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Bringing Riders to Tears

October 22, 2019

I’m so tired.

CSICon 2019 has come and gone, and it was a really great and fulfilling event. But since I have to be all type-y type-y write-y write-y the whole time, my neocortex is all dried up. But hey, go read the product of my currently-flaking gray matter with my real-time-ish articles on the goings-on of CSICon.

Pew Research says, in effect, holy moly, Christianity is getting nowhere fast. In 2007, 78 percent of Americans identified as Christian. Today, it’s 65. And what about the heathens? The religiously unaffiliated have gone from 16 percent to 26. Straight-up atheists are up from 2 to 4 percent (meh), agnostics from 2 to 5 (meh) and “nothing in particular” has gone from 12 to 17 (less meh?). Oh and dig this: 40 percent of Millennials are nones.

Meanwhile, a study from Indiana University on church attendance shows that fewer people are showing up, but the ones that do are still ponying up.

A paper by Kevin McCaffree in the journal Secularism & Nonreligion says “a growing body of evidence suggests that strongly-identified atheists are more likely to join secular social clubs as well as benefit from better mental and physical health compared to less affirmatively-identified secular individuals.” I can think of one they might want to sign up with.

We’re co-presenting an event with Sasha Sagan, daughter of Ann Druyan and Carl Sagan, next month in New York City, where she’ll talk about the themes of her book For Small Creatures Such as We, and Inverse has an interview with her where she talks about celebrating occasions through ritual:

I think that it helps to find a way to experience time and not let life suddenly pass us by. Rituals help with that, especially if you’re doing something that, in some way — whether it’s secular or religious — honors your ancestors; the people who made you you. If you’re carrying on something they did, or honoring them in some way even if your beliefs are different than theirs, it’s a way of being aware of your place in a long chain of individuals.

Not surprisingly, but nonetheless appallingly, a federal judge says the Affordable Care Act’s protections for patients seeking transgender or abortion-related care violate the religious liberties of providers who object to offering those services, writing, “the court holds that the [ACA] rule, which expressly prohibits religious exemptions, substantially burdens private plaintiffs’ religious exercise in violation of RFRA.”

David Gorski digs into the lineup of an oft-rescheduled antivaxxer forum in Harlem starring RFK Jr.

A church in California holds a Beyoncé Mass, and it’s not actually about worshipping the singer:

“The Mass says to young black girls, You are part of what God had in mind when, during creation, God said, ‘It is good,’” [Rev. Yolanda] Norton explained over lunch in Hell’s Kitchen last month. “By making the stories and realities of young black women and girls central components of this liturgical art, we’re affirming their realities in a world that is persistent and dogged in its attempts to reject them.”

The Public Religion Research Institute has a new report on political polarization, and there’s a lot here, but right away you can see how climate change is largely ignored by most groups save for the religiously unaffiliated, for whom it is the top issue. Non-Christian religious voters and Hispanic Catholics also express a relatively high level of concern about climate.

Plus, 31 percent of white evangelicals say there is nothing Trump could do to lose their approval of him, and no other group comes close. 37 percent of Republicans overall say the same. On the flip side, 77 percent of Democrats, 67 percent of black Protestants, and 66 percent of nones say nothing Trump could do could win them over.

Tom Steyer, the billionaire you’d be forgiven for not knowing is running for president, answers a question about dealing with the religious right, and more or less the answer is, you kinda can’t:

… it’s so hard to have a conversation where you think there’s a possibility of actual exchange. And so that’s the problem of mixing church and state. People become so wedded to their belief that they feel like, if they change their belief, they’ll be rejecting God.

In the second part of his series on prison reform, Jim Underdown talks to Andrew Glazier of Defy Ventures on our podcast Point of Inquiry. Plus, Jim is the guest on the latest episode of Banachek’s Brain, which has really creepy cover art.

Katrina Brooker at Fast Company looks at how companies like Soul Cycle and Airbnb embrace their resemblance to cults (without calling themselves that, of course):

“People didn’t come to SoulCycle because they got fit. It was [for] the connection they got in the room,” says Julie Rice, who helped found the company in 2006 … She and cofounder Elizabeth Cutler understood from the start that they were selling not just spin classes but spiritual bliss. They dimmed their workout rooms and filled them with candles; instructors spoke of enlightenment, transcendence, higher purpose. During one class, a trainer eulogized his father-in-law, bringing riders to tears as they spun.


Mitt Romney might fulfill a Mormon prophecy about saving the Constitution, or at least so muses ex-Mormon Judith Freeman in the LA Times.

Benjamin Radford and Skeptical Inquirer (or at least a close variation on our magazine’s name) are cited in a Rolling Stone piece on the rumors about THC being given to kids on Halloween:

The “Halloween candy is spiked with THC” myth is essentially a new version of the urban legend about razor blades being smuggled into Halloween candy (which has also been thoroughly debunked), says Benjamin Radford, folklorist and editor of Skeptical Inquirer Science [sic] Magazine. Both are predicated on the concept of a “Halloween sadist” going out of their way to hurt kids for kicks, and both are the culmination of a number of factors required to create the perfect modern-day myth, he says. “You’ve got the stranger danger, the fear of Halloween, the concern parents have about what the kids today are doing,” he tells Rolling Stone. “Basically, all these elements combine to form this specific flavor [of urban legend].”

Thanks for the plug, Rolling Stone Journal of Musical Compositions and Culture.

Gilbert V. Levin, who led investigations on samples from the Mars Viking lander in 1976, says NASA found life on the planet at the time and no one acknowledged it. HUGE IF TRUE:

On July 30, 1976, the LR returned its initial results from Mars. Amazingly, they were positive. As the experiment progressed, a total of four positive results, supported by five varied controls, streamed down from the twin Viking spacecraft landed some 4,000 miles apart. The data curves signaled the detection of microbial respiration on the Red Planet. The curves from Mars were similar to those produced by LR tests of soils on Earth. It seemed we had answered that ultimate question.

When the Viking Molecular Analysis Experiment failed to detect organic matter, the essence of life, however, NASA concluded that the LR had found a substance mimicking life, but not life.

Rob Palmer at Skeptical Inquirer interviews Michael Marshall of the UK’s Good Thinking Society, which is waging a campaign against homeopathy.

Apparently people’s brains are wired to think of death as something that happens to other people, but not ourselves. I do not have this wiring.

The pope will sell you an electronic rosary, the vaping of prayer.

GHOST BABY!!! Wait, no.

GETTYSBURG GHOSTS!!! No, Kenny Biddle checked.

GHOST LINCOLN!!! Come on, stop.

Quote of the Day

Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune on Bill Barr’s diatribe against secularism:

[Barr’s] diagnosis happens to be a fantasy. At the top of the list of the freest countries in the world, compiled by the libertarian Cato Institute, are New Zealand, Switzerland, Australia and Canada. Their citizens are far less religious than those in the United States — which ranks only 17th in freedom.

Nor does their irreligiosity bring about rampant chaos and savage depravity. Crime is far more common here than in such secular havens as Japan, Sweden and Estonia. In this country, the two states with the highest rate of births to unmarried mothers are Mississippi and Louisiana — which are among the highest in church attendance. …

… Today, 23% of Americans claim “no religion.” The attorney general of the United States, whether he likes it or not, has a duty to uphold their rights and respect their choices.

Christians have a right to practice their faith but not to have it validated by the government or protected from vigorous criticism. Freedom of religion also applies to nonbelievers.

Linking to a story or webpage does not imply endorsement by Paul or CFI. Not every use of quotation marks is ironic or sarcastic, but it often is.