Pew poll finds atheists know more about religion than believers

Not my lawyer!

The Times reports today that atheists and agnostics outperformed believers in a recent survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The survey posed a series of multiple-choice questions about the world religions, the Bible and religious history to randomly-selected respondents, only 8% of whom knew that Maimonides was Jewish. The Pew report is full of fun facts like that, including the news that 45% of Americans believe “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is one of the Ten Commandments and, from the control questions, “about six in ten Americans can name the vice president of the United States (59%) and understand that lasers do not work by focusing sound waves (60%).”

Continue reading

Hillbillies to murder South Park over made-up book

The prophet Mohammed, seen here wearing a bear costume in an episode of South Park. He's in there. He's in heaven, too.

Last week, the 200th episode of South Park reprised the show’s Super Best Friends gag, in which the primary figures of various world religions—Jesus, the Buddha, Mohammed, Vishnu, Moses, John Smith and Aquaman—serve as a crime-fighting team a la Hanna-Barbera’s Superfriends. Presumably in satire of the Jyllands-Posten debacle, Mohammed sits in the back of a moving van for most of the new episode, only to finally emerge wearing a bear suit. These expediences were to avoid the Koranic prohibition against visual depictions of the prophet, which a majority of the world’s Muslim’s consider blasphemy. Even though the use of the bear suit clearly satisfies the laws set down for the authors of the Koran by the creator of the universe sixteen centuries ago in anticipation of the invention of television, frame-based computer animation and basic cable, at least one Muslim group has suggested that Trey Parker and Matt Stone should be put to death. In a message posted on, Abu Talha Al-Amrikee said, “We have to warn Matt and Trey that what they are doing is stupid and they will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh for airing this show. This is not a threat, but a warning of the reality of what will likely happen to them.” In case you’re wondering, Theo Van Gogh was the Dutch filmmaker who was stabbed to death after making a movie arguing that Islam condones violence toward women. Argument refuted: counterexample.

Continue reading

Tough week for God

Now that kids in Texas can learn about evolution, this guy doesn't know what the fuck he's going to do.

No two ways about it, the God of all the heavens and the Earth is having a shitty week. First of all, you try working on Sunday when all your friends are going out to get tacos and eat them by the river. Second, one of the Lord’s best messengers—okay, one of the Lord’s loudest messengers—suffered a terrible setback in Texas. I know; that’s like Wade Boggs losing a beauty contest at Fenway, but it happened. You might remember Don McLeroy, the creationist, amateur historian and Texas Board of Education member who made it his mission to expunge evolution and the New Deal from his state’s public school curricula. Despite his assurances that “if you read the latest” on Joseph McCarthy, you’ll find that he was “basically vindicated,” the voters of Texas have turned on McLeroy, nominating lobbyist Thomas Ratliff for the seat McLeroy has held since 1999. Props to The Cure for the link. It’s important to note that Ratliff’s 50.4% to 49.6% victory came in the Republican primary, and he hasn’t won the office yet. It seems likely that he’ll do okay in the generals, though, since no Democratic candidate is even running for the board seat. In a district so tilted toward conservatism, at a time when the word “lobbyist” is slightly less politically advantageous than, say, “secessionist,” Ratliff’s victory can only be seen as a referendum. I’m not saying God is hurt by any of this, but I am saying it’s raining in Missoula right now.

Continue reading

Times reports absurd difficulty of leaving Scientology

Protestors outside a Scientology center in the UK. According to the church, Xenu was the leader of the Galactic Confederacy, who brought billions of his subjects to Earth in order to kill them with hydrogen bombs; their lingering essences collect on modern-day humans, causing psychological and physical illnesses. Dude, I know.

The New York Times ran a fascinating article about the Church of Scientology this weekend, detailing accusations of abusive practices by church officials and, more interestingly, the “kafkaesque” difficulty of leaving the organization. The article focuses on Chris and Christie Collbran, a married couple who were both raised as Scientologists and subsequently joined Sea Org, the religious order responsible for administering the church. The Collbrans’ personal struggles are illuminating, as is the revelation that—despite a spokesman’s assurance that church membership numbers “millions” in the US and “millions” abroad—the American Religious Identification Survey estimates there are only 25,000 Scientologists in the country. What is perhaps most striking about the article, though, is the realization that the Collbrans were raised in the faith. Scientology markets itself as “the only major religion founded in the 20th century,” and we tend to think of it as a fad that people get into in Los Angeles, like Trader Joe’s or hard drugs. The Collbrans and others like them are a reminder that Scientology is now in its second generation, and a portion of its adherents were raised in the truth of L. Ron Hubbard since childhood. After being paid $17 a week, forced to sign confessions, ostracized by her family and presented with a “freeloader bill” for $90,000, Christie Collbran still believes in Scientology. It’s just the church that’s corrupt, she says. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how a religion takes hold.

Continue reading