Homo homini rodentius est

The Varieties of Religious Experience

Video of the late [Rev. Kenneth Hagin] leading a “Holy Laughter” Pentecostal revival meeting. A sociological goldmine. Small wonder the mainstream churches are losing members — who could compete with this?

God’s Assassin

UPDATED 12/25: New York Review of Books’ take on The God Delusion (link at end of this post).

Forty years ago, Time magazine detonated a bombshell with [a cover story] on the decline of religion in America. Caused quite a stir back in the day. Reading it today, the article is remarkable for, among other things, the contrast with the world as we know it: back then not only were lay people comparatively unreligious (they quote a Harris poll showing that though 90+ percent of respondents professed belief in God, less than a third considered themselves very religious), but theologians and leaders of mainstream churches were actively moving away from the concept of a personal God in order to fall into step with congregants. Forty years later we know how long that lasted. And yet, just recently it seems, voices of radical dissent are bubbling up. Atheists like [Sam Harris], Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins are suddenly everywhere, writing books, giving talks, appearing on television and YouTube. Following them is a phalanx of suddenly animated scientists and intellectuals decrying the dangerous effects of religious faith. The New York Times, in a [story] on a conference of scientific apostates recently held at the Salk Institute in California, quotes Nobel physicist Steven Weinberg as saying, “anything that we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done and may in the end be our greatest contribution to civilization.” Deicide is the new new thing.

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Preaching to the choir

Last week I attended another in a series of talks sponsored by the New York Public Library, this one a “debate” between professional atheist Sam Harris and Oliver McTernan, a former priest and humanitarian. Ostensibly, it was supposed to address the charges leveled against religion in Harris’s slight new book [Letter to a Christian Nation], but it never really took off. McTernan tried, repeatedly, to get Harris to respond to charges that he was as anti-pluralist as he charges religious people to be — a secular fundamentalist — but Harris wouldn’t play.

The book under discussion, a pocket-sized polemic (literally, at 5 x 7.5 inches and less than 100 pages), is hardly worthy of serious consideration. It simply rehashes ages-old atheist complaints about the inconsistencies of ancient religious texts and the disconnect between the moral protestations of conservative Christians and their immoral behavior. In it, he holds up a straw man version of Christianity — closely identified with the loonier precincts of the faith — and ridicules it.

Ho hum.

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Journalist, do no harm

Religious DoctorsThere’s a [prominent boxed story] on the front page of the Washington Post today entitled, “A Medical Crisis of Conscience”, by Rob Stein. The subtitle of the main story is “Faith Drives Some To Refuse Patients Medication or Care” and states that an increasing number of healthcare providers are refusing to offer certain controversial services, such as abortion drugs, because it conflicts with their moral and religious beliefs. The tone of the article is a little overheated, suggesting that doctors have not previously shied away from patients or situations that they found objectionable and, through careful omission of detail, makes the reader think the problem is more general in its effects than it probably is.

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A rat’s agent of grace

I stepped out of the office this morning for one of my million daily smoke breaks and had my tobacco-scented daydreams of world media conquest interrupted by a man asking for a handout. He spoke so softly I wasn’t sure at first if he had asked for the time or for money, though, living in a city, expected the latter. Within a moment of appraising his appearance I was certain and automatically put on my Tender Sympathy® face, featuring the trademark head cocked to the side which means, “I’m sorry, brother, I have nothing to give you.” He was well familiar with my reaction and shuffled off, moving very slowly. But this time I didn’t turn away, I kept looking after him.

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