Another Study Showing No Medical Benefits From Prayer

Periodically there have been reports in which someone actually bothered to compare medical outcomes with and without prayer. As expected, no benefit was found from situations in which someone was praying for someone else without their knowledge (to remove any psychological benefits). Irregular Times has reported on another study:

Does prayer really work wonders? Not according to epidemiologst Maria Inês da Rosa.

Da Rosa and her research team published results of a double-blind randomized trial in the Brazilian Journal of Science and Public Health last year. Half of the more than five hundred pregnant women in the trial had their health prayed for from a distance by a prayer team. The other half received no such prayers. When Da Rosa’s team measured the apgar scores, type of delivery and birth weight of the two groups, there was no difference in pregnancy outcomes.

A few years ago, intercessory prayer researchers were promising a golden age in which they would supposedly prove the effectiveness of their religion. That’s not happening. Careful science is establishing the opposite.

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John Hagee Sees Russian Invasion Of Ukraine As Fulfillment Of Biblical Prophesy On The End Times

There is a tendency in any crisis to find analogies to similar events. It is inevitable that the Russian invasion of Ukraine will bring back memories of previous wars in Europe, especially the Cold War and Nazi Germany. While still not how we want borders drawn in the 21st century, and a clear violation of international law, even if Russia were to annex Crimea on the pretext of a popular vote, this would not be the same as the Soviet Union invading Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. There are certainly some comparisons which could be made, but Hillary Clinton was right to walk back her comparison to Nazi Germany.

Commentary on the Ukrainian crisis has varied. I have previously linked to some of the better commentary here and here. We have hysterical Republicans trying to place the blame on Obama, as they do with everything which happens in the world. Politico is more reasonable today in pointing out Why the Cold War isn’t back. Among the nuttiest commentary came from John Hagee (video above) who has for a long time found Biblical references to the Soviet Union and now Russia. He sees the Russian invasion of Ukraine as fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and that we are now in the End Times. Hagee has previously seen events including the 9/11 attack, the 2008 financial breakdown and Katrina as part of God’s judgment.  Hagee also believes that God created the United States and the Constitution, views recently repeated by Tom DeLay.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Support For Same Sex Marriage Increases (Except Among The Tea Party)

Support for legalization of same sex marriage has reached a new high according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll:

Half of all Americans believe that gay men and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll in which a large majority also said businesses should not be able to deny serving gays for religious reasons.

Fifty percent say the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection gives gays the right to marry, while 41 percent say it does not.

Beyond the constitutional questions, a record-high 59 percent say they support same-sex marriage, while 34 percent are opposed, the widest margin tracked in Post-ABC polling

According to the poll, public opinion is more unified on recent proposals that would allow businesses to refuse serving gays and others based on the religious convictions of the business owner. Nearly seven in 10 respondents say businesses should not be allowed to refuse service to gays. On this question, majorities across partisan lines said businesses should not be allowed to deny service.  Last week, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) vetoed a measure that would have allowed businesses to refuse service to customers based on religious grounds.

The breakdown of supporters includes little that is surprising:

Despite the changing views, deep chasms remain along religious, generational and political lines. Six in 10 evangelical Protestants oppose same-sex marriage, while about six in 10 Catholics, non-evangelical Protestants and eight in 10 with no religious affiliation support it. Three-quarters of Americans younger than 30 support same-sex marriage, while less than half of seniors say the same.

Although support for such unions has grown to clear majorities among Democrats (70 percent) and independents (61 percent), Republicans have moved at a slower pace. Fifty-four percent of Republicans oppose same-sex marriage in the new poll, while 40 percent approve of it.

“I just don’t believe in the marriage thing; the Bible says that isn’t right,” said Musser, who opposed the Arizona legislation on the religious rights of businesses.

Republicans are split along ideological and religious lines. Support for allowing same-sex marriage is lowest, below one-third or less, among conservatives and evangelical Protestants.

