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

Authorgasm (n.)

For much of the time I’m working on a book, I struggle with the sneaking suspicion that it’s going to, uh…suck. But then in every project (so far), I experience something I’ve come to call an authorgasm.

Authorgasm (n.) Literary. The intense elation an author experiences after something happens to convince him/her that his/her book will not after all, as it turns out, suck.

Once the authorgasm happens, writing is fun.

I’ve had at least one authorgasmic moment in the writing process for every book. When I found the unpublished translations of the Inquisition interrogations of Jacques Fournier for Voices of Unbelief — that was authorgasmic. When Julia Sweeney said she’d contribute to Parenting Beyond Belief, when the co-authors of Raising Freethinkers had our first phone meeting, and when I created Scott Siberell, the atheist priest in Calling Bernadette’s Bluff — multiple authorgasms.

For my current book, learning about the UTC Nonbelievers Study definitely qualified. And yesterday I had another when I discovered, through a post at Friendly Atheist, the blog of Alise Wright.

Screen shot 2013-07-16 at 2.17.00 PMSince this project began, I’ve been searching for someone who has written thoughtfully and well from the perspective opposite my own — a religious believer married to an atheist. To understand why I think Alise is that person, read her post Things That Have Gone Missing Because My Husband is an Atheist.

I contacted her yesterday to she if she’d be willing to complete and promote my mixed marriage survey (which closes in two weeks, people) and to answer several hundred highly personal questions. She graciously agreed. I’ll also be mining her entire blog for insights.



Does somebody need a hug?

like-button1A series of short posts while I’m writing a book on the secular/religious mixed marriage.

Continuing to mine Putnam and Campbell’s American Grace for useful insights, and it’s never-ending. What a great piece of work.

One fascinating bit is a “feeling thermometer” that charts how all the various religious and nonreligious identities in the U.S. feel about each other. Their findings, and I quote:

  • Almost everyone likes mainline Protestants and Jews.
  • Almost everyone likes Catholics, more than Catholics like everyone else.
  • Evangelicals like almost everyone else more than they are liked in return.
  • Catholics and evangelicals rate each other warmly.
  • Mormons like everyone else, while almost everyone else dislikes Mormons. Jews are the exception, as they give Mormons a net positive rating.
  • Almost everyone dislikes Muslims and Buddhists — more than any other group. Jews, however, are quite warm toward Buddhists, while cool toward Muslims.

Almost everyone dislikes Buddhists. Buddhists.

Mormons have the highest self-image of any group (a warmth rating of 87 out of 100), while those who identify as “not religious” have the lowest self-image (59). In fact, we rate ourselves lower than either Jews or Mormons rate us — 64 and 61, respectively.

We like ourselves less than Mormons like us.

I think somebody needs a hug.



STATURDAY: Evolution

Each Saturday I’ll post interesting stats I’ve come across in the research for my current book on the secular/religious mixed marriage, mostly without comment.




Sure, why not

babyfacepalmWriting a bit about infant baptism today, and the discussions parents in a secular/religious mixed marriage have about it, and the discussion Becca and I had when our oldest was new.

I said I’d prefer not to have him baptized. She said that was fine. But would it be okay if we just had him dedicated instead? she asked. You know…for Grandma?

Sure, why not.

Among the many things I didn’t know then was what a dedication actually entailed. I was just thinking “Baptism Lite,” a nice compromise. I was being flexible, not a bad thing.

And the little ceremony was actually fine…until, as we stood in the front of the semi-megachurch we attended at the time, the minister turned to us and said

In presenting this child for dedication, you are hereby witnessing to your own personal Christian faith. Dale and Rebekah, do you announce your faith in Jesus Christ, and show that you want to study Him, know Him, love Him, and serve Him as His disciple, and that you want your child to do the same? Do you pledge to teach your child, as soon as he is able to learn, the nature of this holy sacrament; watch over his education, that he may not be led astray; direct his feet to the sanctuary; restrain him from evil associates and habits; and bring him up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?

Or words to that effect.

Becca squeezed my hand, hard. It was not a squeeze of joy at the Precious Moment® we were witnessing in our child’s life. I knew that. It was a squeeze that said, Oh shit, my love, I didn’t know, I promise I didn’t, and if you can find it in your heart to lie like a damn rug in this moment, I swear that I will never, ever ask you to do this again for any other children we may have.

I squeezed back, and together we turned to the minister and said

Sure, why not.

Or words to that effect.

(Share your own baptism/dedication stories here.)



In which I learn that ‘Southern Baptist’ doesn’t translate well into Hindi


(From the Hindi translation page of the Basic Beliefs of the Southern Baptist Convention.)



So I peek

8276603_sThe secular/religious mixed marriage survey will close in three weeks. I’m itching to see the results. So I peek. Don’t judge me.

So far we have respondents from 40 U.S. states plus D.C. and five Canadian provinces, plus a fair number from other countries. I won’t discuss specifics until the survey closes, but I can say…wow. I’m riveted by this.

