The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘agnostic’

Ironically, Non-Believers Know More About Religion Than Believers

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 28, 2010

**Update: Hemant Mehta, the Friendly Atheist, has an excellent analysis over at the Chicago Tribune religion blog – check it out!

===========================

In a widely reported poll today (here is the link to the actual Pew survey), it seems there are some rather counter-intuitive results regarding religious affiliation & level of factual religious knowledge in the United States.  Namely, from the survey, the non-religious (atheists & agnostics) are among the most religiously literate when it comes to knowing facts & details about various religions…

Survey: Americans don’t know much about religion

A new survey of Americans’ knowledge of religion found that atheists, agnostics, Jews and Mormons outperformed Protestants and Roman Catholics in answering questions about major religions, while many respondents could not correctly give the most basic tenets of their own faiths.

Forty-five percent of Roman Catholics who participated in the study didn’t know that, according to church teaching, the bread and wine used in Holy Communion is not just a symbol, but becomes the body and blood of Christ.

More than half of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the person who inspired the Protestant Reformation. And about four in 10 Jews did not know that Maimonides, one of the greatest rabbis and intellectuals in history, was Jewish. …

Now, while I am not a religious believer myself – I identify as an “Epicurean freethinker”, basically a modern-day atheist – I am a pretty serious student of religion and religious history.  I also include among my circle of friends & acquaintances people from all religious and non-religious backgrounds: Christians (including Catholics & Mormons), Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and so on.  However, I have to say that while I don’t believe any of the supernatural aspects of religion, I do understand how a knowledge of religion & religious history is advantageous in knowing more about who we are as a society.

This is why I am a bit amazed and upset by the results of this survey.  I would think that people who are sincere religious believers would want to be educated about the facts & history behind their faith.  If people don’t learn for themselves the factual information about the origins, history, and basic tenets of their own religion, then that opens them up to all manner of hucksterism in the name of God, etc.

For example, I know someone who is what I would call an ardent fundamentalist Christian; however, they are also terribly ignorant of the origins & history of their own religion.  When I try to have a discussion with them about where the Bible came from, who wrote it, when it was written, the formation of the early Christian Church, and so on, they just want to ignore me or change the subject.  It is almost as if they are uncomfortable with the very thought of learning about their religion, as if they have a fear that if they learn too much their faith might be shaken (perhaps it might be).  As a result, they are heavily influenced by those who would use Christianity for political and other nefarious purposes.

Perhaps that is what is going on with some religious believers: they want to remain willfully ignorant, because – as the saying goes – ignorance is bliss.  Or maybe they just want to be told what to believe by their religious leaders, either because they are a bit intellectually lazy (thinking about this stuff is hard work), they don’t have the time to look into it (if you’re working three jobs, it’s tough to study during what little free time you have), or they believe that if they question things they could be cast out of their religious community.  I’m sure it could be a combination of all of the above.

In any case, I think it is a sad state of affairs.  Knowledge, even the knowledge about religion, should be something that we aspire to collect & nurture.  Cultivating an environment of intellectual curiosity & critical thinking should be encouraged among the religious, partly because people can then arm themselves against those who would use their beliefs to manipulate them (such as politicians making bogus “Christian nation” claims or crusading faith-healers).

To sum up: we need skeptics & critical thinkers in all areas of human endeavor, including religious believers within their religious communities.  Since the majority of the U.S. population is religious, the more ignorant they become about their own beliefs, the more susceptible they become to erroneous claims & extremism – and that can affect all of us.  If you know someone who is religious, or are religious yourself, take some time to actually learn more about their (or your) faith.

Posted in philosophy, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Freedom From Religion Foundation Bus Ad Campaign Hits Chicago

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 18, 2010

I’m just tooting my own horn a bit because apparently I’m achieving a measure of notoriety on the Internet (especially over at The Friendly Atheist blog) for some comments I recently made for a Chicago Tribune article on the new Freedom From Religion Foundation’s bus ad campaign in the Windy City…

Secularists spreading the word

When the Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign and American Humanist Association wanted to spark a public conversation last spring about the origin of religion, they plastered Chicago’s buses with a provocative twist on Genesis: “In the beginning, man created God.”

