Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Photography and spirituality

Two common themes of this blog are spirituality and photography, and I've never really thought about how they might overlap, but someone else has...

Here photographer Bill Walsh displays some of his photographs, and he gives 9 reasons that he's a photographer. They are:
  1. Creation is a gift from God
  2. God hides himself in creation
  3. In order to glimpse of the glory of God in creation, we actually have to engage with it.
  4. All art has one source: God’s universe.
  5. Cultural and artistic expressions are gifts from God which we should not neglect.
  6. Culture that glorifies God is a foretaste of what we will experience in the new heavens and new earth.
  7. Christians should avoid quickly judging cultural expression as sacred or secular.
  8. Christian cultural expression should not solely focus on the beautiful and the romantic, but should include the flawed.
  9. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of fusing heaven and earth, and serves as the ultimate source of inspiration for those engaged in artistic pursuits.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Divorce rates among Christians pastors

A reader wrote and asked me about divorce rates among the clergy. I dug around a little bit and found this information on Hartford Seminary's website. It's interesting how much variation there is by denomination in pastoral divorce rates...

Question – Divorce rates by Denomination
[by a denominational researcher]

Has anyone seen any good, recent data about divorce rates by denomination? Someone submitted this question to our Research web site and I have been unable to find a reference. The person said he read that Baptists had the highest percentage and Lutherans and Catholics the lowest.

Answer 1 – [by an academic researcher]

In our fifteen denominational study, we have both present and "ever-divorced" rates of women and men Protestant clergy. Zikmund, Lummis, and Chang, Clergy Women: An Uphill Calling (Westminster/John Knox. 1998, see chart p. 143).

In doing the analysis of divorce trends -- and "ever divorced" is a much better measure of divorce rate than "currently divorced" because remarriage obscures the true divorce rate -- the Southern Baptist clergy had among the lowest ever-divorced rates (17% of the women, 4% of the men), and the American Baptists (19% women, 13% men) and Evan. Lutheran Church in America (19% women, 9% men) were about tied. The highest clergy divorce rate is found among the Unitarian Universalists (47% women, 44% men) with the other denominations in between.

Although as far as I know there are no reliable statistics of lay divorce by denomination, however, the average clergy ever-divorced rate (24% women and 19% men) is comparable to the total lay "ever-divorced" rate most recently reported by the Census (this comparison was provided us by staff at the Associated Press). Or in other words, generally and in most denominations the clergy divorce rate is the same (not double, not half) the lay divorce rate. In those denominations with married clergy where usually or in many parts of this country, divorce spells the end of the pastor's ministry, such as Southern Baptist, the clergy divorce rate is probably lower than the lay divorce rate.

Answer 2 – [from a denominational researcher]

Percent ever-divorced, of those ever-married, from a 1996 Presbyterian Panel (PCUSA) survey:

members, 18%
elders, 17%
pastors, 20%
specialized clergy, 30%

Monday, April 28, 2008

Atheism and the military

Well... here's an example of badly missing the concept (from a New York Times article, "Soldier Sues Army, Saying His Atheism Led to Threats.")


"When Specialist Jeremy Hall held a meeting last July for atheists and freethinkers at Camp Speicher in Iraq, he was excited, he said, to see an officer attending.

But minutes into the talk, the officer, Maj. Freddy J. Welborn, began to berate Specialist Hall and another soldier about atheism, Specialist Hall wrote in a sworn statement. “People like you are not holding up the Constitution and are going against what the founding fathers, who were Christians, wanted for America!” Major Welborn said, according to the statement.

Major Welborn told the soldiers he might bar them from re-enlistment and bring charges against them, according to the statement."


I don't know what's worse, equating Christianity with America or bringing about formal punishments for people for not believing.

Having said that, I would bet there are a lot more places in the world where you would actually be punished for professing Christianity than there are where Christians do the punishing (though, the later type of story is more newsworthy.) An example of the former.

