Disingenuous Christian Proselytizing

I get a lot of emails. I try to answer all of my emails but am increasingly realizing that some of it may not be worthy of a response. For instance, a few days ago I received an email from someone claiming to have listened to a podcast I did. Here’s what he wrote:

Hi Ryan

I hope I’m not taking too much of a liberty by contacting you on this address.

I just watched your excellent four years old interview with TheThinkingAtheist which explains why a lot of people (including me) hate religion.

However, it prompts me to ask you whether or not you believe that Jesus lived two thousand years ago as described in the New Testament scriptures?

Best regards

Chris Needs

I’m not above a little praise. This individual said that my interview was excellent. Since the question seemed reasonable, I responded:

Hi Chris,

Glad you enjoyed the interview.

I tend to rely on experts whenever and wherever I can. On this issue, I side with Bart Ehrman, a Biblical Studies scholar, who has far more knowledge than I do on the topic. He suggests that there was a Jewish reformer named Jesus who lived during the 1st century C.E. who had a following. He didn’t do most of what is claimed in the New Testament and died a failed messiah. But there is sufficient extra-biblical evidence to suggest he lived; it is likely true that he did. The book I would recommend on this topic is: Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth by Bart D. Ehrman. Ehrman presents the evidence and arguments for this topic in a clear and readable way. So, the short answer is, yes, I believe there was a Jewish reformer named Jesus roughly 2,000 years ago. Was he a savior god or messiah? No. Just a failed revolutionary who was killed by the Romans.

Best,

Ryan

I was trying to be helpful and sincere. Then I got this email:

Hi Ryan

I so appreciated your quick response that I’m feeling guilty about taking so long with mine.

I’ve been carrying such a burden for you and I’ve been asking for ways to reconnect you spiritually.

Please watch this video [NOTE: I’m not providing the link, but it’s to a Christian evangelism video] and the second one in the series; let me know if you need the link.

Blessings Ryan

I look forward to meeting you one day

Chris Needs

I didn’t respond. This same individual sent another email with a link to the second video the next day.

I’m sure, at some level, Chris Needs believes he is doing the right thing. He thinks he is helping a “lost soul” come back to Jesus. But he used deception to begin the conversation. This is dishonest and disingenuous. Chris is not winning me back to Jesus by deceiving me. What he’s doing is showing me that he believes it is okay to be deceptive and dishonest in the pursuit of what he believes is a higher purpose – winning souls for Jesus. What he has actually accomplished is illustrated that he, like many other religious people, is willing to sacrifice morality for ideology.

(NOTE: His email is: chrisjneeds@gmail.com. If he emails you, be prepared for evangelism.)

 634 total views,  1 views today

A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant

On December 17th, Debi and I (along with two friends) went to the American Stage Theatre Company’s presentation of A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant. As someone who studies religion for his job, is fascinated by religion, and lives near Clearwater, FL, one of the centers of Scientology, I had high hopes.  Those hopes probably worked against this production.  Maybe it was the specific Company, maybe it was the content, but I was disappointed.  The show isn’t really clear in what it is trying to say, though it hits on some of Scientology’s more obscure teachings (e.g., Thetans and e-meters).  The focus is on L. Ron Hubbard, but it almost seems sympathetic to him at times, especially considering how odd he really was.  And since the show is supposed to be satirical, it seemed to me like it could have been much more so without being offensive, increasing laughs in the process.  Instead, the humor is mild and rare; the satire is light; and the singing was so-so.  I wasn’t impressed and neither were those who went with me.  Thanks to Groupon, we went for half price, which is good as I would have felt really bad had I paid full price for this production.

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cat problem and innate morality

Our neighbors to the east of us recently moved out (they were renting).  In the last couple of months before they moved out, we think they adopted a young cat.  They may not have and the cat may have just showed up recently, but it seemed to spend a lot of time in their yard, so we think it was their cat.  Anyway, them adopting a cat would not, in itself, be a problem except they neglected the cat.  It was left outside all the time and often wandered into our yard.  And when they moved, they didn’t take the cat with them.  Searching for food and companionship, the cat came over to our house.  Now, if you know Debi and I, you’ll know that is a problem.  We don’t hate other animals, but we’re also not fans of having animals as pets.  It’s just not our thing.  So, while I felt sorry for the cat, I wasn’t about to adopt it.  And since the ownership status of the cat was in question, the first day or so of the cat trying to sneak into our house simply annoyed me but didn’t spur me into action to try to find it a home.

However, this kind of came to a head one evening when I was watching Toren and Debi was out of town.  Toren and I were walking around the yard looking at some work we had done on the house (we just got new windows).  The cat, probably hungry and certainly longing for attention, kept trying to brush up against my legs.  I fully recognize my brutishness here, but, as I said, I’m not a pet person.  The first couple of times the cat brushed up against my leg, aside from it scaring Toren who was originally walking with me, it didn’t bother me.  But the cat got aggressive and was pushing through my legs.  On one of these attempts to brush my leg I think I stepped on one of the cats paws and, in obvious self-defense, the cat clawed my leg (I was wearing my work clothes, which means I had on thin dress socks that had no chance against the cats claws).  Now, rather than being sympathetic but mostly indifferent to the cat’s plight, I was annoyed.  I was carrying Toren and didn’t want to drop him but also didn’t want to step on the cat again and didn’t want to get scratched.  What to do?  Using my foot, I tried to push the cat away.  The cat would have none of it.  It came right back (like this cat).

I got a little more aggressive, which escalated the cat’s response, and it clawed me again.  Now I was getting angry.  I pushed the cat away with my foot a bit more fervently:

it wasn't quite this fervently, but it was fervently

It was at this point that something interesting happened: Toren started to cry.  Toren wasn’t hurt in any of this and he had no specific reason to cry from pain or anything else.  The cat hadn’t clawed him.  Why was he crying, then?  My best guess is that he felt sympathy for the cat and found my efforts to push the cat away with my foot disturbing.  My lack of sympathy for a distraught cat upset my 17 month old toddler!  Now, anyone who has had a child will know that kids at 17 months are not likely to have had advanced training in ethics or even had an intelligible conversation about the morality of human relations with other animals.  We have started teaching Toren what things are right and wrong in our house (e.g., don’t throw your cheerios; don’t play with the DVD player, etc.), but this situation was completely novel.  Toren had never been exposed to interactions between humans and cats.  He has been around a few dogs, but not many, and he had certainly never seen anyone “fervently” push a cat away with his foot.  Thus, in a completely novel situation, Toren determined that something immoral was happening and it bothered him so much he started to cry.  Fascinating!

