bookmark_borderThe Forced Birth Movement Hates Real Religious Liberty – How to Use That Against Them by Making Abortion a Religious Right; Part 2

(Be sure to read Part 1 before starting this half)
The Rape Nonexception Factor
This is a good place to further explore the callous indifference of the hard right to rape that has a yet again naïve center-left wondering what is going on. In their twisted logic a woman who is truly Godly and virtuous cannot be raped to pregnancy because she will not dress or be provocative or intoxicated in a manner that entices a man to sexually assault her, and if one does he will not be able to achieve penetration because of her not being sexually aroused. In that theory only a woman who is sufficiently loose and in some way desiring the assault can be impregnated – remember if you will how during the 2012 election cycle some GOP pols made statements to this effect. The slander of women as the foolish temptresses is not at all novel, it goes back over millennia as per the story of sinful and seductive Eve and the apple. As vile as this deep patriarchal attitude appears to today’s ethical westerners, the traditional misogynist opinion was the norm in many societies until the modern feminist movement, and used to be used by defendants in rape cases. In some current societies a woman who was and claims to have been raped risks harsh penalties for her wantonness. At the theocon Liberty University female students who file a sexual assault complaint with school authorities are likely to find themselves charged with violating strict school rules banning sexual and related activity. It is the intent of many forced birthers to revive the legal concept that rape that can and does lead to impregnation is always a false claim. It follows that it is never justified to allow an abortion that resulted from a “rape” – incest included – that never truly occurred because she really wanted it.
Liberty for Godly Theocons, Ascendency over Secular Liberals
So do not be fooled, coming even close to actually stopping abortions is not the end goal of the forced birth agenda, making it legally and physically hard to do being part of a more important greater scheme. In concert with weaponizing abortion as an act worthy of criminalization, they use the sacred theme of All-American Religious Liberty to facilitate discrimination against those the religious right does not approve off, especially all those who are not life time monogamous heterosexuals, and allow theocon medical providers to deny reproductive services they do not approve of – do note that conservative calls for liberties religious and otherwise are carefully crafted to most favortheir liberties, for others not so much. Specific to the issue herein, SCOTUS has ruled in favor of red states that force abortion providers in violation of their free speech and religious rights and medical autonomy to inform clients of often false antiabortion information, while overturning blue state regulations that compel under handed forced birth clinics to openly inform their clients that they are expressly anti-abortion in nature because that breaches their free speech and religious rights. Got that one? And make divorce more difficult and less frequent. And don’t you pay any mind to how evangelicals denouncing masking and vaccines to protect schoolkids from covid yet further reveals how “prolife” Protestants do not truly care about young lives. And how the right demanding the liberty to not protect themselves, their children and others from covid as a prochoice position is directly contrary to their no choice about pregnancies.
Do observe that bringing deadly viruses to heel does nothing to bring back that old time culture. Banning abortions just might in theocon minds.
Not wanting to spill the beans when it comes to their true aims, birth enforcer theists I chat with are prone to start out saying they just want to save all the innocent preborn. When I ask why, they often claim it is murder. When I ask why they think that, they proclaim it a sin against God. After I point out the reasons that cannot be so – including how a million or so unborn naturally die off every day on the planet — they then resort to vaguely complaining about the decay of society and the need to bring the majority back to the good solid and sound traditional morals that are good for them. Exactly.
Up at the levels of the theocon power elites the protestations by Thomas, Alito and Barrett that the conservative wing of the court does not have a larger sociopolitical agenda in mind are very likely to be prove to be PR window dressing designed to mislead with comforting false assurances while they proceed to do what they need to do.
This giant sociopolitical power play centered on making abortion illegal started in the later 70s as the first born-again Baptist POTUS Jimmy Carter proved much too liberal for increasingly fearful and enraged evangelicals. To their growing horror they realized that the second rock and drug driven sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s they so loath, plus the similarly odious new wave feminism, were settling into being the national norm and their permanent sociosexual nightmare. Roe v Wade being a big part of the problem. The evangelicals and hardline Catholics had to suppress their age old acidic theological enmities to better face the growing cultural and political secular threat, and turned to their great grandfatherly hero and divorcee Reagan who rarely attended church. And liberalized abortion regulations when governor of California. Then the mediocre preppy Bushes. And now their manly man Trump who as their misogynist, racist, hard talking and chronic lying King Cyrus does their God’s will never mind his boorishly indecent, adulterous persona.
To sum up what theocons are up to, being a minority the largely white religious right is trying to force convert the nation into a theocratic Christian Dominionist republic in which the once traditional and dismally normal, and now radical and drearily oppressive, hard right mores are imposed on the majority for their own good. It is a classic and anti-democratic Tyranny of the Minority that cares not one wit about the opinions and desires and well-being of those they desire to bring to societal heel. Nor do they truly care about the legitimacy of SCOTUS among the American majority that theocons believe should all become theocons, and those who do not need to be under their wise thumb – what they do fear to some extent is a backlash of the majority that may for instance expand SCOTUS to negate a hardcore bench, but they have to sink or at least cripple RvW so they must run that risk. They cannot care because if they give any ground their project of national domination is moot. All the sincere stories by women who have had to obtain abortions often at great effort, or not been able to obtain one sometimes with terrible consequences, mean little to ardent abortion opponents no matter how trying the circumstances up to rape and incest because what happens to nonconservative women has no import to them and threatens their success (such stories are important for swaying fence sitters and rallying the troops as the help normalize the procedure). The women’s marches? They mean nothing to them. There is therefore no compromising. And to be fair the prochoice side cannot give any ground from their side when it comes to early term abortion — either women are full class citizens, or they are reproductive wards of the state once sperm merges with egg inside their no longer sovereign bodies.
The incredible, reckless extremes to which the theocons will cheerfully go have been laid bare by the Texas stratagem that employs citizens as cash collecting birth enforcers, forming a snitch society characteristic of the authoritarian regimes theocons pretend to despise as they work to set such up.
How Theocons Did It
A big reason a disciplined minority movement has gotten so far is because they are doing one thing very right — voting at high per capita rates — while a major portion of a perpetually electorally slack center-left has treated voting as a maybe will do it or maybe not option, rather than the urgent civic duty it is. Young adults are particularly likely to not vote. As a result theocons outvote the rest of us by about 10% per head, enough to reinforce the right leaning bias of the Senate and electoral college, which in turn allows the GOP to better control the election system – this is why the demographic predictions of permanent and solid Emerging Democratic Majority predicted a couple of decades ago has yet to come to pass. Thus a White House the theocons hold about half the time while winning the popular vote only once, a closely divided Congress that flips back and forth, a 6/3 SCOTUS, and most states run by increasingly fanatical Republicans. The one thing theoconservatives do dread is the center-left finally getting their electoral act together and making the Democratic Party the dominant party of the nation and most states, and if necessary reformulate the Supreme Court to bring it more in line with majority opinion.
How We Blew It
In contrast to the theocon’s methodical and effective, offense-based operation to deny sexual and reproductive rights as part of a relentless, mammoth cultural war, the center-left has treated abortion as an important but not really extremely urgent issue that has been largely left to a weakening SCOTUS minority to take care of thank you, using the same justification utilized in RvW half a century ago without producing additional logical legal arguments. That being such a bother what when ancient Ginsberg who refused to preserve the legacy of her seat by resigning in 2013 and her liberal court comrades would take care of matters. Right? The amazing failure of a less organized and too defensive women’s right movement to push religious rights as a key need for protecting the gender from forced birth has been as illogical as it is remiss to the point of being disastrous. A basic strategy of a movement is to go on the offensive by turning a core argument and the language of the opposition into a weakness that now hurts them more than it helps. But, like most factions, liberals like to live in a comforting cultural bubble within which such internally reinforcing progressive clique code terms as personal autonomy and sexual freedom are deployed to defend reproductive rights. Such speaking to the choir dialectics have obviously not done enough to undercut the theocon argument, a new direction is badly needed. Yet in the only major opinion journal article looking at using religious freedom to defend abortion rights I know of, a brief news commentary in The Atlanticin 2016. the reluctance of the pro-choice side to utilize the Establishment Clause of the 1stAmendment due to cultural discomfort was covered, and the ensuing improbability of such ever being done observed. Liberals just don’t like all that chat about religion and liberty, that’s right wing stuff. That would be fine if abortion rights were secure. But they are not. Just repeating the same old same old to the masses and to the courts is hardly likely to recover the situation. Time to adjust tactics and talk 1stAmendment. Take the right’s terminology such as their favorite word liberty, particularly religious liberty, and throw it right back at them. As per how gays used the conservative themes of family values and marriage to seize the legal and public relations high ground. And things are changing on an informal basis – I have been noticing of late that prochoice advocates are starting to ad-hoc state that having the intimacy of their reproduction coming under the control of the religious right as a gross denial of their religious rights, something I had not heard often before if ever. It was that combined with the deteriorating national situation, the rapidly approaching SCOTUS cases, and my work on the natural mass losses of the unborn, that caused me to produce this piece.
That abortion as a 1stAmendment religious right was not inserted into Roe v Wade from the get go is as understandable as it was a long term mistake. A half century ago the illegality of abortion was seen as a relic of old fashioned Victorianism mixed with male MDs having wanted to knock midwives out of business. Most mid 20thcentury doctors were in contrast horrified by the constant stream of women into the health care system suffering from botched abortions, with some 200 dying each year. And among religious sects only the Roman Church was consistently forced birth, Protestants being all over the map even among the evangelicals. So there was little or no thought given to addressing the religious issues back in the day. Since then forced birth has moved to front and center to the CathoProtestant theoconservative struggle to reorder the national society, and it is nearly entirely their thing. And the reliance on one section of the Constitution, the 14thAmendment, has proven dangerously narrow. So hitting back by going on the attack when it comes to the religious and health aspects of the confrontation has become obvious and imperative.
How to Win
I am not a lawyer, but one does not have to be one to know that a basic legal strategy is too present a case that is broad-based and multi-faceted as possible. For one thing, that maximizes the possibility that at least some or one the arguments seals the legal deal and wins the day. Even better, multiple lines of argument can reinforce one another, making the entire package more difficult to dismiss. Consider the following. A possible fear of citing religious freedom as a defense of abortion rights is that theocons could then use that precedent to promote religious freedom as justifying discrimination against the LGTBQ, and those seeking reproductive services. But that premise is weak because of the lack of harm to the bigot. When someone does not want to provide service to a person who is not a monogamous heterosexual, they are not actually physically harmed if they are compelled by law to do so. For example, if — as once was very common — a person holds a sincere belief that blacks or Jews are in some manner defective in the eyes of God, and that justifies their refusal to treat the latter equal to whites, then having to do so because of the Civil Rights Act does not result in real damage being done to the bigot. So the CRA is constitutional. If a pregnant woman is forced to go through her entire pregnancy, then she may die or be badly injured – hundreds die from pregnancy in a given year, compared to about a dozen from early term abortions. Medical exemptions that allow those threatened with injury or death to terminate pregnancies is far from sufficient because such often is not apparent until late in the pregnancy, when an abortion is itself risky to the mother. And her risk of serious mental distress from a long term pregnancy is many times higher. The medical risks of pregnancy alone are sufficient to ban forced birth. But the combined religious, privacy, and medical rights of persons to not be pregnant (however they became so) are most powerful when they are used to support one another.
If theists proclaim it is their religious right to not aid reproductive practices they think a God rejects, then by that criteria a pregnant woman can proudly declare that as far as she can see any overseer of a planet that has with no apparent concern of that entity terminated countless billions of preborn is fine with her doing the same. Or there is no creator in the first place. Religious liberty is not just about the freedom to be religious as one wishes the way one wishes, it is the freedom from theism. It follows that the state and/or snitches preventing her from controlling what is happening inside her is moral and legal madness and barbarity that violate her Constitutional rights in enormous spades. One advantage of advancing abortion as a religious right will be to force theocon judges to reveal the extremity of their quasi legal inconsistency if they so tilt the scales of justice in favor one set of theorights over the other, exposing their rulings as bad law. That sets up the legal brief for constitutionally overturning forced birth laws.
Late is better than never, and time is a wasting. So what needs to be done to recover the situation in court and voting booths? Along with the standards of full citizenship via autonomous reproductive privacy rights for women, begin to focus on the religious and medical liberties of handling one’s own pregnancy without interference from hardline theoconservative based government edicts or religious right empowered vigilantes as a key Constitutional right under the First Amendment. Do that by building the following case. The Founders who wrote the document did not consider the issue, and had an abortion ban been raised by Catholics it would have rejected as an obvious contravention of the 1stAmendment. Nowadays forced birth laws are an unacknowledged insidious conspiracy from one religious world view designed by right wing Protestants and Catholics to above all else to try to massively reformulate the national culture to fit their traditional faith-based image. Although they won’t openly admit that, there is abundant public theocon discourse to present as evidential exhibits. The religious nature of antiabortionism is directly exposed when they say that their – i. e. theocon – values concerning preborn life are behind the laws they advocate. As for the narrow religious view of birth enforcement a few scholars such Barbara Pfeffer Billauer (https://scholarship.law.wm.edu/wmjowl/vol23/iss2/6) are documenting how forced birthism is limited to a narrow set of religious doctrines, while many others have disagreed, going all the way back in history, rendering forced birth laws a violation of Constitutional religious right (in contrast to murder which is condemned by all mainstream cultures). It is time for the women’s right cause to get off its liberal sensibilities duff and pay close attention to such meticulous academic work.
So, when and where theocon birth forcers win their case, then only one religious opinion on the matter becomes legally operative on all fertile women to the exclusion of all others regardless of their a/theist opinion on their pregnancies. That when imposing that extreme hardline view on women of differing a/theologies denies them control and maximal safety of their bodies for extended periods. Such theologically idiosyncratic laws lack practical secular justification on the following grounds. The status of a zygote or an early term fetus as a human being is very dubious and held nearly entirely by theocons, and aborting them does not have significant adverse impact outside the body of the woman. Emphasize the sheer impracticality of enforcing a feticide ban, and actually suppress abortion rates to low levels even via draconian decrees. That means that birth enforcement is a waste of law enforcement resources that will make millions of women miserable and/or criminals while maximizing their medical danger from either pregnancies gone bad or the numerous illicit abortions that will inevitably ensue, all the while massively interfering with the deepest privacy of persons. Far more so than the mask and vaccine mandates most theocons are out of the blue rejecting as outrageous violations of personal liberty. This when there is a major effort to relieve an already overburdened law enforcement and court complex.
The deeply disingenuous and misogynist nature of government paternalism on such a colossal scale is all the more true because the persistent claims by anti-abortionists that their reproductive regulations are intended to serve the interests and safety of pregnant women regardless of her opinion on the matter, are the opposite of actual medical truth, and violate their religious and medical sovereignty when their religious views are compatible with ending pregnancies. Making this yet all the more true is that forced birth for “alleged” victims of rape/incest is part of a depraved project to decriminalize rape by legally rendering it something that cannot happen to a proper and chaste woman who does not want to have her virtue sullied, much less be impregnated. Racism is also involved in the forced birth movement because minorities are more opposed to and afflicted by abortion restrictions than whites. So is eugenics in that preventing white women from failing to reproduce is a goal of some forced birthers. Then there is the sexism of targeting the commonly discriminated against female gender with such draconian restrictions that no man has to put up with and many men which to impose. Because abortion banning laws are evidentially imbedded in a large scale religious sociopolitical agenda they blatantly violate the Bill of Rights on multiple fronts. Core rights that cannot be trumped by the religious right via government authority to force those who are prochoice nontheists or theists to give birth, just as the state cannot force women to abort their pregnancies.
As explained by Aaron Tang (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/10/26/middle-ground-abortion-that-originalists-should-embrace) the original Constitution, and the 14thAmendment in association with how most state laws at the time did not ban abortion before quickening, support the right to early term abortion.
The profoundly theistic nature of the criminalize abortion movement is not being entirely ignored. Some atheosecular organizations have filed amicus briefs explicitly to that effect in relation to the Mississippi case this December (https://www.au.org/sites/default/files/2021-09/AU%20Amicus%20Brief%2C%20SCOTUS%2C%20Dobbs%20v.%20Jackson%209.20.21.pdf; https://www.supremecourt.gov/DocketPDF/19/19-1392/192717/20210917120823669_Dobbs%20Final%20Brief.pdf). These petitions do a good job of detailing some of the clear cut religious statements and court briefs by forced birth theists. They not detail how anti-abortionism is part of a greater open conspiracy to remake the nation. In any case the religion factor must not be a legal issue raised just by nontheists, it must be mainstreamed. (A large number of center-left entities have submitted briefs to the top court, whether any cite religious freedom and how I do not know.) Pertinent to that need, one of the briefs very notably cites a 1989 opinion by Justice Stevens that has gone little noticed noting that government bans of abortion violate the Establishment Clause, that is an important mainline legal precedent by a SCOTUS jurist without an a/theistic bias to build upon.
In tandem, cite the mass death of youngsters to disprove the theocon pretense that they are merely doing the urgent bidding of a life loving creator. Same for the absence of forced birthism in scripture. Their real aims are much more theosocietal. And further seize control of the rhetoric war by saddling the prolife cause with the stark term forced birth. That is exactly what they are trying to do.
Also remiss has been the mainstream news media that has been slack in investigating and exposing the deep, extremist motives driving the opposition to legal abortion, and from that informing the nation of what they are up to. Do not, for example, merely ask an anti-abortion activist or politician if they do not want an exception for rape and why, and when they issue the standard line that they think the fetus is precious take that as a complete answer and move on to the next query. That is exactly what they want. At long last pin them down by asking if they think rape and abortion laws need to be revamped as part of a greater scheme to remake society along traditional lines. That will put the forced birth advocate in a bind — if they say yes then they will reveal their real plans and provoke harder opposition, if they say they no they may turn off their base, and if they dodge the question they risk doing both. The media needs to get on the coverage ball and do their jobs.
Is going on the offensive by bringing true religious liberty to the forefront of the pro-choice argument, going to abort the forced birth campaign in the next few years? That by compelling abortion stoppers to realize that they – seeing as how they claim to put such high priority on religious liberty and therefore should respect those who claim to be expressing such when they have an abortion — are manifestly and erroneously violating the theoliberty of theoliberals and nontheists? Considering their boldly self-sided view of liberties to date best not to hold one’s breath. But do not wave away the medium and longer term potential to seriously damage and perhaps someday sink anti-abortionism in legal venues and public opinion. Consider how marriage rights for all couples worked for gays over years, not long decades. Most critical is for the solid majority who favor women being full citizens to vote at least at the per capita rate as do those who want to use reproduction to remake American women into unsullied subservient theocons. That can render forcing birth into a fundamental violation of a pregnant woman’s religious liberty and medical needs.
 