Thanks David for the NYT link!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Saturday stuff

While Floyd and I were waiting for the bus last week, we had our usually sword-fighting match in the driveway (with fallen branches). After finishing the fight, which I lost yet again, Floyd thoughtfully pronounced that we should rename our family the "fool-arounds." As in: His new name would be Floyd Fool-Around, and I would be Bradley Fool-Around.

Speaking of fencing, my niece Courtney is an accomplished fencer, despite still being in elementary school. It was her birthday this week, and for her present I told her that I had hidden her present. Her instructions on finding it: Go to her mother's pursue, find a $20, and that's my present. (Unfortunately Courtney saw right through my scam.)

Some nice photos by Dan Myer.

Floyd's elementary school had a fundraiser for a new playground, and who played at it but Peter Tork, a member of the Monkees. Turns out he's originally from this area, and he's returned to it after his fame.

Friday, April 25, 2008

My favorite extra-credit assignment

It's that time of the semester, when some students disparately want some extra-credit. Here's a small extra-credit assignment that I give most of my classes, and it works well.

Identifying a media clip

· Identify a media clip, such as from a television show, movie, or viral video that illustrates a concept discussed in the class.

· Describe what happens in the scene

· Explain how it fits with a concept discussed in class

It works well for me because it gives me ideas to use in future classes. Some of the best clips that I show have come from students suggestions. It works well for the students because it's another way for them to apply what they have learned in class to the world around them.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Portrait of a fun boy (pic)

Floyd likes to come out with me to take pictures, and he plays the very important role of "photographer's assistant." Some weeks ago we were out and night, and Floyd being safety conscious and organized, brought along a flashlight. Once he figured out how time exposure worked, he asked me to take this picture, and it ended up being the best of the night--all his idea!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Informal Social Sanctions, Prostitution, and

When we think of preventing crime, we usually think of the government punishing people with fines, arrest, jail time, and so forth. It turns out, however, that informal punishments by friends, family, and neighbors also deters crime as much, if not more, than formal punishments. These informal punishments can take many forms. A family member might express disapproval; a friend might cut off the friendship, and even passing strangers looking askance can prevent crime.


These informal social sanctions are part of daily life, and they aren’t necessarily planned ahead of time as a way of preventing crime. It’s in this context that we can think about a class of informal sanctions developed explicitly to prevent crime. These sanctions threaten public embarrassment as a way of deterring criminal behavior (as former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer might for other politicians). The logic here is that people sometimes care deeply about their good reputation, and will avoid activities that would threaten it. As such, threatening reputations might be a way to influence peoples’ behavior more effectively than threatened jail time.

Recently an individual in Oklahoma City has been getting a lot of attention for his efforts to use shame to prevent crime. His name is Brian Bates, and he styles himself as a video vigilante in his efforts to prevent prostitution. Brian started some years ago clip_image004when he got frustrated with the high levels of prostitution in his neighborhood. At one point, he came out of his house to find a prostitute and her client conducting business while parked in his driveway. He eventually testified in court for several cases, but no convictions resulted. Off-handedly, a prosecutor joked that maybe next time he could bring in a video clip, and he thought that was a good idea.

Armed with only a video camera, Bates drives around areas of Oklahoma City to video tape men who frequent prostitutes. He starts video taping when he sees a car slow down to pick up the prostitute, and then he follows them until they stop. After they engage their transaction, Bates will typically approach the car to film the customer. He confronts the man, asking him to explain his behavior, which the man usually denies, and Bates films the conversation.

Bates then posts his videos on-line for the whole world to see. Here is one of them, in which an Army recruiter, dressed in his uniform and driving a military car, gets caught “recruiting” paid sex. This video, and many more like it, are available on (In fact, Brian Bates gets a cut of the advertising dollars associated with each online view of these videotapes).

On Bates’ website, he says that deterring crime is his motivation. One of the goals of his work, he writes, is to “use those caught and published here as an example to hopefully dissuade others.” Elsewhere, Bates has been quoted as saying "If you get caught by the cops, you pay a fine. If you get caught by me, you get a life sentence… there's no reprieve, no probation. People will be hitting that video on Google searches as long as you live."

(Somewhat surprisingly, Bates supports the legalization of prostitution, in private settings. His focus is on “street” prostitution.)