What this means, then, is that, assuming my interpretation of this incident is correct, my 17 month old son has an innate sense of morality and found my behavior in this situation disturbing.  There is empirical evidence that this is the case (see here).  I had read about this, but never observed it in action.  Thus, this was a fascinating incident for me to observe.  This also supports the idea that morality is, at least in some people, biologically programmed.  Most humans (the exceptions being sociopaths) have at least a basic, innate sense of morality; it does not have to come from religion or philosophy!

For those interested, I eventually extricated myself from the cat and its claws, fought my way into our house (the cat tried to get in), and called animal control.  It was after hours and no one answered.  I was going to call again the next day they were open, but the cat disappeared and has not returned.

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nice story about my brother Mark

I was chatting with my Mom over IM the other day when she told me a story about my brother Mark (well, sort of).  A little background is required.  After the funeral and the internment ceremony, there was a reception at my parents church (which is right next to the cemetery).  At the reception there were blue, helium-filled balloons.  Those who went to the reception were asked to write a message to Mark on a 3×5 card and staple it to the strings attached to the balloons.  At the end of the reception they were going to let them go.  We actually missed this part of the reception as Toren came down with a fever during the reception, so we left early and took him to a clinic in Ogden.  Anyway, the balloon release took place as planned, leading up to this story:

Eugenie: You know how we let the balloons go?

Ryan: Yeah.

Eugenie: Well, the next Sunday after church – that was 4 days later – Kristen (one of Mark’s sisters-in-law) looked up on the hill where his grave is.  There was one blue balloon hovering over his grave.

The nice thing about this story is that a it’s a touching story regardless of your worldview.

 182 total views,  1 views today

On TV again – as an expert on “heaven”

I received an email from the director of PR at my university last week looking for an expert on religion to comment on a news story the local Fox affiliate was running about heaven and different conceptions of heaven.  While a religious studies scholar might have been a better option, I figured I know enough about different religions’ conceptions of heaven to comment intelligently about the subject, so I agreed to go on the air for the interview.  It aired last night.

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RE: Joys of Muslim Women – more debunking

Another relative (not my uncle this time), sent me the email below, but (I think smartly) asked me if it was accurate.  My response follows the email:

This was written by a woman born in Egypt as a Muslim.

This is not heresay, and it will scare the life out of you. Make sure you read the paragraph (in red) towards the end.

Joys of Muslim Women
by Nonie Darwish

In the Muslim faith a Muslim man can marry a child as young as 1 year old and have sexual intimacy with this child. Consummating the marriage by 9. The dowry is given to the family in exchange for the woman (who becomes his slave) and for the purchase of the private parts of the woman, to use her as a toy.

Even though a woman is abused she can not obtain a divorce. To prove rape, the woman must have (4) male witnesses. Often after a woman has been raped, she is returned to her family and the family must return the dowry. The family has the right to execute her (an honor killing) to restore the honor of the family. Husbands can beat their wives ‘at will’ and he does not have to say why he has beaten her.

The husband is permitted to have (4 wives) and a temporary wife for an hour (prostitute) at his discretion.

The Shariah Muslim law controls the private as well as the public life of the woman.

In the West World ( America ) Muslim men are starting to demand Shariah Law so the wife can not obtain a divorce and he can have full and complete control of her. It is amazing and alarming how many of our sisters and daughters attending American Universities are now marrying Muslim men and submitting themselves and their children unsuspectingly to the Shariah law.

By passing this on, enlightened American women may avoid becoming a slave under Shariah Law.

Ripping the West in Two.
Author and lecturer Nonie Darwish says the goal of radical Islamists is to impose Shariah law on the world, ripping Western law and liberty in two.

She recently authored the book, Cruel and Usual Punishment: The Terrifying Global Implications of Islamic Law.

Darwish was born in Cairo and spent her childhood in Egypt and Gaza before immigrating to America in 1978, when she was eight years old. Her father died while leading covert attacks on Israel . He was a high-ranking Egyptian military officer stationed with his family in Gaza .

When he died, he was considered a “shahid,” a martyr for jihad. His posthumous status earned Nonie and her family an elevated position in Muslim society.

But Darwish developed a skeptical eye at an early age. She questioned her own Muslim culture and upbringing.. She converted to Christianity after hearing a Christian preacher on television.

In her latest book, Darwish warns about creeping sharia law – what it is, what it means, and how it is manifested in Islamic countries.

For the West, she says radical Islamists are working to impose sharia on the world. If that happens, Western civilization will be destroyed. Westerners generally assume all religions encourage a respect for the dignity of each individual. Islamic law (Sharia) teaches that non-Muslims should be subjugated or killed in this world.

Peace and prosperity for one’s children is not as important as assuring that Islamic law rules everywhere in the Middle East and eventually in the world.

While Westerners tend to think that all religions encourage some form of the golden rule, Sharia teaches two systems of ethics – one for Muslims and another for non-Muslims. Building on tribal practices of the seventh century, Sharia encourages the side of humanity that wants to take from and subjugate others.

While Westerners tend to think in terms of religious people developing a personal understanding of and relationship with God, Sharia advocates executing people who ask difficult questions that could be interpreted as criticism.

It’s hard to imagine, that in this day and age, Islamic scholars agree that those who criticize Islam or choose to stop being Muslim should be executed. Sadly, while talk of an Islamic reformation is common and even assumed by many in the West, such murmurings in the Middle East are silenced through intimidation.

While Westerners are accustomed to an increase in religious tolerance over time, Darwish explains how petro dollars are being used to grow an extremely intolerant form of political Islam in her native Egypt and elsewhere.

(In twenty years there will be enough Muslim voters in the U.S. to elect the President by themselves! Rest assured they will do so… You can look at how they have taken over several towns in the USA .. Dearborn Mich. is one… and there are others…)

I think everyone in the U.S. should be required to read this, but with the ACLU, there is no way this will be widely publicized, unless each of us sends it on!

It is too bad that so many are disillusioned with life and Christianity to accept Muslims as peaceful.. some may be but they have an army that is willing to shed blood in the name of Islam.. the peaceful support the warriors with their finances and own kind of patriotism to their religion. While America is getting rid of Christianity from all public sites and erasing God from the lives of children the Muslims are planning a great jihad on America ..

This is your chance to make a difference…! Pass it on to your email list or at least those you think will listen..

