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Archive for September, 2008

Will Christianity Decline in the 21st Century?

 

 

 

   It is a fact that there has been a 13% decline in the number of adherents to Christianity since 1900. And, it is very likely that the Christian religion will continue to decline as society moves further into the 21st Century.

  This decline will force people to face the reality that previous explanations for how the world about us works—just doesn’t possess the influence they once did. Many people will find this upsetting, especially because their belief in a supernatural “sky God who judges you” is now being questioned like never before. As Christianity declines, many people in the religious community will believe that their values are being threatened and their influence diminishing.

   I hope that such people will understand that social change throughout history is inevitable. Given the vast diversity of American culture today, I hope that most people will see both social change and diversity as an opportunity to redefine their perceptions regarding reality, and begin to focus on a more inclusive, rather than exclusive, set of values. Many people may wonder what caused the decline in Christianity. Over the months ahead, the causes of the decline will be explored. For now, nine general causes are identified.

 

    The reasons for this decline include:

    

  • the growth of secularism
  • the influence of modern science on society
  • social changes in beliefs
  • a more global awareness of differing cultures and beliefs
  • disdain for fundamentalism at home and abroad
  • increases in educational level of the citizenry, and an increasing unwillingness to buy into naïve supernatural explanations
  • a modern information explosion in all areas of knowledge
  • a more liberalized, democratic, and less dogmatic society
  • all values were up for grabs during the 20th century

 

   Future articles will discuss various individual causes of Christianity’s decline; present a famous quote of interest, and then present supporting data. The first cause to be presented is the growth of secularism, which I have included on a separte page.   

 

 

A celibate clergy is an especially good idea, because it tends to suppress any hereditary propensity toward fanaticism. —Carl Sagan, (Astronomer and popular American Scientist, 1934-1996)

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MY STRUGGLE WITH CANCER AND ITS RELIGIOUS MEANING

 

(A Personal Journey)

 

 

Have you ever been diagnosed with a potentially fatal disease? If so, how did you deal with its uncertainty? Did you worry that you might die soon, and what was your mental attitude? Were you terrified all the time? Or did you embrace a more positive “kick-ass” attitude such as, “I’m strong and can deal with anything, including death.”

 

Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with cancer, a potentially fatal disease. For me, I chose to celebrate life and to think positively. I do not presume to know how you or anyone else would react. All I can tell you is how I coped with cancer and how I determined what, if any, meaning could be ascribed to the experience.

 

So, how did all of this come about and why did a brush with death turn into a broader journey of self-discovery and search for specific religious meaning?  Where and when did it all start?  In May of 2004 I was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Through a process involving a Sonogram, a CAT scan, and an MRI, a tumor was discovered.  It was determined that the size of the tumor was very large, about eight inches long and approximately 5 inches wide. For about one month after the diagnosis I was discomposed. I didn’t know where to turn for answers.  Did I have Stage I, or Stage IV cancer, did I have any time left or was I already terminal?

 

At the age of 61, I was facing the very real possibility that maybe I wouldn’t live much longer. I might not live to see 62. After a month of worry and researching the net for answers, I had a three hour operation to remove one of my kidneys. I stayed in the hospital for 5 days during which I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink. I was amazed to discover that no eating and no water (just lemon swabs), other than that delivered by IV, was worse than the operation itself. By the third day of recovery, I was allowed to eat ice chips. Being a middle-class American I can say unequivocally, that I hadn’t missed too many meals in my life and yet I found the ice chips to be exceptionally satisfying. The last major surgery I had, I was young and bounced back quickly. This time, recovering from a kidney cancer operation was not an overnight event and it flat out wasn’t fun.  