Bates’ actions have raised various ethical concerns—does he have the right to follow people around and videotape them? Apparently, he does, as long as it’s all done in public. Bates also turns over his videos to the police in an effort to assist them in getting convictions for prostitution. The police, however, have reported that they tend not to be of much use.

A remaining question is whether his work is effective in deterring street prostitution in Oklahoma City. It’s difficult to know, but my guess would be that it does deter individuals who are caught once from doing it again. It seems like the shame of having friends, family, and coworkers watch such activities on-line would lead a person to find some other outlet for their desires. It’s less clear, however, that his work discourages customers who have not previously been caught. Probably many of them have never heard of Bates and his video camera, and others are from out of town.

Ironically, there could well be some reverse shaming going on here. While Bates emphasizes that he’s the good-guy here, and he’s bringing justice to the community, perhaps people have begun to wonder about somebody spending his days trying to film other people having sex.

Who knows, maybe someday we’ll all have video cameras, and we’ll be so busy videotaping each other that we won’t have time to break the law.

Originally posted on

Monday, April 21, 2008

A new contest: Questionable statistics about Christianity

Spring is in the air, and so it's the perfect time for a new contest.

I'm thinking of doing some writing on the use of statistics about Christianity, and I'm looking for examples of people creating or using "questionable" ones--statistics about Christianity that are difficult to believe (and, on further examination, maybe false).

Here are some examples from previous posts:
- Only 4% of today's teens will grow up to be evangelical Christians.
- Only 1 in 10,000 couples who pray together ever get divorced.
- Christians have divorce rates as high as people without religious affiliation.

In fact, I would be interested in any questionable uses of empirical data.

What's the prize? How about a quart of real New England maple syrup. As I understand it, this year's run was especially good.

Want to submit a statistic? Post it as a comment or e-mail it to me at If you have a source (even incomplete), that would be great.

Let the best, I mean worst, statistic win!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Saturday stuff

Well, the family has returned from their trip, and we're back to normal... It's nice to have some time to myself, but it's great to have them back.

We just refinanced our house, not to 5 3/8 percent interest. I chuckled at the low rate because our first house was 12% which we refinanced to an amazingly low 8.5%. The only problem with refinancing is that we reset the clock for another 30 years. At this rate, I'll be able to retire when I'm 93 years old.

A funny story, and an even funnier quip: "It's god that this guy took up sailing, rather than hang-gliding." (Both from David).

Here at UConn, some students started a protest in which they pitched tents by the main road and called it tent city. It's complete with signs protesting the US involvement in Iraq (and several other causes). Maybe I'm just cynical , but the tents went up during the first really nice week of weather this spring, and with some approaching rain, they are coming down. Fair weather protests?

You know how advertisements use pictures of attractive young people to get people's attention. Well, Chris Uggen has figured out how which pictures to use to get my attention.

While they were gone, a good friend from college called up. He was in Boston for a conference, and so we met about halfway for breakfast. We've seen each other several times in the past decade (yikes, I'm getting old enough to measure time in decades), and every time we pick right up where we left off.

Friday, April 18, 2008


You wait all winter for a day like today, and you know, it's even better than anticipated. A couple more of these, and I'll forget that winter ever happened.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Moonrise (pic)

Here's a picture of a full moon rising about the winter woods here in Mansfield...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Thoughts on religion and doing sociology

Total Drek has posted a very thoughtful response to one of my earlier posts here. I encourage you to read it.

The larger question here is whether doing sociology of religion implies an assumption of no God/supernatural.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Do the rich do religion differently than the poor?

Among the various ways that wealth affects the practice of religion, Iannaccone (1997) suggests a trade-off between money and time. According to him:

People with low monetary values of time (i.e., the poor), will give less total money and more time to their religious groups.

In contrast, the wealthy, who put a greater money value on time, will give money in lieu of time.
As a result: "
Richer congregations opt for a variety of time-saving, money-intensive practices: shorter-services, more reliance on professional staff (such as clergy, custodians, choir directors, and paid soloists), larger and more costly facilities (permitting less use of members' homes for special meetings), less reliance on volunteered labor, and more reliance on purchased goods and services (such as catered meals in place of potlucks."

