Browsing Archives for September 2010

The Country Doctor built himself a stone staircase.

It goes up a hill at the back of our property.

There is nothing back there except an old fence and the neighbor’s field.

Sometimes Dylan, the neighbor’s son uses the steps when he walks over to see Ethan.

So we call them Dylan’s steps.

A Walk on The Konza

September 30th, 2010

I went for a solitary hike on the Konza Prairie over the weekend.

Nice place to think some thoughts and get a bit o’ exercise at the same time.

I am sure by now that most internet junkies have heard about the recent Pew Forum Religious Knowledge Survey.  Last night I was trying to access the site and it was down for hours.  When I googled it I noticed that it was #78 on world wide searches at the time.  That made me wonder what #1 was and then I realized that it was probably ‘Pioneer Woman Flowy Top’.  In short, the survey came back with the startling results that atheists and agnostics are the most knowledgeable about religious matters.

Since I couldn’t get on the Pew Forum site to read the results first hand, I spent a bit of time reading other people’s commentary about the survey.  I found a few interesting opinions.  Conservative columnist Cal Thomas had this to say about the ignorance of American Christians regarding their own faith…

Forgetting God produces not only eternal consequences, but earthly ones as well. Moses warned about forgetting God and when ancient Israel did, she was conquered by her enemies. New Testament writers penned similar warnings. Alexandr Solzhenitsyn concluded the major reason Russia suffered under Communism for six decades is that his people had forgotten God. Abraham Lincoln blamed the Civil War on a nation that had forgotten God “and the hand that graciously preserved us.”

Talk about propogating paranoia!  According to Cal, we are not only going to hell for our lack of religious zeal,but it is also going to destroy our country!  Oh I beg to differ Mr. Thomas.  It’s religion that destroys and logic and science that rebuilds the resulting catastrophe.

This much more meaningful response came from Clarence Page a columnist for the Chicago Tribune regarding what he felt were problems with the content of the survey…

But what really dropped my jaw with surprise were the two lowest-performing groups: Black Protestants (13.4 percent) and Hispanic Catholic (11.6 percent).

What? Having grown up in the black church since before I could walk, I think maybe the pollsters were asking the wrong questions.

I would not be surprised, for example, if quite a few black folks thought “Martin Luther” was a reference to a great American civil rights leader, not the German priest and professor who initiated the Protestant Reformation.

And I didn’t learn until I went to college that the Dalai Lama is Buddhist, that Jonathan Edwards participated in the Great Awakening, that Maimonides was a great Jewish leader. Fewer than a third of the people polled by Pew got those last two right.

Maybe black church products like me would have scored better with questions like this:

1. How is Thomas A. Dorsey most often remembered by cultural historians?

2. What do the initials in the A.M.E. Church stand for?

3. What is America’s largest black religious denomination?

4. What do these “Negro spirituals” have in common: “Steal Away,” “Wade in the Water” and “Follow the Drinking Gourd.”

Page raises some valid points in his protest of the survey.  Every religion has it’s own cache of pertinent factoids.  I am sure that there are cultural figures in the Hispanic Catholic church of whom I have never heard, so why should a Hispanic Catholic be able to identify John Wesley?  And like Page stated, I have no idea who Thomas A. Dorsey is, but I sure could give you a synopsis on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  I wonder if the Pew Survey was broad enough to truly include the specialized knowledge that each religious group has.

When I finally did manage to access the Pew Forum Religious Survey site, I took this test which is a short version of the larger survey that was given to a random sampling of Americans this summer.  As mentioned previously (but let me just grind it in a bit) the results clearly depict atheists and agnositcs as having the most religious knowledge in the general population.  Jews come in second, Mormons third and white evangelical protestants totally drop the ball at a distant number four.  You can see all the results here.

The funny quote that I keep reading as a result of this survey is…

If you want to know about God – ask an atheist.

Ha har ha hee ho hee ho har har hee hee har har HO!

