Hell: Do you believe in it? How many Americans do?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Hell
ARDA quiz about Hell featured in OurValues

WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT HELL? Click this image to visit the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA) website and take the quiz.

Halloween is this Friday—a fun holiday with serious religious and pagan roots. Halloween is a contraction of All Hallows’ Eve, also known as All Saints’ Eve. It’s a time when the barrier between this world and the next thins and traffic between the two worlds is possible. To ward off evil spirits, people carved pumpkins or gourds into frightening images. Wearing a costume or mask disguised one’s identity and prevented hijacking by spirits or departed souls. (Want to know more about Halloween—or All Hallow’s Eve or Samhain? Check out this report by Holidays columnist Stephanie Fenton.)

All of which makes this week a good time to discuss a topic we haven’t covered on Our Values.org: Hell.

Do you believe in Hell? Do you believe absolutely in the existence of Hell? Are you at least probably sure it exists?

Our colleague David Briggs has mined the Baylor Religion Survey to uncover what Americans believe about the existence of Hell. He reports that a majority of Americans (53%) have an absolute belief in the existence of Hell, with an additional 20% saying it probably exists. This means that almost three of four Americans believe in Hell. (Be sure to visit David’s web site, where he has assembled a Hell Quiz—just click on the image above.)

Belief in the existence of Hell doesn’t vary much across age groups. Younger Americans are just as likely as older Americans to be absolutely certain in the existence of Hell.

But there are other differences. Over eight of ten (85%) Americans who attend religious services weekly or more often absolutely believe in the existence of Hell. Yet almost one of four Americans (23%) who rarely go to religious services agrees.

Political conservatives are more likely than liberals to believe that people go to Hell as punishment for their sins. Indeed, staunch conservatives are three times more likely than ultra liberals to have this belief.

Do you believe in the existence of Hell?

Are you absolutely sure?

Christmas: Where have all the carolers gone?

Army Navy and other military Christmas Carolers

WHO LOVES CAROLING? It’s a long military tradition for men and women serving far from home. These photos, from various years, show (from TOP): U.S. Navy Chaplain Cmdr. Joseph Scordo of Pleasantville, NY, leading Christmas carolers in celebrating the holiday season at a forward operating base in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Second, sailors assigned to the guided-missile frigate USS Curtis singing in an annual decorating contest to show holiday spirit. Third, sailors singing carols on the flight deck of the guided missile cruiser USS Monterey. Then, sailors and marines joining in carols aboard the U.S. Navy command and control ship USS Mount Whitney. Finally, a scene of a World War I caroler from the film, Joyeux Noel, about the 1914 Christmas Truce. All military photos are released for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

Nine of ten Americans celebrate Christmas, but how we celebrate has changed over the years. If you celebrate Christmas, think back to your childhood: What did you typically do then? Have things changed or stayed the same?

Across the board, the activities typically associated with Christmas—putting up a Christmas tree, buying gifts for friends or family, sending cards, attending religious services, caroling, and more—have declined in frequency, according to a Pew Research Center poll this month. About eight of ten (79%) put up a Christmas tree this year, but 92% recalled doing the same when they were young. Sending cards has fallen, too. Now, 65% of Americans send cards, compared to 81% in their youth.

Just over half of all Americans (54%) say they plan to attend religious services tonight or tomorrow; about seven of ten (69%) said they typically did this as a child. This decline occurs for men and women, for whites, blacks, and Hispanics, for all age groups, and all religious groups except white evangelical Protestants.

Buying gifts for family and friends has also declined, but the decline is small for most demographic groups and categories. No change has occurred for Americans with family incomes of $50,000 a year or more. When it comes to homemade gifts, however, the drop is much larger. For example, 58% of Americans plan to give homemade gifts today or tomorrow, compared with 66% who recall doing the same when they were kids. This decline occurs for all demographic groups and categories, including white evangelical Protestants.


Caroling has fallen off dramatically. Only 16% plan to go caroling tonight or tomorrow. Over a third of Americans (36%) recall caroling when they were kids.

You know who still loves caroling every year? Men and women serving in the U.S. military, that’s who! Every year at military bases and on ships at sea, all around the world, men and women sing Christmas songs. Pew’s sample wasn’t designed to poll service men and women, so we don’t have any hard data on this detail—except the annual stream of caroling photos that we see circulating across the Internet.

Caroling among the military is one way, in situations where no other holiday expressions are practical, to remember home. It’s been that way for a long time. Next year, 2014, will be the centennial of the now-famous World War I Christmas Truce in 1914, celebrated in a number of feature films, including Joyeux NoelThe sound of Christmas carols in the trenches, heard across “no man’s land,” was a key inspiration for that rare moment of peace amid a terrible war.

What are your holiday activities this season?

Do  you have a friend or relative in the military? Are they singing, or listening to, carols this week?

For the first time, “Happy Holidays” wins over “Merry Christmas”

CLICK on this image to see the entire PRRI graphic.

CLICK on this image to see the entire PRRI graphic.

