TIME Religion

God Is Dead. Except at the Box Office.

While Hollywood is finding God, Americans are losing their religion. But that’s not a bad thing.

These days, God is dead everywhere except at movie theaters. But rest easy, America, that doesn’t mean we’re spiraling into an amoral abyss or a lawless society. Indeed, by most indicators of anti-social behavior, things have never been better.

Even as polls and church-attendance records show the U.S. is becoming a more secular, less pious country, current films such as Heaven is for Real (based on a best-selling account of a four-year-old boy’s supposed trip to the afterlife) and Noah (based on the Old Testament’s account of the Great Flood) have done boffo business.

Noah is closing in on $100 million, the line that separates mere hits from blockbusters, and Heaven is for Real easily bested Johnny Depp’s poorly reviewed meditation on computer-enabled immortality, Transcendence. God’s Not Dead, a drama about a college freshman challenging his professor’s atheism, is also performing strongly, and so is Son of God, the latest cinematic version of the life of Jesus.

Expect to see more Christian and religiously themed movies as a result. “If there’s a sense that there’s a growing market and a growing hunger for more films like this,” a Columbia TriStar Pictures executive tells The Christian Post, “then the desire to continue to provide more films will increase, and decisions will be made to be able to make more films like this.”

Yet there’s no reason to think that such movies will do anything to stanch the broad and ongoing decline in religiosity. And there’s even less reason to worry about the trend toward a less godly country.

Gallup reports that fully 77% of Americans agree that religion “is losing its influence on American life,” and that just 20% think religion is gaining influence. Mainline Protestantism has especially taken it on the chin over the past 50 years. In 1965, over half of Americans were “active members” of Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, and similar denominations, according to The Catholic World Report. That number is now below 10%. While independent bible-based churches and the Catholic Church show some growth (largely due to immigrants), Pew Research reports that “the number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace.” Indeed, such “nones” now comprise 20% of the population and one-third of adults under the age of 30.

Those numbers will keep growing. With each successive generation – from the “Silents” born between 1928 and 1945 to Gen-Xers born between 1965 and 1980 – Americans have gotten less and less religious. Millennials, who were born between 1981 and 1994 and outnumber Baby Boomers, are embracing secularism for a variety of reasons, none of which is likely to disappear.

Millennials are far more likely than previous generations to view organized religion as intolerant, sexist, and homophobic. That attitude isn’t helped by traditional Islamic theology, the Catholic Church’s position on female priests, or political candidates such as Ray Moore, who is running for lieutenant governor of South Carolina and calling for Christian parents to remove their children from public education (“Pharoah’s school system”).

Sociologists agree that religion is generally less important in societies where basic existential needs – food, clothing, shelter, education, work – are covered. Even with the global financial crisis of the past few years, the fact is that Americans and other residents of the developed world are still doing extremely well by any standard. Even the poorest countries are gaining ground, which suggests that they too will become more secular over time.

While it’s understandable that believers would worry about secularism’s effect on non-believers’ souls, the widespread sense that a godless society is a lawless society is clearly wrong. A line routinely (though controversially) attributed to Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky sums up the fear of many religious people: “If God does not exist, then everything is permitted.” Yet the plain fact is that over the same period during which America has gotten less religious, crime of all sorts has declined massively, teens are waiting longer to have sex, abortion rates are down, the divorce rate is at a 30-year low, and philanthropic giving remains strong despite economic lassitude.

Christians and other believers can take pride in the fact that moviegoers are shelling out millions of dollars to watch films dealing with religious themes – and that an entertainment industry long hostile to such topics seems ready and willing to deliver whatever the audience wants. And they can also take solace in the fact that, even as America has become an increasingly godless society, it’s become a nicer, safer place to live.

TIME society

Girl Gets Kicked Out of Prom for Having the Nerve to Wear Pants

Shafer Rupard should have known better than to show up to a prom in 2014 wearing pantaloons

For whatever reason, prom season has become a marker both of how far we have come as a society and of how far we still have to go. Signs of advancement (a Massachusetts high school elected a transgender girl prom queen in 2013) are regularly met with opposition to progress (a group of Indiana high schoolers joined together to try to ban gay classmates from a “traditional” prom).

Today’s story that will make you feel right at home in your poodle skirt? A North Carolina senior was asked to leave her prom because she dared to wear… pants. And not just any pants. Skinny jeans. If you can handle this BSFW (barely suitable for work) photo, here’s how Shafer Rupard looked at her Cherryville High School prom:

There are many obvious problems with this situation, not the least of which is that Cherryville High School didn’t even have dress code requirements for its prom (which the school acknowledged to Rupard’s mother Shawn McQuaige, although never actually apologized for).

