Posts Tagged “Religion”

Imagine No ReligionIn news that’s sure to ignite the rage and fury of religionists throughout the country, a Harris poll shows that religious belief is declining in the U.S. (WebCite cached article):

A new Harris Poll finds that while a strong majority (74%) of U.S. adults do believe in God, this belief is in decline when compared to previous years as just over four in five (82%) expressed a belief in God in 2005, 2007 and 2009. Also, while majorities also believe in miracles (72%, down from 79% in 2005), heaven (68%, down from 75%), that Jesus is God or the Son of God (68%, down from 72%), the resurrection of Jesus Christ (65%, down from 70%), the survival of the soul after death (64%, down from 69%), the devil, hell (both at 58%, down from 62%) and the Virgin birth (57%, down from 60%), these are all down from previous Harris Polls.

Belief in Darwin’s theory of evolution, however, while well below levels recorded for belief in God, miracles and heaven, is up in comparison to 2005 findings (47%, up from 42%).

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,250 adults surveyed online between November 13 and 18, 2013 by Harris Interactive.

I can hear Christianists’ bellicose, sanctimonious whining now: People are worshipping Darwin instead of our Gawd! they’ll shriek. I know I’ll be chuckling when I see/hear it!

The news isn’t entirely good, however. An awful lot of Americans cling to a wide range of other nutty metaphysical and/or irrational notions:

The survey also finds that 42% of Americans believe in ghosts, 36% each believe in creationism and UFOs, 29% believe in astrology, 26% believe in witches and 24% believe in reincarnation — that they were once another person.

42% believing in ghosts? That’s almost half the country believing in something that doesn’t exist!

I note that the Harris Poll story refers to “belief in UFOs” … but what they really mean is “belief in extraterrestrial visitors to earth,” because no one questions that “UFOs” (i.e. “unidentified flying objects”) exist. People do occasionally see flying things they can’t readily identify. What they don’t see, are extraterrestrial craft breezing through the atmosphere.

I note that Harris admits these results were drawn solely from online respondents. As such, they may well reflect the beliefs of Internet-connected Americans; but it can’t be safely assumed they reflect the beliefs of the entire population. So everyone — myself included! — must take this report with more than a grain of salt.

Photo credit: JasonTomm, via Flickr.

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Depression-loss of loved oneFor some reason, any discussion of mental illness tends to get caught up with religion. This was inevitable, I suppose, when Pastor Rick Warren — founder of the “Purpose-Driven” publishing empire — and his wife were interviewed a few days ago by Piers Morgan on CNN about their son’s suicide earlier this year (WebCite cached article). But the idea that religion is an effective remedy for mental illness, has been around for ages. The Christian Post reports that a majority of Christians in the US believe that their religion can cure it, and brags about this (cached):

Nearly 50 percent of American Christians believe that prayer and Bible study alone can cure mental illness, according to a recent survey by LifeWay Research.

Dr. Tim Clinton, president of the American Association of Christian Counselors, credited this response to Christians’ faith in God.

“I applaud those out there who really believe in the power of God,” Clinton told Moody Radio show host Chris Fabry on Thursday. “It’s an encouraging time. People continually look for out for God spiritually for hope, for help.”

Clinton and the CP might be proud of American Christians’ refusal to let medicine get in the way of their hyperreligiosity, but those of us who are capable of actually thinking about the problem of mental illness, know better. Any given mental illness is precisely that — an illness — which requires valid, effective, clinically-supported treatment. Praying and reading the Bible are not valid, effective, or clinically-supported — no matter how vehemently anyone may insist they are.

Despite his ardent belief in the primacy of prayer and Bible-reading as treatments for mental illness, Clinton says he’s not completely averse to medication:

One of the first steps the church must take is to avoid stigmatizing Christians taking medication for their mental illnesses, said Clinton.

At the end of the article, the CP tosses in an obligatory link to recent massacres, no doubt in order to scare up interest:

Nationally, mental illness has dominated discussions about the possible motives of the gunmen in last year’s mass shootings in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, as well as a first-grade class in Sandy Hook, Conn., and also more recently in this week’s mass shooting in the Washington D.C. navy yard.

Unfortunately for the CP, they are wrong about the Sandy Hook killings. The shooter there was never, so far as anyone knows, diagnosed with any mental illness, and there were absolutely no drugs in his system … no illicit drugs, no alcohol, no prescription drugs (cached). So he was not on any medications. It’s true that the Sandy Hook massacre has brought up talk about mental illness, but until we find out differently (cached), it’s not reasonable to believe mental illness played any role in it.

