Pharyngula

CBS’s moral lapse

Yesterday, I asked if anyone caught the offensive description of the results of the Pew study on religion on CBS. Crooks and Liars did. Here’s Wyatt Andrews’ comment on the results:

The unprecedented survey of religion answers many concerns about a secular, morally void America.

I don’t even know what that means. He seems to be linking “secular” with “morally void”, but I don’t understand what concerns it answered for him — I found the results reassuring, but I want more secularism and and don’t see it as moral problem at all.

Comments

  1. #1 MAJeff
    February 26, 2008

    He seems to be linking “secular” with “morally void”, but I don’t understand what concerns it answered for him — I found the results reassuring, but I want more secularism and and don’t see it as moral problem at all.

    Well, of course: it will lead to things like gender equality, homosexuality, and race-mixing. Isn’t that obvious?

  2. #2 Ichthyic
    February 26, 2008

    actually, I don’t think those were HIS concerns, rather a synopsis of the concerns often voiced by the more moronic evangelicals who likely make their concerns heard at news stations all over the country on a daily basis.

  3. #3 raatrani
    February 26, 2008

    It makes me wonder if he made any connection afterwards between the overwhelming majority of self-professed xtians and the “moral void”…

  4. #4 Sastra
    February 26, 2008

    Casual comments like this thrown in as an understood assumption from an otherwise neutral source bother me much more than the rants which come out of the usual religious suspects. It’s the sort of thing which encourages the average person to put atheists into the category of extremist, the “other.”

    If they had said “secular, religiously void America” it would have been a bit over-dramatic, but made more sense. As it is, they owe the non-religious an apology. Imagine if they had said the survey answers “concerns about a religious, rationally deficient America.” Gee, would somebody have noticed and fixed that?

  5. #5 Ichthyic
    February 26, 2008

    Imagine if they had said the survey answers “concerns about a religious, rationally deficient America.” Gee, would somebody have noticed and fixed that?

    heh, makes me wonder if they did.

  6. #6 mothworm
    February 26, 2008

    I consider myself “morally void” in the sense that I’ve never seen a definition of moral that differed significantly from the definition of sin. Once I gave up the idea of sin….

    I doubt that’s what he meant, though.

  7. #7 Spinoza
    February 26, 2008

    … uh, MAJeff… how exactly does secularity LEAD to homosexuality?…

    I’m sure you didn’t mean to say that… but it sounds ridiculous.

  8. #8 MAJeff
    February 26, 2008

    … uh, MAJeff… how exactly does secularity LEAD to homosexuality?…
    I’m sure you didn’t mean to say that… but it sounds ridiculous.
    Posted by: Spinoza | February 26, 2008 11:12 PM

    Just trotting out something that might be said by one of the fundies shrieking about taking god out of the public sphere.

  9. #9 danley
    February 26, 2008

    Whatever the case may be, the vapid state of the mentally void is what irks me.

  10. #10 Kimpatsu
    February 26, 2008

    I consider myself “morally void” in the sense that I’ve never seen a definition of moral that differed significantly from the definition of sin.
    Um… homosexuality is a “sin”, but it’s not immoral. Not going to church is a sin, but it’s not immoral. Sex outside of marriage is a sin, but it’s not immoral…
    I can find plenty more examples of sins that are not immoral. Equating sin with morality is not a sin, but it IS immoral.

  11. #11 Kseniya
    February 26, 2008

    We could power a city with the kind of amperage that would be cranked out by wrapping the bodies of Jefferson, Madison and Adams in copper wire and… well, you know what I mean.

  12. #12 Ben
    February 26, 2008
  13. #13 Tex
    February 26, 2008

    In my experience, a sense of morality is woefully underdeveloped in those who profess to have any sort of religous belief. If their scripture says we should kill homosexuals, that is all the justification they need. Of course, most of them are too wishy-washy to take that at full face value, so they modify it to rationalize verbally and sometimes physically bashing homosexuals. I guess not fully embracing the plain meaning of their sacred texts, and actually killing people (at least not usually) is close enough to a moral stance for them.

