July 31, 2009

Reverend Ike

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New York Times
Washington Post

Reverend Ike died on July 28 at the age of 74.

He was the man.

The Reverend was one of the first televangelist and preached the prosperity gospel, which teaches God desires material prosperity for those he favors. And his prosperity teachings actually worked! At least for him. He made $1 million a month during his peak in the 1970's when he was on more than 1,700 TV and radio stations.

It was more than enough to pay for his rather extravagant lifestyle.

From the Washington Post:
He owned mansions on the East and West coasts, was partial to designer suits and had a fleet of mink-appointed Rolls-Royces and several yachts. He dropped hints about his bevy of mistresses.

As the collection basket made its way among the movie-house rows of his New York church, he reminded his congregants that the clink of loose change was offensive to his ears, and to God's. The whisper of paper currency is what he delighted to hear.
He also practiced faith healing and targeted the elderly and the poor with his mailings, with a particular emphasis on those of African and Caribbean descent.

Enough writing. If you are considering a career in televangelism check out the video and see how one of the greats does it.

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July 30, 2009

The Family

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Wikipedia entry
Secrets of C-Street
(The Daily Beast)
Harper's Magazine

I really don't know what to make of this. It's too weird.

The Family is a secretive conservative Christian group. Its membership includes U.S. senators, members of Congress, primarily Republican, as well as high-ranking military leaders.

It is best known for organizing the National Prayer Breakfast, held each year on the first Thursday of February in Washington, D.C.

It's also rather well known for recent sex scandals involving three of its members, Gov. Mark Sanford, Sen. John Ensign and former congressman Chip Pickering.

It's less well known for some of its odd beliefs and attempts to influence foreign governments.

According to the Rachel Maddow video shown below, the group believes:
Powerful men are God's chosen and they are not bound by the same morality and responsibility to others that normal people are ... Hitler and Mao and Osama bin Laden should be studied and considered as models of power and leadership by members of the family.
They want to build a worldwide invisible movement of strong authoritarian leaders linked together in a worldwide spiritual offensive.

Powerful members of the House and Senate are going along with this stuff. It's all very creepy.

The video and the article in the Daily Beast will give you a good idea about what they are about. The Harper's article is older and longer but is also very good. The book, pictured above, is on the July 24, 2009, New York Times paperback nonfiction best-seller list.

The Family's house on C street in DC

July 27, 2009

Losing My Religion

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This may sound odd coming from someone who blogs about religion: I don't like books about religion.

The scholarly books tend to be dry. The books that try to prove God exists don't prove anything. And I know all the atheist arguments.

I enjoy reading about the history of religion and newspaper articles about religion. I just want the facts.

Losing My Religion by William Lobdell is different. Lobdell is a former religion reporter for The Los Angeles Times. So the writing won't put you to sleep. In a nutshell, he chronicles his journey from not being religious, to being born again, to losing his faith. It is almost a psychological analysis of someone falling into and out of religion.

As I suspect is common in a lot of cases, Lobdell was at a low point in his life when he started going to church on a friend's suggestion. This lead to a born-again experience at an all-men's weekend religious retreat. His belief in Christianity was later re-enforced by fortuitous events in his life that Lobdell attributed to prayer.

Lobdell's fall from grace came because of his profession. About three years into his beat as a religion reporter, the Catholic priest pedophile scandal broke in Los Angeles. The denial, the lies, the cover-ups and the slandering of the victims by the church hierarchy led to Lobdell's crisis of faith. As New York Times reviewer Mark Oppenheimer put it: "School systems and Little Leagues don’t defend molesters as tenaciously as the Catholic Church did." (In an odd twist, Lobdell was studying to convert to Catholicism while covering the scandal).

Lobdell's falling out with Catholicism led him to look at other religions and eventually to a re-evaluation of his deeply held belief in Christianity.

If you don't have time for the book, read his 2007 LA Times article about losing his religion.

If you really, really don't have time listen to his 2007 NPR interview about the article.

