Wednesday, December 16, 2009

How Many Americans Believe in Reincarnation?

As a scholar, I find the spread of reincarnation beliefs to be fascinating, and thoroughly under-studied. I have commented on the peculiarities of American reincarnations beliefs previously (here), as they are quite different than the traditional Hindu ideas.

The latest Pew Forum survey of religious beliefs (here) puts the overall percentage of Americans who believe in reincarnation at 24% (men 21%, women 28%). [Other New Age beliefs hover around the quarter percentage as well: yoga as a spiritual practice: 23%, spiritual energy in the natural world: 26%, and astrology: 25%.]

Strangely enough, Blacks (34%) are almost twice as likely to believe in reincarnation as Whites (21%), with Hispanics in the middle (29%).

Yet, Blacks (20%) are the least likely to believe that the natural world has spiritual energy, much less than Hispanics (37%) and slightly less than Whites (24%).

Hispanics also lead the pack in belief in astrology (35%), with Blacks (29%), and Whites (22%) trailing.

Hispanics (36%) and Blacks (29%) are also much more likely to believe in "Evil Eye" negative spell-casting than Whites (11%).

Why Asians are not included in this poll, I do not know.

Oddly enough, a full 11% of self-identified Evangelical Christians believe in reincarnation, although only 5% of those who attend church weekly.

Black Christians (29%) believe in reincarnation only slighly more than White Catholics (25%). Even among weekly attendees, 21% of White Catholics believe in reincarnation.

Such high percentages stand as a testimony to the poor job of religious education being performed in the churches today. The spread of these beliefs is one of the most under-reported and unnoticed religious phenomenon of the last 100 years, representing a sea change of religious worldviews.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Evolution Conspiracy

Great blog site (with accompanying book) devoted to dubunking the evoluation dogma (ht: Todd). In plain language and short readable essays, well-stated and hard-hitting points. Check these out:

What are the top 7 transformations that refuse to give up their secrets?
--Nonliving to living. Evolutionists tell us life began from lifelessness. But how did nonliving matter transmute into the first living cell? When did the transformation happen? No one knows either answer.
--Single-celled to multicellular. Animals, plants, and other organisms consist of many cells. If all life started with a single living cell, how did that cell become multiple cells capable of coalescing into a single organism? The answer eludes evolutionists.
--Nonflowering to flowering. According to evolutionists all plants started out as nonflowering varieties. How and when did flowering plants come into existence? The scant evidence fails to provide a workable answer.
--Swimming to walking. Evolutionists say our spineless ancestors not only developed spinal cords but also crawled out of the sea to walk on land. When, how, and why did this happen? The presumed transformation has left little to no evidence.
--Grounded to flying. Archaeopteryx, once labeled the first bird, may not have been able to fly after all. How did creatures incapable of flight, including those with wings, develop the ability to fly? No one can erase that question mark.
--Quadrapedal to bipedal. Evolution requires that somewhere along the way apelike creatures developed the ability to walk upright. How did this happen, and why? No one can explain it.
--Nonhuman to human. After learning to walk upright, our supposed ancestors lost their apelike traits, invented culture and art, and became human. How and why? The same questions linger, still with no answers.

What are the top six misconceptions about evolution?
--Natural selection is evolution. While most biologists will say natural selection is the driving force of evolution, the two terms are not synonymous. Evolution means descent with modification, a fancy term for changes that get passed down from generation to generation. Natural selection is the engine driving those changes.
--Evolution happens gradually. Darwin described evolution as a ceaseless progression of tiny changes. Now, though, a growing number of biologists talk about saltations— sudden evolutionary leaps.
--The fossil record is virtually complete. Scientists have estimated fossils represent no more than 10% and perhaps less than 1% of all species that have ever lived on earth. In addition most fossils are incomplete, with large chunks missing, and even complete fossils are often found shattered in thousands of pieces.
--We know what a species is. Despite centuries of trying to solve the “species problem,” scientists still cannot define what makes a species. Yet, to prove evolution brought about the diversity of life we see today, scientists must be able to define the basic unit of evolutionary change.
--We know how life began. When it comes to the birth of life scientists have only hypotheses based on flimsy evidence. They can’t agree on what the first life-form was, when it emerged, or how it emerged. Even the birth of animal life remains a mystery.
--Evolution is a fact. But the biggest misconception about evolution, perpetuated by scientists themselves, is that evolution is a fact as irrefutable as the existence of gravity. Evolution fails to qualify as a theory, much less a fact.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Paradox of Loneliness and How to Find Friends

Interesting study just publicized about how loneliness "spreads" (article here). Basically, the depressive feelings of loneliness are individually and socially self-perpetuating, as they lead lonely people to withdraw from social contact. That leaves their previous friends with less social contacts, leading them to feel more lonely, which leads them to withdraw from social contact as well.

I wanted to focus on the part of the article that recommends how to overcome loneliness: finding friends in similar social situations. This advice is true, but can vary in degree of difficulty. It happens to many people that because of life circumstances, they suddenly find themselves friendless and, as the article mentions, it can have negative psychological effects.

The article also brings up the larger issue of whether it is fair to judge someone negatively for not having friends. The pop social psychologists call this "social proof" and, in practice, it happens all the time. But what to do about the lack of "social proof"? I once saw a Craigslist ad for a wingman, just a guy who wanted to have another guy go out with him feigning friendship to make it easier to pick up on girls. Whether that worked for him, I don't know, but it brings up the issue of how to actually have friends.

The primary source font of friendship for most people is school, mainly high school, and to a greater or lesser extent, college. If you stay in your hometown, you are at an inherent friend advantage, staying in the nest of your primary friendship network. The major secondary source of friendship in today's world is work. If for nothing else than practical reasons, we tend to hang out with the people we work with.

