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« The World According to Christian Comic Strips The RantsReiki Bullshit In Our Own Backyard »

Unwitting Christians and Other Anomalous Creatures
2004.12.11 (Sat) 13:23

After reading various posts from Pharyngula and God is for Suckers over the past few weeks, we became ever so confused. A post on God is for Suckers pointed out this collection of polls about religion, so we checked it out. There were a few tidbits of hope, a lot of things to sigh about, and a few things that flat out amazed us. We thought we were beyond being amazed by these types of polls, but apparently we were wrong.

Let's take a look at some of the poll results...

Newsweek Poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International. Dec. 2-3, 2004. N=1,009 adults nationwide.

"Now I have a few questions about the Bible. Do you believe that every word of the Bible is literally accurate -- that the events it describes actually happened, or not?"

  Yes, I Believe I Do Not Believe I Am Unsure
All Respondents 55% 38% 7%
% Evangelical Protestants 83% 12% 5%
% Other Protestants 47% 48% 5%
% Catholics 45% 46% 9%

Yes, we've seen the roughly 55% number before for literal belief in the bible. It is disheartening, but it isn't news to us. We were a little shocked to see Catholics coming in so high on this one, but it is what it is. This poll did reinforce for us that it is a relatively small group of Evangelicals that are causing most of the problems these days. Again, nothing new here.

Let's keep looking. The following statistics are from the same Newsweek poll:

"Do you think Jesus Christ was God or the Son of God, or another religious leader like Mohammed or Buddha?"
  Son of God Religious Leader Other or Neither I Am Unsure There Was No Jesus
All Respondents 82% 6% 2% 7% 3%
% Christians 91% 3% 1% 4% 1%
% Non-Christians 35% 22% 12% 19% 12%

"Do you believe the story of Christmas -- that is, the Virgin birth, the angelic proclamation to the shepherds, the Star of Bethlehem, and the Wise Men from the East -- is historically accurate, OR is a theological story written to affirm faith in Jesus Christ?"

  Historically Accurate Theological Story Unsure
All Respondents 67% 24% 9%
% Christians 75% 17% 8%
% Non-Christians 24% 59% 17%

Wait, what? As before, the numbers for all respondants and for Christians are not shocking here. However, the results for those who claim to be Non-Christians are quite shocking. 35% of those who profess themselves to be Non-Christians claim to believe that Jesus was the son of God? Hello. Newsflash, people — if you believe that Jesus was the son of God, then you are a Christian. That is basically the definition of being a Christian. What the hell do you think you are if not a Christian? We can't even fathom this...

To add to this shock, 24% of these "Non-Christians" also believe in the story of Christmas, à la Linus in "A Charlie Brown Christmas", complete with the virgin birth, the manger, the wise men, the myrrh, the star, the angels, the shepherds — all of it!! If you believe this tale is literal truth, then YOU ARE A CHRISTIAN — go find yourself a crucifix.

How the holy hell can anyone believe that Jesus was the son of God, born to Mary, the virgin, and that a star guided wise men, bearing gifts, to see him, accompanied by a heavenly host singing hallelujah, and not consider themselves to be a Christian?! If you did believe this, then to you wouldn't not considering yourself a Christian be tantamount to taking a ticket at the deli counter of Hell? In your mind, you'd just be waiting in line to take your turn at eternal damnation. It just makes no sense. Unless masochism and self-hatred are even more rampant than we thought.

The polls go on to show that most people favor a healthy mix of religion and government, but only when that religion is Christianity. So, they favor display of the Ten Commandments on government property, and "In God We Trust" on money, and tax money funding Christian charities, but they come out against displaying the Koran on government property, and tax money funding Islamic charities. As we've said before, whenever someone from the Religious Right talks about "faith-based initiatives," what they really mean is Christian initiatives. After all, those other religions are silly at best, and eville at worst. Right?

So what conclusions can we draw from these figures? Quite frankly, the only rational answer that we can come up with when we see statistics like this is that the people who gave these strange and confusing answers are complete and utter morons.

A while back, PZ Meyers over on Pharyngula was talking about an open letter he received when he was upset over similarly disheartening religious poll results. The person who wrote the letter, Timothy Burke, had several other points to make concerning the poll results that we'd like to touch on. Burke talks about reasons other than mass stupidity to explain the beliefs that these polls seem to indicate, and he makes some good points. But we think he's being too kind. To us, the bottom line has to be stupidity, lack of education, or both. Burke also tries to soften the impact of the numbers a little with the opening paragraph of his letter, which is:

...surveys of this kind are complicated by the fact that some respondents try to give the answer that they think they're supposed to give, rather than the thing they actually believe (and complicated further still by the fact that many people believe in contradictory things and feel no need to resolve the contradiction)...

