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Basketball Camps for Teens in Washington, DC

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013]

Basketball has been an American sport for more than a century and has grown to become a global phenomenon. Although simple in concept, mastering the necessary skills, speed and coordinated teamwork required to win consistently demands regular practice and dedication. In an age of video games, it still lures teens out of the house and onto the court.

Most basketball programs for DC-area teens operate during the summer, with some offered in fall and winter. Fees vary widely, so it pays to shop around. You’ll find boys’, girls’ and coed programs throughout the DC metro area, with many leagues playing in local schools and gyms. Chances are good you’ll be using familiar facilities close to your home.

Washington, DC
The nonprofit Metropolitan Basketball League, more popularly known as Metroball, serves more than 500 players each year. The highlight is Metroball’s signature summer event, the two-month New York Avenue Summer Streetball Tournament. There’s also a year-round schedule of after-school programs and Amateur Athletic Union teams.

The Georgetown University Men’s Basketball Camp hosts annual four-day summer sessions for boys 8-18. These include a Day Camp session, a residential Overnight Camp with all meals provided, and a Commuter Camp scheduled to make it easier for working parents. Games are held in two air-conditioned gyms and the focus is on defensive and offensive fundamentals.

Outdoor fall ball is available for 13-year-old boys and girls at the Kendall Elementary School on the campus of Gallaudet University in Northeast DC. This program includes practices, team play and an end-of-season league tournament.

In partnership with the NBA Wizards and WNBA Mystics, the DC Department of Parks and Recreation operates a youth basketball program for ages 13 to 18 each winter. The emphasis is on building speed, coordination and strength, while developing bonds with teammates.

Montgomery County
Instructors offer One on One summer basketball clinics weekly, each running for four days and highlighting a skill or fundamental technique. Kids are treated to ongoing development of existing skills with instruction and fun drills.

The Washington Mystics team provides three four-day basketball summer camps for players 8 to 17. The focus of these sessions includes ball handling, passing,
shooting, rebounding and defense.

The four-day Maryland Sports Summer Basketball Clinic for ages 6 to 17 features both skills and strategic training — shooting, ball handling, one on one moves, post moves, using and setting screens plus pick and roll play.

Prince Georges County
PG County offers a month of one-hour basketball classes and three 90-minute clinics during the summer for teens 13 to 17 years old. These programs teach shooting techniques by developing accuracy, consistency and repeatability while shooting with correct form.

There’s also a summer skills clinic for 12- to 15-year-olds that focuses on the fundamentals of basketball — ball handling, defense, rebounding, shooting and warming up properly.

Arlington County
The Arlington Department of Parks and Recreation offers the Just Hoops Saturday summer program for teen boys. In winter, House League play begins for the 7th to 8th Grade League. The 9th to 12th Grade League starts after New Year’s. From spring to mid-summer, the Late Night Basketball League holds evening coed games for grades 9 to 12. All Arlington programs offer discounts for qualified applicants.

Fairfax County
Fairfax County Youth Basketball is a large league, with 26 registered member youth clubs and recreation centers. Tryouts and games for grade 8 boys and girls begin in each fall and run through winter. To register, contact your local club or center.

Written by Influential Prose

June 25, 2015 at 10:54 pm

High School Earth Science Projects on Rocks

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013]

The common element to all science projects is the scientific method, which is composed of five steps: the research question, the hypothesis, the procedure, your results, and a conclusion. Whether you are examining rocks, studying animals or the behavior of people, these five steps provide the framework for your interrogation of reality and how you report your results. When conducting experiments, always focus on safety.

The sun, Earth and seven other planets circling the sun all formed from the same cloud of gas and dust more than 4.5 billion years ago. Some of Earth’s building blocks still exist as a belt of rocks we call asteroids, circling the sun between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. These rocks vary in density, mass, composition and cohesion. Occasionally their orbits are perturbed so they end up intersecting with Earth and fall in as meteorites. Students can investigate the various crushing strengths of different meteor types and their ability to survive re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. Variables include size, entry speed, meteor composition and atmospheric pressure.

Rock Hardness
Students can collect an assortment of five rocks (color, texture, weight, composition, origin) near them. Students can develop a hypothesis as to which rocks are hardest, and order them thus, from softest to hardest. Test rocks using the Mohs scale to determine whether the hypothesis is correct.