If you buy the book (or better yet get it from the library), at least read chapter nine about Mormonism. In looking at things that could be easily disproved about Mormonism (such as DNA evidence that Native Americans really come from Asia, and not from the Middle East as Mormons believe), he came to realize that Mormonism is no odder than traditional Christianity.

Here is William Lobdell's website.

Click here for the full New York Times review of his book.

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July 24, 2009

Evangelist Tony Alamo convicted

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Evangelist Tony Alamo is led from the federal courthouse in downtown Texarkana, Ark. Friday July 24, 2009. Alamo, a one-time street preacher who built a multimillion-dollar ministry and became an outfitter of the stars, was convicted Friday of taking girls as young as 9 across state lines for sex. (AP Photo/Texarkana Gazette, Evan Lewis)
CNN July 24, 2009

A jury in Arkansas convicted evangelist Tony Alamo of 10 federal counts of taking minors across state lines for sex (one girl was nine years old). Each count carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.

The CNN link and the first video has details about Alamo, the case and the conviction.

To get a feel for what he is like see the second video.

Alamo used the bible to justify his actions. He said polygamy is in the bible and is condoned by God. And that the bible says the legal age to marry is at puberty. I don't think he'll be saying he's sorry at his sentencing.

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July 23, 2009

Grand Syrian Rabbi caught in NJ sting

Rabbi Saul J. Kassin outside federal court in Newark on Thursday.

An international money-laundering scheme has snared 44 people, including three New Jersey mayors (no surprise there), two NJ state assemblymen and five rabbis. One of the rabbis was the grand rabbi of the Syrian Jewish community in the United States, Saul Kassin of the Gravesend neighborhood of Brooklyn.

The grand rabbi is dirty! It's shocking, but members of the insular Brooklyn-based Syrian Jewish community have gotten mixed up in shady deals before.

One of the most famous Sy Jews is Eddie Antar, known as Crazy Eddie. In the ’70s, he revolutionized the home electronics business and created an empire, which crashed and burned when he was caught defrauding his investors for almost $100 million dollars.

Another Sy, Solomon Dwek a real estate developer, was caught in a bank fraud scheme involving tens on millions of dollars.

The Sy Jews will expel any Syrian Jew from their community who marries someone other than another Jew. (Converts are only rarely accepted). However, the expulsion rule doesn't necessary apply to people committing crimes.

Crazy Eddie went back to the community after his jail sentence and
Solomon Dwek was also taken back into the community while he was on $10 million bond.

Community is everything to this group. From the Sy Empire article:
Chief Rabbi Saul Kassin wrote: “There is nothing more important than our unity.” Every ethnic leader in America talks about unity, but there are precious few willing and able to sacrifice their own children for its sake. (as the rabbi did when he expelled his own daughter for marrying a gentile).
Unfortunately for Rabbi Kassin, Solomon Dwek put himself above the community. Solomon, who was looking at a 30-year sentence, was the one who wore the wire that snared Rabbi Kassin.
NPR report on money laundering

Pictured - homes in the Syrian Jewish

neighborhood of
Gravesend, Brooklyn
The Sy Empire (NY Times) Oct 14, 2007
44 are Charged in NJ-focused Inquiry (NY Times) July 23, 2009
Solomon Dwek emerges as cornerstone of N.J. sting (The Star Ledger) July 23, 2009
The man who sank NJ (Forbes) July 23, 2009

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July 19, 2009

The Neocatechumenal Way

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Economist July 16, 2009
The Neocatechumenal Way
Jerusalem Post (good article)

The Catholic Church has been bleeding parishioners for years. One of the few bright spots has been Latinos in the Unites States. And now, according to the Economist, even the Latinos are jumping ship. They are defecting to evangelical and charismatic churches.

The Economist list their reasons for the defections. Here is mine.
I've never met a Catholic parish priest who could deliver a decent talk. They are all boring!

I think the church hierarchy realized they had a problem years ago. With the shortage of clergy (even though they are boring you still need them), plus the attraction of more lively churches they saw what was coming.

And then along came the
Neocatechumenal Way, also know simply as The Way. The Way is a lay-driven organization made up of small, parish-based communities of between 20-50 people. It was started in Madrid, Spain, in 1964 by Kiko Arguello and Carmen Hernandez. (Arguello is a painter. The painting on this page is his). The pope liked what he saw and supported the Way.

Today, there are around 40,000 communities throughout the world, with an estimated 1 million members.
The Way is essentially a Vatican-sanctioned evangelical movement within the Catholic Church. They are deeply committed to the New Evangelization, which was first mentioned by Pope John Paul II.

The New Evangelization is a movement within the Catholic Church that has lay members as well as clergy. Their mission is to seek converts and bring non-church going Catholics back into the fold. This is new for Catholicism. Lay Catholics have not been evangelical in the past.

I think the Catholic Church may keep their traditional structure (
hierarchical with unmarried male priest at the top) and build up the Neocatechumenal Way (along with other organizations) to counter advances being made by other churches.

There are some who claim The Way is a cult within the Catholic Church and others who claim it is heresy.

My definition of a cult is an organization that is very difficult to leave. And as I understand it, you can walk away from The Way anytime. So I would not classify it as a cult. But that said, I haven't had personal experience with The Way.

As far as the heresy charge goes, if several popes have approved of the Way, I don't see how the heresy charge can stick. The Way does have something called a post-baptism for members who are already Catholic. If I understand it correctly, it's another baptism for adults who have undergone religious instruction. (see reply at bottom)

The Catholics killed thousands of Anabaptists who believed in re-baptizing adults. R
e-baptizing adult Catholics would be a major departure from traditional teaching. If anyone knows more about this practice than I do, please post a comment.

Whether the Neocatechumenal Way helps stanch the departure of Catholics from the church is anybody's guess. It hasn't worked to date, but it seems to be the direction the church is taking.

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July 17, 2009

Another religious TV show bites the dust

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Newsweek (July 17, 2009)

Why do TV shows with religious themes keep crashing and burning?

The latest to be canceled is Kings on NBC. Next to go is ABC's Eli Stone. Religious people complain that the godless Hollywood moguls ignore them. But when the moguls produce a religion-friendly show, no one watches it. Joan of Arcadia (2 seasons) and The Book of Daniel (1 season) were two other show with short life spans.

Touched by an Angel (9 seasons) and Highway to Heaven (5 seasons) had good runs. Newsweek claims these two were popular because they are the most treacly (that means sweet or saccharine. I looked it up).

Maybe treacly is what religious people want, but they are also partial to blood and gore. Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ was a sadist's dream movie, and it was wildly popular with Christian audiences.

Newsweek thinks:
There's a notion, mostly borne out, that a religious program can serve only one master. Either it attracts people of faith while repelling the secular, or vice versa. In today's ultra-segmented television landscape, a religiously themed show on network TV has to appeal to the faithful and faithless alike in order to trump the ratings of a Desperate Housewives. And it has to have a cool factor. Television has gotten edgier; a show like Highway to Heaven would be a conspicuous fit in any network lineup.
I think the godless TV moguls should forget about competing against Desperate Housewives. They should shoot for the niche market and try to produce something at a reasonable price. If they want edgy, they could use actual stories from the Old Testament. There is enough blood and sex in the Old Testament to make the Marquis de Sade blush.

I suspect fundamentalist/evangelicals want the real thing -- actual Bible stories set 2,000 years ago or earlier. (One possible exception may be a re-do of Left Behind. It might work as a TV series.)

What Hollywood has been dishing up are shows with Christian moral themes set in modern times. Not good enough, guys! There are millions of people in this country who believe the Bible is the literal word of God. Give it to them and see what happens.

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July 16, 2009

Best Religion In The World? Not!

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I think Beliefnet got snookered.

They printed an article entitled: Freedom From Religion: Buddhism Wins Best Religion in the World Award.

It said that a Geneva-based group called the International Coalition for the Advancement of Religious and Spirituality (ICARUS) gave the award to the Buddhist Community after a panel of 200 religious leaders from every part of the religious spectrum chose Buddhism.
Criteria included factors such as promoting personal and community peace, increasing compassion and a sense of connection, and encouraging preservation of the natural environment.
I am ashamed to admit I was ready to run with this story without fact-checking it. Fortunately, I read the blog comments before I began typing. Several people claimed it looked like a story from the satirical fake news organization, The Onion. It may or may not be the work of the Onion, but it sure looks like someone has been playing around.

The International Coalition for the Advancement of Religious and Spirituality (ICARUS) is not on the Web, and neither is its head, Hans Groehlichen.

That said, I think an award is an interesting idea. Why not come up with an award for the most peaceful religion in the world? It might embarrass the rest of them into behaving better.

I think it would be appropriate to give one to a Western religion and one to an Eastern religion. In the West, I would pick the Quakers. In the East I would have to go with the Jains.

Peace between countries and communities doesn't have much of a place in religion. On a lark, I went to the online Bible at BibleGateway.com and did a keyword search on the word peace. I came up with 247 passages. I didn't read them all but the ones I read were mostly along the line of "peace be with you" and "go in peace." There was nothing about peace between countries or being peaceful to the people in the next town.

I did another search on the word "war" and the good news is there were only 137 entries!

Here is the Beliefnet article, in case the link stops working.
Freedom From Religion: Buddhism Wins Best Religion in the World Award
Wednesday July 15, 2009
In light of the ongoing Freedom From Religion Foundation case, I found this news item interesting.
Linda Moulin | 15.07.2009 | 16:55

Tribune de Geneve

In advance of their annual Leading Figure award to a religious figure who has done the most to advance the cause of humanism and peace, the Geneva-based International Coalition for the Advancement of Religious and Spirituality (ICARUS) has chosen to bestow a special award this year on the Buddhist Community. "We typically prefer an under-the-radar approach for the organization, as we try to embody the spirit of modesty found in the greatest traditions," said ICARUS director Hans Groehlichen in a phone conference Monday. "But with organized religion increasingly used as a tool to separate and inflame rather than bring together, we felt we had to take the unusual step of creating a "Best Religion in the World" award and making a bit of a stir, to inspire other religious leaders to see what is possible when you practice compassion."

Groehlichen said the award was voted on by an international roundtable of more than 200 religious leaders from every part of the spiritual spectrum. "It was interesting to note that once we supplied the criteria, many religious leaders voted for Buddhism rather than their own religion," said Groehlichen. "Buddhists actually make up a tiny minority of our membership, so it was fascinating but quite exciting that they won."

Criteria included factors such as promoting personal and community peace, increasing compassion and a sense of connection, and encouraging preservation of the natural environment. Groehlichen continued "The biggest factor for us is that ICARUS was founded by spiritual and religious people to bring the concepts of non-violence to prominence in society. One of the key questions in our voting process was which religion actually practices non-violence."

When presenting the information to the voting members, ICARUS researched each of the 38 religions on the ballot extensively, offering background, philosophy, and the religions role in government and warfare. Jonna Hult, Director of Research for ICARUS said "It wasn't a surprise to me that Buddhism won Best Religion in the World, because we could find literally not one single instance of a war fought in the name of Buddhism, in contrast to every other religion that seems to keep a gun in the closet just in case God makes a mistake. We were hard pressed to even find a Buddhist that had ever been in an army. These people practice what they preach to an extent we simply could not document with any other spiritual tradition."

At least one Catholic priest spoke out on behalf of Buddhism. Father Ted O'Shaughnessy said from Belfast, "As much as I love the Catholic Church, it has always bothered me to no end that we preach love in our scripture yet then claim to know God's will when it comes to killing other humans. For that reason, I did have to cast my vote for the Buddhists." And Muslim Cleric Tal Bin Wassad agreed from Pakistan via his translator. "While I am a devout Muslim, I can see how much anger and bloodshed is channeled into religious expression rather than dealt with on a personal level. The Buddhists have that figured out." Bin Wassad, the ICARUS voting member for Pakistan's Muslim community continued, "In fact, some of my best friends are Buddhist." And Rabbi Shmuel Wasserstein said from Jerusalem, "Of course, I love Judaism, and I think it's the greatest religion in the world. But to be honest, I've been practicing Vipassana meditation every day before minyan (daily Jewish prayer) since 1993. So I get it."

Groehlichen said that the plan was for the award to Buddhism for "Best Religion in the World" to be given to leaders from the various lineages in the Buddhist community. However, there was one snag. "Basically we can't find anyone to give it to," said Groehlichen in a followup call late Tuesday. "All the Buddhists we call keep saying they don't want the award." Groehlichen explained the strange behavior, saying "Basically they are all saying they are a philosophical tradition, not a religion. But that doesn't change the fact that with this award we acknowledge their philosophy of personal responsibility and personal transformation to be the best in the world and the most important for the challenges facing every individual and all living beings in the coming centuries."

When asked why the Burmese Buddhist community refused the award, Buddhist monk Bhante Ghurata Hanta said from Burma, "We are grateful for the acknowledgement, but we give this award to all humanity, for Buddha nature lies within each of us." Groehlichen went on to say "We're going to keep calling around until we find a Buddhist who will accept it. We'll let you know when we do."

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July 15, 2009

Miss Manners' advice for atheists

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Washington Post (July 15, 2009)

Advice for atheists from Miss Manners? Why not! But before we get to Miss Manners I'm going to give you my advice. What you don't say can't hurt you.

I've never gotten in trouble when I kept my big mouth shut. And trust me, if you are in the wrong crowd, nothing is as inflammatory as religion. Politics, wars, gay rights and gun control (well maybe not gun control) can all be discussed in a calm voice. Not so with religion.

That said, I think Miss Manners hit the nail right on the head. Unfortunately, she is dealing with a rather civilized situation.

I would love to see her answer to this one. What do you do after you have had a couple of beers and told the wrong person sitting next to you that religion is a lot of nonsense. How do you get out of that one, Miss Manners?

In conclusion, I have adopted a "don't ask don't tell" policy -- unless someone still insists on proselytizing after I have told him or her that I'm not interested.

Anyway, enough from me, here's her column. You can also link to it above.
Dear Miss Manners:

I am an atheist, and this is occasionally the source of mild social awkwardness. Normally, of course, I do not broadcast my beliefs without solicitation, but occasionally I am asked where I go to church or invited to attend a service at another's church.

I work with a number of civic organizations, including places of worship, so this sort of question or request is usually well-intentioned chitchat from someone with whom I am working on a project.

Somehow, the simple and direct, "I choose not to worship a deity," seems as inappropriate for casual conversation as questions about one's religious beliefs. I would greatly appreciate a simple and direct way to decline such an invitation and nip such questioning in the bud. Occasionally, the question comes as a part of direct proselytizing, which I hope requires no more politeness than a sales solicitation.

The second area is how to respond when passing comments are made that imply a belief in a god, as if one were discussing the weather, such as "He's in a better place now," "The Lord works in mysterious ways" or "I know Jesus will take care of this for me."

I know the speaker is expecting a smile and a nod, but if I consider these beliefs untrue, offensive or ridiculous, how can I respond in a simple way that does not sound strident, open me up to being evangelized or invite the beginning of a theological debate?

Another area of consternation is in expressions of sympathy. Can you recommend a standard replacement for "He/she is in my prayers," for people who do not pray?

Please keep in mind that the idea here would not be to declare your own convictions, a habit you find objectionable in others, but to deflect the topic without seeming to acquiesce.

Miss Manners suggests separating the proselytizers from those who may be merely repeating figures of speech. Not everyone who says "Bless you" when you sneeze or even "The Lord works in mysterious ways" is voicing a theological conviction.

In any case, the comments of the second group should be treated as if they were good wishes. Similarly, the inquiry about where you go to church should be treated as a casual social question.

"I choose not to worship a deity" is indeed pompous, and also challenging. You need only say casually, "I'm not a churchgoer." Only if this leads to argument need you say -- because you must also be polite to proselytizers -- "It's not something I discuss."

