Losing Our Religion: New Documentary Explores Clergy Who Have Lost Faith

Shot across North America and the UK over two years, Losing Our Religion provides a first look inside The Clergy Project, a safe, anonymous online space for preachers who no longer believe in god. The site has grown from sixty to over six hundred members in just two years. Now, for the first time, a documentary crew has been allowed access to the members of The Clergy Project. Many members find themselves trapped, facing the dilemma of either living a lie, or losing their job, community and even home and family.

Filmmaker Leslea Mair interviewed clergy across North America, including the Deep South, who are still undercover and know they would lose their jobs and their friends should anyone find out. Leslea also talked to former clergy, Clergy Project members who are “out,” who give open and personal explanations of why they became preachers, what happened, the cost of being honest, and why they are still working to help others trapped in the pulpit.


Commissioned by Bruce Cowley, senior director of documentary Channel, Losing Our Religion will have its world broadcast premiere on documentary Channel in the fall of 2017. Public screenings are also scheduled in select locations and the film will be available for purchase in 2018.

Contributors include Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Dan Barker, and many more.

Daniel Dennett, Philosopher, Author
Richard Dawkins. The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason provided funding to create the Clergy Project.
Dan Barker, Freedom from Religion Foundation.

 www.losingourreligion.ca CC

PRRI Releases Largest Survey of American Religious and Denominational Identity Ever Conducted

09.06.2017
Survey of 101,000 Americans chronicles the country’s changing religious landscape, including the declining dominance of white Christian groups and a more diverse future

WASHINGTON—With aging white Christian groups now accounting for fewer than half of the public and non-Christian groups constituting the country’s youngest religious communities, the future of American religion will likely look strikingly different than its past. A massive new survey out today from PRRI reveals seismic shifts in the religious landscape over the last few decades, including the sharp growth of the religiously unaffiliated—a category that includes atheists, agnostics, and those who say they do not identify with any particular religion—along with racial and ethnic changes that are transforming nearly all major Christian denominations.

These are among the major findings from “America’s Changing Religious Identity,” a report released today by PRRI. The report is based on findings from PRRI’s 2016 American Values Atlas, the single largest survey of American religious and denominational identity ever conducted, based on interviews with more than 101,000 Americans from all 50 states conducted across 2016. The report includes detailed information about religious affiliation, denominational ties, political affiliation, and other important demographic characteristics.

“This report provides solid evidence of a new, second wave of white Christian decline that is occurring among white evangelical Protestants just over the last decade in the U.S.,” says Robert P. Jones, PRRI CEO and author of The End of White Christian America. “Prior to 2008, white evangelical Protestants seemed to be exempt from the waves of demographic change and disaffiliation that were eroding the membership bases of white mainline Protestants and white Catholics. We now see that these waves simply crested later for white evangelical Protestants.”

Today, only 43% of Americans identify as white Christian, and only 30% as white Protestant. In 1976, roughly eight in ten (81%) Americans identified as white and identified with a Christian denomination, and a majority (55%) were white Protestants.

Fewer than one in five (17%) Americans now identify as white evangelical Protestant, but they accounted for nearly one-quarter (23%) of the public just a decade ago in 2006. Over the same period, white Catholics dropped five percentage points from 16% to 11%, and white mainline Protestants have shed an equal number, decreasing from 18% to 13%.

The Catholic Church is also undergoing a dramatic transformation as its share of white, non-Hispanic members dwindles and its Hispanic membership rises. Twenty-five years earlier in 1991, nearly nine in ten (87%) Catholics were white, non-Hispanic, compared to 55% today. Among Catholics under the age of 30, fewer than four in ten (36%) are white, non-Hispanic, compared to 52% who are Hispanic.