Rock Strength
Using the same rock types that were tested for hardness, test for unconfined compressive strength. Students should test them at different angles — some rocks are strong in one direction and weaker in others. This test can be done with a bench vise on weaker rocks, but safety goggles are essential. The rocks should be ordered by the hypothesis of comparative strengths and compared with the final results.

Rock Magnetism
Some rocks, particularly iron oxides, contain magnetized minerals. Students can investigate a collection of local rocks and assess the intensity of the magnetism. They can vary depending on mineral content, exposure to magnetic fields, exposure to heat and location. Additional properties to investigate could include magnetic alignment and the type of remanent magnetization — chemical, depositional or isothermal.

Written by Influential Prose

June 25, 2015 at 10:39 pm

Educational Science Games for Teenagers

[One of 50 articles written for Demand Media in 2013]

Educational games can be competitive – teams can vie to build a better tool, such as a water balloon catapult or battling robots. More often, educational games are cooperative activities. You may build something with others, or construct something virtually based on real-world physics using a computer. Learning by doing is the essence of applied science – we experiment, we guess what approaches will solve problems. When we fail, we apply lessons learned and try again. For the games and activities described here, see the Resources listed at bottom to access instructions, videos and links to more fun.

Cooperative Exploration
Some science tasks are too large for small teams to tackle. Crowdsourcing helps break down enormous tasks into smaller chunks, then presents them in a game format that anyone can grasp and play. These games help analyze cancer cells, explore the surface of the moon and ocean floors, find planets around other stars, sort the meaning of whale and bat calls, and classify animals in Africa. There’s much to explore at the Zooniverse.

Electrical Engineering
If you’re interested in building a robot warrior, you needn’t wait to form a team, join a class or enter a competition. There are numerous sources for parts and do-it-yourself guides for beginners. Servos, cameras, motors, controllers, transmitters, batteries, tools – building a robot today is like Legos on steroids. (Lego is also a player – see their Mindstorms NXT kits).

Not all robots are ground-based – some fly. While radio-controlled cars and aircraft have been around for years, it’s possible to build personal autonomous aircraft. You tell them where to go, they fly off and do it. DIY Drones has plenty of guides to get you started. Build for your own pleasure or compete with other local hobbyists to fly faster, higher and longer.

Mechanical Engineering
Building a bridge demands an understanding of materials, their strengths and limitations, the requirements of the site and loads – dead, alive and dynamic. In Bridge Builder, you can test different construction approaches and learn what works. Unlike the real world, when you fail, nobody gets hurt.

Water balloon battles are a summer favorite. You can take it to the next level by building a large slingshot, catapult or trebuchet. Now you can learn the physics of parabolas with real-world target practice. Aim well, or you may soon be all wet! Make magazine has detailed step by step instructions.

Google Earth is a lot of fun all by itself – you’ve got a whole planet to play with (more, actually – the Moon and Mars is included). At Planet In Action, there’s a collection of games that work together with Google Earth. If you’re looking for multiplayer action, look at Google Earth War, where the entire planet becomes your battlefield.

Want to do a bit of near-space photography? It’s not especially difficult or expensive. Dedicated teams have lofted small weather balloons equipped with cameras 20 miles up to capture astonishing views of earth’s curvature and black skies. Tutorials abound. Create rival teams to see who can fly higher or gather the most interesting photos and videos!

As long as you’re looking up, try running the Messier Marathon. Every spring, conditions are favorable for surveys of 100 deep sky objects. These galaxies, star clusters and nebulae were first discovered and cataloged by Charles Messier, an 18th century French astronomer. Your challenge is to view them all in one evening. You’ll need a good telescope, clear skies and patience. You’ll learn a lot along the way.

Here is a trio of games all built to reflect real-world physics. Two of them emulate real-world vehicles. X-Plane is a sophisticated flight simulator that offers an amazing range of aircraft that you can fly over real-world terrain in real-world weather conditions, with authentic failure scenarios. In Orbiter, you can pilot an Apollo command module to the moon, dock with the International Space Station from a Space Shuttle or Soyuz, then re-enter and land. In the Kerbal Space Program, you build your own spacecraft subject to real-world limitations of materials, weight and fuel. You can build your own moon base, ferry supplies and discover what happens when you run short.

Written by Influential Prose

June 22, 2015 at 10:04 pm

Activities That Teach Deaf or Hard of Hearing Children to Write

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013. Published version here.]

