January 8th, 2013
07:00 AM ET
My take: 'Atheist' isn’t a dirty word, congresswoman
Editor’s note: Chris Stedman is the author of "Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious" and the assistant humanist chaplain at Harvard. You can follow him on Twitter at @ChrisDStedman.
By Chris Stedman, Special to CNN
(CNN)—This year, Congress welcomed the first Buddhist senator and first Hindu elected to either chamber of Congress, and the Pew Forum noted that this “gradual increase in religious diversity … mirrors trends in the country as a whole.”
But Pew also noted one glaring deficiency: Religious “nones” were largely left outside the halls of Congress, despite one in five Americans now saying they don’t affiliate with a religion.
There is, however, one newly elected “none” — but she seems to think "atheist" is a dirty word.
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, was sworn in a few days ago without a Bible, and she is the first member of Congress to openly describe her religious affiliation as “none.” Although 10 other members don’t specify a religious affiliation — up from six members in the previous Congress — Sinema is the only to officially declare “none.”
This has gotten Sinema a fair amount of attention from the media. Many identified her as an atheist during her congressional campaign, and after she won, sources touted her as a nontheist. Even this past weekend, Politico declared in a headline: “Non-believers on rise in Congress.”
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But there’s a slight issue: Sinema doesn’t actually appears to be a nonbeliever. In response to news stories identifying her as an atheist, her campaign released this statement shortly after her victory: “(Rep. Sinema) believes the terms non-theist, atheist or non-believer are not befitting of her life’s work or personal character.”
As a nontheist, atheist and nonbeliever (take your pick), I find this statement deeply problematic.
It is perfectly fine, of course, if Sinema isn’t a nontheist, and it is understandable that she would want to clarify misinformation about her personal beliefs. But to say that these terms are “not befitting of her life’s work or personal character” is offensive because it implies there is something unbefitting about the lives and characters of atheists or nonbelievers.
Christmas exposes atheist divide on dealing with religion
Try substituting a religious group of your choice in place of atheist if you don’t agree: “[Rep. Sinema] believes the term Muslim is not befitting of her life’s work or personal character.” Does that sound right? It shouldn’t.
Of course, many do view Muslims as unfit for political office. In that respect, political opponents have regularly misidentified President Obama as a Muslim. Many have defended the president from such attacks by noting that Obama is a Christian.
But former Republican Secretary of State Colin Powell rightly pointed out the pernicious underlying message such a defense sends:
Just as Muslim is used as a political smear, politicians seem to avoid "atheist."
This is probably because the American electorate views both Muslims and atheists more unfavorably than they do other groups: According to a Gallup poll released in June, only 58% of Americans would vote for a “generally well-qualified” Muslim candidate, and only 54% would vote for an atheist. (This is the first time that number has been above 50% for an atheist candidate.) By contrast, 91% would vote for a Jewish candidate, 94% for a Catholic and 80% for a Mormon.
There seems to be a greater general tolerance for, or blindness to, comments that marginalize or diminish atheists than those aimed at other groups.
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Prominent individuals like Powell rightfully decry anti-Muslim fear-mongering in politics, but few speak out against those who wield accusations of atheism as a political weapon.
Whether people don’t see it or simply aren’t bothered isn’t clear, but it remains a problem.
I respect Sinema’s right to self-identify as she chooses, and I don’t wish to speculate about her religious beliefs. But while I celebrate that she is comfortable enough to openly identify as bisexual, I find her response to being labeled an atheist troubling.
Why not instead say that she’s not an atheist, but so what if she was?
The 113th Congress is rich with diversity. As an interfaith activist, I am glad to see the religious composition of Congress more closely reflect the diversity of America. As a queer person, I’m glad that LGBT Americans are seeing greater representation in Washington.
But as a proud atheist and humanist, I’m disheartened that the only member of Congress who openly identifies as nonreligious has forcefully distanced herself from atheism in a way that puts down those of us who do not believe in God.
We are Americans of good character, too.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Chris Stedman.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.
NEITHER IS CHRISTMAS but democrats and atheists think different.
You say may god have mercy on your soul.....but you didn't say which of the 1300 gods now being worship would do that?
'Atheist' isn’t a dirty word,......
No it isn't...... but it is a word that TERRIFIES THE RELIGIOUS...
"As a nontheist, atheist and nonbeliever (take your pick), I find this statement deeply problematic."
No, Stedman... you jackwagon. Read your own article! You quote her campaign as saying this about her. Only someone as egotistical as yourself would take what she said about HER OWN BELIEFS and try to extrapolate some slur about the way you choose to live your life.
All she/they said was that one particular label doesn't fit who and what she is... get over it. She/they made no judgment about the label itself...
