In a world dominated by magical thinking, superstition and misinformation, give yourself the benefit of doubt. This is one skeptic's view of the Universe; natural wonders and supernatural blunders.

"Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure."

-George Carlin

“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed”.

-Albert Einstein

“Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense.”

-Carl Sagan

The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species. It may be a long farewell, but it has begun and, like all farewells, should not be protracted.

-Christopher Hitchens

 

America’s Christian conservatives ponder a ‘Babylonian exile’

…the culture war descendants of those Puritans are feeling increasingly alienated and even persecuted in the society they once claimed as their own. They’re shifting to another favorite image from Scripture — that of the Babylonian exile, preparing, as the ancient Judeans did, to preserve their faith in a hostile world….

….Rampant secularism and widespread acceptance of sexual mores once deemed taboo, Trueman said, mean that “the Western public square is no longer a place where Christians feel they belong with any degree of comfort.”

Trueman was so convinced of that reality that he didn’t argue whether internal exile was an option. Instead, he wondered which form of Christianity was best equipped to survive this inevitable relocation.

His answer, perhaps not surprisingly, was that his own Reformed Protestantism was superior. That prompted a number of well-known Christian commentators to weigh in and champion their particular denomination…

…Yet others see all this talk as indulging in what Alan Noble called the “Evangelical Persecution Complex.” Writing this month in The Atlantic, Noble, an assistant professor of English at Oklahoma Baptist University, defined that complex as the temptation “to interpret personal experiences and news events as signs of oppression, which are ostensibly validations of our commitment to Christ.”

In The Christian Century, the flagship magazine of liberal mainline Protestantism, Lutheran pastor Benjamin Dueholm also weighed in, echoing Noble’s criticism and calling the exile idea “a dubious and highly troubling premise” because it “trivializes” the experience of real exile, such as Christians and religious minorities who are suffering today in actual Babylon, or what we call Iraq.

“Nothing in the experience of white American Christianity bears the slightest resemblance (to that), and it is unlikely that anything will any time soon,” said Dueholm, associate pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church in Wauconda, Ill. “We still enjoy a kind of wealth, prestige, institutional heft, political clout, and legal protection that would stupefy Jesus of Nazareth.”…

Religiosity in the United States is in the midst of what might be called ‘The Great Decline.’ Previous declines in religion pale in comparison. Over the past fifteen years, the drop in religiosity has been twice as great as the decline of the 1960s and 1970s.

Last year brought a continuation of this decline. 2013 was a new low for the level of religiosity in the country.

How do we track this massive change in American religion? We start with information from rigorous, scientific surveys on worship service attendance, membership in congregations, prayer, and feelings toward religion. We then use a computer algorithm to track over 400 survey results over the past 60 years. The result is one measure that charts changes to religiosity through the years. (You can see all the details of the algorithm here).

The graph of this index tells the story of the rise and fall of religious activity. During the post-war, baby-booming 1950s, there was a revival of religion. Indeed, some at the time considered it a third great awakening. Then came the societal changes of the 1960s, which included a questioning of religious institutions. The resulting decline in religion stopped by the end of the 1970s, when religiosity remained steady. Over the past fifteen years, however, religion has once again declined. But this decline is much sharper than the decline of 1960s and 1970s. Church attendance and prayer is less frequent. The number of people with no religion is growing. Fewer people say that religion is an important part of their lives.

Religiosity in the United States is in the midst of what might be called ‘The Great Decline.’ Previous declines in religion pale in comparison. Over the past fifteen years, the drop in religiosity has been twice as great as the decline of the 1960s and 1970s.

Last year brought a continuation of this decline. 2013 was a new low for the level of religiosity in the country.

How do we track this massive change in American religion? We start with information from rigorous, scientific surveys on worship service attendance, membership in congregations, prayer, and feelings toward religion. We then use a computer algorithm to track over 400 survey results over the past 60 years. The result is one measure that charts changes to religiosity through the years. (You can see all the details of the algorithm here).

The graph of this index tells the story of the rise and fall of religious activity. During the post-war, baby-booming 1950s, there was a revival of religion. Indeed, some at the time considered it a third great awakening. Then came the societal changes of the 1960s, which included a questioning of religious institutions. The resulting decline in religion stopped by the end of the 1970s, when religiosity remained steady. Over the past fifteen years, however, religion has once again declined. But this decline is much sharper than the decline of 1960s and 1970s. Church attendance and prayer is less frequent. The number of people with no religion is growing. Fewer people say that religion is an important part of their lives.