Now, I've never been a member of a wealthy congregation (though the shorter service times sound appealing), but this sounds feasible.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Blue vernal pool (pic)

The runoff from the snow melting produces lots of beautiful vernal pools out in the woods. This one actually had a distinct blue-ish tint to it.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Saturday stuff

Well, I'm in day 3 of my wife & kids away for a week. My first reaction was how amazingly quiet the house is with only 1 person it it. Yikes! I unplugged the TV & compute--that much more quiet. My response--I've started singing to myself. The only problem is that I am a terrible singer, and I pick very cheesy songs. (Think American Idol out-take). But... for an audience of one, it works.

On his way out the door to the airport, Floyd was wearing these big, orange-tinted ski goggles. Just out of curiosity, we asked why. Well, they are visiting Cathy's sister, who lives in Arizona, and Cathy told Floyd that Arizona is a desert. So, in his words, goggles "will come in handy in case there is a sandstorm." Okay...

Cathy's last words to me saying good-bye in front of the terminal... "don't forget to pick up crickets for Sticky (Gus' pet lizard)." Ah, true romance never dies.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Clothes make the guy

My approach to clothes may be described as stereotypic "guy" approach to clothes. As evidence:

- I have a five-drawer dresser for my clothes. I use only two for clothes. One I throw loose change into, and two are empty (and I've had this dresser for 5 years).

- I came home last week announcing that I have finished my 2008 clothes shopping for only $40. I buy really nice, $4 t-shirts at a surplus store + new socks. (Note: For variety, I bought both black and white t-shirts).

- I think of wearing Hawaiian shirts as suitable for dressing up for teaching (and they probably are about the nicest things I wear).

- I buy one new pair of shoes a year (athletic shoes, of course) every fall--demote the previous pair to yardwork).

- For birthday gifts from family, I ask for t-shirts with funny slogans. One of my favorites: "Some mornings it's not even worth chewing through the restraints."

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Does the sociology of religion inherently assume no God?

A Theory of Religion, by Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge, is one of the seminal works on a rational choice theory of religion. In the first chapter, they make an interesting claim about the study of religion and the existence of God.

The standard approach in sociology of religion is to assume that this study does not bear upon the reality of spiritual beliefs. As Stark and Bainbridge put it: "It has become conventional in social science writing on religion to lodge the disclaimer that scientific study of religion implies nothing about the truth of religion (p. 22)."

But... S&B disagree. Their theory, like most others in the sociology of religion, is rooted solely in human action. As such, it implies the absence of a Creator. They write: "By attempting to explain religious phenomena without reference to actions taken by the supernatural, we assume that religion is purely human phenomenon, the causes of which are to be found entirely in the natural world. Such an approach is obviously incompatible with faith in revelations and miracles (pp. 22-23)."

This argument strikes me as odd in that it implies that for there to be a God (i.e., true supernatural action), there mustn't be patterned social behavior in response to the supernatural. Put differently, understanding a human mechanism doesn't preclude the existence of a supernatural cause. (For a parable of this)

Having said this, I realize that I have enough invested in both sociology and Christianity that perhaps I am unable to see a contradiction between them (as per balance theory).

What do you think?

Floyd worries about father

This morning Cathy and the boys left for a week in Phoenix with family. My seven-year-old, Floyd, saw how sad I was when they left, and he asked his mother, in all sincerity, if he should "stay home and take care of Daddy." Sadly it didn't work out, but I was very touched by the suggestion.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

How much is your website worth?

I came across this site that estimates the financial value of websites:

According to it, this blog is worth $71,000--which, happily, is the exact amount I'd be willing to sell it for. Any takers?

Some other sites, taken from my blog links:
- Scot McKnight: 1.5 million
- Michael Kruse: 213k
- Chris Uggen: 113k
- Total Drek: 97K
- Scatterplot: 77k
- Dan Myers: 72k
- Jay Livingston: 61k
- Corey Colyer: 23k
- St. Paul's: 22k
- Casey Ross: 15k
- Ray Fowler: 13K
- Sarah Stone: 13K
- Ben Byerly: 4K (he only recently started)

I don' t think that these figures translate into any market reality, but it's fun to imagine!