There was a man who bragged that he possessess the longest stick world could ever known. One day he goes out to the ocean to prove to the world that he could tap the depths of the deepest ocean using his stick. But when tried to dip it into the ocean, it fails to reach the bottom.
After few tries, he gave-up. Then went back to the shore but instead of finding more sticks to add the lenght of his stick, he preached to all the people he met saying: Ocean, like iced tea in a bar, is bottomless.
Then, he became, an aoceanist.
I am not an atheist, I am a Christian, but I just want to say that this is one of the dumbest, most childish, unhelpful, uninsightful stories that I have ever heard. It adds absolutely nothing to the conversation, other than making the teller of the story feel as if they have somehow contributed to the conversation in some deep, mystical way that is impossible to argue against. I hope one day you realize how little sense there is in this story, and may God have mercy on your soul.
You say may god have mercy on your soul.....but you didn't say which of the 1300 gods now being worship would do that?
It depends how you would define "dirty".
I don't think dirt is dirty... dirt is just dirt......but I guess many people do think it's dirty...
Atheist is a dirty word. Just like you wouldnt want someone labeled a rapist or murderer as a politican you wouldnt want an atheist. They have no grounding for their worldviews and everything is subjective which is dangerous when your trying to run a society.
That's funny. I thought bigotry was a dirty word.
I don't mind being called an atheist. May the Flying Spaghetti Monster bless you and your family.
It's good to see you take history seriously.
Now, I'll have a plate of nothing, sprinkled with some ignorance.
Be sure its been marinated in bigotry as well.
Religion demands ignorance. It cannot survive inquisitiveness.
King James Version (KJV)
32 Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.
33 But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.
so your saying that the world around us is not a very good ground for understanding? Your telling me that your ancient rewritten and retranslated book of magic sky wizard entries is more plausible than looking at what is literally in front of me? And what of the crusades that was more dangerous than pondering what might really be going on in the world? Talk about wasting human life, good riddance really as those people might as well as been fighting about their preference over the colors red or blue.
Comparing atheists to rapists and murderers shows that people wouldn't want to be described as a "juliusafricanus".
Atheist is not a dirty word. How could you even say that? Atheist are not like rapist or murderers, they aren't all that bad. I know an atheist who is godly, but she doesn't believe in god. She is amazing, and you label her to be as bad as a murderer or rapist? Her not believing in a god makes her unable to show her worldviews?
So the only reason you can be a good person is that God will punish you in the afterlife if you don't? If God isn't looking for a minute you areallowed to do whatever becuase you won't get caught?
I would rather have an atheist that will do the right thing – treat everyone with respect and dignitiy and work towards teh betterment of society as a whole – becuase it is the right thing than becuase he feels being punished at some future date.
I have known far too many Christians that failt to live their faith and act very poorly becuase they can go to church and be forgiven for their sins. They have given up responsbility for being good people because Jesus will save tehm.
I believe it was Ghandi the said "I loke your Christ very much. Your Christians not so much"
julius, you are a fool. I'm an atheist (and proud of it) and have a moral code I wish more so called christians would follow... it's called the golden rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". Some of the most immoral people I've ever met have professed to be very religious.
If you really believed that concrete, objective morality is real then you would have to admit that slavery is moral. That’s the danger of objective morality, it can’t change or grow. But somehow we changed it.
While I agree that people shouldn't behave as if admitting you are an Atheist = shame, perhaps she really wasn't best described by any of those terms. Perhaps she is a neo-pagan and just wants her privacy. Did she ever define herself?
She said she was a religous none. Seems to me she thinks the a word is a bad word. It means she's an apologist coward.
Santa Clause, easter bunny are real?
It seems from your question, you are asking a holy Hispanic sentence fragment if the Easter bunny is for real. That being the case, if you've seen an Easter Bunny, and I've seen plenty of chocolate ones, then a holy Hispanic sentence fragment can also exist.
I hope this clarifies it for you.
With a name like C. Dick Dawkins, I'd hardly be making comments that mild pedophilia wasn't harmful or that perhaps the Roman Catholic Church has received too much criticism for it's pedophilia among priests. But this is what we get when WE decide and define absolute truth and morality. Oh, and let's not forget another eminent atheists' (Lawrence Krauss) comment that incest isn't really all that bad either.
So, the rediculous statment of one athiest is what you've got? How about we lump all Christians into the group of gw bush and bill orially.
Christians, at least by definition, believe in the Bible–we have a reference point. You claim knowledge is freedom-and the pre-eminent thinkers in your corner, for better or worse, are people like C. Dick Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss. With Hitchens out of the way, you've been sacked with the B-Team-and that's too bad.
So again, the rest of us can only judge atheists by their leading spokesmen. And your 'learned' men think mild pedophilia and incest are, well, ok.