However, rather than the intended effect of making the statistics seem less horrible, it made us go the other way. To us, the examples stated above are just more stupidity, plain and simple. Giving the answer that you think you are supposed to give instead of the answer that matches what you actually believe is weak-minded; which is, to us, a clear sign of stupidity. Similarly, believing in things that are so contradictory and feeling no need to resolve these contradictions shows a complete lack of critical thinking skills; which is, to us, a clear sign of stupidity. Of course, some of these results could also be a sign of lack of knowledge about the topics being polled. To us, the fact that these people didn't answer "unsure" means they went with an answer they thought they should give. See above for our discussion of weak-minded behavior.

PZ makes a point about how trying to convince the religious believers of any facts that contradict their beliefs is not likely to be met with open arms:

It’s...there in the stereotypical Red Stater, who self-identifies as someone who goes hunting, watches football on Thanksgiving, works hard for a living, goes to church on Sunday, is sure America is the greatest country on the planet, and votes Republican - it’s all part of the picture. Trying to tease apart and change one piece threatens all the rest (Watch...soccer? Are you nuts? Next you’ll be wanting to take my guns away and make me take up flower arranging.) So, when I challenge the claims of his church pastor, I’m not just criticizing some arcane issue of abstract biology, I am battling the whole dang religious edifice plus the second amendment, the NFL, and America’s primacy in world affairs.

I don’t think this is stupidity. This is the way we all work. If you want to see another example of cultural trauma that doesn’t involve caricatures of rural conservatives, picture an academic told that he has to go find work in the private sector. That’s a case of massive world-view obliteration...although I do hear rumors that they eventually adjust.

Okay, but we do see this type of behavior as stupidity. Sure we all have this same built-in mechanism that urges us to keep our own view of the world and our place in it intact, but if someone is so averse to any form of critical thinking that they shun it entirely if it runs the risk of bumming their status quo high, then how can we not consider them to be pigheaded, narrowminded, and stupid?

Although we see where Burke is trying to go with the direction his letter proposes, reigning in science and stifling scientific communication to the public isn't something we would agree with. We are more in line with PZ's response, though we think he may be giving some of these morons too much of the benefit of the doubt.

In his letter, Burke goes on to say that if we do believe that people are this stupid, there are certain ramifications.

...your hypothesis seems to be, "They are all much dumber than me"... [and] if they're dumber on one thing, how can you regard their choices on other matters as legitimate? The purity of your position here leaves you with only 13% of your countrymen as people whose intellects seem to be functioning within your acceptable parameters. That's an argument you can in fact make, but then just be willing to take on board the necessary correlates: it means any political or social system that depends on mass participation is from your perspective grossly flawed.

As much as we may not want to believe it, this is a prospect that we may have to face. The real question is what do we do about it. We're not sure that any of us can definitively answer that question...

— • —
[  Filed under: % Greatest Hits  % Religion  ]

Comments (7)

Ed, 2005.05.25 (Wed) 02:20 [Link] »

"it means any political or social system that depends on mass participation is from your perspective grossly flawed."

Yeah, that seems about right. I've more or less had it with democracy. In a perfect world, the 13% of intelligent people (and I think even that's generous...I know some atheists I wouldn't want to date my sister) would govern (benevolently) over the rest. A nation that celebrates...revels...in the fact that their leader is 'a normal guy' is unworthy of the vote. A system that depends on pandering to morons is inherently corrupt. Why the leaders of the world are chosen by people I wouldn't trust to post a letter for me is simply beyond me.

Tom from the Two Percent Company, 2005.05.26 (Thu) 10:39 [Link] »

There are some days (boy, are there some days) when we think the "rule of the intelligent" — as we call it, the gnostarchy — is the way to go, so we know what you mean. Of course, if we want to ensure that only those intelligent people who would rule benevolently would be in power, that 13% figure would be lower. Much lower.

And therein lies the problem. In the deep dark corners of our minds, we agree that democracy — as applied to human societies — is a major problem. But on the other hand, when it's not too badly abused or misused, democracy is the closest thing we've got to a truly free society. The unfortunate part is that the very elements that make democracy such a great provider of liberty and justice also make it prone to gross abuse and corruption. It's an unfortunate trade-off, that pays off nicely when we've got the right people in office, and fails miserably when we've got the wrong (cough! Bush cough!) people in office.

We do wonder, though, given the state of the political world (not just the current Republicans), combined with the reality-television-watching, education-and-intelligence-ridiculing, dumbass-embracing populace we seem to have these days, if we'll actually manage to get the right people into office any time soon.

Rockstar, 2005.08.31 (Wed) 15:36 [Link] »

Just found this rant through greatest hits. What I find funny is the fact 1% of Christians thought there was no Jesus.

