documentary religion

The Most Hated Family in America

Who is the most hated family in America? Well it might just be the Fred Phelps family. As a result of their extremist family religion preaching hatred and intolerance, protesting at the funerals of US soldiers killed in Iraq, and being all around not nice people, nobody seems to like them.

Louis Theroux of the BBC presents the documentary “The Most Hated Family in America” (Wikipedia link).

Warning: this video contains offensive attitudes from homophobic nutcases!

Fantastic Louis Theroux documentary about homophobic, anti-semitic religious lunatics (Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church) in the USA. Originally aired on BBC2 (UK). If you can look past the epithets without being offended, it’s a laugh riot. Fred Phelps comes across as REALLY stupid!

Originally aired on BBC 2, UK, April 2007

(via Waxy)


The Rough History of Disbelief

In the “History of Disbelief”, Jonathan Miller goes on a journey exploring the origins of his own lack of belief and uncovering the hidden story of atheism. From the BBC here are all three parts:

The history of disbelief continues with the ideas of self-taught philosopher Thomas Paine, the revolutionary studies of geology and the evolutionary theories of Darwin. Jonathan Miller looks at the Freudian view that religion is a “thought disorder”. He also examines his motivation behind making the series touching on the issues of death and the religious fanaticism of the 21st century.

documentary religion

Jesus Camp

The scoop on what it’s like to be a kid growing up in a fundamentalist extremist Evangelical Christian environment.

Hit play or watch at Google Video.
Update: Looks like the video is no longer up at Google Video. Try Oscar Torrents instead.

Update: The full movie is posted on Vimeo:

Jesus Camp from Loki Films on Vimeo.

backmasking religion

Michael Mills and Beatles Forever

Otis F. Odder is reviving his 365 Days project on the WFMU Beware of the Blog! He opens it with the complete recordings of the Michael Mills Satanic Messages Radio Show and the complete Beatles Forever recordings.

Previously: Michael Mills and the original 365 days project (at that time it was available only in excerpted form).


The Atheist Delusion

Edward CurrentPreviously The Atheist Delusion (flash). Non-believers are such fools.

backmasking psychology religion

Jay-Z and his Unconscious Influence

I came across a video clip of a preacher speaking out against the Hip Hop artist Jay-Z. Proponents of the evils of backmasking, like this preacher, argue that the effects of listening to music with backward messages are manifested in an unconscious manner on the listener’s subsequent behaviour.

He states that:

the heavy metal folks used to do that and they would put the backwards masked messages in your music and they’d say that your subconscious is smart enough—that right brain was smart enough to decode and flip that message so by the time it got to your left brain you understood it and you didn’t even know you understood it. You just acted it out. Because they have the song called Another One Bites the Dust — Queen. Played it backwards it said, I like to smoke marijuana. Yeah, and then they interviewed kids and kids say when they listen to it they just wanna get high, they just want to smoke weed and they had no idea that that message was being reversed in their mind and causing them to want to do that.”

I’d like to point out that contrary to this preacher’s claims, studies have shown that it is, in fact, impossible for the subconscious mind to “decode and flip that message”.

In volume 40, No. 11 of American Psychologist (November 1985), psychologist professors John R. Vokey and J. Don Read address the possibility of unconscious influence within reversed audio.

The proponents of backmasking argue that the effects of greatest concern are not the consciously perceived meanings of backward messages but rather those effects arising from unconscious or subliminal apprehension of the (forward) meaning of the material. Consequently, we also used tasks that required less in the way of conscious apprehension of meaning. We reasoned that if some subconscious mechanism existed for the interpretation of backward messages and their influence upon behaviour, then this mechanism should allow decisions to be made about content without necessarily revealing that content.