Some of those I’m sending it to WILL NOT! Put your head back under the covers so you can’t see the boogie man!

My response:

Thanks for contacting me.  You’re right that I have some insight into these types of things as I study religion as my job.  So, I’ll do my best to address the claims in the email.
Oh, and keep in mind where I’m coming from as I address the points in the email…  I’m not sure how much you know about my current religious views, but the short version is I’m not religious.  I only mention that so you know that I’m not trying to defend Islam, but rather be as fair as possible.  Because I am not religious, I don’t feel like I have to defend any religion and can be equally critical of all religions.  So, that’s the approach I’ll take here.
First off, a number of websites are claiming that Nonie Darwish is not the author of the email (see here and here).  Despite not having written the email, Darwish has suggested that she thinks a lot of what it says is accurate (according to one of the previously mentioned websites).  I’m going to take issue with her on that.  But I think it is worth noting that Darwish is a former Muslim turned Christian who appears to make her living criticizing Islam (per her Wikipedia page).  She has also embraced (and been embraced by) the far right in the political sphere in the U.S.  The above suggests to me that she may not be the most reliable source of information on Islam.

So, let’s examine the claims one by one.

This was written by a woman born in Egypt as a Muslim.

Well, this seems to be referring to Nonie Darwish.  But Nonie denies it.  So, the email is off to a bad start as it begins with an outright lie.

This is not heresay, and it will scare the life out of you.

If someone has to tell you that what they are saying is not “heresay” (which is misspelled, another bad sign; it should read “hearsay”), I’m inclined to believe that it is precisely hearsay.  People with accurate information provide sources for their readers, so they can verify their information.  This email does not.  So, we’re starting out with an outright lie and someone trying to set people up to believe what the email says.

In the Muslim faith a Muslim man can marry a child as young as 1 year old and  have sexual intimacy with this child. Consummating the marriage by 9. The dowry is given to the family in exchange for the woman (who becomes his  slave) and for the purchase of the private parts of the woman, to use her as a  toy.

This is really the first “fact claim” made in the email and it’s not really accurate.  First off, if you take the Quran as the foundation of Islam, which most Muslims would, the Quran says virtually nothing about age at first marriage.  Critics of Islam would be certain to jump on any verse in the Quran that says girls can be married as young as 1 and men can have sexual intimacy with that child.  Such a statement in the Quran would be condemned by, well, everyone except the most extreme pedophiles.  So, doing some quick searching, I found some articles online written by critics who have found what the Quran says about age at first marriage (see here).  Basically, one verse (4:6) suggests that the youngest age for a girl to be married is at puberty, which, of course, is not a specific age as girls go through puberty at different ages (from about 9-15, for most girls, give or take a few years).  So, the initial claim that Islam says men can marry a child as young as 1 and be sexually intimate with that child is simply untrue.

I can, however, imagine one slight variation of this idea having some truth.  In cultures where arranged marriages are common, it is possible that a young girl, as young as 1 or even younger, could be promised to an older man.  But I have never seen any evidence to suggest that girls promised to older men are married to them until they are substantially older, and certainly it is not common or even accepted practice for older men to have sex with 1 year old children in Islam or in any predominantly Muslim country.

This statement then confounds the original claim (marriage and sex at 1) with the next claim, saying that the marriage can be “consummated” by age 9.  Basically, the second phrase (it’s not a complete sentence) contradicts the first (the email is poorly written).  What’s interesting about this second claim is that there is some evidence that Mohammad, the founder of Islam, married a girl at age 6 and consummated the marriage at age 9 (see here).  If this is true (and it seems likely that it is), then Mohammad may have acted in contradiction to the very scripture he claimed to reveal by marrying a pre-pubescent girl.  The morality of that, especially given the time period and culture, is certainly open to debate.  But as far as the email goes, there is no mention of the connection to Mohammad.  So, basically, what you have is the author of the email making an almost completely unfounded claim (marriage and sex at 1) that is then coupled with the alleged age of consummation of marriage by Mohammad with one of his wives, Aisha.  Whoever wrote this is either very ignorant or intentionally confusing.

The next part of the above quote claims that the woman is “purchased,” specifically her “private parts,” and that she is to be used as a toy by men.  This, too, is simply far too misleading to be of merit.  Islam has no monopoly on mistreating women and, in fact, was arguably well ahead of its time in giving women legal status, which was far more progressive than medieval Europe (deeply entrenched in Christianity at that time).  Even so, women in many religious traditions have been seen as little more than property.  In fact, this idea is enshrined in the 10 Commandments: Exodus 20:17 “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.”  The last part of this verse makes it quite clear that women are seen as being the property of their husband.  In short, treating women as property – originally as her father’s, then as her husband’s (which is why she adopts his name in the Western World, because men put their name on their property) – was a widespread cultural practice prior to the 1600s (you can see the status of women in the Bible here and here).  As I noted, Islam was actually progressive on this issue, as is outlined here.   Are women depicted as “toys” or “playthings” for their husbands in the Quran?  Not really.  And, trust me, I’m no fan of the treatment of women in the Quran, where they are clearly illustrated to be less than a man (seehere).  So, if I could find a verse that said that women were “toys” for men, I’d certainly point it out.  The Quran does say that men can have sex with their wives pretty much whenever they want (see here), but it doesn’t go so far as to say that women are “toys” or “playthings” or sex slaves (though some might consider that implied).  Overall, then, are women in Islam sold as property to their husbands to be toys?  No.  That’s simply not true, generally.  Are women sometimes and in some places treated as “property” in predominantly Muslim societies?  Yes.  But this also happens in Buddhist, Christian, and even Mormon societies.  That doesn’t justify it – it’s wrong wherever it occurs.  But it does suggest that this is not something unique to Islam.

Next claim:

Even though a woman is abused she can not obtain a divorce.

This is not true.  Not only does the Quran not say that women cannot divorce, it actually says they can.  Yes, it is harder for a woman to get a divorce than for a man to get a divorce, and this varies by culture/nation, but women in Islam can divorce.  See here and here.

To prove rape, the woman must have (4) male witnesses.

Wrong again, see here.  While there are instances when women have been punished for having been raped (though, in all fairness, in the case I’m thinking about from Saudi Arabia, the punishment was supposedly from her being alone in a car with a male, not for being raped), mostly Muslims oppose this.  The author of this email is confusing adultery with rape; see here.