 

Most of my life I was not a religious person. In fact, during my undergraduate college years in the early 1960s, I was definitely in the atheist camp intellectually and heavily influenced by writers such as Eric Hoffer, Bertrand Russell, Paul Tillich, Albert Camus, and John Paul Sartre and the philosophy of existentialism. I also was influenced by the academic fields of psychology and sociology, taking my baccalaureate in the former field and a minor in the latter field of study. During most of my life, the question of religion and mortality didn’t really matter to me at all. Nevertheless, I am aware that there is a large segment of our society who firmly believes that “God” will take care of them in life and in death.  Facing the real possibility of death by cancer, I began to wonder if there was some truth to this. (Plus I didn’t want to leave anything to chance if I could do anything to influence the results.) I began attending church, listening to sermons, attending religious studies classes and reading the bible.  

 

It wasn’t until I was home recovering, and had a chance to better reflect on what had happened, that I could begin to assess what it all meant. For me, two important and significant events happened as a result of my experience. (1) I learned a lot about myself and my behavior during this crisis, and (2) I began to ask myself the same types of questions that have both perplexed and stimulated human thought since the dawn of time.

 

What I learned about myself was that I took a rather positive philosophical stance on the issue of life and death, and I found that I was mentally and physically one very tough individual. One never knows until a crisis occurs how one might react. Rather than worry about myself, I became more concerned as to how my cancer would affect my loved ones. How were they reacting to the knowledge that I had cancer? What could I do to help allay their fears and anxieties?

 

I experienced tremendous support from my family and friends. I knew realistically that cancer might take my life, but I was also determined to take a “kick-ass” attitude toward the disease. I wasn’t going to let anything prevent me from living a full and long life. Whether my attitude had any effect on the cancer, the operation or recovery, I can’t say.  But soon after the operation I learned from a barrage of blood tests, and another MRI, that there was no sign the cancer had spread. When the pathologist’s report came back two weeks after the operation I learned that my cancer was, despite the very large tumor, Stage I, treatable and highly curable. Although I had a positive philosophical stance, I was never more relieved than when I got that news.

 

Two things happened while I was recovering at home.  First, I wanted to believe that my experience with cancer had a reason or purpose.  I needed the question “Why me?” answered. And, I wanted assurance that if I died because the disease came back, and there was such a place known as heaven, I would find myself in it.  In the months ahead, I became baptized in the belief that I was going to be a follower and supporter of Jesus Christ. I attended a conservative Assemblies of God evangelical church every Sunday, enjoyed the camaraderie with my friends, thoroughly enjoyed the music, and listened to the sermons with enthusiastic interest. I was glad to be alive.

 

But, as the initial scare of having cancer receded, I began to ask myself questions. Questions such as: Was it God that helped me through this trying time?  What if it had not been a success, is there really life after death; a Heaven or Hell? How could I know?  As I looked around the cathedral, I asked myself why do so many people have a strong trust in and a belief in the existence of God and others not?

 

At this point I still had a very open mind as to the evangelical preaching of Christianity, and the belief that Christ died for our sins. And I fervently hoped there was life after death. But something was troubling me from the very start. I was uneasy in my quick acceptance of the Christian doctrines that I was now being taught. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at first.  I think my early years as an atheistic intellectual were beginning to influence my thoughts. The questions I asked myself then were once again popping up begging for answers. Gradually it became clear what was bothering me.  Where was the logic?

 

One Sunday morning I was listening to one of the sermons when the topic of evolution came up. The minister kept saying “evolution is just a theory.” Saying something that uninformed really awakened my researcher’s inquisitiveness. In fact, it really pushed my button. I was sure I knew much better than that. Evolution wasn’t just a theory but the very foundation of all biological life. It has 150 years of data across 20+ scientific disciplines. It is the most robust theory in all of science, and it describes the complex evolution of life on this planet. One would have to be completely blind to think otherwise.

 

In college I took science courses, and related methodologies, in physical anthropology, biology, calculus, physics, astronomy, and geology. But I also knew that much of my early college education in the sciences, and tools of science, was somewhat dated. My real strength and knowledge was in the twentieth century sciences of psychology and sociology.  Consequently, this wake-up call re-directed my thinking and re-kindled my innate curiosity. I soon began collecting books on science as well as religion. A researcher by career, I am not one to let important questions blow in the wind. I wanted to take responsibility for answering the questions for myself by myself. Being an intensely curious person, I began to investigate the nature of religion in general, and Christianity in particular. I read and listened and devoured knowledge wherever it was, including books, magazines, the internet, tapes and DVDs on Christianity and on Karen Armstrong’s book, The History of God.

