Wednesday, December 18, 2013

God down in the polls

Belief in God is declining in America. Apparently, the only instrument capable of chipping away at the bedrock of blind belief is the wildly swinging blood-ax of smirky hipster atheism. The ill-educated dimwit kids who think Jesus never existed are making headway against the ill-educated dimwit oldsters who think that every word of the New Testament is the Word of Gawd.

The new Harris poll does not ask about a few things I'd like to see measured, such as: How many Americans feel that the "new atheists" are just as arrogant and annoying as the old fundamentalists? How many "new atheists" agree with the demonstrably irrational claim that the majority of scholars consider Jesus mythical?

I know what you're thinking right now: Is Cannon really going to say it again? Yes. The number of New Testament scholars in academia who think that Jesus never existed is zero. If you're a mythicist, you inhabit an intellectual space even lonelier than the place where we store the global warming denialists.

When it comes to driving that point home, count me among the proselytizers. I refuse to live in a society where dolts like Archaya X and the boob who made the Zeitgeist movie are considered beacons of rationalism. Unbelief is fine; misrepresentation of the academic consensus is infuriating.

A couple of other goodies from the poll:

1. Belief in ghosts is at 42 percent. However, that figure is dragged down by old people, who are less likely than any other group to rally for revenants. That result seems counter-intuitive: You'd think that ghosts would be most popular among those likely to join their company soon.

2. Only 52% of Democrats express belief in Darwin's theory of evolution. That's a frighteningly low number. Overall belief in Darwin's theory has risen but still remains below the 50% threshold. (If this post were an MP3, at this point you'd hear the author's head banging in frustration against the wall.)

3. Fewer people believe that the soul survives death than believe that Jesus is the son of God. Can you explain that to me? How can anyone say: "The incarnation and the resurrection -- yeah, I can go for those, but this whole afterlife thing is just silly?" Aren't there a whole lot of non-Christian religious people who believe in an afterlife?

4. Only 58% believe in the Devil. Clearly, we need more articles about Lloyd Blankfein.

5. Thirty-six percent believe in UFOs and 26 percent believe in witches. These numbers are ridiculous. Obviously, both things exist.

There are, in fact, people who call themselves "witches"; I've met them, and you probably have as well. The pollsters did not ask: "Do you believe that self-identified witches have magical powers?" That's a different question altogether. (I vote no, but I won't get upset if you vote otherwise.)

Similarly, no sane person denies that people have seen things in the sky that they could not identify. The pollsters did not ask: "Do you believe that we are being visited by beings from other planets?" That's a different question altogether. (I vote no, but I won't get upset if you vote otherwise.)

Bottom line: Belief in God may be slowly declining, but Americans remain a thoughtless and irrational lot.
This is why I believe Richard Dawkins said this, "He’s obviously a nice man, therefore a dangerous man. We don’t want nice men in the Vatican."

A real Progressive Reformer as head of the Church has the power and influence to eliminate the lassitude amongst lapsed Catholics and NPCs while causing the youth to look into religion.

But, beyond that, the "American People" do remain an ignorant superstitious lot.
I wasn't talking about Pope Francis in this post.

But as long as you mention it -- I don't think Francis is the reformer some take him to be. He CAN'T be, even if he wants to be (which he probably doesn't).

Nothing he will ever say on any subject will make Catholicism attractive to the irreligious or to the lapsed or to progressive-minded people of other faiths. However, any further liberal-ish reforms will drive conservative Catholics into the sedevacantist camp.

You know how the Tea Partiers have driven the GOP to the far right? It's like THAT. If leaders of the GOP were to start making liberal-ish noises, they would lose the teabaggers and the southerners while making few if any converts among moderates and liberals.

Moral of the story: If your sub-group is sufficiently numerous, and if you loudly announce your willingness to pick up your marbles and leave the game, you effectively CONTROL the game.

For that reason, I predict that Francis will continue to say some nice and interesting things. But in terms of doctrine, nothing will change.
I would dearly love to have the raw data to see the cross-tabs and make some Venn diagrams showing the overlap in believers in God and believers in Evolution, etc.

There may not be much consistency, the sample population being irrational and all.
Belief in atheism, like belief in God, is just another belief system. Belief or non-belief in Darwin's theory has nothing to do with either belief in God or atheism. Perhaps people are tired of being offered the choice between an insane Old Man who lives up in the sky and nothing but blackness after life ends. We may be at the end of a civilization, when the old eternal verities waver and their replacements have not yet been fully formed. As a non-Christian who believes in God and the afterlife, I don't think the witches or self-described pagans are the wave of the future. The pagans and witches were run out of business centuries ago by the church, which has morphed into a world-wide pedophile ring coupled to a really large money laundering operation, and now it's time to cobble up their replacements. That will not include the smug and assholic atheists of the present day either, in my opinion.
No offense, cracker, but that's a load of crap. Witches were not "run out of business" by "the church." (I take it you refer to the Catholic church, the one religion we all must hate hate hate. I pause now while you go into a three-minute hate. Perhaps you can even work yourself into Hategasm.)

Do some reading. There was no witch cult. It was a myth, like the current myth of the Illuminati or like McCarthy's imagined Commie conspiracy.

There were a lot of people persecuted and killed under the mistaken belief that they belonged to this imaginary cult. More people were killed in Protestant lands than in Catholic territories...and the number of victims was far, far smaller than most people imagine.

