Bring a Dish to Pass

Damn, Christianity is weird:

The Feast of the Circumcision of Christ is a Christian celebration of the circumcision of Jesus in accordance with Jewish tradition, eight days (according to the Semitic and southern European calculation of intervals of days) after his birth, the occasion on which the child was formally given his name.

The circumcision of Jesus has traditionally been seen, as explained in the popular 14th century work the Golden Legend, as the first time the blood of Christ was shed, and thus the beginning of the process of the redemption of man, and a demonstration that Christ was fully human, and of his obedience to Biblical law.

The feast day appears on 1 January in the liturgical calendar of the Eastern Orthodox Church. It also appears in the pre-1960 General Roman Calendar, and is celebrated by some churches of the Anglican Communion and virtually all Lutheran churches.

Pew Poll: 25 Percent of 18-29 Year Olds Identify as Atheist / Agnostic / No Religion

American Atheists points to this Pew Poll that surveyed both old and young people in order to measure the similarities and differences in their lives. AA focuses on the stated difference between the two on the importance of religion in their lives,

Religion is a far bigger part of the lives of older adults than younger adults. Two-thirds of adults ages 65 and older say religion is very important to them, compared with just over half of those ages 30 to 49 and just 44% of those ages 18 to 29. Moreover, among adults ages 65 and above, a third (34%) say religion has grown more important to them over the course of their lives, while just 4% say it has become less important and the majority (60%) say it has stayed the same. Among those who are over 65 and report having an illness or feeling sad, the share who say that religion has become more important to them rises to 43%.

American Atheist responded to this with,

“Translation: 56% of the younger generation thinks religion is not very important. That’s more than half, folks!”

I wanted to dig into the numbers to see if that excerpt was overstating the degree of irreligion among the young, and so downloaded the full report (1mb PDF) If anything, however, the situation is even better/worse (depending on your point of view) than that excerpt lets on — significant percentages of young people classified themselves as atheists/agnostics/no religion,

Age Group % Atheists / Agnostics/ No Religion
18-29 25%
30-49 18%
50-64 13%
65+ 7%

For the 18-29 year old group, more people identified themselves as atheist/agnostic/no religion than identified themselves as Catholic. This is, of course, entirely consistent with other surveys of religious belief that have shown dramatic increases in unbelief/lack of religious affiliation over the past couple decades, but is still kind of amazing to actually see accelerate.

Pope: Condoms Make AIDS Crisis Worse

The Pope is taking a lot of heat for his idiotic comments that condoms actually make the problem of AIDS in Africa worse. An AFP report noted,

Pope Benedict XVI sparked global condemnation with his comments as he began his first visit to Africa as pontiff on Tuesday

Benedict said on the plane taking him to Cameroon that AIDS “cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems.”

Reuters had a report on Vatican efforts to defend the Pope’s comments. The basic claim seems to be that even if condoms decrease the risk of spreading AIDS by some percentage, that they increase the risk by encouraging more sexually risky behavior to begin with.

Yes, the Roman Catholic Church is essentially claiming that without the availability of condoms, people would not be engaging in risky sexual behaviors. This seems a lot like the idiotic argument used against the HPV vaccine. Yeah, before there were effective ways of preventing certain sexually transmitted diseases, nobody ever engaged in risky behaviors.

Apparently, if you aren’t risking death every time you have sex, the terrorists have won!

CFI on Baylor Study of Religiosity in America

The Center for Inquiry has a press release announcing a new report criticizing the methodology of Baylor University’s ongoing look at levels of religiosity in America, recently published in book form as What Americans Really Believe.

The CFI report, available as a PDF download here, makes a fairly persuasive case that the Baylor reports are cherry picking data to exaggerate the extent of religious belief in the United States and diminish the growing level of skepticism about the existence of God (though that does not necessarily, unfortunately, lead to atheism per se).