Greg Sargent has this comment on where much of the this Republican support for government intrusion in the private lives of individuals comes from:

Meanwhile, opposition to gay marriage among Republicans seems to be concentrated among the Tea Party. According to the Post polling team, Republicans and GOP-leaning independents who support the Tea Party oppose gay marriage by 54-38. By contrast, non-Tea Party Republicans and GOP-leaners support gay marriage by 57-36. Tea Party Republicans are often said to be more libertarian-leaning on social issues than other segments of the GOP base (such as evangelicals), but a majority of them still opposes same-sex marriage.

While the Tea Party often claims to be purely concentrated on economic matters,  as I have pointed out in the past, the Tea Party is often just a new name for the old religious right base of the Republican Party.

On the other hand, opposition to same sex marriage is declining among Catholics. A comparable change is also seen with the more liberal views coming from the Vatican under Pope Francis. While outright support for same sex marriage remains too liberal a position for him to adopt, Think Progress points out that he is open to the idea of civil unions:

In an interview published Wednesday, Pope Francis appeared to support governments that recognize civil unions to provide non-traditional couples with access to benefits:

On the question of marriage and civil unions, the Pope reaffirmed that “marriage is between a man and a woman”. States seek to justify civil unions “to regularize different situations of living together,” pushed by the need to regularize the economic aspects between people, such as, for example, to ensure health care, he said. “We have to look at the different cases and evaluate them in their variety”.

Over the last year, Francis has nudged the church in a more welcoming direction on issues like contraception, divorce, and marriage equality. Unlike Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI — who sermonized that same-sex marriage is a “serious harm to justice and peace,” and a “manipulation of nature” — Francis has directed the church to become more inclusive. He has also instructed American Bishops to poll how everyday Catholics view same-sex marriage, divorce, and contraception. Last year, Francis himself welcomed gays priests, arguing, “who am I to judge?” Before becoming the Pope, Francis may have supported civil unions as an Argentina archbishop, though he was simultaneously condemning marriage equality as a product of the “father of lies” that was “destructive to the plan of God” and that would “gravely harm the family.” The Vatican continues to oppose same-sex unions and has had to deny past reports of Francis’ support as “paradoxical” and a “manipulation” of his words.

Francis also discussed plans to revisit the church’s position on birth control, saying “it is a matter of going into the issue in depth and bringing it about that the pastoral practice takes account of situations and of what is possible for persons.”

While this country is quickly moving beyond the idea of civil unions to full marriage equality, support for civil unions is a welcome move in the right direction from the Catholic Church.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Selective Reading of Bible To Support Discrimination

It can be a difficult question when deciding whether an individual business owner should be legally compelled perform acts which violate their religious beliefs. A bill passed in Arizona allows discrimination as long as it is claimed to be done based upon religion. As Jed Bartlett pointed out in the video above from The West Wing, those who cite the Bible to oppose homosexuality are cherry picking and ignoring many other Biblical passages.

Kirsten Powers and Jonathan Merritt make the same point at The Daily Beast and examine other related issues. Even if we ignore the question of cherry picking passages from the Bible, is baking a wedding cake or taking pictures really mean they are affirming practices in violation of their religion?

The Arizona law seems to apply to services beyond those tied to weddings, but same-sex weddings are the impetus for these bills. Specifically, they are in response to lawsuits against three different Christians who refused to photograph, bake a cake, and sell flowers for same-sex weddings. The backers of these laws claim that a Christian cannot, in good conscience, provide a good or service for a same-sex wedding because it violates the teachings of Christianity.

If these bills become law, we could see same-sex couples being denied service not just by photographers and florists, but also restaurants and hotels and pretty much anyone else who can tie their discrimination to a religious belief.