In the early stages, teaching deaf and hard-of-hearing children to write is similar to the techniques for hearing children. The manual alphabet and the written alphabet work together well — there is a manual equivalent for all 26 letters. However, hearing children, and to some extent hard-of-hearing children, can learn parts of words through sound, a technique that is not accessible for deaf children. English grammar is ordinarily learned by hearing it. The traditional approach has been to teach deaf students general rules of grammar, such as subject-verb-object word order. This can be confusing for students when they encounter the numerous deviations from general rules.

Manual Alphabet
For someone who already knows the manual alphabet, the teaching activity is simple — point to the printed letter, show the sign for the letter. Deaf children normally learn this at the same pace as their hearing peers. Supplemental materials such as children’s alphabet books, are helpful because colors and images aid memorization. For both deaf and hard-of-hearing students, the learning process for writing letters is a motor activity and proceeds as it does with hearing children — a lot of scribbling, followed by attempts that vaguely resemble letters. With encouragement and standard connect-the-dots guides, children refine their technique and letters come into focus.

Using American Sign Language as a linguistic base also helps hard-of-hearing children because they are likely missing some percentage of speech. That gap can be filled in by ASL. For both deaf and hard-of-hearing students, ASL makes it possible to discuss the meaning of printed English words. A simple activity for vocabulary is a stack of flash cards with printed words. Show the word, share the ASL equivalent and discuss the meaning of the word in ASL. As a child’s vocabulary grows, have him write the word and meaning to reinforce memorization of spelling and definition. In English, many words — called homonyms — have multiple meanings. You can show the word in both sign and print, then discuss the different meanings. For example, “bat” could mean a flying animal or an object to hit a baseball. Have him write the word, then draw images of different meanings of the word.

Sentences are where grammar enters, and where the sequence and hierarchy of instruction diverges from techniques for hearing children. A useful visual tool for teaching grammar are grammar mind maps. These serve as grammar flow charts, showing how meaning changes depending on how a sentence is structured. Because it’s visual, it’s best to see examples to understand how to create these (see Resources). Progressive English instructors in deaf classrooms are working with other ways to make it easier to visualize English grammar. An example is called manipulative visual language, a system that uses colored shapes to help identify and recognize grammatical patterns. A good home activity that makes learning grammar accessible at an early age is the use of word magnets on refrigerators. Encourage children to create their own sentences, then show how their sentences are structured in English. This gives them a basis to compare, contrast and ask questions.

During these activities, your ongoing encouragement and warm praise for students as they learn is their greatest reward. Patience and persistence is important too, for both instructor and student. When a student gains the conviction that they can write well, it can happen. Your effort and support are essential ingredients.

Written by Influential Prose

June 22, 2015 at 9:51 pm

Learning Language in a Home With Deaf Parents

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013. Published version here.]

Ninety percent of children born to deaf parents have normal hearing. Not all deaf adults converse in sign language, but in homes where they do, children grow up bilingual. American Sign Language is often their first language. Because spoken language is so common, children easily acquire speech through interaction with other family members, playmates, day care, movies and television. Dr. Laura-Ann Pettito, a neuroscientist doing research on the biological basis of language, says “Study after study showed that for every level of language organization, signed languages and spoken languages were using the identical brain tissue.”

American Sign Language
ASL is a complete language, distinct from English, with its own grammar, sentence structure, expression of tenses and time. It is a three-dimensional language, which enables conceptual constructs not available to spoken language. Children — deaf and hearing alike — who learn ASL as their first language arrive at common linguistic development milestones at the same pace that spoken language milestones are reached. At 3 to 6 months, they are “fingerbabbling” in imitation of finger-spelling, At 6 to 12 months, they will gesture. First signed words appear at about 8 months, with 10 or more understood and expressed signs at 12 months. In a paper titled “Milestones of Language Development,” researchers report that, “The phonology, syntax, semantics, morphology and pragmatic aspects of language are acquired around 4 years of age whether the parental input is in sign or spoken language”

It is now widely recognized that bilingualism boosts mental agility and flexibility. As Pettito states, “It’s almost as if the monolingual child’s brain is on a diet and the bilingual child’s brain stretches to the full extent and variability that Mother Nature gave it to use language and exploit human language.” For children, the process of learning signed and spoken language at the same time is natural and intuitive. Bilingual children in deaf households respond to ASL in ASL, to speech with speech, and switch between them as needed. Because this requires more active monitoring of their environment, they do monitoring tasks better and more efficiently than their monolingual peers.

