Tuesday, February 26, 2008


(Poster by Austin Cline)

If you heard Katie Couric's report last night on the new survey of religious affiliation by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, you would be left with a very different impression of its findings than if you read the article covering it in the New York Times. The CBS News report, "Religion in the United States" (video here), shows reporter Wyatt Andrews and other commenters giving us statistics that are often in subtle contradiction to the message of the images shown.

One key finding of the report is that 84% of the 35,000 people interviewed indicated they are practicing or affiliated with a religion. Of named groups, the two highest are Evangelicals (26.4%) and Catholics (23.9%). However, two-thirds of the scenes of worship portrayed, particularly those which last more than a second or two, are of Evangelicals -- their presence dominates the impression of religion in this three-and-a-half minute clip.

Andrews also repeats the report's assertion that 23 million Catholics have left their religion to join other faiths, what they call "an amazing 10% of all American adults". Because of the context in which this statement is placed, we are left with the strong impression that Catholics are leaving to become Evangelicals, although this is not directly stated.

Andrews goes on to assert that many Catholics leave their church in search of a denomination with "fewer rules". However, when a woman who is a former Catholic is asked why she switched faiths, she doesn't mention rules at all; she says she finds her new faith "more joyful", opening her "arms and heart". This is another Evangelical code phrase, successfully distracting us from the reality that Evangelical faiths have just as many "rules" as Catholics.

A very significant finding of the study is given fair emphasis in the television coverage, which is that the loss of native-born Catholics has been completely compensated for by immigration to the U.S. of Catholics from elsewhere, overwhelmingly Mexico and Latin America. One of the report's authors states "Immigration is reinforcing the generally Christian make-up of America." Gee, you really don't get that idea from the anti-immigration rhetoric, do you?

The third key finding is that 44% of those who claim affiliation with a religion state it is not the religion in which they were raised. The Times article indicates this includes "shifts among Protestant denominations", labeling it "a highly fluid and diverse national religious life". Well, if you limit it to Christianity, that is.

Left out of the TV report but in the Times article is the fact that "the group that had the greatest net gain was the unaffiliated. More than 16 percent of American adults say they are not part of any organized faith, which makes the unaffiliated the country’s fourth largest 'religious group.'" The Times identifies this 16% as "largely under 50 and male. Nearly one-in-five men say they have no formal religious affiliation, compared with roughly 13 percent of women."

Also not in the TV report -- in fact, in seeming contradiction to their imagery -- is the survey's finding as reported by the Times that "Protestantism has been declining...In the 1970s, Protestants accounted for about two-thirds of the population. The Pew survey found they now make up about 51 percent. Evangelical Christians account for a slim majority of Protestants, and those who leave one evangelical denomination usually move to another, rather than to mainline churches."

The lessons to be drawn from this study are complex and enormously useful. Here's a few I can see immediately:

(1) The rhetoric that America has become or is becoming "secular" and "amoral" as linked to religiosity must be contradicted in every arena. If amorality is on the rise, it is being spread by religious people.

(2) The fact that America's Christianity is being reinforced by Latin American immigration should be highlighted, with the addition that "Anyone who lies to you about this is coming from a perspective of religious intolerance, in which their particular faith is considered the only 'real' Christianity and all others must be eliminated."

(3) One out of six people (one out of five men) don't want to be boxed into an organized faith. These "independents" should be recognized by progressives instead of falsely counted by the Evangelical Right as part of their constituency. They are not atheists, but they are not necessarily part of the Right, either.

(4) The decline of Protestantism should be mentioned as motivation for the Evangelical War on Other Faiths, which is covert and needs to be unroofed. Since 44% of those who are religious have switched from another faith, reclaiming religious tolerance as part of liberal values will be key to stopping Evangelical claims of persecution when they are not given free rein to persecute non-Evangelicals. This will also help illuminate the reality that the Christian Right is engaged in an effort to exterminate Islam.

(Igor 1987, photo by Philip-Lorca diCorcia)

I've just discovered Big Think, so I can't give you a comprehensive impression yet, but I still wanted to tell you about it so you can explore it with me. From their FAQ:

"bigthink.com is a new and growing website, currently in its beta version, with a simple mission:

"This is a digital age, one in which a wealth of accessible information empowers you, the citizen-consumer. But where is the information coming from? How accurate and unprocessed is it, really? Ask yourself this: how empowered do you feel debating a television screen or a newspaper?

"Our task is to move the discussion away from talking heads and talking points, and give it back to you. That is Big Think's mission. In practice, this means that our information is truly interactive. When you log onto our site, you can access hundreds of hours of direct, unfiltered interviews with today's leading thinkers, movers and shakers. You can search them by question or by topic, and, best of all, respond in kind. Upload a video in which you take on Senator Ted Kennedy's views on immigration; post a slideshow of your trip to China that supports David Dollar's assertion that pollution in China is a major threat; or answer with plain old fashioned text. You can respond to the interviewee, respond to a responder or heck, throw your own question or idea into the ring.

"Big Think is yours. We are what you think."

(Jongo image from Raízes da Tradição)

There's a great article by Elizabeth Dwoskin in the Utne Reader about Slave Songs in Brazil and the work of a Brazilian government program called Griô Action to preserve the cultural past of former slaves there. At the site linked above is a video by Dwoskin which shows jongo, described by the article thus: "Afro-Brazilians used jongo to honor their ancestors, to sing of the pangs of slavery, and even, researchers say, to communicate with one another in a code their overseers couldn’t understand. With its innuendo-inflected storytelling, its call-and-response lyrics, and its competitive yet playful pairings of encircled dancers, jongo is seen by folklorists as a great-grandparent of the treasured samba."

