December 4, 2020

Saturday Ramblings (5/5/12)

Greetings, all. Adam Palmer here, filling in for our illustrious Jeff Dunn as he sojourns on an enigmatic quest through the exotic and mysterious land known only as “Dayton, Ohio.” Hopefully he’ll file some reports from high atop some ancient ruin–if he can hack his way through all the jungle vines and make the ascent without disrupting some booby traps and taking a poison arrow to the solar plexus. You know Jeff is pretty much the American Bear Grylls, right?

Ahem. Shall we ramble?

You may have heard about a little motion picture coming to US theatres this weekend called The Avengers. Turns out the marketing pros at Disney are very forward-thinking, as they’re launching their superhero movie on the same weekend as the only so-called “supermoon” of 2012. The moon will appear larger in the sky than usual this weekend, and while that’s as good an occasion as any to gawk at our most beautiful natural satellite, the difference isn’t discernible to the naked eye. In food terms (which I always appreciate), it’s the same difference between a 15- and 16-inch pizzas.

The National Day of Prayer was this week. I have nothing to say about it, but if you want to read a good book on prayer, you should check out Pete Greig’s Red Moon Rising.

This week also saw the release of many interesting “studies” in regards to religion. For starters, we learned that, while religious people are often generous, they tend to give out of “factors such as doctrine, a communal identity, or reputational concerns.” Yes, atheists and agnostics are driven by human compassion while the religious are driven by guilt or a sense of duty. Once again, science has proven what we already know: we have a problem with grace.

Another study dares to ask the question: Can Analytic Thinking Decrease Religious Belief? I’m not so sure about this one, but the article is worth reading for this dandy quote: “Religion is such an important part of the world and we have so little understanding of it. So regardless of what you think about religion, it’s important to understand it because it’s so important in the world.”

Okay, this one is actually pretty interesting: according to the 2012 Religious Congregations and Membership Study, the fastest-growing religion in half the United States is now… Mormonism. Second-place goes to Islam. The author of this article asserts that this growth “should concern church leaders.” So… are you?

Here’s one for the “Let’s Generate Some Comments” file: after studying a “microscopic algae-eater that lives in a lake in Norway,” we have now found the oldest human ancestor. Do with that information what you will; just remember comments are moderated and we like it when you play nice.

Notable birthdays of the week include: crooners Bing Crosby and Engelbert Humperdinck, that writer named Niccolo Machiavelli, delicate flower Audrey Hepburn, Michael Palin, actresses Uma Thurman, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Kirsten Dunst, and former newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst, who just missed out on sharing a birthday with the man who borrowed his story and made the greatest movie of all time, Orson Welles (his is next week).

In sadder news, at least for people of my generation (i.e. Generation X): prolific hip-hop artist and one-third of the Beastie Boys Adam Yauch (aka MCA) succumbed to cancer yesterday. He was a devout Buddhist, and while I didn’t agree with his faith, I appreciated his music and respected his devotion to his beliefs and to his craft. So, in memoriam, enjoy this one-take version of the Beastie Boys doing what they do best. I’m sure Jeff will return to ’70s rock guitar performances next week.


  1. “…according to the 2012 Religious Congregations and Membership Study, the fastest-growing religion in half the United States is now… Mormonism. Second-place goes to Islam.”

    I’m sure the Devil is quite pleased.

    • With stuff like this….it’s frightening….

      • Having been there I’m sure you’re more familiar with that than I would be. But that’s definitely the same kind of thing I was seeing when I studied Mormonism 30 years ago.

        • Richard Hershberger says

          My observation, based on living both in areas with lots of Mormons and with few, is that if a Mormon family is the only Mormon family on the street, they are the best neighbors possible. If the street is mostly inhabited by Mormons, then they are terrible neighbors to the remaining non-Mormons.

          The aspect of early Mormon history I want to investigate some day is how they were repeatedly run out of town. This is conventionally depicted as religious intolerance on the part of the townspeople, but the country was practically overrun with weird religions in that era. Upstate New York, where the Mormons came from, was downright lousy with them, and on a comparative scale the Mormons were hardly the weirdest. Yet it is only the Mormons that we hear about generating outraged mobs. Something was going on here, but I don’t know enough to do better than speculate what it was.