Beyond that, as McQuaige put it to WBTV News, wearing pants is just the way Ruparb “feel[s] comfortable in her own skin… We want to put out the message to all teenagers that you should be allowed to be yourself.”

(WBTV)

TIME

Paralyzed Woman Goes Surfing Thanks To Duct Tape

Everybody's gone surfing

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They say duct tape can do anything. One man tested that theory by duct taping a paralyzed woman to his back and going surfing. It worked, too.

Pascale Honore was paralyzed in a car accident, but that didn’t stop her from dreaming of surfing, especially as she watched her sons learn the sport in the oceans of Australia.

“I’ve always been active, so I had to be active in a different way,” Honore, 51, told TODAY.com “S— happens and you get on with it. After rehab, I started to look at what I’ve got, [rather than] what I haven’t got.”

Tyron Swan, a now 24-year old friend of her sons and a professional diver, thought he could help.

Swan and Honore hit the beach with a roll of duct tape and an idea. Using a backpack and a roll of the strong tape, Swan was able to rig a harness for Honore that MacGuyver would be proud of. They hit the waves for the first time in December 2012, and have been heading out to the breakers together ever since.

They documented their journey in the 2013 short film, Duct Tape Surfing, and a follow-up is in the works as the duo take on bigger and bigger waves together.

[Via TODAY.com]

MORE: Man Fakes Own Kidnapping to Avoid His Girlfriend

MORE: Gerard Butler for Point Break Remake: Good Reason to Rewatch the Best Part

TIME

30 Crazy Things You Didn’t Know About Sleep

A new parent will lose about 1055.6 hours of sleep in the first year of their child's life… that's almost 44 days

Sleepy’s mattress retailer is pretty pro-sleep. So to help educate a consumer base —and, you know, promote — the company came up with a list of 30 “insane” facts about it. They range from the awesome (gamers are more likely to be able to control their dreams) to depressing (a new parent will lose about 1055.6 hours of sleep in the first year of their child’s life… that’s almost 44 days.)

30 Insane Facts About Sleep

Explore more visuals like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.
 

TIME society

Watch Clippers Star Blake Griffin Dump Water All Over a Warriors Fan

Innocent mistake or act of vengeance?

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When the Los Angeles Clippers’ Blake Griffin fouled out Saturday during his team’s first playoff game against the Golden State Warriors, he was, naturally, pretty unhappy. It appears he just might have taken out some of that frustration on a Warriors fans.

After watching the replay of the foul, Griffin threw his hands in the air — you know, that universal sign for “What the f–k man?” But he just so happened to be holding a cup of water, so he doused a Warriors fan standing behind him.

As Sports Illustrated points out, the man and his friend — both dressed in Warriors t-shirts — had cheered Griffin’s ejection, so he could have done this on purpose. But the fan, 22-year-old Will Meldman, suspects it was an accident.

Honestly, I think it fell out of his hand,” Meldman told Yahoo Sports. “He fouled out and he was frustrated, so it just fell out of his hand. It just slipped out.”

But Meldman’s friend, who was seated beside him the entire game, totally thinks Griffin’s move was intentional. We’ll never know for sure, so let’s all just keep watching the clip over and over:

 

 

TIME society

The Rapture of the Nerds

Gabriel Rothblatt, a pastor at Terasem, photographed at the Terasem ashram in Melbourne Beach, Florida April 7, 2014
Gabriel Rothblatt, a pastor at Terasem, photographed at the Terasem ashram in Melbourne Beach, Florida April 7, 2014 Bob Croslin for TIME

A new religion has set out to store memories for centuries and deliver its believers into a world where our souls can outlive our selves

In the backyard of a cottage here overlooking the water, two poles with metal slats shaped like ribcages jut out from the ground. They look indistinguishable from heat lamps or fancy light fixtures.

These are satellite dishes, but they aren’t for TV. They’re meant for dispatching “mindfiles,” the memories, thoughts and feelings of people who wish to create digital copies of themselves and fling them into space with the belief that they’ll eventually reach some benevolent alien species.

Welcome to the future. Hope you don’t mind E.T. leafing through your diary.

