To Your Brain, Religion Is Similar To Sex And Drugs

Religion may ponder questions about meaning of existence that lie beyond science’s purview, but that doesn’t mean science can’t tackle how religion works. Now a new study suggests some intriguing possibilities about how religious and spiritual experiences trigger the reward and attention centers of the brain.

Past studies on the neuroscience of religion had been all over the map, with researchers unable to agree on a seemingly simple a question like which region of the brain is involved in a spiritual experience. That uncertainty, along with the fact that such experiences are complex and vary wildly among individuals, led some researchers to think that every brain might process religion differently. But now researchers at the University of Utah have found that intense religious experiences consistently activate the reward circuits in the brain.That’s the same part of the brain that activates during more licentious experiences like drinking, having sex, or taking drugs.

“There’s one major reward pathway in the brain,” researcher Jeffrey Anderson told Vocativ. “Whether you’re talking about gambling or love or sex, it’s the same basic circuits that process that pleasure.”

The researchers reached this conclusion by putting 19 devout Mormons in an MRI. For an hour each, they watched religion-themed videos, read from the Book of Mormon, and listened to quotations from Mormon and other religious leaders. As clinical and artificial an environment as an MRI might be, the participants consistently reported that they were “feeling the Spirit” — the Mormon term for sensing a close connection with God — and many cried or otherwise felt extreme emotions over the course of their scans.

This new research fits in with other recent studies that indicate the reward circuits of the prefrontal cortex may be crucial to religious experiences across many cultural groups. One study found Parkinson’s patients who had suffered damaged to this part of the brain reported reduced levels of religiosity.

“To a believer, I would imagine that our results might not be too surprising,” said Anderson. “These are rewarding experiences. Of course they’re going to associate brain regions associated with reward and increased attention and morality.”

But is this just a one-way phenomenon, or could the rewarding nature of religion shape how people respond to it in the first place? If religious experiences do activate the brain’s reward pathways, it’s possible that some people respond to religion as a whole because of those good feelings they know are coming.

“If religious and spiritual experiences ultimately trigger reward responses, that brings up the question of conditioning,” said Anderson. That could make them more receptive to the drier, doctrinal parts of religion, even those beliefs that they might reject in a less neurally rewarding context. “Is it possible that any religious ideal, if you’re where there’s music and social rewards and reinforcement, and those get paired with doctrinal concepts, then virtually any religious idea could become rewarding?”

That idea requires further study, and it’s still an open question whether the neural activity of 19 devout Mormons are truly representative of how spiritual experiences affect the brains across the world’s cultures and religions. It’s also possible atheists and agnostics might experience similar reward activation when spending time in nature or contemplating the universe.

But Anderson suspects religious experiences might indeed be similar, irrespective of the particular faith.

“Even if the messages or gods are very different, are we feeling it in the same way, in the same parts of the brain?” he said. If that is indeed the case, Anderson hopes this research might help people understand how their beliefs are far more alike than they are different.

The Bible Was Written Way Earlier Than We Thought, Mathematicians Suggest

Even if you’re not religious, there’s no denying the enormous – and sometimes devastating – influence that the Bible as an historic text has had on the world over the past 3,000 years. And yet, when it comes to the most widely distributed book on the planet, we still can’t agree on who wrote it, and when.

So a bunch of mathematicians teamed up with archaeologists to shed a bit of light on the origins of the Bible, by using artificial intelligence to come up with an estimate of how many people could read and write during certain periods in ancient history.

Led by mathematician Shira Faigenbaum-Golovin from Tel Aviv University in Israel, the team came up with new image processing techniques and a handwriting recognition tool to investigate 16 inscriptions found in the desert fortress of Arad, just west of the Dead Sea.

Dated to around 600 BCE (so about 2,600 years ago) these ink inscriptions detail fairly mundane military commands and supply orders, and were written on ceramic pottery shards called ostraca during the late First Temple Period – 24 years before the Kingdom of Jerusalem was overthrown by the Babylonian king.

This is when most scholars agree that the earliest Biblical texts – including the Book of Joshua, Judges, the two Books of Kings, and parts of Genesis and Deuteronomy – were pieced together, so you’d expect that reading and writing were only common among the elite few at this time… Or were they?

To figure this out, the researchers first had to restore the inscriptions using their new image processing tools, and then used their handwriting recognition tool to determine how many people actually wrote them.

Maddie Stone explains over at Gizmodo:

“They … developed machine learning algorithms that could compare and contrast the shape of the ancient Hebrew characters in order to identify statistically distinct handwritings. In principle, this is similar to the algorithms tech companies use for digital signature detection.