Often after a woman has been raped, she is returned to her family and the family  must return the dowry.  The family has the right to execute her (an honor  killing) to restore the honor of the family. Husbands can beat their wives ‘at  will’ and he does not have to say why he has beaten her.

Once again, the author is confusing different elements of Islam and Arabic culture.  Rarely after a woman is raped is she killed by her family over family honor, but it has happened (see here).  However, as the example I just cited makes clear, the family members involved in that honor killing were sentenced to life in prison for killing their raped daughter.  Honor killings do occur (see here).  Of course I don’t think they are ever justified, but rarely do they occur over rape.  Usually they occur when a woman has “shamed” the family by leaving an arranged marriage or had sex outside of marriage (again, I’m not justifying honor killings, just clarifying; in my opinion they are always wrong).  So, the above claim is again misleading, even in how it is worded.  If you look at it carefully, it basically suggests that a woman is (1) married, thus the dowry, then (2) is raped, then (3) is returned to her family, and (4) her family has the right to murder her.  Unless the intent of the author of the email was to suggest that married women in Islam are just raped by their husbands (some, I’m sure, are, but most are not), then this doesn’t make sense.  If a married woman in Islam was raped (and it was not in conjunction with her breaking any other customs or laws), there would be no punishment for the woman at all (in almost all cases; again, I can’t say in all cases as that isn’t known).  So, the claim makes no sense.

As for husbands being allowed to beat their wives… Well, yes, this is suggested in at least one verse in the Quran (4:34), as a last resort to getting women to submit to their husbands.  It’s abhorrent and immoral.  Of course, submission of women to men is also demanded in the Bible (Ephesians 5:22-24), but it does not explicitly say that beating is allowed.  Either way, wives submitting to husbands and abuse are terrible.  This is probably the closest to accurate statement in the email so far.

The husband is permitted to have (4 wives) and a temporary wife for an hour  (prostitute) at his discretion.

The Quran allows polygamy – up to 4 wives.  This is accurate.  Prostitution is not prohibited in Islam and “enjoyment marriages” (basically prostitution) have and do take place in predominantly Muslim cultures and are justified by Shariah Law (seehere).  I’m not going to debate the morality of prostitution in this response, but I will note that both polygamy and prostitution are pretty common in the Bible as well and their positions in the Bible, morally, are quite ambiguous.

The Shariah Muslim law controls the private as well as the public life of the woman.

Shariah is very complicated in Islam, as not all Muslims agree what is included as part of Shariah (see here). Some include just the Quran, others include additional teachings and interpretations.  If you include just the Quran, the above statement is probably not true.  The Quran does not explicitly detail things like Muslim veiling practices.  If you take a broader interpretation of Shariah and include the other teachings, this statement may be true.  So, again, this is a misleading and confusing statement.

In the West World ( America ) Muslim men are starting to demand Shariah Law so  the wife can not obtain a divorce and he can have full and complete control of  her.  It is amazing and alarming how many of our sisters and daughters attending  American Universities are now marrying Muslim men and submitting themselves and their children unsuspectingly to the Shariah law.

“West World”?  Ughh!  Whoever wrote this doesn’t know how to write!  Anyway, this claim is much looser and therefore much more difficult to address.  Basically, you can find one or two instances of people trying to advocate Sharia in the West and say this claim is true (and such examples exist; see here).  But how widespread is it?  My sense, and I don’t have hard numbers on this, is that this represents a minority of Muslims in the West.  As far as the motivations for instituting Shariah, which are implied in this (primarily female submission and oppression), my sense is that advocacy of Shariah is not strictly to control women and children but for many because they believe it is required to live their religion.

By passing this on, enlightened American women may avoid becoming a slave under  Shariah Law.

This interjection breaks the flow of the rant, but is also erroneous.  Women are not slaves in Islam.  Are they required to submit to their husbands?  Yes, technically.  But for many Muslim women, that “requirement” is not closely followed, just as many Christian women don’t “submit” to their husbands.  Some might consider submission to be the equivalent of slavery, but I wouldn’t go quite that far.  I don’t like the idea of “submission” and think it is immoral, but it is not slavery (not far removed from it, but not, technically, the same thing).

Author and lecturer Nonie Darwish says the goal of radical Islamists is to  impose Shariah law on the world, ripping Western law and liberty in two.

Nonie Darwish may or may not have said this.  I don’t know.  I haven’t read her books.  But it sounds like a reasonable statement – radical Muslims do want to make the entire world Muslim.  That is true.  But they also make up a very small percentage of Muslims – maybe 5% to 10% of Muslims are truly radical in their views.

The next parts of the email are basically taken from Nonie Darwish’s wikipedia page, so I’m going to skip them.  I’ll start again here:

For the West, she says radical Islamists are working to impose sharia on the  world. If that happens, Western civilization will be destroyed. Westerners  generally assume all religions encourage a respect for the dignity of each  individual.  Islamic law (Sharia) teaches that non-Muslims should be subjugated  or killed in this world.

I already addressed the first sentence.  Yes, some radical Muslims want that.  And, yes, if that occurred the world would be radically different – by definition.  But it isn’t going to happen.  Radical Muslims are a minority of Muslims and they aren’t growing in any dramatic way.

The second part of the above quote is actually more interesting to me.  The claim is made that Westerners advocate dignity of the individual.  That’s certainly true of secular humanists, but much less of most religions.  The Old Testament (and parts of the New Testament) is full of god telling his chosen people to kill others; genocide is pretty common in the Old Testament.  That runs counter to autonomy.  Yes, Western culture does generally advocate individualism, that’s true.  But that is largely through secular development, not because of religion.

Does the Quran advocate killing or subjugating non-Muslims?  Technically, only if they attack Muslims (though the Quran goes a bit further with the non-religious, suggesting that maybe it’s okay to kill them).  Shariah may go further than that and suggest that all non-Muslims must die, but that is certainly not the view of most Muslims.

Peace and prosperity for one’s children is not as important as assuring that Islamic law rules everywhere in the Middle East and eventually in the world.

This may be true for the radicals, but it is not true for most Muslims.  Of course, radical Christians want a theocracy as well (see here), but most Christians don’t.  This is basically just the worldview of radical religionists everywhere.

While Westerners tend to think that all religions encourage some form of the  golden rule, Sharia teaches two systems of ethics – one for Muslims and another  for non-Muslims. Building on tribal practices of the seventh century, Sharia  encourages the side of humanity that wants to take from and subjugate others.