  14. #14 Mike
    February 27, 2008

    I’ve never seen a definition of moral that differed significantly from the definition of sin.

    That’s a frightening statement – frightening, at least, that no one in your ambit has articulated even a basic concept of morality without reference to sin (and, I suppose, God).

    Here’s one for you: Human pleasure and fulfillment is the ultimate good. Human avoidance of pain is the penultimate good. Acts that generally tend to reduce pleasure or increase pain are, generally, immoral. Acts that enable pleasure or the avoidance of pain are, generally, moral.

    Thus, thou shalt not kill,

    Thou shalt not be an asshole,

    Thou shalt not steal -

    all generally, of course, and all situationally and circumstantially dependent, just like all moralities based on sin and one god or another.

    I think the above, or some variation of it and in concentric circles of intensity with ourselves and our loved ones at the core, is really what all of us use, even if dressed up in religious terms.

    Go now, and sin no more. ;-)

  15. #15 CalGeorge
    February 27, 2008

    The unprecedented survey of religion answers many concerns about a secular, morally void America. To the surprise of many experts, Americans are still deeply religious, with 84 percent of adults claiming a religious affiliation, CBS News correspondent Wyatt Andrews reports.

    His point: Yippee! The religious people still control America!

    We’ve been written off once again.

  16. #16 CalGeorge
    February 27, 2008

    Woo-Hoo!

    P. 8: “…the West has the largest proportion of unaffiliated people, including the largest proportion of atheists and agnostics.”

  17. #17 Gerry L
    February 27, 2008

    I first saw the story early in the day in the New York Times. The hook was that many Americans have changed from the religious affiliations they grew up with. An interestng finding. But by the time I got home from work, CBS had made the hook “gee, most Americans are religious.” Yes, and the sun came up in the east this morning.

  18. #18 CalGeorge
    February 27, 2008

    The Pew reporting is definitely biased:

    P. 38: Adults under age 30 are more than three times as likely as those age 70 and older to be unaffiliated with any particular religion (25% vs. 8%). The younger group is also more likely than the adult population as a whole to be atheist or agnostic (7% vs. 4%). It is important to note, however, that more than a third (35%) of young adults who have no particular religious affiliation are in the “religious unaffiliated” category, that is, they say that religion is somewhat important
    or very important in their lives.

    “It is important to note, however…”? WTF?

    Wouldn’t want that statistic on atheism to just hang out there all by its lonesome – it might scare people!

  19. #19 Molly, NYC
    February 27, 2008

    In my experience, a sense of morality is woefully underdeveloped in those who profess to have any sort of religous belief. (Tex @ 13)

    I’ve noticed this as well–the moral sense gets replaced by an obsession with sex.

    I imagine that’s what happened to Andrews. You have to marvel at the disconnect required to tell his (if we are to believe the folks at Pew) largely secular audience that they were morally void, as if he expected them to tsk-tsk along with him.

  20. #20 CalGeorge
    February 27, 2008

    Canadians can be proud:

    P. 50: “Immigrants from Canada are the group with the highest proportion of atheists and agnostics
    (13%).”

  21. #21 Ichthyic
    February 27, 2008

    Thou shalt not be an asshole,

    which reminds me, what happened to Truth Machine?

    a loveable asshole if ever there was one.

  22. #22 CalGeorge
    February 27, 2008

    Uh-oh.

    P. 64: “Among agnostics and atheists, the gender
    gap is even larger; seven-in-ten atheists and nearly two-thirds (64%) of agnostics are men.”

  23. #23 jimvj
    February 27, 2008

    For more CBS crap, see this interview (on The Early Show) with a Catholic priest on the rise of exorcism rites.
    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/02/26/earlyshow/main3877560.shtml

    The commenters, for the most part, are giving CBS hell for this nonsense.

  24. #24 CalGeorge
    February 27, 2008

    Don’t get married! It’s dangerous!

