The ‘Nones’ keep growing

According to the results of the most recent General Social Survey data, the number of people who described themselves as not affiliated with any religion keeps rising steadily.

According to newly released General Social Survey data analyzed by Ryan P. Burge of Eastern Illinois University, Americans claiming “no religion” — sometimes referred to as “nones” because of how they answer the question “what is your religious tradition?” — now represent about 23.1 percent of the population, up from 21.6 percent in 2016. People claiming evangelicalism, by contrast, now represent 22.5 percent of Americans, a slight dip from 23.9 percent in 2016.

That makes the two groups statistically tied with Catholics (23 percent) as the largest religious — or nonreligious — groupings in the country.

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On being a Muslim with a Jewish name

If you met someone who introduced himself as Bob Shabanowitz and tried to guess his ethnicity, the chances are that you would conclude that he is Jewish. But there is such a person and he is in fact a Muslim, descended from the Lipka Tatars in the Baltics, one of the Europe’s oldest Muslim communities, and that it is a common Muslim name in his native town as he discovered when he made a visit back there.
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Fish falling from the sky

I got a message from an acquaintance in Sri Lanka forwarding a video that said that the BBC had reported yesterday that there had been fish raining from the sky in Mumbai, India. This is one of those things that are circulated widely and was accompanied by a message that claimed that this was proof of a miracle and of a god in action. The acquaintance who forwarded it to me (who is a Roman Catholic believer) asked me if this could be a miracle. My acquaintance likely asked me because he knows I am a scientist and since I have not had any contact with him for decades, he probably thinks I am still religious and thus likely to support his beliefs.
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Heaven is in vogue these days

I have written before about the TV comedy The Good Place and now there is apparently another one called Miracle Workers. I have not seen the latter show because it is on a network that I don’t get but it is based on a novel of the same name by Simon Rich that I read recently. Both shows take an irreverent attitude to the idea of an afterlife but while the The Good Place takes this as an opportunity to examine the question of what ethics and morality consists of and leaves gods out of the picture entirely, Miracle Workers focuses on the life of god and the people who work for him, mainly those who work in the Department of Answered Prayers.
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The shocking defense of convicted child abuser cardinal George Pell

Australian cardinal George Pell, one of the most powerful men in the Vatican, was found guilty of child sexual abuse by a court in Melbourne. It was a unanimous decision. During his sentencing hearing, his lawyer made an astounding mitigating argument of his client’s actions.

Cardinal George Pell, the most senior Catholic cleric ever convicted of child sexual abuse, has been taken in custody following a sentencing hearing in which his lawyer described one of Pell’s offences as a “plain vanilla sexual penetration case where the child is not actively participating”.

After the hearing, with Pell’s lawyer, Robert Richter, having withdrawn his application for bail, the chief judge said: “Take him away, please.” Pell was taken to a maximum security facility where he will be kept in protective custody and remain alone for up to 23 hours a day.

He will be sentenced on 13 March after his conviction for sexually assaulting two 13-year-old boys.

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If you are a miracle worker, you should go big or go home

An evangelical pastor in South Africa clearly felt that the usual tricks to persuade people that their god was acting through them to perform miracles, such a healing them of various ailments, was too tame. So he decided to stage the big one, a resurrection of the dead, where a supposedly dead man suddenly sat up in his coffin in response to prayers.

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We can only hope that he is right

Cliff Sims used to work in the White House for the Trump administration and like so many others, is trying to wash himself of the stench of association by writing a book about his experience and trashing others. He is currently making the rounds promoting his book and is apparently a religious person. He had this to say to the Christian Post about the spectacle of evangelical Christian leaders, including those on Trump’s evangelical advisory board, willing to overlook and excuse and even praise the actions of an amoral lying sociopath like Trump.

I found some of the board to be mainly interested in maintaining their proximity to power, even to the point of trashing “rival” faith leaders to keep them from threatening their own position close to the President. There are specific anecdotes in the book that illustrate that point.

I also write in the book that my greatest regret from my time in the White House is that I wasn’t a better picture of my faith to the President and my colleagues. I’m haunted by the late author Brennan Man¬ning’s quote, “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Chris¬tians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

Many of us in the atheist camp have long felt that the biggest recruiters in our favor are the hypocritical religious leaders who are turning away young people especially with their words and actions. It is nice to see that even some religious people share that view, even if they fear it while we welcome it.

Wittgenstein’s ‘defense’ of religion

I really enjoyed philosopher Stephen Law’s 2011 book Believing Bullshit: How Not to Get Sucked into an Intellectual Black Hole where he takes apart many common beliefs, including religious ones, and provides tips about how to deal with the slipperiness of the many arguments put forward by believers. (I wrote three blog posts about it that you can read here.) I can highly recommend the book to those who find themselves constantly drawn into interminable discussions of religion with friends and family.
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