Saturday, April 30, 2016

America’s Changing Religious Landscape

Americans as a whole are becoming less religious, but those who still practice a faith are just as committed as they were in the past and in certain respects even more so.

The 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study by the Pew Research Center, also shows that nearly all major religious groups have become more accepting of homosexuality since 2007.
The study provides some solace to those who bemoan the undeniable rise of the “nones”, ie: people who claim no religious affiliation. “People who say they have a religion which is still the vast majority of the population show no discernible dip in levels of observance,” said Alan Cooperman, director of religion research at Pew.
“They report attending religious services as often as they did a few years ago. They pray as often as they did before, and they are just as likely to say that religion plays a very important role in their lives,” he added. “On some measures there are even small increases in their levels of religious practice.”
More religiously affiliated adults, for example, read scripture regularly and participate in small religious groups compared to seven years ago, according to the survey. And 88% of religiously affiliated adults say they pray daily, weekly or monthly — the same percentage that reported regular prayer in the first landscape study in 2007.
“We should remember that the United States remains a nation of believers with nearly 9 in 10 adults saying they believe in God," said Gregory Smith, Pew’s associate director of research.
That said, religious affiliation overall has ticked down by about 3 percentage points in recent years, driven mainly by growth in the share of “nones” who say they don’t believe in God. Even among Christians, 98%, of whom say they believe in God, fewer believe with absolute certainty: 76% today compared with 80% in 2007.
About 77% of adults surveyed describe themselves as religiously affiliated, a decline from 83% in 2007.
Pew researchers attribute these drops to the dying off of older believers, and a growing number of Millennials (those born from 1982 through early 2000s) who claim no religious affiliation.
The researchers also found that as religiosity in America wanes, a more general spirituality is on the rise, with 6 in 10 adults saying they regularly feel a “deep sense of spiritual peace and well-being,” up 7 percentage points since 2007. Also increasing: the number of people who experienced a “deep sense of wonder” about the universe, which also jumped 7 percentage points.
These trends make sense, said Andrew Walsh, a historian of American religion at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, in that religious affiliation in America today is “increasingly shaped by individual choice and less by inheritance from a family or community.”
Though the current social climate, especially for young adults, allows Americans to choose not to affiliate with a religious institution, Walsh said, many “are still spiritual in some ways.”
One sign: the proliferation of yoga studios throughout the nation. Most enthusiasts of the meditative practice, which combines breathing and physical postures, are not looking to convert to Hinduism, Walsh said, but they may nevertheless find the activity spiritually gratifying.
Cooperman cautioned, however, against concluding that such spirituality is replacing more traditional kinds of religious experiences, such as attending religious services.
“On the contrary, the people in the survey who express the most spirituality are the people who are the most religious in conventional ways,” he said, “and the respondents who are the least attached to traditional religion, including the ‘nines,’ report much lower levels of spiritual experiences.”
Small Town Protestant Chuch in the U.S.A.

More striking numbers in the study describe changing Christian attitudes toward gay Americans. Though the new survey is not the first to document such change, it shows in detail how dramatically members of a broad swath of denominations, even those that officially oppose homosexuality, have shifted in their views.
The number of evangelical Protestants, for example, who said they agreed that “homosexuality should be accepted by society” jumped 10 percentage points between the 2007 and 2014 studies from 26% to 36%. The increase for Catholics was even steeper, from 58% to 70%. For historically black Protestant churches, acceptance jumped from 39% to 51%.
“Despite attempts to paint religious people as monolithically opposed to LGBT rights, that’s just not the case and these numbers prove that,” said Jay Brown, head of research and education at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the national gay rights group.
“There’s growing support of LGBT people and our families, often not in spite of people’s religions but because the very foundation of their faith encourages love, acceptance and support for their fellow human beings,” he said.
The religiously unaffiliated, however, showed the highest rate of acceptance of gay Americans: 83%.
On abortion, attitudes held steady, as has been the case since the Supreme Court made abortion a constitutional right in 1973. The study shows that 53% of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, with views within denominations shifting little since the first landscape study.
Other findings from the study include:
A minority of Jews  (40%)  and the vast majority of Muslims (90%) say they do not eat pork, the consumption of which is forbidden by Jewish and Islamic law. Hinduism does not allow beef to be eaten, and nearly 7 in 10 Hindus (67%) say they abide by that rule.
U.S.A. Mosque.
Nearly 9 in 10 Americans say religious institutions bring people together and strengthen community bonds, and 87% say they play an important role in helping the poor and needy.
Women are more prayerful than men: 64% say they pray every day, compared with 46% of men.
On evolution, more than 62% of Americans say humans have evolved over time while about a third (34%) say humans always existed in their present form.
Six in 10 adults, and three-quarters of Christians, believe the Bible or other holy scripture is the word of God. About 31% overall and 39% of Christians believe it should be interpreted literally.
Other highlights in the Pew Center Research report include:
The Christian share of the population is declining and the religiously unaffiliated share is growing in all four major geographic regions of the country. Religious “nones” now constitute 19% of the adult population in the South (up from 13% in 2007), 22% of the population in the Midwest (up from 16%), 25% of the population in the Northeast (up from 16%) and 28% of the population in the West (up from 21%). In the West, the religiously unaffiliated are more numerous than Catholics (23%), evangelicals (22%) and every other religious group.
American Catholic Church