When the Chicago Coalition of Reason wanted to proclaim that no one needs God to be good, they posted a billboard a few months later above a LaSalle Street sandwich shop in Chicago’s Loop.

So when the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation took its controversial slogan touting the benefits of sleeping in on Sundays to honor the day of rest, they came to Chicago first, a city where they knew they would be welcome.

After awhile, the article gets to me and my epic quote…

Matt Lowry, 37, a science teacher in Vernon Hills and the organizer of the North Suburban Chicago Freethinkers, said he never wore his beliefs, or lack thereof, on his sleeve. But the more it came up in conversation, the more he realized how the collective silence has caused atheists and agnostics to be misunderstood.

“Just because you’re a nonbeliever does not mean you’re kicking little old ladies down the stairs or eating babies,” Lowry said. “There’s this common misperception. For too long, the nonbelieving community in this country has basically allowed religious fundamentalists to define them that way.”

Yeah, that was all me – it was my humorous & snarky way of basically saying: hey, nonbelievers are good and moral people, too. Now that I see how much people like the quote, I’m considering having T-shirts made up 🙂

Posted in religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Chicago Coalition of Reason puts up “Good Without God” billboard

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 20, 2009

Whew! I had a hard time keeping a lid on this one 🙂

I’m part of a coalition of folks who have been working to bring this billboard to downtown Chicago…

Godless Billboard Appears in the Chicago Loop

“Are you good without God? Millions are.”

These words are part of a coordinated multi-organizational advertising campaign designed to raise awareness about people who don’t believe in a god. It fits into a nationwide effort that has now come to the Chicago area. The prominent ad appears on a downtown billboard at LaSalle Boulevard and Grand Avenue and can be read by those traveling north who will see it on their left. Placed by the Chicago Coalition of Reason, with funding from the United Coalition of Reason, the billboard features an image of blue sky and clouds with the words superimposed over.

“The point of our national billboard campaign is to reach out to the millions of humanists, atheists and agnostics living in the United States,” explained Fred Edwords, head of the United Coalition of Reason. “Nontheists sometimes don’t realize there’s a community out there for them because they’re inundated with religious messages at every turn. So we hope this will serve as a beacon and let them know they aren’t alone.”

Reaching out to nontheists isn’t the only goal of the campaign. “We want people to know they can be good without belief in a god,” said Hemant Mehta, coordinator of the Chicago Coalition of Reason. “There is a lot of misinformation out there about us. But we humanists, agnostics and atheists are as normal as anyone else. We’re your friends, neighbors and family members. We care about our communities and are true to our values.”

The Chicago billboard officially launches Chicago CoR. It is also timed to coordinate with the launch of a new book called “Good Without God” by Greg Epstein, which is being released by William Morrow. Epstein, the humanist chaplain at Harvard University, is giving talks and holding a book signing the afternoon of October 26 at the Interfaith Youth Core Biannual Conference, Center for Civic Engagement, at Northwestern University in Evanston. The next day he will speak at the University of Chicago Hillel lunch at 12:00 Noon. At 5:30 PM that evening he will speak at the Harvard Club of Chicago. From 8:00 to 10:00 PM he will lead a discussion at the University of Chicago Chaplains Office, Divinity School.

The billboard is one of many that have appeared around the country this year. Billboards and transit system ads funded by the United Coalition of Reason have gone up in places as far flung as Charleston, South Carolina; Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas; Des Moines, Iowa; Morgantown, West Virginia; Phoenix, Arizona, and New Orleans, Louisiana. Subway ads will appear next week in New York City and a billboard will go up in New Brunswick, New Jersey. In a month, more are slated for California and elsewhere.

Of course, this advertising campaign is an excellent example of fighting a common logical fallacy (called a false dichotomy) posed by far too many ultra-religious believers: that without a belief in the supernatural or a god, one cannot be a good person.  One can be “good without god”, but I should also point out to my fellow atheists & skeptics that just because someone is religious doesn’t mean they also cannot be a good person.  I know plenty of good people, both religious & non-religious, and I don’t think that painting with a wide brush by labeling one side or the other as morally inferior is conducive to critical thinking when dealing with such issues.

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

 
%d bloggers like this: