Really Cool Megachurch Infographic

I have been a member of this site http://myblogguest.com/ for a while, but it very rarely yields something on topic for my blog.  But today I have a doozy for you.  An infographic all about Megachurches and how much money they take from people.  The best part, though, is that it still appears to be associated with a Christian mission — to get people to go to Christian colleges online. There’s a nice little “MegaBenevolent” section with quotes from several pastors, including the illustrious Rick Warren.

Megachurches, big business, christianity

Although religion is still prevalent in today’s society, small American churches around the country are slowing and shutting down at a rate of 1%, whereas megachurches are continuing to grow at a rate of approximately 8% each year. Many megachurches use more corporate marketing and advertising techniques to help draw viewers and attendees to the actual church gatherings, meetings and even conferences that are hosted.

In just 1970 there were less than 10 mega-churches altogether. As of 2011, more than 1,611 mega-churches exist. The largest megachurch in the entire world to date is the Yoido Full Gospel Church, owned by David Yonggi Cho which is located in Seoul, South Korea. The church has an annual budget of $200 million and currently has more than 850,000 members actively enrolled.

U.S. MegaChurches

The biggest megachurch in the US today is the Lakewood Church, owned and operated by Joel Osteen in Houston, Texas. Each week, the church receives about 43,500 attendees and has a $70 million budget annually. The church itself is located within the Compaq Center, which was purchased in 2010 for $7.5 million.

LifeChurch.tv is another church that is located in Edmon, Oklahoma and it is considered the second largest megachurch in the US. LifeChurch.tv was founded by Craig Groschel and has approximately 42,782 weekly attendees. In 2012, the church had about $45,754,000 in expenses but took in about $71,338,000 from donations and charities. More than 100,000 unique viewers tune in to watch LifeChurch.tv each week from more than 120 countries altogether.

The third most popular megachurch in the US is North Point Community Church, owned and operated by Andy Stanley out of Alpharetta, Georgia. More than 27,000 members attend the church each week and the church has a total of $38.5 million for their annual budget.

In the US, the state of California has the most megachurches with 218. Texas has 207 megachurches with Florida following in third with 120 megachurches. Additionally, Georgia has 91 megachurches and Tennessee, 66.

Understanding how megachurches affect small-town American and religion today is a way to gain insight into the business while also finding a church that is right for you and your family. Megachurches continue to grow steadily, leaving the future of small churches unknown in America.

Source: www.onlinechristiancolleges.com

Happy Friday the 13th – Zombies, suicide, and me talking abortion

Friday13Sometime, next week probably, I am going to discuss Richard Dawkins and abuse and trauma, but this week I thought I’d end on an upbeat note, since it is Friday the Thirteenth and I do suffer from friggatriskaidekaphilia.

1. ZOMBIES

I miss Ian ’round the old FtB haunts, but he’s still doing many interesting things. As a fan of 1. pop culture, 2. zombies, and 3. anti-racism, I am fairly certain that I am the precise audience for this.

In the following presentation, given in January of 2013 in Kelowna, BC, I explore the parallels between zombie movies and anti-racism, with examples drawn from classic horror scenes. I discuss how we can learn to understand racism in a contemporary context, and understand the role our subconscious plays in our interactions, and how we can use this knowledge to avoid and combat racism in the same way we use it to avoid and combat zombies.

http://crommunist.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/dont-go-in-there-talking-about-race-racism-and-race-issues-in-the-time-of-the-zombie-apocalypse/

2. SUICIDE

I make no secret of my deep love for Jennifer Michael Hecht.  My intellectual crush on her is boundless.

When you take your own life, you normalize suicide for people who liked you and who are like you. Once the numbers reach a critical mass, as they have in the military today, it is a massacre.

http://theamericanscholar.org/to-live-is-an-act-of-courage/?utm_source=email#.Ui9Zx2Q5zNo

3. ABORTION

Finally, yesterday I did my first toe-dipping into media appearances related to my new job with the wonderful as ever Jamila Bey.