Despite my criticisms of Islam, I don’t find the above compelling.  Does the Quran talk about different systems of ethics for Muslims and non-Muslims?  Yes.  But like many religions, it holds Muslims to a higher standard of charity and goodwill to others than it holds non-Muslims.  Claiming that the goal of Islam is to subjugate others I believe is simply untrue.  Would Muslims say that they want to convert everyone to Islam?  Sure.  But so do most Christians (i.e., Catholics, Mormons, etc.) and many other religionists and even most secularists.  That’s very different from subjugating others.

While Westerners tend to think in terms of religious people developing a  personal understanding of and relationship with God, Sharia advocates executing  people who ask difficult questions that could be interpreted as criticism. It’s hard to imagine, that in this day and age, Islamic scholars agree that  those who criticize Islam or choose to stop being Muslim should be executed.  Sadly, while talk of an Islamic reformation is common and even assumed by many  in the West, such murmurings in the Middle East are silenced through  intimidation.

We finally get to the section where the author’s biases are made clear.  The author of this email is a Christian, and likely an evangelical Christian (given the emphasis on a personal relationship with god).  The Quran does not say execute people who ask questions and, in fact, it does not say to execute people who leave Islam.  Sharia law does call for executing people who leave Islam, but many Muslims don’t agree with Sharia law on that point.  And it’s not like the status of Christian apostates is much better.  Many apostates from Christianity have been killed over the years.  That’s unlikely to happen today, particularly in the U.S., but they are still demonized and not treated very well.  So, I’d say the author is being duplicitous here – claiming Christianity is better than Islam and kinder to its apostates.  Neither claim rings true to me.

While Westerners are accustomed to an increase in religious tolerance over time,  Darwish explains how petro dollars are being used to grow an extremely  intolerant form of political Islam in her native Egypt and elsewhere.

Darwish may claim this.  Again, I don’t know.  But whether the goal of petroleum dollars is to grow extremist Islam or not I think is highly questionable.  My sense is that in some countries oil money is used to enrich the leaders of the countries.  In others, some of the money may be funneled to religious extremists.  But this makes it seem as though oil money is channeled directly to fundamentalists.  I don’t think that is accurate.

(In twenty years there will be enough Muslim voters in the  U.S. to elect the  President by themselves! Rest assured they will do so… You can look at how  they have taken over several towns in the USA .. Dearborn Mich. is one… and  there are others…)

As a sociologist who studies trends in religious affiliation for his job and has published on this, I can pretty confidently say that this claim is complete and utter garbage.  Most of my commentary on the previous content of the email is really that of a fairly well-educated expert on religion, but not on Islam.  But this particular claim is literally what I study – religious growth and decline.  Islam is barely growing in the U.S., and it is doing so primarily through immigration, not conversion.  Also, most of the Muslims who move to the U.S. pretty quickly assimilate and are much less extreme in their views than are the radicals in other parts of the world.  While a few religions in the U.S. are growing in absolute numbers (e.g., Catholicism), most are shrinking as a percentage of the population as the non-religious continue to grow.  I have argued in my research that the growth of the non-religious is likely to continue.  If any group will be in a position to elect a president in 20 years in the U.S., it will be the non-religious, not Muslims.

I think everyone in the U.S. should be required to read this, but with the ACLU,  there is no way this will be widely publicized, unless each of us sends it on!

This is a tell-tale sign of a poorly written, crappy chain email.  Not only does it baselessly rail against the ACLU, which would actually protect the author’s right to write this, but it asks that you send it on.  That’s a good indication that the author of this email is a right-wing conservative Christian who hates the ACLU and feels threatened by immigration and people not like him/her.

It is too bad that so many are disillusioned with life and Christianity to  accept Muslims as peaceful.. some may be but they have an army that is willing  to shed blood in the name of Islam.. the peaceful support the warriors with  their finances and own kind of patriotism to their religion. While America is  getting rid of Christianity from all public sites and erasing God from the lives  of children the Muslims are planning a great jihad on America ..

Most Muslims are peaceful.  If that were not the case, we would have far more wars than we currently do as Muslims make up 1/6 of the world’s population.  So, the author has his/her numbers wrong.  As for their being “an army” willing to shed blood… Sure, there are some willing to do that (e.g., Al Qaeda, Hamas, etc.).  But there are also Christians willing to do that, as the terrorist actions of Christians in the U.S. and abroad illustrate (most recently with the killing of Dr. Tiller in Kansas, which was a terrorist act on American soil perpetrated by a Christian on a Christian).  This doesn’t make me say that most Christians are violent or part of an army out to kill Muslims or the non-religious.  Likewise, most Muslims are peace loving and are not supportive of terrorism.

This is your chance to make a difference…! Pass it on to your email list or at  least those you think will listen..  Some of those I’m sending it to WILL NOT!  Put your head back under the covers so you can’t see the boogie man!

Once again, this is a tell-tale sign of a poorly written, unreferenced, unsourced chain letter.  Passing these along makes people more prejudiced by encouraging them to believe things that are simply not true.  Maybe 20% of the content of this email is kind of accurate.  The rest is either completely untrue, half-truths, or misleading.  The real boogie man is the person who wrote this.

Do keep in mind as I said at the outset, I’m no fan of religion, including Islam.  If you want to criticize religion, there is plenty to criticize without telling lies.  Islam, like most other religions, has a number of problems, including the mistreatment of women, scientific inaccuracies, and a reliance on outdated moral teachings from the 7th Century.  Those are all points worthy of criticism.  This email falls very flat in trying to criticize Islam and reveals more about the ignorance and biases of the author than it does about Islam.

I hope this helps.  And feel free to contact me about things like this in the future.

Best,

Ryan

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my best publication yet!

I don’t typically mention my publications on this blog, but this is one about which I am particularly proud.  I think it is a significant contribution not only to the study of Mormonism but also to theory in the Sociology of Religion as well.  I’m also proud of it because of the amount of time that went into it.  I’m guessing that this article took me close to 1,000 hours to produce (that’s about 41 days).  It started as a class project in graduate school, probably around 2003 or 2004.  It then turned into a series of conference presentations, was submitted to three different journals, all of which rejected it but provided useful feedback.  Eventually I decided that the article needed to aim larger than just Mormons, so I included Adventists and Witnesses and invited Ron Lawson to help me (he’s an expert on Adventists and Witnesses).  Anyway, here’s a link to the article:

The Secular Transition: The Worldwide Growth of Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Seventh-day Adventists

If you’re really geeky and want to read the article but don’t have access to the journal via a university subscription, let me know and I can send you a copy of the article.

