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Are right-wing evangelicals causing the rise in religious 'nones'?
The number of non-religious Americans has reached unprecedented heights. Are the most religious Americans to blame?
The number of Americans identifying as atheists, agnostics, or as not having any religious preference, collectively known as 'nones', has reached record highs. At the time of writing, a full quarter of Americans claim no religious affiliation. The rise of nonreligious Americans over the last two decades has been rather dramatic, particularly when you recall that between 1950 and 1980 the number held steady at a measly five percent.
Why are Americans beginning to turn away from religion?
A study by Paul A. Djupe, Jacob R. Neiheisel, and Kimberly H. Conger examines the recent spike in the number of non-religious Americans and breaks the statistics down further, giving context to the trend and offering explanations that raise important questions for modern activists.
The research team noticed that the rise of the nones began in 1994, just when the religious Right began to take on greater political prominence in the United States. That rise has been affected by political events and changing views on social issues ever since, with many people moving away from the church as the religious Right achieves political success.
Using information gathered by the Cooperative Congressional Election Study the authors were able to create this map of American nones. The demographic fluctuations of the nones are shown for each state and the District of Columbia from 2006 to 2016.
As you can see, every state saw some increase in the number of nones over that decade. At a glance, the final numbers can appear to be similar for most states. However, there is more to the charts than meets the eye.
The data on the prevalence and growth of religious nones was compared to information about the political affairs of each state. Specifically, the authors investigated the number of “registered lobbying groups associated with the Christian Right, the number of gay rights lobbies, the number of lobbying groups affiliated with the religious left,” and added an indicator for if the state had ever enacted a ban on gay marriage.
They then asked a simple question: What was the relationship between the rise of the nones and right-wing Christian political activism in each state?
The results were clear: the greater the political power and success of the Christian Right in each state, the more rapidly the number of nones had risen. A clear example can be seen in the aftermath of the rush to ban same-sex marriage in state constitutions around 2004. Despite the victory, the long-term results were disastrous for organized religion, as the authors explain:
As a result, religion lost somewhere between 2 and 8 percent of the population. By 2010, a ban was in place in twenty-nine states, in which 58 percent of the population lived. These states were more likely to be evangelical and had smaller proportions of nones in them in 2006, but by 2010 that gap between the nones in marriage ban states and those in states with no marriage ban had been cut in half...
The effect was particularly noteworthy in states where both gay rights groups and groups for the Christian Right were politically active, suggesting that it is not only right-wing activism that is causing the decline in religiosity but also the ongoing contention between more moderate factions and the Christian Right.
Correlation vs. causation
Could this be a correlation? Does any of the evidence prove that evangelicals are driving people away from religion?
The data shows a strong relationship between the dominance of the Christian Right in a particular state and the rate at which the number of nones increased. “Religious attachments fade in the face of visible Christian Right policy victories,” conclude the authors of this study. Similar studies and surveys have also pointed in the same direction.
One study shows that a third of the religious nones in the study explained that they had left organized religion over gay rights issues, furthering the notion that political differences are directly causing this exodus. Another study by Putnam and Campbell demonstrates that American liberals have grown increasingly secular while American conservatives have become more religious, showing again that our political and religious affairs are becoming intertwined.
Why don’t moderates move to more moderate churches?
The authors suggest that the visibility and activism of the Christian Right cause the public to view all religions as similar to them. “There is clear evidence that people—probably those without strong relationships with houses of worship—use the Christian Right as a proxy for religion as a whole, and discontinue their religious identities as a result,” said study author Paul Djupe.
Has anything like this happened before?
Yes, but on the Left.
It was reported by many ministers in the 1950s and '60s that church attendance would decline after clergypeople reported their involvement in anti-war protests. The same phenomenon occurred in cases where clergypeople would integrate the pews, with segregationist members of the congregation fleeing to ministries that had yet to move past the Jim Crow mindset.
It seems that a similar thing is happening to today’s Right, with churches and clergypeople that take up bold stances on social issues running the risk of alienating more moderate members of their congregations. However, unlike in previous cases where the offended churchgoers seem to have just gone to a new church, people today seem more inclined to leave the church entirely. This creates an interesting catch-22, as attempts to make society fall more in line with religious principles cause fewer people to be religious.