More evidence that America’s future is less white and less Christian: Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and the religiously unaffiliated are all far younger than white Christian groups. At least one-third of Muslims (42%), Hindus (36%), and Buddhists (35%) are under the age of 30. Roughly one-third (34%) of religiously unaffiliated Americans are also under 30. In contrast, slightly more than one in ten white Catholics (11%), white evangelical Protestants (11%), and white mainline Protestants (14%) are under 30.

“The unprecedented growth of the religiously unaffiliated has made this group much more complex,” said PRRI Research Director Dan Cox. “For example, atheists and agnostics, two of the most known subgroups among the unaffiliated, account for just a sliver of the entire group.”

Atheists and agnostics account for only about one-quarter (27%) of all religiously unaffiliated Americans. Nearly six in ten (58%) religiously unaffiliated Americans identify as secular, or someone who is not religious; 16% of religiously unaffiliated Americans nonetheless report that they identify as a “religious person.”

Additional findings:

  • Non-Christian religious groups are growing, but they still represent less than one in ten Americans combined. Jews constitute 2% of all Americans while Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus each constitute only 1% of the public. All other non-Christian religions constitute an additional 1%.
  • There are now 20 states in which no religious group comprises a greater share of residents than the religiously unaffiliated. These states tend to be more concentrated in the western U.S., although they include a few New England states, as well. More than four in ten (41%) residents of Vermont and approximately one-third of Americans in Oregon (36%), Washington (35%), Hawaii (34%), Colorado (33%), and New Hampshire (33%) are religiously unaffiliated.
  • No state is less religiously diverse than Mississippi. The state is heavily Protestant and dominated by a single denomination: Baptist. Six in ten (60%) Protestants in Mississippi are Baptist. No state has a greater degree of religious diversity than New York.
  • The cultural center of the Catholic Church is shifting south. The Northeast is no longer the epicenter of American Catholicism—although at 41% Catholic, Rhode Island remains the most Catholic state in the country. Immigration from predominantly Catholic countries in Latin America means new Catholic populations are settling in the Southwest. In 1972, roughly seven in ten Catholics lived in either the Northeast (41%) or the Midwest (28%). Only about one-third of Catholics lived in the South (13%) or West (18%). Today, a majority of Catholics now reside in the South (29%) or West (25%). Currently, only about one-quarter (26%) of the U.S. Catholic population lives in the Northeast, and 20% live in the Midwest.
  • Jews, Hindus, and Unitarian-Universalists stand out as the most educated groups in the American religious landscape. More than one-third of Jews (34%), Hindus (38%), and Unitarian-Universalists (43%) hold post-graduate degrees. Notably, Muslims are significantly more likely than white evangelical Protestants to have at least a four-year college degree (33% vs. 25%, respectively).
  • Asian or Pacific-Islander Americans have a significantly different religious profile than other racial or ethnic groups. There are as many Asian or Pacific-Islander Americans affiliated with non-Christian religions as with Christian religious groups. And one-third (34%) are religiously unaffiliated.
  • Nearly half of LGBT Americans are religiously unaffiliated. Nearly half (46%) of Americans who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) are religiously unaffiliated. This is roughly twice the number of Americans overall (24%) who are religiously unaffiliated.
  • White Christians have become a minority in the Democratic Party. Fewer than one in three (29%) Democrats today are white Christian, compared to half (50%) one decade earlier. Only 14% of young Democrats (age 18 to 29) identify as white Christian. Forty percent identify as religiously unaffiliated.
  • White evangelical Protestants remain the dominant religious force in the GOP. More than one-third (35%) of all Republicans identify as white evangelical Protestant, a proportion that has remained roughly stable over the past decade. Roughly three-quarters (73%) of Republicans belong to a white Christian religious group.

The topline, full methodology, and additional findings and analysis can be found here: https://www.prri.org/research/american-religious-landscape-christian-religiously-unaffiliated/

Methodology

The 2016 American Values Atlas (AVA) is a project of PRRI. Results were based on 101,438 bilingual telephone interviews (including 60,355 cell phone interviews) conducted between January 6, 2016 and January 10, 2017 by professional interviewers under the direction of SSRS. The sample was designed to represent the total U.S. adult population from all 50 states, including Hawaii and Alaska. The AVA was made possible by generous grants from The Ford Foundation, The Nathan Cummings Foundation, The Carnegie Corporation of New York, The Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, The Gill Foundation, and The Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock.