bookmark_borderThe Forced Birth Movement Hates Real Religious Liberty – How to Use That Against Them by Making Abortion a Religious Right; Part 1

(This being a big subject that has been largely ignored it needs a lot of explanation, the essay is split into two parts. Part 2 will be posted tomorrow)
It has not worked.
The pro-choice movement opposed by the religious right has been making an enormous mistake. We know that because it is facing disaster. That when a solid majority of Americans favor abortion rights. It is all too clear that what it has been done in support of women being full class citizens has been gravely defective. It follows that it is time to move on to a more effective strategy.
Roe v Wade rests largely upon the 14thAmendment principle of privacy as a legal and societal expression of individual freedom from invasive state control in favor of personal responsibility. The thesis is valid, but it is a defensive posture that has proven insufficient to fend off assaults from a dedicated forced birth campaign. The situation is so bad for the sovereign rights of American women that even as Catholic heritage nations like Mexico and Ireland place their trust in the gender to make the best choice, the USA is reverting to the paternalistic misogyny of the early 1900s.
The women’s right movement must go on the offensive to regain the legal and moral high ground over the force birthers. Doing that requires utilizing two interrelated lines of argument.
The Big Medical Lie
One issue that has for reasons obscure long been oddly underplayed is women’s health. The ant-abortion conspiracy promotes the anti-scientific disinformation that first trimester feticides are artificial and therefore bad for mothers, while child birth is natural to the point that the government must force all pregnant women to do what is good for their health physical and mental. Law enforcement must protect an apparently gullible gender from a diabolical abortion industry that is so clever that it somehow seduces many hundreds of thousands of each year — a third of the national female population over time – to commit a dangerous unnatural act that is against the wise ways of God’s benign creation. That when not getting an abortion is as easy as simply not going to a provider. Yet many go to great lengths to get to such, sometimes traveling long distances if necessary, knowing exactly what will happen when they do so, yet only a small percentage report having significant post procedure regrets [https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2020/01/416421/five-years-after-abortion-nearly-all-women-say-it-was-right-decision-study].
The hard truth is that nature is not always the best. Modern medicine is the artificial practice that has saved billions of lives from the deadly side of the biological world, including the many risks of pregnancy. Early term abortions surgical and medicinal are over a dozen times less lethal than going through the months long complexities and risks of pregnancy [https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22270271]. And because the latter pumps lots of mood altering hormones into mothers, they are highly likely to experience serious mental distress before and especially after birth, post-partum depression being very common and often serious. Early pregnancy does not involve such hormone loads, and mental trauma is much less frequent after termination. That is why the regrets are rare, of the many women I know who have had abortions none was gravely upset about it. Which makes sense since a woman is making the safest decision when ending a pregnancy as early as feasible. Legally sentencing a woman to bear her pregnancy violates her core medical rights. It’s like preventing someone from taking say statins, or forcing them to smoke or use mind altering drugs.
But there is another major right that the anti-abortion project violates big time. the one that the pro-choice forces have been resisting despite its potential potency.
Religious liberty.
Forced Birth, it’s a Religious Thing
Here’s the fact that is as screamingly obvious as it is irrationally paid much too little attention by the body politic. Almost the entire movement to render women second class citizens by making them reproductive slaves of the state once pregnant, stems from one source. The religious right. That is a historically rather novel entity formed by a once unimaginable collaboration of evangelical Protestants with the Church of Rome. The anti-abortion project is the core engine of a brazen attempt by one religious clique that constitutes about a third of the population to impose their hardline faith-based beliefs on everyone else. Outside of the religious right who opposes abortion rights? Nontheists against women’s full reproductive rights are as scarce as hen’s teeth, I personally know of only one. Polling suggests that one in ten atheists are forced birthers, but the sample is small and the figure appears inflated. Many if not most Christians — Protestants, Orthodox, Catholics, etc. of the center-left — favor reproductive choice, along with most Jews and other theists. That alliance of nonrelig0ious and believers form the solid majority who want broad abortion rights to remain in force in all 50 states.
The overwhelming and narrow religious basis of forced birth differs strikingly from other conservative causes such as limited government size and power regarding guns and economics, and heavy law enforcement against crimes and drugs. Those secular theses enjoy substantial support outside theoconservatism, including many nontheists — advocates of laissez faire capitalism for instance have included such prominent nonbelievers as Herbert Spencer, Ayn Rand, Milton Freidman, Penn Jillette and Michael Shermer.
No God Opposes Abortion
That feticide has become such a fixation of the religious right is remarkably ironic for a reason too few are aware of. The startling fact is that forcing women to bear pregnancies to term lacks theological justification. The central motivating claim by theoconservatives that they are sincerely merely obeying the dictates of a prolife creator is patently false both on real world and scriptural grounds. Our lovely but child toxic planet provides the proof that a prolife creator cannot exist. In the academic journal Philosophy and TheologyI was the first to calculate and publish the telling and terrible statistics that remain scandalously ignored [http://www.gspauldino.com/Philosophy&Theology.pdf. I further detail the problem in Essays on the Philosophy of Humanism https://americanhumanist.org/what-we-do/publications/eph/journals/volume28/paul-1 & http://americanhumanist.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/03_Paul-SkeptoTheoPt2.pdf]. The stats start with how it is well documented that about 100 billion people have been born to date. To that add how medical analysis indicates that about three quarters of conceptions naturally fail to come to term — about half failing to implant in the first place usually due to rampant genetic defects, the rest are later term miscarriages, many of which go unnoticed. The human reproductive complex is a Rube Golbergian mess that usually fails – far from the womb being a safe refuge for fetuses, it is where most lives come to a natural early end. As geneticist William Rice states, accidental abortion is “the predominant outcome of fertilization [and] a natural and inevitable part of human reproduction at all ages.” [https://www.researchgate.net/publication/326485445_The_high_abortion_cost_of_human_reproduction] That means something like 300 billion pregnancies have been spontaneously aborted to date. Currently, somewhere in the area of 30,000 spontaneous abortions occur every day in the US, over ten times more than those that are induced. After birth half those born have died as children from a vast array of torturous diseases that infest our biosphere, so some 50 billion kids have not grown up. It is the artifice of medicine that has driven juvenile mortality down to a few percent, less can be done about our deeply dysfunctional reproductive system. As I detail in the P&Tand EPHstudies, it is demonstrably impossible for a supernatural creator that allows hundreds of billions of preadults to die to be prolife.
The mass loss of immature humans helps explain a stark scriptural truth birth enforcement adherents evade as much as they can. Neither the Jewish nor Christian texts come anywhere close to banning abortions. The only direct mention of the issue instructs that if someone accidently causes a miscarriage involving a woman who is not their wife, then the negligent party can be sued by the father who owns the fetus –  feticide is a civil property matter, not criminal murder in the Holy Bible. That the Biblical God orders the Israelite warriors to kill captive children as well as women even when pregnant reinforces the indifference of the deity to the lives of youngsters. The Gospels of Jesus have nothing to say about the topic. The abject absence of scriptural condemnation against abortion illuminates why most Bible believing Protestants, including the most popular evangelical of the day, Billy Graham, had no comment in the immediate wake of Roe v Wade. Then famed Southern Baptist leader W. A. Criswell did opine that he had “always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person, and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.” The sanctity of preborn life was largely a Vatican thing — it cannot be overemphasized the degree to which the Roman and Lutheran churches despised one another; a few years ago a couple of evangelicals standing right in front of me bemoaned how a relation who had gone Catholic was now worshipping the clergy, not Jesus. So why the ensuing great evangelical Protestant switch — Graham and especially Criswell evolved into staunch forced birthers — to sociopoliically weaponizing abortion as murder via a new found alliance with the heretical Catholic clergy? First a little history.
A Little History
Abortion was the norm in largely Protestant colonial and early independent America — for that matter, early term feticide has always been very common in societies whether legal or not. The Puritans of yore were not as super repressive and chaste as usually thought, oops pregnancies outside of marriage were fairly frequent. And there were women who after having birthed a bevy of babies did not want to go through thatagain. All the more so because childbirth was very dangerous, about one out of fifty pregnancies killed the mother. “Mother” nature is not much kinder to mothers than their young ones. Early term termination with herbal toxins had its dangers, but to a lesser degree. Such abortions were not a concern to the authorities if it was done before quickening. When the all-male founders, nearly all Protestants and Deists, were assembling the Constitution that instituted separation of church and state they never imagined considering feticide, that being a women’s affair outside their manly concerns. The only faction that might have been interested in the issue were the few Catholics. That they made no attempt to mention much less ban abortion was logical because the rest of the patriots would have slapped that down as an attempt to subvert the intent of the 1stAmendment to keep specific religious cliques from seizing control of governmental policies and vice-versa. Duh.
In the 1800s going into the early 1900s repression of sexuality and women reached a peak in tune with Victorian culture. Also of growing concern was that abortions were killing women, albeit less often than pregnancy. At the same time the all-male profession of medical doctors wanted to suppress competition form midwives who often aborted the much bigger money to be made from full term pregnancies. And the nativist eugenics — based on agricultural selective breeding — favored by Protestants (but not Catholics) called for WASP women to bear as many children as possible to prevent the others from dominating the population. Laws banning abortions appeared for the first time, and quickly became the national norm. (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1997/05/abortion-in-american-history/376851.)
The result. A little over a century ago the religious right owned these United States. Well over nine out of ten were Christians, nearly all conservative. It was a culture of imposed Judeo-Christian “virtue.” A pious repressive hyper misogynist patriarchy in which women were second class citizens required to wear heavy clothing even at the beach, and mandated to remain nonsexual until marriage in which husbands could legally rape their wives and she had no legal choice but to bear the child – that by the way helps elucidate why modern forced birthers are often not concerned about if a pregnancy resulted from nonconsensual sex. The draconian Comstock laws banned mailing information on contraceptives in flagrant contradiction of the Bill of Rights. The culture of repressed sexual liberty had to have a heavy government hand to it. Lacking the force of law to keep people in reproductive line, most folks feel free to have way too much fun for the likes of the power craving forces who enjoy imagining they know what it best for all of us, feckless women especially. Note that the Dour Culture was to a fair extent a white matter, black culture was less uptight, as reflected in the advent of the “sex music”, jazz that quickly gained a following among white youth.
The rather Taliban like mainstream Christian scheme began to unravel what with women (mainly white) getting the vote, and the first sexual revolution of the Roaring Twenties. That unprecedented loosening of sexual habits was never entirely beaten back by the right, but as late as the 1950s women were still expected to be virgins on their wedding nights who then became stay at home housewives, access to contraceptives remained limited, and abortions forbidden. With blue laws keeping most retail closed on Sundays three quarters of American were church members according the Gallup, as virtually all professed a belief in God.
Since then it’s all gone to theocon hell. Even in the 50s the hot black culture continued to infiltrate the white majority via the first wave of rock-and-roll – previously black slang for intercourse. What was Elvis doing up there on the stage with his pelvis? Seeing the way things were going Billy Graham started his mass crusades to try to restore America to its righteous ways.
That did not work.
Nowadays, with women being emancipated, first class citizens free to have sexy fun, sinfully tempting females strut down streets in minimal clothing. Sex outside marriage is actually the accepted societal norm. Marriage rates are down while divorce rates are sky high – that started with the WW 2 generation in the late 60s BTW — including among conservative Christians. Birth rates are below replacement level – that when many on the right oppose the immigration of nonwhites that’s needed if an expanding population is to help grow the economy. On the networks people can say screw when not talking about hardware. Then there is cable and the web. Most women have careers. The grand corporate project to convert pious frugal church goers into hedonistic materialists and digital social media addicts has succeeded spectacularly as Gallup tracks church membership plummeting from 70% at the beginning of the 2000s to 50% today [https://news.gallup.com/poll/341963/church-membership-falls-below-majority-first-time.aspx] as white Protestants are a fast shrinking minority, the religious right the once ran the country has been reduced to a widely disparaged subgroup, and the nonreligious balloon by an amazing tenth of the population each decade [for a look at that see http://americanhumanist.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/art-1-Paul-The-Great-and-Amazingly-Rapid-Secularization-of-the-Increasingly-Proevolution-United-States.pdf]. Even Republicans are becoming less religious for Christ’s sake — listen to how the Trumpites swore like sailors as they stormed the capital, and denounce Biden with vulgarities like Richard Pryor.
Their Real Goal
That is what the forced birth movement is really about. Having lost the mainstream culture big time over the last century theocons have no viable means to recover it by persuasion, and deep down they know that bitter fact. All those crusades, religious TV channels, megachurches, and Christian rock are getting nowhere with the mainstream. What are they to do in their desperate power trip to return the country to the good old days of largely white righteous Christian domination?
It’s obvious. Try to do what worked up to the 1920s, and see if reapplying governmental coercion will get America back to its straighter laced Godly ways. There is nothing else for them to. This invidious strategy to employ laws to achieve religious aims requires the high grade hypocrisy of theoconservatives who love to proclaim individual liberty while decrying government power when the latter promotes what they see as ungodly secular-liberal values, but to without batting a cynical eye deploy said government power to lever America back to something like it was in the 1950’s. When father knew best and subservient women properly behaved themselves sex wise and raised their many kids and heaven forbid could not terminate their sacred pregnancies and the churches were packed on Sunday mornings rather than folks hitting Walmart and Home Depo.
It is not like it is a carefully hidden secret. The president of the U. S. Catholic Conference of Bishops Jose Gomez has railed against secular liberal movements such as social justice, wokeness, intersectionality, and critical theories that have arisen in recent years as part of a effort to “suppress any remaining Christian influences” and replace “traditional Christian beliefs.” That’s a clear enough clarion call of the dire need to try to recapture the culture by desperate means as necessary.
So. How to get the government back under the blessed control of the theocon minority? You have to be fairly sneaky about doing that. Openly admitting that the ultimate goal is to use the state to bring back the good old theoconservative days by banning abortion et al. would intensify majority opposition, while fatally undermining the legal case for making a private procedure that the Puritans were OK with into murder.
To try to rewin the culture wars via the law they have smartly gone on the sociopolitical offensive by putting a peculiarly lethargic prochoice side on the public relations defensive, to the degree that even liberals agree that the feticide that has always been common should somehow become uncommon. A hard and sad choice consistently avoided by preventing unwanted pregnancies in the first place, rather than by barring terminations. It’s the abortion should be legal but rare line, rather than rare because it’s illegal. Both are naive fantasies that have never been achieved and never will be. Early term abortions are the norm in all societies because they involve a modest collection of cells whose humanity is problematic and mainly propounded by extremist theocons, they are fairly easy to do, in secret if necessary, and are not as dangerous as is pregnancy to the mother. At least a fifth of observed pregnancies are terminated, whether that being in advanced democracies with excellent safe sex programs, or where the procedure is illegal and riskier [https://www.researchgate.net/publication/343147586_Unintended_pregnancy_and_abortion_by_income_region_and_the_legal_status_of_abortion_estimates_from_a_comprehensive_model_for_1990-2019]. This is in stark contrast to murder, which is rare in many nations including most democracies — that these gun laden United States are the exception is pertinent because most who claim to be prolife support the widespread distribution of firearms that is the primary people killing device. Because murder involves a patent human being, can be difficult to do, produces an awkward corpse that is hard to secretly dispose of, and those who have been born are usually noticed to have gone missing, outlawing intentional homicide is correspondingly practical because only it renders only a tiny fraction of the population criminals while keeping the event highly atypical – there are under 4000 homicides in western Europe per annum for instance, many dozens of times less than feticides. Whatever success is or is not achieved by criminalizing the latter, it does not make much actual difference because the great majority of conceptions will continue to naturally abort, so what is the point? That when making abortion illegal means turning a fifth or more of knowingly pregnant women into lawbreakers each year, and a quarter to a third of all women over their lives, while not saving many preborn, but injuring or killing a number of pregnant women in the punitive process. It is probably not possible to drive yearly American abortions below a few hundred thousand whatever the methods used. Prohibiting abortion works about as well as banning alcohol, and we know how that worked out. A basic legal tenant is that all legitimate laws must be reasonably practicable to implement — the stop the abortions folks like to compare themselves to the abolitionists, but mass slavery can be ended simply by eliminating all laws that enforce bondage, leaving all slaves free to up and walk away from their masters — birth enforcement does not meet that feasibility criterion. Pro-choicers, use that fact.
The theocon grand Godly plan to try to overturn modernity is simple enough. Having concocted the notion that abortion is against the will of a prolife Lord Creator contrary to all worldly and scriptural evidence, make the private procedure illegal. Hopefully eventually nationwide as a form of outright murder if enough hardcore theocon justices can be plopped into SCOTUS and extend personhood to conception – the alternative is revision of the Constitution, perhaps via a constitutional convention dominated by theocons via the electoral manipulations they are working on. That doing so is not likely to actually protect enormous numbers of preborn is not the critical necessity. That would be nice if it happened in the opinion of many theocons, but the true activism driving societal hope of most forced birthers is that by making those who terminate pregnancies into criminals or at least subject to financial suits, that fear of having abortions will help tame wanton American women to be less willing to be get it on with men outside of holy matrimony. The idea is to discipline women into being both more chaste and fecund as the arrogant power hungry theocons want them to be. It’s the fear and shame factors of the rights massive national social engineering project. To that add putting strictures on contraceptives to further boost the righteous mission to reChristianize America – Catholics especially like that. That doing so may well increase induced abortions due to more unintended pregnancies is not the theoconservatives driving concern (with supreme irony, another side effect of protection reduction is a great increase in the rate of natural abortions).
The schemes of the right to push women into being proper theists are not just aspirationally hopeful via making forced birth a deterrent to women not being divinely virtuous. There are growing efforts to set up forced birth enclaves in which single pregnant women who cannot get legal abortions and desperately need maternity help will be pressured by their circumstances to retreat to (http://thewashingtonpost.newspaperdirect.com/epaper/viewer.aspx). There they are and will be the target of heavy duty theocon propaganda designed to make them into women of God. State power will be used to boost church power.
The prochoice side often wonders – often with breathtaking naivety — why those opposed to abortion want to also cut back on the use of protection that can suppress said abortions. That is because abortion reduction is not the real point, lifestyle alternation is. Get that? That women will be injured and killed by unsafe outlaw abortions and by forced pregnancies is not a great concern of the birth forcers — those wayward women should have known better than to get pregnant out of wedlock in the first place, and if raped oh well, the growing soul inside them takes priority to its reproductive vessel who needs to understand their Godly prolife duty. If a woman who would have gotten a legal termination if she could because it is safer than not having one happens to die from what seemed like a normal pregnancy oh well that’s too bad, it’s God’s Will anyhow, and if she was right with Christ she is in a better place so what is the big problem. The wastage of pregnant women is well worth the glorious aims of the prolifers.
(Part 2 to continue 10/29/21)