Porky Pig recites the Pledge of Allegiance before “under god” was added to it.

The ‘under god’ part of the pledge is younger than Looney Toons.

The peculiar history of the Pledge of Allegiance


(CNN) — Seventy one years ago — December 22, 1942 — Congress got the United States out of what had turned into an unexpectedly embarrassing situation.

It concerned the Pledge of Allegiance — specifically, something called the Bellamy Salute.

Most people today have likely never heard of it, but the Bellamy Salute was once a constant part of the country’s life.

Until 1892, there was no such thing as a Pledge of Allegiance.

Daniel Sharp Ford, the owner of a magazine called Youth’s Companion, was on a crusade to put American flags in every school in the country. He sensed that the U.S. needed a boost of patriotism. Keep in mind: Not even 30 years before, the Civil War had still been raging. National unity was a fragile concept.

As part of the campaign, Sharp gave an assignment to a member of his staff: Francis J. Bellamy, who was an author, a minister and an advocate of the tenets of Christian socialism. Sharp asked Bellamy to compose a Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. Bellamy wrote it, and it was published in the magazine.

It didn’t take long for the Pledge to become wildly popular, even omnipresent. At schools, at campgrounds, at public gatherings, in Congress, people routinely faced the flag and pledged their allegiance to it.

Because, inherently, there is something physically awkward about people simply standing in place, their arms hanging limply by their sides, staring at a flag and reciting a pledge, it was decided that devising a salute would be appropriate.

Instructions for carrying out the salute were printed in the pages of Youth’s Companion. The gesture came to be called the Bellamy Salute, in honor of the Pledge’s author.

The Bellamy Salute consisted of each person — man, woman or child — extending his or her right arm straight forward, angling slightly upward, fingers pointing directly ahead.

With their right arms aiming stiffly toward the flag, they recited: “I pledge allegiance…”

For a while, the salute wasn’t especially controversial.

But, as World War II was forming in Europe, and Italians and Germans began saluting Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler with extended-armed “Heil Hitler!”-style gestures…

Well, perhaps you can see the problem.

Continue

The bias against science is part of being a pioneer society. You somehow feel the city life is decadent. American history is full of fables of the noble virtuous farmer and the vicious city slicker. The city slicker is an automatic villain. Unfortunately, such stereotypes can do damage. A noble ignoramus is not necessarily what the country needs.

Sun Revolves Around Earth According to 1 in 4 Americans

According to The National Science Foundation, one in four Americans believe the sun revolves around the earth. The results were released from a 2012 survey whereby 2,000 people were asked various science questions. After analysis of the survey was completed, researchers concluded that 26 percent of Americans don’t know the basic rules of our solar system. Scientists describe the statistics as “frightening” and believe it emphasizes the importance of increasing funding in science programs in American schools.

These weren’t the only surprising findings, as the survey also found that 48 percent of those questioned believed that humans evolved from an earlier species of animals, relating to the evolution vs. creationism debate. Creationism and criticisms of evolution are still taught in some schools in America. It was noted that almost all public schools in America taught creationism until the late 19th century, and it is still hotly debated today on whether it should still be taught in classrooms. Another question in the survey was whether antibiotics kill viruses; 51 percent answered that no they do not. While this questions may not have to do with the knowledge of the earth revolving around the sun, it does means that half of the sample do not know the difference between viruses and bacteria or rather they simply do not know about one of the most common prescription medications used today. When questioned about how the universe began, 39 percent believed that the universe began from a massive explosion. The other 60 percent do not believe this, and while the survey did not divulge into what other answers they may have for how the universe came to be, it was estimated by a Gallop Poll that 46 percent of Americans believe in creationism. The survey also noted that less than 65 percent of Americans were aware that it is the father’s gene that determines the sex of the child – again, this is a basic biological fact that many would think most of the population should know…

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.

Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814

(Source: nobeliefs.com)

Religion in America’s states and counties, in 6 maps

It goes without saying that religion is big in America. It played a starring role in the founding of the nation and continues to be the source of policy fights. Just this week, a group of Satanists launched a donation drive to erect a monument on Oklahoma’s Capitol grounds, in what some see as a test of the nation’s religious freedoms.