    • What’s the difference between Mormonism and Islam anyway? They are both wacky Christian off-shoots that add new scriptures based on accounts of revelation from an angel, they both reject the Trinity, they both are distinctly works rigtheous, and they both promise worldly, hedonistic pleasures in heaven. I guess Mormonism uses niceness to win converts instead of violence, so that’s a plus.

      • Adrienne says

        Boaz ~ Your words just wrench my heart. I know that Saturday is for light, fun items but your comment is distressing. I teach women’s Bible Studies and it just amazes me that those who claim to be Christians and have been raised in the church have no concept whatsoever of Christian Doctrine. Which is so much of the New Testament teachings. As Paul mentored Timothy he repeated over and over that he was to preach SOUND DOCTRINE and to guard it carefully. We need to be well educated and know our church history and so on. I hear story after story from women of bad decisions, guilt, lack of assurance and so on. When they begin to learn, I hear “I didn’t know that, I’ve never seen that” and so on. Right now we are studying the women of the Bible. Just knowing the stories of Sarah, Hagar, Rebekah and so on will get you started on understanding the huge differences between Christianity and Islam. Wacky is not an appropriate description when souls are at stake.

        • Adrienne, read Boaz’s question again. He was asking the difference between Mormonism and Islam, not Christianity and Islam. In some ways those two religions had similar origins.

      • The Previous Dan says

        One big difference between Mormonism and Islam is that Mormonism is 100% made in the USA and believes that, while the US Constitution isn’t actual Scripture, it is divinely inspired non-the-less. Therefore modern Mormonism is all about working to save and preserve our country. Just look at Mitt, Glenn Beck, Prop 8. That is why it is growing, it is Americanism turned into a religion.

        Many of the issues that I care about as a conservative-leaning libertarian have been hijacked by the Mormons. Many of the Christians I rub shoulders with want to accept them as brothers and sisters even though Mormonism doesn’t agree with a single Church council. But American Christians care more (and know more) about the culture war than they do about their faith. It is scary stuff. I don’t like Obama or anything he stands for, but Mitt scares me even more because he will be embraced and hailed as a savior by the religious right. Heck, even I like Mitt in spite of the fact that there is an alarm going off in my head screaming WARNING, WARNING.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Just look at Mitt, Glenn Beck, Prop 8. That is why it is growing, it is Americanism turned into a religion.

          And Evangelical Activism isn’t?

          Despite their weird-ass theology and history, externally Mormons show all the characteristics and recognition signs of Real True Christian Americans — witnessing, attendance, clean-cut morality, reclaiming our nation, Christian Nation, etc — at a greater level than the RTCs themselves. And they have a reputation for taking care of their own who have fallen on hard times.

          If your Christian upbringing has predisposed you to look upon those externals as the Signs of Godliness, what other conclusion can you come to except that Mormons are more Christian than your Christians? As one online article put it, Mormons = Southern Baptist Zombies.

          I don’t like Obama or anything he stands for, but Mitt scares me even more because he will be embraced and hailed as a savior by the religious right. Heck, even I like Mitt in spite of the fact that there is an alarm going off in my head screaming WARNING, WARNING.

          Well, the Obamanation of Desolation (too good a pun to pass up) HAS been Christian PRed since 2008 as the Fanatic Persecutor archetype of Antichrist, why not PR Romney the Mormon as the Slick Deceiver archetype? And just as Obama being only a mortal man disappointed both his fanboys and Antichrist-sniffers, so Romney being only a man will disappoint both his fanboys and Antichrist-sniffers.

          And as for “A hard man not to like”, remember a certain William J Clinton? No matter what crooked crap he pulled during his eight years in the White House, his “Aw shucks” demeanor made it hard to NOT like the guy, especially when he started talking.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          One big difference between Mormonism and Islam is that Mormonism is 100% made in the USA and believes that, while the US Constitution isn’t actual Scripture, it is divinely inspired non-the-less.

          Two words: DAVID. BARTON.

          And both Mormons and Muslims are associated with Harem Polygyny.

          And both Mormonism and Islam have taken the mores and memes of their culture and time of origin and made them into Divine Fiat and Signs of Godliness — the Mormons 19th Century Rural Americana, the Muslims 7th Century Arab Tribal Culture.