As the culture wars rage on it seems that taking bold stances on social issues can have short-term success at the cost of long-term erosion of support, as the example of the gay marriage debate shows us. Will the religious Right alienate moderates in a drive for ideological purity? Or will threat of extinction cause more moderate voices to come to prominence? These are questions all movements have to ask and ones that will have tremendous effects on our future.
Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.
- A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
- The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
- Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.
In what is perhaps one of the weirdest experiments ever that comes from the category of "why did anyone need to know this?" scientists have proven that the Regimbartia attenuata beetle can climb out of a frog's butt after being eaten.
The research was carried out by Kobe University ecologist Shinji Sugiura. His team found that the majority of beetles swallowed by black-spotted pond frogs (Pelophylax nigromaculatus) used in their experiment managed to escape about 6 hours after and were perfectly fine.
"Here, I report active escape of the aquatic beetle R. attenuata from the vents of five frog species via the digestive tract," writes Sugiura in a new paper, adding "although adult beetles were easily eaten by frogs, 90 percent of swallowed beetles were excreted within six hours after being eaten and, surprisingly, were still alive."
One bug even got out in as little as 7 minutes.
Sugiura also tried putting wax on the legs of some of the beetles, preventing them from moving. These ones were not able to make it out alive, taking from 38 to 150 hours to be digested.
Naturally, as anyone would upon encountering such a story, you're wondering where's the video. Thankfully, the scientists recorded the proceedings:
The Regimbartia attenuata beetle can be found in the tropics, especially as pests in fish hatcheries. It's not the only kind of creature that can survive being swallowed. A recent study showed that snake eels are able to burrow out of the stomachs of fish using their sharp tails, only to become stuck, die, and be mummified in the gut cavity. Scientists are calling the beetle's ability the first documented "active prey escape." Usually, such travelers through the digestive tract have particular adaptations that make it possible for them to withstand extreme pH and lack of oxygen. The researchers think the beetle's trick is in inducing the frog to open a so-called "vent" controlled by the sphincter muscle.
"Individuals were always excreted head first from the frog vent, suggesting that R. attenuata stimulates the hind gut, urging the frog to defecate," explains Sugiura.
For more information, check out the study published in Current Biology.
New research from the University of Granada found that stress could help determine sex.
Stress in the modern world is generally viewed as a hindrance to a healthy life.
Indeed, excess stress is associated with numerous problems, including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, insomnia, depression, obesity, and other conditions. While the physiological mechanisms associated with stress can be beneficial, as Kelly McGonigal points out in The Upside of Stress, the modern wellness industry is built on the foundation of stress relief.
The effects of stress on pregnant mothers is another longstanding area of research. For example, what potential negative effects do elevated levels of cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine have on fetal development?
A new study, published in the Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, investigated a very specific aspect of stress on fetuses: does it affect sex? Their findings reveal that women with elevated stress are twice as likely to give birth to a girl.
For this research, the University of Granada scientists recorded the stress levels of 108 women before, during, and after conception. By testing cortisol concentration in their hair and subjecting the women to a variety of psychological tests, the researchers discovered that stress indeed influences sex. Specifically, stress made women twice as likely to deliver a baby girl.
The team points out that their research is consistent with other research that used saliva to show that stress resulted in a decreased likelihood of delivering a boy.
Maria Isabel Peralta RamírezPhoto courtesy of University of Granada
Lead author María Isabel Peralta Ramírez, a researcher at the UGR's Department of Personality, Evaluation and Psychological Treatment, says that prior research focused on stress levels leading up to and after birth. She was interested in stress's impact leading up to conception. She says:
"Specifically, our research group has shown in numerous publications how psychological stress in the mother generates a greater number of psychopathological symptoms during pregnancy: postpartum depression, a greater likelihood of assisted delivery, an increase in the time taken for lactation to commence (lactogenesis), or inferior neurodevelopment of the baby six months after birth."
While no conclusive evidence has been rendered, the research team believes that activation of the mother's endogenous stress system during conception sets the concentration of sex hormones that will be carried throughout development. As the team writes, "there is evidence that testosterone functions as a mechanism when determining the baby's sex, since the greater the prenatal stress levels, the higher the levels of female testosterone." Levels of paternal stress were not factored into this research.
Previous studies show that sperm carrying an X chromosome are better equipped to reach the egg under adverse conditions than sperm carrying the Y chromosome. Y fetuses also mature slowly and are more likely to produce complications than X fetuses. Peralta also noted that there might be more aborted male fetuses during times of early maternal stress, which would favor more girls being born under such circumstances.
