A Majority of Americans 18-29 Years Old Now Believe in Demon Possession, Shows Survey
Bruce Wilson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Oct 25, 2013 at 09:45:49 AM EST
Are Americans becoming less religious? While church affiliation is probably declining, don't expect the atheist revolution anytime soon:

Over one half (63 percent, to be exact) of young Americans 18-29 years old now believe in the notion that invisible, non-corporeal entities called "demons" can take partial or total control of human beings, revealed an October 2012 Public Policy Polling survey that also showed this belief isn't declining among the American population generally; it's growing.

Throughout last year, triumphal atheists and secularists had celebrated (and many of the religiously-inclined bemoaned) a 2012 survey, from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, which showed an increase, especially among young adults, in the number of Americans who declared no specific religious affiliation: a chunk of the population now up to almost 20 percent according to the survey. These Americans were dubbed the "nones".

The Pew survey finding was interpreted by some observers (who missed the fine print) as indicating that Americans are becoming less religious. But the survey didn't necessarily indicate that - it simply showed that Americans, young Americans especially, are dropping out of organized religion.

Here's where it gets interesting:

The Pew survey also showed that a whopping 85 percent of those "nones", Americans with no specific religious affiliation - who comprise almost twenty percent of the overall population - nonetheless had spiritual or supernatural beliefs and, as the October 2012 Public Policy Polling survey (link to PDF of survey results) revealed, that included belief in the reality of demons.

In the lead-up to the 2012 election liberal media pounced on the PPP survey's revelation that 68 percent of Republicans evinced belief in demon possession. The finding was ridiculed as scandalous and characteristic of an alleged Republican Party disconnect from reality.

Now, PPP was among the top five polling firms in terms of accuracy in forecasting the 2012 election results, so there is good reason to take the survey finding seriously.

But critics of the GOP who used the survey to attack Republicans typically missed or ignored the fact that PPP's survey also showed that 49 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of independent voters believed in demon possession too. In other words, a majority of Americans surveyed believed in demon possession.

And, PPP's survey revealed another astonishing fact; belief in demon possession seems to be growing.

While only 44% of Americans over 65 years of age surveyed by PPP believed in demon possession, 57% of Americans 47-65 did and, among the youngest group surveyed, Americans 18-29, 63% believed in demon possession. The demographic trend line seems obvious.

Just to make things perfectly clear, the Public Policy Polling survey was "Halloween-centric" - also polling beliefs about ghosts and haunted houses. So it was unlikely that respondents thought the survey's question about demons, "Do you think itís possible for people to become possessed by demons, or not?", was asking about symbolic or figurative demons.

The PPP survey was asking respondents whether or not people could literally be possessed by evil spirits, in the style of actress Linda Blair, from the 1973 horror film The Exorcist.

We've been here before, of course:

During the 14th Century, in Germany, the populations of entire Jewish towns were massacred for an alleged Jewish role in spreading plague and, more generally, partnering with the devil. The massacres didn't stop the plague.

And consider the Salem Witch Trials: in that notorious episode of mass-hysteria, from 1692-1693 in Puritan New England hundreds of people were accused of witchcraft. Nineteen were hung. One, Giles Corey, was pressed to death by stones.

It's reported that around the same time, in North Andover, Massachusetts - the true epicenter of the witch craze - at least one dog was tried, convicted, and executed for witchcraft.

Don't such fevers of irrationality lie safely in the past ?

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, many fundamentalists and conservative charismatic evangelicals came to the conclusion that the tumult of the 1960s and all that came with it -- the Civil Rights Movement, opposition to the Vietnam War, the women's liberation movement, the incipient gay rights movement, the hippie counterculture and rock music, the rise in crime that began almost exactly when the Beatles set foot on America's shores in 1964, civil unrest and riots in America's cities, and all the other challenges to orthodoxy -- stemmed from a underlying metaphysical cause:

Satan.

Underneath of the tumult was, literally, a spiritual invasion. During the 1960s, a wave of invading demons had gained a beachhead on America's shores like the Allied troops storming France's Normandy beaches in 1944, and by the 1970s they were taking possession of individuals in massive numbers and even seizing whole geographic areas.

