Tag: Religion

How America is a little like Pakistan

By Razib Khan | January 6, 2011 3:29 pm

Recently a “hot story” in the barbaric nation that is Pakistan is that a politician did not know how to recite a prayer properly. An important back story here is that Muslims generally pray in Arabic, but most Muslims are not Arabic language speakers (and in any case, colloquial Arabic is very different from “Classical Arabic” which is derived from the language of the Koran). So deviation from appropriate pronunciation is a major problem for Muslims as a practical matter. And, since the words one recites in ritual prayer are derived from the Koran they are the literal Word of God as transmitted to Muhammad via the angel Gabriel. Proper delivery is of the essence (and for your information, I can still bust out sura Fatiha, thank you very much).

But the major point illustrated by the incident is the importance of public piety in Pakistan. The father of the nation of Pakistan, Muhammed Ali Jinnah, was so Westernized that he had to have mullahs prep him on how to recite lines of the Koran during speeches. He was himself from a heretical Muslim sect (heretical in the eyes of the Sunni majority at least), the Ismailis, and married a woman of Zoroastrian background. Like much of the Pakistani elite today and upper class men of the British Empire during that period Jinnah had a soft spot for various liquors. Pakistan has come a long way from those days, re-branding itself as an extremist nation par excellence. The “moderates” may be the majority, but they are not moved to place themselves between the extremists and their victims.

And this brings me to the USA. How is it like Pakistan? We’ve also have come a long way since the Founding in terms of the respectable “orthodoxy” which we demand of our politicians. A new Pew survey on religion in Congress puts this into stark relief:

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Data Analysis

Asian Buddhists are not atheists

By Razib Khan | November 19, 2010 3:10 pm

In response to my two posts below on atheism statistics, people in the comments and around the web (e.g., Facebook) have pointed out that Buddhism is necessarily/can be atheistic, and that Buddhism, is not/not necessarily a religion, and therefore that explains the statistics. Some of these people are lazy/stupid judging by the way the argument is delivered, but they are clearly grounded in a reality which is expressed in books and documentaries which introduce people to Buddhism. There is a small issue which confounds this analysis of the atheism statistics: most East Asians do not identify as Buddhist. This is mostly because most citizens of the People’s Republic of China do not identify with Buddhism. That being said, Buddhism is clearly the dominant organized religion historically in many East Asian nations (though that has not been true in South Korea for the past generation). I reject the equivalence between the role of Catholicism in much of Europe and that of Buddhism in East Asia (the Church was a much more powerful, prestigious, and influential institution than the Buddhist sangha with only a few exceptional periods), but it can be argued that these are Buddhist cultures, just as they are Confucian societies.

But there’s a bigger issue with this objection: most Asians who identify as Buddhist are themselves theists. This is also the case for American Buddhists. Some people have objected that theism in a Buddhist context is not equivalent to theism in a Hindu, and especially Abrahamic sense. There is no creator god obviously. That is fine, but I think it is important to point out that no matter the theological details of their beliefs, most Buddhists do seem to accept the existence of supernatural entities which we would term “gods.” I was aware of this personally because I’ve encountered several people of Chinese origin who tell me that they’re Buddhist, they believe in god, when I tell them I’m an atheist (usually in response to the question about whether I am Muslim).

The previous question as to whether someone was a “Religious person,” “Not a religious person,” or a “Convinced atheist,” can be broken down by religion. I did so. Below are the data for Buddhists alone. I also provided the sample size for Buddhists. The overall N’s were on the order of 1,000-2,000. So you can see that only a small minority (5% actually) of Chinese in the People’s Republic identify as Buddhists. The other values are obviously percentages.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Data Analysis, Religion

Most atheists are not white & other non-fairy tales

By Razib Khan | November 18, 2010 2:46 am


Over at Comment is Free Belief (where I am an occasional contributor) there is an interesting post up, The accidental exclusion of non-white atheists. Actually, I disagree with the thrust of the post pretty strongly. But here’s the important section:

Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, PZ Myers, James Randi … if you’re a regular Cif belief reader, you’ll already have spotted the pattern – these are the names of arguably the most prominent, outspoken atheists and “sceptics” in the world. There’s something else you should notice – they are all white men. The atheist and sceptic movements are dominated by white men and I think this is a problem.

