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Freethought Today · June/July 2017

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Record few believe bible is literal word of God

Fewer than one in four Americans (24 percent) now believes the bible is "the actual word of God, and is to be taken literally, word for word," similar to the 26 percent who view it as "a book of fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man."

This is the first time in Gallup's four-decade trend that biblical literalism has not surpassed biblical skepticism. Meanwhile, about half of Americans — a proportion largely unchanged over the years — fall in the middle, saying the bible is the inspired word of God but that not all of it should be taken literally.

From the mid-1970s through 1984, close to 40 percent of Americans

considered the bible the literal word of God, but this has been declining ever since, along with a shrinking percentage of self-identified Christians in the United States.

Still, while biblical literalism has waned, the vast majority of Americans — 71 percent — continue to view the bible as a holy document, believing it is at least God-inspired, if not God's own words.

Over the past three decades, Americans' view of the bible as the literal word of God has been declining, while their view that the bible is a collection of fables, myths and history recorded by man has been increasing. The shift is most pronounced among young adults, indicating the trend is likely to accelerate in the years ahead.

Higher loan defaults when God mentioned

A team of three economists has found that someone who mentions God in his or her application for a peer-to-peer loan was 2.2 times more likely to default. This was among the highest indicators that a person would not pay back, according to Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, author of the book Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are.

The economists used data from Prosper, a peer-to-peer lending site. In order to get a loan, potential borrowers write a brief description of why they need a loan and why they are likely to make good on it. The potential lenders then decide whether to provide them the money. Overall, about 13 percent of borrowers default on their loans.

"Generally, if someone tells you he will pay you back, he will not pay you back," Stephens-Davidowitz writes. "The more assertive the promise, the more likely he will break it. If someone writes 'I promise I will pay back, so help me God,' he is among the least likely to pay you back."

Humanism acknowledged by Defense Department

Humanism is now on the Department of Defense's updated list of recognized religions.

The designation means that humanists are now guaranteed the same rights, privileges and protections granted to others who are members of faith groups.

Previously, the U.S. military recognized just over 100 religions. The new list has grown to 221 to include Earth-based faiths, such as heathens and Asatru, and an additional eight Protestant groups, including the International Communion of the Charismatic Christian Church.

And there's another plus: The Department of Defense will now have more accurate counts of each recognized religious (or in this case, irreligious) group, which varies widely depending on who's counting.

Brain damage is linked to religious extremism

Scientists who studied Vietnam War veterans have found that certain kinds of brain injuries may increase religious fundamentalism.

Researchers at Northwestern University found that combat vets who suffered trauma in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex were less willing to accept new ideas and became more extreme in their religious beliefs.

The scientists studied 119 vets with penetrating traumatic brain injuries and 30 with no history of brain injury. Those who suffered injuries to the site reported higher levels of religious fundamentalism compared to those without the lesions.

"Human beliefs, and in this case religious beliefs, are one of the cognitive and social knowledge stores that distinguish us from other species and are an indication of how evolution and cognitive/social processes influenced the development of the human brain," said Jordan Grafman of Northwestern University, the study's author.

Previous research had suggested that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which is located in the frontal lobe, was a "critical hub" for belief systems.

Adoption agencies could turn away LGBT couples

The Texas House of Representatives passed HB 3859, a bill that would allow state-funded adoption, foster care, and family planning agencies to impose their religious beliefs onto prospective parents, families, and vulnerable young people. If passed by the Senate and signed into law, HB 3859 would bar Texas from taking "adverse action" against any private agency that refuses to provide services to young people in their care, or to place young people with an otherwise qualified family, if doing so would conflict with the agency's "sincerely held religious beliefs" — which the bill itself does not limit or define.

The bill's definition of "adverse action" is broad and all-encompassing.

This would have serious consequences for a range of vulnerable communities, including young people and families. The bill would shield agencies from liability even if they refused to provide services to same-sex couples, people of other faiths, unmarried people, single women, and divorced people.

Facebook censorship hits atheist pages

Atheist and ex-Muslim organizations are being targeted for Facebook censorship by organized religious conservatives through the use of Facebook's reporting mechanism.

The Ex-Muslims of North America and Atheist Republic faced unnecessary restrictions on their pages and posts by these pages were blocked from appearing in news feeds.

Atheist Republic's Facebook Page, with more than 1.6 million followers, was deleted, with no further explanation.

Nearly 40 secular and atheist organizations have signed a letter asking that Facebook improve its reporting system to protect vulnerable groups that rely on its services.

The organizations request that Facebook create a whitelist for Groups and Pages, which are determined as vulnerable to malicious attacks. They also ask that reports and flags aimed at these groups should not be handled by automated mechanisms, but reviewed and given due consideration by a trained Facebook employee.

Further, they request that Facebook should penalize individual accounts and groups that are found to have been repeatedly abusing its reporting system.