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I'm working on other books these days. While I'll still update this blog as time allows, more frequent updates can be found at my personal site, joelgrus.com.

Apparently, religious people don’t know that much about religion:

In fact, although the United States is one of the most religious developed countries in the world, most Americans scored 50 percent or less on a quiz measuring knowledge of the Bible, world religions and what the Constitution says about religion in public life.

Atheists do a little bit better, in large part (I assume) because a lot of the questions are things you’d know from reading Your Religion Is False. And, in fairness to the religious folks, a lot of the things on the test are sort of obscure, like Maimonides and Indonesia and the Ten Commandments.

I’m most perplexed* by the following result:

Barely half of all Catholics know that when they take communion, the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ, according to Catholic doctrine.

You’d think they’d figure that one out just from the taste and texture.

* That’s a Maimonides joke. Har har.

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Converts are the Worst

Over at the other blog:

Converts are the Worst

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In case you don’t follow my other blog, there’s a post over there you should read.

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Mormons, in case you didn’t read the pamphlets at the latest Glenn Beck rally, like to cast magic spells on you after you die. And not the good kind of magic spells, like the ones that use horcruxes to bring you back to life in a creepy noseless body. No, their spells are intended to turn you posthumously Mormon, at which point, um, well, nothing, I guess. If you weren’t a Mormon when you were alive, then presumably you don’t believe in Mormonism, and so probably also you don’t believe that Mormon magic spells actually do anything, in which case it’s hard to see why you’d care.

Nonetheless, a group representing Holocaust victims found the practice utterly objectionable, arguing, um, well, … ? OK, I’m not really sure what their argument was, although I imagine it involved the Holocaust somehow, and maybe magic or Mormonism or golden plates or plural marriage or something. Anyway, the upshot is that about 15 years ago the Mormons agreed not to cast any more spells on Holocaust victims, except (of course) for those with living Mormon descendants, since, um, err, well, I’m not sure why that makes a difference, but just accept that it does.

Anyway, “database monitoring” by the NSA revealed that the Mormons were in fact continuing to cast magic spells on Holocaust victims, but (luckily) a crack team of magicians and database engineers have fixed the problem:

The Mormon church says it has changed its genealogical database to better prevent the names of Jews [sic] Holocaust victims from being submitted for posthumous baptism by proxy.

In a joint statement issued Wednesday, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a coalition of Jewish leaders said a new computer system and policy changes related to the practice should resolve a years long disagreement over the baptisms.

Finally, the Holocaust victims can, um, something?

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I’m not sure if you’ve been following the congressional debates on immigration reform, but they’re quite interesting. Both sides have pretty good arguments. For instance, the pro-immigration-reform forces make a powerful case:

Southern Baptists respect and strongly support upholding America’s laws, [Southern Baptist leader Richard Land] said, but they “also recognize a biblical mandate to care for ‘the least of these among us’ (Matthew 25:34-40), to care for the ‘strangers’ who reside in our land (Leviticus 19:34; Hebrews 13:2) and to act justly and mercifully (Micah 6:8),” Land told the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law.

If I understand him correctly, he’s saying that while Baptists “support” upholding the law, they’re also eager to change the laws so that they more closely concord with the ideas in Bible books like Matthew and Leviticus and Micah.

(This also helps explain why they won’t ever shut up about the “Linen and Woolen Act of 2008.)

Now, apparently Biblical arguments are not uncommon in the HJSICRBSIL, as those opposed to reform also used them:

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, read a quote from Romans 13:1-7 that crystallized the argument for enhanced border security and strict enforcement of existing federal immigration laws: “Let every person be subject to governing authorities.”

“I suspect we will hear today that it is somehow immoral or unethical to enforce our nation’s laws and that we should ignore our laws,” Smith said. “For those who want to take this approach, there is just one problem: the Bible contains numerous passages that support the rule of law.”

If this is truly Smith’s philosophy, I guess this means that his Bible supports copyright maximalism, the PATRIOT Act, and criminalizing non-violent marijuana users.