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July 10, 2009

President Obama meets the Pope

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July 10, 2009 (NPR)

President Obama met with Pope Benedict today. Obama apparently had an easier time with pope than he has had with bishops and cardinals in the United States.

According to John Allen, longtime Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter despite the contrasts on some basic issues, there is a lot of common ground between Pope Benedict and Obama.

From the above link:

"They're both in favor of expanded health care. ... They're both in favor of immigration reform. They both favor a multilateral approach to foreign policy and, in particular, they both have, in their ways, reached out to the Islamic world," Allen says, referring to the pope's recent visit to the Middle East and the president's speech in Cairo last month.

Benedict's top priority in interfaith relations is promoting an alliance of civilizations with Islam. Vatican officials were impressed with the president's outreach to Muslims.

On all these issues, Allen says, the Vatican believes the pope and president can do business.

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July 9, 2009

Geneticist Francis Collins to head NIH

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Washington Post (July 15, 2009) Update!, Update!, Update!
Michael Gerson comments on the appointment Dr Francis Collins to head the NIH. (He thinks it's a good idea.)

New York Times (July 9, 2009)

Dr. Francis Collins has been nominated to head the National Institute of Health. Collins is an accomplished scientist, a proven administrator, articulate and an Evangelical Christian. It's that last one that is going to attract a lot of attention.

His journey from atheism to evangelical Christianity took a pivotal turn in the Cascade Mountains. While hiking, he came across a waterfall that happened to have three frozen streams. The three streams reminded Collins of the trinity, and he surrendered to Jesus (link). It's a little surprising that the man who headed the human genome project would take a leap of faith at the sight of frozen water. But that's what happened. (Bill Maher interviewed Collins for his movie, Religulous.)

In the video, below, Collins explains how his journey to Christianity began. He started to wonder about life and death when he left chemistry and went into medicine.
When I went to medical school the ideas about death and dying which had been rather hypothetical became very real. You can't be in that environment sitting at the bedside of people facing the end of their lives without having it affect you.

A couple of years later, he had his born-again experience in the Cascades. I don't know what's in his head, but it sounds like seeing people die shook him up a bit and maybe got him thinking about the end of his own consciousness. If that's something you're concerned about, you'll eventually end up at religion. There is no other place to go.

One other thing that might draw some questions during his confirmation hearing is that he doesn't believe that homosexuality is hardwired (link).
An area of particularly strong public interest is the genetic basis of homosexuality. Evidence from twin studies does in fact support the conclusion that heritable factors play a role in male homosexuality. However, the likelihood that the identical twin of a homosexual male will also be gay is about 20% (compared with 2-4 percent of males in the general population), indicating that sexual orientation is genetically influenced but not hardwired by DNA, and that whatever genes are involved represent predispositions, not predeterminations.
It looks like Collins will be the next head of the NIH even if some of his views are not in line with his fellow scientists. I think President Obama managed to throw the religious right a bone and will end up with a competent administrator worth watching.

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Another Pig in a Python

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It's starting! Another generational pig is making its way through the python.

For the past hundred years, the United States has vacillated between large and small generations. The trend was started with the influx of European immigrants around the beginning of the 20th century and was cemented in place with the Immigration Act of 1924, which restricted immigration.

Another large generation is rolling around. The echo boomers (millennium generation, Gen Y or Gen Next) were born roughly between 1982-1995. Soon they will dominate the social and economic fabric of the United States.

The Pew Research Center has released a survey of their attitudes. They tend to be more liberal, tolerant, more likely to vote Democratic and less religious than previous generations.

From the above link:

One-in-five members of Generation Next say they have no religious affiliation or are atheist or agnostic, nearly double the proportion of young people who said that in the late 1980s. And just 4% of Gen Nexters say people in their generation view becoming more spiritual as their most important goal in life.

This doesn't bode well for organized religion.

The above link has a good synopsis of their other characteristics. I would like to touch on their potential economic impact, which was not covered in the Pew study. True, this has nothing to do with religion but, it is very interesting.

In the past, whenever a large generation reaches their prime working years, there are technological advances and the stock market shoots up.