Whites continue to be more likely than both blacks and Hispanics to identify as religiously unaffiliated; 24% of whites say they have no religion, compared with 20% of Hispanics and 18% of blacks. But, the religiously unaffiliated have grown (and Christians have declined) as a share of the population within all three of these racial and ethnic groups.
The percentage of college graduates who identify with Christianity has declined by nine percentage points since 2007 (from 73% to 64%). The Christian share of the population has declined by a similar amount among those with less than a college education (from 81% to 73%). Religious “nones” now constitute 24% of all college graduates (up from 17%) and 22% of those with less than a college degree (up from 16%).
More than a quarter of men (27%) now describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated, up from 20% in 2007. Fewer women are religious “nones" but the religiously unaffiliated are growing among women at about the same rate as among men. Nearly one-in-five women (19%) now describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated, up from 13% in 2007.
Although it is low relative to other religious groups, the retention rate of the unaffiliated has increased. In the current survey, 53% of those raised as religiously unaffiliated still identify as “nones” in adulthood, up seven points since 2007. And among Millennials, “nones” actually have one of the highest retention rates of all the religious categories that are large enough to analyze in the survey.
As the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated continue to grow, they also describe themselves in increasingly secular terms. In 2007, 25% of the “nones” called themselves atheists or agnostics; 39% identified their religion as “nothing in particular” and also said that religion is “not too” or “not at all” important in their lives; and 36% identified their religion as “nothing in particular” while nevertheless saying that religion is either “very important” or “somewhat important” in their lives. The new survey finds that the atheist and agnostic share of the “nones” has grown to 31%. Those identifying as “nothing in particular” and describing religion as unimportant in their lives continue to account for 39% of all “nones.” But the share identifying as “nothing in particular” while also affirming that religion is either “very” or “somewhat” important to them has fallen to 30% of all “nones.”
While the mainline Protestant share of the population is significantly smaller today than it was in 2007, the evangelical Protestant share of the population has remained comparatively stable (ticking downward slightly from 26.3% to 25.4% of the population). As a result, evangelicals now constitute a clear majority (55%) of all U.S. Protestants. In 2007, roughly half of Protestants (51%) identified with evangelical churches.
Since 2007, the share of evangelical Protestants who identify with Baptist denominations has shrunk from 41% to 36%. Meanwhile, the share of evangelicals identifying with nondenominational churches has grown from 13% to 19%.
The United Methodist Church (UMC) continues to be the largest denomination within the mainline Protestant tradition. Currently, 25% of mainline Protestants identify with the UMC, down slightly from 28% in 2007.
More than six-in-ten people in the historically black Protestant tradition identify with Baptist denominations, including 22% who identify with the National Baptist Convention, the largest denomination within the historically black Protestant tradition.
The share of the public identifying with religions other than Christianity has grown from 4.7% in 2007 to 5.9% in 2014. Gains were most pronounced among Muslims (who accounted for 0.4% of respondents in the 2007 Religious Landscape Study and 0.9% in 2014) and Hindus (0.4% in 2007 vs. 0.7% in 2014).
American Hindu Temple