      • Donalbain says

        What is the difference between Islam and Christianity? They are both wacky off-shoots of Judaism..

        • Indeed, the mediaeval attitude was to treat Islam not so much as a separate religion but more as a Christian heresy – that’s why Dante puts Mohammed and Ali in the circle of Hell with the “sowers of discord” as schismatics (while at the same time, he places the sultan Saladin in Limbo with the virtuous pagans).

    • dumb ox says

      Help me understand this. If, as many have claimed, politics is what is driving people from evangelicalism, why would Mormonism and Islam be growing, considering how political those movements are, too? Do they show grace? Perhaps there simply is no discernible difference between Christianity and these other religions, so why not switch?

      • The Previous Dan says

        Islam is growing because of immigration and also the despair within the urban community. Take a look at the last 100 years. Islam has been tailored to be embraced by angry people. As to why Mormonism is growing, see my post above.

    • It seems that people who ID themselves as Mormons are not all people with whom Mormons want to ID.

  2. I don’t know if you guys say this article by Roger Olson. He recently published this on his blog. It’s called

    What Distinguihses an “Evangelical” from a “Fundementalist?” It’s a good read…

  3. Steve Newell says

    How many social service agencies or hospitals have been created by compassionate atheists and agnostics? In St. Louis, I don’t know any hospitals or social service agencies that are created by this “compassionate” group. In St. Louis, it is the Catholics and Lutherans that have the biggest share of the social service agencies, both secular and non-secular.

    Historically, it was the Christian churches that created most of our hospitals and social service agencies. Sadly, there are many both within and outside of the Church who have forgotten that it was the local churches who created our hospitals and social service agencies to help with those who are need help.

    My question and challenge is this: How are you supporting the Christian social service agencies in your community? My family supports Lutheran Family and Children Services in Missouri since my wife’s cousins were adopted through this agency over 25 years ago. It is one of the largest adoption and foster care providers in Missouri.

    • The Previous Dan says


      “Yes, atheists and agnostics are driven by human compassion” or, as is more often the case, they just don’t give at all. Unless it is to save cats, dogs, and trees. That they will give money to. To h*** with people. Wait I’m wrong. They will give to “women’s health” causes as long as it prevents or ends a human life. Hmm, I think there is a trend there.

      • The Previous Dan says

        Sorry, I’m in a sarcastic mood this morning. I think there is something in my coffee. I don’t really want to disparage any of my agnostic friends who I have recommended this blog to. I’m looking at you Brian.

      • From one perspective, since a non-religious person has no higher authority or deity than their own will, in a sense all works of charity are done for self-justification, before others. Most intelligent (i.e.not pissed off angry at religion) atheists I know freely deny any form of altruism, yet say giving to charity is good because it makes society better for everyone. What’s good for the group is good for me, ultimately. On the other hand, Christians may give with an evangelistic agenda, but ultimately it’s only because we want to share the good that we have received with others.

    • I would have one small quibble with your conclusion on the atheist versus believer giving study, Adam; it’s not so much that believers are driven by a sense of guilt, as that atheists give mostly or primarily when they are personally moved by the situation – that is, when their compassion or empathy has been engaged.

      In other words, religious donations to charity are not based on an emotional response to the plight, and may be part of a regular programme of giving, motivated by duty or habit or association with church- or denomination-based charities. Atheists give more on the immediate event, and give more to appeals that personally involve them. It’s not that atheists are more compassionate than believers, it’s that atheists need to be engaged in some way to give to a specific need.

      However, I do agree that all of us need as much grace as we can get!

      Oldest human ancestor? More like an example of a primitive eucaryote, which would be the nearest thing to the oldest ancestor of pretty much everything, not just humans. But the solitary grouchiness of their nature does imply they share some traits with me 🙂

      • It is not a small quibble, but cuts the heart of the interpretation of the study. The study didn’t deal with rates of giving, but with self-reported motivation. So it ignored the elephant in the room (huge disparity in giving) and also failed to notice that Christians aren’t encouraged to boast about how good their motives are–so the self-reporting may be skewed.

    • …and if the egomaniac in the White House has his way, the Catholic social service and health agencies would have to stand down and disappear. How WONDERFUL for big government!