The below chart shows the progression of the stock market during the past 100 years. As you can see, it doesn't go up in a straight line.

Let's focus on the three most recent large generations, the stock market and innovation.

The GI Generation was the first big one in the 20th century. They were born between 1901-1924 (many were children of immigrants). The stock market shot up between 1946-1965 (19 years) during this time, the youngest person of that generation was 22 and the oldest was 64.* The technological advances included mainframe computers, jets, solid state transistors, etc.

The Boomers were the children of the GI Generation. They were born between 1946 and approximately 1963. The stock market shot up between 1982-2000 (18 years) during this time, the youngest boomer was 19 and the oldest was 54. The major technological advance during that time was Information Technology.

The Echo boomers (Millennium generation) are the children of the boomers. They were born roughly between 1982-1995. If the previous two 18 year bull/bear stock market patterns holds up, the market should remain flat until around 2016 and be strong until 2034. During the bull market, the youngest echo boomer will be 21 and the oldest will be 54. The technological advances of this generation are anybody's guess. Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times thinks it might be energy technology.

There is a fudge factor here. There isn't clear agreement on when a generation begins and ends. However, the long tern stock market trends are pretty clearer. The stock market has been flat since around 2,000 or possibly 1998 depending on how you look at the chart. Therefore, the market has been flat for 9 to 11 years now. Considering the economic mess the country is in, it's not unreasonable to think it might take another five to eight years before the economy and the market pick up again. The Echo boomers might be the engine that pulls the train.

*The working years of the GI Generation are longer than the boomers and echo boomers because the older members of that generation got a late start because of the depression and WWII.


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July 6, 2009

President Obama and the Church Thing

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Hallelujah! President Obama has finally chosen a church. Or has he?

Last week, Time Magazine reported that President Obama had finally settled on a church -- Evergreen Chapel, the nondenominational military chapel at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland.

The White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs later said not exactly: (The Washington Post)

He (the president) said he and his family will attend chapel services at Camp David when they are at the presidential retreat in Maryland -- which he calls a "wonderful little congregation."
"How we handle church when we're here in D.C. is something that we're still figuring out," he said. "And I think that in the second half of the year, we will have made a decision.

What the press secretary failed to mention is that President Obama rarely sets foot in Camp David. And that Obama has only attended church at Camp David a few times (Politico). Looking at how many Sundays he's been at Camp David, I figure a few is maybe two or three.

The press secretary also said that Obama went the same route as President Bush by choosing Evergreen Chapel (link). Bush might have joined Evergreen but he rarely attended services there or at any other church.

The church going habits of the last half dozen presidents are very interesting.

On the Republican side, Ronald Regan never attended church. Bush senior was an infrequent church goer as was W (link). But both previous Democratic presidents Carter and Clinton regularly attended church. Carter attended First Baptist Church in Washington D.C. while he was President. And Clinton attended a Lutheran Church.

I suspect that Carter was the only real believer in the lot. After he left the presidency he actually taught Sunday school and actively participates in his church.

As far as I can tell, President Obama is following the Republicans as far as church attendance is concerned. He has attended Sunday services as president in DC maybe two times.

He went to the 19th Street Baptist Church in January the week before his inauguration. But not as president.

He went to the National Cathedral on the day he was inaugurated and on his 100th day in office. (Both were on a Wednesday and were sort of required because everyone was looking).

His first trip to a real Sunday church service as president was on Easter Sunday. He took the family to St. John’s Episcopal Church which is near the White House. (I am sorry but Easter doesn't count. He had to go to church on Easter. Again because everyone was watching.) He has attended services at St John's one other time (link).

By my count, President Obama has probably been to Sunday church services four or five times since he assumed office a bit more than six months ago.

Combine that with the juicy fact in Richard Wolffe's new book, Renegade, that President Obama really
didn't know about the rantings of Reverend Jeremiah Wright because he rarely attended services at Wright's or any other church unless he was schmoozing people for their votes (see video below).

The president seems to spend his Sundays either at the gym, working, relaxing with his family or playing golf. Which is fine and dandy. If the Republican presidents can play the religion card and not go to church, a Democratic president should be able to do the same thing.