Their series of properly controlled scientific experiments included:

  • Identifying whether a backward message when played forward was a statement or a question – 52.1% accuracy (50% expected on the basis of random assignment)
  • whether they believed two sentences had the same meaning with only changes in the active or passive voice or whether the two sentences had different meanings — 44.81% accuracy (50% expected on the basis of random assignment)
  • identifying a series of sentences into whether or not they would make sense if heard in the forward direction – 45.2% accuracy (50% expected on the basis of random assignment)
  • categorizing statements of the sort, “Jesus loves me, this I know” into one of five content categories: nursery rhymes, Christian, satanic, pornographic, and advertising. 19.4% accuracy (20% expected on the basis of random assignment)

Upon the completion of their experiments Vokey and Read concluded, “we could find no evidence that our listeners were influenced, consciously or unconsciously, by the content of backward messages.”

I’m not one to deny that it does SOUND like Jay-Z has an anti-religious message in the reverse clip. It’s my belief that if such a message is intentional, its purpose is to gain publicity for his album. By pointing it out, this video has actually done a favour for Jay-Z. The prudent thing to do would be to ignore such obvious attention grabbing tactics. Nevertheless preachers like this one continue to disseminate the false claim that backwards messages within music can influence those listening. I think it’s because that message draws big crowds and allows the preachers to more easily sell copies of their sermons on DVDs.

[Jay-Z Subliminal Message – YouTube]

(Thanks Cody)

backmasking psychology religion

Michael Mills Famous Backmasking Mp3

Back in 1981 a man by the name of Michael Mills created a radio show comprised of many backmasking clips purporting to show that rock music was influenced by satanic forces.

Thanks to the January 12th entry of the 365 days project you can listen to Michael Mills – Hidden & Satanic Messages In Rock Music (9MB mp3).

This 1981 Christian radio show (with host Michael Mills) exposes the threat of secret messages in your Rock and Roll! During the 45 minute radio show he covers a ton of artists… I’m playing 4 of my favourite segments on… Led Zeppelin, Kiss, The Beatles and Queen.

While I did find it interesting to listen to, I hope that you, the astute listener, will pick up on his lack of respect for the scientific process and see his motivation is fuelled by a preconceived hatred for rock music.

For example, not only is Mills sure to tell the listener what they are about to hear, before they have a chance to listen objectively themselves he also plays the backwards clips in such an order as to create a satanic message of his own arranging.

Near the end of the mp3 he shares the story of a young girl that complained that her room turned “an eerie and almost deathly cold” and claims that after she destroyed her KISS albums, the chills went away and we are left to assume the girl lived happily ever after. With his rearranging of backwards clips, his anecdotal evidence and his priming of the audience we know that what he presented is not scientific; clearly his agenda is that of closed minded fanatic.

Having said that, it is of course very entertaining — so enjoy, and be sure to get a permit before destroying your old records in a good old fashioned, satanic cleansing, barrel fire.

Update: Michael Mills and Beatles Forever.


Map Gallery of Religion in the United States

Religion continues to appear widespread in the United States, judging from this interesting and well-put-together map gallery of religion that uses information from 2000. It gives a really good impression of where different denominations and religions are popular.

distribution of religion by county

The two thumbnails above are adherents (left) and church bodies (right).

(via Digg)

psychology religion

Subliminal Messages in “On The Way Home”

I’ve always possessed a fascination with optical illusions, subliminal messages, the unconscious mind, and cognitive psychology in general. I think that’s why I found the idea of messages in music when played backwards so fascinating.

Back in 1998 I went on a mission for the LDS church. I was serving in the most unlikely place of Salt Lake City, Utah. Using the line, “we were just in the neighbourhood” seemed a little disingenuous when the temple marked the skyline behind you. There are a lot of Mormons there so we had to be a little more creative.

There are, however, a lot of people that are not members of the church. One of my favorite things about my mission was meeting people from all walks of life and from every imaginable social and economic backgrounds. The diversity of people I met ranged from those that were on the verge of being homeless, to literal billionaires.

