Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What Color are Your Glasses?

Do you ever wonder where people purportedly writing about the same set of events get their information? Awhile back I had that experience when comparing how professors at Boise State and UC Santa Barbara wrote about the Reformation in Germany. The tone, some of the facts and the overall character of the articles is so different.

An Atheist Chaplain?

I'm not sure exactly who thought an atheist chaplain at Stanford would be a good idea, but it seems destined for failure.  Atheism is just too closely correlated with hedonism and not giving a rip about other people if one can't get anything out of it for something like this to work.

""A lot of people go back to religious organizations when they start having children," whether or not they believe in God, because religion offers community, Figdor said. "What I really want to do is create a vibrant, humanist community here in Silicon Valley, where people can find babysitters for their kids and young people can meet each other."

The problem is, you can't create a vibrant atheist community around babysitting groups.  Vibrant communities form when people have a common purpose and atheism itself is a really crappy motivator.  Any "religion" that teaches it's adherents that life is ultimately meaningless and there is no lasting purpose to existence is going to have trouble motivating people to do anything that requires sacrifice.  The article's explanation of why students themselves like having an atheist chaplain says it all.
"Armand Rundquist... president of AHA! - the campus group of atheists, humanists and agnostics - said many atheists aren't interested in having a chaplain.

Then they discovered additional benefits to Figdor's talents.

"He got us some discount tickets to the atheist film festival in San Francisco," said Rundquist, adding that "it's been really great" to have Figdor as part of what he called a new movement at Stanford."

Discounted entertainment!  Now that may be a reason to meet when you're a college student at one of our hedonistic universities, but it's destined for irrelevancy when one tries to apply it to the broader culture.  Learning that life is has no ultimate purpose or meaning is thin gruel after experiencing one of life's many setbacks.  Religion (especially historical Christianity), offers community that is there for you from cradle to grave.  It requires great sacrifice, but offers benefits for members and society at large that no atheist group can dream of matching.  Have you ever heard of a soup kitchen run by a voluntary community of dedicated atheists?  Do you have a family member with a disability or mental illness?  Good luck getting help from your local atheist community.

Speaking from my own personal experience, my wife's best friend from high school went out to their gradeschool playground and blew her brains out last summer.  It was a tragedy that hit my wife hard and left her unable to function for months.  It was clear within a couple weeks that homeschooling which had been tenuous before was no longer a possibility.  With just two weeks to go before school started, I had to find a place for my kids to attend.  The public schools in my state are just awful and sending them there was tantamount to handing them over to atheists who didn't give a rat's patootie about their spiritual life and would at best be educating them to mediocrity.  On the other hand the last couple years have seen my family experience some financial setbacks that made sending them to our parish school impossible until some people at our church stepped forward and quietly paid half the cost for my kids to attend.  I don't know these benefactors well.  I've never had them over for a meal and have only spoken to them before or after mass, but they cared enough about my family to fork over thousands dollars so that my kids could get a top notch education this year (and for as long as they are able and we need it).  Our parish school depends on many donors like this, since tuition only covers half the cost of operation for our 3 year old parish school that is operating on a shoestring budget.  The principal and teachers have all taken massive cuts in pay compared to what they could make elsewhere in order to create a rigorous academic and thoroughly Catholic educational environment.  It is this sort of sacrifice that is common among Christian communities, but is almost unheard of in atheist ones.  When life throws people curveballs, atheist communities just aren't there for each other.  For all the problems in our Christian communities, we are there for each other.  Is it any wonder that of all the religious groups in America, atheists have the lowest retention rate: just 30% of children raised by atheist parents remain atheist.  By leveraging control of our elite cultural institutions atheists have been successful in converting many Americans to their religion of meaninglessness, but they have failed where it matters most for long term viability: their own children.  Add that to the fact that committed atheists have very few children, and maintaining a stranglehold on our educational establishments and elite cultural institutions is the only way atheists have of reproducing ideologically.

As an aside, non-denominational Christians don't do much better in retaining their children: they are a full 24% below Catholics (hardly a healthy group to compare oneself with).  That rather surprised me, to be honest.  I can explain some of the Protestant non-retension to simple church hopping, but that has always struck me as more of a one-way street toward less denominationalism.  Are we seeing the children of non-denominational Protestants stick with a denomination or are they abandoning the faith altogether?  Does Pew survey adequately address these questions for Protestants?  These sorts of questions are always muddier and more difficult to answer for Protestants than for atheists, Hindus, Catholics and Mormons due to the clarity of their beliefs and religious identities.