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Random Religion Facts

It has been a while since I did a “random facts” blog entry so I guess now is a good time for another. And why not go with one which is bound to be controversial, especially if my religious followers (OK, maybe an unfortunate word there) bother to read it. Let’s go with “Random Religion Facts”. What interesting little nuggets of wisdom are in my religion random facts file? Let’s have a look and see…

Fact 1: The Catholic Church made $97 billion in 2011, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Commentary 1: While the WSJ has become a bit of a joke based on some of its material (on global warming for example) I think it can stil be trusted to get basic financial facts like this right. So I will assume the number is correct (the church does try to hide it where possible) and will supply some commentary.

In fact, considering the size of the church and the number of members it has I don’t think this is necessarily a huge number. Compare it with Apple’s latest quarterly revenue of $35 billion (giving about $140 billion for the year) to get some perspective. And there are over a billion Catholics in the world while estimates of Apple’s customer base are merely in the hundreds of millions range.

But despite these reservations the church still has a significant income and many people would quite rightly wonder whether it is using that in a genuinely productive way. Because the church’s finances are well hidden it is difficult to draw any exact conclusions but in general I would say it might be able to afford to do a little bit more helping those in need.

Fact 2: A poll of British Muslims showed 33% want to live under Sharia law and think apostates should be put to death, 68% think neighbours who insult Islam should be arrested, and 78% think the Danish cartoonists should be brought to justice.

Commentary 2: I often hear very critical commentary from the far right on the dangers of Islam and generally think the risk is exaggerated. But if this poll is accurate then they have a very good point. Whatever the facts, I would prefer it if all religious extremism (Christian, Muslim, or whatever) was eliminated from the planet, but if these stats are accurate then I don’t think even the moderates should be tolerated.

If a third of any group think that people who disagree with them should be killed (and a much higher proportion want to suppress all criticism) then that group as a whole should be worried. If I belonged to a group (such as a political party or religion) where a significant part of the membership started believing something so abhorrent I would leave the group and work against it. That’s what all Muslims should do. Their belief system has become corrupt to its core. It’s time to abandon it.

Fact 3: Christianity grew only 5% in the US from the year 1990 to 2000, non-religion grew 110%, and Buddhism grew 170%.

Commentary 3: According to other stats I have heard this trend has continued and perhaps accelerated. Of course, in absolute numbers things aren’t quite so good (or bad for Christians) because the percentage of the US population which claims to be religious is very high, but the trend is clear: religion is on the way out.

It seems to be an inevitable overall trend that religion becomes less strong as a country matures. There are temporary reversals because as a belief system becomes threatened there is often a backlash by its adherents (for example, Muslim extremists in the Middle East, and the nutty Christian far right in the US). But as one generation is replaced by another the big trend cannot be reversed and less religiosity is inevitable.

Note that more traditional religions are often replaced by new-age belief systems such as (poorly defined) spirituality and Buddhism, but these seem to be less harmful than “real” religions.

Fact 4: 93% of scientists in The American National Academy of Sciences are atheist or agnostic.

Commentary 4: There is a well established inverse relationship between education level and degree of religious belief. As people become more educated they naturally reject beliefs based on ignorance and superstition. Clearly there are exceptions, but the number cannot be denied. In a country where about 90% claim to be believers, when a well-educated group of senior scientists reverse that strong trend it really means something.

There is no doubt about it: most religious people are ignorant, and many are probably stupid as well. The only defence is a conspiracy theory where scientists are indoctrinated against religion by the evil scientific establishment. Well maybe the religious people should look at themselves and think about who is really doing the evil brain-washing!

Fact 5: Of the approximately 13 letters of Paul, historians agree that only 7 are authentic. The rest are forgeries.

Commentary 5: The Bible really is an atrocious source of historical fact. I’m not saying there is no real history there, but I am saying that fact and fiction are so mixed up that the whole book becomes almost useless.

Paul was one of the founders of the church and wrote a lot of material in the New Testament. But it turns out that about half of the material attributed to him is fake! Not only that, but Paul never even met Jesus and wrote all of his material second (or third or fourth) hand or (more likely) just made most of it up. It’s really just totally absurd to take any notice of this stuff at all.

But it goes away beyond just Paul’s writings, here are some more facts in my file on this subject. It is also agreed that the following are forgeries: 1 Timothy, 2 Peter, 1 Thessolonians. And according to the majority of historians, 1 Maccabees is only moderately reliable and 2 Maccabees is highly suspect (it’s really only religious propaganda). Plus, the Book Of Daniel is a forgery, it’s not from the 6th century BC but the 2nd, just to make it look like certain prophecies were fulfilled. And the last 12 verses of Mark are not original – they were added later to “square up” Mark with the later story as concocted by Matthew and Luke. And even that is just tip of the iceberg. To summarise (and perhaps be a bit unkind): the Bible is crap!

Fact 6: A recent Gallup poll in the US asked if people went to church in the last week. About 40% said yes but other surveys show (and academics confirm) that the reality is probably only 20%.

Commentary 6: I’m not suggesting that attending church regularly is necessary to being a genuinely religious person, but many denominations stress the importance of regular church attendance. Some of the more cynical amongst us might suggest that is so that the person can be subjected to their weekly dose of religious propaganda to reinforce their superstitious beliefs, or that it is just a way for the church to improve its finances, but that is simplistic and I’m sure there are far more genuine reasons as well.

It is interesting though, in a country which claims to be overwhelmingly religious, that less than half of those polled say they have been to church in the preceding week and only half of those actually have! Maybe religion isn’t as important as people like to think, but it’s necessary to keep up the pretence. Or maybe (to offer a less cynical alternative) people just engage in their religion without organised church meetings.

Those are some of the highlights from the first half of my religious facts file. Clearly I will need to do another blog entry to cover the rest at a later date. But what would be my conclusion from this information so far? How about this: that things aren’t as they seem, and that what people think is true in this area rarely is.

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  1. July 25, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    Well thought commentaries. It’s become pretty clear to me the construction of the Bible is suspect; politically motivated by early church fathers to serve their orthodox purposes. It seems to me all religious fundamentalism, Muslim and Christian, are unnecessary roadblocks to intellectual enlightenment.

  2. OJB
    July 25, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    Yes, there is no doubt to any reasonable and well-informed person that the Bible only contains components of truth and real history and is primarily a book of religious mythology. Anyone who thinks it is a totally accurate record really is living in “cloud cuckoo land”.

    The question is this: does it contain enough real facts to make it a useful source for studying the past, especially the alleged events around Jesus’ life (and did he even exist). I would say the answer is clearly “no” but I admit there is room for some debate around this.

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