 

I was determined to be objective and not let my emotional reaction to cancer continue to cloud my judgment. I began to question EVERYTHING in this world again like I did at age 20 or 21—all theories, facts, data, assumptions, values, and beliefs. Feeling foolish and stupid that I had allowed myself the luxury to think uncritically where religion was concerned, my appetite for analyzing and evaluating the important questions of religion versus science increased exponentially during the subsequent 2 ½ years. My voracious appetite for knowledge on religion and science had a direct impact on the tone and character of the second event in my life to come out of this experience—the writing of a non-fiction manuscript called, Trouble in Paradise: The Social and Intellectual Decline of Christianity and the Rise of Science..

 

So what conclusions have I come to during my struggle with cancer and its religious meaning? What “analytical insights” do I now have? By the way, I don’t like to use the term “belief” because beliefs are a dime a dozen and based on assumptions that lack the merit of evidence. I much prefer to use the term “analytical insight.” It too is based on assumptions, but it does carry with it the merit of logic and evidence.

 

In general, my analytical insight is that all religions, including Christianity, are cultural phenomena. My search for religious meaning and having cancer has no connection whatsoever. There is no meaning to it. Cancer is what it is, and its causes are very complex involving genetic and/or environmental factors. I really can’t personalize the experience of having cancer. Trying to derive meaning, or ascribing some sort of significance to cancer, was based on my egocentric need to believe that the physical and mental stress I endured had importance and value.

 

Once I got past this desire to connect meaning with my cancer experience, I began to use the “jeweler’s eye” to focus in on what religion and Christianity were really all about. After four years of study, and writing of the manuscript, these are my analytical insights: 

 

Up until this point I had believed in the idea of theistic evolution, i.e., the notion that religion and science need not be in conflict with one another, a position not unlike the position taken today by many mainstream protestant denominations. And, interestingly enough, this is also the position taken by the Catholic Church since Second Vatican II in 1965. Now I question my beliefs regarding theistic evolution.

 

The root of all religion goes back to Animism nearly 200,000 years ago. And monotheism grew out of the larger cultural experience of polytheism. That transition from polytheism to monotheism changed the emphasis from a spirit-centered world, reflective of many gods, to a human-centered world, reflective of just one god. Isn’t it amazing that a single god is ascribed with so many human characteristics and emotions?

 

Today, monotheism dominates the religious landscape worldwide. A human-centered world is really about culture with its never-ending collective Ego. Given human nature, I’m not surprised today that society (and the individual) puts itself at the center of the universe. Early cultures believed that the earth was at the center of the solar system , and along with it—mankind. No one back then  understood just how large the universe really was. This was what society believed for centuries before Galileo defended heliocentrism (the sun rather than the earth was at the center of the solar system) during the seventeenth century.  His defense of such a controversial theory violated biblical scripture of the times. But today heliocentrism is a widely held and accepted fact.

 

In such an egotistical social environment, culture got it wrong. God did not create man in God’s image, rather the opposite—Man created God in man’s own image. It is amazing to me that people use reason and logic all the time in their everyday lives, but somehow give religion a free pass from logical scrutiny. Many people believe in “a sky God who judges you” because they want to, not because they have personal knowledge behind supernatural hypotheses. They want to believe in an intelligently designed universe and designer. However, just ask people who have suffered from a lifetime of back problems and pain whether they think the human body was intelligently designed. My guess is you won’t find many takers with that proposition. And the concept of faith, rather than being simply reverential yearning, is really a “cop out” for not demanding evidence. Why does demanding evidence and promoting logic and reason trump belief and faith? I think the late comedian George Carlin summed it all up very well.

