26 March 2015

A set of amusing evaluations

By Christians of atheists. 

There were several interesting elements pulled out for comment by them.

"Skeptics represent one-quarter of all unchurched adults (25%). Nearly one-third of skeptics have never attended a Christian church service in their lives (31%)."
-The first statistic matters because the "nones" are frequently used as a calling card for both the skeptical/atheist community and the Christian community rather than a direct signal of who such people are. If only about a quarter of the "nones" are "skeptics", by that definition, then that's only about 5-6%. Which is about what you'd expect and doesn't sound like a major rise or something to worry about. If the "nones" population is instead more like 20-25% and comprised mostly of atheists/skeptics, then the claims made by religious folk that "we" have too much influence on public policy and they are being "discriminated" against, or otherwise actively repressed start to make more sense. But as it is, it sounds more like a large proportion of people who are bored or disaffected by churches, and just not willing to stick up for those who aren't so disaffected when they wish to impose upon others.

I'd also imagine the non-attendance of a Christian church figure would be somewhat lower if one expanded it to include any religious faction (Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, etc). The narrow focus on Christianity is to be expected from a pro-Christian group but it ignores that people are potentially leaving any religious tradition for similar reasons as they may leave that state of Christendom behind.

"Given their antipathy or indifference toward the Bible, it is remarkable that six out of 10 skeptics own at least one copy. Most have read from it in the past"

This is "remarkable" in the sense that it is worth a remark. It isn't "remarkable" in the sense that it ought to shock or surprise anyone. Yes I've read it. Yes I have a copy (digital, but still). No I wasn't impressed. Indeed, I've talked to many skeptics that the process of reading the "good book" itself was a major factor in their now stated disbelief. So having a copy around is kind of a reminder of that process for most of them. I could not quote chapter and verse myself as it did not make that grand of an impression on me to memorize entire passages. I don't remember Greek myths word for word either yet those were a little more pragmatic and entertaining I found. I also don't bother re-reading them now, decades later.

Given the widespread nature of influence on public policy and sometimes the private lives of others, I perhaps should heed the theological implications and interpretations of scripture (upon others) somewhat more than I do. But in so far as someone identifies a strictly religious basis for their positions as to what the government should do, I rarely find this will be an interesting debate and will rarely draw upon any serious scholarship to back such positions. In many cases, it will not resemble at all the theological writings and interpretations they believe backs their opinion in the first place. This is because I rarely find most religious people take the process of theology all that seriously either. Serious theological study is intended to bring all the text under the same architecture, placing it in context or in interpretative philosophical positions alongside the rest. Most people are not doing this. Most of them pick and choose to their convenience and ignore other matters entirely. Whole passages and indeed entire books within the canon are often ignored or unheeded. I'd say the percentage of people who have even read the entire text is much lower than is commonly believed, much less the percentage of people who are taking the process of how to believe as a serious intellectual pursuit.

"Perhaps the biggest transition of all is the entry of millions of women into the skeptic ranks. In 1993 only 16 percent of atheists and agnostics were women. By 2013 that figure had nearly tripled to 43 percent. This enormous increase is not because the number of skeptic men has declined. In fact, men’s numbers have steadily increased over the last two decades—but not nearly as rapidly as among women."

This should be a little more surprising, and most definitely reassuring for atheists/skeptics. The more prominent figures in the "atheist" community, such as any exists, are typically older white males (Maher, Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Dennett, etc). "On the ground", there's more women than one would think would be the case from that feature. Keep in mind that women are also becoming "more religious", so the ones who are not leaving are becoming more conservative and more tied to their faith. That may also be true for the men, but on different grounds. I would guess the key appeals for women to leave a religion are most likely not a rejection of church authority in favor of a more anti-authoritarian world but a rejection of the use of that authority to abuse or discriminate against other human beings, including women (based on conversations).

"Churches have done little to convince skeptics to reevaluate. In fact, because more than two-thirds of skeptics have attended Christian churches in the past—most for an extended period of time—their dismissal of God, the Bible and churches is not theoretical in nature." - This is not surprising that the large majority in a largely Christian country have past experience with church.

"Most skeptics think of Christian churches as:
Groups of people who share a common physical space and have some common religious views, but are not personally connected to each other in meaningful or life-changing ways" (sounds about right)
"Organizations that add little, if any, value to their communities; their greatest value stems from the limited times they serve the needy in the community" (definitely true)
"Organizations that stand for the wrong things—wars, preventing gay marriage and a woman’s freedom to control her body, sexual and physical violence perpetrated on people by religious authority figures, mixing religious beliefs with political policy and action" (seems like a major factor for the youth disappearing, and there has been a long tradition of Christians seeking to divide public policy and religion for which such activities are often offensive and divisive. This also doesn't address the possibility of Christianity increasingly being seen as offensive and in opposition to science and research, where it often was not for much of the last century)
"Led by people who have not earned their positions of influence by proving their love of humankind, and are thus not deserving of trust" (this critical attitude toward authority isn't limited to religion, it's heavily involved in many institutions today, but religion and Christianity in particular has done considerable self-harm under this arc certainly).

"The data does lend support to the notion that college campuses are comfortable places for young people to abandon God and assume control of their own lives."

That line I find is telling not because of the college aspect, but the "assuming control of their own lives" part. One implication of it is that "we" are supposed to be telling them what to do and they're not listening anymore.

"One of the unexpected results we uncovered is the limited influence of personal relationships on skeptics. They are considerably less relational and less engaged in social activities than the average American."
I'm not sure what "less relational and less engaged" entirely means. Introverts anonymous unite, each in your own homes? But in as far as skeptics are less likely to do or believe something simply because their friends or families do, yes. I agree.

"It’s a chicken-or-egg conundrum to identify which came first: the atheist celebrity or an uptick in the number of atheists. Whatever the case, atheism has shifted in the past 50 years from cultural anathema to something the “cooler” kids are doing."

I'd like to have seen this pulled apart quite a bit more. The main reason I suspect it was cultural anathema was the association, still but less often casually made, that "atheism" or "godlessness" was for some reason synonymous with "communism". While there's a strong political association among atheists with more progressive policies, particularly on social issues but also on economic positions, this is no longer a common affiliation that most people will make. Or at least, a more neo-liberal economic consensus dominates the landscape, and a variety of policies are available and accessible both to people on the political left and for skeptics to assess and support (or oppose). One way to look at this would be that the end of the Cold War placed "communist" as a dirty word worthy of scorn for the damages it wrecked upon humanity, it no longer left "godless" as a strong affiliation one way or another. European/Western societies have become increasingly secular throughout both the 20th century and the Cold War. While there are non-serious attempts to show they are "socialist", it is rarely declared they're the second coming of Stalin or Mao either. I would suspect that lacking this cultural ability to point to someone's godless nature as an endorsement of the Soviet Union, the great enemy of the last generation, there's not as much compunction to be seen as god-fearing or whatever instead and that this has far more to do with the cultural shift than anything Dawkins is saying or has written. (And indeed, the post-Soviet Russian political landscape includes a reclamation of the Russian Orthodox church both politically and culturally, even as the Russian state remains a considered opponent to US hegemony).

The second aspect is the accessibility of the internet has made information and critiques of Christian apologetic works much more widespread. One doesn't need to have read Dawkins or Hitchens at all where this was probably a much more influential need 20-25 years ago.

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