    P. 66: “Among those who have never been married, roughly one-in-four (24%) are not affiliated with any particular religious group, and one-third of these (8% of the never married) describe themselves as atheist or agnostic. Among married people, by contrast, only 14% are not affiliated with any particular religion, and fewer than one-in-four of these (3% of married people overall) are atheist or agnostic.”

  25. #25 CalGeorge
    February 27, 2008

    I can’t believe I’m reading this!

    Well,” Williams responded, “that’s the biggest challenge we have. Because obviously, many things that in the past that were considered demonic possession or demonic influence were really just diseases or psychological problems. So, priests work closely with psychologists to try to ascertain the real nature of the pathology or of the problem before performing an exorcism. But prayer never hurts. So if you’re just praying for a person, you’re not gonna do them any damage.”

    Holy shit! They treated him like a credible person! What is wrong with this country!

  26. #26 debbyo
    February 27, 2008

    CalGeorge said:

    “Uh-oh.

    P. 64: “Among agnostics and atheists, the gender
    gap is even larger; seven-in-ten atheists and nearly two-thirds (64%) of agnostics are men.””

    I have also heard that religion is overrepresented amongst the poor too – no doubt hoping that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Yet, paradoxically, the US is one of the wealthiest countries in the world and is very religious (I don’t know how it compares to most country, but it certainly is more religious than my country.)

  27. #27 JohnnieCanuck, FCD
    February 27, 2008

    #22

    Hmmm. So a non-religious single woman has the numbers in her favour in the hetero matching game. Single atheist guys are going to have to work at it a lot harder. Maybe if you insist on her dropping her religious ideas first, that would work. Not that I even tried it.

    So, all you gay free thinkers out there looking for commitment, there’s an advantage you may not have thought of before. Aren’t silver linings fabulous?

  28. #28 JohnnieCanuck, FCD
    February 27, 2008

    Debbyo,

    The US has a wide gap between the haves and the have-nots, so there are many more poor and very poor people in the States than should be expected for such a wealthy country. Still, this only explains some of that paradox.

    Another curiosity is that they have separation of church and state with no state sponsored religion, unlike for example, the UK and Canada which have much lower religiosity.

  29. #29 Rey Fox
    February 27, 2008

    “which reminds me, what happened to Truth Machine?”

    Good question. All those Molly votes must have scared him off.

  30. #30 Jeanette Garcia
    February 27, 2008

    Morals. Who me? Happy to be living in a state holding the title for most secular, Oregon. On the down side we also have the most evangelical protestants.

  31. #31 Doug
    February 27, 2008

    Perhaps since I’m a morally devoid Atheist I can ask fine upstanding Christians like Ted Haggard, Larry Craig, Erik Prince, George W. Bush and other morally superior believers how I should live my life. Funny how the number of non-religious people go up and the crime rate goes down. Any connection?

  32. #32 Al
    February 27, 2008

    I’d imagine that the reason the poor tend to be over-reprisented in religion is because they’re a lot more likely to be uneducated. Religion is a much less dominant force in every other first-world country because education systems tend to be better.
    It makes sense that a better education would predispose someone to being a freethinker.
    Or maybe thats just me overvaluing education like I always do and blaming almost everything I dislike about my neighbours to the south on their inferior schools…

  33. #33 negentropyeater
    February 27, 2008

    And then, what to think of the concluding remark from the CBS News correspondent, Wyatt Andrews (check the video at the end 3:15 mark);

    “Overall Americans are in a faith they have chosen, not one chosen for them. They are truely living, FREEDOM FROM RELIGION.”

    What a nutcase ! Does he even use his brain to make comments like that ? If that is not dishonest propaganda, I don’t know what is.

    I learned something today, Americans are living “freedom from religion”. What are you guys complaining about ?

  34. #34 Matt
    February 27, 2008

    They are pissed off that we don’t have to spend every day of our lives with a burden on our shoulders… the burden of grovelling to an imaginary being. We are free to live our lives with only common human decency as our moral code. That pisses them off, and that’s why they claim we are immoral.