 

“Something is wrong here. War, disease, death, destruction, hunger, filth, poverty, torture, crime, corruption and the Ice Capades.  Something is definitely wrong. This is not good work. If this is the best God can do, I am not impressed. Results like these do not belong on the resume of a supreme being. This is the kinda (expletive) you’d expect from an office temp with a bad attitude.”

 

Please periodically return to this blog and stay tuned for future topics. One of the first to be presented soon is to answer the question, “Will Christianity decline in the 21st Century?”

 

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TURNING THE TABLES:

Media Pundits under the Microscope

 

By

 

Roy V. Lewis

 

 

   In the last week the biased media has, once again, been up to its old ploy—casting aspersions and character assassination of political figures. Their current target is Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin, the first women to be put on the Republican national ticket. While I have issues with her attitudes about religion and global warming, I like many of her other qualities such as reforming Alaska’s state government and her populist viewpoint. I am mad as hell at how the print and television media have treated her. There has been nothing fair and balanced at all.

  What the media will say— is that they are just doing their job, and exercising their first amendment rights. They hide behind the veil of the 1st Amendment, claiming to be doing what they do for the public’s interest. The phoniness and hypocrisy behind those claims is very apparent. They don’t exercise the 1st Amendment for our benefit; they do it for their benefit. This includes ratings, control of the sound bite messages they want to convey, their freedom to engage in wild speculation without the benefit of facts, and network editorial control over what is said on television.

   Magazines and newspapers are also part of the problem. They exercise great editorial control, and decision-making, over what its writers and contributors have to say. What part of free speech is that? What really needs to happen is for a spotlight to be shined on the media itself. How many stories have you seen or heard over the years where the media scrutinizes itself? Damn few, I’d say. They prefer to engage in journalistic platitudes like “don’t shoot the messenger, they are only conveying information.” Problem is—they are not only conduits of information—they are the message itself. And they control that message. As a result the public is very suspicious of the media.    

  

But what really makes me irate—is the media pundit’s double standards, biased reporting, character assassination, and mindless attention to the irrelevancies of this election. I think it’s important for the reader to get an eyeful on just who some of these media pundits are. It’s time to turn the tables on them and look at their behavior and background under the microscope.

   Consequently I decided to evaluate the credibility of various pundits on television or talk radio. This included Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, the late Tim Russert, Chris Wallace, Brit Hume, Dan Abrams, Joe Scarborough, Bill Hemmer, Keith Olbermann, and Chris Matthews.

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

In doing a check on these pundits I discovered some very interesting facts, facts which bring into question theirt credibility and value. For example, when these pundits talk about military issues, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, military defense and budgets, the Surge, or a candidate’s credentials in this area, one might be more confident of the pundit’s comments if we knew something about their military experience or serving our country in uniform. I found however, that without exception, not one of these pundits named above ever served his or her country in the military. Not a single one.

   Because of  time and space I’ve limited my comments ahead to a few of the popular pundits on the major TV networks. A fair question is—what do we really know about them? At first inspection, all one can be really sure of is their relative entertainment value (or lack thereof). For example, maybe you consider Keith Olbermann’s ongoing feud with Bill O’Reilly, and Keith’s “Worst Person in the World” profiles, as entertaining.

   Or perhaps, one finds entertainment value in the belligerent ranting and raving of a Sean Hannity, or a Dan Abrams, as they articulate their own personal biased value judgments, while abusing their invited guests. Or perhaps you were enthralled with the blustery saliva-dripping, pompous ass histrionics of Chris Matthews when he interviewed Texas State Senator Kirk Watson a few months ago. All that interview accomplished was to show Matthews to be a second rate professional in a third rate profession.

  There are a few other pundits on TV or radio talk shows that need to be looked at.  These include Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity(again), Bill O’Reilly(again), Glenn Beck, Keith Olbermann (again), and Joe Scarborough. 