bookmark_borderDiscrimination by Neglect: The Chronic News and Opinion Media Bigotry Against Atheists

Discrimination by Neglect: The Chronic News and Opinion Media Bigotry Against Atheists
Theists Get All the Breaks – Really, They Do
There is currently, in these United States, a form of casual and pernicious bigotry that continues to be directed against the fastest growing portion of the population. It is the big bigotry that hardly any pay attention to, and to a great extent other minorities subject to their own levels of prejudice also ignore or even participate in. It is the discrimination of paying as little mind as possible to the existence and especially the opinions of those who commit the culturally inconvenient social crime of lacking belief in the supernatural deities that the substantial but shrinking American majority persist in believing in.
What does continue to enjoy endless attention and media coverage is theism. That occurs in a number of ways. The mainstream media that tends to be centrist to liberal in sociopolitical sensibilities, and mainline or alternative theist to varying degrees, persistently promotes center-left versions of religion. Especially of the Christian and Jewish varieties, with a good deal of attention paid to alternate versions of spirituality, and to Islam on occasion. Much of this coverage is favorable or neutral, but considerable and sometimes hard criticism does occur when it seems that the circumstances require it. The Catholic Church is particularly interesting when it comes to the massive reporting it receives. Its sex scandals, after decades of significant but not sufficient exposure, finally became perpetually major news just after the turn of the century. On the other hand, the equally outrageous financial criminal actions of the Roman church in league with mob elements have never been exposed to the degree that is necessary, leaving most Americans ignorant on the subject (Europeans are more knowledgeable). At the same time major church events, most especially the enormous public relations spectacles of papal replacements, garner fawning 24/7 coverage. The relatively liberal Francis is generally treated favorably, including by very liberal theists such as Catholic Steven Colbert, as well as well known atheist Bill Maher. Also getting extensive coverage is the large minority that is the religious right. Much of that attention is sharply critical. Except at FoxNews and its allies that lavish praise on Judeo-Christian theoconservatism while bashing the religious center-left as well as Muslims, and taking occasional potshots at the atheists that the mainstream press pretty much simply ignores.
MSNBC et al.
To get a better appreciation of the absurd and unacceptable state of the situation, let’s look at the evening lineup on that bastion of liberal reportage and opinion, MSNBC. It starts with Joy Reid, who enthusiastically wears her joyous Godly Methodism on her broadcasting sleeve. Next is Chris Hayes who grew up Catholic but is now irreligious, I do not think has stated he is an atheist or not. In 2012 he dedicated his hour to an episode on atheism featuring Dawkins, Pinker and Jacoby that was seen as ground breaking. It was not, there has been barely a breath about nontheism on the channel since then. Rachel Maddow is a praying Catholic despite being lesbian — that explains something that had me scratching my head, earlier this year when Francis made the first papal visit to Iraq she ran an oddly long segment on the unimportant story that was dull as it was egregiously credulous. More ambiguous is the yet another MSNBC Catholic raised — which may be why he once bashed Mormonism as an invented religion — anchor Lawrence O’Donnell who wraps up the primetime lineup. Over on CNN they once, that’s once, ran an hour show on atheism in 2015. Such has not yet appeared on Fox. Matters are not better on public television or radio where there are also no known atheists, although one suspects there must be some but who keep quiet about it. Where is that epic program on American atheism? They did baseball and jazz. On NPR’s Saturday EditionScott Simon is a well-known centrist-liberal Catholic. On the Templeton Foundation funded On Being(ex Speaking of Faith) host Krista Tibbett’s mission is to present pablum opinions further softened by bland mood music that never in any way seriously challenges or upsets her middle of the road theist audience. Ever. Occasionally atheists are allowed on, but only those who can be relied upon to not be perturbingly uppity about it. While most liberal theists tend to avoid directly dumping on atheists, socialist Presbyterian minister Chris Hedges has harshly denounced atheism, especially of the sort that dares to be assertive. When he hosted The Daily Showsecular Jewish Jon Stewart was sometimes snarky about what he considered overly atheistic atheists, especially about the placement of a cross shaped piece of the World Trade Towers at the memorial site (that Stewart has been involved in the memorial project means his comment on atheist critics was of dubious ethics). Current TDS host Trevor Noah is a liberal Christian. John Oliver, host of Last Week Tonight, rejected the Anglican Church he grew up in and may be an atheist, but has not said so – he critiqued the money grubbing of evangelicals by legally setting up the Lady of Perpetual Exemption to expose how easy it is to dodge taxes with a religious exemption.
During the covid pandemic it has been one person of openly divine opinion after another who have again and again and again and again been asked to please offer divinely inspired advice, thoughts and comfort to a beleaguered world. Noting the irony inherent to doing so in view of the obvious truth that if a creator deity exists it has not done anything to put a stop to the deadly disaster, doing something so rational seems taboo. An especially egregious example has been on NPR’s weekend version of All Things Considered, with a repeat set of clerics explicitly asked to offer words of wisdom to listeners. Offering the usual theo clichés and platitudes, the existence of God and its goodness was not challenged as the NPR audience was allowed to hear only their biased worldview. Never asked for a more objective and cogent viewpoint on how mindless evolution is biting us, and how humanity can best deal with the dire situation, have been the godless.
The weekend edition of All Things Considereddid cover the accession of Greg Epstein to head chaplain at Harvard, and the interview was entirely respectful and intelligent. That is a case of the very rare exception proving the rule of discrimination. Very likely show host Michel Martin has no idea of the casual bias she is exhibiting in her subtly slanted programming, and she might be willing to change her ways if made aware of the issue. Coverage of and seeking the views of atheists should be the norm, not something done just when a once every few years head-turning breaking news story pops up.
Pundit panels are a news media norm. You know, the never ending lineups of experts and commentators and politicians who opine on this that and everything. How often do you see an open atheist on one of those? Including those discussing religious matters? A screamingly outrageous example of this particular atheists need not apply policy was in 2010 when Pew reported that it looked like nontheists knew more about the facts of theism than did theists. The seemingly startling result garnered lots of coverage, and so the programming staffs running on their automatic booking pilots rolled out panel after panel of ministers, rabbis and the like to pontificate about atheists whom they painfully knew nothing about, while nary a nonbeliever who actually knew the atheoscore was asked what was really going down. Perhaps even more discouraging is that when Pew got much the same results in 2019 the media paid it no mind to the theological acumen of atheists at all. News old and forgotten by then.
A Little “Balance”
Here’s another form of bigotry that is as subtle as it is invidious. Something I have noticed when doing on air interviews on nonatheist broadcasts. Very often, a theist of some sort is brought on the bring “balance” to the discourse. And who could be opposed to both views being presented? That would be more than fine if religious viewpoints were as often countered with those of atheists, but of course that never happens. They get to pontificate endlessly without counter argument. The “balance” line is really saying atheist views are so automatically controversial and potentially defective and/or offensive, that they need to be countered with the supernaturalistic perspective lest the delicate ears of theist listeners be afflicted. Now, sometimes having a theist to play off of can be an advantage if one knows how to deal with and exploit them. On the other hand, that cuts down on the time the nontheist has to directly present the rationalist case. If an atheist interviewee does not want opposition on a program that does not saddle theists with such, then they are free to put the producers on the fairness spot by asking if they have a consistent policy of balance which they never do, and protest the presence of the theist. If they insist on the latter then you can decline the interview, or try to use the arrangement to your advantage — perhaps by mentioning the issue during the program;)
The More Atheists There Are the Less Respect We Get
Statistical tracking is not on hand, but I get the strong sense that mainstream media interest in the irreligious has declined over the last decade plus, after having peaked if that is the correct term for what was at best a small hill in the post 9/11 brief era of the “New Atheism” and it’s then attention getting novel opposition to the religious extremism that was a hot topic of the time (until the secular financial collapse pushed all else aside, rather like the Beatles did to pop music), bolstered by the fleeting appearance of atheist best-selling books that went away almost as soon as they appeared. The atheism versus theism story was intense enough that PAX TV in 2004/5 ran Faith Under Fire, hosted by once atheist converted to bombastic theocon Lee Strobel. It was one of those theist items that while claiming to be fair and balanced definitely had its slant, but for a short while it was a forum via which a prominent American nontheists could have their say and be taken seriously. If I recall correctly, as time wore on it became increasingly theocon themed which is the evolutionary norm for such ventures, and it was canceled. Nothing has replaced it, leaving atheists with no wide broadcast channel forum at all.
A decline in coverage of atheism would make some sense if the opinion was on the way down, but as is well known that the opposite is true as America undergoes a remarkably radical shift towards nonreligion. That has been growing at the expense of theism by a stunning 10% of the American population per decade, leaving those who lack religion somewhere in the area of 40-50% of the population, with the latter value at least applying to young adults. Gallup has tracked church membership that was 80% in the 1950s and still 70% circa 2000 having nosedived to 50% as Amerofaith sharply contracts as it has done in the rest of the west. But this brings us to a polling problem that may help explain the lack of media interest in Ameroatheism. When the major organizations directly ask respondents whether they are atheists or agnostics only a few percent do so, misleading the news media into thinking there are not enough disbelievers to cover and reach out to as more than a fringe group (even though those low numbers exceed those of Jews or of Mormons or of Muslims). This is a serious polling, and coverage thereof, mistake. Although the bigotry is not as bad as it was, many and probably most who dare not believe in the supernatural fear the social including familial downsides of openly admitting such. And many nonbelievers do not like the term atheist, considering it a hardcore term of absolute nonbelief that does not describe their own more ambiguous opinion, or casual disinterest, concerning the mysterious gods. I do not know how many times I have met folks who clearly meet the broad and etymologically correct definition of atheist as a person who is not a theist (which includes most agnostics), adamantly deny being an atheist, even at atheist meetups. Others are startled to learn they are an atheist. Polls that ask the less denial inducing question of whether respondents believe in the existence of a god get substantially higher percentages of deity skeptics, and some sociodemographic studies estimate that atheists may make up 15-25+% of the nation. (I cover these issues in depth at http://americanhumanist.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/art-1-Paul-The-Great-and-Amazingly-Rapid-Secularization-of-the-Increasingly-Proevolution-United-States.pdf.) By this point, having achieved a level of popular opinion even the most optimistic of us did not expect circa 2000 – remember when many thought the USA would always be a religious nation? – atheism which in total easily outsizes Judaism, Islam and Mormonism combined should be a major influencer in the national zeitgeist. All the more so as it is becoming increasingly apparent that faith-based religion does not appear to offer practical solutions to the troubles of the real world.
One cause of the problem is simply that organized religion has vast resources to deploy in its chronic search for PR, and it is just so easy for a mass media on let’s keep doing what we always have autopilot to tap into that. Atheosecularism has nothing comparable and never will – although the situation can be improved as I note below. But it is the responsibility of the media to keep up with and change with the times, and there are plenty pf atheist voices more than happy to express themselves, so the media is slacking off.
My Beef is a Small Part of the Big Beef
I have a personal concern in these issues that helps illuminate the problem. Realizing that researchers were not systematically investigating the truth behind the common claim that religion must be popular for societies being successful, I published the first test of that hypothesis in the Journal of Religion and Societyin 2005. That was enough of a stunner that it got conservable press attention, including MSNBC labeling me the churches public enemy No. 1, and an appearance on FoxNews. I followed with a more thorough analysis in Evolutionary Psychologyin 2009 that got some coverage, and I placed a couple of online op-eds with the Los Angeles Timesand Wall St. J. Those studies, along with efforts by others, have dented the automatic assumption that religion is good for societies, but not to the degree they should. In part because of a lack of more recent, more extensive work, due in part to a shocking lack of funding for atheistic scientific research via a secular think tank that gamers coverage and discussion. My 2009 paper in Philosophy and Theologythat was the first to calculate the natural deaths of 50 billion children and how that disproves the existence of a moral creator got absolutely no attention despite my extensive efforts at PR.