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Scientology-ville (a.k.a. Clearwater, FL) Tour

Yesterday morning I was reading the local paper when I came upon this story about Scientology (part 1 of 3). Apparently 4 fairly prominent members of the religion have defected over the last few years and the St. Petersburg Times finally got them to agree to be interviewed. The Times is rolling out the interviews over 3 days, much to the chagrin of Scientology (part 2 of 3 is out today).

For those who don’t know, Scientology has a major headquarters in Clearwater, FL, which is about 30 minutes from where we live. It’s the training headquarters of the religion, not the corporate headquarters (that’s in LA), and not where the leader, David Miscavige, lives (that’s near San Jacinto, CA). As the training headquarters, there are lots of Scientologists living and regularly visiting Clearwater. The St. Petersburg Times (St. Pete is the adjoining city to the south of Clearwater) has a long history of investigating Scientology and the relationship between the two, Scientology and The St. Petersburg Times, is not very amicable.

I learned that Scientology had a strong presence in Clearwater shortly after we moved here and have wanted to go check out their digs ever since then. Seeing the story yesterday morning re-awakened that interest. Luckily, Debi and Toren were feeling rather generous yesterday, so they agreed to go walk around downtown Clearwater to check out the sites.

I did a bit of research before we went so I would know what there is to see. The St. Petersburg Times has a quasi-interactive though slightly dated map showing the property Scientology owns in Clearwater.

(1) Red properties were actual structures in 2004; (2) Blue properties were planned or under construction; (3) Gold were properties that were owned but as of yet undeveloped in 2004.
(1) Red properties were actual structures in 2004; (2) Blue properties were planned or under construction; (3) Gold were properties that were owned but as of yet undeveloped in 2004.

Another guy, who I believe is affiliated with Anonymous, has put together a Google Map of Scientology properties in the US that includes their many holdings in Clearwater:

Anonymous_CofS_sites
Scientology sites in Clearwater according to Anonymous

Based on those two sites, I put together a little tour for us.  Having driven to Clearwater last week when Brent visited, I knew there was a little park right near the water in Clearwater, so we drove there to begin with and parked on Drew St..  The park is actually adjacent to the Clearwater library:

Clearwater library
Clearwater library

The library itself is gorgeous. But it looks out over the park and this:

Scientology 6-21-2009 4-15-50 PM
the view from the Clearwater library

If anyone comes to visit us and has a day they want to spend just relaxingly reading in a library, well, I’m not sure you can beat this one. It’s a gorgeous view.

Toren was hungry once we got here, so we stopped for a bit to feed him. While Debi took care of Toren, I saw a sign that said “Sandcastle.” I knew that the Sandcastle resort was right next to the library, but I didn’t realize there was a separate entrance for their restaurant:

Scientology 6-21-2009 4-11-07 PM
A sign by the entrance to the Sandcastle restaurant. If you look close it says “Church of Scientology Religious Retreat”

Feigning ignorance, I walked toward the restaurant (with my huge camera around my neck).  The two security guards looked very skeptical, but I’m pretty good at acting like a tourist when I want to.  I walked straight up to them and asked them if what I was seeing was a restaurant:

Sandcastle's restaurant and the security guards
Sandcastle’s restaurant and the security guards

They said it was in what sounded like a native Spanish speaker’s accent.  I then asked them if I could eat there.  They hemmed a bit, then said that I couldn’t unless I was a member.  I acted really naive here and said, “Oh, a member of what?”  They said I had to be a member of the Sandcastle resort.  I then acted like I was just seeing the sign and said, “Oh, is that affiliated with Scientology?”  They nodded.  I followed up with, “So, if I was a Scientologist I could eat here?”  Yep.  I told them that Debi was hungry and then asked if there were any other places we could eat nearby.  They were very friendly and offered some suggestions.  I thanked them then walked back across the street to the park.  I waited for them to turn their backs before I snapped a photo of them in front of the restaurant.

Once Toren finished up his snack, we packed everything into the stroller and headed up Drew st. toward Fort Harrison Ave. where there were some restaurants.  I snapped these along the way:

The Sandcastle Resort
The Sandcastle Resort

This is at the intersection of Drew St. and N. Osceola Ave.:

The front entrance sign to the Sandcastle Resort
The front entrance sign to the Sandcastle Resort

Directly east of the Sandcastle Resort is the Osceola Inn, which is also billed as a “religious retreat” and is owned by Scientology:

Osceola Inn sign
Osceola Inn sign

This was also taken at the corner of Drew St. and N Osceola Ave.:

Osceola Inn wide shot
Osceola Inn wide shot

From here we headed up Drew St. to Fort Harrison Ave. then turned South where we immediately encountered the West Coast Building, which is also owned by Scientology.  There were uniformed Scientologists coming and going from the building while I snapped a few pictures.  This first one is looking at the front of the building.  It’s actually quite large and surrounded by parking lots on both sides (which I believe are owned by the Church of Scientology).  What I liked about this is it shows two cameras.  The first is just above the green bushes and is pointing down the street.  The second is just above it and is a controllable camera:

profile of the West Coast Building capturing the cameras
profile of the West Coast Building capturing the cameras

They seem a little obsessed with security.  We crossed the street and stopped at an Italian pizza place for dinner (owned by a Scientologist, but the employees were not; I asked).  Then I snapped this shot of the front of the West Coast Building:

Scientology 6-21-2009 5-33-34 PM
The front of the West Coast Building

The building really does look unassuming from this angle, but it goes back quite far from the street.  Also, you can’t see it from this far away, but on the front doors are two white crosses, which are symbols of Scientology.

From here we only had to walk about another 1/2 block before we entered the heartland of Scientology.  The corner of Fort Harrison Ave. and Cleveland St. is really the center of action.  As we neared the corner we could see droves of Scientologists walking back and forth.  We weren’t sure what was going on, but one of the many Scientology security guards floating around the streets of Clearwater (yes, you read that right, Scientology security guards patrol the sidewalks in Clearwater outside their buildings) helped clarify things.  The first building we came upon is the former Clearwater Bank Building that was bought out by Scientology and refinished.  There are no tours; they turned it into a cafeteria for Scientologists.  Everyone was coming out the Church of Scientology training center (see below), walking down Fort Harrison Ave., crossing Cleveland, then walking down Watterson Street to a side entrance into the former Clearwater Bank Building where the cafeteria is.  Strange.  Here’s the building from further down Fort Harrison Ave:

former Clearwater Bank Building
former Clearwater Bank Building; now a cafeteria for Scientologists; the side entrance is on the right

Here’s a shot of a plaque on the front:

Bank of Clearwater plaque
Bank of Clearwater plaque

The security guard was very nice.  He saw Debi and I looking around (we probably looked suspicious to some degree, though the baby is a great cover) and approached us, asking us if we needed some help.  We did.  We were actually looking for an ice cream shop for dessert (the dinner we had wasn’t very filling).  He pointed out the Baskin Robbins down the street.  I then asked him if we could take a tour of the Bank of Clearwater building.  He was the one he told us that it was now a cafeteria.  He did say we could take a tour of the Church of Scientology training center right across the street, though.  But when I looked across the street I didn’t really understand what it was I was seeing as no one was coming out of that end of the building (poor design).  We thanked him and headed to Baskin Robbins.

