The beliefs of Americans

In response to an earlier post about the surprisingly high percentage of Americans who believe in the rapture and other things, there was some skepticism about how reliable the numbers and how they broke down depending on age, etc.

I have not been able to find further documentation to support the figure of 44% who are either certain or think it very likely that the rapture will occur in their lifetimes. But there are other interesting breakdowns.

For example, in this Harris poll from July 6, 2005, 47% do not believe that apes and humans have common ancestry, which is a key tenet of evolution, while 46% believe it. A similar number 45% do not believe plants and animals evolved from other species. So we can pretty much conclude that slightly less than half the population reject pretty much all of evolution.

Curiously, only 22% believe that humans evolved from earlier species, while 64% believe that humans were created directly by God. I am not sure how this squares with the above answers. Maybe people are interpreting the phrases “common ancestry” and “directly created” in ways that are different from me.

In general, evolutionary ideas gain ground the more education you have. You are also much more likely to find support for evolution from those who identify their political philosophy as liberal and whose political affiliation is Democratic or independent.

The strongest support for evolution can be found in the northeast and the west, with the least in the Midwest and the south.

Support for evolution also declines with age. I am not sure if this is because as a person ages he/she becomes less evolutionary minded or whether this is due to the current group of older people being educated at a different time from the current group of younger people. I am not sure if anyone has done a longitudinal study following people as they age to find out if their views on evolution change, and if so why.

Another interesting Harris survey was done in December 2005 that breaks religious beliefs down another way. This shows solid majorities for a variety of religious beliefs: god (82%), miracles (73%), survival of soul after death (70%), heaven (70%), Jesus is God or the son of God (70%), angels (68%), resurrection of Christ (66%), devil (61%), hell (59%), and virgin birth of Jesus (48%).

Significant numbers believe in ghosts (40%), UFOs (34%), witches (28%), astrology (25%), and reincarnation (21%).

More women tend to believe in all these things than men (sometimes in much higher numbers) except, interestingly enough, for UFOs and witches. UFOs are a kind of kind of sci-fi thing that traditionally has had more appeal for guys, while one can understand women being leery of the witch issue, seeing as they bore the brunt of the cruelty arising from allegations of witchcraft.

Again Democrats are more skeptical than Republicans, with Independents easily being the most skeptical, although a majority of all groups still believe. Perhaps Independents, who are skeptical of both major parties, tend to carry that skepticism over to religion as well.

In the categories of ghosts, UFOS, witches, astrology and reincarnation, the numbers did not differ by much according to political affiliation.

Again, the more education you had, the less you believed, with the numbers decreasing dramatically when you got some post-graduate education.

So what does this all mean? One can interpret these things many ways but for me, the take-home lesson is that education matters.

POST SCRIPT: Jon Stewart interview

Is Jon Stewart the only person who really knows how to answer a TV interviewer’s stupid questions? Watch how he responds “Are you insane?” to Larry King.

Martin Luther King and non-violence

The main criticism leveled against the non-violence movement led by King (by critics such as those in the Black Power movement) was that it reinforced the stereotype of African-Americans as passive and meek. They argued that changing this perception required African-Americans to separate from whites and forge a more militant identity. King disagreed strongly with this analysis. In an interview, King said that “there is great deal of difference between nonresistance to evil and nonviolent resistance.” He pointed out that anyone who had been involved in the civil rights struggles would know that nonviolent resistance, far from being passive, was a strong, determined, and effective response to injustice.

He pointed out that violent resistance was futile because its ultimate goal, the total separation of blacks and whites in the US, was absurdly unrealistic. The power of the state was overwhelming and could brutally crush any serious challenge to its authority. If the general public, black and white, did not personally identify with the struggle for justice, then they would passively stand by while this power was unleashed to crush any opposition. He knew from the history of wars in general (and World War II and the Vietnam war in particular) that the general public would passively accept massive injustice and cruelty and horrific destruction on even innocent civilians unless they identified in some way with those at the receiving end of the violence. And the only way “that the pressure of public opinion becomes an ally in your just cause” was if they themselves were touched by the struggle, at some deep level.

King argued that while some notable victories had been won by violence (for example, the American revolution among many independence struggles in former colonial countries), such models were not applicable to the civil rights struggle because “those fighting for independence have the purpose to drive out their oppressors.” King argued that blacks and whites had to live together in a post-racist US, and the only way they could do that with any sense of common community was if they joined together in the struggle to create such a society. And he saw a united, non-violent struggle as the way to get everyone involved.

It is this firm conviction in the power of non-violence as an effective strategy, coupled with a basic sense of generosity and fairness in his outlook, his desire to see the best in even those who opposed him, that was the key to his success as a coalition builder. He was always inclusive in his thinking, trying to find ways in which to form a common cause with those who shared his basic belief in justice and equality. But he could also be scathing in his appraisal of those with whom he felt he had nothing in common, and fierce in his denunciation of the few deep-rooted racists who could not be won over.

Martin Luther King was always conscious of the importance of trying to maintain balance between the tensions pulling in different directions. He said that “a strong man must be militant as well as moderate. He must be a realist as well as an idealist.” Even the subtitle of his book Chaos or Community shows his realization that the future of society lay in a delicate balance. King’s murder removed from our midst someone who could hold people and movements together while moving towards a common goal and thus take us towards community. While we have not quite reached chaos in his absence, there is an urgent and deep need for a new generation of leadership that can point us towards community again.

