Saturday, March 14, 2009

Show From: Mar. 13, 2009

Alright! And now it’s time for…Godless Wisdom! Where every week we bring you the greatest thoughts from the brilliant minds of the world’s best thinkers. Today’s Godless Wisdom comes to you from the mind of Dale McGowan, author of Parenting Beyond Belief—On raising ethical, caring kids without Religion. “I try to set up an unconditional love of reality. The decision that our existence here is spectacular. It’s the most amazing thing you can dream up to have been unconscious stuff for billions of years. And now, for a brief time, we’re assembled into these sentient beings able to actually look around and understand the universe and ask questions and love and laugh and burp and fart and the whole thing. I mean, this is an amazing moment.”

Now for the news. First, we catch up on a story from last week: the unfortunate circumstances of a 9 year old Brazilian girl who was raped by her step-father and subsequently became pregnant with twins. Under Brazilian law abortion is illegal except in cases where the life of the fetus or mother is in danger. Doctors ascertained that the girl’s body could not physically handle one, let alone two, fetuses and decided that they needed to perform an abortion. The local archdiocese stepped in to condemn the doctors and went so far as to excommunicate everyone involved in the abortion, except the little girl who they said was protected by her status as a minor. Oh, and the step-father who raped her. They didn’t bother to excommunicate him either. But then again, the Catholic Church hasn’t seemed to have much of a problem with child molestation in the past, so why should it change now? Outrage has been boiling in Brazil as the story has received further coverage. And, finally, the Vatican stepped in to make a statement and bestow a token of rational thought on the situa-. Oh. Wait. No. They just decided to back up the Brazilian archdiocese. Where the hell is the common sense? If they didn’t abort the babies the mother and her children would have died. The doctors saved a life. How can no one see this?

Okay, I’ve got some quick news bits here. All coming from this past week’s New York Times. First up: “Somalia Cabinet Votes to Adopt Islamic Law.” The cabinet voted Tuesday to make Islam the basis of Somalia’s legal system. The move, which still must be approved by Parliament, was an attempt to isolate more extreme elements of an Islamic insurgency by agreeing to a demand supported by moderate elements and much of the population.

Next, we have ‘HBO Apologizes for ‘Big Love’ Episode.” --An episode of “Big Love,” the HBO series about a polygamous Mormon family, above, has courted controversy with the Mormon church and prompted an apology from the cable channel before the show has run, The Associated Press reported. The episode, scheduled for Sunday, will show a character undergoing an endowment ceremony, a religious rite the church considers sacred. In a statement, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said, “Certainly church members are offended when their most sacred practices are misrepresented or presented without context or understanding,” according to The A.P. HBO said that it did not intend to cause offense to the church and apologized but added that the ceremony was an important part of the episode. In a statement the show’s creators, Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer, said they “took great pains to depict the ceremony with the dignity and reverence it is due,” The A.P. reported.-- The part I love is that they’re still going to play the episode, uncensored. Good for them.

From Indonesia we have, “Bali Defies Fatwa on Yoga.” -- A weeklong international festival celebrating the pan-religious practice of yoga here on the island of Bali is wrapping up peacefully despite a recent religious ruling condemning the practice from the top Muslim authority in Indonesia. .

It is the second time in recent months that Bali, a predominantly Hindu island in the world’s most populous Muslim country, has openly opposed rulings by the Ulema Council, the quasi-governmental body that issued the yoga edict.

In October, after the Indonesia Parliament passed broad antipornography legislation, which was first championed by the Ulema Council and included limits on dancing and dress, Balinese erupted in anger, fearing many of their traditional rituals would be considered illegal. Thousands marched through the streets and Bali’s governor, Made Mangku Pastika, declared that he would not enforce the law.

Though about 90 percent of Indonesians are Muslim, the country is made up of hundreds of distinct ethnic and cultural groups. Islam itself comes in many different forms here. The religious and governmental authorities in Jakarta, on the island of Java, Indonesia’s most populous island and the country’s center of power, are often accused of being insensitive to these differing cultures.

When the Balinese, along with people in Sulawesi and Papua, protested the pornography bill last year, they held signs calling for increased autonomy from the central government in Jakarta.
The Muslim Council’s yoga ruling came in a package of fatwas issued in January. The council deemed the ancient Indian poses and exercises incorporating Hindu chanting or rituals a sin for Muslims. Similar fatwas have been issued in Egypt and Malaysia. In all three countries, the religious leaders said they were concerned that practicing yoga could cause Muslims to deviate from Islamic teachings.

But a council member who was in charge of investigating yoga said that while yoga could be spiritually hazardous, practicing it purely for health reasons was acceptable. “What could be a problem for Muslims is if they practice yoga as part of a religious ritual, using Hindu mantras or Hindu prayers,” said the member, Sholahudin al-Ayubi, by telephone last week.

Now for some exciting news! Two great reports going around. First, a report from the Christian Science Monitor that predicts evangelical Christianity is on its way out, and the other a recent report that religiosity in America is in decline. First I’d like to read a selection from the Christian Science Monitor, titled, “The Coming Evangelical Collapse.”

We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.
Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. (Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans today are Evangelicals.) In the "Protestant" 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.

This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good.

Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I'm convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close.

Why is this going to happen?

1. Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This will prove to be a very costly mistake. Evangelicals will increasingly be seen as a threat to cultural progress. Public leaders will consider us bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society.
The evangelical investment in moral, social, and political issues has depleted our resources and exposed our weaknesses. Being against gay marriage and being rhetorically pro-life will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of Evangelicals can't articulate the Gospel with any coherence. We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith.

2. We Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. Ironically, the billions of dollars we've spent on youth ministers, Christian music, publishing, and media has produced a culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it. Our young people have deep beliefs about the culture war, but do not know why they should obey scripture, the essentials of theology, or the experience of spiritual discipline and community. Coming generations of Christians are going to be monumentally ignorant and unprepared for culture-wide pressures.

3. There are three kinds of evangelical churches today: consumer-driven megachurches, dying churches, and new churches whose future is fragile. Denominations will shrink, even vanish, while fewer and fewer evangelical churches will survive and thrive.

4. Despite some very successful developments in the past 25 years, Christian education has not produced a product that can withstand the rising tide of secularism. Evangelicalism has used its educational system primarily to staff its own needs and talk to itself.

5. The confrontation between cultural secularism and the faith at the core of evangelical efforts to "do good" is rapidly approaching. We will soon see that the good Evangelicals want to do will be viewed as bad by so many, and much of that work will not be done. Look for ministries to take on a less and less distinctively Christian face in order to survive.

6. Even in areas where Evangelicals imagine themselves strong (like the Bible Belt), we will find a great inability to pass on to our children a vital evangelical confidence in the Bible and the importance of the faith.

7. The money will dry up.--

That’s the end of the selection I’m reading you. You can read the rest by finding the link in the show notes at our blog at The piece goes on for a little bit longer, talking about what will be left of Christianity and offers some possible solutions for the problem. Mostly I hope he’s right about Christian evangelicalism falling apart. It’s been long in coming and I believe that the fall of the evangelical movement will lead to a more rapid move towards a secular society across America and the marginalization of Christianity into the mythology books across the world. I mean, it’s virtually impossible to get a decent religion started these days. The best attempt we’ve seen is Scientology, and that’s a bit of a joke, isn’t it? Once Christianity is absorbed into the pages of history it will only be a short time before true religion is something practiced almost exclusively by those with the least and those on the fringe of society. Of course, spiritual beliefs and random superstition will remain, but dogmatic subscription to absurdities? I believe that one day that will be the case. These reports give me hope that it will come sooner than later.

This ties in directly with a report released Monday that finds America is becoming less religious. I’ll be pulling quotes from an article on CNN, a release by Trinity College, and USA Today. For the full articles you can find them linked on the blog at

America is a less Christian nation than it was 20 years ago, and Christianity is not losing out to other religions, but primarily to a rejection of religion altogether, a survey published Monday found. Seventy-five percent of Americans call themselves Christian, according to the American Religious Identification Survey from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1990, the figure was 86 percent.

William Donohue, president of the Catholic League said he thinks a radical shift towards individualism over the last quarter-century has a lot to do it.
"The three most dreaded words are thou shalt not," he told Lou Dobbs. "Notice they are not atheists -- they are saying I don't want to be told what to do with my life."

