Jehovah’s witnesses and American religious diversity

Got a link to this analysis of racial/ethnic diversity in American religions from Pew in my facebook feed (headlining Catholic diversity) and I was so excited to look up Jehovah’s Witnesses.  What these people believe is nuts (seriously, no celebrating of holidays or birthdays??!!  Not to mention they are just a modern-day version of the Arian heresy), but one thing I’ll say for them (they knock on my door about one Saturday a month and they have a church just down the road) is that they sure have this diversity thing down.  Of course, all I had was my own observations of mixed-race groups nearby, but thanks to this chart, I can see that they are, in fact, among the most diverse of religions in America.

How Racially Diverse are U.S. Religious Groups?

But come on– no holidays and birthdays?  It’s a wonder any kid growing up in this faith would ever choose to continue.

Photo of the day

Recent National Geographic photo of the day.  I love creative use of exposure time with moving water and this is a great example:

Picture of Vestrahorn, Iceland, at sunset

Planet Iceland

Photograph by Sophie Carr

“This [was] taken at the volcanic beach at Stokksnes in southeastern Iceland in February 2015,” writes photographer Sophie Carr. “I used a two-second exposure to capture the water trails as the waves receded over rocks at the edge of the beach, just as the sun was setting behind me, illuminating the mighty Vestrahorn mountain and some peaks in the far distance.”

You might not actually be entitled to your “opinion”

This great piece has gone viral among my professor friends (and even some non-professor friends) for good reason.  It is amazing what people think they can get away with intellectually just by claiming something is their “opinion.”  Alas, it is so not that simple:

However, before you crouch behind your Shield of Opinion you need to ask yourself two questions.

1. Is this actually an opinion?

2. If it is an opinion how informed is it and why do I hold it?

I’ll help you with the first part. An opinion is a preference for or judgment of something. My favorite color is black. I think mint tastes awful. Doctor Who is the best television show. These are all opinions. They may be unique to me alone or massively shared across the general population but they all have one thing in common; they cannot be verified outside the fact that I believe them…

There’s nothing wrong with an opinion on those things. The problem comes from people whose opinions are actually misconceptions. If you think vaccines cause autism you are expressing something factually wrong, not an opinion. The fact that you may still believe that vaccines cause autism does not move your misconception into the realm of valid opinion. Nor does the fact that many other share this opinion give it any more validity. [emphases mine]

To quote John Oliver, who referenced a Gallup poll showing one in four Americans believe climate change isn’t real on his show, Last Week Tonight

Who gives a shit? You don’t need people’s opinion on a fact. You might as well have a poll asking: “Which number is bigger, 15 or 5?” or “Do owls exist?” or “Are there hats?” …

That’s where the second question comes in; is your opinion informed and why do you believe it? Though technically these opinions cannot be wrong they can be lacking in worth simply because they are lacking in structure.

Here’s an example. Let’s say I meet a fellow Doctor Who fan, and this fan’s favorite Doctor is David Tennant. Nothing wrong so far. However, upon further discussing the subject this fan tells me that he or she has never seen any of the pre-2005 episodes or heard any of the radio plays. Now, it’s possible that even if he or she had David Tennant would still be his or her favorite Doctor, but it’s also possible that it would be Tom Baker or Paul McGann or someone else.

In a perfect world someone confronted with this would simply say, “Well, David Tennant is my favorite that I’ve seen.” There’s plenty of reasons to not have seen any olderDoctor Who. It’s not all on Netflix, there’s a lot of it, radio plays can get rather expensive, etc. Having a narrow opinion from a narrow set of information is only natural.

What mucks it all up when a narrow set of information is assumed to be wider than it is.

In other words, you can form an opinion in a bubble, and for the first couple of decades of our lives we all do. However, eventually you are going to venture out into the world and find that what you thought was an informed opinion was actually just a tiny thought based on little data and your feelings. Many, many, many of your opinions will turn out to be uninformed or just flat out wrong. No, the fact that you believed it doesn’t make it any more valid or worthwhile, and nobody owes your viewpoint any respect simply because it is yours. 

This is so going to be the very first discussion topic for my Intro to American government discussions sections.  Based on observation (my grad students run these, I observe and give feedback and try really, really hard not to interject myself), this problem is absolutely rampant in these classes.  And, there’s actually no shortage of upper-level students who don’t quite seem to get this either.  And, of course, plenty of people, period, who just don’t get this.  This is probably a link worth bookmarking.

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