Deaf Children
Early exposure to English is important for deaf children. A helpful tool in this area is the availability of captions and subtitles in movies and televisions. Early recognition of the differences between English and ASL grammar supports strong reading and writing skills later. Parental involvement matters, too. By sharing children’s books, the text can be signed and read in English, providing a bridge of understanding between both communication modes. In a 2000 study titled “American Sign Language and Reading Ability in Deaf Children,” a strong correlation was found between deaf children of deaf parents and higher reading achievement scores. Deaf parents have no need to “get up to speed” on the use of ASL as a language, so ASL development in their children begins immediately. This early acquisition of language facilitates learning English and reading skills later.

Children of Deaf Parents
Children of deaf adults have a special role in the deaf community. As hearing children of deaf parents, they learn to juggle relationships with hearing and deaf individuals, institutions, cultural norms and languages. They might have deaf or hearing siblings, or both; they often grow up with both deaf and hearing friends. They are not only bilingual, they are bicultural. Among professional sign language interpreters, children of deaf adults are common. Growing up with deaf parents gives them a native’s grasp for the subtleties and nuances of ASL, and their grasp of both English and ASL is strong enough that they can earn a living interpreting between them.

Written by Influential Prose

June 22, 2015 at 9:45 pm

Strategies Used for Disruptive Aggressive Behavior in Children

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013]

Benjamin Franklin famously said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Strategies for dealing with aggressive behavior fall into two categories. Prevention is using techniques to minimize or eliminate continuing aggression. Intervention is dealing with aggression as it happens.

Preventive strategies are time-consuming and require patience. But they work, and they are superior to dealing with chronic aggression, whether it is physical, verbal or relational (spreading gossip, rumors, exclusion, etc.).

Prevention Before Aggression
The first preventive strategy for dealing with aggressive behavior is to minimize risk. Think about the environment where aggressive behaviors occur. Aggression can target property, other people, or the self. Self-aggression can concern either the aggessor’s self (suicide threats, for example) or you. Survey the home, classroom and play areas, and clear away or block access to obvious hazards.

In situations where aggression is chronic, it’s important to pay attention and think ahead. When you are familiar with the child’s behavior patterns, it’s often possible to see the storm approaching long before the rain starts falling. Intervene early when you see the elements for an aggressive episode coming together.

Preventive Intervention
When you see a conflict between children heating up, separate them. When you see one child provoking another, step in and call out the behavior. When you see attention-seeking behavior that typically leads to aggression, redirect the child’s attention to another activity.

Redirection is a very effective technique; with practice and skill it can prevent many episodes. Keep a written or mental list of alternative activities so you have something ready to suggest when you need it. Also remember that each child is unique. Compare notes on what works and what doesn’t with your co-workers, the child’s parents and others familiar with the child; they may have helpful tips or knowledge. The more you know, the easier it is to head off trouble.

There are many reasons for aggression. Part of prevention is determining an aggressive child’s motivations. It’s not always clear, even to the child. They may be angry about something they wanted and didn’t get. They may be suffering abuse, seeking attention or responding to provocation. Motivations matter; knowing them can help you address their concerns and devise specific strategies.

Discerning motivation requires communication, and there are three things to do: listen, acknowledge and empathize. This doesn’t necessarily mean you agree with the child. The child may lie, bluff and exaggerate. Stay with it. Gently confront obvious contradictions and dishonesty. Your purpose is to understand motivation, then build respect, trust and rapport to the point where the child’s mind is open to positive suggestions. Ask questions when the child is calm: How did this start? Why did it happen? How can we prevent this from happening again? What can you do differently to prevent this? Most importantly, listen.

Situational Intervention
When a physical fight erupts in a workplace, such as a school or day care center, your intervention strategy is determined by your workplace policy. If your workplace doesn’t have one, it needs one. Know the policy and be clear on it so you’re prepared when the time comes. If there are specific interventions required, get training for them.

In other places, such as at home or on a playground, you have decisions to make. Do you intervene physically? This may be a practical solution with small children, but you have to take into account the reaction of other parents and risk of injury to children. What about athletic teenagers? Physical intervention in that context could lead to severe injury or death. When you are concerned about attacks on yourself, prearrange defensive help in place or nearby.