From increasing the number of doctors trained in the procedure to working with social services agencies, Provide is working to ensure that all American women are able to exercise their constitutional rights despite living in jurisdictions that seek to impede this.

http://voiceofrussia.com/us/2013_09_13/Abortion-rights-organization-Provide-1675/

 

Fall Schedule / SSA Reminder

speakingBelow you will find my schedule for the fall.  If you are a reader or group organizer and want to meet me or host an event, maybe this information is useful to you.

A reminder to my friends who are in SSA groups, I am available to speak to you about many interesting topics.  I am currently mostly located in and around the DC area, but I’m happy to travel with sufficient notice.  And if you happen to be a group who wants me to speak while I’m in the area for other reasons, let me know.  I’m happy to speak about anything (spending the night at the Supreme Court!), but there is a list at the bottom of this e-mail with topics I’m fond of.

 

September 27-29th — New Orleans at the AJHA Conference, presenting a paper about the Rural Purge.  Aside from Saturday at 3:20, I am free.

October ~1st-2nd — Boston for work.  I’m pretty busy and it’s a quick turn around, but might be in the night before.

October ~24th-27th — Miami for work.  Not sure exactly when I’m arriving and leaving, but I could have much free time if I want.

November 7th — Charlottesville, VA (more information soon).

November 15-17th — Springfield, MO for Skepticon, where I will be hosting a critically reading media workshop 4pm on Friday.

The end of November and much of December I will probably be in Columbia, SC a great deal and briefly probably in Kentucky, but almost certainly too late in the semester to be of interest to anyone.

And at some point in there I’m going to write a dissertation.  No big deal.

 

Ashley would love to speak on the following topics:

  • Atheism and diversity
  • Introduction to feminism
  • Media literacy and how to work with the media
  • Religion versus women, minorities, and LGBT
  • Using Social Media effectively
  • Film, Television, Young Adult Literature
  • Blogging, Podcasting, Vlogging
  • History of Christianity
  • Coping with burn out

Musical Monday: Cyndi Lauper Ukulele

My present to myself for getting a new job and passing my comprehensive exams was this shiny new acoustic/electric Les Paul ukulele.  I am working on learning some songs that sound good and crunchy with electric effects, but I think that means learning ukulele power chords, which I don’t really understand just yet.  It involves skipping strings, which I find weirdly difficult.

In the meantime, “Time after Time.”

Future Doctor Miller talks Karaoke

Photo by Amanda Walczesky DanielsonI know I’ve been close to radio silence here on the FtB lately.  I’ve found a lot of the fighting going on in my pages about Shermer a bit triggery, but mostly I’ve been getting ready for and recovering from the oral defense of my Comprehensive Exams.

WHICH I PASSED.

Yes.  I am All But Dissertation or, as I plan to sign only the most ridiculous things I talk about: Ashley F. Miller, almost PhD.  Of course, there’s that pesky dissertation thing between me and making everyone call me doctor.  And I’m starting a CAREER sort of job tomorrow, but I got this.

In light of the serious scholarly weight I’ve been carrying around with me this last month, I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk about something not terribly deep at all.  My love for Karaoke.  Consider this a love letter, of sorts.

I have been having a rough couple weeks, but I’ve had the opportunity to go to karaoke frequently with people I like a great deal, so that’s been good.  It occurred to me that the rules of karaoke and how I approach it are very different from the way I do most things in life.  There are unwritten rules, the most important of which is that Taste Doesn’t Matter.  This is really weird for me because I am highly critical, but when I go to karaoke that part of my mind almost totally shuts down.  I mean, I still notice when something I don’t like is happening, but it generally doesn’t matter very much.  No amount of anxiety meds or alcohol or CBT has ever been able to shut off my obsessive-compulsive noticing of flaws, but karaoke very nearly does.

