28 September 2010

More news from the unsurprising discoveries of the week pile

Atheists actually know quite a bit about religion.

We just don't like most of what you have to say about it.

Left unaddressed is the correlation between atheism and college graduation rates relative to the mainstream population. Meaning that this polling data doesn't make clear whether it is being surrounded by a pervasive cultural attitude that one should know Jesus, and by extension must engage in mortal intellectual combat with those who do (this is in the bylaws of atheistic citizenship apparently) or simply that atheists are more likely to have gone to college and actually studied a bit of theology and religion through any of the broad cross section of places where it intersects society and can be studied (political science, anthropology, sociology, economics, international relations, ethics, and so on). So it's unclear to me whether it's that atheists tend to be better educated and relatively smarter or at least better informed or that there's a body electorate of people who maybe finished high school answering authoritative basic knowledge questions ignorantly and drawing largely from the various Christian sects that overwhelmingly populate the American landscape. It seems like its a combination of both, since there is a hint that atheists and Mormons and Jews routinely scored better in any demographic sector adjusted for educational levels (and did way better on the general knowledge control test). So maybe we're just unusually well informed.

Somewhat amusing is that people still miss about a little over a third of the questions despite being supposedly diligent religious folk. Something tells me that way too many people are doing selective reading, if any at all. Pretty sure they could also just edit out a few books here and there for common, none scholarly consumption and nobody would lose anything from a moral/historical perspective. They already did that a few hundred years ago as it is and people are constantly re-writing the thing to conform to their pre-conceived notions in the modern environment. May as well do something productive and toss out Leviticus for example. Do us a favor and not make it so easy to pick on you.

Digression of story time:
I've been playing basketball amongst a church group lately (it's free exercise, why pay for a gym, though... given this story, I'm considering shelling out some money or finding other sources of free basketball). Something that came up was the supposed vilified attitude of society toward Christians. To which my inner monologue said, uh, what the fuck is he talking about? Christians are being assailed and persecuted? By whom? I must have missed the lion pits and gladiator arenas that the secret cabal of atheists that I belong to who supposedly control American society had installed for their amusement, but I digress. Seriously, you've had it rough historically, so having your ideas and ideals challenged and pushed back against is not you being thrown to the lions, get a grip. We've been burned as heretics by you long enough to earn some street cred on the persecution angles I should think anyway.

But what was really rich was the supposed explanation was not: people who read scriptures and have no contextual understanding of the text and spout it off as though it proves some point but rather that Christians did not do this enough, instead forming and expressing their own opinions and that this was why (implied many) people did not like Christians.

Uhm. No. That's actually precisely why I don't get along with you, that you think the lifestyles of ancient peoples are somehow appropriate to modern life and don't bother to form and express your own opinions by even attempting to contextualize the works into your own life and surroundings. It was even amusing how this was phrased as taking the Bible turning it around and asking someone else "what does this mean to you"... hmm. Curious. What does it mean to you? Isn't that kind of like forming and expressing an opinion?

Sometimes I just have to shake my head. Their assumption seems to be that "people can't argue with scripture". Even though that was done rather decisively by Thomas Paine (in the Age of Reason) and others since certainly and has been going on even within Christian theologians for hundreds of years, if not since the dawn of Christianity. Disturbing lack of self-awareness to be feeling persecuted like this, with this supposed war on Christianity, but then not seek out the people and their arguments who are actually doing the "persecuting".

Anyway. Some other interesting tidbits that I keep running into in various forums of life dealing with religious and philosophical issues.

1) Nobody seems to know that Indonesia is populated by Muslims (in fact the most populated Muslim country in the world), most of which are quite secular or still keep some pre-Islamic traditions mixed into the practice of their religion (and don't, for the most part, adopt the herdsmen and nomadic practices of Bedouin and Arabian tribesmen from the 7th century). This comes up constantly when people start spouting off about how all Muslims are evil and then I toss Indonesia and Turkey and Bosnia at them. It's damned inconvenient to possess facts which are inconsistent with the preconceived worldview of others. Also embarrassing was the bare majority that knows what the Koran is. I'd hasten to add this doesn't bode well for the percentage of people who have read much of it themselves or studied it and its associated commentaries before appearing before a national audience to state its supposed heinous nature. I at least tried to read your book before I started calling Christians silly for doing things like not paying attention to their own teachings and selectively ignoring very similar and inconvenient portions of their own texts that pose problems relating to (commanding) violence and warfare against others. Ie, you don't have much to talk about vis a vis Islam here as though you're holier than thou, it's just you being on a different team and not liking those people over there. Grow up and focus on team building exercises instead of character assassinations.

2) Few people know or acknowledged that you can read the Bible in public schools. It's commonly studied in literature or English classes. Actually where I first encountered it (to read it anyway). I'd assume people could study portions of it in history as well, if we still studied history. Not surprisingly, we noticed this far out of proportions to the rest of the population. More comparative theology/mythology or philosophy courses made available at lower levels of education would be nice too. Why people don't think we can do this is unclear. Maybe they get crossed up with the prayer in school business and assumed the building caves in when there's any religion at all in it.

3) A significant minority did not know the "Golden Rule" wasn't one of the 10 commandments. If it was, I could start suggesting about 7 or 8 that could go forthwith to be replaced by it and I'd be happy to hang it on a courtroom wall or in a classroom. There's still a loophole in the thing that you have to fix with some universality logic to get to the Kantian categorical imperative instead as a morally superior system built along the same reasoning. But for most of us, trying really hard to be decent to one another is already really hard it seems and this seems pretty close to how to do that, if not the best way.

4) Book of Job is identified by Thomas Paine as one of the odder inclusions to the Old Testament over two hundred years ago. It's by far one of the most perplexing for people. So it's not surprising that people don't seem to know who Job was.

5) Americans really don't know much about Buddhism.

6) Even if you didn't know who Maimonides was, they didn't ask if he was Muslim as one of the choices in a multiple choice test. That'd be the only other major faith I'd think people would cross that kind of name up with. I suppose most people don't know much about Middle Eastern looking names. Or the regional homelands and credible names from these various faiths.

Also: They threw a Zeus question in there. Awesome. When Thor gets some cred as well, I'll be happy.
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