All in all, their analysis revealed at least six different authors behind the 16 ostraca. Examining the contents of the text itself, the researchers concluded that these authors spanned the entire military chain of command.”

“The commander down to the lowest water master could all communicate in writing,” one of the team, mathematician Arie Shaus, told her. “This was an extremely surprising result.”

So if the Biblical water boys were reading and writing at around 600 BCE, it suggests that a “proliferation of literacy” had already occurred much earlier, the researchers suggested, and that has implications for when the first books of Bible were likely penned.

Since the earliest biblical texts represent the political and theological ideologies of their authors, one of the team, archaeologist Israel Finkelstein, told Jennifer Viegas at Discovery News, “it makes sense that at least the literati could read them. If a large number of people could read the text, it could have been easier to distribute the ideas of the authors among the Judahite population of the time”.

This could push the origin of the earliest Biblical texts back at least 200 years, archaeologist Christopher Rollston from George Washington University, who wasn’t involved in this study, told Gizmodo, adding that we have good amount of archaeological evidence that suggests that parts of the Bible were written as early as 800 BCE.

The researchers are now working on developing even more tools to glean what they can from ancient texts, and it’s hoped that with more evidence, we can piece together the beginnings of the best-selling book on Earth.

“We’re bringing new evidence to the game,” says Shaus. “Now, we’ll see what else comes out.”

The results have been published in Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.

Why Are Christian Movies So Painfully Bad?

As the world gleefully awaited the release of Fifty Shades of Grey in 2015, Evangelical Christians were awaiting … well, it would be inaccurate to call Old Fashioned the Christian version of the film, but it’s definitely meant to be the Christian response.

In the film, Clay, a former frat boy who runs an antique store, meets Amber, a restless spirit who wanders around the country. When Amber rents an apartment from Clay, she quickly realizes everything she’s heard about him is right — he has really outdated, and unrealistic theories of love, mostly centered on “old-fashioned” courtship.

Amber learns of Clay’s theories firsthand when she asks him to come over to fix something in her house. Before he can enter her home, he makes Amber leave. He has made a promise to himself that he will never be alone in a house with a woman. He’s saving himself for marriage, you see.

Clay’s ideas are intriguing to Amber, who finds herself drawn to the throwback gentleman. But both of them have skeletons in their closet, and need to deal with those first if there’s any chance of making their old-fashioned courtship work.

Fans of Fifty Shades might see echoes of that book in this basic plot summary. In both stories, a man with unconventional notions of romance and sex woos a woman, getting her to at least consider his viewpoint. Except in Fifty Shades, this involves lots of sex, and in Old Fashioned, this involves, well, no sex at all.

To be clear, there’s nothing inherently wrong with either plot. Chastity is rarely depicted onscreen, but that, of course, doesn’t mean the topic is off-limits. Plus, if Hollywood is serious about cultivating diversity of perspective, then it needs to tell more stories that portray lesser-known walks of life on screen — including religious ones.

But Old Fashioned‘s problem isn’t that it’s telling a religious story. The biggest problem here is it’s desperately trying to invalidate a secular one.

Not Fifty Shades of Grey

Just watch the film’s trailer:

[youtube id=”-p0ozDjAQco” width=”600″ height=”350″]

Perhaps the film’s main selling point is that it’s not Fifty Shades of Grey.

Mark Borde, co-president of Freestyle Releasing, the company distributing the picture, called Old Fashioned‘s marketing strategy a “counter-programming plan” to Fifty Shades. Producer Nathan Nazario acknowledged as much in a press release: “Going up against big-budget, blockbuster competition that offers a dark take on love, Old Fashioned puts romance and respect in the heart of relationships.”

Borde even compared the box office fight between the two films to David and Goliath. And the numbers certainly bear this out. Since its February 6 release, Old Fashioned has brought in about $258,000. On its opening Friday alone, Fifty Shades pulled in over $30 million, making it the fourth highest opening night box office of any R-rated film ever, according to Box Office Mojo.

You get the feeling that Old Fashioned owes its entire existence to Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s as if the Christian movie industry pays attention to mainstream cinema just long enough to see what it’s up to, before raising funds to do slightly different versions of the same thing, only with less famous actors, more Jesus, and rocking chairs. (There are always rocking chairs.)

Any person even vaguely familiar with Evangelical subcultures will recognize the trend of copying and sanitizing whatever pop culture is doing. This trend belies a certain impulse within Evangelical Christians to separate the entire world into two categories: sheep and goats, wheat and chaff.

A good deal of contemporary Christian art is predicated on the sacred/secular divide: As Christian film critic Alissa Wilkinson noted, “Christians, and evangelicals in particular, have been really, really prolific in making pop culture products that parallel what’s going on in mainstream cultural production.”

