Monday, April 30, 2007
Saturday, April 28, 2007
Friday, April 27, 2007
Well... I've finally found it! My six-year-old son's kindergarten class. The teacher invites parents to drop in and read a story, which I did yesterday. I explained to the kids that I had a hard time reading sometimes, and perhaps they could help me by telling me when I got the words wrong. Then, I took standard kindergarten books, read them aloud, and then made preposterous interjections. (That's one of the few things in life that I'm really good at).
The kids loved it! I loved it! We laughed and goofed and read for 30 minutes, and that night my son brought home a giant thank you note from them. Also, I received a return invitation. Sweet. Now I just have to figure out how to put this on my vita.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
What did the father do? He swung open the door to the golf cart and knocked the kid off his bike… Wow!
Needless to say, I’m saving money for my own, even more powerful golf cart (see picture).
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
In thinking about all this, I am struck by how long I've had the same dreams or goals. For example, as a kid I always wanted to fly--dreamed of it even. In college I did a little skydiving and then forgot about. A year ago, I realized that I still very much want to, so I got into hang gliding (and love it).
Monday, April 23, 2007
Sunday, April 22, 2007
1) Two negatives do not equal a positive. Why in the world is Dancing with the Starts popular? I, like most sensible people, have no desire to watch ballroom dancing; furthermore, I'm not really interested in the B- and C-list stars used on the shows. Why would putting the two together make a difference?
2) MTV? Why does MTV prominently feature a car repair show? (Pimp my ride). Okay, it long ago gave up music videos, I know, but this isn't even close to things that are close to music. What's next? Cooking shows? Organic farming?
3) Common themes. In flicking through the channels, I noticed several themes in what makes a good TV show today.
4) TV as a habit. The first month or so I, and the family, only watched shows we had wanted to see. By the end, we would just plop down on the couch and start surfing, in hopes of finding something.
5) Peaceful. The first day that we unplugged, several members of my family wondered around the house in a stupor. Now we don't even miss it, and the house feels much more peaceful--at least until December.
Friday, April 20, 2007
As such, I have been enjoying Mark Batterson’s book “In a Pit with a Lion on a Snow Day,” recommended by my self-help-book pusher, Ben Dubow. It's Batterson's meditations on risk, opportunity, and uncertainty. In the chapter on uncertainty, he elaborates on two ideas: 1) uncertainty is sure to happen, so we might as well accept and even embrace it and 2) much of life’s good things come from uncertainty, so we might as well revel in it.
So basically, it’s how to stop worrying and learn to love what can not be expected. Something I very much want/need to learn.
As Batterson writes:
Embrace relational uncertainty; it’s called romance.
Embrace spiritual uncertainty; it’s called mystery.
Embrace occupational uncertainty; it’s called destiny.
Embrace emotional uncertainty; it’s called joy.
Embrace intellectual uncertainty; it’s called revelation.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
In theological discussions of being gay, a common issue is whether being gay is biological in origin. If yes, the thinking goes, then being gay is a) from God, the Creator and b) should be accepted as an unchangeable part of the person.
My goal here is not to address whether being gay has biological origins, I will leave that to biologists, or even if being gay is moral, that is for theologians, and brave ones at that. Instead, I make the case that any biological aspect of being gay (or just about any other human characteristic) probably does not matter for discussions of morality.
To start with, it's my observation that many gay people experience their uality as occurring very early in their lives. "I've always been this way" or something like this is a commonly heard refrain. Okay, I accept that as real. Other gay people frame it as a lifestyle choice. I accept that too. Around 2-3% of the population is gay, which translates into 4-5 million people. It makes sense, then, that there are multiple experiences, and probably origins, of being gay.
Furthermore, being gay, if it has biological causes, is not solely biologically determined. There are examples of identical twins having different ualities. Likewise, if it was solely biological, or at least a simple biological mechanism, principles of natural selection suggest that being gay should fade out of the population rather soon, as gay people have relatively low birth rates.