PRRI is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization specializing in research at the intersection of religion, values, and public life.

PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to conducting independent research at the intersection of religion, culture, and public policy.
PRRI’s research explores and illuminates America’s changing cultural, religious, and political landscape. PRRI’s mission is to help journalists, scholars, pundits, thought leaders, clergy, and the general public better understand debates on public policy issues, and the important cultural and religious dynamics shaping American society and politics. 

Spirit photography: William Hope Cashed in on Grief

By Gretchen Mullen, Skeptic Review

Spirit photography, or photos claiming to document ghosts of loved ones, became popular during the late 19th and early 20th centuries as hope rose that photography could finally provide scientific proof of the afterlife.

The impetus behind the proliferation of these highly sought after photos was three-fold:

  1. The photographer mastering this technique could get rich quick, often hanging out with some of the upper echelon of society.
  2. Subjects were anxious to believe their dearly departed loved ones were now heavenly spirits. Too often, subjects photographed were in the throes of a recent loss and were easily exploited. Post-war eras were particularly fruitful.
  3. Cameras were viewed as documenting truth; public knowledge about photographic manipulation was limited.

As early as 1869, American William Mumler, spirit photographer to the stars–not the least of whom was Mary Todd Lincoln–was tried for fraud, but was ultimately acquitted because the prosecutor simply couldn’t quite figure out how the photographs were fraudulently made.

    • Mary Todd Lincoln and the ghost of Abraham Lincoln as photographed by William Mumler, ca.1869.

Enter English spirit photographer William Hope (1863-1933) who garnered a prestigious clientele including an enthusiastic endorsement from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Below is a mere sampling of spirit photos produced by William Hope courtesy National Science and Media Museum:

 

Despite being labeled a “common cheat” by Scientific American, support for Hope persisted. William Hope was also the subject of a sting operation conducted by “paranormal investigator” Harry Price (Harry Price merits his own story, to be discussed in a separate article coming soon).

Price’s investigation prompted Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to publish The Case for Spirit Photography in 1922 “to show the overpowering weight of evidence which exists as to the reality of Mr. Hope’s most remarkable gift.”

 

Allegory of the Cave: A Visual Primer

By Gretchen Mullen, Skeptic Review

My recent review of Reasons to Believe, a new film by Ben Fama Jr., prompted me to refresh my understanding of “The Allegory of the Cave,” also known as “Plato’s Cave.” Fama opens Reasons to Believe with his own depiction of this famous parable, endowing the allegory with tremendous significance as a precursor to a most serious discussion on the nature of belief and its real world consequences, carried out by modern scholars Michael Shermer, Peter Boghossian, Caleb Lack, Jennifer Whitson and Chad Woodruff. (To read my full summary and review of “Reasons to Believe,” click here. http://skepticreview.com/2017/08/20/skeptic-review-f…m-by-ben-fama-jr/)

Neither Socrates nor Plato would want me to give you my interpretation of the allegory. That is for you decide on your own. I must say, however, that a few key concepts stood out to me:

Enlightened vs. Unenlightened                         Light vs. Shadows

Upper World vs. Underground Cave                 Reality vs. Illusion            

Do yourself a favor and please spend a few moments of your day on these three delightful renditions of “The Allegory of the Cave.” Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments in the section below, or just thank me for making your day.

DEPICTION ONE: The Cave: A Parable Told by Orson Welles (1975)

Full citation:  Welles, Orson, 1915-1985, Wismer, C. B, Wolff, Larry, Oden, Dick, Bosustow, Nick et al. The Cave : a parable told by Orson Welles. CRM/McGraw Hill Films, [Del Mar, Calif.], 1975.