Wrote Texas megachurch pastor John Hagee in his 1973 book Invasion of Demons: The Battle Between God and Satan in Our Time,

"It is an invasion of demons, and is being spread like wildfire through the occult practices sweeping America in a satanic revival with demons for evangelists."
Hagee was no cultural outlier. By the 1990s his books were selling in the millions and his sermons went out on evangelical broadcast networks with global reach. In 2008, Republican Presidential nominee John McCain aggressively sought his political endorsement.

By the 1980s, "satanic panic" burst out from evangelical subculture into the secular mainstream amidst allegations that a vast, shadowy conspiracy of satan worshipers was preying on America's children. Beginning in 1982 in California's Kern County, based on a wave of legal cases sent dozens of men and women, accused of inflicting satanic ritual sexual abuse on children.

Now, in our thoroughly modern era according to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation --a nonprofit which fights for the freedom-of-worship and freedom-of-belief rights of United States military personnel-- literature associating Jews with the devil is being distributed by military chaplains, on United States military bases and naval ships.

And witchcraft ? Consider: as of when she was picked by presidential candidate John McCain, 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin was a personal friend to not one but two professed witch hunters, apostles in a charismatic movement now sweeping global Christianity, whose leaders promote the need to fight witches and battle "territorial demons" believes to influence cities, and even whole geographic regions.

The notion that demonic forces, and people associated with them, are behind both personal tragedies and collective societal misfortune is not one that humanity, or at least America, has left behind.

But don't take that from me.

Any given day of the week, one can find televangelists proclaiming that this school massacre wasn't due to mental illness and easy access to assault weapons and high capacity magazines; and that destructive hurricane wasn't potentiated by global warming. No, such misfortunes stem from God's wrath at gay marriage and a lack of prayer in public schools.

Aren't those fringe beliefs ? Not really. Not any more.

The outgoing Chair of the House Science Committee thinks global warming is a massive hoax perpetrated by scientists, to get funding, and claims humans can't influence the weather, stating in 2011, "I donít think we can control what God controls."

A current Science Committee member thinks humans and dinosaurs cohabited the Earth and declares the Big Bang, evolution, and the science of embryology to be "lies straight from the pit of hell".

Isn't this just a case of a few misguided Republicans who somehow slipped through the cracks ?

Over the last year I've read countless opinion pieces, some from thinkers I deeply respect, lamenting an alleged rising irrationality on the American right and in the Republican Party.

Despite the alleged trend, a popular counter-narrative claims that rational thinking - non-supernaturally-based modes of thought - is simultaneously increasing among Americans in general.

But that may not be true at all; if you believe that your fellow citizens are becoming more rational you may be victim of a nasty phenomenon called incestuous amplification.

In short, incestuous amplification is a feedback loop in which propaganda (or bad information) is taken as truth (good information). The result is that people caught in this amplification loop become increasingly detached from reality or make faulty decisions because their underlying beliefs have become corrupted by the incestuous amplification process.

This is happening both on the American left and right, only in different ways.

Here's what I mean by that: people on the left have become increasingly aware that opinion leaders on the right (such as Rush Limbaugh) and members of the Republican Party are promoting ideas that are simply not grounded in empirically-determined fact.

For example, during the 2012 election at least one race for a U.S. Senate seat hinged upon a claim, by the Republican contender, that women who were raped could shut down their reproductive processes; thus, they would not become pregnant, if raped, unless they wanted to become pregnant.

As it turned out, that notion was grounded in medical thinking from the 13th or 14th Century, during which time people were also being burned alive, for witchcraft.

But this growing awareness doesn't seem to translate into knowledge of the very well funded and organized national-level movement, among politicized American right-wing Christianity, which is promoting such beliefs and has the power to shut down, for a few weeks at least, the government of the most powerful nation on Earth. Or, for that matter, loft one of its own into the race for the vice presidency of the United States:

Perhaps the greatest failure of our media establishment during the 2008 election was the failure to probe Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin's friendship with two religious leaders who had publicly boasted of hunting witches.

But perhaps that was to the good, because if news of Palin's ties to the New Apostolic Reformation had emerged, liberals and progressives might have become even more smug about their supposed grounding in evidence-based reality.

