From: Virginia Bowen (email@example.com)
Date: Mon 18 Aug 2003 - 19:33:14 GMT
If those numbers are true, this is indeed a VERY serious concern. I
myself have tended to believe in "live and let live" with regard to
Christians...in fact mostly preferring their company and tend to live in
areas that are primarily Christian. But I carefully avoid religious
conversation with those folk. Only very, very, very close friends know
of my non-belief.
I DO, however, mention evolution and don't *think* I get strange looks
or cold shoulders. But now I wonder if they think I'm "one of those"
behind my back...
I'd like to know where the numbers come from. So I will do an internet
search. Thanks for bringing this column to our attention.
But this leads to something I've been mulling lately. Do you all think
that memes are *genetically* inheritable? I was wondering just
yesterday if the general level of introspective intelligence in the
populace at large would be affected with the seeming lack of huge
reproduction numbers among the more academic sorts. If more gullible
memes are genetically inheritable, then we're on a downslide for sure.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org [mailto:email@example.com] On Behalf
Of Keith Henson
Sent: Friday, August 15, 2003 8:24 PM
Subject: Serious concern
Believe It, or Not
By Nicholas D. Kristof
Op-Ed Columnist, New York Times
Friday, August 15, 2003 Posted: 9:49 AM EDT (1349 GMT)
Today marks the Roman Catholics' Feast of the Assumption, honoring the
moment that they believe God brought the Virgin Mary into Heaven. So
a fact appropriate for the day: Americans are three times as likely to
believe in the Virgin Birth of Jesus (83 percent) as in evolution (28
So this day is an opportunity to look at perhaps the most fundamental
divide between America and the rest of the industrialized world: faith.
Religion remains central to American life, and is getting more so, in a
that is true of no other industrialized country, with the possible
exception of South Korea.
Americans believe, 58 percent to 40 percent, that it is necessary to
believe in God to be moral. In contrast, other developed countries
overwhelmingly believe that it is not necessary. In France, only 13
agree with the U.S. view. (For details on the polls cited in this
go to www.nytimes.com/kristofresponds.)
The faith in the Virgin Birth reflects the way American Christianity is
becoming less intellectual and more mystical over time. The percentage
Americans who believe in the Virgin Birth actually rose five points in
My grandfather was fairly typical of his generation: A devout and active
Presbyterian elder, he nonetheless believed firmly in evolution and
regarded the Virgin Birth as a pious legend. Those kinds of mainline
Christians are vanishing, replaced by evangelicals. Since 1960, the
of Pentecostalists has increased fourfold, while the number of
Episcopalians has dropped almost in half.
The result is a gulf not only between America and the rest of the
industrialized world, but a growing split at home as well. One of the
poisonous divides is the one between intellectual and religious America.
Some liberals wear T-shirts declaring, "So Many Right-Wing Christians .
. . So Few Lions." On the other side, there are attitudes like those on a Web site, dutyisours.com/gwbush.htm, explaining the 2000 election this way:
"God defeated armies of Philistines and others with confusion. Dimpled
hanging chads may also be because of God's intervention on those who
voting incorrectly. Why is GW Bush our president? It was God's choice."
The Virgin Mary is an interesting prism through which to examine
emphasis on faith because most Biblical scholars regard the evidence for
the Virgin Birth, and for Mary's assumption into Heaven (which was
proclaimed as Catholic dogma only in 1950), as so shaky that it pretty
has to be a leap of faith. As the Catholic theologian Hans Küng puts it
"On Being a Christian," the Virgin Birth is a "collection of largely uncertain, mutually contradictory, strongly legendary" narratives, an echo of virgin birth myths that were widespread in many parts of the ancient world.
Jaroslav Pelikan, the great Yale historian and theologian, says in his
"Mary Through the Centuries" that the earliest references to Mary (like Mark's gospel, the first to be written, or Paul's letter to the Galatians) don't mention anything unusual about the conception of Jesus. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke do say Mary was a virgin, but internal evidence suggests that that part of Luke, in particular, may have been added later by someone else (it is written, for example, in a different kind of Greek than the rest of that gospel).
Yet despite the lack of scientific or historical evidence, and despite
doubts of Biblical scholars, America is so pious that not only do 91
percent of Christians say they believe in the Virgin Birth, but so do an
astonishing 47 percent of U.S. non-Christians.
I'm not denigrating anyone's beliefs. And I don't pretend to know why
America is so much more infused with religious faith than the rest of
world. But I do think that we're in the middle of another religious
Awakening, and that while this may bring spiritual comfort to many, it
also mean a growing polarization within our society.
But mostly, I'm troubled by the way the great intellectual traditions of
Catholic and Protestant churches alike are withering, leaving the
and religious worlds increasingly antagonistic. I worry partly because
the time I've spent with self-satisfied and unquestioning mullahs and
imams, for the Islamic world is in crisis today in large part because of
similar drift away from a rich intellectual tradition and toward the
mystical. The heart is a wonderful organ, but so is the brain.
Nicholas D. Kristof is an op-ed columnist for the New York Times.
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