The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Archive for January 4th, 2011

The Religious in the United States… Aren’t So Religious, After All

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 4, 2011

To conclude my marathon posting of religious matters (see the first two posts here and here), I wanted to share with you something very revealing about religion in the United States.  By now, I’m pretty sure we’ve all heard that the U.S. is the most overtly religious country in all of the industrialized, Western nations.  You hear this claim repeated long & loud, on both the right and left; it is a constant drumbeat which goes on and on… except, as I have long suspected, it may not be true at all.

In a recent article on the Slate website, a detailed analysis of various polls & surveys on this question is broken down, and it makes a key distinction: what is it that people say they do/believe versus what is people’s actual behavior/beliefs?  The results are very revealing, and seem to indicate that the U.S. probably isn’t as overtly religious as previously thought…

Walking Santa, Talking Christ

Why do Americans claim to be more religious than they are?

By Shankar VedantamPosted Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010, at 5:13 PM ET

Two in five Americans say they regularly attend religious services. Upward of 90 percent of all Americans believe in God, pollsters report, and more than 70 percent have absolutely no doubt that God exists. The patron saint of Christmas, Americans insist, is the emaciated hero on the Cross, not the obese fellow in the overstuffed costume.

There is only one conclusion to draw from these numbers: Americans are significantly more religious than the citizens of other industrialized nations.

Except they are not.

Beyond the polls, social scientists have conducted more rigorous analyses of religious behavior. Rather than ask people how often they attend church, the better studies measure what people actually do. The results are surprising. Americans are hardly more religious than people living in other industrialized countries. Yet they consistently—and more or less uniquely—want others to believe they are more religious than they really are. …

The bottom line is that church attendance in the U.S. may be drastically over-reported, by as much as twice the actual attendance rate!  This basically means that while about 40% of people in the United States claim they attend church weekly, only about 20% actually do so…

… Hadaway and his colleagues compared actual attendance counts with church members’ reports about their attendance in 18 Catholic dioceses across the country and Protestants in a rural Ohio county.* They found that actual “church attendance rates for Protestants and Catholics are approximately one half” of what people reported.

A few years later, another study estimated how often Americans attended church by asking them to minutely document how they spent their time on Sundays. Without revealing that they were interested in religious practices, researchers Stanley Presser and Linda Stinson asked questions along these lines: “I would like to ask you about the things you did yesterday from midnight Saturday to midnight last night. Let’s start with midnight Saturday. What were you doing? What time did you finish? Where were you? What did you do next?”

This neutral interviewing method produced far fewer professions of church attendance. Compared to the “time-use” technique, Presser and Stinson found that nearly 50 percent more people claimed they attended services when asked the type of question that pollsters ask: “Did you attend religious services in the last week?”

In a more recent study, Hadaway estimated that if the number of Americans who told Gallup pollsters that they attended church in the last week were accurate, about 118 million Americans would be at houses of worship each week. By calculating the number of congregations (including non-Christian congregations) and their average attendance, Hadaway estimated that in reality about 21 percent of Americans attended religious services weekly—exactly half the number who told pollsters they did. …

So, to the confirmation of many a non-believer (such as myself), it seems that there are a LOT of people out there who – for some reason – want to have people believe they are more religious than they really are, despite their actual beliefs (or non-belief).  This seems to indicate that the level of religiosity in the U.S. which has been so widely reported in the past is likely a convenient fiction, which activists of all stripes like to use to whip people up into a frenzy regarding issues of faith & politics.

Posted in religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Rapture… AGAIN?!!

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 4, 2011

In my previous post – Our Godless U.S. Constitution – I made mention of how back when our Constitution was ratified, there were those religious weirdos who kept insisting that unless it was “Christianized” properly, God was going to unleash His wrath upon the fledgling nation.  And… it didn’t happen – last I looked, the country is still here.

Of course, the history of predicting the end-of-the-world doesn’t stop there.  Hell, self-proclaimed prophets & gurus have been stating, ever since the beginning of civilization, that the world was going to end.  This is true even up to our modern day… in fact, there is another group of nutty folks who say, wait for it, that the end is coming on May 21st, 2010…

End of Days in May? Christian group spreads word

By TOM BREEN, Associated Press Tom Breen, Associated Press Mon Jan 3, 10:01 am ET

RALEIGH, N.C. – If there had been time, Marie Exley would have liked to start a family. Instead, the 32-year-old Army veteran has less than six months left, which she’ll spend spreading a stark warning: Judgment Day is almost here.

Exley is part of a movement of Christians loosely organized by radio broadcasts and websites, independent of churches and convinced by their reading of the Bible that the end of the world will begin May 21, 2011.

To get the word out, they’re using billboards and bus stop benches, traveling caravans of RVs and volunteers passing out pamphlets on street corners. Cities from Bridgeport, Conn., to Little Rock, Ark., now have billboards with the ominous message, and mission groups are traveling through Latin America and Africa to spread the news outside the U.S. …

All I can say to this is… are you f***ing kidding me?  This crap AGAIN?!!  When I was in high school, some local nutcase kept going on and on about how The Rapture was going to take place in September or October of 1988 – it scared the hell out of a lot of gullible kids (and their parents), and it made the more sensible ones among us question the sanity of our fellow man.