Christmas—a holiday that 90% of Americans celebrate—is coming. A religious observation for many and a cultural event for others, it presents an annual dilemma: Do you say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”?

For the first time, Happy Holidays or Seasons Greetings has edged out Merry Christmas as the salutation of choice, according to a December 2013 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). Almost half (49%) of all Americans say that “stores and businesses should greet their customers with ‘Happy Holidays’ or ‘Seasons Greetings’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas’ out of respect for people of different faiths. Forty-three percent disagree, preferring ‘Merry Christmas.’ Only 8% didn’t venture an opinion on the matter.”

This appears to be a cultural watershed. In 2010, the proportions were reversed. Then, 49% preferred “Merry Christmas’ and 44% preferred a secular greeting.

Is there a “War on Christmas”?

That’s the question posed by PRRI. It’s an eye-catching question, though it may be an indulgence in dramatic license. Still, is there a deeper meaning? Note that the survey item gave the reason for a secular greeting: respect for people of different faiths. Respect for people of different religions, races, and ethnicities is one of the 10 core American values, as we’ve discussed before on OurValues.org.

A preference for secular or religious holiday greeting varies considerably by age, political affiliation, and religious affiliation. Two-thirds of young Americans (ages 18- 29) prefer “Seasons Greetings” or “Happy Holidays,” while only 39% of Americans 65+ also prefer a secular salutation. The majority of Democrats prefer a secular greeting, while a majority of Republicans prefer “Merry Christmas.” Among religious groups, white evangelical Protestants have the strongest support for the traditional religious greeting; the religiously unaffiliated have the weakest support.

Among friend and family, which greeting do you use?

What’s the norm in your workplace?

Do you express your preferred greeting, or do you say something else?

Extreme Generosity: Do you give anonymously?

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Extreme Generosity
Salvation Army red kettle

THE SALVATION ARMY KETTLE first appeared in 1891 in San Francisco, when a crab pot was hung at the Oakland ferry landing for donations to fund a Christmas dinner for the poor. The custom of anonymously dropping pure gold into the kettles was first spotted in 1982 in Crystal Lake, Illinois. In the 30 years since then, anonymous gold donations have ranged from early American gold coins to a gold ring complete with a diamond to a pair of gold molars dropped in a kettle in York, Pennsylvania. Photo by the Salvation Army.

Hospitals, museums, schools, and other institutions around the country bear the names of their generous benefactors. Inside these institutions, different places—rooms, auditoriums, and public areas—display the names of other donors. Without such generosity, these institutions wouldn’t thrive, survive—or even exist.

But are these examples of extreme generosity?

Some donors give money anonymously—exemplars of extreme generosity. In 2010, Baylor University received an anonymous gift of $200 million. In 2013, The Community Foundation for Muskegon County (Michigan) received an anonymous gift of $9 million.

Since 1982, mysterious donors around the country have dropped gold coins, diamonds, and jewelry into the Christmas kettles of the Salvation Army.

What makes anonymous giving extreme generosity? It’s that the benefactor does not expect to derive any ancillary publicity benefits from the donation.

The main argument against anonymous giving is that it reduces giving by subsequent givers. This is a long-held assumption. Two British researchers put it to the test by analyzing thousands of donations on behalf of runners in the 2010 London Marathon. What they found ran counter to conventional wisdom. Anonymous giving actually increased subsequent donations. The researchers speculated that anonymous giving signals the quality of a charity because anonymous givers don’t receive any personal reputation benefits.

Perhaps Maimonides, a renowned medieval rabbi, philosopher, and physician, had it right: One of the highest forms of charity is giving anonymously.

Have you been an anonymous giver?

Is giving anonymously a truer form of charity?

Our Military: How did you spend Memorial Day?

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Our Military
Memorial Day celebrations nationwide from Wikimedia Commons

AMERICAN MEMORIAL DAY AROUND THE WORLD (from the top): Dignitaries, bands and floats parade through downtown Chicago. A rock band plays on Memorial Day at a U.S. military base overseas. Bagpipers play Amazing Grace at a cemetery in southern California. Veterans on motorcycles converge on Washington DC by the thousands on Memorial Day in an annual gathering of Rolling Thunder. All photographs released for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

What did you do yesterday to commemorate our nation’s fallen soldiers? When we are at home in Ann Arbor, we go to a neighborhood event, a fun celebration marked by a children’s parade, candy thrown to the crowd and finally a short solemn reading of the names of soldiers who were killed in the previous year. Then we eat donuts. It’s quite different from the events we witnessed yesterday in a small town up north.

How do these two compare with the events in your area?

In northern Michigan, the ceremonies were long on solemnity, short on celebration and fun. The events started at a pavilion in town with Boy Scouts lowering Old Glory to half mast. Veterans in uniform from WW II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan were in attendance. An honor guard marched to the nearby river to give a 21-gun salute. Right before they fired, a woman cast a bouquet of flowers into the current.