DEPICTION TWO: The Cave: An Adaptation of Plato’s Allegory in Clay (2008)

Bullhead Entertainment presents the award-winning animation film featured in over 100 film festivals worldwide. This 3-minute film took first place in animation at the USA Film Festival Short Film and Video Competition.

DEPICTION THREE: Allegory of the Cave (2014)

The product of an Advance Placement Language Class,  high school students move the allegory into today’s modern world. This short film would be an ideal and relatable teaching tool targeted to young adults.

 

Tweets We Love

Reasons to Believe: 2017 film by Ben Fama Jr. Now Free on YouTube

By Gretchen Mullen

UPDATE: Filmmaker Ben Fama has now made the full film available for free on YouTube. See link at the bottom of this article.

Filmmaker Ben Fama Jr. was kind enough to provide us with a private screening of his new film Reasons to Believe. Here’s our take on this exciting project available for general release on September 11, 2017.

Allegory of the Cave

The film begins with a cinematically pleasing vision of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, where humans are imprisoned in a cave and denied knowledge of the outside world. In the allegory, humans move from darkness to light, from false beliefs to truth and reason.

The Questions

Fama then poses the following questions:

  • How do beliefs shape our reality? Why do we believe?
  • How are we influenced to believe?
  • How do other people affect our thinking?
  • How do our beliefs hold us back?
  • How do we free ourselves from false beliefs?

The Experts

  • MICHAEL SHERMER, Author, The Moral Arc; The Believing Brain
  • PETER BOGHOSSIAN, Author, A Manual for Creating Atheists
  • CALEB LACK, Coauthor, Critical Thinking, Science, and Pseudoscience: Why We Can’t Trust our Brains
  • JENNIFER WHITSON, Author, “The Emotional Roots of Conspiratorial Perceptions, System Justification, and Belief in the Paranormal”
  • CHAD WOODRUFF, Author, Neuroscience of Empathy and Compassion

The Discussion

Fama’s questions are carefully considered by each expert and are addressed through carefully interwoven comments on each topic.

The film takes us through the human brain’s need to understand the world, often through a process in which beliefs come first and evidence comes second. In other words, beliefs are often not evidence-based, but make us feel better, perhaps even superior to others. These sometimes false beliefs are further influenced and reinforced by family, community, education, and the time period in which we live.  While our beliefs often make us who we are, or who we feel we are, they also have the power to divide us into ideological communities.

The discussion expands on the idea that we may be predisposed to accept certain beliefs because they are often confirmed by intense personal experiences. However, we are reminded, that experience does not equal objective truth.

The experts then explain that much of our human propensity for superstitions, magical rituals, and religious beliefs are rooted in the fact that life is random, unpredictable, and downright scary. We seek to avoid anxiety and a feeling that we like control; we seek comfort and meaning; we want to make sense out of chaos; we want to cope with uncertainty. This magical thinking is reinforced by the brain as we seek out patterns, even if these patterns are false and illogical.

So if false beliefs make us feel better, why does it matter? In the long run, false beliefs can lead to problems, the greatest of which is violence. Bad ideas lead can easily lead to bad behavior. Science teaches us that it really does matter what is right and what is wrong. Faulty beliefs lead to real world consequences and must be combatted. We must update our view of the world and weed out bad ideas. We must use data as opposed to anecdotes.

The film ends on an encouraging and positive note. The experts make practical suggestions to embrace reason. Some of the best:

  • Be comfortable with the words, “I don’t know.”
  • Model the behavior of a skeptic.
  • Use the scientific method.
  • Don’t attack beliefs—be polite, be thoughtful, use humor, listen to others and then respond with statements that open a conversation such as “I wonder how that could be true? What do you think?”
  • Study scientifically why religion has been viewed as so beneficial and how we can address that need in other more rational ways.
  • Help others to trust reason and value correct information.
  • Introduce critical thinking in early education. Teach children to recognize that our brains can fool us.
  • Assert that a more thoughtful and examined life has value.
  • Suggest that an alignment with reality will help humans flourish, that science and reason can and will lead to justice, freedom, prosperity and peace.