But religion influences local governments in less sensational ways. Some 21 states, for example, are requiring insurers under the federal health-care law to provide exemptions from contraception coverage for employers that object on religious or other grounds, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And 13 states in recent years have banned abortions past 20 weeks, a move influenced at least in part by religious views of when life begins. (Albuquerque, N.M., recently defeated a similar effort.)

With what is arguably the most widely observed holiday of the nation’s most popular religion right around the corner, now seems as good a time as any to look at the state of religion in America’s states and counties. All six of the maps and data below—which depict religious popularity, diversity and adherents—come from the “2010 U.S. Religion Census: Religious Congregations & Membership Study,” an every-decade research effort sponsored by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, which gathers statistics for religious groups or scholars interested in such…

atlasobscura:

The Lake Monsters of America

People love to fill in mysterious areas of nature with myths of monsters. Early maps had voids of knowledge marked with warnings that “Here be Dragons,”sasquatches are believed to be prowling the thick forests, and legends tell of strange creatures that might be concealed beneath the surface of our lakes. Here we present our map of American lake monsters (view it large here), showing the spread of cryptids that might be lurking in the depths of the waters of the United States.

You’ll see a good share of serpent-like animals of the Loch Ness Monsters variety, such as Isabella of Bear Lake in Idaho who was spotted by a Mormon pioneer in the 19th century and even had Brigham Young himself send a hunting party after the possible plesiosaur. There’s also the famed Champ of Lake Champlain, possibly the most famous of American lake monsters, and the Lake Dillon monster in Wyoming that some think is being suppressed by a secret society. However, that’s just where the fun of this fauna folklore begins, as there are also legends of monolithic turtles, webbed hominids, a goat man, a winged alligator snake, a horse-headed alligator, a giant killer octopus, and an eel with a pig head. Just for kicks, we’ve included some illustrations of the more curious entities on our Lake Monsters of America map.

For more in-depth assessments of the most curious of the bunch, keep reading The Lake Monsters of America on Atlas Obscura!

mariavontraphouse:

queennubian:

so-treu:


Pennsylvania Judge Sentenced For 28 Years For Selling Kids to the Prison System
Mark Ciavarella Jr, a 61-year old former judge in Pennsylvania, has been sentenced to nearly 30 years in prison for literally selling young juveniles for cash. He was convicted of accepting money in exchange for incarcerating thousands of adults and children into a prison facility owned by a developer who was paying him under the table. The kickbacks amounted to more than $1 million.The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has overturned some 4,000 convictions issued by him between 2003 and 2008, claiming he violated the constitutional rights of the juveniles – including the right to legal counsel and the right to intelligently enter a plea. Some of the juveniles he sentenced were as young as 10-years old.Ciavarella was convicted of 12 counts, including racketeering, money laundering, mail fraud and tax evasion. He was also ordered to repay $1.2 million in restitution.His “kids for cash” program has revealed that corruption is indeed within the prison system, mostly driven by the growth in private prisons seeking profits by any means necessary.

#afterlifeofslavery

Put him under the jail.

Ok but what abovet the company that benefited from these people being locked up?

mariavontraphouse:

queennubian:

so-treu:

Pennsylvania Judge Sentenced For 28 Years For Selling Kids to the Prison System

Mark Ciavarella Jr, a 61-year old former judge in Pennsylvania, has been sentenced to nearly 30 years in prison for literally selling young juveniles for cash. He was convicted of accepting money in exchange for incarcerating thousands of adults and children into a prison facility owned by a developer who was paying him under the table. The kickbacks amounted to more than $1 million.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has overturned some 4,000 convictions issued by him between 2003 and 2008, claiming he violated the constitutional rights of the juveniles – including the right to legal counsel and the right to intelligently enter a plea. Some of the juveniles he sentenced were as young as 10-years old.

Ciavarella was convicted of 12 counts, including racketeering, money laundering, mail fraud and tax evasion. He was also ordered to repay $1.2 million in restitution.

His “kids for cash” program has revealed that corruption is indeed within the prison system, mostly driven by the growth in private prisons seeking profits by any means necessary.

#afterlifeofslavery

Put him under the jail.

Ok but what abovet the company that benefited from these people being locked up?

(Source: thefreelioness)