Open Thread AE 833: Religion & Depression

On the show I discussed the study published in Psychological Medicine that examined the relationship between religious beliefs and major depression. The prevailing view has been that religious belief provided some protective and/or mitigating effect on major depression. This study puts a serious dent in that view with its conclusion that “These results do not support the notion that religious and spiritual life views enhance psychological well-being.”

The study included over 8000 participants in seven countries and found that stronger religious beliefs were correlated with higher risk of depression. You can read the abstract of the study yourself here (unfortunately, you’ll have to pay if you want the full article), or you can read Tomas Rees excellent summary here.

Something I neglected to bring up on the show is the implication this research study has on the Army’s Spiritual Fitness program. As many of us foxhole atheists have known all along, religious belief is not some magic talisman that wards off depression, PTSD, or other mental health problems that may arise in humans exposed to traumatic events. In spite of this, the Army continues to promote a program that its own statistics show has, at best, had no effect on the suicide rate. At worst, this program may be exacerbating the suicide/depression rate among soldiers, if only by promoting something that doesn’t work over things that do work.

Anyway – open thread, so have at it.

Online atheist forums

The Atheist Experience gets a lot of email. Way more email than we can possibly respond to. In some cases, one person will write to us many times, seeing us as a sort of atheist pen pal. Although I enjoy filling that role sometimes, most of the time we’re stretched too thin to be a personal atheist mentor. In those cases, we often advise people to find a message board or a Facebook group to join instead. There are lots of people willing to talk there.

While this is by no means an exhaustive list, it is a good way to get started if you’re not able to meet atheist friends in person, and you’d like some online contact.

Message boards

Facebook groups

Other groups

General sites of interest

There will undoubtedly be lots more suggestions in the comments.

World History Text Mentions Islam—Florida’s Christian Right Shits Itself

So, I see the headline, “Brevard School Board wants 10-member panel to compile textbook supplement,” and as I read just a little further, I believe I smell a religious rat. I want to be objective going in, but the accusation (including the level of response) that Prentice Hall would be selling a textbook with “pro-Islamic bias,” makes me suspect. It isn’t as though they hire Imam’s as their history subject matter experts (SME) or authors. Their authors and SMEs (usually pronounced “smeez”) are qualified, educated, reputable, and generally experienced suppliers of educational content in their areas of expertise. So, I was very interested in what sort of “pro-Muslim bias” they were being accused of selling.

Of course, the entire time, I’m thinking of the Texas School Board’s push for Christian bias, and how they might react to anything about Islam in a history text that isn’t entirely negative. I read further, trying to keep an open mind, but just waiting to hear these “concerns” (which spurred a review panel, a need to produce supplementary material, and legislator complaints) in more detail—because part of me just already knows this has “Christian Right having a tantrum over something idiotic” slathered all over it. And finally, here it is. Here is more detail about one of their “big concerns”:

“One of the big concerns that we’ve heard is that it talks about the five tenants of Islam, and it doesn’t talk about the 10 Commandments, because that was something that was covered in sixth grade,” Brevard schools spokeswoman Michelle Irwin said. “So they may have a copy online of the 10 Commandments.”

So, the world history textbook, for use in U.S. schools, apparently gives a very basic description of the fundamental foundations of Islam. It tells, not sells, the students about the five tenets of Islam. And that’s a “big concern” about “pro-Islamic bias.” Here, let me paraphrase author Katherine Stewart, who once said of the Christian Right, in a lecture I attended, “If they can’t own it, they’ll break it.” In essence, if you mention Islam, Christianity must have equal time. It doesn’t matter that Christianity was already covered in an earlier grade.

The problem here is that Christianity, from a historic perspective, is relevant. But that does not mean it’s relevant all the time just as much as other inputs in every historic situation. If the U.S. becomes involved in trade or military action with, or against, nations that are theocratic, that may make understanding those nations’ perspectives more historically relevant during the study of particular times and events. If the nations covered in the content are theocratic, then there is absolutely nothing problematic about describing their political and religious principles or leanings to students. That’s what education is all about: Informing people about the inputs that impact the situations, about which they are learning. So, in some cases, the founding principles of Islam can be highly relevant, where the founding principles of Christianity, may be not as much.