After we got our dessert, we found a nifty little side ally that took us to Park St. (turns out the side alley is where the Scientologists who are smokers hang out; I wonder if that is an engram they are working on…).  Here’s Debi walking down the side alley:

Debi heading down Scientology-smoker alley
Debi heading down Scientology-smoker alley

At the corner of Park St. and Fort Harrison Ave. we had a good view of the main entrance to THE CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY.  Toren also got a little hungry, so while Debi fed him I approached a uniformed member of the religion and asked her (she was from Columbia) what the building was.  She said it was THE CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY.  When I asked her to clarify she said, “No, really, it is THE church.  It’s the main one.  This is the chief church of all the churches in the world.  They do training here that you can’t get anywhere else.”  That explained why she was there, along with so many other foreigners – they needed the specialized training.  I asked her if we could go in and she said yes.  So, with Toren topped off, we headed in.  Here’s the building:

the north side of THE CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY; apparently no one uses this entrance
the north side of THE CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY; apparently no one uses this entrance

the south side of THE CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY; this is the main entrance; the area with the exhibits is in the center glass enclosure
the south side of THE CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY; this is the main entrance; the area with the exhibits is in the center glass enclosure

Another security guard approached us as we headed that way.  I forget his name, but he was also very nice and asked us if we needed anything.  We told him we were just interested in seeing what was inside and learning a bit more.  He was from Mexico but had only a minor accent (he had been in the US for 14 years).  He guided us in to the main hallway, started a short video for us, then went to find one of the guides, Beth.  We ended up hanging out inside this building for a good hour and a half at least, peppering Beth with questions.  There’s no way I can recount the entire conversation, but I’ll try to hit on some of the highlights.

It did eventually come out that I’m a college professor and that I’m a Sociologist of Religion.  They, of course, had no idea what that meant.  But when they would ask me if I knew anything about Scientology, I always said, “Yes.”  And when they asked whether I had heard anything good, I usually said, “Not much.”  I think I surprised them when I told them that I had read Dianetics, which I really don’t recommend (wow is that a terrible, terrible book).  Even so, they treated me like I didn’t know anything, which was kind of funny because I think I knew more about their religion than they did in some regards (neither of them showed any knowledge of Xenu when I asked them about him), though I did learn a few things.  I asked Beth if Scientologists believe in a god-like entity.  She said they did, kind of.  She also said that you didn’t have to be exclusively a Scientologist to belong – Scientology is not an exclusive religion (i.e., you could be Jewish and a Scientologist).  I asked if you could be an atheist and a Scientologist, but she said not really, as they believe in something akin to a soul (called a Thetan).  Their notion of god is kind of Buddhist or Hindu – it’s an ill-defined supreme being that they associate with the term “infinity,” which is also the symbol of their god.

I also asked Beth how many Scientologists there are.  She claimed, initially, 2 billion.  After I stopped guffawing and choking on my tongue, I asked her if she was sure.  It took her a few minutes, but eventually she realized her mistake – she meant 2 million.  Okay, I could live with that number (probably an over-estimate, but that’s okay; some religions do that…).

I also asked her who or what created their Thetans.  She said she didn’t know.  Then I asked her how old the Thetans were.  She also couldn’t put a specific time on it, but said that she, herself, was older than the Earth (they believe in past lives).  When I told her that meant she was at least 4.6 billion years old, she nodded and said that she had dealt with engrams that went at least that far back (Note: Beth is a 27 year veteran of the religion; she was probably in her late 40s or early 50s).  I asked her if Thetans predated the known universe.  She said she had been created some time after the creation of the universe, but she couldn’t put an exact date on it.  So, Beth (i.e., her Thetan component) is somewhere between 4.6 and 14 billion years-old.  That’s better than most religions can do!

I was peppering her with so many questions that she eventually pulled me into a backroom and showed me The Bridge to Total Freedom:

Apparently what this shows is the different levels of Scientology.  On the right are the levels of self-improvement (a.k.a. “processing”) that you can attain.  In Dianetics, Hubbard only talks about getting to the “Clear” stage (all your engrams are gone).  Apparently they have introduced additional stages that include more knowledge.  However, the last 6 or 7 stages have yet to be revealed.  Beth, my 27 year veteran guide, was a Grade 0 on the self-processing side.  The other side is the levels of training you can receive (so you can audit other Scientologists).  She was a Class II or III.  This chart gave me a ton of questions.  I asked her what “Total Freedom” is.  She said it is complete control over time, space, matter, and energy.  Basically, if you reach that stage you no longer need a body and are kind of omnipotent.  I asked her if L. Ron Hubbard, the founder, who died from a stroke in the 1980s, had reached Total Freedom.  She said she assumed so because he was the one who knew about it.  I asked her why not all of the stages had been revealed since L. Ron Hubbard had to have known about them.  She said that Scientologists were not ready for them.  I asked her if anyone knew what they were.  She said she thought David Miscavige must know them but he was waiting until Scientologists were ready to hear them.  I asked how he would know.  She said that L. Ron Hubbard must have written some indicators that must first occur before they could be revealed, but that they had to be included in his final papers.  I asked her how L. Ron Hubbard figured them out.  She said he studied.  I asked her what he studied.  She said philosophy and science.  So I said, “Well, that means all of this secret knowledge must already have existed then.”  She agreed, but said that it was L. Ron Hubbard (LRH for short) who was able to discern between the truths and the falsehoods.  There are millions of falsehoods mixed in with the truths; his special gift was being able to discern the truths.  Then I said, “Well, how did L. Ron Hubbard know what is special and what is not?”  She said he used a scientific method.  I almost lost it at this point when I said, “Well, you must not mean the same thing I mean when I say I, a scientist, use the scientific method.”  She said his scientific method was taking out of the many ideas those that worked.  I asked what the alternative approach would be.  She said you could do things philosophically and just take what you like.  So, what made LRH special is he had a “scientific method” for discerning truth and it was based on “what works.”

