teachers.
I suspect homeschoolers are good and bad teachers in about the same ratio as in public schools. The problem is when a bad teacher is a student's only teacher, for every subject and for many years, the child loses. On one website the case of a 9 year old who couldn't read was attributed to a lack of rapor between her an her mother.

There are many reasons why I prefer public schools. First, they represent the diversity of our population and expose children to students from different backgrounds and different life styles. Next, they give students shared experiences ----"Do you remember the time....?" ---the kind of things we share with lifelong friends. We also share the joy or disappointment of sports teams, the high school prom, school picnics, school plays and musical performances. These are the kinds of things that bring us together and keep us together. Public schools give students the opportunity to deal with some of the negatives in life. I wouldn't wish a school bully on anyone, but learning to deal with one will certainly prepare one for a bullying boss or spouse down the road. Public schools give children a chance to spread their wings and become themselves without being tethered to their own family's narrow views of the world.
Homeschoolers deprive public school children of getting to know them and their points of view, which are part of the texture and patchwork of the country.
I know that public schools have their shortcomings. However, most families can work to overcome those by stressing the importance of reading and study at home and providing opportunities to pursue special interests such as sports, science, art, dance, or music.

I am not totally against home schooling. For me, it comes down to the reasons for wanting to keep children at home to learn. If someone is doing it to protect the child from a violent or dangerous school situation or to better his/her educational quality, then I'm fine with homeschooling.
If it is to keep them from meeting students of different religious, ethnic or economic backgrounds, to shield them from differing belief systems, or to present the parents' tunnel vision of the world, then those are bad reasons to homeschool.
I was not homeschooled, but I was sheltered from the diversity of the world to a large degree. When I hit college and discovered that people unlike me, people of other ethnic backgrounds, of differing religious views or no religion at all were wonderful people, I resented the microscopic view to which my parents had confined me. I overheard my mother's side of a phone conversation telling a friend she wished I had never gone to college because I had adopted beliefs and values unlike those of my parents. She would have preferred I stay in a cocoon and never spread my wings. I can only imagine how much worse it would have been if I had been homeschooled.

An argument against private schools is that the haves get to attend and have nots are stuck in public schools. But with homeschooling, instead of money, in many cases we are talking about religion. Apparently approximately 2 million students in the U.S. are now homeschooled. A study conducted in Washington, Nevada and Utah found that 98% of parents who homeschool are white, most had some post-secondary education and above average incomes, that 78% of the homeschooling teachers were women, and 91% stated the high importance of religion in their homes. (See Mitchell Stevens below.) It scares me to think that there are hundreds of thousands of young people in the U.S. who believe the earth is 6000 years old, that America is a Christian nation chosen by God, and are preparing for end times rather than looking ahead to advances in technology, science, medicine, diversity, international relations, the humanities, and environmental sciences.
I don't like the way home schooling and private schooling divide us, just the way religion does. In John Power's The Last Catholic in America (a very funny read) the author told how he and his friends would hang outside public schools on Saints' days to tease and provoke public school students because the Catholics had the day off and the public school students did not. What they were really saying was, "Na-na-na-na-na-na. We're better than you are!"
Today, the Religious Right believes that only Christians can be good, moral people. They believe that their own particular brand of Christianity is the one true religion. Everyone else and every other religion are on the road to hell and should be avoided. Homeschooling for religious reasons just exacerbates those notions.

What do you think?

Suggested websites:

Suggested books:
Write These Laws on Your Children: Inside the World of Conservative Christian Homeschooling by Robert Kunzman, an empathetic, but critical look inside the homes of six homeschooling families.
Millstones & Stumbling Blocks: Understanding Education in Post-Christian America by Bradley E. Heath, perspectives on education from a Christian point of view.
Kingdom of Children: Culture and Controversey in the Homeschooling Movement by Mitchell Stevens, a generally balanced but favorable look at homeschooling.

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