Saturday, October 31, 2009

Ferns in fall (pic)

Yep, New England is a pretty easy place to take photographs in the fall.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Further evidence of "no religion" becoming a religion

It is now possible for you to become a "secular celebrant" of life's milestones such as birth or a wedding. Sign up for the training here.

Why should you do it? Well, terrible things happen if these people aren't available. In the words of the announcement:

"As we move through life, we celebrate many occasions filled with joy and love, accomplishment and striving, loss and grief. Unfortunately, the choice of persons to conduct ceremonies for these occasions is usually between religious clergy and impersonal civil officials.

For the 16% of the U.S. population not affiliated with any religion,
this can be a traumatic experience."

I can certainly understand someone not wanting a religious ceremony that doesn't fit with their beliefs, but I had never realized how traumatic it is for people to deal with impersonal civil officials. I can only hope that this training makes its celebrants very personable, so it too doesn't impose further trauma.

Thanks Jeff!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Godwin's law of Nazi analogies

I recently came across a law that we can all believe in: Godwin's Law of Nazi Analogies.

It states that "As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1."


"Godwin's Law applies especially to inappropriate, inordinate, or hyperbolic comparisons of other situations (or one's opponent) with Hitler or Nazis or their actions."

Now, Godwin's law applies to the amount of people talking on-line, but we could think of variations of it, such as the distance between conversationalists on the political spectrum.

We could develop it further, but I don't want to be an analogy Nazi.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The asymmetry of Christian and atheist blogging

I've been reading some of the better known atheist-focused blogs recently, and I've been struck by their presentation and persuasion styles. Many of the blog posts are criticisms of Christians.

Some are rather heavy-handed insults of Christians. For example: Christianity is associated with mental illness. Others are more respectful in tone, bust still highly critical, such as Friendly Atheist (which is one of my favorites). It seems that the better the put-down of Christianity, the better the atheist blogger.

In contrast, most Christian blogs tend to focus on elaborating Christianity and urging Christians to do better. A Christian blog that posted primarily anti-atheist insults would miss the mark because part of Christianity is loving others, which usually doesn't include insulting them.

I suppose there are other reasons for this too, in part because there are far more Christians than Atheists, at least here in the U.S. (where most the bloggers that I read live). Maybe 2/3rds+ Christian and several percent atheist.

Whatever the reason, the result is an asymmetrical dialogue across the blogs. I'm not saying that's good or bad, just noticing it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Why it's probably best that I'm not a Mormon

As I understand it, Mormons believe that if things go well for them, they will become Gods with their own people/ planets. Now, that being the case, it's probably best that I'm not a Mormon because I wouldn't make a very good God.

If I were a God, I would wake my people up in the middle of some random night, tell them to go outside and spin around several times and then go back to bed. Then I would laugh as over the years they would make this a ritual embedded with all sorts of meaning.

Basically, it would be a cosmic game of Simon-Says

Monday, October 19, 2009

Mormons in class II

When the Mormon missionaries presented in class, they had an interesting presentational strategy in terms of how to make Mormonism appealing to the listeners. Specifically, they went to lengths to present Mormonism as sort of basic Christianity+. They have the Bible, like other Christians, but they also have the Book of Mormon and modern day prophets. This seemed to accomplish two purposes: It made their religion look more beneficial, and it also made them seem less alien and strange because they too were Christian.

This Christian+ strategy worked best in the presentation, but during the questions some of the greater differences came out. Among other things, it came about that they think that they will become Gods in afterlife with their own planets or peoples to rule--which seems different from conventional Christian belief. Here's a description of that belief (though I can't vouch for its accuracy).

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Another application of religion to science

(From one of those funny things people write on tests). thanks K!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Mormons in class

Last week I had some Mormon missionaries speak to my class about their faith. We were studying rational choice theories of religion, and so the Mormons are a good fit because they spend a lot of time talking about the benefits of their faith when they tell it to others.

They spoke for 40 minutes (which was actually a little too long) about their beliefs without an ounce of cynicism or embarrassment. It struck me as very different than at the university, where we're conditioned to either not talk about our religious beliefs or if we do, to distance ourselves from our beliefs--either with disclaimers or intellectual analysis. But these Mormons were both emotionally engaged and completely sincere in how they presented themselves.

The only time they go flustered was when a student asked about whether the Mormon church had a history of racism.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Thursday, October 08, 2009

My birthday!

Today is my birthday, so let me know if you need an address or zip code information for sending me gifts. :-)

I think that I'll celebrate it by writing and teaching. Yahoo!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The new Conservative Bible

Here's another unhelpful way to mix politics and religion... work is beginning on new translation of the Bible to reinforce a politically conservative viewpoint.

Here's an example of the changes it makes:

"Socialistic terminology permeates English translations of the Bible, without justification. This improperly encourages the "social justice" movement among Christians. For example, the conservative word "volunteer" is mentioned only once in the ESV, yet the socialistic word "comrade" is used three times, "laborer(s)" is used 13 times, "labored" 15 times, and "fellow" (as in "fellow worker") is used 55 times."

It will also:

"Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning."

"Exclude Later-Inserted Liberal Passages: excluding the later-inserted liberal passages that are not authentic, such as the adulteress story"


Thanks Richard.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Eric Kaufmann's Breeding Ground for God

Eric Kaufmann studies religion, fertility, and politics, and what makes him unique is that he's willing to make predictions about the future. Most sociologists, myself included, won't touch the future--being content to trying to explain what has happened. Kaufmann uses cutting edge demography analysis to compare rates of secularization vs. fertility to figure out the religious composition of Europe in the coming decades. Now, who knows if his predictions are will be correct, but you can read them here in this article.

He writes: "The pivotal question is where the balance lies between religious fertility and religious abandonment in the secular cutting-edge societies of France and Protestant Europe. The population balance in these countries stands at roughly 53 per cent non-religious to 47 per cent religious. My projections, based on demographic differences between the populations and current patterns of religious abandonment, suggest that the secular population will continue to grow at a decelerating rate for three or four more decades, to peak at around 55 per cent. The proportion of secular people will then begin to decline between 2035 and 2045."

Cool stuff...

Saturday, October 03, 2009

John Wright--Hang gliding stud

Here's a really cool video of my brother hang gliding. He flew for 33 miles and up to 13,000 feet high. Remarkable. (I couldn't embed the video, so you have to click on the link).

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The biggest problem for atheists? Perhaps children.

Here's an interesting article about the link between religion and having children. Various sociologists have written that much of the social changes that we associate with religion can be linked to differential rates of child-bearing by religion. Since kids tend to have the same religious beliefs as their parents, the religions in which people have the most kids would stand of a good chance of growing the most.

It turns out that the religiously unaffiliated tend to have relatively low reproduction rates, which might limit the spread of this approach. Put differently, some conservative religions take seriously the command to go forth and multiply.

"The commandment to “be fruitful and multiply” the Krishevsky family follows quite closely. Last Saturday, the great grandmother, Rachel Krishevsky passed away at the age of 99, leaving behind no less than 1,400 children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and even great-great-grandchildren."

There is an irony that most discussion about changes in religion in society focus on debating points, but a much more simple process might be a driving force.

Thanks John.