Baylor outsources it polling to Gallup, which has long been asking Americans about their religious beliefs, the core of the CFI argument is that there is a lot of Gallup data that directly contradicts the Baylor claims. Essentially, the report alleges that Baylor is classifying a lot of people who do not believe in God or are agnostics as religious. In the process, a lot of fascinating data about religious belief and skepticism is prevented including this amazing chart based on Gallup polls,

2001 2004 2007
Believe in God 89.70 89.91 86.29
Not Sure About God 6.83 5 7.56
Don’t Believe In God 2.69 4.25 5.84
Don’t Know 0.7 0
Adding the last three together for total atheists and agnostics 9.52 9.95 13.4

As Greg Paul, author of the CFI report argues,

Just last year, more than 13 percent of Americans told Gallup they had significant doubts about the existence of God. This is the highest level of religious skepticism recorded by the organization over six decades. Nor does any recent Gallup survey match the extremely low levels of disbelief in God reported from the 1940s into the 60s. Gallup’s data shows clearly that popular atheism has not held stable over time. On the contrary, unbelief in God was far less prevalent in the mid-twentieth century than it is today. This forces the question: How could the Baylor team be unaware of a large body of findings made by the organization that is its partner in the current survey project?

The entire report  can be downloaded here (PDF) and is well worth reading in its entirety.

A Better Way to Apologize for Holocaust Denial

This Reuters story describing a Catholic group apologizing for some Holocaust denial remarks is a bit odd,

The leader of a traditionalist Catholic movement apologized to Pope Benedict on Tuesday for remarks denying the Holocaust made by one of his members whom the pope recently rehabilitated.

Bishop Bernard Fellay also said that he had disciplined the bishop who made the statement, British-born Richard Williamson, and ordered him not to speak out again on any political or historical issues.

Williamson’s remarks on the Holocaust, most recently on Swedish TV last week, provoked widespread criticism by Jews who said he had wiped out nearly half a century of dialogue with Catholics.

Now maybe I’m missing something here, but shouldn’t Fellay be apologizing to — oh, I don’t know, maybe the Jews and other racial minorities who were the main victims of the Holocaust?

And this is not just a case of Reuters leaving something out. This is the entire text of Fellay’s statement,

Statement of His Excellency Bernard Fellay, Superior of the Fraternity of St. Pius X

We have become aware of an interview released by Bishop Richard Williamson, a member of our Fraternity of St. Pius X, to Swedish television. In this interview, he expressed himself on historical questions, and in particular on the question of the genocide against the Jews carried out by the Nazis.

It’s clear that a Catholic bishop cannot speak with ecclesiastical authority except on questions that regard faith and morals. Our Fraternity does not claim any authority on other matters. Its mission is the propagation and restoration of authentic Catholic doctrine, expressed in the dogmas of the faith. It’s for this reason that we are known, accepted and respected in the entire world.

It’s with great sadness that we recognize the extent to which the violation of this mandate has done damage to our mission. The affirmations of Bishop Williamson do not reflect in any sense the position of our Fraternity. For this reason I have prohibited him, pending any new orders, from taking any public positions on political or historical questions.

We ask the forgiveness of the Supreme Pontiff, and of all people of good will, for the dramatic consequences of this act. Because we recognize how ill-advised these declarations were, we can only look with sadness at the way in which they have directly struck our Fraternity, discrediting its mission.

This is something we cannot accept, and we declare that we will continue to preach Catholic doctrine and to administer the sacraments of grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is not a “we’re sorry we tolerate such ignorance in our midsts” apology; rather this is a “we’re sorry we embarrassed the Pope so soon after he un-excommunicated us.”

Not surprising. Fellay’s Society of St. Pius X has long been riddled with antisemitism, but, of course, that is not why it was excommunicated. That action was taken because in 1988 Fellay was ordained by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre (then head of the Society) against the wishes and permission of Pope John Paul II.

Obviously it wasn’t the anti-semitism that bothered the Church, or else they would never have rehabilitated the organization in the first place.