I was involved in an atheist organization in my younger years. The president was a Eurasian woman, and I was the vice president. The treasurer had a Muslim Arab father, so I suppose we didn’t fit this profile. But I think the generalization holds. But I don’t think it’s a problem really for the Richard Dawkins of the world. In fact, there isn’t even that big of a deficit when it comes to non-whites if you look at it from a world wide perspective. The World Values Survey asks people if they fall into the categories “Religious Person”, “Not a Religious Person”, or “Convinced Atheist.” Below are some bar plots from the 5th and 4th waves, take in the mid-2000s and around 2000 respectively.

no images were found

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MORE ABOUT: Atheism, Religion

Religious people have more children because they're more traditional

By Razib Khan | November 4, 2010 9:05 pm

Tom Rees has a fascinating post up, Why religious Austrians have more children:

On average, the more religious you are, the more kids you’ll have. It’s a widespread phenomenon, seen across pretty much all of the modern world.

The problem is, no-one really knows why this happens.

It could be something about religious beliefs. Maybe they make you more attractive to potential mates, or maybe they drive you to have more kids once you have found your mate.

Or maybe they encourage traditional, rather than modern, approaches to relationships. The traditional role for women is to stay at home and raise children, while hubbie has a career (and the independence and money that goes with it). It works (in theory at least) because divorce is not allowed, meaning that women cannot be left financially adrift.

This post is of interest because of my recent post reviewing Eric Kaufmann’s Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth. Here’s the top line conclusion from Tom’s post:

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Data Analysis
MORE ABOUT: Data, Religion

The wheel of history turns to the gods

By Razib Khan | October 21, 2010 2:08 am


About six months ago I read a history of modern Italy and was struck by a passage which observed that during the early years of the Italian state none of the prominent political leaders were practicing Roman Catholics. Part of this was specific to the history of the rise of modern Italy, Umberto I fought the Papacy, and so alienated the institution of the Church from the royal house and the state over which it ruled. But more generally many of the nationalists of the 19th century in Catholic Europe were of an anti-clerical bent. Only with the reconciliation of the Roman Catholic Church with the modern liberal democratic nation-state in the 20th century, and universal suffrage, have the political elites come to resemble the populace more in their religious sensibilities in these nations. And before you dismiss this as a European matter, observe that Andrew Jackson, our sixth president, was the first to have personal religious views in line with the American majority. As late as William Howard Taft in the early 20th century the United States had a head of state who rejected orthodox Christianity (he was a Unitarian Christian). Can we imagine that such a thing would come to pass without much controversy today? Mitt Romney has famously had to elide the yawning chasm between Mormonism and Nicene Christianity to be a viable candidate.

The point I’m trying to make here is that the paths of the arrows of history are more complex than we perceive them in our own moment in time. It is ironic that we in the United States are living through a period of secularization at the grassroots, while at the same time having to deal with the fact that all high level politicians have to pass through a de facto religious litmus test of relatively stringent orthodoxy. The complexity of this sort of social phenomenon makes it exceedingly difficult to analyze and characterize in a pithy fashion. Too often when scholars and intellectuals speak of the history of religion they impose their own visions on the flux of human belief and behavior. Eric Kaufmann’s Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth is not such an argument. Rather, it is a cautious work which makes recourse to both robust theoretical models as well as a wide and rich set of empirical data. Kaufmann casts a very wide net in his attempt to retrieve a useful catch in terms of plausible and robust predictions. The central idea of the book is derived from the fact that the endogenous growth rates of religious segments of developed societies can often be rather high. The broader implication is that history moves in cycles, and that the current age of secularism is nearing its peak, and inevitable demographic forces will see the tide retreat.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Social Science

Mormons are average

By Razib Khan | September 30, 2010 11:07 am

Clark of Mormon Metaphysics says below:

My impression is that atheists, Mormons and Jews did best simply because all three groups tend to be well educated. (Someone mentioned stats adjusted for education but I couldn’t see where that was noted although maybe I just missed the obvious)

This is not an unfounded assertion, as it is “common knowledge” in the Zeitgeist that Mormons are high achievers. Ergo, posts such as The Latter Day Ruling Class. There’s one problem here: it’s not really true in a full-throated sense. The sample size for Mormons in the GSS is very small, so that’s not what we need to look at. First, American Religious Identification Survey 2008:


As you can see Mormons have about the average proportion of college graduates for an American ethno-religious group. We can drill-down further with the Religious Landscape Survey. First, comparisons of various religious groups by educational attainment class as proportions:

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Data Analysis, Religion

Religious illiteracy is the norm

By Razib Khan | September 29, 2010 12:01 am

By now you probably know that:

Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups on a new survey of religious knowledge, outperforming evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions.