Since the mid-1980s, mainstream media has been noisily proclaiming the death of the religious right as a political movement, and poorly-informed mainstream media pundits downplay the influence of dominionism in American politics, even as some of the most prominent Senators in the GOP are publicly anointed to help "take dominion" over all sectors of society.

Many liberals and progressives believe in these factually-challenged narratives.

Meanwhile, during the current session of Congress, Republicans who reject the theory of Evolution and the reality of man-made climate change now sit on the science committees of the wealthiest and most militarily powerful nation on earth. Partisans of the religious right dominate entire U.S. states.

The religious right movement is gradually siphoning off funding from American public schools, redirecting that money to religious schools that teach from textbooks which reject Evolution, teach Young Earth creationism, and portray LGBT teens as hated by God and damned to hell - as covered in the October 2013 issue of Rolling Stone magazine, in The Hidden War Against Gay Teens.

The movement is vacuuming billions of dollars each year through various federal funding streams - for example, 1) through the George W. Bush-founded Faith Based Initiative, which continues under the Presidency of Barack Obama and gives money directly to churches and religious nonprofits, some of which practice faith-based discrimination; 2) through federal funding which pays for students to attend Young Earth creationist, biblical literalist, gay rights-unfriendly schools such as Jerry Falwell's Liberty University and Pat Robertson's Regent University; 3) annual USAID funding for international aid, which under George W. Bush was shifted from secular nonprofits to religious ones.

Most of these entities receiving such government money hold open at least the possibility that demon possession can cause various maladies, both physical and psychological - including the alleged malady of non-heterosexual orientation.

But government largesse is far from the only factor, let alone the most important one, driving the growing belief in demons and demon possession. Besides the promotion of such ideas in charismatic churches across the nation, belief in demon casting gets promoted in breathless, shallow sensationalistic and almost wholly uncritical broadcasts from mainstream media, such as the Oprah network - which has aired sympathetic footage of exorcist and faith healer Todd Bentley, who in the recent past has claimed to heal people, up onstage, by punching and kicking them with his biker boots, and National Geographic, which in October 2012 ran a credulous episode on exorcism featuring virulently anti-LGBT exorcists Kimberly Daniels, now an elected Jacksonville, FL city council member, and Bob Larsen (whose three comely female "teen exorcists" were also featured in a September 2013 BBC Vanguard segment), whose recently exorcism tour in the Ukraine was facilitated by the church network of charismatic apostolic church leader Alexey Ledyaev, who in turn has promoted the book The Pink Swastika by American evangelist Scott Lively.

Lively is currently being sued for "active participation in the conspiracy to strip away fundamental rights from LGBTI persons" the African country of Uganda. Lively's book The Pink Swastika claims that Hitler and top Nazis were homosexual and presents the Holocaust as an outgrowth of alleged homosexual psychopathology.

For her own part, Kimberly Daniels' promotes notable demon-haunted views. In an April 2011 story, I described (also see A Kim Daniels 'Demonbuster' Quote Base),

"Her avowed "demonbuster" persona includes performing exorcisms to cast out demons alleged to cause homosexuality, drug abuse, and insanity, claims that "the Jews own everything!" and that President Obama is part of a Harvard-based Illuminati plot, and a declaration of being grateful for the historical institution of American slavery without which, according to Kim Daniels, "I might be somewhere in Africa worshiping a tree." "
Such beliefs on the pervasive presence of demons in daily life, promoted by influential American evangelicals such as New Apostolic Reformation leader C. Peter Wagner and former Foursquare Church head Jack Hayford (who gave the closing prayer at the 54th Inaugural Prayer Service for President George W. Bush, in 2001, at the Washington National Cathedral) may be exerting a less-than wholesome effect on African evangelical culture:

In November 2012, one of the more influential publications in the world of American charismatic Christianity, Charisma magazine, published an article titled "Can You Be Raped by the Devil?" which explained,

"The two most identifiable sexual demons are the incubus, which is a male sexual demon that traditionally assaults women, and the succubus, which is a female sexual demon that assaults men. Sometimes they also lure people into homosexual behavior."
Only a few days later, across the Atlantic in Africa, the government controlled Ugandan news service New Vision revealed lurid details of a Ugandan woman whose marriage was described as "on the verge of collapsing" due to the nightly attacks of a sex demon.