  4. Chip Shepherd says

    Adam here is one that missed the deadline for Saturday Ramblings from American Jesus

    This just in the world will end on June 30 2012 according to Jesus. That’s Jose de Luis de Jesus to be exact. And just to be clear, Mr. Jesus considers himself to be the Jesus. As in the Son of God.

  5. Being descended from an algae eater must certain trump being descended from a banana eater…


  6. dumb ox says

    “Once again, science has proven what we already know: we have a problem with grace.”

    Nah, we don’t have a problem with grace. To borrow from the old Smith Barney tag line, we receive grace the old fashion way: we EARN it! 😉

  7. For those of us on the coast, we’ve been having extraordinary tides to go with the 17 inch extra large moon. It’s been interesting to watch but not so much fun during flooded rush hours.

  8. Dana Ames says

    Actually, another blogger (not a Christian) pointed out that the generosity study was a good testimony about Christians, because they didn’t wait until they experienced feelings of compassion; they gave because it’s the right thing to do, notwithstanding the other motivations. CS Lewis reminds us in many of his writings that there is absolutely nothing wrong with duty.

    Do agree with Steve Newell above. There really was nothing resembling philanthropy before Christianity. Yes, wealthy people spent money on others, but it was done to build a particular reputation and/or put others in their debt, not because their ethos included care for the poor.


    • That Other Jean says

      “There really was nothing resembling philanthropy before Christianity.”

      That is simply not so. Organized philanthropy has been around since at least the ancient Egyptians–the Pharaoh owned everything, and distributed from his storehouses in times of famine; ancient Jews contributed to their congregation’s “poor box”; even ancient Rome had the “corn dole”–a distribution of food to the poor, which, along with free public entertainments, gives us the phrase “bread and circuses.” Care for the poor has been around a very long time.

      • Steve Newell says

        Jean, at the time of famine, Pharaoh (through Joseph the Hebrew) had taxed the production during the “seven good year” then he sold the food back to the people who sold everything including themselves for food. The “bread and circuses” was not charity for the poor but a way to keep the poor under control by the Roman government to prevent rioting and insurrection.

        • I don’t think the game of: our charity is motivated by our love of the poor, while their charity is motivated by evil ulterior motives is really likely to lead to anything productive.

          Also, the Joesph story isn’t historical and ignoring thousands of years of Egyptian charity on the basis of a made up story by their enemies is really not likely to lead you to accurate appraisals of the past.

          • That Other Jean says

            This. Thanks.

          • Dana Ames says

            I agree that it should not be any sort of “game”, and I’m not trying to assess anyone else’s motives, simply to recall that in the teaching of some other religions, altruism is practiced because it “gets you something” in the afterlife. The Romans had a complicated patronage system, and the “bread and circuses” were part of that – it wasn’t done strictly for the benefit of the poor, without thought to reward.

            Also, of course there was the concept and practice of tzadekeh in Judaism – I do stand corrected on that. And it is Christians – and Jews – who have done the bulk of charitable practice because it is part of their religious ethos and teaching do so so without expecting a reward, in this life or the next, whether the “feel like it” or not.

            Don’t want to argue about it, just making the point that as far as help for the poor in the ancient world, it was overwhelmingly Christians who did it, and also that “duty” gets a bad rap much of the time.


  9. David Clark says

    The growth rate for the LDS Church (Mormons) was wildly overstated in that article. Here’s an article in the Salt Lake Tribune which corrects the actual growth rate.

    Instead of 40% growth over the decade of the 2000’s, it should have been 18%.

    It’s also a pretty good idea to take most statistics involving the LDS church with a grain of salt. Groups both inside and outside the LDS church have lots of reasons to report statistics favorable to their point of view. Plus, it’s also usually difficult to tell what statistics involving the LDS church are actually measuring.

    • I understand that another factor with looking at LDS statistics is that it’s nearly impossible to get oneself removed from their membership rolls. So, on paper at least, once a Mormon always a Mormon. Tends to skew the numbers when one fails to take the revolving door into account.