To illustrate this point, Wilkinson references a poster many ’90s Evangelicals will remember quite well: the “If you like that you’ll love this” chart. The chart features two columns. The first reads, “If you like that.” It contains the names of secular bands. The second reads, “You’ll love this.” It contains — you guessed it — Christian bands with similar, if sanitized, sounds.

If the chart were around today, it might say “If you like YouTube, you’ll love GodTube,” or “If you like Twitter, you’ll love Gospelr.” Or “If you like — and/or abhor — S&M sex, then you’ll love this movie about chastity.” These artistic replacements are intended to satisfy the Christian’s cravings for the secular, harmful version.

The end result is that the Christian product seems like a knock-off, a cheap alternative.

It isn’t problematic that Christians “borrow ideas” from Hollywood and put their own spin on them. Every film genre does this. But given the Christian doctrine of creation, it is certainly surprising that so many Christian filmmakers — and artists in general — would choose to mimic someone else’s vision, rather than cultivate their own.

It’s surprising because, in Christian theological terms, God is not the one who makes knock-offs. In the opening chapters of the Bible, God creates the universe, and he tells Adam and Eve to enjoy it all — except for that one tiny tree over there. It’s Satan who comes along with a counterfeit offer: What did God really say? Did he really give you true freedom? He may have given you a garden, but I’ll give you an apple. If you like that, you’ll love this.

What makes a movie Christian?

Often for Christian consumers of art, the question isn’t “Is this artwork Christian?” Instead, it becomes, “Is it Christian enough?” That enough is often what makes something “A Christian Thing.” That enough is what takes a cultural artifact from the realm of the secular to the sacred.

In Eyes Wide Open, a book that sets out to articulate a theological take on pop culture, evangelical William D. Romanowski traces the enough impulse to Evangelical responses to popular singer Amy Grant. In the mid-80s, Grant achieved a fame virtually unheard of in Christian music.

For many Christians, writes Romanowski, it was a “dream come true” to have one of their own make it that big. However, he argues, when Grant began to abandon explicitly Christian lyrics in favor of ones focused on romance, many Christians became uneasy and were forced to reconsider their paradigm for Christian art. Was Amy Grant enough of a Christian singer?

The fact that Grant resisted easy categorization prompted discussion and debate. She defied the strict sacred/secular bifurcation. Of course, the only difference between “Christian” Grant and “secular” Grant was the lyrics. Christian art, the logic went, is Christian art only if it explicitly communicates its Christian-ness.

So a Christian movie is a Christian movie if it states forthrightly the beliefs of the filmmaker. The communication of those beliefs is the most important thing. Everything else — including most categories of filmmaking artistry that, say, critics would primarily care about — is secondary, helpful only insofar as it helps the filmmaker win more non-Christians to the faith.

The goal, in other words, isn’t to make a movie. The movie is only the vehicle for achieving the goal. The real goal is engaging and converting secular culture.

The gift vs. wrapping paper

As Daniel Siedell, Art Historian in Residence at The King’s College in New York City, notes, “For [Evangelical Christians], culture is a tool, a more effective way of getting at political realities, or winning the battle of ideas in the public arena.”

Siedell uses the following analogy with his students to explain what he means.

Imagine a gorgeously wrapped gift sitting under a beautifully decorated Christmas tree. The presentation of the package, while pretty, is nowhere near as valuable as what’s inside.

Now, he says, extend that idea to Christian art. The artistic qualities of a work become the unnecessary wrapping paper. As such, it doesn’t really matter how good or bad they are.

That’s why it doesn’t matter that Old Fashioned is often very boring. It doesn’t matter that the script bursts at the seams with overwrought dialogue, or that the actors (outside of lead actress Elizabeth Roberts) offer phoned-in performances.

Director, writer, and lead actor Rik Swartzwelder might bear some of the blame here. After all, his resume, like many others in the Christian film industry, seems notably paltry. A good deal of what actors and directors know about their trade comes from on-the-job training, from working on set and in production studios under filmmakers with decades of experience. By isolating themselves from Hollywood, Christian filmmakers are passing up not only on “secular messages,” but on the mentoring that other budding talent are receiving.

As a result, Old Fashioned, rife with cliché, feels forced and unnatural at every turn. Even Amber — seemingly having read a screenwriting book or two — points out that Clay’s lofty discussions of love seem so “on the nose.” What critics might note as a flaw is seen, by much of the film’s core audience, as the whole point. The phrase “on the nose” usually connotes directly expository, even sermonizing dialogue, spoken unrealistically by the characters. But if you’re looking for a sermon in your art, as many Christian audiences are, “on the nose” becomes the reason the art exists.