Martin Luther King seemed to draw his strength from two sources: his wide reading and scholarship, which enabled him to always place people and events in a deeper and more meaningful context; and his ability to see the best in people. After the march in Montgomery, observing the demonstrators who were crowded together in an airport terminal, he noted “As I stood with them and saw white and Negro, nuns and priests, ministers and rabbis, labor organizers, lawyers, doctors, housemaids and shopworkers brimming with vitality and enjoying a rare comradeship, I knew I was seeing a microcosm of the mankind of the future in this moment of luminous and genuine brotherhood.”

His vision of what a society should be and what must be done to achieve it is as relevant and vibrant as ever. His call to action is as compelling now as it was when he first made it.

POST SCRIPT: Get rich! Buy shares in this blog!

I stumbled upon this site which seems to mimic sites that track the share value of companies. Except that the “company” concerned is my blog!

The site calls itself the “fantasy blog stock market” and I imagine that it belongs to the same genre as fantasy football and fantasy baseball (neither of which I understand, by the way). The home page of this site seems to indicate that this is some sort of game in which the value of a blog is somehow determined by the incoming links, each player starts with B$500 (where B$ presumably stands for “blog dollars” and is play money), and you use your “money” to buy and sell shares in a blog depending on whether you think its value will go up or down.

According to this site, the share value of my blog rose from B$0.87 on May 4, 2005 to B$1.79 on November 21, 2005, which strikes me as an astounding rate of return, annualized to about 300%. Let’s see Google beat that.

My blog has a current “valuation” (whatever that means) of over B$11,000 and this also has been rising recently, although the graph showing this does not plot the scale of the x-axis, which is the kind of error that would cost you big in an introductory physics lab report.

Of course, past behavior is not an indicator of future performance, or whatever it is that mutual fund brochures insert in their disclaimer statements. So don’t hold me responsible if you buy shares and then the price tanks.

Harry Belafonte

I went to the Harry Belafonte talk last night at Strosacker and he lived up to his reputation as a plain speaker who does not shy away from telling it like it is. He again called Bush a terrorist and added “traitor” as well. He also confirmed that the reason he did not speak at Coretta Scott King’s funeral was that he had been disinvited when Bush said that he was attending, and confirmed the story that I wrote about on Monday about the splits in the King family about how to move forward.

But his talk was a lot more than that. It was a moving personal story about his life, the things he had done, and why he had done them. When he spoke of the people he had met with and worked with, it was a who’s who of all the people around the world who have helped make this a better place – Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Malcolm X. Harry Belafonte spoke about how he was completely won over by Martin Luther King at the very first meeting they had together and how he immediately dedicated his life to helping him achieve his agenda.

But more significantly, his talk was also a self-criticism, a fear that somehow he and his generation had failed in their intention to hand on the baton to the next generation to fight for justice, to keep its flame alive.

He spoke of his sadness at the plight of young minorities who are filling up the ever-expanding prison system. As a result, far from being retired (today is his 79th birthday) he is going around talking to young people in prisons and in the gangs to see what he can do. He spoke of his deep belief that the right to vote is the most powerful weapon for justice that we have and it should not be wasted and trivialized.

In the question period, it was clear that he had inspired many people because, unlike so many celebrities, he had risked his career at its peak, by speaking out and acting so strongly for justice. In doing so, he was following in the footsteps of his mentor, the great Paul Robeson.

Harry Belafonte looked and sounded terrific. Fighting for justice and speaking the truth has kept him vibrant and strong. He is a living legend.

POST SCRIPT: Film: THE RISE OF THE POLITICS OF FEAR

The Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque is hosting a special free screening of the documentary film THE RISE OF THE POLITICS OF FEAR on Monday, March 6, 2006 at 7:00pm. This documentary by Britain’s Adam Curtis is a three-part series shown on the BBC as part of their series on THE POWER OF NIGHTMARES and was broadcast in 2004. The program is 180 minutes long.

Admission is free but an $8 donation ($5 members) is requested. For directions and free parking information, see here.

An article in the Guardian titled The Making of the Terror Myth reviews the documentary, and says in part:

Terrorism, by definition, depends on an element of bluff. Yet ever since terrorists in the modern sense of the term (the word terrorism was actually coined to describe the strategy of a government, the authoritarian French revolutionary regime of the 1790s) began to assassinate politicians and then members of the public during the 19th century, states have habitually overreacted. Adam Roberts, professor of international relations at Oxford, says that governments often believe struggles with terrorists “to be of absolute cosmic significance”, and that therefore “anything goes” when it comes to winning. The historian Linda Colley adds: “States and their rulers expect to monopolise violence, and that is why they react so virulently to terrorism.”

Here is information from the Cinematheque website.

Here’s the most incendiary political documentary since Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11! Adam Curtis’ three-part essay, made for the BBC, dissects the war on terror by arguing that fear has come to dominate politics, and that the notion of a secret, organized, international terror network (e.g., Al Qaeda) is a bogeyman created by powerful interests to maintain control. Curtis, whom Entertainment Weekly has called “the most exciting documentary filmmaker of our time,” employs extensive scholarship, interviews, and revealing film clips to trace the parallel rise of Islamic fundamentalism and American neoconservatism – mirror images of each other in Mr. Curtis’ view. “A superbly eye-opening and often absurdly funny deconstruction of the myths and realities of global terrorism.” –Variety.