   What do we know about Rush Limbaugh? He is a 57 year old radio talk host, author, and popular conservative political commentator. Rush has been married and divorced three times. He dropped out of Southeast Missouri State University after two semesters. According to his mother, “he flunked everything,” including a modern ballroom dancing class. He was also unfit for military duty.

   Several groups have questioned Limbaugh’s integrity and accuracy with data and information. These include: a group called FAIR, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. They alleged at least 50 different inaccuracies and distortions in Limbaugh’s commentary. Al Franklin, a liberal commentator with his own biases, questioned Limbaugh’s accuracy in handling facts by writing a satirical book (Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations) in which he questioned Limbaugh’s accuracy.

   On October 3, 2003 the National Enquirer reported that Limbaugh was being investigated for illegally obtaining the prescription drugs oxycodone and hydrocodone. Other news outlets quickly confirmed the investigation. By a 2-1 margin the Rasmussen polling organization reported Americans have an unfavorable rating of Rush Limbaugh, the highest of any public figure polled by Rasmussen.

 Other pundits don’t fair too well in terms of background. Sean Hannity, a political pundit and television and talk radio host, is real light on education, possessing only a High School Diploma from St. Pius Prepartory Seminary in Uniondale in Long Island. He was a construction worker and bartender. Hannity’s first talk show gig was in Santa Barbara, California. He was cancelled after less than a year when KCSB management charged him with discriminating against gays and lesbians after two shows. 

   Bill O’Reilly is far better educated than Limbaugh or Hannity, but he paid millions of dollars as part of a lawsuit when Andrea Mackris filed a complaint of sexual harassment against O’Reilly. Her lawsuit claimed that Mr. O’Reilly subjected her to repeated instances of sexual harassment and spoke often, and explicitly, to her about phone sex, vibrators, threesomes, masturbation, the loss of virginity, and sexual fantasies.

   Glenn Beck, a talk-radio and television host, like Hannity and O’Reilly, was raised Catholic. He too is light on formal education, and he is a self-described alcoholic and drug addict. These are all conservative pundits. 

   On the other side of the political scale is Keith Olbermann. He frequently criticizes the George W. Bush administration, John McCain and Bill O’Reilly, whom he routinely dubs the: “Worst Person in the World.” While Countdown With Keith Olbermann used to be done in a news format, it has shifted to an opinion-oriented format.

  The conservative watchdog group Media Research Center (MRC) has accused Olbermann of liberal bias. They pointed out that 29 percent of the 600 recipients of the “World’s Worst” recipients were people who fit their definition of conservative, versus 4 percent they described as liberal.

   Another pundit is Joe Scarborough. He once was accused of being involved in the death of his assistant, Lori Klausutis who died of a head injury in Scarborough’s Fort Walton Beach Office. Accusations flied afterward that Scarborough had been involved in her death, especially by filmmaker Michael Moore. In fairness to Scarborough, he was in his Washington D.C. office at the time of Klausutis’ death.

   In a democratic society we are asked to vote for just one candidate for president. It can work no other way. But voting is more than mere process—it is critical evaluation of the strengths and weakness of each candidate. For this independent voter, I honestly find John McCain and Barack Obama both very appealing as presidential candidates—but for different reasons. No one knows how this presidential election will turn out.

   All too often the American public fails to think beyond the labels republican or democrat, liberal or conservative by vilifying a presidential or vice-presidential candidate. Don’t muddy your thought processes by unwittingly engaging in character assassination like the pundits do. Asking good questions of the candidates in order to elicit facts that will help the public make a more informed choice this election is the right way for reporters to behave.

  But, a self-serving media with pundits of questionable integrity helps no one. The public isn’t interested in TV or print media’s self-aggrandizement, overtly promoting their own biases, incessant character assassination, or dwelling on irrelevancies related to candidates or this election. Ignore the pundits during this upcoming national election; their value as communicators of good information is extremely limited. For ways to obtain good and relevant information for election decision-making see my earlier blog last month, :Beware Pundits During Presidential Campaigns.”  

 

 

 

The facts developed in this article were obtained from biographies in online Wikipedia. 

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