The site seems to assign values to links to a site, so I suppose that as opposed to selling this site, I should be selling links from it!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A t-shirt design

A former student of mine has started a t-shirt business on the side, and this is the one he designed for me. (He was in my sociology of religion class). Pretty funny...

(If you can't read it, it says: Let's talk about sects)

Thanks Matt!

Monday, April 07, 2008

Blogging an on-line review

Here's an interesting story from the Chronicle of Higher Ed. A communications professor submitted a book for review, and it was reviewed both through the typical anonymous reviewer approach, and it was posted on a blog for anyone to comment on.

They found that "comments from blog readers—often people he knew well—were far more critical than the comments from the anonymous reviewers." This was a plus--helped improve the book.

Negatively, "people who read bits of the book on a blog might have difficulty addressing larger points about the book's value as a whole. "You have to have the entire work in front of you if you're going to spend time thinking about it and giving real substantive comments."

In my own work, I've benefited greatly from the feedback that I've gotten on this blog. In fact, I've drafted an article based pretty much on blog posts. It's a good way to trot out ideas and get feedback on them.

I would think that the blog is better earlier in the project, when the ideas are just being developed, more so than as a formal review of writing.

Thanks Wayne for the link!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Saturday stuff

Once again, I demonstrate an uncanny ability to communicate clearly with my wife. Yesterday, when I was grading papers, she came into the room and asked if I had seen her white bucket. She's putting in a new floor in the basement (to replace the flood-damaged floor), and she kept the extra pieces + her tools in a white bucket. What did I do with it? Why, I threw it away earlier in the week--thinking it was trash. Doh-h-h-h. Cathy, once she got past the stares of disbelief, "encouraged" me to go out and buy some new tools for her.

This week we had the first bonfire of the season. Our yard is littered with sticks and branches that fell in winter storms, so we gathered some of them up (we have enough for more than a few bonfires), and built a good fire in our pit. We did the marshmallow thing, and then when Cathy went inside, I taught the boys some of the finer bonfire skills--jumping over the fire & throwing fireworks into it.

My wife, still worried that I won't know what to do with myself in the week she's gone with the kids, has suggested that I repaint our bathroom in her absence. Hm-m-m, I think the deep-cleaning the house idea was better.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Why the aged weather?

Recently there was a Ask Amy column that raised a question I have wondered about for awhile. Why do people become fascinated with the weather once they retire? I've seen this in my extended family, where elderly members have left the dinner table early to go watch the Weather Channel. They routinely know the weather in Connecticut better than I do (though they live elsewhere).

Any thoughts on why people become so attracted to weather as they age?


Dear Amy: Four years ago, my parents retired in their mid-50s.
Before they retired, they were my best friends. Since they retired, they have become stick-in-the-mud, bossy worrywarts.
They watch the Weather Channel all day and refuse to leave the house if there is a dark cloud in the sky...

Dear Going Nuts: I'm not sure what strange attraction the Weather Channel holds for retired people, but I have noticed that older people do tend to track with fascination weather systems as they move across the country....

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Church attendance and denominational concentration

Here's an interesting chart from an article by Iannaccone, an economist who studies religion (1998, J. Econ. Lit). He plots the concentration of denominations in a country by the percentage of people in that country that attend church. As shown above, there's a strong, negative correlation.

Countries with most people in just a few denominations (e.g., Scandinavia and national churches) have people attending church much less often. According to the article, this finding happens at the regional and city level as well. His interpretation: The more churches competing for a person's attendance, the more people attend a church. Each church finds a different niche that appeals to some people that other churches wouldn't.

So, perhaps the best way for a church to get people in the community to attend church is to encourage other church plants.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Divorce rates and prayer

A reader wrote and asked about the following statistic:

"a husband and wife that have daily prayer together only have a divorce rate of 1 in 10,000."