There is no spokesman for people who do not believe in gods. It ends there. They have many different opinions on life. Your effort to zero in on a person or two just shows a simple-minded approach to understanding the infinite number of possibilities open to atheists.
I give an Atheist a rock to look at. That piece of Earth maybe just a piece of Earth to them.
Not exactly, there is a lot interesting stuff to learn about a piece of rock, like what is it made of? how old is it? is it alive or not? is there anything living in or on it? how was it formed? A piece of rock is never just a piece of rock.
Right, and to a fundamentalist windbag, every rock on Earth has some magical destiny, some purpose, of which we poor sap humans cannot comprehend. What baloney!
Atheism may not be a dirty word, but their leading spokespersons seem to condone dirty things....with Dawkins stating pedophilia isn't damaging and Lawrence Krauss with his comments on incest. And they jump on money-grubbing preachers. Sheesh.
You are misquoting Dawkins, he did not say that paedophilia wasn't damaging, he just said that he didn't believe that his very brief encounter with a paedophile teacher at school hadn't damaged him very much, it was a personal comment about his own feelings as a victim, not a statement about all paedophiles and their victims. Words and their context are important, you can't just change a few around to pretend people said things they didn't.
It isn't a misquote. In fact, he went further and said the Roman Catholic Church is getting a bad rap for the pedophilia scandal. You need to read up some more on what he said.
And many Catholic priests are pedophiles. Does that make Catholicism a dirty word? If you are going to judge a whole group by the actions of a few I'd say you might be putting yourself on shaky ground.
Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.
Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet.
– Napoleon Bonaparte
"Protestant clergy don’t believe in anything except their well-being and office".
– Adolph Hitler
Organized religion is the bane of true spirituality.
and that's just me, hollering from the choir loft...
No its not the bain of anything but for those that are left out because they choose a hedonistic lifestyle where anything goes. Why would anyone waste there time argueing aout something they don't believe exists.If you don't believe God exists then let it be.Is He hurting you?
'God' is not hurting anyone because he doesn't exist, however those who believe he exists and use that excuse to abdicate responsibility for their actions because it's 'Gods will' to torture and kill people do untold harm. as well as those who try and squash human development and progress because 'God doesn't like it', and generally try to force their beliefs on others either by literal force or by deception and coercion do massive damage to the human race and this planet and must be stopped.
What does not exist can not hurt, but the vile hateful sicophants who folow this cult are dangerous and freedom hating..
"Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the land, and unto all the inhabitants thereof."-taken from the Christian Bible and placed on the LIBERTY Bell.
You can twist it, but you can't change it.
Non-affiliation with a religion does not necessarily imply that one is atheist. It simply means one hasn't joined a club.
One can even be a deist like Thomas Jefferson and still retain respect for the Almighty. I agree it's not logical for a founder of government, which specializes in meddling to state that God does not meddle in the affairs of men. Whoever said that anything about the Federal government was agreeable?
Those that disbelieve in the Holy Trinity never examined the three branches of the dysfunctional American government. Worshipped from sea to polluted sea the Federal system claims itself to be holy and inviolate – a veritable god on earth to the peons who worship its flag – even putting it in an exalted place in their houses of worship.
Atheism does not disbelieve in God. The god of Ameica lives in Washington, DC. Woody Allen once said that he believed there was something watching us all. It turned out to be the government, he said. What's not to like about such a situation and who is to say an atheist doesn't believe in worshipping a god. The religious right have been bowing and kow towing to the Federal government for years – sacrificing their crosses and holy god upon its altar every Sunday morning.
but that's just me, hollering from the choir loft...
WOW! What a wonderfully pointless comment.
So, god is the American government... even thought the Bible, Christianity (as well pretty much every other religion) and the Trinity doctrine were around for about 2000 years before America.
Your analogies only work if you're already a conspiracy nut.
"In the United States many churches display the American flag. The Christian flag is usually put on one side and the American flag on the other. Does having two flags in your church mean that Christianity and the American establishment are equal? If it does, you are really in trouble."
– Francis Schaeffer
Americans put the flag in an exalted position above the cross. No pulpit in the land dares to declare in righteous tones the real crime. It isn't the gay life style, its American aggression and the domination of the world by its economic and military hegemony.
and that's just me, hollering from the choir loft...
yes, i'm sure churches in Europe and Asia put the American flag next to the Christian flag too (sarcasm), your statements are meaningless and flawed, you quoted Adolf Hitler and Napoleon Bonaparte, does anyone else have a problem with this?
An atheist does not believe that any gods and definitely not the abrahamic god of islam, christianity, or judaism exist. Most of us also don't believe in spirits, fairies, vampires or any other supernatural nonsense.