Nonetheless, it's not unreasonable to assume that for some individuals being gay has some aspect of biological influence. Even this is not clear-cut, for plenty of studies have found that early social experiences can alter individuals' biological and even genetic make-up.
What, then, are the theological implications of this assumption? I would argue none. Various behaviors deemed moral in Christianity have a biological aspect, e.g., a parent's love for a child or helping a stranger in need. However, so do various behaviors deemed immoral. Behavioral geneticists have linked biology to just about every human vice, including criminal behavior, alcohol abuse, racism, and sexual assault. Perhaps the best example is promiscuity--what could be more biological advantageous than having more children with as many mates as possible? Yet, Christian scripture defines it as immoral.
Another way to approach this issue is to consider animals. Periodically researchers will come out, so to speak, with studies of animals enacting same-sexual behavior. For example, sometimes male buffalo mount each other, male penguins couple-up, and rams prefer with other rams. This is used as evidence for the biological origins, and hence normality, of being gay.
If animals are acting out biological impulses, does this matter for theology? Are we going to endorse all animal behaviors as biological, and therefore ultimately moral? Let's see, male bottlenose dolphins hold females in captivity and corner them for . Likewise, mallard ducks will use violent assault as part of . (Once I saw this happening near the Terrace at the U. of Wisconsin, and several students became very upset watching this assault and chased off the male ducks to protect the female). Spiders will eat their mates. Cats and lions will kill the offspring of other males. In fact, watch the Animal Channel for more than five minutes, and you'll quickly see that maybe we should not uncritically accept animals as moral guides.
So, where does this leave us? If we accept that humans are inherently flawed, prone to doing wrong, as per the doctrine of original sin, then whether or not a specific behavior has biological origins simply does not matter for discussions of its morality.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
One question asks the individual to list all members in their family who attend this church as well as their ages, and the responses from one family were hilarious.
- The father gave the ages but left blank the space for the mother's age
-The teenage son listed his parents' as 85 years old (they are in their 40s/50s)
-The mother just listed the ages
Monday, April 16, 2007
This leads me to ask if Digg.com is biased against Christianity? Well, since the company itself doesn’t select the content, its religious preferences, if it has any, don’t really come through. So, the question is really asking if readers and participants of Digg.com participants biased against Christianity?
1) A natural experiment. Last week a popular story was entitled “Atheist Divorce Rate Lower than Christian.” That same day, I posted a story with the reverse title: “Christian Divorce Rates are Lower than Atheist.” I did so because my story had the virtue of being more accurate, and I was curious about the relative interest in stories positive and negative toward Christianity. The final tally: 3587 diggs for the story negatively portraying Christian divorce rates as high, 9 diggs for the story positively portraying Christian divorce rates as low. Same day, virtually identical titles, dramatically different levels of support from Digg.com participants.
2) Top stories. To see which Christian-related stories were most popular on Digg.com, I searched for those stories with keywords Christianity, Christian, Christ, and Jesus, and the results were interesting. Here are the titles of top ten stories—all received over 2,000 diggs and all portray Christianity in a negative light. Interestingly, several do so by emphasizing atheists as victims.
- Atheist divorce rate is Lower than Christian
- High school student tapes teacher preaching God in class
- James Cameron to announce Jesus tomb discovery
- Did the US forefathers want a Christian nation? Ask the Treaty of Tripoli.
- Atheist Richard Dawkins Owns Evangelical Christian Ted Haggard
- CNN Anti-Atheist Hit Piece - write them to protest unanswered hate-speech
- Murdered for being an atheist.
- Atheist in Massachusetts? Enjoy your prison time
- Jesus spotted on dog’s ass (pic)
- Star Wars - "The Last Supper"
Now, I’m not necessarily bothered by these stories--the Star Wars Last Supper is hilarious, the dog’s butt really does, and I don’t get into the U.S. being a Christian nation. Still, there is nothing here positive, or even neutral (except for may the Star Wars), toward Christianity.