Seriously folks, how many times do people need to have these stupid predictions made, only to have them – time & time again – fail to come true?  In fact, just look at this history of iron-clad, Biblically-supported, true-believing, end-of-the-world predictions which were all dead, flat wrong!

If you are a God-fearing true believer who really does, in your heart of hearts, believe that The Rapture is going to take place on May 21st of this year (or at any time in the future), I have one question for you: before you ascend into Heaven, how about giving me all of your stuff?

 

Posted in doomsday, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Our Godless U.S. Constitution

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 4, 2011

Okay, for some weird reason, I’m on a religion kick this evening, so I’m going to be publishing three (count ‘em: THREE) blog posts that are pretty much explicitly about religion.  The first one has to do with a really good article I read on the Slacktivist blog (?) about the United States Constitution.  These days you’ll hear all manner of nonsense coming from various members of the religious right – you know, the in-your-face, fundamentalist Bible-thumping types who think that everyone in the country should cater to their particular whackadoodle interpretation of Christianity… because they say it’s in the Constitution.

Except, according to Slacktivist, it’s NOT in the Constitution; and I know that is correct, because I’ve checked it for myself.  If you read through the entire U.S. Constitution – which I have done, TWICE – you will not find one single mention of God, the Ten Commandments, Jesus, Christianity, or the Bible.  Nothing, zilch, nada! (You hear that, Glenn Beck?)  If you don’t believe me, read it for yourself!

So… that kind of makes it hard to argue that our laws should be based upon the various nutball interpretations of Christianity coming from some loons in the religious right; you know, seeing as how the Constitution is the very basis for all of U.S. law – duh!

In any case, I mentioned the really good Slacktivist article previously, so I should probably point out some of my favorite excerpts…

Reading the Godless Constitution

… What I’m most interested in watching for during this stunt, however, is to see if any of the more theocratically minded members of Congress notice what the Constitution does not say. Unlike these pious politicians, the Constitution never mentions God. At all.

The intellectual ancestors of the evangelical religious right once regarded this as the most glaring and dangerous supposed flaw in America’s governing document. But the godlessness of the U.S. Constitution was not an oversight, it was a matter of deliberate design — a principled choice for which the framers fought passionately. …

The bottom line is that when our Constitution was being hammered out way back in the late 18th century, there was a fundamental philosophical battle between the secularists and the ancestors of the religious right; the secularists won that fight – hence our Godless Constitution…

… But what is most valuable to me in this unfailingly interesting book is the collection of voices from the opponents of America’s “Godless Constitution.” I had read most of the other side of this argument — the side that won the argument because it was right. But I hadn’t previously read the vehement objections of the losing side.

The viewpoint of that side is echoed today in the voices of the evangelical right calling for religious hegemony. Then, as now, the argument was that such hegemony was necessary to provide social order and a basis for morality without which the nation would be ungovernable. Then, as now, the advocates of a sectarian Constitution believed that only sectarian religion could provide a basis for such morality. And only their own sectarian religion at that.

So for the sectarian opponents of the Godless Constitution, then as now, the stakes were enormously high. The Constitution proposed by the framers in 1789, they said, was a form of national suicide. That Godless document — with its separation of church and state, its disregard for the overarching sovereignty of God, its absolute prohibition against religious tests for public office and against the establishment or privileging of any official sect — would bring rapid calamity and doom. Their warnings of the consequences of such a Constitution were dire, apocalyptic and unambiguous. If the Constitution did not establish an official sectarian Christian religion, they believed, then Christians would find themselves subjugated to some other established sect. …

But I think the most interesting part is the analysis of historical accounts whereby the extreme religionists who wanted to “Christianize” the Constitution made all manner of goofy claims about how the country would fall into ruin for dissing God so blatantly :)

… The Anti-Federalists, and especially those who argued for a sectarian Constitution with religious tests and established religion, were wrong. Demonstrably wrong. More than 200 years later, the Constitution still stands as the guiding document of a free and democratic nation and none of the calamities and apocalyptic consequences that they prophesied have come to pass. “If X, then Y,” they said, without reservation or qualification. If the godless Constitution is ratified, then America will break apart into ungovernable anarchy, or it will be subjected to the tyranny of Jews or pagans or some other established official religion. That is what will happen, they said, what will certainly and inevitably happen.

And it did not happen. They were wrong. They were proven wrong. And their heirs, the hegemonic evangelicals of the religious right, are just as wrong today.

Yup, the end did not come for the United States upon ratifying our Godless Constitution, much to the chagrin of those religious doomsayers who insisted that God’s wrath would surely rain down upon us.  Of course, there are those who keep on claiming that “any day now”, God’s gonna smack us good – more on that in my next post.

Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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