Very often, your authority as an adult is enough to stop a fight. Simply stepping forward and saying, “Alright, that’s enough, break it up NOW.” is sufficient. If not, you may add that the police will be called if they don’t cool it. The key is to remain calm and firm — be the adult. Adult authority can also be applied to verbal and relational altercations, but with lower intensity. Talk. Invoke the golden rule – are you treating others the way you would want to be treated? Why not?

Prevent aggression when you can. Get help when you need it. Review incidents afterward for lessons learned, then apply them to future situations. Finally, praise positive behavior. Aggressive children are accustomed to being disciplined. They need feedback when they do good, too.

Written by Influential Prose

June 22, 2015 at 9:39 pm

Astro-Theology & Shamanism

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013]

Astro-Theology and Shamanism both explore the intersection of ancient astronomy, early religion and psychoactive plants, as part of a genre known as entheogen studies. This focuses primarily on past and present use of psychoactive plants and fungi in spiritual/religious contexts. A variety of authors in the genre claim that aspects of Judeo-Christian tradition are rooted in fertility cults, pagan rituals and the use of hallucinogenic plants — such as mushrooms and peyote – which were integral to worship. As the subject matter necessarily entails a study of ancient cultures and mythologies, supporting evidence for some claims are drawn from rich stew of fact, conjecture, educated speculation, and uncertainty. Caution regarding claims and evidence is advisable.

The field of archaeoastronomy examines the historical, cultural and scientific roots of humanity’s relationship with the sky. Prehistoric skies, undimmed by modern bright lights, were a rich source for ancient myths and cosmologies. Astro-theology is rooted in this tradition. Even today, references to God assume a position skyward, in the heavens.

The earliest astronomers and astro-theologians, the Chaldeans of Babylon, were priests and scribes in the 6th century BCE. They believed planets were deities — Ishtar was their name for the planet Venus — and the practice of naming gods for planets continued through the Greek and Roman empires. The Chaldean legacy is written in the surviving legends, artifacts, calendars, relics, rock paintings, and megalithic structures, More importantly, their attempts to understand the world through observation and record-keeping was an early example of the scientific method.

Historically, shamanism refers to northern European and Siberian beliefs in “an unseen world of gods, demons, and ancestral spirits, responsive only to the shamans,” according to Merriam-Webster. In the context of their native cultures, shamans are seen as community leaders and intermediaries with the spirit world, a role that bears similarities to modern clergy.

Shamans functioned as doctors at a time when an understanding of medicine was incomplete. Their knowledge of natural resources, particularly plants, could be useful for the alleviation of pain or illness. They employed entheogens in ritual, such as to cleanse away evil spirits, and thus entheogens became imbued with mysticism in recognition of their mind-altering properties. Beyond physical pain or illness, hallucinogens were considered a way to treat sickness of the soul and communicate directly with guiding spirits.

The authority of astro-theologians was based on their knowledge of the sky and their interpretation of its meaning. The authority of shamans was based on their understanding of plants and their ability to heal. Between them, they sought understanding of the earth and the sky.

Religious Hallucinogens
Prehistoric use of psychotropics and worship of astronomical phenomena is well-documented. It is known that Mayan, Aztec, Egyptian and other ancient civilizations used entheogens spiritually and celebrated its use through art. Modern groups still practice entheogen use in spiritual contexts; examples include the Urarina of South America and Rastafari of Jamaica.

Evidence cited in support of entheogen origins of Christianity include a 13th century illustration in the French Plaincourault Abbey that appears to show Adam and Eve separated by a large mushroom, suggesting that the mushroom is the “forbidden fruit” in Genesis. Also cited is a King James version biblical passage in Exodus 16:14-15 that describes manna as a small round growth. The intimation is that the growth is a psychotropic mushroom.

Christian Connection?
John Marco Allegro’s 1970 book “The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross” develops the thesis that Jews in Rome created a pagan fertility cult to hide their true convictions during a time when Christianity was illegal. According to this view, aspects of the cover story, particularly the use of entheogens, were adopted as part of early Christian practice and spread as the religion did. Allegro’s analysis met with controversy, with some critics declaring he had committed academic suicide.

