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This Pew poll on religious beliefs is quite revealing.  Although you won’t hear it from the media,  many religions are apparently quite tolerant and open-minded. It bodes well for all of us.

Interactive map of religious beliefs

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Many people continue to clutch to their belief in God, even though there’s no evidence of a higher power. Why?

We’re doing that because if we start with the idea that if God does exist, then we have to explain why there are so many versions of Him (her or it) and why we can’t figure out the right one. Historically, that’s a dead end, stuck in the same battle as Saladin and Richard the Lionheart in the Crusades.

The agnostic position — either we can’t know, or let’s wait until rocket ship (real or metaphorical) finally lands in heaven or some place of infinite vistas from which we can see there is no God — leaves like Samuel Becket’s two tramps, eternally Waiting for Godot.

So we start with “God does not exist,” which demands that we come up with a theory that will explain why we believe, why belief is so popular, and so strong that people will kill and die for their own particular brand of it.

There are other false beliefs for which the evidence is stronger and more easily seen, that people have readily given up.

Such beliefs include: the earth is standing still (it certainly looks like it), that the sun rises and sets (you see it every day), the earth is solid (it has a hard crust over a molten center), that the earth is flat and you can fall of the edge, that matter is solid (atoms are mostly empty space), that something can’t be both a wave and a particle (electrons are apparently both), that all the species were created separately and simultaneously (give or take a day).

Our theory has to explain why belief in God is more tenacious, with less evidence, than those.

It also has to deal with The Atheist’s Dilemma.

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Over to your right, at the start of his U.S. News op-ed on creationism, Henry Morris contends that 60 percent of Americans believe in the Jewish and Christian myth of creation: that some 10,000 years ago, a Supreme Being created an Adam and Eve and so began the human race.

He cites this statistic as a reason for including creationism, along with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, in public school biology classes.

By doing so, of course, Morris exposes the silliness in his own argument.

Humans believe in lots of stupid stuff. Ghosts. UFOs. Satan. Collateralized Debt Obligations.

Our ancestors believed that the sun was a flying God named Apollo. The Hopi, the Hindus, the Buddhists, the Mormons, and many other peoples have composed elaborately varying songs of creation. It is our nature, when looking out at the great twin expanses of space and eternity, to come up with comforting myths.

The alternative—”They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more”—makes for truly courageous literature, but too many sleepless nights. 

Here’s a challenge for Mr. Morris, as we consider the seriousness of popular opinion. Name one great movie star who hasn’t played a supernatural being, or otherwise starred in a science fiction or fantasy flick.

The pop culture industry—that supposed font of liberal atheism—constantly fills our heads (and its bank accounts) with comforting imagery of dancing angels, talking pigs, kung fu pandas, star cruisers, zombies, cavemen riding dinosaurs, sensuous vampires, lost loved ones who linger as friendly spirits, comic book superheroes, cuddly aliens, prep schools for wizards, and cute beeping robots.

The Force is ever with us. When you add all that mythology to the pervasive influence of Sunday church services, religious schooling, and Christian rock radio, it’s a wonder that science can carve out any space in our culture at all.

Skeptical journalism? Well, consider U.S. News—which gives Mr. Morris and his superstitions equal time, in homage to “objectivity.”

And yet, we humans can compartmentalize. We may not want to weigh the pointlessness of life in every waking moment—there are too many fun things to do. But at some level we acknowledge that myths are myths and facts are facts and it’s better for the race if we keep the two things separate. The place for that is science class. And we need to keep it that way.

After 2 decades of right wing christian oppression and social and scientific regression, are we, as a society, finally moving forward?

The intellectual and philosophical developments of that age (and their impact in moral, social, and political reform) aspired towards greater rights & liberties for common people based on self-governance, natural rights, natural law, central emphasis on liberty, individual rights, reason, common sense, and the principles of deism. These principles were a revolutionary departure from theocracy, autocracy, oligarchy, aristocracy, and the divine right of kings. For modern counterparts to oligarchy and monarchy, or other forms of individual, social, religious, and economic tyrrany, see totalitarianism, Nazi Party, democratic centralism, Leninism, Stalinism, Soviet Union.) The Enlightenment marks a principled departure from the Middle Ages, State & Church mandated oppression, toward an era of rational human discourse, freedom of religion, liberty, scientific advancement, and modernity.