Norman Cohn is probably your best guide in these areas.

The current church is not a pedophile organization. In the past, I've linked to studies proving that pedophilia is no worse in Catholicism than in other religions. And yes, that includes claims of cover-ups by the ruling heirarchy.

It should also interest you to know that there have even been self-proclaimed modern witches with a secret unhealthy interest in children. I met one such fellow at a party about twenty years ago. He grandly announced himself as "A priest of...BES!" -- as though that should impress me. Bes, I learned, was an Egyptian trickster god. Well, this "priest" turned out to have a few tricks up his sleeve, all right -- some time later, we learned about his unsavory side.

I think it's pretty weird that organizations like the BBC go out of their way to paint the RC church as Pedophilia, Inc, while completely ignoring their own complicity in covering up the Jimmy Saville scandal.

AND the Kincora scandal, which nobody wants to talk about. I bet you don't even know about it.

You should look it up...after you've read Cohn's "Europe's Inner Demons," which is damned fine piece of work.
Stickler...I had inlaws, biologists, no less, who were into Christianity. They had some bizarre christian fish icon on their car that was sporting feet.

Joseph, the youngsters who spout "Jesus never existed" drive me nuts. I want to give them some Robert Graves to read.

Mr. Cannon,

Two points:

1. I just don't think proof of the existence of Jesus is all that important. The vile Bill O'Reilly wrote an anti-semitic book for those of no faith. He defines his theology as history. The point is that if you require proof, then you have no faith. Faith is the belief in the absence of proof. For the truly religious, faith is enough.
2. I think you underestimate Pope Francis. I think his moves will bring back liberal, lapsed Roman Catholics. I have a close friend who falls into that category and he is talking of going to Church. He can't be the only one. I rarely opine on workings of the Catholic Church because it isn't my church. However, it seems to that in both form and substance, Francis is moving the Church in very positive ways.
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Small-j joseph, I think the proof issue is indeed important, if only because historicity is such an strong part of the appeal of Christianity. It's the reason why Jesus and Muhammed will always be more popular than Apollo or Mithras. People can convince themselves that the story isn't JUST a story.

Besides, the historicity question is just plain interesting. The origin of the gospels is the greatest literary puzzle I know. (The second greatest -- speaking of anti-Semitism -- may be "Who concocted the 'Protocols' hoax?") There will never be sufficient proof of Jesus' existence for those who want him not to have existed. But, hell, one could use the same methods to deny the existence of just about anyone from the ancient world.
1: Older people are probably less likely to believe in trendy bullshit like ghosts.

2: Democrats probably really like Lamarckian evolution, or the Vedic hypothesis. Chalk me up as an anti-Darwinian too. Random mutation? Fucker didn't know no epigenetics.

3: I admit defeat on that one.

4: More popular than evolution.

5: They do both demonstrably exist.I disapprove of calling Wiccans witches. It implies that they are related to the putative medieval witch-cult, rather than the conjurings of that creative chap Gardner. He was no more a witch than Iolo Morgannwg was a druid.

I do believe in the witch-cult having existed. Gilles du Retz and so on. A group, that is, which intentionally profanes popular morality.

As for people being able to use Jesus-denialist methods to deny the existence of anyone, I believe that's what made Velikovsky interesting: he denied entire civilisations in the same way.

Stephen, I don't think you can call ghosts trendy. They're a perennial. I love ghost lore myself, although I don't believe anything I haven't seen.

Some witches prefer to be called wiccans, some do not. If Gardner wanted to call himself a witch, fine by me.

Back in the day, I read a lot about dear old Gilles. (Remember, he served under my other favorite French lass.) He was not part of any cult, although he does seem to have fallen in with a malign hermeticist named Prelati. Wonderful name, that -- straight out of Marvel comics.

Ever read Huysmans' "La-bas?" The best part is the book-within-a-book about Gilles.

The Velikovsky comparison is interesting; I may steal that riff next time I do the Jesus thing. One might also compare the mythicists to Herebert Illig, who used similar methods to prove that the Dark Ages never existed.

Then again -- how do you know I exist?
Ghosts might not be trending but I think it's still trendy. Like crystals and such like I think they mostly appeal to callow youths rather than those rapidly approaching death. Belief in ghosts, that is, not ghost stories.

It would probably be prelati who was a proper cultist, with Retz being a dilettante. Lots of devil cuts in Brittany.

I adhere to the position put forward in Lewis Spence's "Occult Causes of the Present War", that there has been a cult since pre-Christian Rome dedicated to exploring the psyche by transgressive morality, done by transgressing against the dominant morality of the day. Except the bit about the Nazis, that was just to get around the paper ration.

As for you and the Dark Ages, I have seen what you have written. Cognitas ergo es.
So you're saying that de Rais knew of a cult, was in a cult, yet protected the cult by refusing to mention it -- even under torture, even though he confessed to all sorts of heinous crimes (including child murder) and even though he knew he would be condemned no matter what? And even though he repented at the end and returned to the Church? And even though there's no evidence of said cult?
Well, he knew he was in a cult, consisting of several named persons, including the two who were executed with him.

As for the larger, international, timeless cult, maybe he knew and maybe he didn't. If he got his esotericism from this Prelati chap, and the esotericism follows similar lines to those found in other cases, he may well have been a tyro who just picked things up from Prelati.
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