During the early 19th century, most Americans subsisted on a diet of pork, whiskey, and coffee. It was hell on the bowels, and to many Christian fundamentalists, hell on the soul, too. They believed that constipation was God’s punishment for eating meat. The diet was also blamed for fueling lust and laziness. To rid America of these vices, religious zealots spearheaded the country’s first vegetarian movement. In 1863, one member of this group, Dr. James Jackson, invented Granula, America’s first ready-to-eat, grain-based breakfast product.
Indulgences these days are granted to those who carry out certain tasks – such as climbing the Sacred Steps, in Rome (reportedly brought from Pontius Pilate’s house after Jesus scaled them before his crucifixion), a feat that earns believers seven years off purgatory. But attendance at events such as the Catholic World Youth Day, in Rio de Janeiro, a week-long event starting on 22 July, can also win an indulgence. Mindful of the faithful who cannot afford to fly to Brazil, the Vatican’s sacred apostolic penitentiary, a court which handles the forgiveness of sins, has also extended the privilege to those following the “rites and pious exercises” of the event on television, radio and through social media. “That includes following Twitter,” said a source at the penitentiary, referring to Pope Francis’ Twitter account, which has gathered seven million followers. “But you must be following the events live. It is not as if you can get an indulgence by chatting on the internet.”
I imagine there’ll be a new pope soon, and there’s no shortage of people saying the new leader of the Catholic church will have their work cut for them, but what exactly does the role entail? Quite a lot, by the sounds of it:
A typical day starts early, with a private mass attended by household staff, Briel said. After breakfast, the morning might be spent writing epistles, or formal communications, as well as other works of religious scholarship. Much of the rest of the day is likely to be spent in meetings with bishops and political leaders from around the world. The pope also ministers directly to the faithful, greeting pilgrims at General Audiences, which usually attract between several thousand and tens of thousands of people. Briel attended Benedict’s last General Audience in Rome in February, which drew 200,000, he said. Around important holidays, such as Easter, the pope delivers major liturgies in St. Peter’s Cathedral or elsewhere in Rome. He also travels around the world, conducting masses for audiences that fill football stadiums.
Intrigued by the various promises made by members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion, who would frequently call at her home – something many of us are probably familiar with – Corinna Nicolaou decided to take a closer look at the church:
The Jehovah Witnesses have been coming to my door for more than two years acting like they have the answers, so I’m finally taking them up on the offer to come to their Kingdom Hall. It’s just down the street from my house. Inside, people are milling about. Maybe what they say is true and here are some of the multitudes whom Jesus has made rise from their graves. Their happy expressions and business-casual attire carry the whiff of inauthenticity. It’s like they’re trying too hard to seem alive. The atmosphere in the building can only be described as funereal: fake plants, floral carpet, mauve wainscoting. No windows, the only light emanates from fluorescent tubes. Décor best appreciated by the dead. I keep expecting someone to turn and have an eyeball dangling from a socket.
The key finding is that people who scored high in paranormal belief or religiosity were more likely to see face-like areas in the pictures compared with the sceptics and atheists. They weren’t more sensitive to the illusory faces as such, because they also scored a lot of false alarms – saying there was a face when there wasn’t. However, when they spotted a face-like pattern correctly, they were more accurate than sceptics and atheists at saying where exactly in the pictures the illusory faces were located. Finally, the paranormal believers rated the illusory faces as more face-like and emotional than the sceptics.
I’ve been called analytical once or twice – I think it was a compliment, possibly something to do with the fact I juggle three jobs – so possibly this applies to me… people who think analytically tend to be less religious than others.
Researchers used problem-solving tasks and subtle experimental priming – including showing participants Rodin’s sculpture The Thinker or asking participants to complete questionnaires in hard-to-read fonts – to successfully produce “analytic” thinking. The researchers, who assessed participants’ belief levels using a variety of self-reported measures, found that religious belief decreased when participants engaged in analytic tasks, compared to participants who engaged in tasks that did not involve analytic thinking.
What about then the analytical thinkers’ acceptance of notions such as say astrology and ghosts? Are the levels of disbelief similar?
Superman is Methodist, Spider-Man is Protestant, while Batman is a lapsed Catholic. Can’t say this is something I’d ever given any thought to, but for those so inclined the religious affiliations of your favourite superhero can be found here.
Scroll towards the bottom of page where you’ll also find the beliefs of their enemies. Aside from The Joker that is, whose faith is listed being “Batman’s arch-enemy”. Not a hard call, that.
The team’s mathematical model attempts to account for the interplay between the number of religious respondents and the social motives behind being one. The result, reported at the American Physical Society meeting in Dallas, US, indicates that religion will all but die out altogether in those countries.
I’m hardly religious myself – nor much of a social anthropologist either – but this still strikes me as a big call. Even if the vast majority of people living in these countries eventually have no religious belief, I can’t see it disappearing completely which is the suggestion here.