At the same time there has been an increase in the number of people expressing no religious affiliation.

The survey also found that "born-again" or "evangelical" Christianity is on the rise, while the percentage who belong to "mainline" congregations such as the Episcopal or Lutheran churches has fallen.

One in three Americans consider themselves evangelical, and the number of people associated with mega-churches has skyrocketed from less than 200,000 in 1990 to more than 8 million in the latest survey.

The rise in evangelical Christianity is contributing to the rejection of religion altogether by some Americans, said Mark Silk of Trinity College.

"In the 1990s, it really sunk in on the American public generally that there was a long-lasting 'religious right' connected to a political party, and that turned a lot of people the other way," he said of the link between the Republican Party and groups such as the Moral Majority and Focus on the Family.

Silk also said the revelation that some Catholic priests had sexually abused children -- and senior figures in the church hierarchy had helped to hide it -- drove some Catholics away from religion.
And, he said, it is now more socially acceptable than it once was to admit having no religion.

"You're not declaring yourself a total pariah. The culture has changed in a way that makes it easier to say, 'No, I don't have a religion. Even in the past year, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama feel obliged to talk about 'those of no faith,' " he pointed out. Obama mentioned people without faith in his inaugural address in January, making him the first president to do so.

In the survey, one in five Americans said they have no religious identity or did not answer the question, and more than one in four said they do not expect to have a religious funeral.

The rise in what the survey authors call "nones" is the only trend reflected in every single state in the study, Silk said.

So let’s lay the data out. The percentage of Americans claiming no religion, which jumped from
8.2 in 1990 to 14.2 in 2001, has now increased to 15 percent. Given the estimated growth of the American adult population since the last census from 207 million to 228 million, that reflects an additional 4.7 million "Nones." Northern New England has now taken over from the Pacific Northwest as the least religious section of the country.

According to the researchers, people thought that perhaps the year 2000 results were an anomaly, but the evidence confirms it was not. The “nones” are the only group to have grown in
every state in America.

The total number of Christians in America has gone down to 76% from over 86. 90% of this decline comes from non-Catholics. The growth within the number of Christians has come from those identifying as simply Christian, born again/evangelical, or non-denominational. This has been associated with the growth of megachurches.

Other key findings:
• Baptists, who constitute the largest non-Catholic Christian tradition, have increased their numbers by two million since 2001, but continue to decline as a proportion of the population.
• Mormons have increased in numbers enough to hold their own proportionally, at 1.4 percent of the population.
• The Muslim proportion of the population continues to grow, from .3 percent in 1990 to .5 percent in 2001 to .6 percent in 2008.
• The number of adherents of Eastern Religions, which more than doubled in the 1990s, has declined slightly, from just over two million to just under. Asian Americans are substantially more likely to indicate no religious identity than other racial or ethnic groups.
• Those who identify religiously as Jews continue to decline numerically, from 3.1 million in 1990 to 2.8 million in 2001 to 2.7 million in 2008--1.2 percent of the population. Defined to include those who identify as Jews by ethnicity alone, the American Jewish population has remained stable over the past two decades.
• Adherents of New Religious movements, including Wiccans and self-described pagans, have grown faster this decade than in the 1990s.

And here’s something really exciting: Only1.6 percent of Americans call themselves atheist or agnostic. But based on stated beliefs, 12 percent are atheist (no God) or agnostic (unsure), while 12 percent more are deistic (believe in a higher power but not a personal God). The number of outright atheists has nearly doubled since 2001, from 900 thousand to 1.6 million. Twenty-seven percent of Americans do not expect a religious funeral at their death.

Just look at those last figures. The population of outright atheist, in effect atheists who are either willing to say they are atheists or people who understand the definition of atheist well enough to know they are one, has doubled! How exciting! The study finds that 12% of Americans are atheists. And irreligion is growing steadily across every state in the Union—from New York to Tennessee to California to Hawaii to Alaska to Alabama to Texas! Vermont and New Hampshire increased 20% in non-religious populants! In fact, So many Americans claim no religion at all that this category now outranks every other major U.S. religious group except Catholics and Baptists.

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