C. Peter Wagner, Jack Hayford, Kimberly Daniels, and Todd Bentley are all part of the demon-obsessed charismatic neo-Pentecostal movement known as the New Apostolic Reformation, whose apostles and prophets have blessed and anointed numerous Republican political candidates - such as 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and 2011 presidential hopeful Rick Perry.

In 2003, the demonology-laced book Out Of Africa, co-edited by Wagner, featured contributions from internationally influential, rising Nigerian evangelists in Wagner's movement such as E.A. Adeboye - credited by some as being the 49th most influential person on Earth.

In Uganda, Wagner's movement claims participation of top leaders in Uganda's two main born-again and Pentecostal umbrella groups, which are actively working to incite anti-LGBT sentiment in Uganda, where since 2009 a bill has loomed before Uganda's parliament that in its original version would mandate the death penalty for repeat acts of homosexuality and compel all Ugandan citizens to report suspected homosexuals to authorities or else face three-year prison sentences.




Display:
What place does the huge zombie and vampire popular culture fad play in the "religious" beliefs of the under 30 years old population? Are the heavy consumers of zombie/vampire pop culture more likely or less likely to believe in demons functioning in ordinary daily life? Are they more or less likely to consider themselves "religious"? Are they more or less likely to attend church? The Stephanie Meyer vampire novel fad that propelled vampires into the top of the pops were originally classified to be "romances" by observers of pop culture. There is a long tradition of "sexy vampire" tales and imagery.

Would the survey surround of Halloween be more likely to produce casual responses that may not reflect the day-to-day beliefs of the respondents?

Unfortunately, I do believe that the USA is on the decline, and that nations with more respect for education will supplant our role as innovators and drivers of the economy.

by NancyP on Fri Oct 25, 2013 at 11:45:08 AM EST


( "What place does the huge zombie and vampire popular culture fad play in the "religious" beliefs of the under 30 years old population?" ) - I'd guess that these culture fads might make the 18-29 demographic somewhat more likely to accept the possibility of possession, but that's purely speculative on my part.  

by Bruce Wilson on Fri Oct 25, 2013 at 01:37:07 PM EST
I'm a political science undergraduate and to distract myself, I'll often engage with fantasy material, and I think it's broader than just zombies and vampires. Game of Thrones for instance is a big deal and while it doesn't shy away from the problems of feudal existence, it does somewhat romanticize the past. For my part I'm into Warhammer 40k (which is pretty obscure) and in that fictional universe demons are the physical/metaphysical manifestations of various emotions.

I think what all of this ties to is how removed many in my generation are from producing tangible things. Most of us can expect service sector jobs so the best thing any of us can hope to create is a good idea.    

by Hirador on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 10:10:11 PM EST
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One thing that I am aware of frequently, especially as a Wiccan, is that the majority of the "non-religious" still maintain a Christianity-informed world view.  Even when they aren't being judgmental, they tend to ask if being a Wiccan or Pagan means you worship Satan (or kind of do); in other words, their minds "go there" because they have been so immersed in that worldview.

I am fond of shows about ghost hunting (primarily because I enjoy the backstories about the supposed hauntings), but the people who appear in these shows often imbue everything with a "Christian" spin.  There is rarely talk about whether, in fact, "ghosts" might be manifestations of other dimensions or "phases" of existence (although you find some cryptozoologists, such as bigfoot researchers, who will discuss their thoughts that bigfoot sightings have to do with "bleed over" from other phases of reality -- a theory that I think has merit).

But the demon thing really bugs me.  As a Wiccan, I believe that there can be dark or destructive forces, but not the sort of evil Christian idea of "DEMONS" who come and get you.  It simply doesn't go with my own world view, although I think that those who believe in them can provoke psychological and physiological manifestations that appear to be demon possession.  

Frankly, none of the non-crazy (meaning, not my family members) Christians I know are hung up on demon possession.  I do find it interesting, again, from watching the "ghost" shows, that many of the people who get all into the malevolent hauntings/demon is in my house stuff WERE Christians who at one time rebelled -- by dabbling in their own stupid version of Satanism (because they were again using Christianity as the template, so to rebel means to rebel by becoming anti-Christians [which is totally lame]).