The beach house and the backyard and the memory satellites are managed by 31-year-old Gabriel Rothblatt, a pastor of Terasem, a new sort of religion seeking answers to very old kinds of questions, all with an abiding faith in the transformative power of technology.

“Technology does feel and smell and look and act like a God.”Beneath the cottage is a basement office where the mindfile operation is headquartered. Next door is an ashram, an airy glass building with walls that slide away to reveal a backyard home to a telescope for stargazing and a space to practice yoga. Tucked behind a shroud of greenery, most neighbors don’t even know this house of worship exists.

The name Terasem comes from the Greek word for “Earthseed,” which is also the name for the futuristic religion found in the Octavia Butler sci-fi novel Parable of the Sower that helped inspire Gabriel’s parents, Bina and Martine Rothblatt, to start their new faith. Martine founded the successful satellite radio company Sirius XM in 1990. (Martine was originally known as Martin. She had sex reassignment surgery 20 years ago.)

Organized around four core tenets—“life is purposeful, death is optional, God is technological and love is essential”–Terasem is a “transreligion,” meaning that you don’t have to give up being Christian or Jewish or Muslim to join. In fact, many believers embrace traditional positions held by mainstream religions—including the omnipotence of God and the existence of an afterlife—but say these are made possible by increasing advancements in science and technology.

“Einstein said science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind,” Martine Rothblatt tells TIME. “Bina and I were inspired to find a way for people to believe in God consistent with science and technology so people would have faith in the future.”

Sure, it’s easy to dismiss people who think they can somehow cheat death with a laptop. But Terasem is a potent symbol of a modern way of life where the digital world and the emotional one have become increasingly entwined. It is also a sign, if one from the fringe, of the always evolving relationship between technology and faith. Survey after survey has shown the number of Americans calling themselves “religious” has declined despite the fact that many still identify as “spiritual.” People are searching, and no longer do they look to technology to provide mere order for their lives. They also want meaning. Maybe, it’s time to hack our souls.

DIGITAL SCRAPBOOKING
While there may seem nothing so new-fangled as thousands of people broadcasting their innermost thoughts to outer space, technology has always played a role in shaping religious practice and belief.

“Technology does feel and smell and look and act like a God, at least sometimes,” says John Modern, a Professor of Religious Studies at Franklin & Marshall College. “So it’s certainly logical that someone would see the power of technology and locate their faith in it.”

Some believers in Terasem are motivated by a longing similar to one shared by followers of more familiar faiths–a desire to be reunited with people who have passed. Linda Chamberlain, cofounder of the cryonics company Alcor Life Extension Foundation and an active Terasemian, anticipates that one day in the future she’ll be reanimated alongside her husband Fred, who passed away a few years ago, and they can explore space together. Giulio Prisco, an Italian physicist who practices Terasem, says he hopes he’ll finally be reunited with his mother.

Though from the outside Terasem might look a little kooky, some ideas at its center resonate with Silicon Valley’s mainstream where millions of dollars are being spent to research how technology can alter the end of life and beyond. People like Google’s Larry Page and PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel are investing in projects focused on life extension and rejuvenation.

Bina and Martine Rothblatt
A portrait of Bina and Martine Rothblatt (left to right) photographed in April 2010. George Tolbert

Portraits on the wall of Terasem’s Florida headquarters show people who have attended the organization’s meetings in the past, some of whom are among the tech industry’s most radical thinkers. Marvin Minsky, who helped start MIT’s artificial intelligence lab, is there. So is Google engineer Ray Kurzweil, one of the world’s most prominent proponents of transhumanism, an intellectual movement that shaped Terasem and animates many avant garde ideas in Silicon Valley.

Born nearly a century ago with a spike in popularity in the 1990s, transhumanism advocates for the ethical use of technology to transcend biology and enhance humanity’s physical and intellectual abilities. Google Glass, artificial limbs—even birth control, as one transhumanist told me—are ways in which we can harness technology to upgrade our biology. And one day, if the mindfile system works the way it’s supposed to, we just might be able to leave our physical bodies behind and transmit our brains into computerized vessels.

Johnny Depp puts a face, or at least a voice, to that far-out vision with the release of Transcendence Friday. Depp plays a terminally ill artificial intelligence researcher who uploads his consciousness into a computer, a plot that will land many of the ideas behind Terasem in movie theaters around the world.

“Some folks have seen this coming for 40 or 50 years,” says director Wally Pfister, who won an Oscar as the cinematographer for Christopher Nolan’s mind-bender Inception. “The moment they saw the power of computing they said, ‘Okay, at a certain point this is going to get to the point where we can either transcend the human mind or merge the human mind or build it into something greater, and that’s fascinating.”