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July 2, 2009

Stephen Colbert on Cynthia Davis

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Huffington Post, July 2, 2009

Cynthia Davis, a Missouri state representative and the owner of a Christian bookstore said last week she opposes subsidizing school lunches for low income children during summer months because, "Hunger can be a positive motivator."

Stephen Colbert picks it up from there.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Tip/Wag - Cynthia Davis & Fox News
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorJeff Goldblum

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Has President Obama picked a church?

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Update, Update, Update !!!
Washington Post (July 3, 2009) page 2

Quote from the Post:

On a personal matter, the president said he has not chosen a home church in the Washington area -- and might not choose one particular congregation.

He said he and his family will attend chapel services at Camp David when they are at the presidential retreat in Maryland -- which he calls a "wonderful little congregation."

"How we handle church when we're here in D.C. is something that we're still figuring out," he said. "And I think that in the second half of the year, we will have made a decision."

Today in Religion will try to keep track of how President Obama, "handles church when we're here in D.C." I am willing to bet that when the second half of the year rolls around, he'll come up with another excuse for not picking a church.

Time Magazine (June 29, 2009)
According to Time magazine, President Obama has finally picked a church. It's Evergreen Chapel at Camp David. Evergreen is a non-denominational chapel that serves the Camp David military community. The chapel was President George Bush's primary place of worship.

Considering the Reverend Wright fiasco, it's understandable that it took seven months. I hope he made the right choice.

Evergreen has one big advantage and one disadvantage.

The advantage is Obama will only have to attend when he's at Camp David. The other Sundays he can do something more productive.

The disadvantage is the pastor. I'm not sure about this guy. Lt. Carey H. Cash is a Southern Baptist Navy Chaplain. He's the great grandnephew of Johnny Cash, which is kind of cool but not particularly relevant. He has also written a book, which may set a record for having the world's longest title. It's called: A Table in the Presence: The Dramatic Account of How a U.S. Marine Battalion Experienced God's Presence Amidst the Chaos of the War in Iraq.

More importantly he was quoted as saying, "First we get the military, then we get the nation." (Daily Kos) That doesn't sound very non-denominational to me.

The plot thickens:

CBS News asked the White House if Obama had picked a church. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said, “There have been no formal decisions about joining a church."

Time magazine is sticking to their story. We'll see how it turns out.

President Obama hasn't had much luck with churches. Hopefully at the end of his second term, he'll grow a pair and tell the world that he's really a rationalist non-believer.

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July 1, 2009

Is religion dangerous to your health?

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Time Magazine July 9, 2009 UPDATE, UPDATE, UPDATE!!!
Time Magazine has finally noticed that the South has a higher percentage of lard asses than any other part of the country. They attribute Southerners' enormous girth to poverty, bad diet and lack of exercise. Maybe they're right. Maybe the fact that the most religious states are also the fattest is just a coincidence. Who knows.

July 1 2009

Could it be that religion is dangerous to your health? Does religion make people more likely to be overweight?

On May 25, I published a blog entitled Religion, Politics and Human Development.

In a nutshell, it showed that people who are more religious and live in states with low life expectancies, literacy rates, education and standard of living tend to vote Republican.

People who are less religious and live in states with higher life expectancies, literacy rates, education levels and standard of living tend to vote Democratic.

Now there seems to be a correlation between religion and body fat! Below is map measuring obesity rates in the states published by the Trust for America's Health. Below the map is a chart listing the most and least religious states.

Most religious states Least religious states
Mississippi Vermont
Alabama New Hampshire
South Carolina Maine
Tennessee Massachusetts
Louisiana Alaska
Arkansas Washington
Georgia Oregon
Oklahoma Rhode Island
Kentucky (tie) Nevada
Texas (tie) Connecticut

Only one of the least religious states, Alaska, falls into one of the two fattest categories.

All of the most religious states fall into the two fattest categories.

Those Southern Christians should spend some time in the gym instead of bellying up to the church potluck after Sunday services.

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