Roughly one-in-seven participants in the new survey (15%) were born outside the U.S., and two-thirds of those immigrants are Christians, including 39% who are Catholic. More than one-in-ten immigrants identify with a non-Christian faith, such as Islam or Hinduism.
Hindus and Jews continue to be the most highly educated religious traditions. Fully 77% of Hindus are college graduates, as are 59% of Jews (compared with 27% of all U.S. adults). These groups also have above-average household incomes. Fully 44% of Jews and 36% of Hindus say their annual family income exceeds $100,000, compared with 19% of the public overall.Top of Form
American Jewish Synagogue

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The Pew 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey Study interviewed 35,071 Americans, and has a margin of error of plus or minus less than 1 percentage point. 


Three Humorous Poems

Casey At The Bat
by Ernest Lawrence Thayer

The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day;
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play,
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A pall-like silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, 'If only Casey could but get a whack at that-
We'd put up even money now, with Casey at the bat.'

But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was a hoodoo, while the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Casey getting to the bat.

But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despisèd, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.

Then from five thousand throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It pounded on the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.

There was ease in Casey's manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey's bearing and a smile lit Casey's face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt 'twas Casey at the bat.

Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt;
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance flashed in Casey's eye, a sneer curled Casey's lip.

And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped-
'That ain't my style,' said Casey. 'Strike one! ' the umpire said.

From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore;
'Kill him! Kill the umpire! ' shouted some one on the stand;
And it's likely they'd have killed him had not Casey raised his hand.

With a smile of Christian charity great Casey's visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the dun sphere flew;
But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, 'Strike two! '

'Fraud! ' cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered 'Fraud! '
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that Casey wouldn't let that ball go by again.

The sneer has fled from Casey's lip, his teeth are clenched in hate;
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go.
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey's blow.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and little children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville- mighty Casey has struck out. 

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On A Tired Housewife

by an Anonymous Poet

Here lies a poor woman who was always tired,
She lived in a house where help wasn't hired:
Her last words on earth were: 'Dear friends, I am going
To where there's no cooking, or washing, or sewing,
For everything there is exact to my wishes,
For where they don't eat there's no washing of dishes.
I'll be where loud anthems will always be ringing,
But having no voice I'll be quit of the singing.
Don't mourn for me now, don't mourn for me never,
I am going to do nothing for ever and ever.' 

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A Word to Two Husbands
by Ogden Nash

To keep your marriage brimming
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you’re wrong, admit it; 
Whenever you’re right, shut up. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Cursed Village of Rajasthan, India

Kuldhara Temple

Kuldhara story is one of the weirdest and inspiring stories you will ever hear. About 15 Km. west of Jaisalmer a city in western Rajasthan lies the ruins of a village which was called Kuldhara. The first sight of Kuldhara village, more a town actually, sends one imagination running to the time it may have been inhabited. A well planned settlement, the straight and wide streets ran in grids with houses opening into them. All design elements kept both aesthetics and utility in mind. A kind of a garage opened into the streets to park carts in. Temples, step wells and other structures were all signs of sound development over the centuries. 

Kuldhara was the name of the largest village in this community consisting of 84 villages.  The village was established in 1291 by the Paliwal Brahmins and was a rather prosperous community due to their ability to grow bumper crops in the rather arid desert.  Paliwal bhramins were a very prosperous clan and were known for their business acumen and agricultural knowledge. But one night in 1825 all the people in Kuldhara and nearby 83 villages vanished in dark. Why did the villagers decide to leave their settlement after having lived there for more that 7 centuries.