Many on the left and right can agree that nobody should be unnecessarily forced to violate their conscience. But in order to violate a Christian’s conscience, the government would have to force them to affirm something in which they don’t believe. This is why the first line of analysis here has to be whether society really believes that baking a wedding cake or arranging flowers or taking pictures (or providing any other service) is an affirmation. This case simply has not been made, nor can it be, because it defies logic.  If you lined up 100 married couples and asked them if their florist “affirmed” their wedding, they would be baffled by the question.

Strangely, conservative Christians seem to have little interest in this level of analysis and jump right to complaints about their legal and constitutional rights. It’s not that these rights don’t matter. Rather, they should be a secondary issue for Christians. Before considering legal rights, Christians wrestling with this issue must first resolve the primary issue of whether the Bible calls Christians to deny services to people who are engaging in behavior they believe violates the teachings of Christianity regarding marriage. The answer is, it does not.

Nor does the Bible teach that providing such a service should be construed as participation or affirmation. Yet Christian conservatives continue to claim that it does. So it seems that the backers of these bills don’t actually believe what they are saying.  Because if they truly believe that a vendor service is an affirmation, then they need to explain why it is only gay and lesbian weddings that violate their conscience.

If you refuse to photograph one unbiblical wedding, you should refuse to photograph them all. If not, you’ll be seen as a hypocrite and as a known Christian, heap shame on the Gospel. As all Christians know, Jesus saved his harshest words for the hypocritical behavior of religious people. So, if Christian wedding vendors want to live by a law the Bible does not prescribe, they must at least be consistent.

Before agreeing to provide a good or service for a wedding, Christian vendors must verify that both future spouses have had genuine conversion experiences and are “equally yoked” (2 Corinthians 6:14) or they will be complicit with joining righteousness with unrighteousness. They must confirm that neither spouse has been unbiblically divorced (Matthew 19). If one has been divorced, vendors should ask why. Or perhaps you don’t even have to ask. You may already know that the couple’s previous marriages ended because they just decided it wasn’t working, not because there were biblical grounds for divorce. In which case, you can’t provide them a service if you believe such a service is affirming their union.

If your hotel is hosting the wedding and you don’t see rings on both individual’s fingers, you must refuse to rent them only one room. The unmarried couple must remain in separate rooms until after the ceremony. Otherwise, you may be complicit in fornication. And of course, you must not under any circumstances rent a room to a gay or lesbian couple.

There are other issues involved in actually performing a religious ceremony:

Performing a marriage ceremony is a case where the first criterion in the analysis is met: it is without question affirming a marriage. Even so, orthodox Christian pastors have not singled out gay weddings in the way that the people backing these bills have. While these pastors won’t perform a gay or lesbian wedding, many also would not perform a wedding where one of the participants was unbiblically divorced, nor would they perform a wedding between a non-believer and a believer or a one between two atheists. Christian wedding vendors and the leaders admonishing them to turn away gay wedding customers seem unconcerned about all these other categories of unbiblical marriages.

I do think that someone performing a marriage ceremony is in a clearly different situation than a photographer or baker and should have complete discretion as to who they perform a ceremony for, regardless of the reason. If we have an isolated case of a baker or photographer practicing discrimination this might not be enough to be terribly concerned about, but such discrimination should certainly not be supported by law.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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The Evolution vs. Creationism Debate

Creationist Debate

MacLeodCartoons sums up the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham on evolution vs. creationism in the cartoon above. This comes quite close to this summation of an exchange from The Guardian:

What is the one thing upon which you base your belief?

Ham: the Bible. There’s no other book like it. It tells us everything we need to know. Man is a sinner. The Gospel…Jesus died on the cross. Salvation, Jesus, God, God, the Bible. The Bible, the Bible, the Bible. God will reveal himself to you.

Nye: “I base my beliefs on the information and the process that we call science. It fills me with joy. It is a wonderful and astonishing thing to me. If we abandon all that we have learned, if we let go of everything we have learned before us, if we stop looking for answers, we will be defeated…We have to embrace science education. We have to keep science education in science classes.”

