According to the latest post on Hemant’s blog,
a study published by Baylor University researchers finds that “Priming Christian Religious Concepts Increases Racial Prejudice” (PDF).
Basically, the researchers presented subjects with subliminal flashes of words, purportedly to test their ability to detect and differentiate between words versus non-word letter groups seen for only a brief period of time (less than 100ms). Some subjects saw neutral words, like butter or house, while others saw words associated with Christianity, such as Christ, faith, Bible and gospel. They then ran the subjects through a battery of situational questions designed to determine their degree of hostility towards the African Americans in the situations.
Kate Shellnutt summarized the conclusions quite nicely on HoustonBelief:
Researchers offer some possible explanations for why these Christian terms have such negative effects. They can cue fundamentalism or political conservatism, which can isolate “out-groups,” or echo the notion of the Protestant work ethic, which has been connected with anti-Black attitudes, the study said.
The researchers didn’t draw any larger conclusions from this (i.e., that most Christians are racist or anything quite so extreme), though they did insist it was causal rather than correlational.
Today, Christians celebrate Easter, the biggest day on their holy calendar. It’s the day that Jesus is supposed to have risen from the dead, having completed his victory over death and offering absolution from sin to all who accepted his sacrifice and followed him.
The reason for the sacrifice was to stand in the stead of all mankind to pay for their sins, which they had inherited by virtue of the sinful nature of mankind caused by the fall in Eden. On a side note, it’s debatable whether or not being dead for three days and then becoming God could really be called a sacrifice, but let’s leave that alone for now.
One of my Facebook friends just asked her ‘followers’ if the idea of the afterlife ever brought comfort to us. It was interesting to see some of the responses:
“The stress of wondering where I would go in the afterlife did not bring me any comfort. I don’t remember when I first learned about Hell, but when I was a child, I was so afraid of it that I repeated the thought “I love God” over and over and over again in my mind.”
“I never, even as a Christian, completely accepted the concept of Heaven and Hell because my dad was an atheist and I knew it. I tried my best to rationalize, though. I just couldn’t understand the point of us being created only to be tortured. So no, it never brought me comfort.”
“Absolutely not. I remember thinking who would want to live FOREVER? And I was maybe 7 or 8 years old.”
“I was always terrified of the afterlife, particularly heaven. At a very young age, I was terrified of the thought of NEVER dying. I did not want to live forever, and worse with god. I was terrified about constantly being criticized by him. I did not truly understand what acts were sins and did not want to upset god.”
Until a few years ago, the idea of the afterlife was nothing BUT comfort to me. I was raised in a liberal Christian family, and was taught that everyone was saved by grace at birth, meaning that nobody went to hell. The idea of people suffering forever wasn’t even an issue for me. Everyone would go to heaven, where they could do whatever they wanted, be whoever or whatever they wanted, etc. It would just be a magical world where anything was possible. Definitely not the Biblical image of heaven, with the constant singing of praises to God.
Hemant Mehta, best known as The Friendly Atheist or The eBay Atheist, recently paid a visit to the Secular Student Alliance at Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New Yok. Hemant’s original claim to fame was an eBay auction where he offered to go to the religious service of the buyer’s choice for one day per $10 spent. The media spun this as Hemant “selling his soul,” and after he tipped off a few key blogs and local media organizations, his auction quickly made the international news. Atheists and Christians squared off in a bidding war over the deal, and Hemant fielded dozens of questions in response, both off-the-wall and serious.
The winner of the auction, a former evangelical minister from Seattle named Jim Henderson, tweaked the deal a bit and offered to send Hemant to several different churches around the country, from tiny home churches to Ted Haggard‘s massive megachurch. Henderson runs an organization called Off the Map which (at the time – the focus has now changed) hired non-churchgoers to attend local churches and write up critiques of their experiences. Jim asked Hemant to do the same, and to post them online. The result surprised both Jim and Hemant: People from all along the religious/irreligious spectrum responded almost entirely positively, often finding common ground in their recognition of parts of what Hemant articulated.
In his talk at RPI, Hemant went into great detail about this project, its aftermath, and what he has been doing since then. Hemant is now chair of the Board of Directors for the SSA, a role which lets him play an active role in supporting secular student groups across the country. He is also a math teacher in the Chicago suburbs, a role which led to his coming under attack as a “dangerous influence” for kids from a extreme conservative Christian group called the Illinois Family Institute. Hemant described how that came about and how his life has changed (or not) as a result of it.