In any event, it’s hard not to be proud that a several-thousand-year-old book written by cavepeople plays such a prominent role in our public policy discourse. It appears that Smith’s wife is a faith healer, so perhaps he’ll draw on this additional expertise as the HJSICRBSIL works through the nuts and bolts of health care reform.

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Door to Door Atheists

It looks like this is pretty old, but I’d never seen it before, and it’s pretty funny:


EMBED-Door To Door Atheists Bother Mormons – Watch more free videos

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Before leaving on summer vacation to check out the new Harry Potter theme park, the Pope gave us a teaser of his autumn plans:

Pope Benedict XVI is creating a new Vatican office to fight secularization and “re-evangelize” the West — a tacit acknowledgment that his attempts to reinvigorate Christianity in Europe haven’t succeeded and need a new boost.

I like to think that I know a little something about “secularism.” In that spirit, I offer up 10 commandments suggestions to help the Pope with his, um, crusade:

10. Create colorful infographics showing that more children are molested by wicked (presumably secular) step-parents than by priests. (If anyone complains that the priests would look worse per capita, excommunicate him.)

9. Point out how “secular” referees can’t even judge whether a soccer ball goes in the goal or not, whereas the Pope is infallible.

8. Highlight how postponing retiree benefits until after death has allowed the Vatican to escape the fiscal woes plaguing its European peers.

7. Contrast between Papal support of gun control and “secular” American love of firearms ought to appeal to gun-hating weenies.

6. Start own MMA league (e.g. “CatholicForce”) and pay whatever it takes to get Brock Lesnar to join.

5. Sponsor a Judd Apatow movie starring Will Ferrell as a wacky priest, or a Michael Bay movie about robots that turn into priests. Or both!

4. Somehow convince Lady Gaga to use Catholic imagery in one of her videos.

3. Announce a ban on Your Religion Is False. (It could really help with sales!)

2. Reverse the Church’s position on masturbation. (That doesn’t just mean “use the other hand,” although I guess it could.)

1. Abandon mysticism and superstition, embrace science and reason.

They’re yours to use if you want them!

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21st Century Religion Apps

I was pretty excited when I saw an article about how apps are bringing religion into the 21st century. I’m pretty familiar with the 21st century, so I imagined changes like

  • abandoning belief in “infallibility” of centuries-old, mistranslated texts
  • embracing equal rights for women
  • accepting that evolution is the best paradigm for understanding biology
  • eliminating barbaric practices like genital mutilation
  • boring church services replaced with thrilling Words with Friends sessions

Unfortunately, I then read the article, at which point I discovered that the changes would be better described as “bringing the 21st century into religion”:

There was a time when Werle carried her leather-bound and dog-eared Bible everywhere she went, scribbling in the margins as she read. These days she accesses the Word and makes her notes on her iPod Touch.

It’s practically a new Reformation!

Twerski has apps that let him read the Torah, the Talmud and the Siddur, the book of daily prayers; recite the appropriate blessings for meals depending on the food that’s served; and vet the thousands of ingredients in his work inspecting Kosher food factories around the state.

“When I used paper … I could be sitting a long time. Now, it takes me just seconds to look for an ingredient,” he said.

So basically, it’s like the 20th-century religion (which was like the 19th-century religion, the 18th-century religion, and so on) but faster!

“It goes with me everywhere,” said Daniel Johnson, president of Wisconsin Lutheran College, who uses his iPhone to access the Bible, daily devotions, Christian music and sermons. “There’s not been a time in the history of man when it’s been as convenient to focus on one’s relationship with the Lord.”

There’s also never been a time in history when it’s been as convenient to focus on the merits of belief in the “Lord.” But to do that you’d have to, um, bring religion into the 21st century.

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Pork Street Party

The “tolerance”-driven Islamicization of Europe proceeds apace, with the cancellation of the first annual “Sausage and Booze” party:

Police said the party, called “Sausage and Booze,” could have been viewed as a provocation in the Goutte-d’Or neighborhood of northern Paris, where many Muslims pray on the streets because there are not enough mosques. Alcohol and pork are forbidden by Islam and the party had been slated for just after Friday’s main Muslim weekly prayers.