Finding friends outside of school and work is daunting. There are few places where friendships spontaneously occur. As everyone knows, just being where the people are, is not enough, as nowhere is so lonely as being alone in a crowd.

Friendships have to start in some sort of repeated intimate contact where people can talk and get to know one another over time. A preliminary platform for friendship is an activity group, like a sports team, art class, reading group, volunteer organization, religious congregation, and so on.

However, regular face time with an activity group is only the preliminary step. Common activity groups will provide you with associates and acquaintances, and a nice way to fill your time improving yourself and doing enjoyable activities, but not necessarily with friends. More than just common activities, in order to form friendships, you must have common life status, especially regarding children.

Couples with Children
People with kids always have much more in common with other people with kids. People with kids are also busier, so their friends tend to get neglected. That works well with other child-rearing couples, but undermines their friendships with the more socially-needy childless people.

Childless couples
Couples without children have more social free time, and can engage in a greater range of activities, so they usually find their best bonds with other childless couples. Childless couples can sometimes befriend singles, but mainly in group activities. Couples do too much couple-time to be a primary source of friendship to a single.

Childless Singles
The best fit for childless singles is other childless singles, who have the same amount of freedom, availability, and need for social bonding. Socially speaking, the world is their oyster and is mainly designed for their needs and opportunities. However, there is a hidden downside. Strangely enough, because most of this activity is devoted to dating and mate selection, few friendships actually develop in this environment.

Because most single people are grounded in their school and work friends, it can be difficult for an outsider to get invited into the established social network. Childless singles who are not in their hometown social network can find themselves extremely lonely, with their angst increased by the feeling of missing out on all the fun. For men especially, their isolation is also exacerbated by their lack of social proof, which makes it harder to pair bond with members of the opposite sex.

College can be overrated as a friend-building activity, unless you are living the life of the full time student with on-campus residency. In fact, classes hardly offer any social interaction aside from passing people on the way in and out of the room. Consider, talking during class is limited or nil, and even seating arrangements are frozen after the first week so you'll never even get to know anyone who isn't seated immediate adjacent to you. On-campus social life is second to none, probably even better than high school for developing friends, but just taking classes is not a very effective strategy for overcoming loneliness.

Single Parents
The outliers in every social scenario, the ones most prone to the ravages of loneliness, are the single parents. They have not only all the normal social needs of a single person, but are also burdened with the extra feelings of incompleteness and inadequacy that come from the failed relationship with their co-parent. Yet, despite the extra emotional needs, they have none of the free time. Being the sole provider, they can't squeeze in social time or activities by relying on the other parent. Many single parents rely on their own parents as babysitters to allow them their social time. Joint custody can also allow these parents some social time when the kids are with the other parent.

Single Fathers
Single fathers face particular problems with social isolation. Single motherhood is socially difficult, but at least they are plentiful and bond easily with each other. However, rarely do they engage socially with single fathers outside of a dating context. Single fathers cannot engage in the unencumbered activities of their childless single male friends, and many childless women do not want to date someone who already has children. Their best fit socially is obviously other single fathers, but they are relatively rare, and few services or occasions serve to bring them together. Friendship with couples with children is also a possibility, but faces the same friction and mismatches as other couples-singles relationships. The one advantage of single fathers is that few of them have full custody, in fact most have less custody than their co-parent, so they often have ample non-custodial time to establish a social life. The legendary "two weekends a month" dad is essentially a single childless man on the social level, although such men can be prone to the emotional trauma of seeing too little of their children if they were forced out of their children's life by judicial decree.

Judging People by their Friends
Is it fair to use a person's friends, or lack thereof, to judge them? Some people, such as famous "wise man"/conservative commentator/talk show host Dennis Preager, assert that you should judge a man by his friends. I find his attitude problematic, for a number of reasons. He seems to be stuck in 1960's America, when social and employment mobility was low. Under those standards, when a man is living in his hometown and staying at the same job for decades, perhaps lack of friends did indicate a character flaw.

But Praeger seems to be unaware of the many common reasons a man might find himself socially isolated in the contemporary world, such as moving, switching jobs, or going through a divorce. Even divorce, which was traditionally viewed as indicating a character flaw, can happen literally through no fault of your own today, as we live under the laws of "no-fault" divorce.

The greater prevalence of job switching today, as well as the greater physical mobility and the collapse of the marriage bond, means that we have entire hosts of people who are living in a lonely, friendless condition today, through no real fault of their own. As this latest study indicates, loneliness spreads, and so even the people who aren't switching, moving, or divorcing, are negatively affected by those who are, as they find their social network evaporating around them!

Whether it is fair or not, at least for the dating game, social proof is vital, and being embedded in a network of friends is a net positive in almost every way. The best way to manage that outcome is to stay in your hometown. Increase your base network by attending a local college/university, and live as a full time student in on-campus housing. That is the best-case scenario for avoiding loneliness, as those friendships will literally last a lifetime, sometimes even if you end up moving apart.

Living outside of your hometown or college-town network, it is important to develop your social network with plenty of group activities. Choose activities that both provide intimate interactions as well personal improvement (think classes rather than private lessons, team sports, and church groups). Focus on developing yourself, which allows you to be socially assertive and confident, and promotes your own psychological grounding and strength. Avoid doing activities solely to meet others or find dates, as you will be seen as a poser, needy, or manipulative.

Once you have children, for your own sake (as well as the children's), make it work with your co-parent. The acute short-term and chronic long-term negative social/psychological effects of single parenthood are to be avoided at all costs.