The Meming of Life: on secular parenting and other natural wonders

Most many likely fairly tend

memingwordleRegular readers will know that I like me a good condensation — wordclouds (like this one, for this blog), concordances…anything that can boil a book down to its essence are my friends. Saves all that actual reading, don’t ya know.

In 2007 I compared the concordances (lists of the 100 most often used words) from What the Bible Says About Parenting and Parenting Beyond Belief. That the former, written from a conservative religious perspective, included the words SIN, DUTY, EVIL, FEAR, AUTHORITY, DISCIPLINE, COMMAND, COMMANDMENT, SUBMIT, and LAW in its top 100, while PBB had not a single one of those (and instead had things like REASON, QUESTION, and IDEA) is as telling as any other analysis.

I also mentioned at the time that both books had GOD in the top three. If you think it’s surprising to mention God a lot in a nonreligious parenting book, consider that the top four words in Quitting Smoking for Dummies are SMOKING, SMOKE, TOBACCO, and CIGARETTES.

This week I began wondering what words would end up in the top 100 of Atheism for Dummies. Because I’m working in 21 separate chapter documents, I haven’t done a scan yet, but I have a guess.

ATHEIST and the other labels will be up there, of course, as will GOD, our very own cigarette. But I’m willing to bet that qualifiers like MOST, MANY, LIKELY, FAIRLY, and TEND will also be in the top 100. That’s because it’s damn nigh impossible to speak in absolute terms about who atheists are, how they behave, or what they believe beyond the definitional thing. So I end up saying MOST atheists consider X to be true, atheists TEND to be Y, a given atheist is LIKELY to also be Z.

Obviously there’s variety in every worldview, but at least others can USUALLY point to a canon of presumed beliefs and practices, even if adherents diverge from them in the uh, real world.

(Eighteen days to go.)

Sex, Death, Wonder

Working on a chapter about how the world looks to a naturalistic mind. It’s the last Big Idea chapter, and a good thing — as you can tell by the scarce blog posts, I’m seriously running on fumes.

A bit of the chapter intro:

When someone decides God was created by humans, not the other way around, the rest of the supernatural types tend to follow God out the door. Just as Santa Claus generally takes the Easter bunny, the tooth fairy, and all the rest with him when he goes, most people who set aside the idea of gods quickly see faeries, goblins, demons, ghosts, and all other magical beings as products of the same fevered human imagination.

What’s left when the supernatural explanations are gone? Natural explanations, of course. Instead of making room for beings that play by a different set of rules, we can assume until proven otherwise that everyone and everything is part of the same natural universe, playing the same natural game — and we set ourselves to the fascinating task of understanding that game.

I then talk about the fact that most converts from religion are surprised to find that the predominant feeling after belief is fully gone is not despair but freedom and relief. I’ve heard those two words together so many times — freedom and relief.

I then give a brief tour of sex, gender, death, virtue, responsibility, meaning, and wonder to show how things look differently once the religious filter is gone — and how they look the same. Ding.

Errata before the fact

Turned in the 75% benchmark on Monday in the midst of a wicked flu that’s left me tuckered.

The last quarter of the book will be a special challenge because of my speaking schedule. In the next four weeks I have events in Ottawa, Columbia SC, Mexico City, and Denver, including a couple of brand new talks. Oy. On Nov 12, exactly one week after I return from Denver, I have to turn in the last word of the book.

One of the things I have going now is a list of things to fix, add, or subtract in the edit round for chapters I’ve already submitted. Like the Pew study that has nicely bolloxed up all my stats by shooting the number of Nones up from 15 percent to 20, and Young Millennial Nones (18-22) from 1 in 4 to 1 in 3. Unholy buckets, people, stand still.

I also have to add a fact I somehow missed until today — that Australia’s smart and articulate sitting Prime Minister Julia Gillard is an out atheist. How do I miss these things?

Back!

The title’s a double entendre. I’m back after ten days, and my back, which I severely screwed up by sitting and writing 60 hours a week, is also (after a nice course of steroids and cyclobenzaprine) back.

Bipedalism (or in the case of sitting upright, bibunism) is not for the unintelligently designed.

I finished the humor chapter, including some of the fantastic suggestions y’all gave me. In fact, there’s so much good stuff there that it’s going to leak over to a grab-bag section at the end of the book, not to mention my Netflix queue and bedside bookshelf.

Becca’s proofing every chapter before I submit, and a headline from the Onion in the humor chapter absolutely slew her yesterday — a joke that’s as close to perfect as I can imagine:

Sumerians Look On In Confusion As God Creates World

I’m just now finishing up a chapter on getting the best of religion without the bad — all that community and social connectedness and collective do-gooding I’ve written about before. Also diving into the aforementioned grab-bag — specifically a chapter called “Ten Surprising Things about Atheists and Other Nonbelievers,” or something like that. And once again, I keep running into Canada.

It’s devilishly hard to measure religious disbelief in Canada because 33 percent of Canadian Catholics and 28 percent of Canadian Protestants also say they don’t believe in God.* Most survey questions will pick up “Catholic” or “Anglican” without then saying, “If it wouldn’t be too much trouble, do you mind if I ask whether your Catholicism or Anglicanism includes…how shall I put this delicately…God?” So it’s safe to say that religious disbelief is massively, massively undercounted in Canada.

The obvious next question is whether there’s any reason to believe it isn’t massively, massively undercounted everywhere else as well.
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Ipsos Reid poll, Sept 2011.