On average, Americans correctly answer 16 of the 32 religious knowledge questions on the survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. Atheists and agnostics average 20.9 correct answers. Jews and Mormons do about as well, averaging 20.5 and 20.3 correct answers, respectively. Protestants as a whole average 16 correct answers; Catholics as a whole, 14.7. Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons perform better than other groups on the survey even after controlling for differing levels of education.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Religion
MORE ABOUT: Data, Religion

Obnoxious speech and trusting the Other

By Razib Khan | September 28, 2010 10:09 am

Update: After watching the videos of what went down at the cultural festival I seem to have unwittingly slandered the Act 17 missionaries. They behaved well and were obviously unjustly arrested. Their YouTube site is testimony to the reality though that they’re pretty shallow and obnoxious in some contexts, but that’s frankly not atypical for this sort of evangelical Christian from where I stand. I apologize for engaging in stereotyping in this case, because my expectations were out of line with what I saw on the tapes (though their attempt at apologia is stereotypically laughable, and the goonish response of some of the Muslim youth to Act 17’s antics unfortunately predictable).

Ed Brayton points to a resolution of a case of aggressive and seemingly obnoxious Christian missionaries being arrested for “public disturbance”. Ed observes:

Those four Christian missionaries I wrote about who were arrested for disorderly conduct and breach of the peace while preaching at the Dearborn International Arab Festival in June were acquitted by a jury on Friday. That’s the right result, but frankly the charges should have been dismissed by the judge in the first place.

Nabeel Qureshi of Virginia, Negeen Mayel of California and Paul Rezkalla and David Wood, both of New York, were acquitted of breach of peace, 19th District Court officials in Dearborn said after the verdict. Mayel was found guilty of failure to obey a police officer’s order.

[my emphasis – R]

That last result is still a bit disturbing because the order she was given was an unlawful one. The officer had no legitimate reason to give her the order to stop videotaping what was going on and therefore she should not be held liable for violating that order.

Unfortunately, the mayor of the town continues to be confused about the legal realities….

I’ve only followed the case casually. From what I can gather it seems that these preachers were sort you find around college campuses, or sometimes in downtown areas of big cities. Going by stereotypes of how objectionable Middle Eastern Muslims tend to find proselytization by Christians in their own countries I assume that this sort of behavior would result in a public disturbance, because this sort of preaching tends to be “in your face” and confrontational. The politician is behaving in the craven manner politicians are wont to behave. That’s why we have the Bill of Rights. And I say we in particular to the readers of this weblog, we tend to be irreligious and unloved by the public. If for example I simply stood on a street corner in some small American towns and kept shouting “there is no God” in a monotone voice I suspect I’d attract attention, hostility, and perhaps threaten public disturbance. But all I’d be doing was stating my simple belief.

In any case, enough commentary. How about if the shoe was on the other foot? In the last iteration of the GSS, in 2008, they had a question: SPKMSLM: Now consider a Muslim clergyman who preaches hatred of the United States. If such a person wanted to make a speech in your community preaching hatred of the United States, should he be allowed to speak, or not? Here are the results by demographic:

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Data Analysis
MORE ABOUT: GSS, Religion, Tolerance, WVS

The view from somewhere smart

By Razib Khan | September 26, 2010 4:15 am

9780061472817When it comes to scholarly explorations of religion and history it is very difficult to find works which I can recommend to casually interested friends. On the one hand you have very narrow monographs on a specific topic, for example the possible connection between Monothelitism and Maronite Christianity. Set next to these you have broadly written and engaging works of semi-scholarship with very strong viewpoints which operationally reinforce the preconceptions or biases of the audience. Karen Armstrong’s body of work is an exemplar of this. Much of it is filled with fascinating detail, but she invariably shades the framing of the past so as to make it congenial to her religiously liberal Western audience. Armstrong’s opposite in viewpoint would be Rodney Stark. A sociologist by training Starks’ early work on religion always came with a large dollop of opinion, but it was sound in terms of scholarship. But of late he’s moved in a far more polemical direction, exemplified by books such as God’s Battalians: The Case for the Crusades. Starks’ recent work can be compared to the more crass Afrocentric projects, they’re long drawn out arguments which show that the greatest of human achievements necessarily come from the tradition which conservative Western Christians are singular modern representatives of (not just Western, Stark attempts to dismiss the intellectual achievements of Classical Greeks in The Victory of Reason; rather atrociously in my opinion).