This sort of “provocation” is, of course, part of living in a “free” society. You’re free to believe any number of moronic things, while the rest of us are free to mock all of your cherished supernatural beliefs. Your god hates gays? Then we’re going to be as gay as possible! Your god hates shrimp? Then it’s seafood cocktail time! Your god hates thetans? Then we’re going to put on funny “V is for Vendetta” masks and let people know about your top-secret sci-fi beliefs.

Incidentally, this is why I’m unsupportive of the various “ban the burqa” movements. In a free society, people wear what they want, and then we make fun of them for it. You’re free to put on a moronic “ABSOLUT SAVED” or “GOT CHRIST?” or “JESUS LOVES YOU BUT EVERYONE ELSE THINKS YOU’RE AN ASSHOLE” shirt (ok, the last one is actually kind of good), and we’re free to take your picture and put it on the internet with a degrading caption and post it to our “tumblr” blog and twitter about it and put it on our Facebook walls.

We’d be much better served, I maintain, by a mock the burqa movement. For instance, we could exhume Sho Kosugi and film a movie (“Pork Street Party”) about a group of ninjas who cross paths with a bunch of burqaed women, with the result being all sorts of hilarious confusion. Or what about a crime caper (“Pork Street Party’s Revenge”) involving bank robbers who use burqas as disguises but cross paths with an overbearing sheikh who thinks they’re part of his harem and drags them back to his palace? Steven Spielberg (or his non-union Mexican equivalent), call me!

Anyway, back to France. It turns out that the “Urban Affairs Minister” isn’t actually against Pork Street Parties; she’s only against this Pork Street Party:

Urban Affairs Minister Fadela Amara — who is of Algerian descent — said that she doesn’t ordinarily believe in banning street parties. “I’m for people gathering, drinking and having a laugh,” she told RTL radio. But she said it was right to ban this party because it would have been “extremely dangerous” given its ties to the far right, “and all that implies about the hatred behind it.”

Therefore, I’m sure she won’t object to the next Pork Street Party. Right?

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Unable to make up her mind about a pending “civil unions” bill, Hawaii’s governor is doing what any sensible person would do — getting advice from dueling rabbis:

Rabbis Itchel Krasnjansky and Peter Schaktman hail from different branches of Judaism and hold starkly contrasting views on whether same-sex couples should be permitted to form civil unions in Hawaii.

What they have in common is the ear of Republican Gov. Linda Lingle, who has until June 21 to announce whether she may veto the only pending civil unions legislation in the nation.

Lingle, in the final months of her second and last term, faces a momentous decision that carries political and legal implications. For the rabbis, with whom the governor has consulted on the issue, her choice is about much more.

For our benefit, both rabbis have written op-ed pieces outlining their views.

The anti-gay rabbi, for instance, wisely observes that a 12th-century Torah scholar believed that homosexuality is simply a lifestyle choice:

Whether homosexuality is a choice or a predetermined tendency. According to the famed medieval Jewish doctor and philosopher Maimonides, an early codifier of Jewish law, it is a matter of choice. And, as with all matters of free choice, one can choose to either surrender to or deny these inclinations.

Maimonides also believed that the earth was at the center of the universe, surrounded by “heavenly spheres” that are in fact “angels.” It’s too bad the rabbi couldn’t somehow work this into his argument, but you know how editors are.

The pro-gay rabbi, on the other hand, insists that ancient views of ‘gay’ sin no longer apply in today’s Hawaii:

Those who object to the bill on religious grounds tend to be literalists who justify their view by pointing to Leviticus 18. The problem is that by reading this text so literally, they completely remove this Scripture from an ancient social context that could not envision the possibility or appreciate the reality of loving same-sex relationships.

Why do ancient views of anything apply in today’s Hawaii? I can’t wait to read his next op-ed and find out.

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