In the future, Peralta and her team say an investigation into aborted fetuses should be undertaken. Right now, the research was limited to a small sample size that did not factor in a number of elements. Still, the team concludes, "the research presented here is pioneering to the extent that it links prenatal stress to the sex of newborns."
Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His most recent book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."
The world's 10 most affected countries are spending up to 59% of their GDP on the effects of violence.
- Conflict and violence cost the world more than $14 trillion a year.
- That's the equivalent of $5 a day for every person on the planet.
- Research shows that peace brings prosperity, lower inflation and more jobs.
- Just a 2% reduction in conflict would free up as much money as the global aid budget.
- Report urges governments to improve peacefulness, especially amid COVID-19.
What is the price of peace?
Or put another way, how much better off would we all be in a world where armed conflict was avoided?
To give some context, 689 million people - more than 9% of the world's population - live on less than $1.90 a day, according to World Bank figures, underscoring the potential impact peace-building activities could have.
Just over 10% of global GDP is being spent on containing, preventing and dealing with the consequences of violence. As well as the 1.4 million violent deaths each year, conflict holds back economic development, causes instability, widens inequality and erodes human capital.
Putting a price tag on peace and violence helps us see the disproportionately high amounts spent on creating and containing violent acts compared to what is spent on building resilient, productive, and peaceful societies.
—Steve Killelea, founder and executive chairman, Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP)
The cost of violence
In a report titled "The Economic Value of Peace 2021", the IEP says that for every death from violent conflict, 40 times as many people are injured. The world's 10 most affected countries are spending up to 59% of their GDP on the effects of violence.
Grounds for hope
But the picture is not all bleak. The economic impact of violence fell for the second year in a row in 2019, as parts of the world became more peaceful.
The global cost dropped by $64 billion between 2018 and 2019, even though it was still $1.2 trillion higher than in 2012.
In five regions of the world the costs increased in 2019. The biggest jump was in Central America and the Caribbean, where a rising homicide rate pushed the cost up 8.3%.
Syria, with its ongoing civil war, suffered the greatest economic impact with almost 60% of its GDP lost to conflict in 2019. That was followed by Afghanistan (50%) and South Sudan (46%).
The report makes a direct link between peace and prosperity. It says that, since 2000, countries that have become more peaceful have averaged higher GDP growth than those which have become more violent.
"This differential is significant and represents a GDP per capita that is 30% larger when compounded over a 20-year period," the report says adding that peaceful countries also have substantially lower inflation and unemployment.
"Small improvements in peace can have substantial economic benefits," it adds. "For example, a 2% reduction in the global impact of violence is roughly equivalent to all overseas development aid in 2019."
Equally, the total value of foreign direct investment globally only offsets 10% of the economic impact of violence. Authoritarian regimes lost on average 11% of GDP to the costs of violence while in democracies the cost was just 4% of GDP.
And the gap has widened over time, with democracies reducing the cost of violence by almost 16% since 2007 while in authoritarian countries it has risen by 27% over the same period.
The report uses 18 economic indicators to evaluate the cost of violence. The top three are military spending (which was $5.9 trillion globally in 2019), the cost of internal security which makes up over a third of the total at $4.9 trillion and homicide.
Peace brings prosperity
The formula also contains a multiplier effect because as peace increases, money spent containing violence can instead be used on more productive activities which drive growth and generate higher monetary and social returns.
"Substantial economic improvements are linked to improvements in peace," says the report. "Therefore, government policies should be directed to improving peacefulness, especially in a COVID-19 environment where economic activity has been subdued."
The IEP says what it terms "positive peace" is even more beneficial than "negative peace" which is simply the absence of violence or the fear of violence. Positive peace involves fostering the attitudes, institutions & structures that create and sustain peaceful societies.
The foundations of a positively peaceful society, it says, are: a well functioning government, sound business environment, acceptance of the rights of others, good relations with neighbours, free flow of information, high levels of human capital, low levels of corruption and equitable distribution of resources.
The World Economic Forum's report Mobilizing the Private Sector in Peace and Reconciliation urged companies large and small to recognise their potential to work for peace quoting the former Goldman Sachs chair, the late Peter Sutherland, who said: "Business thrives where society thrives."
The lush biodiversity of South America's rainforests is rooted in one of the most cataclysmic events that ever struck Earth.