At any rate, mental illness poses a particular problem, in that a lot of the valid medical treatments for it are, unfortunately, not all that effective. Psychotherapy and antidepressants for depression, for example, work only about 60-65% of the time. This is enough to show that they’re effective for a majority of people, but it means there’s a significant number of folks who aren’t helped, sadly, and are often left twisting in the breeze of psychiatry. This means there are people whose needs aren’t being met by valid medicine, who become prey to proselytizers, who gladly use this as a “hook” to rope them into their religion. In the realm of addiction, this is precisely how many substance-abuse treatments work, as I’ve blogged already. That it’s unethical at best to use a vulnerability like this in order to gain converts, doesn’t seem to matter to these believers. They just go ahead and do it anyway.

The solution is for psychiatry to step up to the plate and really work on new, more effective, treatments for common mental illnesses like depression. Treatments are needed which are over 80% effective, if not over 90%. Leaving things as they are — which is what’s been done for decades — is just not working. It’s time psychiatry admitted it. In the meantime, prayer and Bible-reading is just bullshit and will do nothing for these folks. If you have a mental illness, run — do not walk! — away from anyone who suggests that his/her God is all you need to get over your ailment. It’s a scam, and you need to avoid being taken in.

This is the United States, and it’s the 21st century, for fuck’s sake. It’s time to get the hell out of the “Dark Ages” already. Gimme a fucking break.

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portrait of crying baby girl on living room at homeBrace yourselves for a full-blown meltdown by sanctimoniously-enraged believers! The (UK) Independent reports on the release of a meta-analysis that claims religious people are, collectively, less intelligent than atheists (WebCite cached article):

A new review of 63 scientific studies stretching back over decades has concluded that religious people are less intelligent than non-believers.

A piece of University of Rochester analysis, led by Professor Miron Zuckerman, found “a reliable negative relation between intelligence and religiosity” in 53 out of 63 studies.

According to the study entitled, ‘The Relation Between Intelligence and Religiosity: A Meta-Analysis and Some Proposed Explanations’, published in the ‘Personality and Social Psychology Review’, even during early years the more intelligent a child is the more likely it would be to turn away from religion.

Before I go any further with this, I need to point out that I’m always a bit skeptical about studies that talk about “intelligence.” Measures such as IQ are far from ideal in evaluating that quality people refer to as “intelligence.” The frequently amorphous, subjective, and biased nature of such measures all too easily can lead people to suspect conclusions. This is a meta-analysis, which required different measures of intelligence to be related to one another. To call this a slam-dunk is premature at best.

Even so, this analysis can’t be dismissed outright:

The review, which is the first systematic meta-analysis of the 63 studies conducted in between 1928 and 2012, showed that of the 63 studies, 53 showed a negative correlation between intelligence and religiosity, while 10 showed a positive one.

Only two studies showed significant positive correlations and significant negative correlations were seen in a total of 35 studies.

To dismiss the authors’ conclusion out-of-hand would be just as foolish as proclaiming it flawless and unassailable.

The reason I’m commenting on this, is because, as I said in the first sentence, it will no doubt trigger fury and outrage among believers. They will refuse to accept that it even might be remotely true, and will bluster and fume about how awful it is that someone dared insult them for their metaphysical beliefs.

As a matter of fact, just such a tirade can be found at the Independent itself (cached). Among the complaints:

As a sociologist the question that interests me is why do people embark on a project that seeks to determine the relationship between intelligence and religious belief.

Apparently the angry author of this plaintive whine thinks this is a question no one should be allowed to ask, and worse, that anyone who thinks to ask it, must be insane, mentally deficient, or evil or something. Moreover, he chalks this conclusion up to “sciencism” (whatever that might be). He apparently is unaware there’s been no law passed that decides what questions researchers can and cannot look into. He can’t handle that someone dared reach a conclusion he disapproves of.

As I said, there are problems inherent in any studies or analyses like this. Its validity, or lack thereof, will be thrashed out in the process of peer review. Throwing hissy-fits over someone daring to release it, cannot and never will invalidate it. Religionists would be better off growing up and accepting that questions like this might be asked, rather than getting all bent out of shape over them being asked in the first place.

Hat tip: Peter at the AntiBible Project on Delphi Forums.

Photo credit: Fiery-Phoenix, via Flickr.

P.S. Concerning the relation between religiosity and intelligence, something I find more measurable — not to mention more compelling — is that non-believers tend to be better-informed about religion, than believers (cached).

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Madonna in the music video for 'Like a Prayer', in one of the most controversial scenes, displaying the burning crosses, via WikipediaA civil war raging in Syria. The Eurozone crisis causing financial chaos. US spies rummaging through Europeans’ private lives. Youth unemployment all through the continent.