Written by Influential Prose

June 22, 2015 at 9:36 pm

Secularism After the Crusades


[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013]

The Crusades were a series of military conflicts spanning two centuries, from 1095 – 1300. The First Crusade began as a bid by Pope Urban II to wrest Jerusalem and surrounding areas from Muslim rule (sometimes referred to as the East, or Asia Minor) and back under Christian control (the West). The First Crusade was successful, but the seven Crusades and assorted minor battles afterward fared poorly, with lasting consequences. The aftermath altered attitudes toward the Roman Catholic church and encouraged skepticism. This diluted church authority, led to the Protestant Reformation and the secular ideas of the Renaissance.

In the West, merchants in Italy’s port cities on the Mediterranean Sea grew rich as middlemen moving troops and supplies to the Levant, while also shipping goods like rice, coffee, sugar and cotton cloth from the Muslim world to Europe. Their wealth, together with the increase in travel and commerce, would become critical to sparking the Italian Renaissance and early thinking about secular governance in the 14th century.

In the East, the Islamic world was united by the sultan Saladin, attaining military supremacy following a period of internal division. Secular governments ruled by sultans and emirs already existed in this era, but the division of power between political and religious leaders (caliphs) was in transition. Military and economic matters became largely secular, while social administration was primarily governed by Sharia law.

The Crusades’ many military defeats cost the Catholic church substantial respect and credibility, weakening the papacy. Perceptions of corruption and turmoil in the church continued, leading to the Western Schism in 1378. Cardinals elected two different popes, triggering a political crisis and warfare. The aftermath emboldened kings and spurred resistance to church authority, paving the way toward a more secular worldview in the West.

An incalculable — and for Christians, self-inflicted — loss of world knowledge occurred when Norman (Christian) crusaders burned the Imperial library during the Sack of Constantinople in 1204, destroying both secular and religious literature. This assault on the eastern center of Christianity marked the end of the Byzantine empire, the last vestige of the Roman empire wherein Christianity first emerged.

Despite ongoing war and dissension, the time of the Crusades — known as the High Middle Ages — were also a period of consolidation and expansion for secular and religious spheres alike. Greater stability emerged in legal and financial institutions, communication systems improved and political organization gained sophistication. Church bureaucracy grew to include the papal curia, a variety of organizations that helped administer the Roman Catholic church.

Doctrinal compliance and consolidation of church authority was accomplished through the medieval inquisition, beginning around 1184 through the 1230s. Deviation from official church doctrine became subject to a series of aggressive, locally-based efforts to eliminate dissent and heretical views. Bishops and papal emissaries were given wide latitude — including torture — to root out heresy, but as church representatives, they were not permitted to kill. The job of burning unrepentant heretics at the stake was conducted by secular authorities. Little imagination is needed to perceive the effect on secular thought.

Written by Influential Prose

June 22, 2015 at 9:32 pm

What Factors Might Be Influencing Religious Trends?

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013]

The character of religion in the U.S. has undergone many changes since the country’s founding, and today change remains a constant. Three contemporary trends stand out. First, affiliation with traditional institutions is loosening and declining, while belief in God holds steady. Second, views on social issues are liberalizing, as increasing acceptance of gay marriage has made clear. Third, shifting demographics are altering convictions. Members of the Baby Boom generation (people born from 1946 through 1964) are entering their 60s, and historically older populations increasingly turn toward religion. But Millennials – people who came of age in 2000 – show far less commitment to organized faith.

Declining affiliation
Church attendance figures, confidence levels and generational change all contribute toward a trajectory of decline in religious affiliation. In polls, 40% of Americans consistently say they regularly attend church. Clergy report actual weekly attendance figures are now closer to 20% and attribute the gap to the “halo effect” – what pollsters call a well-known tendency among poll respondents to mildly exaggerate culturally favored behaviors, such as voting and church attendance, while minimizing unsavory behavior such as excess drinking.

Scandals have shaken the faithful, with polls showing confidence in organized religion falling during periods of crisis. The biggest impact came from the late 1980s scandals regarding televangelists Jimmy Swaggert and Jim Bakker, followed by the 2002 child molestation cases involving Catholic clergy in Massachusetts.
Younger Americans are not attending church at the same rates as their elders, and church attendance has not kept pace with population growth. Younger churchgoers who still attend are favoring “contemporary” worship services not offered by more traditional churches.

