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preference (from 8 to 13%), that religion is not important in people's lives (from 10 to 19%), and that religion is out of date (from 20 to 29%).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.
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