Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The New Atheists Haven't Got A Prayer of a Chance

You will always hear people going on about how religion is dead, based on the latest Pew report, which they generally have never read, based on the percentage of people they consider to be religiously non-affiliated, the "nones".  "Nones" is a category invented, as I've pointed out before by Barry Kosmin, a speaker promoted by the atheist promotion group, Center for Inquiry, a board member of it and who, also, invented the category because he didn't want to say what his research showed, that in the United States being affiliated with a religious denomination was the norm.  A rather odd thing for a sociologist to be able to get away with doing, you would think, especially as he would appear to have both an ideological and, likely, something of a financial interest in the promotion of atheism.

But you may also notice that such claims are usually based on assertions around declining church attendance among Americans, which is a rather superficial measure of a-religiosity.   As I've pointed out, as well, I would be considered a "none" since I don't consider myself a member of any particular denomination and I haven't regularly attended church other than funerals and weddings for decades.  Clearly that as a means of identifying someone as religious, that doesn't work.

A curious page on the Pew website I hadn't noticed before the other day is this one, 5 facts about prayer which contains this as "fact" #3

3For many Americans, every day is a day of prayer. More than half (55%) of Americans said they pray every day, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey, while 23% said they pray weekly or monthly and 21% said they seldom or never pray. Even among those who are religiously unaffiliated, 21% said they pray daily. Women (65%) are more likely than men (46%) to pray every day. Older people (60%) are more likely than younger adults (45%) to say they pray daily.

Note that even as they give those numbers they conflate those who "seldom pray" but still pray with those who never pray.  Which, when the question is religious identity is a completely relevant and even definitive distinction.  I really don't know where these Pew numbers crunchers and analysts get their training in reasoning, perhaps the same place that Barry Kosmin did.

But the Pew numbers do match my experience.  While, as a New Englander, I hold such things as extremely personal and not to be widely talked about,  I pray every day, several times a day.  The Sunni requirement of five times a day seems kind of skimpy to me.  I didn't when I was in my teens or twenties, or my early thirties.  I was pretty much an agnostic all that time, reading all of the anti-religious stuff from Bertrand Russell, Thomas Huxley, more modern writers, as well.  I also studied Theravada Buddhism which is entirely reticent on the question of the creation of the universe and God, holding those are superfluous to becoming enlightened.

It was only, later, when I began to realize what a disaster materialism was for democracy, for liberalism, that I went back and re-read the Gospels and also began the long process of reviewing the secular, anti-religious authors who had so influenced my youth and early adulthood with as critical an eye as they presented religion in.  That was a slow process until the wider writings of those and other such authors became available in complete form, from neutral sources, online.  Once I read those I was pretty certain that materialism in every form it has taken is a malignancy in human society and the world.  I didn't get that from reading the critics of materialism and atheism, I read it in the words of the materialists, themselves.

While I had practiced various forms of meditation as found in the great Buddhist contribution in psychology and meditation technology, somewhere along the line, prayers started forming in my mind as I did that.   Today I practice a sort of self-invented Jewish-Christian, perhaps Islamic, adaptation of Buddhist meditation which suits my purposes.  I also call to mind different verses of scriptures, most of them Jewish and Christian,  one of them the first part of the Shema, though I didn't realize that was what it was until later. I don't know where I picked it up.  I also think on the Lord's prayer and always think about the passage in Matthew about what doing good to the least among us means.

Now, as a New Englander, that feels a lot like dreaming about being in school in my underwear, so don't expect me to ever talk about it again.

I remember, once, an agnostic told me that he prayed at times, and it wasn't the kind of flippant prayer such as the one Ernest Renan wrote.   If you counted how many of those "nones" prayed instead of counting how many of them are going to church or claimed membership in a denomination, I suspect the headlines announcing the death of religion would evaporate and such outfits as Pew would have to look for other ways to get into the news.  Though it wouldn't stop online atheists from lying about the numbers.

1 comment:

  1. "I also studied Theravada Buddhism which is entirely reticent on the question of the creation of the universe and God, holding those are superfluous to becoming enlightened."

    Lawrence Krause recently opined that religion was a 'precursor' to science (placing him on the cutting edge of the early 19th century). One can, as fundamentalists do, take Genesis 1 as a story about reality which cannot be gainsaid.

    But the more reasonable reading, especially of Gen 1 (more clearly so in Gen. 2, unless you believe there really was a "Garden of Eden" and a tree of forbidden fruit, a talking snake, etc.) is that it expresses the relationship between God and the cosmos, or, more properly, God and the world (the "creation").

    So, like all the scriptures (in my hermeneutic, anyway), it is about God and humanity and the rest of the world, and our relationships to each other, relationships understood both through God, and through being human, and being in and a part of, creation. What is, IMHO, superfluous to enlightenment is understanding precisely how that "creation" occurred. Gen. 1 is not about how; it is about why; and who. Who we are, who God is, and why there is something rather than nothing. But "why" in a sense which is not limited to the scientific realm.

    Just as why I like Bach and Beethoven and Anonymous 4 is not going to be found in science; and doesn't need to be.