One would think Europe has a lot of problems that really need to be solved. And a bunch of European exorcists are getting together to solve some of Europe’s woes. But as the (UK) Telegraph reports, among the problems they’re taking on, is … of all things … Madonna (WebCite cached article):

Long the scourge of the Catholic Church, Madonna has often triggered Christian ire, once going through a mock crucifixion during one her stage shows.

Now her music and shows will come under the scrutiny of priests trained in the art of defeating demons, treating satanic possession and looking for the devil in a section of the conference dedicated to finding evil in popular culture.

“Part of the conference is dedicated to the hidden subliminal message in communication, and the choice of this subject was inspired by the woman who dares to call herself Madonna,” said Father Andrzej Grefkowic, an exorcist and one of the organisers of the conference. “We’ve been worried about her concerts.”

I hate to break it to the good Reverend, but “Madonna” is not a moniker the musician/dancer/actress appropriated for herself as an insult to the Virgin Mary. It’s the first name she was born with.

In any event, I just love how, with lots of crises wracking Europe or raging near its borders, the real problem to be faced, is Madonna, along with the horrific scourges of body piercings, tattoos, and — yes! — magic shows:

Father Grefkowic also warned of a growing risk from Satan, highlighting the increasing popularity of tattoos, body piercing, horoscopes and magic shows as ways evil could corrupt people.

Curiously, they’re not addressing the fact that religionism can corrupt people. And they’re also not addressing the Catholic clerical child-abuse scandal. Oh well.

Photo credit: Wikipedia.

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Rand Paul speakingAmerican Christians’ martyr complex is wearying. They continually and repeatedly whine and complain that their religion is on the verge of being stamped out … even when it’s not. I understand why this is; a desire to be persecuted for Jesus is embedded deep within their religion’s psychopathology, and they really can’t help themselves. Still, it’s one thing to believe one is being persecuted, but quite another to fabricate forms of persecution that don’t exist, or to make claims about Christian persecution that aren’t true.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, as the Washington Post reports, is the most recent figure to be guilty of these kinds of lies (WebCite cached article):

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Thursday continued his outreach to Christian conservatives, telling a gathering of them that the United States is effectively funding wars on Christianity by sending money to nations like Egypt and Syria.

“It’s clear that American taxpayer dollars are being used in a war against Christianity,” Paul said at a luncheon hosted by the Faith and Freedom Coalition to kick off the three-day Faith and Freedom Conference.

Paul said the U.S. war in Iraq led Christians to flee a secular country that had otherwise been “a relatively safe place for Christians,” and that Christians are now being hunted in nearby nations.

First, let me say it’s absolutely true that Christians have been, and are, persecuted in a lot of places in the world. I don’t dispute that at all. I also don’t dispute that it’s wrong for anyone to be persecuted for it. What I dispute is Paul’s claim that the U.S. government is consciously and methodically financing a global campaign to wipe Christianity out.

Let’s be honest: The societies of countries like Iraq and Egypt certainly harbor animosity toward Christians; I’ve blogged about a long tradition of religious strife in Egypt, for instance. There’s nothing new about this. That doesn’t make it right … it just means it’s not new at all.

So what does American financial aid have to do with it? Nothing. Christians there would be harassed, with or without American assistance. Christians in those places were harassed, before they got any U.S. assistance, and they likely would continue to be harassed if we stopped supplying it. In fact, it might be argued that our assistance gives us a degree of input into those countries’ affairs that we wouldn’t have otherwise, meaning it’s a potential way for us to limit the harassment. The dance of diplomacy and international relations is a complex one, that cannot be boiled down to “sound bites” as Paul likes to do.

Paul also brings up a point which is a particularly sore one for the Religious Right in the US:

“Should we be sending F-16s and tanks to Egypt when (President Mohammed) Morsi says Jews are descendants of apes and pigs?”

Granted, Morsi is an anti-Semite, as are many of the leaders of countries in and around the Middle East. But what can we do? Make our assistance conditional on whether or not those countries have anti-Semitic rulers? Is it even possible for us to have that much influence over them? What makes Paul think we do?

Something Paul doesn’t admit, is that this has been going on for as long as America has been sending out foreign aid. That aid frequently ends up in the hands of repugnant dictators, is spent in countries where the U.S. is vehemently hated, and helps societies that propagate any number of injustices, sometimes against their own people. Unfortunately there’s not much we can do about that, other than stop the aid, which would have stiff ramifications … such as the loss of diplomatic relations. Again, the game of diplomacy isn’t as clear-cut or simple as the Senator says it is.