  35. #35 Mrs Tilton
    February 27, 2008

    Spinoza @7,

    how exactly does secularity LEAD to homosexuality?…

    Isn’t it obvious? Take Ted Haggard, for example. Sure, he’s a good family man and faithful husband, straight as the day is long. But if it weren’t for the fact that he’s a Christian reverend, there’s every possibility he’d be banging guys.

  36. #36 negentropyeater
    February 27, 2008

    “Americans are truely living, freedom from religion !”

    and this is to be repeated to
    - all the children who have been brainwashed for years by their parents, and forced into religious practice and denied any chance of criticism
    - all those who have been denied any form of decent scientific education and instead were told to believe in fairy tales, demons, angels, and spirits
    - all who have been scared from any attempt of thinking critically and instead live in constant fear of what might happen to them if they did, after they die
    - all people who are permanently reminded by politicians, journalists, and most opinion leaders, that religion is the only source of morality
    - all people who are kept in a state of infantilization by a culture which is dominated by the stupidest TV shows and consistently thrives to exploit the lowest common denominator of knowledge and education
    - all people who live in areas where the only form of communal activities which are deemed acceptable by their peers is joining a mega-church

    Yes indeed, Americans a truely living freedom from religion.

  37. #37 amk
    February 27, 2008

    Funny how the number of non-religious people go up and the crime rate goes down. Any connection?

    It’s been suggested up thread that the poor and ill educated are more likely to be religious. I expect the poor and ill educated are also more likely to be criminals. A study comparing religiosity to crime rates that controls for socioeconomic status would be interesting.

  38. #38 negentropyeater
    February 27, 2008

    amk,

    aren’t you assuming that religiosity is only a consequence of socioeconomic factors ? Don’t you think that religiosity is also an important factor which helps to maintain people in a given socioeconomic status ?

  39. #39 Christophe Thill
    February 27, 2008

    “The unprecedented survey of religion answers many concerns about a secular, morally void America.”

    Well, it may answer those concerns, but it opens new ones. Because it draws the picture of a religious, morally void America.

    Oh, and here’s some food for thought: I came to the conclusion that you have no right to claim moral principles if you just parrot them mindlessly, but only if you have thought them over, reflected carefully, and concluded that yes, they’re the ones that seem right to you and that you approve. In other words, I don’t think you can be moral if your only morality is “this is right and that is wrong, because Mr X or book Y told me so”.

  40. #40 Scott Simmons
    February 27, 2008

    OK, here’s a completely half-assed hypothesis that’s capable of reconciling these two factors … Most people tend to rely on religion for their moral compass. In a time when religious belief is becoming less widespread, the people who are drifting away are disproportionately the thinkers, those who generally make informed and thoughtful decisions about moral values (among other things). In a more religious age, their independence would have expressed itself in other directions than in abandoning the church, most likely, and many of them would have ended up in positions of religious leadership. In their absence, those positions have been filled by small-minded hucksters and con artists, and the ignorant flocks are following their leadership into insanity.

    Hence, as religious devotion wanes, crime and immorality rise, and yet the perpetrators of these are actually the remaining religious rather than the non-religious. Eventually, the wave of irreligious thinking will spread from the elite to the masses, and things will settle down.

    Or, we can give in and nominate P.Z. for Pope. This isn’t a bad idea either. :)

  41. #41 SueinNM
    February 27, 2008

    “Uh-oh.

    P. 64: “Among agnostics and atheists, the gender
    gap is even larger; seven-in-ten atheists and nearly two-thirds (64%) of agnostics are men.””

    I always wondered why our local atheist group, which meets once a month at a restaurant, is so devoid of women like myself. Women will come and then leave again, perhaps not feeling as ‘welcome’ with a mostly male group. I don’t know. It doesn’t bother me. I don’t feel as if I’m treated any differently.

    fortunately, I’m in one of those happy atheist marriges where religion never intrudes. One feminist atheist said to me something to the effect of “there aren’t more atheist women because their husbands won’t let them be.” Don’t know if that’s true, but it’s an interesting idea. Can’t imagine being in a marriage like that, myself.