Photo by Chris Bickel

Karaoke is about supporting people doing something they enjoy, whether you would normally enjoy it or not — in exchange, they support you when it’s your turn.  Don’t like the song or the genre of music?  Too bad, support them anyway.  Don’t think they can sing?  Too bad, sing along.  Think “Blurred Lines” is quasi-date-rape-y? Too bad, sing the “hey hey hey”.  They are butchering a song you wanted to sing later?  Too bad, clap for them and find a new song.  They’re too drunk to read the screen and don’t know any of the words? Sing along in the audience to help them out.

This rule applies to the performance as well.  You want to do something that’s fun for the room.  You’re not obligated to, you can sing whatever you want, and not all audiences are alike.  One group might be very impressed by your rendition of a slow Adele song while another much prefers over-the-top cock rock.  You can’t always know this, but when you do, aim for helping them have a good time with your performance.  Do you think “I’m Too Sexy” is a great song? Of course not — but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun. Many of the best karaoke songs are songs you’d probably be embarrassed to admit to liking. Want to do something weird?  Own it.  Someone having fun on stage trumps everything.

This is the only rule of karaoke.  Unconditionally love and support the singer, even and especially when that singer is you.  That’s the reason it’s fun, because it isn’t about being good, it’s about the shared performance of audience and singer.  Oh, it might be great to be the best singer in the room or give the most convincing air guitar, but, when done right, karaoke should be just as much fun when you aren’t singing as when you are.  And that’s my karaoke wisdom, do with it what you will — Ashley F. Miller, almost PhD.

Photo by Chris Bickel

Michael Shermer’s Note on the Legal Fund

On the legal fund set up for Michael Shermer there is now a note from Shermer himself, acknowledging the campaign.

People are asking me about this legal fund set up in my name, if I am aware of it, if it is legit, should they donate?, etc. For the record: I am aware of and completely support this legal fund and deeply appreciate Emery for setting it up and for the people who have donated thus far. I made it clear to Emery when he set it up that the money goes into an account that I have no access to, that my legal bills will be paid out of the fund directly to the law firm representing me, and that if there is any money left over after the case is finished that it be donated by Emery to a nonprofit organization of his choice. If anyone would like to email me directly for confirmation of the above, my email is [email protected], which is posted on our web page www.skeptic.com. My reputation is all I have. I did nothing wrong–legally or morally–and I intend to defend myself and prosecute Myers until he issues a retraction and apology, as stated by my attorney.

And I would say something about that, but honestly one of my commenters, imnotandrei, really nailed it.

And, as a result, he blew whatever chance he had left of regaining credibility with me.  Because at this point, whether or not he’s done as was claimed, his actions *since* have demonstrated that I shouldn’t trust him.

When your fundraiser makes a rape joke, and asserts that people are out to “do harm to the institutions” and “have set their sights on atheism”, and your response is to say you “completely support this legal fund” — well, it’s clear that you are not only aligning yourself with people defending you, but the people who think rape jokes are OK and Atheism+ is some massive blight on the face of atheism.

And if you’re allied with them, you have lost all credibility in my eyes on these issues.

Michael Shermer Legal Fund

Screen Shot 2013-08-21 at 10.43.01 AMSomeone has set up an Indiegogo campaign to raise money to help pay for Michael Shermer’s response to the unnamed first hand accuser at PZ’s site.

I actually don’t have a problem with people deciding they want to help raise money to pay for the legal fees someone else is incurring.  I think the justice system is such that that is entirely reasonable, especially if you’re a fan of the guy and think he’s being falsely accused.  It’s really no different from OJ or Michael Jackson fans wanting to financially support “their guy” through their legal troubles.  I happen to find myself on the opposite side, having heard and experienced too much behind the scenes to believe in Shermer’s innocence, but I don’t begrudge those without that knowledge for wanting fair legal representation of Shermer.

I do, however, begrudge them their inability to believe in the good intentions of others with a demonstrable history of trying to do something positive with the movement.  It seems that, to some skeptics, merely offering criticism of problems you see in the organizations, conferences, celebrities, or overall movement is tantamount to wishing to destroy skepticism, rather than an attempt to make skepticism better.