Here is another key exchange which sums up the difference between creationism and science in a nutshell. When asked what would change their mind, Ken Ham essentially replied “nothing” while Bill Nye replied “evidence.”

Ham-Nye-debate-in-a-nutshell

A more detailed recap of that portion of the debate:

What, if anything would ever change your mind?

Ham: I can’t prove it to you, but basically, God and Jesus. “The Bible is the word of God.” No one will ever convince him that the word of God is not true. Like, ever.

Nye: “We just need one piece of evidence like a fossil that swam from one level to another.” We would need evidence that rock layers could form in 4,000 years. Bring me any of those things and I would change my mind immediately.

Many things were said without responses. This included Bill Nye asking if Kangaroos got off the Ark in the middle east, why are they only in Australia, and not even a fossil of one anywhere else? I would have liked to hear an answer to that one.

Ken Ham is a young earth creationist, the craziest of the crazies. Even Pat Robertson thinks that young earth creationism is a joke.

More commentary here, here, and here.

Video of the debate here:

Unfortunately many schools which receive public money teach creationism. Slate put together this map as to where they are located:

Creationism Schools

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Belief In God Down And Belief In Evolution Up In Harris Poll

A Harris poll shows declining belief in God and associated religious views:

Three-quarters of U.S. adults say they believe in God, down from 82 percent in 2005, 2007 and 2009, a Harris Poll indicates.

The Harris Poll found 57 percent of U.S. adult say they believe in the virgin birth of Jesus, down from 60 percent in 2005, and 72 percent say they believe in miracles, down from 79 percent in 2005, while 68 percent say they believe in heaven, down from 75 percent. Sixty-eight percent say they believe Jesus is God or the son of God, down from 72 percent; and 65 percent say they believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, down from 70 percent.

Sixty-four percent say they believe in the survival of the soul after death, down from 69 percent in 2005; 58 percent say they believe in the devil, down from 62 percent; 58 percent say they believe in hell, down from 62 percent…

Just under 2-in-10 U.S. adults described themselves as very religious, with an additional 4-in-10 describing themselves as somewhat religious down from 49 percent in 2007. Twenty-three percent of Americans identified themselves as not at all religious, nearly double the 12 percent reported in 2007.

Not surprisingly, a decrease in belief in various religious views correlates with decreased belief in creationism and increased likelihood of believing in evolution: “Forty-seven percent say they believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution, compared to 42 percent in 2005.”

While it is somewhat disturbing that in the 21st century a sizeable number of people reject science and believe in creationism, the number is comparable to those who believe in other crackpot ideas including astrology:

The survey found 42 percent of adults say they believe in ghosts, 36 percent say they believe in creationism, 36 percent say they believe in UFOs, 29 percent say they believe in astrology, 26 percent say they believe in witches and 24 percent say they believe in reincarnation, or that they were once another person.

No report on the number who believe that the earth is flat or that the affordable care act includes death panels.

Breakdown by political party is also as might be expected. The survey found that 49% of Republicans believe in creationism compared to 30% of Democrats and 34% of Independents, unfortunately leaving a substantial number of non-Republicans still denying science. Republicans are slightly more likely to believe in witches than Democrats (27% to 26%) with fewer independents believing at 27%. Numbers believing in UFOs was pretty close in each group. Slightly more Democrats (31%) believe in astrology compared to 29% of Republicans and 27% of independents.

While the general trend in compared with previous polls is likely valid, consistent with what appears to be the case regardless of the polls, the exact numbers might not be exact considering that this was a fairly small online poll with margin of error not listed.