We talked about a bunch of additional things, but I ended with a final question (it was starting to get dark and we still hadn’t made it to the Fort Harrison Hotel).  I asked her, “Beth, why are you a Scientologist?”  She said, “I was raised a Methodist and never felt like I  found happiness or contentment in life.  Methodism didn’t hold the answers for me.  When I found Scientology I found happiness and contentment.  Scientology has the technologies and tools to bring me peace and happiness in life.”  I asked her if she thought that was the reason most people join and she said yes.

This last question does bring up some of the basic elements of the religion that I was less familiar with and seem to be quite prominently on display in the center.  A lot of what I saw in The Church had to do with pop psychology stuff (which is what Dianetics is, except it’s really poorly written, obtuse, and retarded).  The current teachings seem to be all about overcoming your own problems and learning how to interact with other people.  They still do this using auditing and e-meters (which are known to be hokum).  They now also include some pseudoscientific gobbledy-gook about toxins in our bodies and a detoxing program that includes vitamins, potions, special food, and time in a sauna (a good way to get you to spend more money on their processing programs).  So, maybe it has helped Beth.  Who knows.  But it does seem like a lot of people are interested.

Beth gave us 3 videos to watch and her card (I wanted it so I could call and get the time for a Sunday morning service some time).  She also introduced the head chaplain at the Church.  Oh, and I left out the little interaction I had with the security guard and Beth while Debi was feeding Toren.  The security guard followed up with me about what it is I do.  Not unlike most people who hear I’m a Sociologist of Religion, he didn’t know anything about what I do, about other religions, or about the worldwide picture of religion generally.  So I gave him and Beth a quick rundown on which religions are growing where and why.  He seemed genuinely interested in what I was saying, but Beth eventually interrupted – she was the one who was supposed to be teaching me stuff, not vice versa.  This does seem like a common feature of many missionaries – they are so confident they are right and that they have “ALL TRUTH” that they don’t realize just how much they don’t know.  If graduate school did anything for me it taught me how little I know.  Case in point, I have a PhD in Sociology but was asking them questions to LEARN more about their religion.  I know a lot about some things, but I also know that I know virtually nothing relative to what there is to know.  Alas, missionaries don’t seem to realize that…

Anyway, once we got out of THE CHURCH, we snapped a shot of the Super-Power Building that is still unfinished (and has been under construction for quite some time):

the unfinished super-power building
the unfinished super-power building

We then headed down Fort Harrison Ave. to the Fort Harrison Hotel:

The front of the Fort Harrison Hotel
The front of the Fort Harrison Hotel

The bellhops kindly helped us carry Toren’s stroller up to the main lobby where we waited a good 20 minutes for a tour guide.  One never showed up, so a bellhop showed me around briefly: the hotel has a very nice restaurant, Hibiscus, that isn’t too pricey but was empty.  He also showed me their massive auditorium where they hold receptions, graduations, and services.  It’s a swank hotel.  We didn’t stay too long as it was getting late.

As we walked back to our car, Debi couldn’t help but reflect on just how bizarre this all was.  She had no idea that Clearwater was really kind of Scientology-ville.  (For my Mormon readers, imagine what downtown Ogden would look like if the Missionary Training Center was across the street from the Ogden Temple and the campus was open, not fenced in, and you’ll get a sense of what it is like.)  Most of the people we saw were wearing Scientology uniforms and there were dozens of Scientology buses (all with “Flag” on them) shuttling people back and forth to buildings.  While it’s kind of an exaggeration to say that Clearwater is now Scientology-ville, it really isn’t much of an exaggeration.  Clearwater Beach remains a tourist spot with people of all stripes.  But the old Clearwater downtown area does now seem to be dominated by Scientology.

If anyone wants to come visit us and check out Scientology-ville, here’s my recommended walking tour:

Start at the Clearwater Library and park:

100 N. Osceola Avenue
Clearwater, Florida 33755-4083

There isn’t much to see of either Sandcastle or the Osceola Inn, but you can check them out briefly through the foliage that surrounds them.  Follow Drew St. to Fort Harrison Ave.  Take Fort Harrison to Cleveland and check out the former Clearwater Bank Building.  You can only see the outside, but it’s intriguing to see nonetheless.  Take the little side alley to the east of The Church of Scientology, which is on the south of Cleveland opposite the former Bank (the address is 503 Cleveland St., Clearwater, FL; it’s also called the “Coachman Building”).  Wrap around the building then enter the main doors and spend some time inside.  You’ll likely be approached by someone inside (their version of a missionary).  Spend as much time in there as you’d like, then exit back out the same doors and head down Fort Harrison Ave to the Fort Harrison Hotel (210 S Fort Harrison Ave, Clearwater, FL 33756).  You can get a good glimpse of the Super-Power Building along the way.  If they aren’t super busy you should be able to get a tour.  You could even finish it off with lunch or dinner at the Hibiscus restaurant.  As near as I can tell, there isn’t much else to see, just keep your eyes open for the swarms of Scientologists floating around the city, primarily around the Coachman Building.  And if you’re feeling daring, go up and talk to a Scientologist; they don’t bite.  They may even let you get a picture with them (something we didn’t do).

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The Boston Globe calling…

I received an email from Michael Paulson, a religion reporter for The Boston Globe, yesterday asking me if I had time to talk about a new study coming out today.  The study is the latest wave of the American Religious Identification Survey.  Having worked with the principal investigators – Barry Kosmin and Ariela Keysar – on the original design of the survey and some of the analysis once the data was collected, I can say that I’m quite familiar with the survey.  So, I agreed to chat with him last night.  He called and we talked for about 20 minutes.  He mainly wanted to know whether I thought the survey was accurate and well-done (it is) and what I thought was most interesting about it.  I mentioned the significant losses of Catholics to non-religion in New England as the most interesting finding.  He was very nice and quite knowledgeable.

Anyway, I ended up in The Boston Globe today.  I’ve been interviewed by three reporters in the last week – one an independent journalist and one for my school’s newspaper (on unrelated topics).  But The Boston Globe!!  That’s pretty cool!

For additional coverage, see USA Today’s site.  The videos are pretty groovy too.

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