The ability to control the universe like some sort of galaxy genie probably isn’t going to happen no matter how many times you watch The Matrix, and even if it does, it’s not going to be any time soon. But though the majority of transhumanists identify as atheists or agnostics, some have flocked to new religions like Terasem, which satisfy a yen for a spiritual sustenance in people whose lives are increasingly devoted to technology.

Terasem counts its Florida cottage and a solar-powered cabin in Lincoln, Vermont as its primary homes. It’s in Vermont that the Rothblatts keep a robot named BINA48. The machine is modeled after Martine’s wife, Bina, and was built to see just how precisely a robot loaded with mindfiles can resemble a living, breathing human being.

Roboterdame Bina48
Bina48 talks to her designing engineer Bruce Duncan at a press date in Wetzlar, Germany, March 15, 2013. Frank Rumpenhorst—DPA/AP

Terasem’s followers are dedicated to studying and raising awareness about what they call “personal cyberconciousness”—the creation of mindfiles. They believe that by ritualistically recording your thoughts and feelings with great detail, you can ultimately assemble a digital copy of yourself, available for future use.

To start, you write down or record a video of you talking about a thought, memory or feeling, and upload it to a website. You can also choose to have each mindfile beamed out into the universe—hence the satellites. So far more than 32,000 people have created free mindfile accounts.

The mindfiles are stored on servers located in both Vermont and Florida, and by using Terasem’s services you accept their promise that they will protect those files for the long-term future, making it possible for some not-yet-invented software to organize those files into an approximation of your consciousness so they can be uploaded into an artificial body 50, 100, 500 years from now.

“A lot of people have problems digesting” the idea, Gabriel says. “Instead of saying ‘mindfiling,’ I say ‘digital scrapbooking.”

The basement of the Terasem Movement Inc. cottage is the heart of its CyBeRev project, housing servers where users’ files are stored and the desk of a full-time programmer who keeps the shop up and running.

The cottage is also where Lori Rhodes, who helps run Terasem Movement Inc., the group’s educational non-profit, and Nikki Knudsen, Terasem’s financial manager, have their offices. The irony that people who smoke cigarettes make up a significant part of the staff for a movement dedicated to life extension isn’t lost on them.

Both Knudsen and Rhodes came to Terasem by happenstance: Knudsen, 38, was introduced through Rhodes’ sister, and Rhodes, 51, who had previously worked as a paralegal, found Terasem in 2005 through an online job advertisement for a compliance manager.

“Most people say, ‘Oh, it looks like a cult,’” Rhodes says. “My older sister did. When she first looked at it, she told me, ‘Don’t work for that organization. It looks like a cult and you’ll be blacklisted in the legal community.”

“But any religion starts with just a few members,” Rhodes says. “And I guess organized religion is cultish.”

ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL
Until 2011, Gabriel was a manager at a local pizza restaurant. Now, he spends most of his time running for Congress in a longshot campaign to get on the Democratic ballot to challenge Rep. Bill Posey this fall.

One afternoon this winter, Gabriel set up a small table advertising his candidacy at a home and garden expo. The crowd was made up of mostly white, upper-middle class baby boomers searching for the perfect garden hose or a nice new backsplash for their freshly renovated kitchen.

“When we can joyfully all experience techno immortality, then God is complete.”In a district that went 59 percent for Posey, a Republican, in 2012, Gabriel’s status as a Democrat may be just as much a stumbling block as Terasem. “He’s probably for Obamacare,” said one man as he walked by Gabriel’s table.

“My opponent has already begun using Terasem against me,” Gabriel tells me one night over dinner about Corry Westbrook, a former legislative director for the National Wildlife Foundation. “She says I’m inexperienced and bizarre…that I’m part of a cult.” Later, after giving me a tour of the ashram, he says that Westbrook has taken to telling people he “worships computers.” (Westbrook did not return requests for comment.)

Though one of Terasem’s core tenets is “God is technological,” Gabriel insists that’s not to be taken literally—instead, it’s meant to convey the notion that the way that you envision God directly influences your life.

It’s not exactly difficult to see how someone could misinterpret a bold statement like “God is technological.” It just sounds kind of nuts. Plus, a religion governed by a zealous devotion to technology is bound to attract critics.

Rhodes puts it more bluntly: “Some people call it the rapture of the nerds.”