Now before anyone goes off here, I know about the "plus or minus" percentage in a survey. But there must be a response registered for this to take effect. Therefore, at least one Xian in the survey said there was no Jesus. That, my friends, is fucking stupidity at it's finest.

The Two Percent Company, 2005.09.19 (Mon) 21:34 [Link] »

Apparently, stupidity knows no bounds. We can't even fathom some of the responses we've seen in polls like these. Silly Christians.

Jason Spicer, 2007.02.04 (Sun) 01:34 [Link] »

Hmm. I realize democracy is frustrating, at best, but it really is the only way to keep benevolent dictatorship from sliding into malevolent dictatorship. Yes, you generally end up muddling to the middle, and getting the government you deserve, but isn't the answer to do exactly what 2% Co, et al, are doing? Fight the good fight, stand up, speak out, educate, debate, reason things out?

Plus, keep in mind that having a "normal guy" in the White House generally excludes the truly evil fuckers (as well as the saintly geniuses). Once in a while, you have to contend with somebody like Bush, but even he seems unlikely to try to suspend the 22nd Amendment (though I don't know why--he's violated pretty much the rest of the Constitution, the Amendments, congressional law, treaty law, etc). The scariest thing about Democracy is that it can vote itself out of existence, like it did in Nazi Germany. There certainly seems to be an element that would happily do that today in America, though the 2006 election results are heartening.

You can look at the 13% number as depressing, since it's so achingly far from a majority, but it also seems to have bucked the tide of history. After all, 13% of the population being rational is a lot higher number than it's been thru most of human history. I'm not suggesting we get all Pollyanna about it, but there is lots of evidence that stupidity is curable. I was raised Baptist, but somehow that shit wore off. I can't figure out the folks that start out rational and then succumb to the woo. Just scared, I guess.

Me, I kinda like not having a cosmic hall monitor. I've got enough to contend with without worrying about what happens after I'm dead. How are you supposed to rest in peace if you think there's going to be "an accounting"? I don't even like tax season. I'm thinking the paperwork is a lot worse in the afterlife, and I'm not exactly keeping receipts...

TimmyAnn, 2007.02.04 (Sun) 02:38 [Link] »

I do think it is possible for intelligent people to believe in God. In fact, I know it's possible because my best friends believe in God and I don't associate with stupid people (unless they are coworkers and I have to). The thing is they believe on the basis of faith and they are entitled to believe that. For me, the problems come when people try to "prove" the existence of God (since that can't be done) or when they try to force others to convert to their way of thinking. I have no problem with my friends' beliefs. They don't try to force me to agree, or tell me that I am going to hell or anything. So, believing in God solely on the basis of faith is not really a problem for me as long as they know that that is what it is. They can believe there is a God as long as they admit that they have no scientific basis for it and it is just faith that they were raised with or whatever and have come to accept. I'm not saying anyone here has actually said that intelligent people can't believe in God (in fact on other rants you have specifically said otherwise), but I just wanted to say that before anyone came and started typing in all CAPS that they are intelligent and they believe in God and therefore we are all wrong to say only stupid people can have religion!! Not that this will stop them, of course, but it will give you something to point at and say, "Well, actually....." (Of course, you can always link them to relevant quotes on other threads, but I'm not sure the ones that say "intelligent people can believe stupid things" would appease them!) As for a literal interpretation of the Bible, though....yeah, it is still possible for otherwise intelligent people to believe that stuff, but it requires some deliberate leaps of faith, so to speak, and that I would have some problem with, but as long as they didn't try to impose those ideas on me, or "prove" them, I could let it slide.

Jason Spicer, 2007.02.04 (Sun) 03:37 [Link] »

Well, that's a good point, TimmyAnn. Stupidity is not exactly binary. Everybody is at least a little bit stupid, just like everybody with a healthy brain is at least a little bit smart. There are plenty of people who are by and large extremely rational, yet harbor some nonsensical beliefs.

And I certainly don't exclude myself. I'm sure there are some pretty silly beliefs lurking in the swampier corners of my mind. Perhaps a better way to think about it is whether people primarily function in the real world on the basis of rationality, empirical evidence, and reason, or on the basis of irrationality, blind faith, and magical thinking.

By that standard, the "good guys" comprise considerably more than 13% of the US population, though it's still pretty tough to gin up a majority at times. But even some of the irrationals come down on the side of practicality, even if they think of it as compromising with the devil. I'm sure there are those who think abortion is the killing of an innocent person, but who aren't willing to make a big stink of it, or have other priorities.

It is awfully tempting to use the shorthand of stupidity, though. We never really have come up with good handles for the two camps. Rationals vs irrationals? Brights vs Supers? Smart vs stupid? It's hard to reject somebody else's worldview without sounding demeaning or condescending.

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