I've heard statistics like this before, but I've never seen them attributed. Does anyone know where it comes from? Who uses it?

It doesn't sound very believable, but I'd like to figure out where it came from.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Attribution theory and American Idol

In this post, I’d like to bring together two of my favorite things: Attribution theory and American Idol.


Attribution theory is a collection of theories and models developed by social psychologists to explain how we explain things. Human beings are obsessive explainers—we always want to know why things happen. How we make these explanations (also called attributions) can be very interesting.

American Idol, of course, is the television show that dominates the ratings for the first several months of each year. In it, singers perform for a panel of judges, after which the judges give their opinions of the singer, and the viewers phone in to vote for their favorite singer.

In applying attribution theory to American Idol, we ask why things happen on that show. Why do viewers vote for a particular singer? Why does a singer choose a particular song and style to perform? Why do Ryan Seacrest and Simon Cowell bicker with each other? And… the question that I’ll discuss here: Why do the judges say what they say?

A powerful version of attribution theory is Kelley's Covariation model of Attribution. This model says that the way we explain why something happens depends on how we answer three different questions.

  1. If person “A” does something to person “B”, the first thing we ask is whether “A” is the only person doing it or if lots of other people are doing it as well. Kelley terms this consensus.
  2. Then we ask if person “A” always does this or if this particular time is a unique occurrence. This is consistency.
  3. Finally, we ask if person “A” does this to everyone or to just person “B”. This is distinctiveness.

According to Kelley’s theory, how people answer these three questions tells us how they’ll explain why person “A” did what they did.


To apply this theory to American Idol judging, let’s start with Simon Cowell—the acerbic-tongued British music producer. His comments tend to be low on consensus—he’s not afraid to offer an opinion different than the other judges and the live audience. (In fact, the audience routinely boos him for expressing negative opinions.) He’s also low on consistency. One week he’ll rip a contestant while the next week he’ll praise the same contestant. Finally, he’s also high on distinctiveness. On the same show, Simon will pointedly criticize one contestant and praise another.

How do we explain Simon’s comments? Perhaps he bases his opinion on the particular performance. As the performances differ in quality across singers on a given evening, Simon will express different opinions. If a particular singer’s performances vary across weeks, he will also give different opinions.

As an aside, some of Simon’s criticisms are hysterically funny. Here are some of his greatest hits:

· “If you sang like this two thousand years ago, people who have stoned you.”

· “You don’t need a judge—you need an exorcist.”

And my personal favorite:

· “You sang like someone who sings on a cruise ship… and halfway through [the song] I imagined the ship sinking.”


Now, let’s turn to Paula Abdul, the former Laker girl and pop singer. Paula takes a very different approach to judging than does Simon. Her comments are high in consensus because she almost always agrees with fellow judge Randy Jackson. If Randy says a contestant has pitch problems, Paula will chime in too—often repeating Randy’s exact phrasing. The more the audience cheers for a singer, the more Paula will as well. Her comments are also high in consistency—she takes the same positive, supportive approach to a singer each week. If she praises a singer one week, she’s almost certain to do it again the next week. Her comments are also low in distinctiveness. She praises all the singers. In fact, that sets up one of the creative tensions of the show—Paula will gush over a singer and then Simon will lambaste them.

How do we explain Paula’s comments? Perhaps she bases her comments on a general desire to affirm and support each singer, regardless of their performance. Her comments tell us more about Paula than they do about the singer—for each singer gets rather positive comments on each show.

Now, Paula herself is very quotable, though for a different reason than Simon. Rather than being hilariously critical, she’s often unintelligible—from the tone of her voice, you know she’s praising a contestant, but from her words, it’s unclear what she actually means. Some classic Paula-isms:

· “Your voice is truly your instrument” (as opposed to what?)

· “What you brought to the song was familiarity.” (Which sounds good except I think it means that we’ve heard this rendition before.)

What about Randy Jackson? He’s somewhere in the middle between Paula and Simon—he aims to be kind in his comments (unlike Simon) but he will sometimes critique the performance (unlike Paula). I suppose that makes him somewhat less quotable…but consistent.

(Initially posted on