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Quote of the Day: Jimmy Kimmel Being Intentionally Humorous & Sarah Palin Being Even Funnier

“Amazon announced plans for an amazing service called Amazon Prime Air. When you order something from Amazon that weighs five pounds or less, a robot will drop your package on your doorstep. It’s all part of Amazon’s pledge to drive your dog insane…

“You know in some countries seeing an unmanned drone means your village is about to be destroyed. In America it means you ordered Mad Men on Blu-ray.” –Jimmy Kimmel

Bonus Humor:

Check out Sarah Palin at Liberty University lashing out against “angry atheists” who want to “abort Christ from Christmas.” She also said:

If you lose that foundation, John Adams was implicitly warning us, then we will not follow our constitution, there will be no reason to follow our constitution because it is a moral and religious people who understand that there is something greater than self, we are to live selflessly, and we are to be held accountable by our creator, so that is what our constitution is based on, so those revisionists, those in the lamestream media, especially, who would want to ignore what our founders actually thought, felt and wrote about in our charters of liberty – well, that’s why I call them the lamestream media.

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Non-Republicans Are Not Afraid To Include Other Religions

GOP Merry Christmas

Here’s an example of why Republicans have difficulty obtaining support from outside of their base. A shirt they recently sold (picture above via BuzzFeed) says “Happy Holidays” is what liberals say on the front and Merry Christmas on the back. The shirt is sold out, but they are now selling one saying Not Afraid to Say ‘Merry Christmas.

Republicans apparently do not understand that not everyone celebrates Christmas, but there is no room for those of other religions in their extremely tiny tent. Even many Christians say Happy Holidays. This might be to be inclusive and include other religions, it might be to include New Year’s, or it might not mean anything at all to those who aren’t interested in claiming to be victims in an imaginary War on Christmas.

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The New American Center Is Socially Liberal

I would take the exact numbers in this NBC News-Equire Poll with a grain of salt but the overall trend is what we would have expected. The country is more liberal on social issues and conservatives are losing the culture wars. Results are more mixed in some other areas. From their summary of results:

The new American center has a socially progressive streak, supporting gay marriage (64 percent), the right to an abortion for any reason within the first trimester (63 percent), and legalized marijuana (52 percent). Women, workers and the marginal would also benefit if the center had its way, supporting paid sick leave (62 percent); paid maternity leave (70 percent); tax-subsidized childcare to help women return to work (57 percent); and a federal minimum wage hike to no less than $10 per hour (67 percent).

But the center leans rightward on the environment, capital punishment, and diversity programs. Majorities support offshore drilling (81 percent) and the death penalty (90 percent), and the end of affirmative action in hiring and education (57 percent). Most people in the center believe respect for minority rights has gone overboard, in general, harming the majority in the process (63 percent). And just one in four support immigration reforms that would provide a path to citizenship for those who came here illegally.

They found the following results regarding religion and guns:

Religion is not a major part of the Center’s life, and it firmly believes that religion has no place in the public sphere. Meanwhile: Even though about a third of those in the Center own guns, an overwhelming plurality have no problem with background checks…

The Center is less religious than the Right, and—surprise!—it’s less religious than the Left, too, and here’s why: Members of the Gospel Left (the ones who broke 99 to 1 for Obama in 2012) are second only to the Righteous Right for how important religion is to them. Unlike their fellow believers on the Right, though, more than half of the Gospel Left feels that religion should not play a role in public life.

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Jon Stewart On Vatican No Longer Promoting Republican Agenda

For a long time it felt like the Republican Party and the Vatican represented a type of axis of evil, both pushing to impose antiquated religious teachings on everyone else. Pope Francis has taken a step back from the dark side in recent interviews, saying the Church should not be “obsessed” with abortion, gay marriage, and contraception. As Jon Stewart points out in the video above, the Pope is no longer on the same page as Republicans, who are obsessed with abortion, gay marriage, and contraception. Will Republicans change? More likely they will follow the lead of Bill O’Reilly in promoting their own alternate religious history to match their alternate history of the United States while promoting their own view of the Constitution.

It would be great if Republicans would take the lead of Pope Francis here. At very least, assuming they do not change their views, could everyone try to stop letting them get away with claiming to support small government and liberty?

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