Given this apparently negative portrayal of Christianity, we might ask why. One reason would probably be the bane of all news coverage—looking for the unexpected. As such, newspapers report car accidents but not people arriving safely. Likewise, negative stories about a conventional social institution such as the Christian church might be deemed more newsworthy. Also, those who participate in Digg.com are self-selected, so those who feel antagonism toward Christianity might be more active. Finally, these observations are in line with a more general observation of the widespread acceptance of negative stereotypes of Christians as immoral, hypocritical, and overall stupid.
What do you think?
Sunday, April 15, 2007
You who are the true source of life and wisdom and the Principle on which everything depends, be so kind as to infuse in my obscure intelligence a ray of your splendor that may take away the darkness of sin and ignorance.
Grant me keenness of understanding, ability to remember, measure and easiness of learning, discernment of what I read, rich grace with words.
Grant me strength to begin well my studies; guide me along the path of my efforts; give them a happy ending.
You who are true God and true Man, Jesus my Savior, who lives and reigns forever.
Thomas Aquinas (published in the Raccolta #764, Pius XI Studiorum Ducem, 1923).
Saturday, April 14, 2007
1) When I adjust controls on VCR/DVD player, I bend over, get my face about 12 inches from it, push a few buttons, and then see if it works. My sons, on the other hand, walk by and do the same thing without breaking stride on their way to the couch.
2) A weekly ritual for me is looking at the Sunday Best Buy flyer and gaping at the cool electronics. Well... I've noticed that with each year, I recognize a smaller percentage of what they are selling, or, at least know what's special about it.
Friday, April 13, 2007
This reminds me of statistics about the Super Bowl. Growing up, I took as fact claims that a billion+ people watched the Super Bowl. Heck, I did, why wouldn't everyone else? It turns out that the billion number is how many people the Super Bowl is broadcast to... regardless of whether they watch it. In actually, the number of viewers is a much more modest 100 million or so. Still, the big viewing number made us feel good about being American and playing football.
Likewise, bloggers and other web-people are willing to believe absurd numbers for their sites. Even if it is spammers running up our hit counters, a lot of hits are just people looking for something else.
We'd all like to believe that we secretly influence tens of thousands of people, and we seem to believe whatever indications that suggest that we do--regardless of how far-fetched.
So, here's to spam... making us feel good.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
I posted on this extensively last year, and, basically, Barna made a rather elementary methodological error--comparing Christians against Christians. (Here's my digg post today). Other sociologists have likewise found that Christians have low divorce rates. Still, Barna's statistics on divorce rates have a long shelf-life because, I suppose, there being a large audience who want to believe the worst about Christians.
Sometimes I wonder if people put their personal lifeview before good data. You think?
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
The previous post examined gender differences in attendance rates for all Christians. Here, again using GSS data, I analyze how these gender differences vary by denomination, dividing Christians into three groupings: Catholic, Evangelical, and Mainline Protestant.
Next: Attendance rates by age.
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
In previous posts, I examined rates of church attendance among Christians over time and by denomination. Here I look at gender differences. In the plot below, I present the percentage of Christian men and Christian women who attend church on a weekly basis. Usiing GSS data, I plot this for the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s to describe how attendance rates have changed.
As a reminder, this analysis does *not* measure how many people attend church, rather, among Christians, how often do they attend. As such, it's best understood as a measure of involvement and commitment rather than church growth.
As shown, weekly attendance rates are consistently 7-10% higher for women than men, indicating that women Christians are more likely to attend church frequently than men. It's generally assummed that women are more likely to be Christians than men, and this analysis shows that once Christians, they tend to be more involved in church services than men.
Over time, however, the gender gap appears to be closing. Attendance rates are dropping slightly for women, but they have recently increased somewhat for men, such that 2000 rates for men are of approaching a similar magnitude as 1970 rates.