A picture of the secular/religious marriage is emerging that has never been seen before. There are some clear patterns — what tends to cause tension and what doesn’t (you may be surprised), how much it matters whether your views were different at the beginning of the marriage or someone changed along the way, whether and how kids complicate things (take a guess), and much more. Some isn’t surprising, but lot of it really is.

Take-the-surveyI’ll be assisted in the analysis of the survey by Mary Ellen Sikes of American Secular Census which, if you’re secular and haven’t taken it, you should definitely take.

But first! If you are in a secular/religious marriage and haven’t taken MY survey, get to it before it closes on the 31st…and tell your friends!



The mixing of America

An ongoing series of five-minute short posts while I’m writing a book on the secular/religious mixed marriage.

If you’re in a mixed-belief marriage of any kind, here’s an arresting thought: you probably wouldn’t have been had you married in the 1950s.

Mixed belief marriages in the U.S. have more than doubled in number since then, up from 20 to 45 percent. The main reason is that we’re less segregated by religion.

0579herz[1]It was much more common in the past for people to grow up in religiously uniform neighborhoods created by immigration patterns and social and economic stratification. If you grew up Baptist in Birmingham in the 1950s, you could get well into your twenties before you met a non-Baptist…if then. Same for a Catholic in South Boston, or an Orthodox Jew in Borough Park, Brooklyn. Your pool of potential mates is drawn from the people you know, obviously, so most people married within their own faith.

It’s more common now for kids to grow up in neighborhoods and schools that are religiously mixed to a greater degree. Greater physical and social mobility and more people going to college means more of us are cheek-and-jowl with all kinds of difference. The pool of potential mates now includes more people of different religions and none, so mixed-belief marriages inevitably go up in number.



Flavors of nonbelief

1357394835_Ice-cream[1]Religious belief in America has been studied from every angle in enormous detail. That makes it possible to get beyond misleading statements like “Southern Baptists believe…” to find out what individual Southern Baptists say they actually believe, and in what percentages, and with what intensities.

It’s like the difference between red/blue political maps and John Nelson’s perspective-rattling purple map.

But researchers have barely begun to measure seculars in the same way. Even when we’re not lumped into the pointless “Nones” category, surveys seldom drill down to get at the details of what we hold true, much less the intensities and attitudes that accompany those opinions. The Hunsberger/Altemeyer study is one of the few exceptions, though with an n that small, it’s more of a sounding than anything. A good sounding, but still limited (as they acknowledge).

A crucial part of my current book is drawing out the hidden diversity in labels, and I’ve struggled to match the available detail on the religious side with similar data on the secular side. Now a recent study by Christopher Silver at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga comes to the rescue with a much larger n (1,153) and exactly the kind of drill-down typology I was looking for. It nicely overthrows the common misconception that nonbelievers come in just one flavor — Dawkolate.

More on those flavors later.




I do not think it means what you think it meansYesterday I started what I hope will be an ongoing thing — the presentation without comment of interesting stats I’m uncovering during the research for this book. I call it Staturday.

When Staturday’s stats are perplexing, as yesterday’s apparently were, I’ll follow with Explanashunday.

Two claims from yesterday’s set raised eyebrows. Here are the stats and the explanations:

1. That 98% of Mormons believe non-Mormons can go to heaven
It’s true — but with a twist. Mormon theology holds that everyone will be resurrected and most of them will be received into one of three “kingdoms of glory.” Not everyone gets into the best heaven, but almost everyone gets something. (The only exceptions are the Sons of Perdition, those who explicitly reject the Holy Spirit. They go to the “outer darkness.”)

2. That a majority of “Nones” believe in heaven
If you use the word “Nones” as a synonym for “nonbelievers,” you would have been flummoxed to see 87 percent of them talking about heaven as if such a place exists.

Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up: “None” is not a synonym for “nonbeliever.” Not even close.

The “Nones” is a category almost devoid of useful meaning, in my humble. It’s a pollster’s dustbin containing everyone who is not affiliated with a specific denominational religious label. Many of these folks have nothing else in common belief-wise. Atheists and agnostics are in there, as are the “spiritual but not religious,” many believers in a universal spirit, and a huge number of people who believe in God and Jesus, read the Bible and pray…but don’t see themselves as part of any particular denomination.

That’s how you get a survey result in which a lot of Nones sound more like nuns.

The confusion is largely our fault. Atheists and humanists are eager to show a big, straddling presence in the culture, so we grab that 19.6 percent and run with it. I’m sure I’ve been sloppy with that term myself at times. Time to stop that.



STATURDAY: Tickets to Paradise

Each Saturday I’ll post interesting stats I’ve come across in the research for my current book on the secular/religious mixed marriage, mostly without comment. Here’s the first.


Screen shot 2013-07-06 at 10.35.35 AM

Screen shot 2013-07-06 at 10.35.09 AM
(Putnam and Campbell, American Grace, pp. 535, 537)


Of those who believe that someone outside their own religion can go to heaven, the following include the nonreligious in that number:

Overall: 56%
Evangelical Protestant: 35% 
Mainline Protestant: 62% 
Catholic: 66% 

(Pew Forum Religion & Public Life Survey, Aug 2008)

(Confused about the Nones and the Mormons? See tomorrow’s post.)