There’s an old maxim in Hollywood that goes, “If you want to send a message, use Western Union.” Embedding explicit takeaways in film is something that bedevils some of the worst films out there, regardless of whether or not they’re religious. Sending a message is usually a good way to create a bland, boring mess.

Brian Godawa, Christian screenwriter, thinks it’s important to note that Christian films aren’t the only ones that are explicitly preachy. All films, says Godawa, “have messages to some degree or another, and writers and directors know full well they’re embodying those messages in their storytelling.”

But even if Hollywood films do contain embodied messages, they’re not always as explicitly drawn out as they are in Christian movies. That’s because, says Godawa, many Evangelical Christians, who are people of the Good Book, have come to value words over images. “They don’t know how to embody their messages in the story,” he says. “They have to hear the literal words [of the Gospel].”

As with the bifurcation between sacred and secular, so, too, do contemporary Christian artists divide form and content, believing that what a piece of art says is of infinitely more importance than how it says it. The thing communicated is more urgent than how it’s communicated.

Of course, this perspective overlooks the fact that how a thing is communicated is the thing that’s being communicated. To put it in Marshall McLuhan’s terms, “The medium is the message.” That is, when you communicate an idea through the medium of film, the aesthetic quality of the film subsumes the idea, fundamentally altering its narrative shape.

For example: in the theology of Old Fashioned, chastity is praised as an original virtue, and loveless hookups are scorned as the perversion of it. However, this particular message of the film falls flat for the sheer fact that the entire film is a knock-off of an original film.

In other words, the content of Old Fashioned is at odds with its form: It’s difficult to see the sex in Fifty Shades as a cheap knock-off of godly sex, when Old Fashioned is itself a cheap knock-off.

When greatness is a sin

But if what you really want out of a film is to see a particular message conveyed, then it’s possible to excuse poor filmmaking quality as, to use Siedell’s image, simply less decorative wrapping paper.

A scene in Old Fashioned illustrates this nicely. During one of their heart to hearts, Clay tells Amber how he came to run an antique store. He says that once “Jesus found him” in his senior year of college, he had a change of heart, which ended up drastically altering his life’s goals. So, asks Amber, “What do you want out of life?”

“To be decent,” he answers. “That’s it. A good person.”

Granted, he adds, his goals aren’t heroic, nor are they ambitious. “I guess I just wasn’t destined for greatness,” he says.

“I think the world has enough greatness,” Amber reassures him. “Not enough goodness.”

The brief exchange stands almost as an apology for both this movie and the entire Christian film industry. Where Hollywood (in this analogy, at least) strives for artistic greatness; Christians try to be good. Hollywood wants to make masterpieces; Christians want to communicate good (i.e. explicitly Christian) messages.

But why does Old Fashioned place greatness and goodness in opposition the way it does? As any child who’s ever prayed the familiar Christian mealtime prayer will tell you, God is both great and good at once. And in the Bible, God often seems interested in formand content. For example, according to the creation myth in Genesis, the trees God made are both “good for fruit and pleasing to the eye.”

Old Fashioned, like many Christian films of late (see: God’s Not Dead, Left Behind, Heaven is For Real), doesn’t understand this marriage of content and form. As a result, the lessons at the heart of the story — i.e., the whole reason the film exists in the eyes of its core audience — are easily dismissed by the secular masses the film is ostensibly meant to reach. This is the irony of the Christian film industry: movies that appeal mostly to Christians are marketed as if capable of bringing sinners to repentance.

Plenty of artists of faith cultivate their own aesthetics and tell stories that reflect their deeply held beliefs. Terrence Malick, whose films grapple with the complicated relationship of God to man, comes to mind. But too many Christian artists keep one eye fixed on secular pop culture, while the other looks sentimentally at the art they’re making. That means a lack of focus is perhaps inevitable.

One remedy to this might be an apocryphal anecdote attributed to Martin Luther. After a cobbler converted to Christianity, he asked the German theologian how he could be a good Christian cobbler. Luther responded, “The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”

The answer, then, might not be in striving to convey the message most full of surface-level goodness but, rather, in pushing for artistic greatness. Then, once form and content emerge in harmony, can barriers be broken down and conversation begin.

Because really: no one likes a poorly made shoe.

The Death Of Christianity

With the numbers dwindling, millennial generation leaving, and a majority of the nation seemingly sleeping on a Sunday morning, it’s been said that Christianity’s death in America is imminent. Though, I’m not so sure Christianity is dying; so much as only a certain kind of Christianity is dying.

Some might know it as Evangelicalism others might have seen it in their mainline denominations, either way, or either form of tradition, American Christianity is nearing its end, it’s quickly losing its power, it’s steam, and it’s appeal.