Paul also makes a comment which is factually incorrect:

“We’re borrowing money from China to send it to Pakistan.”

Lots of folks, including many on the Right and particularly libertarians like Rand Paul and his father Ron, love to assert that America’s debt is entirely held by China, therefore any borrowing we do comes directly from Beijing. But that’s not true. As FactCheck explained a couple years ago, China finances only about 7.9% of new debt

The bottom line is that Rand Paul was clearly trying to convince his audience that the Obama administration is financing a global jihad against Christianity. That isn’t the case; but if it were, then because Obama is continuing a long-standing policy of foreign aid, then G.W. Bush, Clinton, G.H.W. Bush, Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon, etc. had also financed a global jihad against Christianity. Does he seriously think it’s been going on for decades? If so, why hasn’t Christianity already been wiped out in those places?

As I said, what Rand Paul is doing is appealing to the Religious Right’s martyr complex. It’s insidious, and it needs to stop … but we all know it never will. Because it works too well. The R.R. continually gives into it … happily, with smiles on their faces, and with open checkbooks, ready to finance anyone who campaigns against that foreign-born “secret Muslim” in the Oval Office.

At any rate, Rand Paul’s lie about a U.S.-financed global war on Christianity, places him into my “lying liars for Jesus” club.

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Demon of CalicutMost believers think that adhering to their metaphysical notions — whatever they might be — is virtuous. It somehow makes them better people, superior to others, even. Or something. I’m still not clear as to how that works, exactly, but they’re convinced of it, and they just love telling everyone so. The problem is, their beliefs can and do have some terrible ramifications. Take, for example, this report from the Associated Press via the Washington Post, about a Virginia father who killed his little daughter because of his metaphysics (WebCite cached article):

A Virginia man who said his 2-year-old daughter was possessed by a demon has been sentence to more than 20 years in prison for her death.

Thirty-year-old Eder Guzman-Rodriguez was sentenced Monday in Floyd County after pleading no contest to first-degree murder. His daughter, Jocelyn, was found dead in November 2011.

Prosecutors say Guzman-Rodriguez told police that his daughter had a demon inside of her and that he had attempted to exorcise her of the demon.

But this conflicts with other information the father had provided:

According to Shortt’s summary of the evidence, Guzman-Rodriquez told police that a “bad spirit” had entered him. He said that he saw his daughter gesturing to him, as if she wanted to fight and that he punched her “over and over” with his bare hands, Shortt said.

So, was the baby possessed, or the father? In the end, no one can say. Until someone provides objective, verifiable evidence to the contrary, I must assume neither was possessed. Nevertheless, I guess it was necessary to kill the baby. Or something.

I note that, when police arrived, there were some other people there, holding Bibles. It’s not clear if they played any part in Guzman-Rodriguez’s exorcism attempt; the article doesn’t say — possibly because the police never were able to make any determination. They very well could have arrived after the deed. I certainly hope they weren’t involved in Jocelyn’s murder.

Hat tip: Doubtful News.

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'You will know them by their fruits.' / Matthew 7:16a, NASB / PsiCop original graphicBy now we all know … whenever something awful happens, fierce religionists just can’t help but blame it on their theological enemies, or whoever else they despise. It doesn’t matter whether or not the facts are in, or if they actually know what they’re talking about. They just rage and fume and bluster and hurl the blame everywhere they can, just because they happen to be sanctimoniously enraged that there are insolent people out there who actually dare not believe what they believe.

By now I expect all my readers have heard about this afternoon’s Boston Marathon bombing (WebCite cached article). It’s only been a few hours, but already there are lots of religionists, I assume most of them Christians, who’ve announced via social media that “godless” people are to blame for it. Hemant Mehta, the Friendly Atheist, has done a yeoman’s job of cataloging a number of these hateful and idiotic postings (cached).

Please go to Hemant’s page and read their bilious spew; I won’t repeat any of it here. Suffice it to say, these people have absolutely no fucking idea whether or not a “godless” person or persons bombed Boston. As I type this, the New York Post reports a Saudi national has been identified as a suspect (cached). This person is virtually guaranteed to be a Muslim, and not some “godless” person.

Yeah, I get that it’s the Post reporting this, and it’s very early in the investigation and quite tentative. Nevertheless, if that marginal tidbit is best information we have at the moment, no one can rationally justify deciding the bomber(s) must have been “godless.”

Listen up, people. This is just ridiculous, and it needs to fucking stop already! Right now.

Update: The Boston Globe reports the aforementioned Saudi national is not a suspect (cached). The investigation is back to square one and, essentially, stalled out.

Photo credit: PsiCop original, based on Matthew 7:16a, NASB.

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