A strong viewpoint is not always a problem. The ideal of objectivity is often an illusion, and only produces a muddle. But in the case of both Stark and Armstrong’s work if you are moderately familiar with their area of focus you can pick out many errors of omission and interpretation. Naturally these flaws in their reading of the literature are always in the direction of their conclusion of preference. If you have a thick network of background facts and frames into which you can inject data and analysis, bias need not be a problem. I am an atheist but I have no issue reading the New Testament for its historical and literary value, despite the fact that it has a clear viewpoint. But that viewpoint is very transparent and obvious to someone who does not share it. Much of popular historical writing has the problem that the audience is not aware of the bias and selectivity of the authors as they frame their arguments. Rodney Stark and Karen Armstrong have a much more fluent grasp of medieval history than the vast majority of their readers, so their obfuscations and distortions, conscious or not, will not be transparent to the audience. It is with all this said that I wholeheartedly recommend Philip Jenkins oeuvre to anyone who will listen. Jenkins’ own perspective colors his scholarship, but he is frank and honest with the reader as to his sympathies, while at the same time correcting the enthusiasms of his “own side.” This is far preferable to the illusion of the “view of from nowhere.” Because his cards are on the table the lay audience can weight his assertions appropriately.

Jenkins is an Episcopalian who has an affinity for the more traditionalist streams of Christian faith and practice coming out of what is now termed the “Global South.” He is probably most well known for his lengthy exposition on this topic in his book The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, though I personally find that his book on Europe, God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe’s Religious Crisis, more original. In his popular works Philip Jenkins writes in a manner which makes it clear that he is broadly in agreement with the claims of the Christian religion. There is no doubt in that. But he is also a man who can say something like this:

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The dismal gods

By Razib Khan | June 25, 2010 12:51 am

marketplaceLarry Witham’s Marketplace of the Gods: How Economics Explains Religion is a manifestly ill-timed book. He states that “…around 2006 I began to notice a good deal of hoopla in the book market about economic explanations for just about everything-books that were best sellers.” Marketplace of the Gods was obviously written to capitalize on the prestige of economic explanations, but unfortunately it has come out after the bubble had burst on that market, so to speak. Within the past few years even many economists have come to admit that the power of their discipline’s logic can explain far less than they’d once thought. In fact, it seems a bit much for economics to explain everything when the core competency in financial domains are themselves being challenged. Even in 2008 in The Logic of Life Tim Harford was engaging in a rearguard attempt to prevent behavioral economists such as Dan Ariely from knocking the legs out from under the central thesis of his book. A more accurate subtitle for Marketplace of the Gods would have been “economic explanations of religion.” Not punchy or imperialistic, but true to the content of the text.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Anthroplogy, Economics, Religion

Fundamentalists have a smaller vocabulary

By Razib Khan | May 19, 2010 2:15 pm

In the comments below a question was asked in regards to “fundamentalist” vs. agnostic Jews. I put the quotations around fundamentalist because the term means different things in different religions. As for the idea of an agnostic Jew, remember that Jews are a nation (ethnicity) as well as a religion, and that religious belief has traditionally been less explicitly emphasized than religious practice.

It wasn’t too hard to find some answers in the GSS. I used the somewhat crude “BIBLE” variable again. Remember that BIBLE asks if the respondent believes that the Bible is the literal and inerrant Word of God, the inspired Word of God, or a book of fables. I reclassified these as Fundamentalist, Moderate, and Liberal, respectively. There are two variables I used in the first chart, JEW and RELIG. The former looks just as Jews, and breaks down by Orthodox, Conservative and Reform. The latter I combined with BIBLE to bracket out Fundamentalists, Moderates and Liberals of each religious group. The vocabulary test scores are from WORDSUM. Remember that they correlate 0.71 with adult IQ. Because the sample size for Jews was so small I included 95% intervals so you can modulate confidence appropriately. I limited the sample to whites.

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By Razib Khan | May 10, 2010 7:35 am

So it’s Elena Kagan. She’ll probably be nominated confirmed. Pointer to my earlier post why it doesn’t matter that there’s no Protestant on the court in substantive terms.


Muhammad in a bear suit

By Razib Khan | April 21, 2010 12:45 pm

Muslim Group Says It Is Warning, Not Threatening, ‘South Park’ Creators. Here’s a screen shot from the cached version of the site (it was hacked after the threat):

The website is run by a dozen crazy people. No word on crazy Buddhists objecting to the fact that Buddha was depicted as a cocaine snorting junkie in the episode. It’s a two part episode, so watch the finale tonight.