This politically charged, fundamentalist, religious right is fading out. The good days of evangelicalism in the 90’s are over. It’s no longer the bandwagon to jump on… and quite honestly–I don’t think that’s bad. Though the popular Seattle based evangelical shock-jock Mark Driscoll would disagree as he writes in his book, A Call To Resurgence: Will Christianity Have A Funeral or A Future?:

Christians are ostracized. Gay marriage is celebrated. Abortion is literally destroying an entire generation. The bandwagon has stopped carrying us and has started running over us. The church is dying, and no one is noticing because we’re wasting time criticizing rather than evangelizing.

I want to be clear, I agree, to a large part, with what he’s acknowledging, but from a far different perspective. What I think he’s missing is that the Church is not dying, it’s only his version of Church that’s dying, and it’s not that we’re not noticing, it’s that many of us are hoping the ship will sink faster.

For instance when he says that, “Christian’s are ostracized,” I’m not sure it’s that, so much as it is that the fundamentalist religious right is being ignored. We’re tired of arguing over ordeals (homosexuality and abortion) that Jesus never mentioned, focusing on creating political agendas that quite frankly oppress rather than free.

So as American Evangelical pastors are shouting from inside the four walls of their church, “The Church is dying, and no one is noticing because we’re wasting time criticizing rather than evangelizing…”

We’re shouting:

“People are dying (literally), and yes, you are wasting your time criticizing and politicizing while we have left Sunday morning programs to focus in on evangelizing (that being serving, loving, and caring for the poor, powerless, and oppressed).”

People have slowly but steadily caught on to the fact that what we’re teaching, preaching, and living within our churches is a sham. It’s a false doctrine. It’s not Christianity. We’re seeing that biblically Jesus is not a God of oppression, but rather one of liberation (Galatians 5:1).

We begin to read the bible and discover that the same Jesus found in the New Testament is rarely found within our American Churches. We begin to see that, though Sunday morning programs are not bad, it is bad when Sunday morning programs become the whole of your faith and walk with Christ. It is in fact terrible, when our tithes, go first towards a building project, and only later (if at all) towards the poor and needy.

Theologically and practically speaking, we’re beginning to notice that this Americanized version of Christianity is more closely centered on us than it is on Christ.

So we’re not walking away from Christianity, many of us, are simply realizing that what we grew up in might not have ever actually been Christianity. We do not want to destroy or abolish the Church and it’s institution, we simply want to reform the Church and it’s institution.

It seems the only two types not openly willing to accept this are:

• Those who have thrived, or are currently thriving off of careers from American Christianity.
• And those who have never read the bible, yet attend these country clubs churches.

The Cadbury Creme Egg vs. Jesus Christ

It happens every year around this time. The sun shines brighter, the days grow longer, and everywhere you look there’s bunnies made of chocolate. And marshmallow. And peanut butter. And jelly beans, oh my god, how could I forget the jelly beans?! It’s the season when you can’t enter a CVS without leaving with an 500 extra calories in your possession. First you see the blue and pink decorations, then the sign declaring “Easter is Here!”, and before you know it, you’re standing in line with handfuls of Cadbury Creme Eggs. In front of you are real human beings with real friggin’ needs, buying pregnancy tests, hemorrhoid ointment, and hydrogen peroxide, and there you stand, clutching handfuls of chocolate filled with yolk-colored goo. And it’s only a handful because you know that if you picked up a basket that that basket would end up full, and you won’t let happen again. At least not again this week. That’s what this time of year is all about. Well, that and Jesus Christ.

Let’s be honest, in the battle between slovenly secularism and pious piety, Santa Claus left Jesus in the dust long ago. But the battle for Easter wages on. Sure we love our candy, and tricking our children into thinking a giant diabetic bunny can break into their bedrooms, but I’m not sure that’s yet eclipsed the religious significance of the day. For many Christians, Easter is the holiest day of the year, as, I mean, being resurrected is a pretty big deal. Growing up Catholic, Christmas was all presents all the time, but Easter, even with all the dyed eggs and stuffed bunnies, had a distinctly Jesus-y feel to. So I’d like to settle this once and for all: in the ultimate showdown for Easter domination, who wins, the religious or the delicious? Jesus Christ or the king of holiday chocolates, the Cadbury Creme Egg? Let’s break this down:

Flavor: The Cadbury Creme Egg is the perfect candy for the season because it tastes like heaven. The hard, milky chocolate shell stuffed with the super sweet filling, it’s so delicious you totally forget that you’re eating a candy modeled after a raw egg.