Sunday, April 08, 2007
As a spiritual exercise, I'm going through the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. I love the this program because it presents spiritual truths using different language that I hear in Christianity, so they get me thinking in new ways. I would recommend it to anyone.
(P.S., I think that I'm going to be on this step for awhile.)
Holy week takes on a whole different meaning with a six-year in the house. At church on Palm Sunday, he spent the service "shooting" at people with a Palm branch. Fortunately, those who noticed just smiled rather than actually dying.
Today during Easter Service, we started hearing a roaring sound at the start of the service. Of course, Floyd had snuck in a Darth Maul action figure which was imitating Godzilla--what else.
Friday, April 06, 2007
As shown in the tables above, there has been a slight upswing in attendance rates among Evangelicals, fairly stable attendance among Mainline Protestants, and a fair decrease among Catholics. That is, members of Evangelical Churches are more likely to attend church services on a weekly basis now than 30 years ago. Not so for Catholics.
Thursday, April 05, 2007
There is no particular reason to assume that attendance rates are the same across denominations of Christianity in the United States. To examine that, I divided the Christians in the GSS into three categories: Evangelical Protestant, Mainline Protestant, and Catholic. (A fourth group, Black Protestant, did not have enough members to analyze here). Here are the attendance rates by denomination, in both tabular and graphical form.
Evangelical Mainline Catholic
Weekly 47.1 28.2 35.3
Monthly 18.4 18.6 16.7
Yearly 25.3 40.2 36.5
Never 9.1 12.9 11.4
As shown, there is a lot of variation in church attendance by the type of Christian. Nearly half of all Evangelical Protestants attend church weekly while only about a quarter of Mainline Protestants do. Over a third of the Catholics attend weekly.
Next: Attendance rates by denomination over time
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
Weekly 40.7% 39.2% 37.7% 38.1%
Monthly 17.2% 18.9% 19.2% 19%
Yearly 33.6% 33.2% 33.7% 32.5%
Never 9.5% 8.7% 9.4% 10.4%
Overall it looks like there is a small drop in weekly attendance and a slight increase in monthly- and never-attendance, but overall attendance rates among Christians have remained mostly stable since the 1970s. So, are Christians becoming more nominal over time? Doesn't appear so.
Monday, April 02, 2007
Jay Egenes, a reader of this blog, has asked me if I knew of any data regarding how many Christians are nominal Christians, and if the number of nominal Christians is increasing over time. I don’t know if there is a standard definition of being “nominal,” but it seems that church attendance would be one way of measuring it. Church attendance is commonly measured in social surveys, so I pulled out some data from the General Social Survey, GSS, which has interviewed a couple of thousand people every few years since the 1970s.
The GSS asks: “How often do you attend religious services?” (Q 105).
Current Attendance Rates
I dropped all respondents who did not self-identify as Christians. This included agnostics, atheists, and members of other religions. Among Christians, here are the frequency rates of attending church in the GSS surveys conducted in 2000, 2002, and 2004.
Frequency of Christian Church Attendance, 2000-2004
Less than once a year, 6.4%
About once or twice a year, 12.4%
Several times a year, 13.7%
About once a month, 8.2%
2-3 times a month, 10.9%
Nearly every week, 7.1%
Every week, 21.9%
Several times a week, 9.1%
So, for example, 1309, or 21.9%, of Christians in the last three waves of the GSS attended church on a weekly basis.
To simplify matters, I recoded the attendance variable to four categories, which produced the following frequencies:
So then, back to the initial question of how many nominal Christians? It depends on how we define being nominal. Suppose we define being nominal as going to church less than once a month, then 42.9% of the Christians in the sample are nominal. I'm not sure that there is a clearly-defined threshold between nominal and active, so perhaps the most interesting way to use attendance data is to compare across time and types of Christian.