MORE ABOUT: Religion

It doesn't matter if there's no Protestant on the Supreme Court

By Razib Khan | April 13, 2010 10:33 am

My post on the religious make up of the Supreme Court is getting a bit of traffic spike due to current events. Specifically, John Paul Stevens, the high court’s lone Protestant, is set to retire, and two out of the three front runners are Jewish. Let’s assume that the future nominee is not Protestant (Elena Kagan, who is Jewish, is arguably the first choice). Statistically this is curious because ~50% of the the American population is Protestant. Assuming that a a Supreme Court justice is randomly drawn from the population you have a 0.20% probability that this would occur in a sequence of nine draws. Of course if Kagan is the nominee and confirmed all of the justices will be graduates of Ivy League universities, so there’s nothing random about the selection process.

Some of the commenters on the first post observed that the pipeline is probably going to shape the demographics of the high court. That is, elite law schools may simply have fewer Protestants than Jews or Catholics. I don’t know about that, but let’s look at Harvard University’s total demographic balance. I don’t see Catholic or Protestant breakdowns, but ethnic breakdown is public:

69% white
16% Asian
8% black
7% Hispanic

Hillel estimates that ~25% of Harvard’s undergraduate student body is Jewish. This means that no more than 44% of student body are white Christians (lower than the national average interestingly). Let’s use the American Religious Identification Survey to estimate Protestant/Catholic numbers according to proportions by each ethnic group. I get 47% Protestant and 17% Catholic at Harvard. This is probably an overestimate for both since I suspect that the irreligious would be a higher proportion within the Harvard student body than the general population, but the ratio between proportions may be more accurate. There are major caveats here, as I think the Catholic numbers are probably somewhat higher because of regional biases and such.
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What rejecting science will mean

By Razib Khan | April 7, 2010 1:09 pm

I am reading that a scholar affiliated with an evangelical theological seminary has had to resign his position because of a full-throated (see here) defense of evolutionary theory. In particular, this scholar seems to have asserted that evangelical Christianity is on the way to becoming a marginalized “cult” if it keeps rejecting scientific consensus in regards to evolutionary theory. Cult, from what I know, has a very strong connotation in the evangelical subculture.

Obviously I don’t have relevant opinions about whether evangelicals should, or should not, accept evolution from the perspective of an evangelical Christian. But, we can look at the type of person who accepts and rejections evolution in American society. The General Social Survey has a vocabulary test which it gives to people, and the scores range from 0 out of 10 correct, to 10 out of 10 correct. Over the history of the GSS a little under 25% of the survey respondents scored on the interval 0 to 4. 13% scored on the interval 9 to 10. Let’s label the first “Not Smart” and the second “Smart.” Below are the proportion who accept evolution for the various GSS variables which speak to this issue (I’ve given the GSS labels, you can look up the specific question at the GSS browser under “selected” at the top left).

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Creationism, Culture
MORE ABOUT: Data, Religion

America, 2010

By Razib Khan | April 6, 2010 1:23 am

If Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens retires, and is replaced by Elena Kagan (the favorite), then the Supreme Court of the United States of America will have no Protestants on the bench. This in a nation which is 50% Protestant. Until after World War II the United States of America was in its self-identity fundamentally Protestant (see American Judaism and Catholicism and American Freedom for histories of how Jews & Catholics entered the American religious mainstream in the middle of the 20th century after a century of rejection by the Protestant establishment).* This is clear when you read about attempts to “Christianize” Roman Catholic Filipinos after the conquest of that nation from Spain in the early 20th century, or the reality that both American Catholicism and Judaism were often torn by conflicts between explicit assimilationists who wished to emulate the Protestant congregational model dominant in the United States, and those which argued for the perpetuation of a separate distinctive religious culture outside of the mainstream. And yet today this doesn’t matter much because the assimilationists won. Consider the fact that Stephen Breyer, who is Jewish, has a daughter who is an Episcopal priest (her mother is an English Anglican). Sonia Sotomayor is likely to be indistinguishable from the other Left-leaning justices, though she shares a Roman Catholic confession with the conservatives on the court. Religion in the United States by and large has become a personal label which serves as a marker toward one’s origins and one’s current loyalties, rather than a confession which indicates identity with a “thick” and exclusive subculture (the Amish, Hasidic Jews and Fundamentalist Mormons being exceptions). In this way the United States is like South Korea or many African nations, where religious pluralism and individual fluidity in choice and identity are the rule and not the exception.
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MORE ABOUT: Religion

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