What did get considerable attention is an op-ed I senior authored with Phil Zuckerman who runs the only secular studies department at a university (Pitzer) in 2011 in the Washington Post. Condemning the chronic bigotry against atheists it was very pleasing to see it receive 1500 comments before those were timed out, and 85K likes. Now, for all the rise of social media in recent decades, the importance of opinion venues such as the Post,The New York Times, and major magazines such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harpers, New Republic, etc., remains paramount. Covering a vast variety of subjects, they have broad readership, and can present issues that their nonatheist readers might otherwise not be aware of. And the elite publications are critical in reaching the media elites that drive a lot of the coverage that receives that broad attention. A reason Ameroatheism remains in the shadows is because the atheosecular genre publications print and digital, and all the many blogs and posts and podcasts online, are largely preaching to the limited dedicated irreligious choir that reads them, and to the fairly small number of theists curious about nontheism. The vast majority of Americans will always be unaware of them.
Despite their responsibility to regularly cover the entire national scene, the Washington Postis typical of major news venues in its chronic casual bigotry against atheism via neglect. I know that because I am a regularly reader of their print paper, and their coverage of nontheism is nearly zero. Since the piece a decade ago by myself and Zuckerman, they have carried just one other opinion piece concerning atheism in the last ten years. That being in 2019 by one of their regular columnists, the atheist libertarian Max Boot. In a recent piece occasional columnist Kate Cohn noted her nonbelief in relation to the religious forced birth movement. Maybe because it is based in perhaps the most atheist city in the nation, the NYTimeshas run a few more atheist op-eds, albeit not a lot.
It is not the fault of atheists not sending in op-eds. Again personal experience illustrates the trouble. A standard way to become a regular in being able to place items in influential venues is to simply do it once, which gives one some leverage to get editors attention and publish more pieces in a feedback loop. All the more so if the initial piece attracts lots of attention which the WPop-ed did. So I have been regularly sending off essays and articles, many, many dozens of them, the leading opinion outlets that allow submissions on aspects related to nontheism – always being certain to note my past works academic and popular, and the coverage of my research. I have sometimes had professionals edit the pieces. But I stopped doing that because it made no difference. Not a single bite. That has included pieces noting the lack of coverage of atheism and suppression of our voices in the mainstream national discourse. They don’t run them. Also futile have been efforts to get a major trade publisher (not a university press, or something like the no longer sechum Prometheus Press whose sales were too limited to have major cultural impact) to contract a book in which I discuss my extensive scholarly work.
A Big Anniversary
This year it occurred to me. The 10th anniversary of the piece Phil & I placed was coming up. Surely the WP people would be interested in running an update on the situation of Ameroatheism, both its demographic rise, and the continuing societal bigotry against it. No reason the think the new piece would not be as popular as the last one what with atheists being all the more numerous now. Right?
Nope, they paid neither the shorter daily or longer Sunday section suitable versions I sent any mind. My complaints are not just personal. No doubt others have been sending in proatheist articles to mainstream venues and with very rare exceptions not getting them published, even as theists have far less trouble getting their prosupernaturalism items into the public eye — and getting onto those pundit panels. And anchor positions, etc.
Why the Bigotry
Is this occurring because those on position to choose what goes onto the pages of major publications or programming are inexcusably ignorant about the problem and their own casual biases and would change their attitudes and actions if they knew better, are indifferent to atheism that they see as a fringe element of no import and would pay more attention if informed otherwise, are afraid of being denounced as anti-religion if they OK presentations of atheist thinking, are concerned they will be tagged as the village atheist if they are an atheist who dares regularly cover atheism the same way other minority personalities do concerning their world view all the time, or are outright hostile? All are involved.
Then there is the trope of the “angry atheist” who harshly critiques theism. That is a bigoted stereotype, there being no statistical evidence that atheists are more angry than theists, there being many on both sides who are in a bad mood. As for those rationalists who are angry what is the big problem? Minority advocacy often has a hard edged component to it.
An example of directly suppressing, with clear cut prejudice, coverage of atheist viewpoints is Religious News Service, whose mission statement goes to lengths to claim its neutral objectivity to the news outlets it is paid to provide services to. One can for a modest fee post press releases on the RNS website. Most are little more than promotional ditties for various theists. When I tried to place a PR concerning my recent academic analysis on the theological implications of mass juvenile mortality in Essays on the Philosophy of Humanismit was not accepted.
We Too
Whatever the causes, the way atheists are being treated has parallels to how blacks were once largely limited to publishing their views in the black press that few whites read. Nowadays LGTBQ have a far better ability to appear in the mainstream press and media and influence the culture and alter politics in their favor than do atheists. That is not a complaint against the LGTBQ more power to them, it is a complaint about the media at large. Consider how it is well known and widely discussed that much of racism is unrecognized by those who are not as nonracist as they think they are and want to be, the same is often true of all bigotries including those directed towards nonsupernaturalists. And just as under the radar racism must be overcome, so must casual anti-atheism. It is a probable irony that blacks in the media are incidentally discriminating against atheists more than whites for the simply because the former tend to be more religious than the latter. Until atheists have the same access to prominent venues as pretty much all other minorities we will remain very limited in our ability to be a the normal, frequent contributor to the national discourse that we rationalists should be. And we will continue to be the targets of bigotry.
The Maher Exception
Currently there is only one major, nationally known American who is an open atheist, and hosts a widely recognized and viewed program, Real Time‘s Bill Maher. Although not shy about being ungodly, and more than willing to have prominent atheists on RT, Maher’s program is not a dedicated atheist promotional venue, it covering a wide range of political and cultural topics. That makes sense, but the program could do more to address the atheist movement, with some emphasis on how it is being ignored, all the more so since no one else is doing so via such a widely viewed show. In particular, to date RT, and for that matter Maher’s Religulous, has failed to persistently present to the public the sociological science showing the societal advantages of atheism, and help make that a part of the public consciousness.
What to Do
The question is what to do about this unacceptable situation. I am not sure myself, here are some options.
The task is complex and multi-faceted. A lot of media people, mainly seculars of various flavors, as well as open minded theists, may become more open to presented atheist viewpoints if simply alerted to the sheer existence and scale of the problem. Others need more persuading, and in some cases shaming. At the same time, atheists need to do what we can to get our ideas out to the general public outside of our own preaching to the choir venues.
Concerning the situation at the WP, A set of leading atheosecular persons could collaborate to send a letter to the WP opinion editors (there are two sets, one for the daily paper in which op-eds are limited to 800 words, and another for the Sunday Outlook section which runs longer items) alerting them to and protesting the virtual exclusion of items from an explicitly atheist perspectives, and how and why this is discriminatory and adverse to their readers who are missing out on a major and fast growing perspective of American opinion. This can be done in the context of urging publication of my 10thanniversary piece (with editing as necessary), or of another related item.
Or, collaborate on a multi-author essay op-ed decrying the near exclusion of atheists from the American scene, signed by prominent nontheists, and submit that to the WP. If they fail to publish it then try the NYTimes, if they do not move on from there.
If either of the above are not successful – or even if they are — go public with a protest both concerning the attitude of the WP specifically, and the news media in general. That can include press releases to religion reporters, and wide distribution to media personalities in all news and opinion venues. Perhaps place an ad in the WP.
The failure of Religion News Service to meet its own criteria of objectivity needs to be exposed as the scandal it is and challenged, which would have the side advantage of further bringing atheism to the attention of the public.
In conducting the above it is necessary to take the mainstream media to task for the errors of their ways. But being critical should not be the sole tactic. Alerting media personalities that they are discriminating against atheists while perhaps not even realizing it might be appreciated by a number of them, opening their eyes to new possibilities. That brings us to how it is important to present the positive side of regularly covering atheism, and including atheist opinions on a regular basis. Not doing so is a major and self-injurious mistake. Much of media coverage is formulaic and standardized, rendering it we-have-heard-and-seen-that-before dull. Yet anothertheists prattling on about this and that? Snore. How about an atheist commenting on that matter from the nontheist perspective. Now thatcan generate some what did that person just say attention and controversy that gets the viewers tuning in. Media personalities and programmers are often looking for novel and in some cases controversial ways to cover the news to boost those all-important ratings, so tapping the atheist perspective to do so can be a selling point when doing outreach to the news and opinion community.
Approaching Real Timeto better cover the issue could be effective, as well as other liberal venues. Chris Hayes could be a likely person to approach and alert regarding the scope of the problem. There is John Oliver. Worthy of consideration is a joint effort by entertainment/opinion atheists that have popular mainstream followings to mount a professional Pay Due Attention to Nonbelievers Please PR campaign – names aside from those above I have come up with include Aziz Ansari, Jodie Foster, Ricky Gervais, Amber Heard, Penn Jillette, Hugh Laurie, Seth MacFarlene, Abby Martin, Sean Murphy, Brad Pitt, Ron Reagan, Keanu Reeves, Adam Savage, Dan Savage, Julia Sweeney.
Most ambitious would be to see if an explicitly atheist broadcast program can be produced, or one that gives truly balanced coverage to both nontheism and theism, hosted by a person from each side. Could be on telly and/or radio. Not sure how feasible that is, would probably require the efforts of at least one of the major atheosecular organizations, and perhaps a collaboration between two or more of them.
The Urgent Need for a Secular Think Tank and News Service
Whether or not any of the above works, that is just a start. To get persistent attention and coverage in the press requires a major change in the way atheosecular institutions reach out to the rest of society via the mainstream media. Doing that will probably require the establishment of an explicitly atheosecular think tank that constantly puts out the science based research and position papers that the atheosecular community should obviously be doing as a matter of course, and that the press can then pick up on. And/or a Secular News Service to compete with the highly successful Religion News Service by directly feeding nontheist news and opinion to the news media.
It’s a Wrap
Wish to aid the above effort or have any ideas on how to get them achieved?  All would be appreciated. If a collaborative effort can be mounted, then a more formal proposal and outline of possibilities and needs can be produced.
One way or another something needs to be done. The perpetual casual dismissal of atheists from the national discourse has got to end, and that is not likely to happen unless strong action is taken by the atheosecular community to break out of the media bubble we have been stuck in. The largely theistic media is not going to just up and do it on their own.
 

bookmark_borderEvidence that Doesn’t Demand a Verdict

I am a left-wing atheist who hates Donald Trump and who is disgusted with every White Evangelical Christian SHITHEAD who supports Trump and his evil racist, sexist, anti-immigrant basket-of-deplorables.
I spend much of my time critically examining the arguments of Evangelical Christian apologists like Norman Geisler, Peter Kreeft, and Josh McDowell.  I have come to the conclusion that the intellectual efforts of these apologists amount to stinking piles of dog shit.  They present mountains of unclear, illogical, ignorant, dubious, and false BULLSHIT as if they were presenting intelligent arguments, thus polluting the minds of millions of Christians by presenting paradigm examples of IDIOCY and STUPIDITY as if they were presenting examples of intelligent reasoning.  I have little respect for these Evangelical Christian apologists and significant contempt for them.
NEVERTHELESS, the recent criticisms of Josh McDowell as being a “racist” strike me as UNFAIR and UNFOUNDED.  So, although I have significant contempt for McDowell and for White Evangelical Christians in general, I am going to BRIEFLY DEFEND McDowell against what seems to me to be UNFAIR and UNFOUNDED criticism.  Even IDIOTS like McDowell can be good-hearted people who are decent and morally upright in character.  In any case, the EVIDENCE presented fails to justify the strong moral condemnation of McDowell.
Part of my strong reaction to recent criticisms of McDowell concerns the sloppy use of the word “racist” and “racism”.  These terms are at least ambiguous and so when used to criticize and to morally condemn a person should be CLARIFIED, at the very least.  Furthermore, since one of the meanings of these terms is particularly odious, to fling these words around in a sloppy and careless way is offensive and is counter-productive in the battle against racism and racial prejudice.