“For us God is in-the-making by our collective efforts to make technology ever more omnipresent, omnipotent and ethical,” Martine says. “When we can joyfully all experience techno immortality, then God is complete.” (Martine, who rarely speaks to the press, answered questions sent by e-mail.)

When you possess this amount of reverence—and, yes, faith—in the power of science, it starts to mirror religious belief, particularly when the possibilities you believe future technologies will have—like omnipotence and the ability to resurrect the dead—are similar to ones mainstream religions ascribe to God. This is how technology becomes religion, and how God becomes a computer.

Now, in 2014, technology can do almost everything for us—alleviate loneliness, send taxis and hairstylists and groceries to our doorstep, even make people resigned to a life of silence hear again—but it can’t bring the people we love back from the beyond.

At least, the Terasemians say, not yet.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the ownership of the Melbourne Beach home where the Terasem movement operates.

TIME society

How Men And Women Differ When Drawing Up The ‘Perfect Body’

Spoiler alert: They all look like supermodels

In case you needed more fodder for a “depressingly unrealistic body expectations” Pinterest board, lingerie shop Bluebella.com polled 500 men and 500 women to create mashup images illustrating how the sexes differ when it comes to their “perfect body.”

And so began a game of commodifying different celebrities’ body parts to be photoshopped into the super-celebrity body. Here’s the “perfect” woman:

BlueBella.com

“It’s great to see such a range of ages and shapes,” BlueBella founder Emily Bendell said.

She praised men for picking curvaceous ideals, like Kim Kardashian’s breasts and Michelle Keegan’s “shapely tummy.”

Note: This is how “shapely” is getting defined

Meanwhile, women were progressively throwing out a lifeline to the over-40 crowd. “Who would have thought mother of two in her 40s in Gwyneth Paltrow would come top of the female poll for the best toned tummy?” Bendell asked. “And it is great that in her sixth decade Elle Macpherson is still seen as a style icon by so many women.”

And here is the “perfect” man—one of whom perplexing boasts Harry Styles’ hair:

BlueBella.com

Totally different.

“What this survey shows,” said Bendell, “is that beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.”

TIME viral

Guy Attempting to Take a Selfie in Front of a Speeding Train Gets Kicked in Head by Conductor

This is the world we now live in

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A guy attempting to take a selfie in front of an oncoming train has learned an important lesson. That lesson is: maybe don’t attempt to take a selfie in front of an oncoming train.

He’s got his serious selfie face all ready when all of a sudden the train’s conductor lets out a yell and then sticks out his leg, kicking the guy square in the head.

This would-be selfie-taker, Jared Michael, posted a video of these action-packed 10 seconds on YouTube, explaining, “I tried to take a selfie while a train passed a ‘safe’ distance behind. I guess I was still too close and got kicked in the head. I messed up.”

“Messed up.” Yes, that about sums it up.

(h/t Business Insider)

TIME society

This Interactive Map Shows The Most Popular Music in America

The latest data visualization of Americans’ music preferences is a heat map that plays different types of music as it shows which parts of the country like particular genres the most.

The rock and oldies, blues, folk, rock, punk, metal and rap & hip-hop genres seem to have the most universal appeal, according to “The All-American Music Map”, which is based on data from the National Endowment of the Arts, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis through the Martin Prosperity Institute, and state level music preferences from Wikipedia. There’s a full breakdown of city preferences on the website for Movoto, a national online real estate brokerage firm in the Bay Area.

TIME society

No Salary, No Benefits, No Sleep: This Is The World’s Toughest Job

Only the strong survive

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A company placed this classified ad looking to fill a Director of Operations position.

The job had a mandatory 135+ hours a week of work and required the job holder to be on call at all times, day or night. Qualified candidates should have a knowledge of psychology, medicine, personal finance, culinary arts and basic technology skills. The job also had physical requirements: the ability to stand for hours, lift up to 75 pounds, be constantly moving and operate on little to no sleep.

While the nation’s jobless claims may have dropped to the lowest levels since 2007, 24 people responded to the job posting at Rehtom, Inc., even though the position offered no medical or dental benefits, no pension and no paid holidays, but did offer “infinite opportunities for personal growth and rewards.”

The 24 applicants were interviewed via webcam. That’s when they got the surprise of their life. The video is worth watching all the way to the end.

[Via Adweek]

MORE: It Doesn’t Matter Where You Go to College

MORE: Here Are the Absolute Best (and Worst) Jobs of the Future

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