Regardless of background, we (as missionaries) wanted to get our message out and influence people in as positive a fashion as we could. One of the methods of sharing our beliefs was the use of cheesy promotional videos that protreyed value of the family/church/good morals, etc.
On The Way Home Movie
One specific movie that I showed to investigators of the church was the movie, “On The Way Home”.

It’s a quaint little movie about a family who goes through the pain of the loss of their daughter/sister and meet some sister missionaries who teach them about God’s plan, The Plan of Salvation™.

The interesting thing about this movie is a rumour that I heard from another missionary about it containing subliminal messages. I was pretty sure it was just one of those missionary urban legends, because OBVIOUSLY the church wouldn’t buy into subliminal messages, not to mention the fact that even if they are “positive” messages, it sure leaves a bad taste in ones mouth to think I was being used as a pawn to subconsciously brainwash people. (Not me! I was there to help people.)

“What kind of subliminal messages?” I probed. The other missionary explained to me that near the start of the movie, when one of the main characters is jogging home for his baptism there is a bike race and someone watching the race holds up a big cardboard sign that says, “don’t do drugs” which flashes across the screen too quickly to be noticed on a conscious level—unless you are specifically looking for it. So while that message didn’t seem like something you would expect, I still wasn’t convinced.

The message I remember him telling me about most was (and there may be more, but it’s this one that I remember) during the sister missionaries discussion, as they are teaching the family a lesson, the soft lighting and relaxing music which are in themselves creating a very serene and peaceful environment suddenly appear bubbles floating around behind them.


“Bubbles? What? Why?” I couldn’t imagine that this was actually true. Surely I would have noticed bubbles. What would be the point of bubbles anyway?

Well the explanation went something along the lines of, “bubbles are supposed to induce feelings of peace and tranquility. They remind people of their youth and are relaxing. People subconsciously see the bubbles and it makes them feel good. When they feel good about your message they are more likely to act on it.”

I had to see it to believe it. I will always remember the next house I showed that video to. They were a super family that had just moved in to Utah and seemed quite interested in learning more about the church. As we sat there watching the movie I could hardly believe my eyes as tiny little bubbles started floating up in the background. I looked over at the others watching the movie intently. They didn’t notice.

They did however decide to get baptized. I wouldn’t try to say that the movie was the reason for it, I mean come on, bubbles? But nevertheless there you have it. Subliminal messages in “On The Way Home”.

life religion

My Beliefs

It’s a little over a week until Christmas. I haven’t been feeling any wonderful tingly feelings about it. It probably has a little to do with my religion-less life coupled with my failed engagement last Christmas. Being alone during the holidays really sucks.

I suppose I shouldn’t be too hard on myself by calling it a “failed engagement” because, as she tried to convince me anyway, it was destined for failure. I think she only did it in the first place to please her mother. She claimed afterwards that she just doesn’t want to get married ever—to anyone; or date me anymore; or talk to me ever again for that matter! C’est la vie—I guess. It still feels like a dirty trick.

But despite my lack of belief and probably because of my failure to make any new meaningful relationships lately, I went to church today. Not the boring Mormon church that those who know me might expect. This was a local non-denominational church where the singing packed a heavy emotional punch and the sermon was given by an experienced pastor. I enjoyed singing the familiar Christmas tunes (to a guitar accompaniment I might add), but just the same, I don’t think religion and I are ever going to reconcile in any meaningful manner or on any kind of permanent basis. It was, however, nice to get out.

I have been asked by a couple of friends if I now consider myself not just an agnostic but a full blown atheist. To which I must honestly answer yes.