  42. #42 Liz
    February 27, 2008

    Another aspect of the religious gender gap is that, at least in my church when I was growing up (Roman Catholic), the attendance broke down into old people, moms, and the mothers’ children. There was a sprinkling of whole families, and sometimes kids would be dropped off (if you went a certain percentage of weeks, the tuition was reduced, and students in 7-8th grades had homework assignments that necessitated a trip to church every week). Christmas and Easter were also always big attendance nights (we used to have mass in church and the school gym on those days).
    Going to church is definitely seen as a feminine activity, though. It could just be that women are identifying themselves as religious out of some misplaced sense of obligation to their families–it’s sort of a sexist view, but I definitely think it applies.

  43. #43 Peter Mc
    February 27, 2008

    Mrs Tilton. ‘Take Ted Haggard,’

    No thanks. You just don’t know where he’s been.

  44. #44 negentropyeater
    February 27, 2008

    Christophe,

    “Because it draws the picture of a religious, morally void America.”

    not even, it just draws the picture of a “religious America”.

    This study actually answers nothing. It just perpetutates the notion that America is deeply religious, and doesn’t go in any details, as to analysing, how this religiosity is evolving, or if and how this religiosity is impacting the key moral issues.

    Moreover, by systematically asking the wrong questions, it consistently underestimates the key indicators which might better reflect wether, religious practices and convictions are, within the core strategic groups and opinion leaders, resisting, or on the contrary, losing ground.

    We had the same phenomena in W.Europe 20 years ago. Survey after survey were reporting very high levels of religious affiliation, and were systematically missing the key issue, which was that religious practices and convictions were falling, especially in the core strategic groups.
    It was as if the religious organisations absolutely needed to maintain the illusion that religion was a preeminent notion in people’s lives. Those surveys were only there as pieces of propaganda, picked up the major media outlets, who were incapable of showing any form of critical analysis, and help to maximize the positive network externalities benefitting religions.

  45. #45 Schmeer
    February 27, 2008

    Thanks for the link, Ben.
    Here’s what I wrote in the feedback form at that link.

    I caught a brief discussion of your report on the newest Pew center study on religion in the US and was shocked by some of the quotes attributed to CBS. I read that the CBS representative mentioned the “secular, morally devoid” trend, or something close to that. I’m offended by the casual insinuation that secularism equates with immorality. Perhaps your editors and producers could freshen up their knowledge of the Enlightenment and the dictionary definition of “secular”.
    In the future I would ask that you not offend those of us who value secularism and the Constitution that it wrote with these idiotic assertions.

  46. #46 mona
    February 27, 2008

    Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies.
    So much for linking religion to a healthy society. It turns out, the opposite is true. I hope someone at CBS finds out about this and posts a correction.

  47. #47 negentropyeater
    February 27, 2008

    Anybody who wants to take the time to analyse this study should look at the questionnaire, which can be found at:

    http://people-press.org/reports/pdf/312.pdf

    Now, let’s look for example at some of the “religion questions” which are found on page 95.

    Just try to think how people would answer to these questions, when prompted, on the phone or coming out of a shopping mall :

    Prayer is an important part of my daily life
    Do you
    -completely agree
    -mostly agree
    -mostly disagree
    -completely disagree

    suppose you pray once in a blue moon, prayer is not an important part of your daily life, but you have, in some cases, prayed becuase of a particularly difficult situation, or someone was severely ill, or whatever.

    What would be you answer ? Would you say you mostly agree, or you mostly disagree ?
    It is clear that the way the question is asked, automatically skews the results towards agreement, and doesn’t at all measure how important prayer is.

    And the rest is the more of the same, a biased questionary, which leads to severlely biased results.

    And then, what does the press pick up ? Well, check the CBS report for an example.