“PZ Myers and the FtB feminists have set their sights on skepticism and atheism in general. They clearly want to do harm to the institutions.”

You hear this argument a lot from Republicans, that criticizing America is anti-America or trying to destroy America, when in fact it’s trying to make America better and fix the problems within, rather than turn a blind eye.  Yes, a lot of “FTB feminists” have set their sights on skepticism and atheism in general, because we’re part of those movements and care deeply about making them better.

And, of course, it’s difficult to give them the benefit of the doubt that they’re just trying to make sure justice is served when there’s this:

A show of support will send the message that we as a community will no longer tolerate illogical attacks on people who do not condone nor support sexual harassment, sexual predation, or rape any more than we support defamation of our community members from anonymous allegations.

Ah, so donating to this is not, in fact, an attempt to help Shermer get decent representation, but rather a way to condemn unnamed victims who come forward with their stories.  Got it.  Out of curiosity, what is the appropriate way for a reporter to deal with a story from an unnamed source who is known and trusted, whose story and reputation is vouched for by multiple others?

Eustress, Distress, and American Health Care

I bring you the best video discussion on American Health Care I’ve ever seen, courtesy of the Vlog Brothers and, specifically, the greatest man in the world, John Green.  If you don’t know the awesomeness of Nerdfighteria, you are missing a lot in your life and I hope you change that for yourself.

My world’s been sort of turned upside down on multiple fronts in the last few weeks and I’ve backed way off the internet and participating.  I find myself unable to engage about the harassment/assault allegations within the atheist community due to my own history and because I am dealing with a fair amount of craziness, both ups and downs, in my offline life.  Family issues, relationship issues, job issues, school issues, housing issues, financial issues, health issues, atheist movement imploding issues.  Basically, all of the issues at once.  All of which has left me a bit overwhelmed.  I now seem to be back to more or less functioning without having constant anxiety, so that’s good.  While I haven’t solved all the issues, I’ve at least gotten used to them.  Clearly it’s just been too long since I’ve been at a conference with my people.

And there’s phenomenal news in that I got a great job that I’m really excited about.  And they are very supportive of me continuing to do my activism work and finishing my PhD, so that really could not be better.  I realize I’m being completely non-specific about everything, but considering the bile and anger going on around here, I just am not feeling up to being open.

My Muslim Facebook Friends

muslimfbI admit that I am fairly wanton in my acceptance of Facebook friends.  Since it’s my primary mode of communication and sharing with my friends and followers, I’m happy to pretty much accept anyone who isn’t harassing me.  More hits on my blog, more attention to me, etc.

While the vast majority of strangers who friend request me are atheists, I’ve noticed that I’ve been getting a lot of requests from strangers who are Muslims.  No other religious denomination, just Islam.  I didn’t think too much of it — they could be people who were curious about what I was saying or maybe were in the closet atheists in inhospitable areas or they were trying to convert me.  All of which were OK with me.  I did a little digging and discovered that these people have friended en masse a lot of other atheists that I am friends with.

The weird thing is that none of them really comment on my page or engage with anything I say.  I guess they just want their posts to show up in my News Feed, but I am pretty heavy with my “Don’t Show Me Posts” powers, so a lot of people disappear soon after friending me.  Yesterday I got a friend request from someone with over 100 friends in common with me and today she showed up in my News Feed:

Screen Shot 2013-08-06 at 1.27.28 PM

 

Screen Shot 2013-08-06 at 1.30.39 PM

Uzma Rathore: I don’t want to come across as harsh but i request those of you who are Islamophobics to kindly remove yourselves from my friends list as being a practicing Muslim, i won’t allow anyone to disrespect my religion. I removed a particular individual from my friends list just now due to the same reason. Cheers.

What’s she doing going around friending all these atheists if she’s just going to tell us to unfriend her.  MAKES NO SENSE.