 

To offset picking the evangelical freak Rick Warren to give the invocation, Obama selected New Hampshire Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, a vocal gay rights leader, to open President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration with a prayer on Sunday’s kick-off event at the Lincoln Memorial.   Now none of the extremists are happy, or are they?  This is a sign of a good leader!

“I am writing to tell you that President-Elect Obama and the Inaugural Committee have invited me to give the invocation at the opening event of the Inaugural Week activities, We are One, to be held at the Lincoln Memorial.”

Amen, Brother!

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The highest teen birth rates are in the South and Southwest; Mississippi is highest with 68.4 per 1,000, followed by New Mexico, with a rate of 64.1 and Texas, with 63.1. The lowest rates are in the Northeast. New Hampshire had the fewest teen births with 18.7 per 1,000. Vermont, with 20.8 per 1,000, and Massachusetts, with 21.3 per 1,000, were also low. Decreases were noted in New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia.

Gee, what a shocker….

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iconxCLINTON, Mass. — Weekly attendance at the two-year-old Museum of Russian Icons has doubled from about 250 to 500 since mid-October, when 16 of Russia’s most precious icons arrived on loan from the state-run Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

Visitors to the “Two Museums, One Culture” exhibit see ascetic lives of saints depicted in centuries-old, tempura-on-wood creations that survived a ban by atheist Soviet officials who burned millions of the holy objects. Russians regard these icons as portals to the holy, and now, as tangible links to a resurgent Christian tradition that thrived for more than 1,000 years in Russia before Soviet rule.

“This (loan) is an exceptional gesture by the Tretyakov Gallery because these are sacred objects,” said Catherine LeGouis, a French and Russian literature expert at Mount Holyoke College and a collector of Russian icons. “This is a private, cultural exchange that shows we are not fated to perpetual enmity between our countries.”

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Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker discusses the lasting effect of the Bush administration’s contempt for science.

Americans’ trust in the media, their government and each other has declined over the past four decades. And yet, according to many national surveys, such as the Harris and Gallup polls, trust in science and scientists remains high. In one Harris poll, for example, 68 percent of respondents said they trust scientists to tell the truth — more than the number who trusted the president.

In recent years, however, several areas of scientific research — from global warming to stem cell research to evolution — have become highly politicized, in ways that threaten the credibility of prominent scientists and their findings.

In one notorious instance, the Bush administration fired cell biologist Elizabeth Blackburn and medical ethicist William May from the President’s Council on Bioethics, a decision that many critics alleged was part of an effort to purge the council of dissenting scientific voices. Janet Rowley, professor of molecular genetics at the University of Chicago and a member of the council, later characterized the dismissals as “an important example of the absolutely destructive practices of the Bush administration” when it comes to science and scientific issues.

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MONDAY, Dec. 29 (HealthDay News) — Teens who take virginity pledges are just as likely to have sex as teens who don’t make such promises — and they’re less likely to practice safe sex to prevent disease or pregnancy, a new study finds.

Emphasis mine to highlight the incredible short-sightedness of an abstinency only program.

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Dan Gilgoff-Barack Obama will be sworn in as president on the same Bible that President Abraham Lincoln used at his 1861 inauguration. Learn more about the Lincoln Bible, which hasn’t been used by another presidential inauguration since Lincoln’s, at the Library of Congress’s website.

President-elect Obama is deeply honored that the Library of Congress has made the Lincoln Bible available for use during his swearing-in. The President-elect is committed to holding an inauguration that celebrates the unity of America, and the use of this historic Bible will provide a powerful connection to our common past and common heritage.

Presidents are not constitutionally required to be sworn in using a Bible, though most do, Theodore Roosevelt being the most notable exception. George Washington’s Bible has been a popular choice in the past.