In my view, nobody should be morally condemned as being a “racist” simply on the grounds that he/she has said or done something that indicates racial prejudice.   Racial prejudice is wrong and should be called out whenever it occurs, but the reality is that virtually ALL white people have some degree of racial prejudice which on occasion influences the words and actions of a white person.
Furthermore, racial prejudice is generally NOT as evil and as harmful as the conscious belief that one race is superior to other races or that one race is inferior to other races or that some races are inferior to other races.  One of the meanings of the word “racism” is the belief that some particular races are inferior to other particular races (e.g. the belief that black people are morally and intellectually inferior to white people by nature, because of their race).
When people say that Josh McDowell is a “racist” this is a very strong moral condemnation of him because ONE meaning of “racist” implies a person who holds the belief that some particular races are inferior to other particular races.  But there is NO EVIDENCE that McDowell holds such a belief or advocates such a belief.  So, the use of the word “racist” about Josh McDowell is SLANDEROUS because it suggests a claim about McDowell that IF TRUE would justify strong moral condemnation, but this is a claim for which there is NO EVIDENCE.
 
THE OFFENDING WORDS OF MCDOWELL
Here is a tweet that provided a quote from McDowell that led to the moral criticism and condemnation:

Another person who was present provides a bit more extensive quote of McDowell:

 
MY VIEW OF MCDOWELL’S OFFENDING STATEMENT
First of all, it is patently OBVIOUS to anyone who has two brain cells to rub together that McDowell’s comment is about NURTURE rather than NATURE.  This is clearly NOT a comment about the genes or inherited traits or the natural character of black people.  This is CLEARLY a comment about how black children are generally RAISED or SOCIALIZED.  So, it is clear and obvious that this quote has NOTHING to do with “racism”; that is to say, there is NO EVIDENCE here that McDowell believes that black people all belong to a race that is intellectually or morally inferior to white people who belong to a superior race of humans.
To use this quote as the basis for condemning McDowell as being a “racist” is SLANDEROUS because ONE clear meaning of this term is that the person in question consciously believes that some races are inferior to other races, and in this context, that means holding the belief that black people all belong to a race that is morally and intellectually inferior to the race to which white people allegedly belong.
Second, it is NOT clear that McDowell’s statement is FALSE.  IF McDowell’s statement is in fact TRUE, then we ought to be cautious about morally condemning McDowell for making this statement.   Do we really want to go around morally condemning people for making TRUE statements?  Before people get too bent out of shape, they need to study the relevant FACTS and DATA about how black children are raised in the USA and about how white children are raised in the USA.  Perhaps McDowell’s statement is TRUE, or perhaps it is partially TRUE and partially FALSE, or perhaps it is totally FALSE.  Until one studies the relevant sociological FACTS and DATA, one should not presume to know what those FACTS and DATA show to be the current social reality in the USA.
Third, McDowell probably does deserve some degree of chastisement and criticism, because he probably made this statement on the basis of PREJUDICE and STEREOTYPE, rather than on the basis of sociological FACTS and DATA.  If McDowell had studied the sociology of black families and of the rearing of black children (in the USA), and also studied the sociology of white families and of the rearing of white children (in the USA), then he might have had FACTS and DATA that supported his statement.
However, McDowell has quickly apologized for making this statement, and I think it is very unlikely that he would apologize for making this statement if he made the statement on the basis of FACTS and DATA that he learned from studying the sociology of black families and child-rearing vs. white families and child-rearing.  So, it seems very likely that his statement was NOT based on FACTS and DATA, and thus it was likely made on the basis of PREJUDICE and STEREOTYPE.  In short, it does seem to me that McDowell should be chastised and criticized, but that he is guilty of racial prejudice in his thinking and speaking, and NOT guilty of RACISM.  There is NO EVIDENCE here that McDowell is a racist.
Fourth: “There but for the grace of God go I”.   I am a left-wing atheist, and I HATE racism and racists.  I hate NAZIs.  I hate the KKK.  I hate the alt-right.   I hate skinheads.  I hate yahoos who wave the Confederate flag (particularly the SHITHEAD who waved the Confederate flag in the Capitol Building during the Trump-inspired insurrection). But I am a white guy, and I am aware that us white guys (and white gals) all have some degree of racial prejudice.  Our culture in the USA is saturated with racial prejudice.
So, I might one day say (or write) something STUPID that comes from a PREJUDICE or STEREOTYPE about black people (or about some other people of color).  I don’t want a FREE PASS if that happens.  I hope that I would be called out and criticized for speaking or writing something that arises from racial prejudice in my thinking.  But I would OBJECT to being called a “racist” and to being accused of “racism” and to being morally condemned for the sin of “racism” on the basis that I manifested some racial prejudice in my thinking.  I would view such a strong moral condemnation as being UNFAIR and UNFOUNDED and SLANDEROUS because I do NOT believe that some races are inferior to other races, and I am firmly opposed to such a belief or ideology.
This is the standard that I would insist upon for how other people treat me, so this is the standard I will insist upon for how people treat Josh McDowell.  Yes, he made ONE statement that reflects PREJUDICE or STEREOTYPE about black people, and this does reflect racial prejudice in his thinking.  But that is NOT equivalent to being a “racist”.  This is NOT EVIDENCE that McDowell believes that black people belong to an inferior race of humans, nor that white people belong to a superior race of humans.  Making a statement that reflects racial prejudice in one’s thinking is NOT as bad and as evil as holding (or promoting) the evil belief that some people belong to an inferior race of humans.
 
MCDOWELL’S APOLOGY FOR HIS STATEMENT
Here is McDowell’s apology for his offending statement:

I see nothing wrong with this apology.  It is a clear and straightforward apology.  If I had made a stupid statement like McDowell did, based on racial prejudice or stereotypes, then I would apologize in a similar manner.
McDowell could have gone a bit further by admitting that he made a statement that “does not reflect reality” BECAUSE of his own racial prejudice, because of prejudice and stereotypes in his own thinking about black people.  But he did identify the specific problematic statement as being WRONG, and he affirms his opposition to racism.
I think in this context McDowell is using “racism” in the weaker sense of “racial prejudice”, which makes it harder for him to admit that his statement arose from racial prejudice in his own thinking (because that would be admitting that he was involved in and was promoting “racism”).    Racism is indeed one reason why equality for blacks has not yet been achieved, but another important factor is racial prejudice, such as we see in the thinking and words of Josh McDowell.
This apology would have been a bit better and a bit clearer if McDowell had drawn the distinction between the evil of RACISM and the evil of RACIAL PREJUDICE, and confessed to having made a statement that came NOT out of RACISM but out of RACIAL PREJUDICE in his own thinking.
NOTE: Given the general sloppiness and unclarity of McDowell’s thinking, it is not a surprise to me that he failed to notice this important distinction, and failed to make use of it in his apology.

bookmark_borderRalph Reed Tries to Pull the Wool Over Our Eyes

================================
NOTE: This post was contributed by Gregory S. Paul, who is an occasional contributor to Free Inquiry, and who published an important article called “Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies”.  Here is how Michael Shermer summarized that article:

Is religion a necessary component of social health? The data are conflicting. On the one hand, in a 2005 study published in the Journal of Religion & Society–“Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies”–independent scholar Gregory S. Paul found an inverse correlation between religiosity (measured by belief in God, biblical literalism, and frequency of prayer and service attendance) and societal health (measured by rates of homicide, childhood mortality, life expectancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and teen abortions and pregnancies) in 18 developed democracies. “In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD [sexually transmitted disease] infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion in the prosperous democracies,” Paul found. Indeed, the U.S. scores the highest in religiosity and the highest (by far) in homicides, STDs, abortions and teen pregnancies.

from “Bowling for God” by Michael Shermer
in Scientific American on December 1, 2006

================================

Ralph Reed Tries to Pull the Wool Over Our Eyes About the Popularity of Prayer and Religion in America on Bill Maher’s Real Time

I was watching Bill Maher’s Real Time on 8/27 when I realized that prominent hard right-wing evangelical political operative Ralph (Christian Coalition) Reed, who Maher seems to like, was trying to profoundly mislead viewers about the level of religious practice in this country. I am not sure how prevalent his misuse of survey data is among theoconservatives – a web search did not find anything – but he managed to slip a bogus item of information out to the few million who see Real Time every week. So I am sending this out in an effort to try to nip this theocon anti-fact in the bud. Plus this scientist is annoyed by the slick pol’s brazen yet sly misuse of statistics.
 
Reed used the classic tactic of lying by telling the truth while leaving out the pile of contrary data that shows he is lying. First, he acknowledged that rates of nonreligion are indeed rapidly expanding in these United States as church membership and attendance decline with amazing speed – after a slow decline from the 1950s Gallup has recorded a membership decline of about 70% at the turn of the century to under 50% these days (https://news.gallup.com/poll/341963/church-membership-falls-below-majority-first-time.aspx), in line with other surveys as well as reports of closing churches. The seemingly reasonable Reed then offered the logical explanation that the general societal detachment of people from social groups, driven in part by digital media, has something to do with that. Reed then began his verge off into misinformation land when he said all that did not matter all that much because rates of belief in and worship of God remain persistently high because people are becoming increasingly private about it.
 
Here is where being truthful can be a lie. Reed correctly claimed that in 1990 Gallup asked respondents if they pray often, sometimes, hardly ever, or only in times of crisis, or never.
 
Before proceeding, we need a digression about the statistical and other requirements of competent polling. Particularly regarding longitudinal surveys that track levels of and changes in opinions and practices over time. First, such polls must be sufficiently quantitative to give meaningful results that can be compared over the years. In the 1990 poll Gallup blew it – the only quantitatively reasonably useful possible answers were “hardly ever” or “never.” As for “often” and “sometimes” those values are pretty much useless. How often is often? How sometimes is sometimes? Each respondent would have a different notion on that, and will inevitably respond in inconsistent ways. Gallup should have known better and never posed such an ambiguous query. And to track changes the same questions need to be asked every one or a few years to generate an opinion level timeline. It’s basic stuff.
 
In 1990 half of respondents told Gallup they pray often. Which other than telling us what we already know that lots of Americans are religious has no scientific value. What they should have asked was something along the lines of do you pray multiple times a day, once a day, a few times a week, once a week, once a month or so — you get the statistical drift. I mean really, what were they thinking over at Gallup? Demographic dolts. Fortunately, Gallup then did not repeat the query, possibly and hopefully because they did a demographic dope slap and realized their error and good statistical riddance, since asking it again would risk giving misleading longitudinal results.
 
Alas, apparently inspired by the pandemic, in 2020 a Gallup that again should have known better did ask the same dam bogus query. And lo and behold now 55% say they pray often. Reed used this one pair of statistically valueless figures to try to sell Maher and his audience a demographic bill of goods that Amerotheism is not really in decline after all. Bill, and his other guest, understandably not being up on the minutia of recent Gallup results, were not able to perceive or counter Reed’s clever deception (I had to look it up and see what was really going down myself, even though this is an area of my research – for an extensive 2019 analysis of the subject discussed here and beyond see http://americanhumanist.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/art-1-Paul-The-Great-and-Amazingly-Rapid-Secularization-of-the-Increasingly-Proevolution-United-States.pdf).
 
The degree to which Reed was being deliberately deceptive by selectively picking Gallup data, or did not realize or understand the critical caveats and contra stats, I do not know for certain but am very suspicious. In any case, he was grossly misinforming Real Timewatchers one way or another.
 
First, Gallup itself admits that their little trend line on prayer is not statistically meaningful (https://news.gallup.com/opinion/polling-matters/309638/update-virtual-worship-during-covid.aspx), which Reed did not mention — saying that would have negated his claim right there on the air. Obviously.
 
And here is what Reed did not offer up because it directly disproves his propaganda line that American God belief and worship is not in decline. In a location where Gallup offers up the useless prayer result they also present a number of more properly posed and frequently repeated polls they have been executing and posting for decades. Ones that do a much better job telling us what is really happening in this country a/theism wise (https://news.gallup.com/poll/1690/religion.aspx). So how about let’s check those fascinating and very telling stats out —
 
Those who say that religion is very important in their life went from, well let’s see here, ~60 in the 1990s to under 50% these days in a nice, fairly steady downslope (as also is true of the rest of the results). Meanwhile, those who say theism is not very important rose greatly from 10-15% to a quarter (see below discussion on why levels of rationalism measured in polls are probably on the low side). Gosh, Ralph, you did not bring up that one on Real Time. Because you are too lazy and ill-informed to know it — which seems a stretch since it is right there on the web? Or because you knew it would blow your superficially clever lie out of the water?
 
How about this one. Back in the 1990s, almost two-thirds told the fine folks at Gallup that religion can answer all or most of today’s problems. Now it is heading toward and below half. The rationalists who think religion is largely old-fashioned and out of date? Rose like yeast dough from one-fifth to over a third of the respondents (check out season 1, episode 25 of I Love Lucy for a classic laugh on that bread baking item).
 
Here’s a good one that shows that the days in which the hardcore devout religious right that Reed is a leading fellow traveler of was doing pretty good, while it was the mealy mushy mainline faiths that were taking it on the demographic chin, are no longer operative. In the 2000s those saying they were born-again or evangelical were in the broad area of the lower 40s percentage-wise (which was a little above the values observed in the 1990s). Now is in the mid-30s, hello Ralph. Might you mention that next time you are on the telly?
 