Also at Utne Reader is Shame on US, an article by Hannah Lobel on "how an obsession with obesity turned fat into a moral failing". This is a must-read, but here's a couple of paragraphs for you:

"We are obsessed with obesity. We have become hysterical. Yes, people have gotten a bit heavier, but we’re not committing mass suicide by doughnuts. The once ubiquitous mantra that 'overweight' Americans have higher mortality rates than the 'normals' has been debunked in the pages of the Journal of the American Medical Association. And the standards that peg some 66 percent of us as overweight or obese are not only arbitrary, they’ve shifted: Some 31 million people became overweight in 1997 when the top end of the body mass index’s 'overweight' category was lowered from 27 to 25.

"If the problem of obesity is overstated, the solution—self-willed weight loss—is science fiction. As recent studies have shown, to abandon the ranks of the overweight or obese, an American must achieve some Herculean combination of the following: overcome a genetically predisposed weight; starve through the hunger that naturally stems from exercise; resist the savvy marketing cues that trick us into consuming ever larger portions; and move into a better neighborhood, one with access to fresh foods, fewer fast food joints, and safer sidewalks."

Here's a couple of recommends from Liza Cowan. The first is 3 Quarks Daily which hopes to "present interesting items from around the web on a daily basis, in the areas of science, design, literature, current affairs, art, and anything else we deem inherently fascinating." They deliver. I especially enjoyed "The Continuity Wars" by Frans B. M. de Waal about scientific comparison of human brains to that of other animals; the mini-biography of Maya Angelou; and the article about whether keeping options open is functional or dysfunctional, "The Advantages of Closing a Few Doors."

Her second find is BloggingHeads.TV, which is described by one source as "a lot of charmingly wonky people having all sorts of lively, policy-diatribe-infused discussions about the issues of the day". Using split-screen streaming videos featuring two people in remote locations, BloggingHeads is punditry that is still dominated by white boys, but you can scroll down the page and find alternatives, something not available on TV.

(Listen to the revolutionary granny telling stories / Ting geming lao mama jiang gushi, poster from 1965)

There are only four more days to get your entries in, sisters, to the Women’s History Month Blog Carnival. Their call states:

Come Together: Healing Tensions among Women Working for Equality
What Tami Said and Women’s Space are partnering to host a blog carnival to encourage a dialogue between all women committed to gender equality.
Dates: March 1 through March 31
Theme: Come Together–Healing Tensions Among Women
Working for Equality

We are accepting essays, poetry, photographic essays, art, You Tube presentations, short fiction and other creative expressions designed to strengthen the bonds among women and heal rifts caused by historic and current conflicts, as well as by differences in race, age and sexual orientation.

Beginning March 1, submissions will be posted alternately at What Tami Said and Women's Space, and eventually on an as-yet-to-be-developed blog dedicated to the Come Together blog carnival. We are planning to close the month with a live open discussion on Blog Talk Radio.

Submission Guidelines: Submit work no later than Feb. 28 to Tami at What Tami Said or Heart at Women's Space. We cannot guarantee on which blog your work will be posted.

Along with your submission, please include a short bio (2-3 sentences) and a link to your blog if you have one.

Women only
Feel free to voice your hurts and disappointments, but focus on solutions not attacks
No personal attacks
No hate speech
Use examples and facts to back up your statements
Contributions should reflect personal experiences or direct personal investment as opposed to the academic or theoretical. This is important: We want to hear your truth, your lived reality. This includes how you have been personally affected by conflicts over feminist politics, strategies, history and theories.

For more information, check out the post at Women's Space.

(Cat on Bike, poster by Jay Ryan)

The main result of a ten-year study of more than 4,000 Americans by researchers at the University of Minnesota's Stroke Institute in Minneapolis is that "Owning a cat could reduce your risk of a heart attack by nearly one third." Dinah says "Taik dat an SUK ON IT, huminz."

A couple of updates to previous posts:

BOOKWOMAN, Texas's only feminist bookstore, is open at its new location.
5501 North Lamar # A-105
(between North Loop and Koenig Ln.)

10am-9pm Monday-Saturday
Noon-6pm on Sunday

Across the street from the U-Haul and next door to our wonderful new neighbors at Great Hall Games.
BookWoman, serving the women's community for 30 years.

They are still fundraising to pay for the move, so if you have bucks to spare or books to buy, contact them above and do a mitzvah.


(Mary Badham as Scout Finch)

Regarding the reference to Winston County, Alabama in To Kill A Mockingbird, little gator tracked down the quote:

'Miss Caroline printed her name on the blackboard and said, “This says I am Miss Caroline Fisher. I am from North Alabama, from Winston County.” The class murmured apprehensively, should she prove to harbor her share of the peculiarities indigenous to that region. (When Alabama seceded from the Union on January 11, 1861, Winston County seceded from Alabama, and every child in Maycomb County knew it.) North Alabama was full of Liquor Interests, Big Mules, steel companies, Republicans, professors, and other persons of no background.' - To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

She meant Republicans as they used to be, the Party of Lincoln. Not the current incarnation.

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