      (not that we, who like to count every rebaptism and rededication as if it was a new conversion, would know anything about skewing numbers by ignoring the revolving door)

  10. I’d be more concerned about this if it wasn’t for this….

    “Like most surveys, the RCMS study relies mainly on self-reported data from churches and denominations. Some, including several historically black churches, failed to submit information on new numbers. Researchers were able to reach only one-third of U.S. mosques and had to estimate the rest.

    The survey did not track growing numbers of secular or religiously unaffiliated Americans — estimated at about 16 percent of the country, according to other studies — because they do not belong to a local congregation.”

    I think secularism is in fact the fastest growing “religion” in America. Not to mention Mormons do inflate their numbers by counting people as members who haven’t been to a service in years (although I’m sure this isn’t unique to them). Even though according to the article they only counted people who were “involved” I am not sure if this was indeed accounted for.

    Also, Mormons only gained 2 million and Islam 1 Million over the course of TEN YEARS. That doesn’t sound real fast to me. The biggest concern for me concerning the religious landscape is the rise of secularism, which like I said earlier I believe to be the fastest growing “religion” in America. The religious will be filled by something, it’s only a question of what, and I don’t think it’s going to be Christianity.

    Every time I read something on the Huffington Post I feel like I wasted my time….

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Not to mention Mormons do inflate their numbers by counting people as members who haven’t been to a service in years (although I’m sure this isn’t unique to them).

      According to the original IMonk, Baptists also do this, primarily by counting rebaptisms and repeat altar-call responses as fresh conversions.

  11. Richard McNeeley says

    Happy Birthday to Dick Dale the King of Surf Guitar.

  12. How is Disney going to remake The Avengers without Macnee?

  13. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Okay, this one is actually pretty interesting: according to the 2012 Religious Congregations and Membership Study, the fastest-growing religion in half the United States is now… Mormonism.

    My writing partner mentioned this last year. According to him, the main reason is the Mormons’ reputation for taking care of their own, their Church Welfare System and Safety Net. He has also told me that in his denom, most pastors’ widows end up eating out of dumpsters, with or without an “I’ll Pray For You.” In today’s economy, that is definitely a factor.

    Second-place goes to Islam.

    Don’t know what to make of that, though I suspect there might be some interesting demographics between ethnic groups. Islam, not being our culture’s default religion, does have the lure of the exotic. And a reputation for “Real Manliness” and fiercely-enforced Public Morality, i.e. everything Driscoll and the Culture Warriors want from Christianity, on steroids.

    The author of this article asserts that this growth “should concern church leaders.” So… are you?

    Well, that explains Grinning Ed Young’s Seven Day Sex Challenge and Bed-In. And the Quiverfull movement among Culture Warriors. Bedroom Evangelism to outbreed the Other.

  14. dumb ox says

    I personally don’t believe religion and analytical thinking are incompatible. But analytical thinking is incompatible with the black and white answers so popular among fundagelicals. Driscoll’s threats to break the nose of anyone on his staff who disagrees with him seems to be anti-ananlytical. The popularity of Jesus-my-girlfriend worship also seems exclude analytical thinking. On those grounds, it’s difficult to argue with that study.

    • I’m pretty much with you, Dumb Ox. For me, analytical thinking enhances my faith. I think that’s how I got here in the first place, and why I wouldn’t believe until God showed me. With that, his Holy Spirit did show me, and now I have no choice.

      I’ve taken a number of bible courses at a fine Christian college (NOT fundamentalist, but squarely evangelical) and about a year of courses at an evangelical seminary, most of which were systematic theology or beyond. While I forget most of this stuff, one of the take-away experiences from both schools is the logical, analytical, reasonable manner of arriving at who and what God is. And that’s the way it should be. If God created the heavens and the earth, and if he made us in his image, then we should be able to comprehend him and the universe, at least to some extent.

      From the article: “Religious belief is intuitive – and analytical thinking can undermine intuitive thinking,” said Ara Norenzayan, co-author of the study. “So when people are encouraged to think analytically, it can block intuitive thinking.”

      That statement only works for some. It assumes that religious belief is always intuitive, which it ain’t; and therefore the conclusion is sometimes untrue or is meaningless. When some of us are encouraged to think analytically the truth opens up. I think Jesus said something like that. “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall…”

      One of the greatest mysteries in sci-fi is why Mr. Spock remained agnostic. If he were really so logical he would have questioned God to the point of finding out.