The evil dewan or the minister in the ruling kingdom saw the young daughter of the village chief. He wanted to marry her and forced the village chief to marry his daughter. He gave them a deadline for the marriage after which he would forcefully enter the village and take their daughter. All the chiefs of 84 villages met one night and for pride and honor decided to leave the villages in the dark of the night.
No one knows where they went but it is believed that they settled near Jodhpur another city in western Rajasthan. Though nobody knows exactly how they did it, everybody in all of the 84 villages completely disappeared that very night.  Nobody saw them leave or figured out where they went – they simply vanished.  It is believed that they cast a curse over the village as they departed that would bring death to anyone who tried to inhabit the land.  It is likely that this is the reason why so much of the ancient village still remains (though mostly in rubble, but not stripped of materials). The crumbling brick structures span out towards all directions and a ghostly silence is all that lives on there. There are still some double story houses that are intact and the awestruck tourist can well visualize how life went on in Kuldhara, ages ago.
Hindu Temple Ruin
Today the ruins of these villages can still be seen in western Rajasthan and are now tourist sites. The government today maintains the ruins as a heritage site. A walk through the village is akin to wandering onto the sets of a ghost movie. Only, this one is for real. Anyone who is planning a visit to Jaisalmer should keep aside a few hours to catch this haunted setting in the eerie desert backdrop. Recently, Saif Ali Khan’s  “Agent Vinod” was shot in this ancient village.

Fascinating Churches Around the World

The Church of Hallgrímur (Reykjavík, Iceland)

The Church of Hallgrímur is a Lutheran parish church which is also a very tall one, reaching 74.5 meters (244 ft) height. It is the fourth tallest architectural structure in Iceland. It took an
incredibly long time to build it- 38 years. Construction work began in 1945 and ended in 1986. The architect was Guðjón Samúelsson.

                          Las Lajas Cathedral (Colombia, South America)

Las Lajas Cathedral was built in 1916 inside the canyon of the Guaitara river where, according to local legend, the Virgin Mary appeared. It is located in southern Colombian Department of Narino, municipality of Ipiales, near the border with Ecuador.

                             Device to Root Out Evil (Calgary, AB, Canada)

It was too controversial for New York City and for Stanford University. But, this imposing church sculpture by renowned international artist Dennis Oppenheim finally found a public home in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. A country church is seen balancing on its steeple, as if it had been lifted by a terrific force and brought to the site as a device or method of rooting out evil forces. In 2008 it was moved from Vancouver to Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

                                  The Chapel of St. Gildas (Brittany, France)

This chapel sits on the banks of the Canal du Blavet in Brittany, France. Built like a stone barn into the base of a bare rocky cliff, this was once a holy place of the Druids. Gildas appears to have travelled widely throughout the Celtic world of Corrwall, Wales, Ireland and Scotland. He arrived in Brittany in about AD 540 and is said to have preached Christianity to the people from a rough pulpit, now contained within the chapel.

Shell Church (Huntington Beach, California, USA)

A Shell gasoline filling station has been converted into a church but it still retains the Shell gasoline sign.

Notre Dame du Haut (Ronchamp, France)

Informally known as Ronchamp, the chapel of Notre Dame du Haut was completed in 1954 and is considered one of the finest examples of architecture by the late French/Swiss architect Le Corbusier. Interesting fact: When it rains, water pours off the slanted roof onto a fountain, creating a dramatic waterfall.

               St. Joseph Ukrainian Catholic Church (Chicago, Illinois, USA)

This church is massiveness and gray color looks like Soviet architecture. I was amazed when I read that it was actually in USA and not in Soviet Union. St. Joseph Ukrainian Catholic church is best known for its ultra-modern thirteen gold domed roof symbolizing the twelve apostles and Jesus Christ as the largest center dome. It was built in 1956.

                              Jubilee Church (Rome, Italy)

Jubilee Church has very distinctive curved walls which look like sails and serve the engineering purpose of minimizing thermal peak loads in the interior space. The walls are made from a special cement, which contain titanium dioxide, so it destroys air pollution. When the titanium dioxide absorbs ultraviolet light, it becomes powerfully reactive, breaking down pollutants that come in contact with the concrete. The architect was Richard Meier. The church was built in 1996.

                   Grace Fellowship Baptist Church (Detroit, Michigan, USA)

This unusual building is actually a church. Once it was famous for being Detroit’s most beautiful Chinese-American restaurant. Later it closed down and became the Omega Baptist Church and then the Grace Fellowship Baptist Church..

                                   Basilica de Higuey (Dominican Republic)

The Catholic Basilica de Higuey, inaugurated on January 21, 1971, is one of the most respected monuments of the Dominican Republic. It was built by French architects, and is located in the city of Higuey, Dominican Republic.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Neglected Important Artists, No. 25

Wolfgang Beurer

Master W. B. (late 15th century in Mainz) was an anonymous German painter, engraver, and stained glass designer of the late Gothic era. He has been tentatively identified as Wolfgang Beurer, about whom very little is known.