Jesus, on the other hand, tastes like cardboard. If you’ve ever received communion at church, you know they tell you that the wafers are in fact “the body of Christ.” Well, Christ must not have had an ounce of fat on him, because those suckers are bone dry. I mean seriously dude, would a piece of cake every now and then have killed anyone? Communion wafers taste kinda like a really old saltine, except without the “salt”, and presumably not much of the “tine” either. Sure, the Body of Christ isn’t supposed to taste good, but if you’re gonna compete with Cadbury, you’re gonna need to bring a little cheddar cheese and perhaps a dollop of mayo to the party.

WINNER: Cadbury Creme Eggs

Metaphysical Significance: Tough to compete with Jesus on this one. He was the son of God, he died for our sins, and people pray to him and his Dad constantly. A Cadbury Creme Egg, on the other hand, is a piece of candy.

WINNER: Jesus Christ

Variety: Cadbury Eggs come in Original (Old Testament), Caramel (New Testament), Orange (Gross Testament), and Chocolate (Totally Underrated Delicious Testament. Seriously, you gotta try this Testament.) However, there’s only one Jesus Christ. Booooooring. Would a flavored Jesus have been so difficult, God? Are you trying to ignore the demands of the modern marketplace? Go to Starbucks sometime—they pour caramel on everything and people lap it up. Whip up a Jesus Caramel Christ and I promise you another million followers by lunch. Or, just an idea, Pumpkin Spice. It’s huge.

This is not even mentioning the Cadbury Mini Egg, a delicious variation on the Creme Egg theme, to which Jesus has no answer. The closest thing JC’s got is the Apostles, and while they are wise, they lack the crunchy candy shell.

WINNER: Cadbury Creme Eggs

Strength of Concept: Who was the first person who cracked a raw egg into a bowl and thought, “You know what? This would make a fantastic piece of chocolate”? Because that’s insane. And there comes a moment in the eating of every Creme Egg where that ugly reality dawns on you. “Hmmm. This is a sugary version of an unfertilized baby chicken. Not cool.” Does it stop you from eating? No it does not. But the experience is marred nonetheless. Seriously, think about this the next time you pop open a Cadbury. I promise you’ll enjoy it 25% less. Hooray!

On the other hand, the world has bought into the whole Jesus Christ concept pretty hardcore. I mean, people have fought wars over that shit. The Pope’s selection was on every TV channel, and he’s like 5% as a big as JC, tops.

WINNER: Jesus Christ

Market Dominance: Peeps. That’s what it all comes down to. The battle between the influence of religion and the insane yumminess of candy boils down to a little marshmallow chicky. Because Christianity is far and away the most popular religion in the world. When last measured, 33% of the world identified as Christian, and the next closest was Muslims at 22%. Jesus Christ, large and in charge. Cadbury Creme Eggs however, have serious competition in the Peep. I hate them, find them flavorless and frankly a little creepy, but I am not in the majority. Some people hate Creme Eggs and will only Peep it up. I don’t understand them, but they exist, and they challenge the Creme Egg everyday.

Which means that winner, and still champion, of the Easter holiday is…


Americans, Especially Millenials, Are Moving Away From Religion

We’re losing our religion. At least, Americans and millenials are. A new poll shows that way less Americans say they believe in God, pray daily or attend church, and that percentage is steadily declining.

Among the findings:

The share of Americans who say they are “absolutely certain” that God exists has dropped 8 percentage points, from 71 percent to 63 percent, since 2007, when the last comparable study was made.

The percentage of adults who describe themselves as “religiously affiliated” has shrunk 6 points since 2007, from 83 percent to 77 percent.

The shares of the U.S. adult population who consider religion “very important” to them, pray daily and attend services at least once a month have declined between 3 and 4 percentage points over the past eight years.

According to NPR, “the shift is small but statistically significant, according to the authors, given that the changes have taken place in a relatively short period of time, and the survey sample is large enough (about 35,000 U.S. adults) to be considered reliable.”

Millenials are even more skeptical. The Pew study found that not even a quarter of “millennials” (born between 1981 and 1996) go to church, compared with over half of U.S. adults born before 1946. Only about 4 in 10 millennials say religion matters to them, compared with more than half of those who are older, including two-thirds of those born before 1946.

“The oldest Millennials, now in their late 20s and early 30s, are generally less observant than they were seven years ago,” the authors write. “If these trends continue American society is likely to grow less religious even if those who are adults today maintain their current levels of religious commitment.”

The increase in religiously unaffiliated people is largely benefiting Democrats, because “nones” are now the single largest religious constituency for them. Evangelicals, at the same time, constitute the biggest religious group in the Republican Party, and the number of evangelicals who identify with the Republicans has increased since 2007.