Next up is an oldie but goodie. In the 70s one in four thought the Bible is literally true. Now it’s a quarter or so. So are those who are of the opinion that the Bible is supernaturalistic fantasy mixed with some history, which is impressive because those good people were a mere one in ten back when Jimmy and Ronnie were POTUS. And while support for the creation of humans by God has been slipping, support for evolutionary science is on the way up. Sorry Ken Ham, Philip Johnson, and Michael Behe.
Time for the BIGGIE. One Mr. Reed somehow again failed to chat about as he misled Bill on his own show. Convinced God exists? In 2005 80%. In 2017 64%. A decline of a sixth of the national population in a dozen years. How about God probably does not exist or convinced there is not one. Doubled from 7% in 2005 to 13% in 2017.  And if the fast-shifting trendlines have continued since then, probably still lower for the first and higher for the second here in 2021. But wait, there are more godly Gallup longitudinal deity queries. From 2001 to 2016 God belief sank from nine in ten to eight in ten, those who don’t opt for the supernatural rose to over one in ten. Gallup’s venerable simplistic yes or no on God belief question got virtually all to say yes in the 1950s and 60s, and after a yawning data gap has shown no results similar to the above surveys in the last decade. This is a good place to explain that it is well documented that persons are often reluctant to say they hold an unpopular opinion even when doing so privately by phone or online. A technical effort to use standard sociodemographic techniques to correct for this factor estimates that American atheists as broadly defined make up a quarter of the population (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170516143411.htm), matching or outnumbering a number of major religious sects. Likewise, other studies indicate actual church attendance is about half that claimed to Gallup (and other pollsters). It follows that all the Gallup (and other pollsters’) results for not praying, thinking religion is not societally important, attending church, are not Born-Again, thinking the Bible is not the word of God, understanding we are big-brained apes, are nonreligious, etc., are very probably markedly higher than Gallup, Pew, Harris, GSS, WVS, et al. results seem to indicate.
Gallup points out something interesting. One of their queries indicates that the number of Americans who think religion is having a major influence on America is currently on the high side. But they point out that is directly contrary to their own measures showing the opposite is true
(https://news.gallup.com/opinion/polling-matters/310397/religion-paradox.aspx). So what gives? Although the query has its uses, it is not a direct measure of how much influence religion is actually having on America, which is not practical to measure, one would think, but what people think it is having. Which may well not be the same thing. That is why, unlike most longitudinal questions, over time the results for this query have fluctuated wildly. Apparently, the rise of the hard right under the aegis of secular hedonist Trump, which has had a strong evangelical component to it, has caused many to presume that religion has revived as a major influencer. Which it has not because even among Republicans theism is on the decline (https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace).
 
So. Only one very unreliable Gallup result that the organization itself does not take all that seriously seems to support political operator Ralph Reed’s patently absurd pretension that polls show that Americans are remaining privately as Godly as ever over time, despite fleeing institutionalized religion. That when all of the more scientifically constructed and frequently asked Gallup queries show that while organized Christianity is declining faster than personal theism, the latter is going down fast too. One can and probably should presume that a data cherry-picking Reed knew that. Such is common among theists – it’s called lying for the church (or mosque or whatever; a young Muslim initially pretending to be uncertain about his beliefs showed up at a local atheist meetup not long ago and proceeded to try to convince the women to convert by quoting inane Quran lines ad nauseam). And if per chance he did not he has not the slightest excuse for not knowing the real and easy to find facts. Ergo, Godly, Born-Again evangelical Reed profoundly lied either deliberately or out of gross negligence and ignorance to a national audience.
 
The dire demographic reality is a big factor behind the push by many theoconservatives to rule this republic via minority votes at the presidential and Senate and state levels, and by packing the Supreme Court. What they should do is use persuasion via free speech to try to get the American majority to go along with their conservative supernaturalistic ways. But that effort has been failing big time for decades with no realistic hope for success. So they are trying to capture the government by electoral hook and crook and use sheer political power to remake America into the kind of right-wing Christian land this nation was back when the government was a bastion of traditionalist values. Remember Comstock Laws? They bemoan the onset of the unprecedented cultural and sexual revolutions of the 1900s that are helping drive the withering of theism. And that’s why the right continues to embrace a chronically dishonest and irreligious Trump who in turn depends on the religious right for the political success he has enjoyed. That makes twisted electoral sense since Trump lost the electoral college by just 45,000 votes in three states – interestingly, I have not found evidence that Reed has either supported or rejected the claim that Trump did not lose in 2020, seems he is trying to avoid entirely ruining his credibility with either side.
 
So how about it Ralph? Will you publicly and prominently retract your claims and acknowledge that Americans have become markedly less Godly over recent decades? And apologize to the host of the show you with your boyish grin tried to snooker?
 
Got to say, I am not holding my breath on that.
 
But you should.
 
Now, being a data-following scientist who really does my best to be objective — which is why I am not a theist – I note that the PRRI has released new results that while confirming the broader trends of recent decades, suggest that the deChristianization of the US may be plateauing out (https://www.prri.org/research/2020-census-of-american-religion). That is possible, but looking at their rather internally contradictory data I am not convinced. All the more so because the PRRI results do not look to be in line with those of other organizations. So we shall have to see over the coming years what the assorted surveys turn up and go from there.
 
And Bill. When you have Reed, and others of his ilk, on your program in the future and they make one of those that sounds kinda dubious claims, do one of your classic yeah like I (don’t) believe that one looks, and warn your audience to take what they just heard with a large load of salt. Really large.
 
You have to watch out for those theocons. They can be sneaky.

bookmark_borderLeviticus and Homosexuality – Part 2: No Messages from God

REASON FOR DOUBT #1
Should we view homosexual sex as morally wrong because it is (allegedly) condemned in the book of Leviticus?  In Part 1 of this series I outlined a dozen reasons to doubt this viewpoint.  Here is the first reason:

1. God does NOT exist, so no prophet and no book contains truth or wisdom from God. 

The question “Does God exist?” is not a simple and easy question to answer.  However, in my view there are no good reasons to believe God exists, but there are good reasons to doubt and to disbelieve that God exists.  I cannot establish these conclusions with just a single blog post, but I have written many posts that are concerned with arguments about the existence of God, so I can summarize my conclusions and point to various posts that I have previously published.
If it is unlikely that God exists, then it is also unlikely that there are prophets who communicate truth or wisdom that they received in communications from God, and it is unlikely that there are books that contain truth or wisdom from God.
 
THE SILENCE OF GOD
Furthermore, we can turn this reasoning around, and argue that there probably is no God, because there are no true prophets and no books that were truly inspired by God.
Christians, Jews, and Muslims argue that there are prophets and writings that provide us with messages from God.  Part of their argument is based on the following assumption:

21. IF God exists, THEN it is very likely that God communicated truth or wisdom to human beings through prophets or holy books in the past four thousand years.

This seems like a reasonable assumption to me, but this assumption can also be used to argue for the conclusion that there is no God:

21. IF God exists, THEN it is very likely that God communicated truth or wisdom to human beings through prophets or holy books in the past four thousand years.

22. There have been no prophets or holy books in the past four thousand years that have provided truth or wisdom from God.

THEREFORE:

23. It is probably NOT the case that God exists.

Premise (22) appears to beg the question against the belief that the book of Leviticus was inspired by God, but we can set Leviticus aside for the moment, and think about other allegedly inspired writings:

  • The Quran
  • The Book of Mormon
  • Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures
  • Deuteronomy and Joshua (other OT books)

If one was not raised a Muslim, then it is very obvious that the Quran was NOT inspired by God.  If one was not raised as a Mormon, then it is very obvious that The Book of Mormon was NOT inspired by God.  If one was not raised as a Christian Scientist, then it is very obvious that Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures was NOT inspired by God.  When Christian believers who accept the traditional Christian faith examine allegedly inspired writings of other religions or non-traditional Christian sects, they very quickly (and correctly) determine that those other writings were NOT inspired by God.
However, the Bible, and especially the Old Testament, has most of the same defects as the Quran.  In fact, the OT is often worse than the Quran in terms of the cruelty and injustice and bloodthirsty character of Jehovah, the god of the Israelites.  So, the very same reasons that Christians give for rejecting the Quran as NOT being inspired by God apply to the Bible, especially to the OT.  It is clear that the OT is no more inspired than the Quran.  Christians are just biased and hypocritical in how they evaluate the Quran vs. how they evaluate the Bible.

I’ve Got One Less Prophet Without You


The OT is filled with false claims and assumptions, both false claims and assumptions about nature, and false claims and assumptions about historical events.  The OT is also filled with cruel, unjust, and immoral actions and commandments by and from Jehovah, the god of the Israelites.  So, either the OT is filled with SLANDER and FALSEHOODS about what God said and did, or else it accurately portrays the words and actions of Jehovah, but Jehovah is NOT GOD, and therefore the being who communicated with Moses was NOT GOD, and thus the OT was NOT inspired by God.  Either way, the OT is, in general, NOT inspired by God.
It would be rather unlikely that Leviticus was inspired by God while the rest of the OT was inspired by a cruel, unjust, and morally flawed being named “Jehovah”.  We will see later that Leviticus has the same problems as the rest of the OT.
Deuteronomy and Joshua clearly describe Jehovah as commanding that the Israelites MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER every man, woman, teenager, child, and baby who lived in the geographical area called “the promised Land” (basically Palestine), in order to steal the land from the peoples who had already settled in that area.  This massive slaughter of innocent civilians and children and babies is cruel, unjust, and immoral, so it is clear that Jehovah, as described by Deuteronomy and Joshua is a morally flawed person, and thus is NOT GOD.  Therefore, either Deuteronomy and Joshua contain SLANDER and FALSEHOODS about God, or else Jehovah said and did what these books claim, and Jehovah is NOT God.  Either way, it follows logically that Deuteronomy and Joshua are NOT books that were inspired by God.
For further details see my recent series of posts on this subject:

INDEX: Was Joshua’s Slaughter of the Canaanites Morally Justified?


 
GENERAL SKEPTICISM PLUS THREE SPECIFIC AREAS OF SKEPTICISM
My doubts about the existence of God are related to skepticism in general, and to three specific areas of skepticism:

  • Skepticism about Supernatural Claims
  • Skepticism about Religion
  • Skepticism about the Existence of God

I am a SKEPTIC because I am a CYNIC.  It is not the case that all skeptics are cynics.  However, it is probably true that many skeptics are cynics (like me).
Furthermore, my cynicism is not merely a pessimistic prejudice about humans, but is supported by historical and scientific data, and investigations into human behavior.  Science and history support cynicism.
By CYNICISM I mean: the view that human beings are naturally and commonly irrational, illogical, ignorant, superstitious, gullible, prejudiced, dishonest, and self-deceived.
My SKEPTICISM can be summed up this way: QUESTION AUTHORITY!  People very often boldly and confidently assert (or believe) things that are FALSE or UNREASONABLE.  Donald Trump, for example, does this several times a day. This is because people are naturally and commonly irrational, illogical, ignorant, superstitious, gullible, prejudiced, dishonest, and self-deceived.
See the second half of the following post, the section called “REASONS FOR SKEPTICISM ABOUT THE SUPERNATURAL”:  Why I Reject the Resurrection – Part 4: Skepticism about the Supernatural.
 
HISTORICAL EXAMPLES OF WISHFUL THINKING
[The above are slides from a PowerPoint that I created for a podcast: Thinking Critically about Christianity – Podcast 5.  Slides 17 through 21 provide the above historical examples of wishful thinking.]
 
SKEPTICISM ABOUT SUPERNATURAL CLAIMS
There are at least three areas of skepticism about supernatural claims that provide examples and evidence supporting doubt about the supernatural:

  • Skepticism about Supernatural Powers: ESP, Psychics, Prophets, Astrology, Telekinesis, Levitation.
  • Skepticism about Supernatural Beings: angels, demons, spirits, ghosts, fairies.
  • Skepticism about faith healers, psychic healers, shaman, and/or new age medicine (Homeopathy, Crystals, Chakras, etc.)

There has been about 150 years of investigation into ESP, telekinesis, and psychics, and no significant evidence has been found that confirms popular belief in these alleged supernatural powers.  Belief in such supernatural powers is due to wishful thinking, gullibility, superstition, bias, deception, and other forms of ignorance and irrationality.
There is no significant evidence for the existence of angels, demons, spirits, or ghosts.  Mediums who claim to communicate with the dead have been studied for over 150 years, and no significant evidence has been found that confirms the popular belief that mediums are able to communicate with the spirits of dead people.  The fact that billions of people have believed in angels, demons, ghosts, spirits, and mediums for many centuries just shows that people are in general, naive, gullible, superstitious, ignorant, and uncritical thinkers.
Faith healers, psychic healers, and New Age medicine (homeopathy, crystals, chakras) are generally practiced by con artists, quacks, and charlatans, and by some superstitious true believers.  There is no significant scientific evidence that confirms the ability of faith healers, psychic healers, shaman, or New Age medicine to heal people of any actual organic diseases (as opposed to making people feel less anxious or fearful or to feel better in some psychological way).  Billions of naive, ignorant, uncritical, superstitious people have for many centuries believed in faith healing, psychic healing, shamanic healing, and/or in New Age medicine, but they are simply more examples supporting general cynicism about human beings.
Billions of human beings over many centuries have uncritically and unreasonably accepted various supernatural beliefs like those listed above.  But whenever such alleged supernatural powers or supernatural beings or supernatural forces are carefully and scientifically investigated, we either find natural explanations for the phenomena, or we find that there is no significant empirical evidence that such supernatural phenomena exist.
That does not mean that there is no possibility that one day someone will discover a supernatural phenomenon that can be confirmed by careful scientific investigation, but the repeated FAILURE of ANY alleged supernatural powers or supernatural beings or supernatural forces to be confirmed when carefully investigated makes is VERY UNLIKELY that any such supernatural phenomena actually exists.
=================
Articles on General Skepticism about the Paranormal
creators-of-the-paranormal
eyewitness-testimony-and-the-paranormal
psychic-experiences-psychic-illusions
cold-reading-how-to-convince-strangers-that-you-know-all-about-them
confirmbias
coincidences
coincidences-remarkable-or-random
Articles on Skepticism about Astrology
Astrology_and_science
astrology
astrology-more-like-religion-than-science
does-astrology-need-to-be-true-a-thirty-year-update
astrology-strikes-back-but-to-what-effect
belief-in-astrology-a-test-of-the-barnum-effect
tests-of-astrology-do-not-support-its-claims
Articles on Skepticism about ESP, Telepathy, Clairvoyance, and Psychokinesis
psychic
esp
clairvoyance
psychokinesis
mind-over-metal
fakers-and-innocents
the-case-of-the-psychic-detectives
psychic-pets-and-pet-psychics
failed-psychic-predictions-for-1998
psychics-strike-out-again-in-1995
psychics-fail-once-again
a-controlled-test-of-dowsing-abilities
Articles on Skepticism about Parapsychology
psihistory
heads-i-win-tails-you-lose-how-parapsychologists-nullify-null-results
the-evidence-for-psychic-functioning-claims-vs-reality
the-elusive-open-mind-ten-years-of-negative-research-in-parapsychology
a-critique-of-schwartz-et-als-after-death-communication-studies
Articles on Skepticism about Specific Psychics and Mediums
geller
dixon
cayce
ramtha
psychic-defective-sylvia-brownes-history-of-failure
years-later-sylvia-brownes-accuracy-remains-dismal
Geraldine Smith – Toronto Psychic
investigation-of-psychics  (James Hydrick and Alan Vaughan)
nostradamus-a-new-look-at-an-old-seer
john-edward-spirit-huckster
testing-natasha
nostradamus-the-prophet-for-all-seasons
edgar-cayce-the-slipping-prophet
the-geller-papers
Articles on Skepticism about Supernatural Beings
ghosts
haunted
poltergeist
fairies
exorcism
satan
so-you-have-a-ghost-in-your-photo
firebug-poltergeists
dispelling-demons-detective-work-at-the-conjuring-house
the-200-demons-house-a-skeptical-demonologists-report
the-conjuring-ghosts-poltergeist-demons
the-bell-witch-poltergeist
enfield-poltergeist
john-edward-spirit-huckster
demons-in-connecticut
a-skeletons-tale-the-origins-of-modern-spiritualism
ghosts-caught-on-film
ghost-hunters-2
amityville-the-horror-of-it-all
john-edward-hustling-the-bereaved
exorcism-driving-out-the-nonsense
Articles on Skepticism about Faith Healing, Faith Healers, and New Age Medicine
faithhealing
Faith_healing  (Kathryn Kuhlman and Peter Popoff)
psychic surgery
homeopathy
crystals
crystal-healing
Crystal_healing
johnofgod
john-of-god-healings-by-entities
benny-hinn-healer-or-hypnotist
peter-popoff-reaches-heaven-via-39-17-megahertz
To Be Continued…

bookmark_borderOFF TOPIC: How to Take OUR Government Back

Magna Carta, 1215, England

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Here is a VERY SIMPLE way to take OUR government back INSTANTLY.
Pass a law (or a Constitutional amendment if necessary) requiring the following:

  1. Anyone elected to Congress or to the office of President or Vice President  and anyone appointed to a cabinet position, must hand over ALL of their assets (including cash in bank accounts, stocks and bonds, precious metals, gems, cars, boats, houses, businesses, real estate, Amazon gift cards, etc.) to be held by a bank or by the government for the entire period of time that person serves as an official of the federal government (either in Congress or as President or Vice President or in the cabinet).
  2. While serving in Congress or as President or as Vice President or in the Cabinet, the financial needs of these public servants and their families would be met by: (a) Social Security checks, based on the average amount provided to ordinary citizens (who have worked for 40 years prior to retirement), (b) medicaid provided health care coverage, based on their income from Social Security payments, and (c) housing provided by the federal prison system (a block of prison cells consisting of one cell as an office for the government official, one cell for the bedroom of the official (and his/her spouse), one cell as a bedroom for each child, one cell as a family room, one cell as a kitchen area (equipped with a stove, a refrigerator, cabinets, and a dishwasher, and a kitchen sink)  one cell as a bathroom (equipped with a bath/shower, a toilet, and a sink).
  3. If the income from Social Security was deemed inadequate, and if the Medicaid provided health coverage was deemed inadequate, and if the prison provided housing was deemed inadequate (unsafe or inhumane), then of course any official of Congress would be free to propose in Congress changes to the amount provided in Social Security payments, and to the level of health care coverage provided by Medicaid, and to the quality and safety of cells in the federal prison system, but no improvements to these government programs could be enacted solely for officials in Congress or in the White House, but must be completely general in nature; thus, any improvements and enhancements to Social Security payments for federal officials would also apply to ordinary citizens who receive Social Security payments, and any changes or improvements to Medicaid assistance would also apply to ordinary citizens who receive Medicaid assistance, and any improvements to accommodations and to safety in the housing of the federal officials would also apply to all federal prisoners in all federal prisons.

All in favor, say “Aye”!

bookmark_borderSkepticism about Religion – Part 3: More Caveats and Qualifications

=========================
II. There are good reasons to be SKEPTICAL about religion and religious beliefs.

A. Religion is NOT the key to Happiness and Virtue.

1. Religion is NOT the key to Happiness.

2. Religion is NOT the key to Virtue.

========================

MORE CAVEATS & QUALIFICATIONS ABOUT

THE CORRELATION BETWEEN RELIGION & HAPPINESS

5. When a study does find a positive correlation between religion and happiness, it is usually a weak correlation.

Various reviews of empirical studies on the relationship between religion and happiness have concluded that the correlation of religion to happiness is a WEAK one:
 … In 1985, researchers analyzed 56 different effects to determine whether being religious is associated with greater well-being in adults. They found that endorsing a religion, led to a correlation of .16 with well-being. If you focused on religious activity, or how often someone prayed, attended a church/synagogue/mosque, or read scriptures, the correlation with happiness was nearly identical at .18. If you focused on the feeling of satisfaction derived from being religious or connected with a higher power, the correlation with happiness was only .13.
[…]
People who are physically attractive are intelligent—at a correlation of .14 (the same magnitude as the link between religion and happiness).
[…]
… the correlation between being religious and being happy is unimpressive. And in case you think I am cherry picking the data, a 2003 meta-analysis of 34 studies of religiosity and well-being, led to the same conclusion. Overall, the correlation between being a religious person and … high life satisfaction was only .12, and feeling that one reached self-actualization was only .24.  And using a 2011 study of 353,845 individuals from 50 states and the District of Columbia conducted by The Gallup Organization, researchers found that believing that religion was an important part of your life correlated a mere .06 with life satisfaction, … and .06 with positive feelings in daily life.  Again, unimpressive. 
(“Does Being Religious Make us Happy?” by Todd B. Kashdan Ph.D., Psychology Today. Emphasis added.)
The correlation between religion and happiness thus appears to be a weak correlation, measuring somewhere between .06 and .18.  As pointed out above that is about the same as the correlation between being physically attractive and being intelligent (correlation = .14).  Obviously, there is only a weak correlation between being physically attractive and being intelligent. There are plenty of physically attractive people who are not very intelligent, and there are plenty of people who are not physically attractive who are very intelligent.
Correlations that are less than .2 are generally considered to be weak, at least in relation to subjective phenomena like happiness and religiosity:
There is no rule for determining what size of correlation is considered strong, moderate or weak. The interpretation of the coefficient depends, in part, on the topic of study. When we are studying things that are difficult to measure, such as the contents of someone’s mental life, we should expect the correlation coefficients to be lower.
In these kinds of studies, we rarely see correlations above 0.6. For this kind of data, we generally consider correlations above 0.4 to be relatively strong; correlations between 0.2 and 0.4 are moderate, and those below 0.2 are considered weak.  (“An Introduction to Data Analysis & Presentation” by Prof. Timothy Shortell, Sociology, Brooklyn College. Emphasis added.)
A recent study of religion and happiness in Britain provides support for the view that “Religion Can Make You Happier”, as claimed in the title of a news article from The Telegraph:
According to figures published as part of the Office for National Statistics (ONS) “well-being” research programme people, people who say they have no religious affiliation report lower levels of happiness, life satisfaction and self-worth than those who do.
(“Religion Can Make You Happier, Official Figures Suggest” By John Bingham, Religious Affairs Editor, The Telegraph)
However, the same article points out that an expert on the sociology of religion concluded that the role of religion in relation to happiness is a minor one, based on the recent study in Britain:
Prof Linda Woodhead, of Lancaster University, one of the UK’s leading experts on sociology of religion, said the figures suggest that if faith is a factor in happiness it is only a small factor.
“You might say if it is the ‘opium of the people’ they need to up the dose,” she said.
(“Religion Can Make You Happier, Official Figures Suggest Emphasis added.)
The study does show that average happiness scores are lower for non-religious people than for various groups of religious people.  Here is a graph that summarizes the differences in average happiness scores:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
If we take a closer look at the data from the recent British study, it becomes clear that religion, at best, plays only a minor role in relation to happiness. Happiness is rated on a scale from 0 to 10, so a more accurate graph, one that provides a view of the full range of possible happiness scores, looks like this:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Clearly, the differences in average happiness scores is SMALL.  No group has an average happiness score below 7.2 and no group has an average happiness score above 7.6.  All of the group average scores fell into that small range of four tenths of one point on a ten-point scale.
If non-religious people had an average happiness score of 4.7 and Christians had an average happiness score of 8.2. then that would be impressive, but the difference between average non-religious happiness scores and average Christian happiness scores is NOT a few points, but is only about two-tenths of a point.
This is about the same as the difference between average Jewish happiness and average Hindu happiness.  So, if two-tenths of a point is of great significance (it is not), then Muslims and Jews should seriously consider leaving their faith and becoming Hindus in order to gain greater happiness.  I don’t think any reasonable Muslim or Jew would give serious consideration to converting to Hinduism just because Hindus have an average happiness score that is two-tenths of a point higher than their religious group.  No reasonable Christian would seriously consider converting to Hinduism on the grounds that Hindus have an average happiness score that is one-tenth of a point higher than Christians.
Such small differences in average happiness scores are of little significance.  What is more significant is that all groups have such similar average happiness scores, that the range of differences in average happiness scores is less than half of one point.  This data actually shows that religion is relatively insignificant in relationship to happiness.  This data clearly shows us that religion is NOT the key to happiness; one’s religion or lack of religion is of little significance in terms of the level of happiness one will obtain.

6. There are a number of other factors that have a significantly stronger positive correlation with happiness.

,  a Research Associate in the Social Policy and Social Work Department at the University of York, points out that there are many different factors that influence how happy a person is likely to be:
Previous research suggests the “happy person” is young, healthy, well-educated, well-paid, optimistic and extroverted. The same research found the happiest people tend to be religious, married, with high self-esteem and job morale and modest aspirations. It seems your gender and level of intelligence don’t necessarily come into it.
[…]
Our study looks at a large number of different religious groups across 100 countries – from 1981 to 2014 – using data from the World Value Survey.
[…]
In our research, we found that many factors were positively associated with happiness and life satisfaction. These included being Protestant, female, married and younger (16 to 24 years old). The household’s financial situation also came into it, as did a person’s state of health and freedom of choice.
We discovered that national pride and trust were important in terms of happiness rankings, as was having friends, family and leisure time. Attending weekly religious practice was also discovered to be an important factor. On the other hand, being unemployed and on a low income was negatively associated with happiness and life satisfaction.
A closer look at the magnitude of the association between these factors and happiness and life satisfaction revealed that health, financial stability and freedom of choice, or control over one’s life were the most important factors.
(“Are religious people happier than non-religious people?The Conversation. Emphasis added.)
After looking at a variety of different factors, this broad international study concluded that the most important factors related to happiness are:

  • health
  • financial stability
  • freedom of choice or control over one’s life

The journal article presenting this study states that most of the factors that were examined had a small effect size on happiness and life satisfaction:
The most significant factors driving happiness and life satisfaction include state of health, household’s financial satisfaction, income ranking position, unemployment, freedom of choice, national pride, trust, importance of friends, family, leisure, being a female and weekly religious attendance (see Table 2). Nevertheless, when the Cohen’s rules of thumb (Cohen 1992; Wright 1992) was applied, most factors seem to have ‘‘small’’ effect size (r ≤ 0.10). Thus, the most significant factors driving happiness and life satisfaction were state of health, household’s financial satisfaction and freedom of choice.
(“Are Happiness and Life Satisfaction Different Across Religious groups? Exploring Determinants of Happiness and Life Satisfaction.” / Ngamaba, Kayonda Hubert; Soni, Debbie. In: Journal of Religion and Health, 07.08.2017, p. 1-22. Emphasis added.)
Only THREE of the many different potential factors related to happiness that were examined in this study had a positive correlation that was greater than .10.  NONE of the factors relating to religious belief or religious activity had a positive correlation greater than .10.
There were several other factors besides religion that also had a small positive correlation with happiness (e.g. income ranking position, national pride, trust, importance of friends, family, leisure, being a female).  Furthermore, the religious factor that did show a small correlation with happiness was weekly religious attendance, and we have previously noted that regular attendance at religious services effects happiness primarily because of the social aspect of religion: involvement in religious services provides opportunities for making and maintaining friendships with other people who attend the same religious services:
“To me, the evidence substantiates that it is not really going to church and listening to sermons that makes people happier,” Lim [sociologist Chaeyoon Lim of the University of Wisconsin–Madison] told TIME, “but making church-based friends and building intimate social networks there.” 
(“Does Spirituality Make You Happy?” Time.com)
Clearly, it is NOT the case that “Religion is the key to happiness”, based on the results of this broad study that examined data from 100 different countries.

7. The correlation between religion and happiness appears to be bi-modal: religious people tend towards both greater happiness and also greater unhappiness compared to non-religious people.

We have seen so far that religion fails to correlate with happiness in several countries, that when religion does correlate with happiness the degree of correlation is usually small, that there are non-religious factors that are more important in relation to happiness, and that one of the most significant religious factors (i.e. regular attendance at religious services) effects happiness primarily because of the social aspect of religion.
One final issue with religion in terms of its correlation with happiness is that it also correlates with unhappiness, at least according to one recent study of data from 79 different countries:
This paper investigates the relationship between religiosity and life satisfaction in 79 nations using World Values Survey data. Extant literature analyzes religiosity and life satisfaction at person level. But religiosity is an attribute of both, persons and societies. To solve methodological problems evident in previous work a random coefficient multilevel model is employed to account for the fact that individuals are nested within countries. This study shows that the relationship between religiosity and life satisfaction is bimodal. Religious people tend to be either very satisfied or dissatisfied with life. 
(“Religiosity and life satisfaction across nations” by  ,  Mental Health, Religion & Culture , Volume 13, 2010 – Issue 2. Quote from Abstract. Emphasis added.)

So, the claim that “Religion is the key to happiness” is mistaken not only because religion has only a weak correlation with happiness, but because it also correlates with unhappiness!  In other words, even if becoming religious brings with it a small increase in the likelihood of becoming happier, it also appears to bring with it a small increase in the likelihood of becoming unhappier.  The small increase in the likelihood of becoming unhappier tends to counterbalance the advantage of the small increase in the likelihood of becoming happier.  Not only is the advantage of religion in relation to happiness relatively insignificant, but it also comes with a small disadvantage in relation to happiness.

bookmark_borderSkepticism about Religion – Part 2: Caveats and Qualifications

DOES RELIGION HAVE A POSITIVE CORRELATION WITH HAPPINESS?

There are many empirical studies that appear to show that religion has a positive correlation with happiness.  However, there are a number of important caveats and qualifications that need to be taken into consideration here:

  1. Viewed in geographic terms, religion has a NEGATIVE correlation with happiness.
  2. Whether religion correlates with happiness depends on how one measures happiness.
  3. Whether religion correlates with happiness depends on how one measures religion/religiousness.
  4. In several countries religion does NOT have a positive correlation with happiness.
  5. When a study does find a positive correlation between religion and happiness, it is usually a weak correlation.
  6. There are a number of other factors that have a significantly stronger positive correlation with happiness.
  7. The correlation between religion and happiness appears to be bi-modal: religious people tend towards both greater happiness and also greater unhappiness compared to non-religious people.