Reasons to Believe is well-organized and builds nicely from a primer on the brain to the foundations of belief, ending with a lovely, positive message about the future of skepticism and science and practical solutions we can embrace as individuals and as citizens of the world. It is a film you will want to view more than one time to take it all in.

Michael Shermer ties it up nicely at the end of the film: “I think we have a new enlightenment—a science-based enlightenment.”

View the trailer

The filmmakers

BEN FAMA JR: DIRECTOR

Ben Fama Jr. is an award-winning filmmaker, podcaster, and entrepreneur noted for his work on his short film A Virus Called Fear and his documentary Reasons To Believe. He has been featured in Huffington Post and his films have been featured on PBS, Medibiz.tv, and IndieFlix. Ben’s films and talks reflect the social and psychological behavior of humans and their social constructs on society. He is a very outspoken skeptic and atheist, as well as an advocate for mental health. His goal is to challenge the way we think and see the world, as well as what we believe.

He is the owner of Fama Media Productions, LLC. and the host of the podcast Reality Trip with Ben Fama Jr.

MESA FAMA: PRODUCER

Mesa has produced three award winning films with Ben Fama Jr. including two documentaries and a narrative. She holds a degree in psychology as a graduate from Arizona State University. She continues to produce and manage Fama Media Productions and sometimes is a guest host on the podcast Reality Trip with Ben Fama Jr.

Release date: September 11, 2017

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News: Godless Billboards Return to Sioux Falls, South Dakota

News: David Silverman: 2017 Recipient of The Richard Dawkins Award

David Silverman Courtesy Atheist Alliance of America
David Silverman Courtesy Atheist Alliance of America

Atheist Alliance of America and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science are pleased to announce David Silverman as the 2017 recipient of the Richard Dawkins Award. Silverman is President of American Atheists and was the creator and executive producer of the 2012 Reason Rally.

The award will be presented to David Silverman at Atheist Alliance of America’s convention in Atlanta, September 1-4, 2017, which will be held at Dragon*Con’s Skeptrack, where Atheist Alliance of America will be celebrating its 25th-year anniversary.

The Atheist Alliance of America celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2017.

AAoA 25th Anniversary Convention at DragonCon

Courtesy Atheist Alliance of America. Photographer: Mark W. Gura.

Previous winners of the Richard Dawkins Award:

2003: James Randi

2004: Ann Druyan

2005: Penn & Teller

2006: Julia Sweeney

2007: Daniel Dennett

2008: Ayaan Hirsi Ali

2009: Bill Maher

2010: Susan Jacoby

2011: Christopher Hitchens

2012: Eugenie Scott

2013: Steven Pinker

2014: Rebecca Goldstein

2015: Jerry Coyne

2016: Lawrence Krauss

YouTube Channels We Love: Anthony Magnabosco

Anthony Magnabosco is a Street Epistemologist who converses with and interviews random strangers on the street to ask about their beliefs, such as faith, superstitions, and so much more.

Check out his YouTube channel at: 

https://www.youtube.com/user/magnabosco210

According to Magnabosco, “I initiate friendly conversations with people to see how they arrived at their deeply-held beliefs (e.g., Gods, karma, ghosts, politics, etc.), and then ask respectful questions to help them discover if the method(s) used are unreliable so that more reliable methods can be employed to maintain the belief and/or the level of confidence in the belief can be adjusted to be more in line with reality.”

Of particular interest are these playlists:

My Top Ten Talks

Street Epistemology Presentations

Relativism (“It’s true for me.”)

Street Epistemology Tutorials

(20,599 subscribers • 2,096,049 views  Joined Dec 25, 2011)