Apparently, when it comes to the lord, it’s all or nothing.

5 Famous Bible Stories With Logical Scientific Explanations

If you pause faith for a moment and look at the Bible through the cold, unfeeling monocle of science, it doesn’t hold up. Right? Well, let’s not be so hasty. It turns out that there are fairly plausible scientific explanations behind some of the most famous stories you learned in Sunday School. We’re not saying that miracles don’t exist or anything. We’re just saying that, in the last few thousand years, science got crazy good at explaining miracles. Such as how …

#5. Goliath’s Gigantism Could Have Been Due To A Medical Condition

The struggle of the Israelites against the Philistines came to a head at the Valley of Elah, where for 40 days the Philistines sent out their champion, the giant Goliath, to challenge any Israelite to single combat. And for 40 days, the Israelites violently shit their pants in terror and did nothing.

That is, until young David stepped up to the plate armed with nothing but a stick and a sling. Against all conceivable odds, David flung a pebble and landed it straight between Goliath’s eyes. It’s literally the original underdog story.

The Non-Miraculous Explanation:

Malcolm Gladwell, author of David And Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, And The Art Of Battling Giants, points out that clues in the verses where Goliath is introduced suggest that he suffered from acromegaly — the same pituitary disorder that’s plagued extraordinarily large individuals throughout history. First off, there’s the fact that Goliath lumbers his way onto the battlefield led by an attendant. Why would the Philistines’ mightiest warrior need an attendant? Possibly because, as is often the case with an enlarged pituitary gland, Goliath couldn’t see for shit. This is further reinforced by how, once he finally spots David, Goliath taunts him with, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” David was only carrying a single shepherd staff, which Goliath refers to in the plural — double vision is also associated with the disorder.

And then there’s David. He was a shepherd with years of practice defending his flock from lions and wolves with his sling. And a sling was not some primitive weapon at the time — slingers were the artillery units of a Biblical army. Add in the fact that the stones David picked up in the Valley of Elah were “twice the density of normal stones” due to the chemical makeup of rocks in the area, and he was packing a weapon “roughly equal to the stopping power of a [.45 caliber] handgun.” Goliath, an already handicapped opponent, brought a sword and a spear to a gunfight.

It’s an underdog story, all right — but the underdog in this case happened to be seven feet tall, so everybody took one glance and immediately started rooting for the little guy with the howitzer to blow the shit out of the cripple.

#4. God’s Wrath Could Have Been Earthquakes

If Old Testament rules still applied today, Las Vegas would have been swallowed up by sandworms twelve times over by now. Because when God decided your city had turned south, he cranked his wrath dial up to 11. That’s one more than ten. One more wrath.

Jericho was the first city to fall when the Israelites, led by Joshua, conquered their promised land. After crossing the miraculously dried-up Jordan River, they marched the Ark of the Covenant around the city, blowing their horns until, on the seventh day, a particularly excessive horn-blow sent the city’s walls a-tumbling down. And of course, we all remember Sodom and Gomorrah, where God rained fire and brimstone on every citizen — man, woman, and child — all because a few dudes were into butt stuff.

The Non-Miraculous Explanation:

Earthquakes, plain and simple.

Jericho was located smack dab in a rift valley, an unstable area prone to seismic activity. And according to Dr. Amos Nur, a Stanford University geophysicist, the events described in the biblical story are absolutely consistent with known earthquake activity in the region: “The combination, the destruction of Jericho and the stoppage of the Jordan, is so typical of earthquakes in this region that only little doubt can be left as to the reality of such events in Joshua’s time.” And if a convenient earthquake tears down the walls of the city you’re currently laying siege upon, what do you do? Why, you march right on in, flick your thumb toward the devastation, and say, “We meant to do that.”

Similarly, Sodom and Gomorrah are said to have been located in another earthquake-prone area along the edge of the Dead Sea. Forensic anthropologist Mike Finnegan has discovered Bronze Age remains of men who died via squishing there, indicating earthquake activity right around the time the story would have taken place.

Furthermore, an earthquake could have destabilized the ground and put pressure on underground deposits of asphalt, which would in turn spew up, be ignited by surface fires and hit the city as thick, burning rain. The complete annihilation described in the Bible was recreated in models at the Cambridge University Centrifuge Laboratory in England, where it was proven that a quake of sufficient magnitude could cause the very ground under the cities to liquefy and carry them to the bottom of the sea.

Moral of the story? If you’re planning on building a town infamous for its wickedness, don’t do it right on the edge of a sea that has “dead” right there in its goddamn name.