1. Viewed in geographic terms, religion has a NEGATIVE correlation with happiness.

Let’s compare the top ten MOST religious states in the USA with the ten LEAST religious states in terms of happiness.
If religion is the key to happiness, then we would expect the states with the MOST religious populations to have the happiest populations as well, and we would expect the states with the LEAST religious populations to have the least happiest populations.  A perfect positive correlation between religion and happiness would be if the number one most religious state also had the number one spot in happiness, and if the second most religious state was number two in terms of happiness, and so on.  A perfect correlation would also mean that the LEAST religious state in the country would have the least happiest population, and the second LEAST religious state would have the second least happiest population, and so on.
There is NOT a perfect positive correlation between religion and happiness.  In fact, the most religious states tend to be states with lower than average happiness, and the least religious states tend to be states with above average happiness.  In terms of states, religion has a NEGATIVE correlation with happiness.
Of the top ten most religious states in the USA (based on Pew Research Center data from 2014), seven out of ten are in the bottom twenty states for happiness(based on Gallup data from 2014), and only one out of ten is in the top twenty for happiness:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Note that West Virginia is one of the top ten most religious states, and it also has the LEAST happy population in the USA (it ranks dead last).
On the other hand, of the ten least religious states in the USA, six out of ten are among the top twenty states in terms of happiness, and only one out of ten are in the bottom twenty states for happiness:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Note that two of the ten least religious states (Alaska and Hawaii) are the two states with the happiest populations in the USA (ranking number 1 and number 2, respectively).
This same negative correlation also appears to hold between different countries.  Many of the countries with the happiest populations are very secular countries that are among the LEAST religious countries in the world.  And many of the most religious countries have populations that are among the LEAST happiest in the world:
Religiosity levels are the lowest (generally less than 30 percent of the population) in prosperous, socialist democracies such as Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands. Yet, according to the annual UN-commissioned World Happiness Reports, these nations are also consistently among the happiest in the world. What’s more, in places like Senegal and Bangladesh — countries with the most self-reported religious people (around 98 percent) but where daily survival is a struggle — life-satisfaction scores are near the bottom of the scale.  (Samantha Rideout,  “Does religion really make you happier?” from UCOBSERVER.org)
Correlation does not show causation, so this data does not prove that religion causes unhappiness or a reduction in happiness.  I suspect that bad circumstances cause unhappiness, and that unhappiness tends to foster religion. Poverty, unemployment, crime, poor medical care, disease, natural disasters, and corrupt or ineffective governments cause fear, anxiety, and unhappiness, and (I suspect) that the suffering and unhappiness caused by such conditions helps to promote religion:
In a 2011 paper that analyzed self-reports from hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, researchers found that the connection between religious faith and happiness was strongest among people living in difficult conditions—fear, poverty, hunger.
Think of it as scientific proof of the old saying that there are no atheists in the foxhole. When life is hard, the communal support of a religious community—and, presumably, the hope for something better to come in an entirely different world—is especially valuable, maybe even impossible to give up. That may be one reason religious community was so important to slave populations throughout history, from the ancient Israelites under the pharaoh’s boot in Egypt to African Americans trapped in the antebellum South. It may also be why even now in the U.S., states with lower life expectancies and higher poverty rates have the largest proportion of religious people. A rich man may find it harder to get into heaven than a camel does passing through the eye of a needle, but he may not think he needs to count on heaven in the first place. 
You don’t need to be a Marxist to believe that materialism matters to happiness and that people who live in a safe and wealthy country are on the whole going to be happier than those who do not. (If religion provides a kind of existential security in poor countries, the welfare state may do the same in rich ones.) … (Bryan Walsh, “Does Spirituality Make You Happy?” in the Time Guide to Happiness)
On the other hand, the negative correlation between religion and happiness that we find in geographically organized data COULD be because religion plays a significant causal role in producing conditions that lead to unhappiness or below-average happiness:
As always when it comes to correlation, it’s also possible that some of the causality goes in the opposite direction: “You could maybe argue that the heavily religious countries are less likely to produce the progressive social policies that foster widespread happiness in the long run,” suggests Caulfield. [Timothy Caulfield, “a Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy and a professor at the University of Alberta”].  (Samantha Rideout,  “Does religion really make you happier?” from UCOBSERVER.org)
When we divide the world up by states or nations, the LEAST religious states or nations tend to have the happiest populations, and the MOST religious states or nations tend to have less happier populations.  This geographic organization of data on religion and happiness indicates that religion is NOT the key to happiness, and it also casts doubt on the claim that religious people tend to be happier than non-religious people.
 

2. Whether religion correlates with happiness depends on how one measures happiness.

Some studies find a positive correlation between religion and happiness, while other studies FAIL to find such a correlation.  One reason for such conflicting results is that “happiness” is a complex abstract concept, and there are different ways of understanding and of measuring happiness:
… The majority of studies report a positive association between measures of religion and happiness; however, contradictory findings are common. This is exemplified in the literature that has systematically employed the Francis Scale of Attitude toward Christianity alongside two different measures of happiness among a variety of samples.  Two opposing conclusions have found consistent support. Research with the Oxford Happiness Inventory has consistently found religiosity to be associated with happiness, while research employing the Depression–Happiness Scale has consistently found no association.  (“Religion and happiness: Consensus, contradictions, comments and concerns” by Christopher Alan Lewis & Sharon Mary Cruise, Mental Health, Religion & Culture, Volume 9, 2006 – Issue 3,  Pages 213-225. Emphasis added. )
Religion correlates with happiness only when specific measures of happiness are used, particularly the Oxford Happiness Inventory.  When other measures of happiness are used, the positive correlation between religion and happiness may disappear.
 

3. Whether religion correlates with happiness depends on how one measures religion/religiousness.

There are different ways of understanding and measuring religion and religiousness.  Sometimes surveys ask about religious beliefs (“Do you believe that God exists?”), and sometimes they ask about religious identification:
Most U.S. adults identify with a particular religious denomination or group. They describe themselves as Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Jewish, Mormon or Muslim– to name just a few of the hundreds of identities or affiliations that people give in surveys.  (“The Religious Typology“Pew Research Center)
Surveys also ask people about their religious practices, such as how often they pray, how often they read or study scripture, how often they attend religious services, and surveys ask people about how they feel about religion (“How important is religion in your daily life?”), and about their religious experiences (“Do you feel close to God when you pray?”).
So, religion and religiousness can be evaluated on the basis of different sorts of considerations: religious identification, religious beliefs, religious activities, religious experiences, and attitudes about religion, to name some commonly used considerations.  Whether a study shows a positive correlation between religion/religiousness and happiness depends on how religion/religiousness is measured or evaluated.
Regular attendance at religious services tends to have a positive correlation with happiness, but religious beliefs often FAIL to have a positive correlation with happiness.  For example, Chaeyoon Lim, a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and his colleague, Harvard researcher Robert Putnam, published a study about religion and happiness in American Sociological Review (December 7, 2010) that found that attendance at religious services had a significant correlation with happiness, but that other aspects of religiousness did NOT have such a correlation:
The surveys showed that across all creeds, religious people were more satisfied than non-religious people. According to the data, about 28 percent of people who attended a religious service weekly were “extremely satisfied” with their lives, compared with 19.6 percent of people who never attended services.
But the satisfaction couldn’t be attributed to factors like individual prayer, strength of belief, or subjective feelings of God’s love or presence. Instead, satisfaction was tied to the number of close friends people said they had in their religious congregation. People with more than 10 friends in their congregation were almost twice as satisfied with life as people with no friends in their congregation. (“Why Religion Makes People Happier” by Stephanie Pappas, Live Science. Emphasis added.)
The specific data concerning friendships in congregations points to a causal explanation:
“We show that [life satisfaction] is almost entirely about the social aspect of religion, rather than the theological or spiritual aspect of religion,” Lim told LiveScience. “We found that people are more satisfied with their lives when they go to church, because they build a social network within their congregation.” (“Why Religion Makes People Happier” by Stephanie Pappas, Live Science. Emphasis added.)
Having more close friends has an obvious relevance to happiness, so whenever “religiousness” is measured in terms of attendance at religious services (as opposed to religious beliefs or religious experiences) the correlation of religion with happiness could be explained in purely natural and ordinary terms, as the result of the social aspects of religious practices.

4. In several countries religion does NOT have a positive correlation with happiness.

In well-off countries and in secular countries religion does NOT have a significant positive correlation with happiness:
In well-off but secular countries such as France and the Netherlands, both the religious and the nonreligious report about the same level of happiness and social support. In fact, Gallup data shows that some of the happiest nations in the world—Nordic countries such as Denmark and Sweden, which perennially score high on well-being—are comparatively abundant in atheists. Being completely unreligious—and presumably not worrying much about any kind of afterlife—didn’t seem to stop them from enjoying this life. (Bryan Walsh, “Does Spirituality Make You Happy?” in the Time Guide to Happiness. Emphasis added.)
Religious people tend to feel better about themselves and their lives, but a new study finds that this benefit may only hold in places where everyone else is religious, too.
According to the new study of almost 200,000 people in 11 European countries, people who are religious have higher self-esteem and better psychological adjustment than the non-religious only in countries where belief in religion is common. In more secular societies, the religious and the non-religious are equally well-off
[…]
Using information from 187,957 daters, the researchers compared each individual’s spirituality and happiness against the backdrop of religiosity in each person’s country. (Data on countrywide religiosity came from eDarling and from the Gallup World Poll.) They found that religion did indeed contribute to happiness, but only in cultures where religion is celebrated.  ( “Why Religion Makes Only Some of Us HappyLive Science. Emphasis added. )
In countries that have good living conditions, non-religious people tend to be about as happy as religious people:
Nations and states with more difficult life conditions (e.g., widespread hunger and low life expectancy) were much more likely to be highly religious. In these nations, religiosity was associated with greater social support, respect, purpose or meaning, and all three types of SWB. In societies with more favorable circumstances, religiosity is less prevalent and religious and nonreligious individuals experience similar levels of SWB [Subjective Well Being, i.e. happiness]. There was also a person–culture fit effect such that religious people had higher SWB in religious nations but not in nonreligious nations. Thus, it appears that the benefits of religion for social relationships and SWB depend on the characteristics of the society.  (“The Religion Paradox: If religion makes people happy, why are so many dropping out?” authors: Diener, E., Tay, L., & Myers, D. G. (2011). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(6), 1278-1290. Quotation is from an Abstract. Emphasis added)

… Ed Diener and his colleagues dissected a Gallup World Poll of 455,104 individuals from 154 nations. What they found was that in healthy nations (where basic needs are being met, when people feel safe walking home alone at night, etc.), there was no advantage to being religious — both religious and non-religious people reported feeling respected and socially supported, and as a result both reported being happy. But in unhealthy nations, religion offered an advantage, in terms of an uptick in well-being.  (“Does Being Religious Make us Happy?Psychology Today. Emphasis added.)
But if religion/religiousness does NOT have a positive correlation with happiness in several countries, then that is strong evidence that religion by itself is NOT the cause of the happiness that correlates with religion in other countries, otherwise the correlation would be consistent across all countries. In any case, religion by itself cannot be “the key to happiness” for people in general because there are many countries where being religious does NOT make a significant difference in how happy a person will be.
To be continued…

bookmark_borderA Case for Atheism: Skepticism about Religion – Part 1

II. There are good reasons to be SKEPTICAL about religion and religious beliefs.

A. Religion is NOT the key to Happiness and Virtue.

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RELIGION AND HAPPINESS
Religion or religious belief is often thought to be the key to happiness, and religion is often promoted as being the key to happiness.
On the Christian website ExploreGod.com there is an article called “The Secret to Happiness” by Ben Sharp.  In it, Sharp promotes Christianity as the key to happiness:
It’s in Jesus Christ, God’s son, that real happiness—happiness that transcends this world’s definition—is found. Jesus’ perfect life, the death he suffered on the cross, and his resurrection provide true hope—both for this life and the one to come.
The forgiveness he provides for our failures and transgressions gives us a deep and lasting peace, contentment, and happiness.
Other religions are also sold on the basis of the religion being the key to happiness.  For example, on the Muslim website IqraSense.com we find the offer of a free book called The Key to Happiness This book promotes Islam as the key to happiness: 
Chapter Two: Benefits of the Islamic Way of Life
The Islamic way of life is indeed one that will achieve for its followers true happiness, on the condition that one follows its commandments and refrains from its prohibitions. …
Chapter Three: How to Attain True Happiness
True happiness is attained through a number of key fundamental beliefs… Whoever believes in Allah and in His Oneness will be guided to the path of happiness. His heart will be content, and he will live in a state of pure tranquility. …
Newspapers and magazines often put forward the idea that religion tends to make people happy:
Religion is a sure route to true happiness”  – editorial from The Washington Post
Religion can make you happier, official figures suggest” – article from The Telegraph
But there are good reasons to doubt that religion is actually the key to happiness.   If it is not actually the case that religion is the key to happiness, then a widely-held belief about religion is false, and a widely used reason in support of religion is mistaken.  It is possible, of course, that a religion is completely true (or mostly true) even if that religion is NOT the key to happiness.  So, showing that a religion is not the key to happiness does not disprove that religion, and showing that religion in general is not the key to happiness does not show that all religions are foolish or mistaken.
However, if religion is not the key to happiness, then that is a GOOD REASON to be skeptical about religion and religious belief, because (a) this shows that a widely-held belief about religion that is often asserted by religious leaders is mistaken, and (b) it seems likely that if a religion was completely true (or mostly true), it would be the key to happiness.  Although it is possible for a religion to be completely true (or mostly true) but fail to be the key to happiness, it seems more likely that a true (or mostly true) religion would be the key to happiness.  So, to the extent that a religion is NOT the key to happiness, we should at least be SKEPTICAL about the idea that the religion is completely or mostly true.  If religion in general is disconnected from happiness, that doesn’t prove that religion is foolish or a delusion, but it does give one a reason to doubt the truth and wisdom of religion.
Some Obvious Facts:

  • Some atheists are very happy people.
  • Some people who believe in God are very unhappy people.
  • Some people who are not religious are very happy people.
  • Some people who are religious are very unhappy people.

From these obvious facts, we may conclude that (a) being religious is NOT a requirement for being happy, and that (b) being religious does NOT guarantee that one will be happy.  In short, there is NOT a simple and direct relationship between religion and happiness.  However, even if religion is not required for happiness and does not guarantee happiness, it could still be the case that religion HELPS people to be happy, or to be more happy than they would otherwise be.
 
DOES RELIGION HAVE A POSITIVE CORRELATION WITH HAPPINESS?
There are many empirical studies that appear to show that religion has a positive correlation with happiness.  However, there are a number of important caveats and qualifications that need to be taken into consideration here:

  1. Viewed in geographic terms, religion has a NEGATIVE correlation with happiness.
  2. Whether religion correlates with happiness depends on how one measures happiness.
  3. Whether religion correlates with happiness depends on how one measures religion/religiousness.
  4. In several countries religion does NOT have a positive correlation with happiness.
  5. When a study does find a positive correlation between religion and happiness, it is usually a weak correlation.
  6. There are a number of other factors that have a significantly stronger positive correlation with happiness.
  7. The correlation between religion and happiness appears to be bi-modal: religious people tend towards both greater happiness and also greater unhappiness compared to non-religious people.

To be continued…