But the Christian Right will not have it! You cannot talk about Islam, unless Jesus is right there, too, just as prominently, regardless of the point to be made. If information about Islam is clearly more relevant to the lesson, and information about Christianity clearly less so, that makes no difference. They must own the floor, every time, in all things, or else they have a “big concern.”

From a historic perspective, there are reasons Islamic nations have featured more prominently on the world stage in the last century, even the last few decades. Since we’re a culture saturated by Christianity—it’s far more necessary to teach U.S. children about Islam—this other religious-political environment we have been interacting with more aggressively the last few decades—than it is to teach them about the religion they’re soaked with in their day-to-day lives. Despite the fears of the Christian Right, U.S. children actually have heard quite a lot about Jesus, even without trying. They have, on the other hand, heard much less about Mohammed. Kids in the U.S. have actually heard of the 10 Commandments. There’s a movie on every Easter that tells us all about it, and monuments at some of our courthouses, and a Bible in most homes, and a church on nearly every corner with a sign telling us about Our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. And if those get past them somehow, there are the always the cross jewelry, the bumper-stickers, and the t-shirts letting us all know The Good News. And let’s not forget the block of television networks and radio stations devoted to proclaiming god’s Christian love for us all. So, the 10 Commandments—they get. Explaining five points to the students about Islam—the basic founding concepts at the very least—in a modern world history class—is not “bias” toward Islam.

Seriously—the Christian Persecution Complex is pure ridiculousness. It’s absolutely, unfathomably absurd.

Mail bag odds and ends: Which God don’t you believe in?

This is just a minor email topic that came up, and probably familiar territory to most viewers. Even so, it’s been a while since we posted anything that wasn’t an announcement or an open thread, so here’s a topic to chatter about.

This exchange was actually kind of long and tedious, because the person kept asking vague questions where he wouldn’t really explain what he was talking about. I had to ask a whole lot of clarifying questions, which I won’t repost, in order to make him get to a point. I’ll speed you through it.

[Read more…]

Bat cruise coming

I guess it’s for real now, since PZ Myers mentioned his upcoming appearance in Austin. There are still spots available on the boat now, and it’s coming up in just three weeks, so get moving! You can read about the event and purchase tickets here.

Update:  The lecture begins at 3 PM on Saturday, September 28. It is at Trinity United Methodist Church, at 40th and Speedway. The address is 4001 Speedway. I would assume locals are welcome to attend even if they are not going to be joining us on the cruise.

Update 2: The ACA Freethought Library will be having an open house from noon to 2. The address is 1507 W Koenig Ln.

So the schedule is:

  • 12-2: Open house
  • 3-5 (?): Lecture
  • 6-8: Cruise

Open thread: Non-Prophets 12.3

It’s up! This week on The Non-Prophets:

Note: Yes, there are some audio problems. Seems that you can hear the people in the control room talking for the first few minutes. This is not an equipment issue, it’s user error. We have new crew and none of us have done shows in nearly a year, so expect some hiccups as we remember how to do this.

Also: If you get 2/3 of the way through the podcast and it suddenly ends, delete the file and download it again. It should be fixed now.

Open thread on episode #829: The kinder, gentler AXP

A couple of days ago, we got another email from an atheist, chiding us about what big meanies we are on the show. It was the usual tone-trolling thing: “You will surely admit that your show creates a great deal of anger and resentment in many of your viewers.” Why do guys like that automatically assume they speak for “many” of you?

It all boiled down to Oh no, MY FEELS! He didn’t have any particular examples to give, only that he was convinced our M.O. is to get on the air and make people feel as bullied and devalued as we possibly can.

So, considering how pleasant — almost to the point of the whole episode being a complete emotional flatline — today’s show was, I have to say that some viewers must just watch us highly selectively. We had two theists on the phone today, and the calls could not possibly have been more cordial. The only way they could have been friendlier is if we’d exchanged baby shower invitations at the end. Of course, we have a lot of calls that get heated as well. You can find those all over YouTube. But this is the nature of live television. Sometimes up, sometimes down, sometimes hot, sometimes cool. But if you’re going to be foolish enough to characterize the whole show based on what you see go down on a specific episode…well, don’t be foolish.

Anyhoo, discuss amongst yourselves.