#3. Jesus Could Have Walked On Water Thanks To A Layer Of Ice

After feeding a hungry crowd with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish (it’s all about portion control, people), Jesus retreated to a mountaintop to rest up from a hard day of miraclin’. His rest would prove short-lived, however, when his disciples decided to cross the Sea of Galilee. Night fell, and a storm threatened to introduce them to their maker. But right when things looked most dire, they saw Jesus walking on surface of the water, coming to their rescue, presumably in slow motion and to the theme of Baywatch.

The Non-Miraculous Explanation:

Jesus could have been walking on ice — which, technically, is still walking on water. But anyway …

According to a study by a team of U.S. and Israeli scientists, the salty springs near the generally accepted site of the “loaves and fishes” event, along with Game-Of-Thrones-esque cold spells lasting hundreds of years at a time, add up to the perfect conditions for “springs ice” — patches of ice just under the surface of the Sea of Galilee that would be nearly invisible to someone observing from a distance. Doron Nof, professor of physical oceanography at Florida State University, places the chances of there being such ice on the water in the timeframe of the biblical story as “very, very high.”

#2. The Dead Could Have Risen Because Medical Knowledge Was Basically Nonexistent

In the New Testament, Jesus brings three people back from the dead before reanimating himself like some sorta meta-Frankenstein. “And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.” Luckily for said saints, all this took place a couple thousand years before Night Of The Living Dead, so they weren’t greeted with machetes and headshots.

The Non-Miraculous Explanation:

Keep in mind that, until relatively recently on the human timeline, it wasn’t all that unusual for a presumed corpse to jump up and find themselves in attendance at their own funeral. In the early 20th century, English businessman and OG antivaxxer William Tebb decided to create a ledger of such events, and he found “219 instances of narrow escape from premature burial, 149 cases of actual premature burial, 10 cases in which bodies were accidentally dissected before death, and two cases in which embalming was started on the not-yet-dead.”

This isn’t relegated to ancient times, either; it totally still happens today. As recently as January of 2015, in fact. A young Kenyan man who swallowed insecticide woke up in a morgue 15 hours after being declared dead, sending the staff running and screaming for the door. And if modern doctors can still utterly fail to distinguish a living guy from a dead one, imagine how common it must have been a couple thousand years ago, when medical science consisted of poking a guy, waiting for him to say “quit poking me,” then, if he didn’t, pronouncing him dead.

#1. The Ten Plagues Of Egypt Were An Environmental Disaster

When Moses approached the Pharaoh to demand his people be set free, the Pharaoh seemed to need a bit of encouragement in the matter. Which God happily delivered in the form of ten plagues: water turning into blood, frogs, lice, flies, diseased livestock, boils, thunderstorms and hail, locusts, darkness, and finally, the death of all the firstborn sons in Egypt. God’s methods may be questionable, but the dude is a serious motivator.

The Non-Miraculous Explanation:

According to a whole plethora of scientists, the ten plagues could have been the result of a string of environmental disasters. By studying the makeup of stalagmites in Egyptian caves, climatologists have determined that Rameses II ruled during a period when the climate was warm and wet … but then came a drastic change. Things dried up and temperatures rose, leading to the Nile shrinking and being overrun with a freshwater bacterium known as Burgundy Blood algae. To a people who didn’t know a bacterium from a boil on their ass, the water would have appeared to become blood.

These conditions could also have directly led to plagues two through six: The toxic water caused the frogs to abandon ship, the lack of frogs caused an explosion in insects (lice and flies, for instance), and insects have a tendency to spread disease, thereby leading to all the sickly livestock and unsightly boils.

It would take something bigger to kick off plagues seven through nine … like “one of the biggest volcanic eruptions in human history.” Four hundred miles from Egypt, on the Greek island of Santorini, a volcano named Thera puked billions of tons of ash into the sky. Atmospheric physicist Nadine von Blohm says that the volcanic ash combining with thunderstorms could have caused horrific hailstorms. Biologist Siro Trevisanato says that the higher humidity from the volcanic fallout would have caused a veritable baby boom in the locust population. And the billions of tons of ash would obviously account for that darkness.

The tenth and final plague would be created by a snowball effect of all those before — should the food supplies become contaminated, the firstborn of each family would be the first to chow down on poison, thanks to a custom dictating that they would be the first to receive their deadly share.

Of course, there are a few ways of looking at all this stuff:

A.) Uneducated people saw a ton of bad luck and wrote it into the Bible as God’s will.

B.) God made all this stuff happen and we’re just trying to explain it now with science.

C.) These are a bunch of fun theories and conjecture that only provide entertainment and ultimately don’t affect anybody’s daily lives in a serious way.

D.) It’s time to fight about religion on the internet. Again.