You can see the Lincoln Inaugural Bible up close at the Library of Congress from February 12 to May 9, 2009, as part of an exhibition called “With Malice Toward None: The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Exhibition.” If you miss your chance to see the exhibit in Washington, you may be able to catch a glimpse of the Bible as it travels to five other cities in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of our 16th president.

Hmm. Wonder what the fearmongers who’ve been screaming that Obama is a Muslim think of this?

While most doctors aren’t about to hand their stethoscopes over to a higher power, more and more medical professionals are taking seriously the relationship between spirituality and physical health. “There’s been a sea change in the way the medical community looks at spirituality,” says Puchalski, an internist who founded the George Washington University Institute for Spirituality and Health in 2001 to promote research and education on the topic. In recent years, a growing number of rigorous studies have shown that spirituality—including prayer, meditation, and attendance at religious services—benefits health in ways that science hasn’t fully explained. Among other effects, regular worship and other spiritual acts appear to lengthen life expectancy, strengthen immunity, improve the body’s response to stress, and boost other measures of physical health.

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This LTE to CSM is a common theme-In regard to the Dec. 17 article, “Young Republicans seek a new kind of party”: I voted Republican in 1996, 2000, and 2004, but not in 2008, because I was finally fed up with the ever-increasing influence of the religious right on the Republican Party – especially on issues such as abortion, stem-cell research, and gay marriage.

If the GOP returned to affirming individual rights, limited government, and fiscal responsibility, then I would be glad to support it again.

But as long as they support the toxic “social conservative” agenda of the religious right, then they will continue to alienate many young and independent voters and lose elections. And deservedly so. ”

One can only wonder how powerful and great the GOP and this country would be if only they hadn’t jumped in bed with the religious right in the 1980s. The GOP will continue to lose until they fully understand the follly of this unpopular move.

(NOTE: Copies of what seemed to be a draft of an inaugural invocation by Pastor Rick Warren arrived in the fax machines of several prominent journalists this morning. This site does not vouch for the authenticity of the draft, although each of the statements does conform to material in Pastor Warren’s speeches, interviews, or on his websites.)

O Lord, as we come together on this historic and solemn occasion to inaugurate a president and vice president. We pray, O Lord, for President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joseph Biden, to whom You have entrusted leadership of this nation at this moment in history. …

the rest of the invocation

Paul Weyrich, Giant of the Conservative Movement, Dies at Age 66

The man responsible for leading evangelicals away from Christ-like values and into the dark world of greed, power and politics, died recently.  I suspect that he is sitting at the right hand of satan, right next to Jerry Falwell.

R.I.P. was the word used most in talking about the death of Paul Weyrich. “His critical role in [the] establishment [of] the right’s intellectual and communications infrastructure cannot be emphasized enough,” writes Michelle Malkin. Grover Norquist adds to a choir singing Weyrich’s praises at National Review‘s The Corner. The few liberals who cared to comment on Weyrich’s life had other things to say. “No one ever mistook Weyrich as a moderate,” says Steve Benen. “That was just the way he liked it.” But don’t get the wrong idea, writes Marc Ambinder. “He had a visceral disdain for secular humanists; he considered gay people to be hypersexualized deviants.” And he wasn’t “very nice to those with whom he worked.”

No one should burn churches in America. Not African American churches. Not predominantly white churches. Not Jewish synagogues. Not even Sarah Palin’s former church. 

That said, I don’t remember this kind of outrage ( read the comments here) from the right blogosphere when poisonous fumes were pumped into a Mosque in Ohio during worship there, an attack which sickened many children and adults, and which was clearly connected to the hate video that two extremist right wing funded groups distributed during the election campaign in various states. Nor do I recall all that much concern by conservatives for the bombings domestic right wing Christian terrorist Eric Rudolph carried out against an abortion clinic and a gay nightclub. Or the shootings at the “liberal” Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville, Tennessee earlier this year, where the shooter clearly had been inspired to act by inflammatory writings and hate speech by right wing talk radio hosts preaching hatred against liberals.

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