Works Attributed to Wolfgang Beurer

Stag Hunting


Hare Hunting

Boar Hunting

Bear Hunting

Portraits of a Man and a Woman

Figure with a Coat-of-Arms

Man with a Beard

Portrait of a Man

Stain Glass Church Window

(The window was heavily damaged because of bombing during World War II.)

Friday, April 22, 2016

Trump and the Triumph of Ignorance

“I love the poorly educated.” - Donald Trump
Before any votes were cast, when Donald Trump was the theoretical front-runner, the optimists preached patience. Just wait, they said. This will blow over. He’s a clown, a huckster, a TV personality. There’s no way he can win the Republican Party nomination for President. However, it is not only possible, it’s likely.
I hate to have to say it, but the conclusion stares us in the face. The United States is a very stupid country, full of loud, illiterate and credulous people. Trump has marched straight to the nomination without offering anything like a platform or a plan. With a vocabulary of roughly a dozen words - wall, Mexicans, low-energy, loser, Muslims, stupid, China, negotiate, deals, America, great, again, Trump has bamboozled millions of Americans. And it’s not just conservatives supporting Trump or your garden-variety bigots (although that’s the center of his coalition), it’s also independents, pro-choice Republicans, and a subset of Reagan Democrats.
This says something profoundly uncomfortable about the U.S. and its process of choosing its leaders. A majority of Americans appear wholly uninterested in the actual business of government; in fact, they do not understand it and do not want to understand it.  They have vague feelings about undefined issues and their votes (if they vote at all) is based on a candidates likeability or on party affiliation or on emotional grounds or on whoever approximates their rage. This has always been true to some extent, but Trump like Hitler is a master of wandering rhetoric which appeals to ignorant bigots who pine for the so-called "good old days".
Trump’s wager was simple: Pretend to be stupid and angry because that’s what stupid and angry people like. He has held up a mirror to the country, shown us how blind, ignorant and stupid many in this country really are. He knows how ignorant and undiscerning people in this country are and the fact that they little care about details and facts. For instance, in the Nevada primary, 70 percent of Trump voters said they preferred an “anti-establishment” candidate to one with any “experience in politics.” Essentially, that means they did not care if Trump who won the primary understood how government works or if he has the requisite skills to do the job.
In no other domain of life would this make any sense at all. If your attorney drops the ball, you do not hire a plumber to replace him. Yet, millions of Trump supporter say they really do not  care if Trump has ever worked at any level of government or if he knows anything about foreign policy or the law or the Constitution. It’s enough that he greets them at their level and panders to their fears and their instincts. He even brazenly condescends to his supporters, as the opening quote illustrates, and they fail to notice it. Trump, a billionaire trust fund baby who inherited $40 million from his father, has convinced many working-class white people that he’s just like them, that he feels their pain and knows their struggle.
To be sure, the media shares a lot of the blame here. In an essay, journalist Matt Taibbi lamented the decline of cable news. He makes a relevant point:“We in the media have spent decades turning the news into a consumer business that’s basically indistinguishable from selling cheeseburgers or video games…When you make news into this kind of consumer business, pretty soon audiences lose the ability to distinguish between what they think they’re doing, informing themselves, and what they’re actually doing, shopping.”
All of that is true, but still we are left with the problem: The people are getting what they want, and what they want is to have their idiocies and their discontent beamed back at them. Trump is clearly more than a media construction. He’s everything dumb and regressive about our political culture distilled into a single candidate. And, he exists only because a sufficient number of Americans want him to - that is the problem.
The Founders of this country were Enlightenment-era elitists. They represented everything Tea Partiers and people like Trump and his supporters abhor- intelligence, free inquiry, progress, science, and reason. Humans being high primates, they wondered whether the average citizen could be trusted with a democracy, whether the fury of the mob could be contained. The Founding Fathers did not think so. They were wrong about a lot of things but a Trump nomination, perhaps more than anything else, would be the ultimate vindication of their concerns.
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Political Cartoons