It's a shame that the "non-religious" still seem to carry with them the more negative debris of Christianity.  Why can't they bring with them out of the church Jesus's social teachings, like the Sermon on the Mount, rather than simply a sour and negative fear of demons?

I know that as a Wiccan of 40 years practice, it has taken me a long time to adopt completely a mindset of natural forces and a connectedness with life that has nothing to do with my upbringing.  I do continue to admire, for example, many of the teachings of Christ, but I realize that my own viewpoint no longer encompasses such things as Hell or demons.  It is truly sad that the baggage some of these non-religious folks still drag behind them is so negative.   We have enough living people in this world right now who are willing to hurt others and do terrible things without having to worry about supernatural demons!

by coralsea on Fri Oct 25, 2013 at 04:06:41 PM EST

I really do not wish to offend you, as I enjoy your comments here, but as a skeptic and an atheist, I wonder what is it about your beliefs in supernatural entities or alterations of reality you see as legitimate, while demons, which at least have some evidence concerning their existence at one time, are not similarly feasible? Were you ever a Christian, and if so did you believe in demons then? In my youthful attempts to embrace Christianity I could not believe in demons or Hell/Satan even while believing that I was talking to some(one?) entity at the time. So I can understand it from that angle, only.

by trog69 on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 05:51:13 AM EST
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Coralsea's beliefs are not up for discussion, question, or challenge here.

Take all theological debates offline please.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 01:04:48 PM EST
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I will not post on this site again.  Sorry for putting forth ideas that were apparently "unwelcome."

by coralsea on Tue Oct 29, 2013 at 09:50:48 AM EST
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I was addressing my concern to trog.  

The ideology and activities of the Christian Right affect all of us differently, but we all share aspects of the attack on religious pluralism and equality, and all that that means.

Part of what we try to do here is to create a safe space for people of all and no religious affiliations to read and write about, and discuss the religious right and what to do about it.  A blog site is a necessarily imperfect way to do this, but it does allow us to do many things that would not otherwise be possible.

Our original group of front pagers sought to set this tone and included, among others, evangelicals, atheists and a pagan.  It is fine to bring our respective beliefs to the table as they inform our experiences and how we approach thinking about and responding to the religious right.  The ideology and activities of the Religious Right affect all of us differently, but we all share aspects of the attack on religious pluralism and equality, and all that that means.  And we all have a variety of useful experiences and points of view that deserve to be heard.

What is not fine is for our beliefs to become the subject.  None of our beliefs are up for debate here and demands for evidence of anyone's views are at best off topic, and at worst grounds for banning.  Unlike other sites, this is not a free for all, as the terms of service and the site guidelines make clear.  

These things said, for the benefit of anyone who happens to be reading, I hope you will stay with us, Coralsea. You will always be welcome.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Oct 29, 2013 at 12:10:14 PM EST
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Perhaps they believe that demons are real because they have experienced them. When you consider how much of the culture's books, movies, music and video games, especially ones targeted to children, feature occultic content, many times more than before for about 45 years, it is not surprising that young people would encounter and perhaps be troubled by evidence that there is a reality behind the fiction, sometime in their lives. As in so many people's experience with Ouija boards, when we have an experience that points to the reality of supernatural beings, we don't automatically deny that experience because materialists and atheists demand that we do, although we might pretend to believe that, given enough pressure. But we will know we are lying. For all the propaganda that there is no God and no spirits, when people experience a reality that is otherwise, they can't honestly agree, in spite of all the media propaganda and armies of atheist trolls online. Richard Dawkins can angrily demand that the world conform to the choices of supernatural deniers--you can wish you could give in to that pressure and make your life easier--but given an opportunity to express what you believe with impunity, people are likely to tell the truth. You can pressure them to lie, but you can't change what they know to be true. The movement to bully the world into the supposed "rationality" of materialism and atheism can cause people to conceal their honest beliefs, but it cannot change the truth of their experience. I doubt that anyone who experienced Morningstar or saw your video on it, would with an honest heart deny the existence of demons. Too many kids have become oppressed by demons, and had darkness take over their lives, for them to honestly deny their existence. It takes determined ideologues to try to force the world to conform, heart, mind and soul, to their ideology. Freedom-minded people will always prefer that there be the maximum freedom of thought and conscience, for people to realize and express their true beliefs. That freedom does not just go in one direction.