Of course there are all sorts of reasons why Atheists might do better in a survey like this.


One – to get the answers right you need a broad knowledge of religion and not be a specialist in the minutia of the book of Second Peter.

Two – People with more education tend to have less religion and more education means better Trivial Pursuit skills.

Three – Atheists are frequently people who left religion because they understood it very well.

In all my recent reading on atheism and the problems with Christianity, one of my very favorite quotes comes from one of Richard Dawkins’ books where he recounts the story of Evelyn Waugh bribing Winston Churchill’s son to read the bible with unexpected results…

In the late stages of the Second World War, Evelyn Waugh was trapped in Europe in the company of Randolph Churchill, the boorish son of the wartime prime minister. “In the hope of keeping him quiet,” he wrote to Nancy Mitford, “Freddie and I bet him £20 that he cannot read the whole Bible in a fortnight. Unhappily it has not had the result we hoped. He has never read any of it before and is hideously excited; keeps reading quotations aloud… or merely slapping his side & chortling ‘God, isn’t God a shit!’.”

I just love that response.

God!  Isn’t God a shit!

It really is the only way to properly respond to the bible.  I wonder if we will ever, as a race be able to view it as the hideous relic that it truly is.

In other news…

Someone sent me a link to this spectacular post which has gone viral in the past few days with over 1,000 comments.  And he didn’t even have to give away a mixer!  The post discusses our ridiculous pursuit of perfection and the damage that results.  I especially see the results of the ‘perfection disease’ in the world of mommy blogging.  Seems like everyone wants their lives to look like the cover of a Martha Stewart magazine.  I struggle with this every single time I sit down and try to write.  How much truth do I really tell?  Where do I draw the line?  What is the balance between writing for an audience, keeping an audience’s attention, entertaining an audience and delivering an authentic version of your life.

On the other hand – sometimes I think that if everyone told the truth about their lives, my favorite writers would be out of business.  I love David Sedaris because he is so honest and frequently shocking with the confessions he is willing to make in his books.  Tim Gunn, Ayelet Waldman and Julia Child are three authors I have read recently who struck me as very truthful for their willingness to reveal painful things about themselves.  But how much of that revealing is calculated?  How much of it is tested in the market prior to being released in book form? Has it all been engineered to perfect palatability prior to reaching the general public? Dooce knows she has to drop the F bomb in every third post to keep the kiddos reading.  PW knows that her audience drools over big heads with fuzzy backgrounds.  Have Sedaris’s people figured out exactly how shocking he can be and still be salable?  Did Ayelet Waldman’s publisher understand that her willingness to confess to aborting a child with genetic defects was the most marketable statement she could possibly make?  Or are they all still scarily risking something for the sake of telling the truth?

Do I go on?

Do I tell you about how much confessing to be an atheist has cost me personally?

Do I tell you about the friends I have lost, the family members who won’t speak to me, the alienation I feel whenever I see a member of my former church?  A few months ago I attempted to ‘friend’ someone from my former church on facebook.  Someone who I thought would surely still want to have a relationship with me in spite of our philosophical differences.  Someone who I truly loved when I was a part of the church and still love today.  My ‘friending’ was ignored.  I feel like the town leper.

‘Tis okay.

I still have a good life.

I have friends (though far fewer these days).  I have my own little family.  But there is a cost folks.  A real cost.  A real, painful, pound of flesh cost to renouncing your faith in a public way in a religious family and small town middle America.

A few months ago a man wrote to me seeking advice on how to tell his devout Christian wife that he no longer believed in God.  I told him that unless he was willing to pay heavily or his wife was an extraordinarily accepting human being – to skip it.  I could never counsel someone to reveal their atheism at this point in my life.  I know far too well what you can lose.  Tis better to spend the rest of your days pretending to believe like Mother Theresa did or maybe edge away from religion slowly and stealthily and never tell anyone why.

It turns out that the deep deep love of Jesus that all those Christians sing about???

It’s just a chorus in a song.