So, strangers, why are you friending me?

EDIT: Apparently asking why she friended so many atheists is islamophobic hate speech.  Fascinating.

Screen Shot 2013-08-06 at 2.21.49 PM

I have absolutely no idea how many atheistic Islamophobic mad hatters i have added to my friend’s list out of sheer ignorance since i don’t deem it necessary to confirm individual religious beliefs prior to sending out friend requests but i am getting negative vibes about this whole thing. I just removed two women from my friend’s list who were propagating religious hate speech on my wall notwithstanding my persistent requests to not disrespect my religion. I wonder how some people can be so unreasonably adamant !

Zealot by Reza Aslan: A Review

There are a lot of narratives around this book.  Reza Aslan says mean things about atheists, Reza Aslan doesn’t have the credentials he says he has, Reza Aslan was mistreated abominably by Fox News, Reza Aslan is Muslim and that taints his ability to see clearly on the history of Jesus.  The thing is, none of these are about the book itself.  So I decided that I would read it.

072613_dotcom_aslan_640

There are a couple things you should know about my background here.  I am trained in historical methods, I have read most of the popularly available books about the history of Jesus and the New Testament written in the last decade, and I love the history of religions.  I am also an atheist.  My particular brand of atheism, as Christopher Hitchens would say, is very much a Protestant one, an Episcopal one at that.  There was no sturm und drang and little in the way of imposing dogma in my upbringing, I had possibly the least contentious relationship one can have with their religion while also not believing in it or understanding the point of it.

Unlike some, my particular atheism has no investment in the idea that a Jesus of some sort did or did not exist, and so no suspension of disbelief is necessary for me to accept the premise of the book.  Aslan doesn’t really address the question of Jesus’ existence, partially because it’s not really much of a controversy among historians.  Even if you don’t believe in a historical Jesus, however, it’s possible to read the book as a thought exercise.  Liberal Christians will also be able to reconcile the figure presented with their faith, to some extent.  Fundamentalists and Catholics, however, wouldn’t be able to do so, especially believers in the perpetual virginity of Mary.

The story is basically as follows:

Jesus was a poor man from the tiny town of Nazareth who witnessed his homeland of Galilee impoverished, enslaved, and mistreated by Roman occupiers.  Around the age of 30, he became a disciple of John the Baptist, by far the more famous of the two at the time.  When John the Baptist was executed, Jesus struck out on his own with a message primarily aimed at overthrowing the Temple and the Roman Occupiers — he was attempting to radically reform Judaism and free the state of Israel.  He was killed for sedition against Rome.

He was one of dozens of miracle workers with remarkably similar stories, distinguishable mostly by the fact that, after his execution, his message was carried on by his surviving family and followers, particularly his brother James and, later, Paul. The reason Christianity lasted was because Paul changed it drastically from being a critique of Judaism to being a totally new religion, one that Jesus’ brother James did not approve of.  James was killed, as were his followers with the destruction of Jerusalem, meaning that the head of the church changed from being someone who knew the Nazarene and lived in his culture to being foreigners who’d only heard secondhand tales.  Christianity is Paul’s reimagining of historical Jesus, a sort of fanfiction version — the Fifty Shades of Grey to Jesus’ Twilight.

The book is not really new in terms of the history it offers, but it is the most readable history of first century Jerusalem that I’ve come across.  If you are only mildly interested in the subject or the subject is totally new to you, I cannot emphasize enough how fun it was to read.

Aslan goes to great lengths to reassure readers that the possibility of a divine Jesus still exists within this story, sometimes to the point of annoying this reader, but he also makes a good point about the difference between what modern people accept as history and what ancient people did and the difference between facts and truth.  Since the scientific revolution, facts and truth have become more or less synonymous to many people, but the stories told of Jesus were meant to reveal truth about him rather than be facts.  In the same way that parables are understood to be lessons about the real world, even if they didn’t happen.

Read an excerpt here.