    Just propaganda. Nothing else.

    Come on, we are supposed to be a bit better than this, critical thinkers, not parrots who repeat preconceived ideas.

  48. #48 Laura
    February 27, 2008

    This is a really interesting description over on Wikipedia. Apparently morality has 3 meanings and myriad facets that people have (duh) been debating since the beginning of time. I wonder if any of these religious people spouting off about “morals” actually know in what context they’re using the word.

  49. #49 Craig
    February 27, 2008

    Look at this story from CBS’s website. They have no problem relating secularism with anti-american ultra-liberals, even when the figures they are reporting on says otherwise.

    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/06/14/politics/animal/main2932013.shtml?source=search_story

    I know it’s older, but you can see the trend forming.

  50. #50 mothworm
    February 27, 2008

    Laura, thanks for the link. I think I was rejecting definition one while working off definition three. To oversimplify, as a professor once put it: you can be immoral if you’re alone on a desert island, but you can’t be unethical. Once your actions affect others, then the “greater good/reciprocal social contract” kicks in, and you have a responsibility to respect that. Things you do on your own, that don’t affect anyone else, are your own business. “Don’t steal/kill/be an asshole” therefor falls under ethics.

  51. #51 mothworm
    February 27, 2008

    Liz,

    I think you’re entirely correct. The work of “morally” educating children has always been shouldered by the women in families (I’m pretty sure Pandagon has addressed this). It’s why we’ve seen a resurgence of the hyper-masculine crap like Promise Keepers. Churches felt religion was getting to “feminized” and wasn’t attracting sufficient numbers of men. The scutwork of keeping a church running and bringing families still belongs to women, of course, but they made a pep-rally out of men reclaiming their religion while at the same time subordinating women. It’s the same reason the socialist/good works gospel aspects of jesus get downplayed–too girly.

  52. #52 GDad
    February 27, 2008

    What I wrote to CBS…

    On the article at (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/02/25/national/main3873100.shtml), did the reporter really intend to conflate “secular” with “morally void?” If CBS is really CBN in disguise, I would understand, but I always thought CBS had a tradition of journalistic integrity.

  53. #53 Stagyar zil Doggo
    February 27, 2008

    #22

    Uh-oh.
    P. 64: “Among agnostics and atheists, the gender
    gap is even larger; seven-in-ten atheists and nearly two-thirds (64%) of agnostics are men.”
    Posted by: CalGeorge | February 27, 2008 12:49 AM

    Zuska has a post pointing out information on the dearth of women in science and engineering faculties. Numbers of women amongst student populations in these fields are also low, even if not as bad as the faculty numbers.

    Most atheists and agnostics who didn’t start out that way mention exposure to science and critical thinking as a significant factor in their deconversion. So it is possible that the lesser number of women exposed to these subjects in the universities explains their lesser proportions amongst atheists and agnostics, at least in part.

    If this hypothesis – that science exposure leads to and helps maintain godlessness – is accurate, one would more or less expect to see the following.
    1. The gender ratio amongst people who self-identified as “always agnostic/atheist” and had science exposure (education/career/whatever) would be close to 1.
    2. Those who started out as disbelievers and found religion later on would contain a smaller fraction of science exposed people compared to those who persisted in their godlessness. In case atheists and agnostics choose science careers in the same gender ratios as other people (which I suspect and hope is not the case), these convertees would consist of more women than men.
    3. Deconvertees would be mostly men, corresponding to their higher proportion in the general science exposed public.

  54. #54 red
    February 29, 2008

    “(maniac cackle)! Us moral lacking atheists on our way to taking over the entire nation! first we’ll take away belief, then imagination, and finally hope! Everyone will have to slave away in science research labs, with their only release being remorseless murder and loveless sex, or ritual celebration of Darwin!

    thanks for a glimpse of the future CNN. I consider myself warned.

    and I apologize for ruining what seems a pretty serious thread, Iv just been studying for WAY too long this week…

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