As far as explaining why I am going the whole hog and not just stopping at agnosticism (in an attempt to hedge my bets) I will point you to something Douglas Adams had to say on the subject. This is from an interview he did with American Atheist for their 1998/1999 Winter publication. He had grown up in a religious background and as a teenager was a committed Christian. One day while walking down the street he heard a street evangelist and, dutifully, stopped to listen:

“What astonished me, however, was the realization that the arguments in favour of religious ideas were so feeble and silly next to the robust arguments of something as interpretative and opinionated as history. In fact they were embarrassingly childish. They were never subject to the kind of outright challenge which was the normal stock in trade of any other area of intellectual endeavour whatsoever. Why not? Because they wouldn’t stand up to it. So I became an Agnostic. And I thought and thought and thought. But I just did not have enough to go on, so I didn’t really come to any resolution. I was extremely doubtful about the idea of god, but I just didn’t know enough about anything to have a good working model of any other explanation for, well, life, the universe and everything to put in its place.”

Being brought up in a home that emphasized the importance of intelligence and education in combination with religion and integrity I spent a considerable amount of time trying to sort through the pain of intellectual dissonance. How could I reconcile the inconsistencies and outright mistakes of religion with what I felt was obviously right, just, and logical. I decided religion and I were breaking up and at the age of 21 I finally quit cold turkey. I’m glad it didn’t take me any longer.

I’ve since been fascinated with evolutionary biology and one of my many regrets about high school was that I never took any biology classes. I was fortunate, though, to date someone who had a first year university biology text-book and in reading it I discovered that there is a fascinating and perfectly reasonable alternative to belief in supernatural creation ex nihilo. It’s called evolution and it’s not just a hypothetical best guess. It’s an actual provable attribute of nature. Sure there may be a few gaps in the exact history of every single evolutionary adaptation, but advancements are coming in all the time and there are already enough documented and repeatable scientific experiments to convince anyone who cares enough to learn the cold hard facts.

Douglas Adams reports a similar experience as he continues:

But I kept at it, and I kept reading and I kept thinking. Sometime around my early thirties I stumbled upon evolutionary biology, particularly in the form of Richard Dawkins’s books The Selfish Gene and then The Blind Watchmaker and suddenly (on, I think the second reading of The Selfish Gene) it all fell into place. It was a concept of such stunning simplicity, but it gave rise, naturally, to all of the infinite and baffling complexity of life. The awe it inspired in me made the awe that people talk about in respect of religious experience seem, frankly, silly beside it. I’d take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day.

I can hear the more intelligent group of my religious friends and relatives thinking, “but isn’t it possible to believe in God while still understanding that evolution exists?”

Certainly it may be possible to believe in God but why should I? What reason (and I do mean this in the most logical sense of the word) is there to go back to believing? And even if I did choose to return to my blissfully ignorant state, why specifically should I choose to follow the tenants of Mormonism or even Christianity over some other group’s indoctrinating beliefs? Better service projects? (Actually that’s one of the best reasons I’ve come up with.)

But I digress. I’m still very much fascinated by the idea of religion and at times I even take part in religious discussions within the bloggernacle (wikipedia link). I find myself occasionally playing the devil’s advocate for belief in Mormon doctrine but on the whole I’m a non-believing fakester. (For those of you that I might have happened to teach and baptise during my year long stint as a missionary in Salt Lake City, you’re probably expecting some kind of explanation. In my defense, I can only say, I really believed it at the time and I’m sorry to have tricked you. I hope you have found happiness in a way that I never really could and I also hope that overall it has been a positive experience for you.)

Have I found any positive experiences in religion? It has made me who I am and I’m grateful for that but I certainly wouldn’t do it again. It has also depressed me tragically. I have, for the most part, been happier since I quit going to Church than anytime I can recall throughout my life, albeit I occasionally miss the social aspects.

What has surprised me about living this so-called godless life has been the fact that nothing really changed. All of the good things in my life that I used to attribute to god blessing me have continued. I am still a very fortunate person. I now look at good and bad fortune as being merely chance—I don’t credit any outside force acting upon my life. It has inspired me to realize I can’t sit around and wait for a miracle, if I want to be successful I don’t need to pray for help, I can do it on my own.

I remember when I started swimming for the University, at times I thought about praying for help to keep going (perhaps my coach will say I should have prayed) but I learned that I could do it if I just persevered.