by mcfirefly on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 03:32:00 PM EST
This blog is concerned with the political uses of religious belief. The issue is not so much whether a person perceives internal conflict as being between one's guardian angel and tempting devil or being between different subdivisions of one's own consciousness (eg. superego vs id). Our concern is when people point to other people (Not Our Kind) and label them as devils or as possessed. This is scapegoating. Scapegoating is a common political tactic to ensure unity of the in-group, often resulting in real damage to real (Not Our Kind) people - Jews, Muslims, gays. A secondary political concern is the use of scapegoating to make the in-group dismiss real problems, with potential real-world solutions. This is the Jerry Falwell / Pat Robertson approach - God is letting bad things happen to the USA because gay people are not criminalized.
 In my opinion, belief in God does not entitle the believer to sit back and ignore problems instead of trying to look at the problem, come up with a concrete action that lessens the problem, and perform the action. If God has given us brains, we ought to use them. We passively observe events on the television, and any further passivity, expecting God to fix things we could fix ourselves, is a real political problem.

by NancyP on Mon Oct 28, 2013 at 03:02:07 PM EST
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I've mentioned this to Bruce, but you guys should also check out the concept of soul ties that permeates the current Charismatic lexicon. Though the concept is not always used in this sense, their are movement leaders, including Doris Wagner, who promote the idea that ungodly soul ties can be created through rape. In other words, a rape victim as a demonic soul tie to her rapist because she - according to their theory - is unable to forgive him after the rape. The way to eliminate soul ties in most deliverance systems is to forgive the rapist. I'm not kidding you, I've seen this in more exorcism manuals than I care to remember.

by John Weaver on Mon Oct 28, 2013 at 10:02:38 PM EST

Bruce and company. Here's some quotes from Doris Wagner on soul ties. Both of these come from her deliverance anthology How To Minister Freedom, and were both written by her. Other essays in the selection also promote the same idea. I really wish I was making this up: "I have prayer over a number of rape victims and let me assure you that a person who has been raped, be it male or female, has indeed been seriously harmed both physically and emotionally. Life is just never the same. The devil often uses such horrible experiences to open many doors to the demonic" (Wagner 92-93) "When an injustice or serious sin has been committed, such as child sexual abuse, the child remembers the pain . . . the trauma .. . and visits that situation over and over again in his or her mind. Unforgiveness sets in and eventually invites a demon of unforgiveness to set up housekeeping in the soul of that person" (Wagner 99).

by John Weaver on Mon Oct 28, 2013 at 11:56:09 PM EST
I have this book. To my mind, it concretizes emerging NAR doctrine - including on "soul ties". The "demon of unforgiveness" would seem to be an especially pernicious demon -- horrible, predatory violence unleashes awful demons upon its victims whose ensuing demonization is, it would seem, the result of their smallness of spirit, their lack of ability to forgive.  

by Bruce Wilson on Wed Oct 30, 2013 at 08:50:37 PM EST
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In one of the starkest instances yet of how far gone the religious right is, one of its leading activists thinks that he's found another potential wedge issue that could drive more people into......
Christian Dem in NC (2 comments)
First Catholic official convicted in child sex abuse scandal has conviction overturned
Last year, Monsignor William Lynn, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's secretary for clergy, was convicted of reassigning a priest whom he knew had molested a young boy to a parish that had a school attached......
Christian Dem in NC (0 comments)
Quotes From Sarah Palin 'War on Christmas" Book v. Quotes From 1920s Anti-Jewish Propaganda
The point of this comparison is not to cast Sarah Palin as a Nazi. Rather, my intent is to underline uncomfortable similarities between contemporary "war on Christmas" talking points propagated by elements of the......
Bruce Wilson (0 comments)
Francis sets up commission on how to deal with pedophile priests
Late yesterday Pope Francis announced--apparently after some prodding--that he will set up a panel to advise him on how to deal with child abuse by priests. The announcement was a forthright acknowledgment by the......
Christian Dem in NC (0 comments)

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