The assembled troops then marched through town to the Memorial Park, where wreaths were laid at a memorial for all soldiers and another for veterans of the Vietnam War. They paused there. Then, they marched to the local cemetery for the final service. In the span of those few minutes, my young son went up to a grizzled Vietnam vet, shook his hand, and thanked him for his service. I had noticed this vet at the start of the march to the Memorial Park. He had stepped off late, pausing to take a sip from a flask, slipping it into his shirt pocket.

I noticed his K-9 patch and burgundy beret with Scout Dog on it. I asked him to explain what he did. He and his German Shepard were the first into the jungle, he said, sent ahead of the main squad, with the hazardous task of identifying threats and ambushes ahead. “My dog saved me more than once,” he said. As we said goodbye, I reached out to shake his hand. His hand trembled but his grip was strong and my knuckles popped.

We walked back to our car. My son asked a few questions about the Vietnam vet and the ceremonies. “I felt like I was going to cry,” he said.

“Me, too,” I replied.

What were Memorial Day events like in your area?

Do we do enough to honor the fallen?

How about the vets who return home?

Please leave a comment below:

Almosting It: Setting sail without a care?

https://readthespirit.com/ourvalues/wp-content/uploads/sites/17/2013/03/wpid-0104ov_sails_askew.jpgPhoto courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.This week, our regular guest columnist Terry Gallagher is taking the helm …

WE’VE BEEN TALKING about “almosting it,” meaning being satisfied with getting close enough, especially in New Year’s resolutions. If you’re just joining us: I explained the idea on Monday, then told a story about Little Walter and my harmonica, followed by learning to swim—and our American fascination with fly fishing. Almosting it is a very useful idea—but we all know there are a lot of situations where almosting it just won’t do.

For example, I’m trying to learn to sail, and I’ve learned how to do just about everything except actually sailing. I can tie all the knots and rig the sails. I’ve learned the names of the parts of the boat and most of the lingo. (“Falling off” doesn’t mean what it sounds like, by the way.) Out on the water, I can tack and come about. I’ve even learned how to right a capsized boat.

But there are two things I still can’t do. I am never sure how to get away from the dock safely, and I’m definitely useless at getting back to the dock. I end up becalmed about three boat lengths away, or I come in so fast that I risk damaging the boat and definitely scaring everybody.

Almosting it can be downright dangerous in many outdoor pursuits. Regular readers of OurValues.org recall that our founder, Dr. Wayne Baker, nearly wound up stranded with his entire family in a remote area of the Great Lakes. In sports like sailing, snowboarding, skiing and rock climbing, real catastrophe can happen to those who push beyond their skills.

And in our professional lives, as well, none of us are happy with work that’s just adequate.

So maybe that’s my resolution for the year—working on the areas where “almosting it” is not good enough.

How about you?

Many of our readers are just returning from “the holidays”—so tell us …

How are your New Year’s Resolutions working out?

Please, leave a Comment below.

Originally published at www.OurValues.org, an experiment in civil dialogue about American values.

Almosting It: A James Joyce New Year’s Resolution

https://readthespirit.com/ourvalues/wp-content/uploads/sites/17/2013/03/wpid-1230_James_Joyce_statue_in_Dublin_Ireland.jpgJAMES JOYCE (1882-1941) still strolls on a windy day in Dublin, Ireland, thanks to this Marjorie Fitzgibbon statue installed in 1990. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.Dear Readers (a note from Dr. Wayne Baker): I’m away with family, closing out 2012 and opening 2013. Our regular guest columnist Terry Gallagher is taking the helm for us. Thank you, Terry! And: Thank you, readers, for a marvelous year!
Here’s Terry …

IF YOU’RE MAKING UP your New Year’s resolutions today, let me throw you a lifeline.

One reason that so many resolutions fail is their absolutist quality: you either quit smoking or you don’t.

We might be happier if we think about “almosting it” instead.

“Almosting it” comes from a line in James Joyce’s Ulysses, and like a lot of that book, its meaning isn’t completely transparent. But most take it to mean something like “getting close enough.”

In his book The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Community, Prof. John Tropman uses the word “satisficing” for this same idea, meaning: good enough. “Satisficing” is the difference between finding the sharpest needle in the haystack and finding one sharp enough to sew with; and Tropman says it is one of the main distinctions between the Protestant ethic and a Catholic one. In the Catholic context, he says, “with respect to salvation, at least, degrees matter. An individual moves toward salvation and occasionally moves back.”

For me, “almosting it” means that I can set my sights on getting better at something without thinking that I’ll ever master that skill or craft. Maybe you don’t have to lose 30 pounds to be able to say you’ve kept your New Year’s resolution.

In this week’s columns, I’m going to write about some of my stabs at “almosting it,” and I hope you’ll share some of your resolutions, too, both successes and almost-ones.

TERRY GALLAGHER has worked for more than 30 years using media to build stronger institutions and communities. As regular guest columnist for Our Values, he has written about a wide range of topics including New Year’s resolutions and teaching old dogs new tricks.

What’s your approach to New Year’s Resolutions?

Do you make them? Do you reject the idea? Do you add your own twist?

Please, leave a Comment below.

Originally published at www.OurValues.org, an experiment in civil dialogue about American values.