Continuing belief
Despite the drop in religious affiliation, majority belief in God has remained consistent despite economic and political change over the past 24 years. From 1987 to 2012, between 60% – 72% completely agree with the statement “I never doubt the existence of God” – the highest rate of any Western nation.

The intensity of belief varies with geography and political affiliation. The number of people who feel religion is very important in their lives runs from a low of 36% in the New England states to a high of 82% in the deep South. The national average is 56%.
Pew Research finds Republicans are most strongly invested in faith, followed by Democrats and Independents. Evangelical political activism has affected public perception of both religion and politics since presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan declared a “cultural war” at the 1992 Republican National Convention.

Social values
As belief in God has held steady, the character of faith and attitudes toward values associated with belief are changing. Views on social issues of importance to evangelicals — birth control, homosexuality, marriage, censorship – have all become increasingly progressive. Animus toward nonbelievers is softening, as signified by a papal declaration that even atheists are redeemed.

Public opinion on guns and drugs are in flux following high-profile events — the legalization of marijuana in some states and support for background checks in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting. The role of women in society garnered more attention following a series of gaffes by conservative lawmakers during the 2012 presidential campaign.

Demographic change
It has long been true that older generations tend to be more devout than youth. The Millennials maintain the pattern of less devotion to faith than their elders, but with an important difference: they are even less involved with organized religion than previous generations were at their age.

Immigration does not have a significant impact on these numbers. Second-generation immigrants are consistently less devout than their parents.Twenty-five percent of Millennials are not affiliated with any faith. Among GenX (those born after 1964 through the early 1980s) that number at the same age was 20%. Among Boomers, it was 13%. As Boomers enter their final decades, it remains to be seen if their involvement with religion follows the historical pattern and rises.

Written by Influential Prose

June 22, 2015 at 9:27 pm

How Diversity Affects Religious or Secular Beliefs

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013]

The effects of religious diversity vary depending on how diversity develops. It can occur through conquest, immigration, refugee movements, or splintering of existing religious groups into a variety of sects. New value systems can be established by a charismatic leader, or may arise spontaneously in response to a significant event. Access to new information may transform the beliefs, practices and values of existing religions.

Community interaction
When there is little interaction between belief communities, misunderstandings and mistaken assumptions can lead to conflict. The character of a belief community can also affect attitudes in other belief communities. Aggressive belief systems advocate dominance; they openly call for the subjugation or elimination of other beliefs and/or belief communities. Aggression is not limited to religious belief — a regime can be also aggressively secular and suppress religious belief.
Belief communities can coexist peacefully, influenced by a variety of factors; the prevailing level of tolerance and respect for diversity, perceived threats, historical experience, new events, quality of leadership and cultural custom. How groups relate to each other and secular society will deeply influence the flow of ideas and values between them.

Community values
As children, we soak up established, existing values from the surrounding culture, values so prevalent that they are rarely challenged or questioned. Exposure to additional ideas and beliefs can happen through indoctrination (where students are taught what to think), education (where students are taught how to think) or we can learn through our own curiosity and questions.

Religious diversity increases the range of values in the overall community and provides perspective on the prevailing values in each belief community. This broad range of belief and knowledge, religious and secular, becomes part of a marketplace of ideas.

Closed societies
In closed societies, a set of ideas and values are defined and imposed as Truth in a hierarchical, top-down and institutionally enforced process. This marketplace is monopolized, with dissent and competing ideas labeled as blasphemy and subject to harsh penalties.

In this environment, diversity exists only as an underground phenomenon and has little to no impact. Unorthodox ideas cannot coexist with a controlled, closed system. Either new ideas are suppressed, or the system is no longer completely closed.

Open societies
Diverse cultures can evaluate values from the bottom up on the basis of utility, on what works for each culture. Values that serve the culture well, religious or secular, tend to be conserved and passed on through generations, enforced by social custom and supported by the community. Successful values may become influential in other belief communities and be adopted or adapted to their culture.

In changing and challenging social, economic and physical environments, diverse cultures have a distinct advantage; they have a wider range of ideas, values and behaviors to draw from when faced with new problems. Counter-survival belief systems die out with their adherents. Effective belief systems survive. Diversity increases the likelihood that an effective set of values will be available when needed.

Written by Influential Prose

June 22, 2015 at 9:23 pm