That which is worshipped and held in highest honor is a god to those who kow tow to it. In that sense, then, atheists as well as American Christians bow the knee to the ultimate symbol – the flag. For the one, it is political expediency. For the other it is idolatry.
and that's just me, hollering from the choir loft...
Nor can you prove such things do not exist. So your belief to the contrary means nothing...
It is a last ditch excuse effort when someone says "you can't prove me wrong."
I can't prove vampires don't exist but that still doesn't mean it is anymore likely either. And, all you're doing by saying that is that you admit your beliefs are just as silly as all the other magical and supernatural claims/beliefs.
eeLymmoT "It is a last ditch excuse effort when someone says "you can't prove me wrong."
I can't prove vampires don't exist but that still doesn't mean it is anymore likely either. And, all you're doing by saying that is that you admit your beliefs are just as silly as all the other magical and supernatural claims/beliefs."
You can't prove vampires don't exist.....really? That is probably one of the most ridiculous things i have ever read.
@Krhodes That depends on your definition of vampires and how good they are at hiding themselves, in order to prove that vampires don't exist you would first have to have some agreement as to what a vampire is and how to spot one, as you can see from the available literature and folklore there is massive disagreement about that, some people think they shine in sunlight and some think they explode. It really is impossible to prove that some being similar to a vampire doesn't exist, especially if you take into account the possibilities of outer space.
Having said that until someone provides me with solid proof that vampires DO exist or I encounter one myself I shall continue under the assumption that they don't.
Krodes, really? So hot shot, lay out the evidence that PROVES vampires are not real. If you can prove it, write a disertation and you will be rich and fsmous. But the truth is it is it100% impossible to prove a negitive. You can only prove the charistics false, and the evidence that false, thus voiding a positive argument. But that is the confusuon when people use lay definitions for scientific words, the same falisy applys to the word theory.
You watch alote of cartoons I bet. And its apparent you like to babble incoherently. You really don't make sense.Try reading what you wrote here tomorrow.
Um, if you think the statment is bable, you must have failed/never took intro to philosphy or basic science. His argument is sound
atheism is incompatible w/the Declaration of Independence.
I agree with your thoughts on atheism.
you should be euthanized
Perhaps the Declaration of Independence is not wholly compatible with reality.
I see our two public school graduates have responded.
Elliot, you don't seem to understand how to put together a logical argument, just like you don't seem to understand what "non sequitur" means. Good luck to you.
Why is atheism incompatible with the DofI? Prove that the DofI's references to a creator or nature's god accurately reflect reality, and are incompatible with atheism.
HAA....since you replied w/the least juvenile comment, The DOI was the codifying of what our (or in this instance–my) Founders believed to be the source and sustenance of man's liberties. They further looked to God as the judge of their actions. Furthermore, they took this oath seriously pledging their lives, fortunes and sacred honor. This wasn't some blog post. Most historians count it among, if not the greatest expressions of liberty and freedom ever devised by man. It was adopted by Congress-it is the basis of our law.
That you apparently find it not based in reality says quite a bit about how you view this wonderful country of ours.
Perhaps you'd prefer God left out-that happened-with France; it didn't quite work out that well. That is, of course, if you like that sort of thing.
You said, "atheism is incompatible w/the Declaration of Independence."
Even if that were the case, how is that relevant? The Declaration of Independence is not the basis of this country, but merely a notice to the king of the founders' intent to start it.
The country's foundation is in the Constitution, which clearly puts atheism at the same level as any religion.
Niether is Christianity.
I'd love to see your reasoning behind that statement but I expect there isn't any.
Yesterday morning there was a knock at my door. A pleasant and enthusiastic young couple were there.
John: "Hi! I'm John, and this is Mary."
Mary: "Hi! We're here to invite you to come kiss Hank's ass with us."
Me: "Pardon me?! What are you talking about? Who's Hank, and why would I want to kiss His ass?"
John: "If you kiss Hank's ass, He'll give you a million dollars; and if you don't, He'll kick the guts out of you."
Me: "What? Is this some sort of bizarre mob shake-down?"
John: "Hank is a billionaire philanthropist. Hank built this town. Hank owns this town. He can do whatever He wants, and what He wants is to give you a million dollars, but He can't until you kiss His ass."
Me: "That doesn't make any sense. Why..."
Mary: "Who are you to question Hank's gift? Don't you want a million dollars? Isn't it worth a little kiss on the ass?"
Me: "Well maybe, if it's legit, but..."
John: "Then come kiss Hank's ass with us."
Me: "Do you kiss Hank's ass often?"
Mary: "Oh yes, all the time..."
Me: "And has He given you a million dollars?"
John: "Well no. You don't actually get the money until you leave town."
Me: "So why don't you just leave town now?"
Mary: "You can't leave until Hank tells you to, or you don't get the money, and He kicks the guts out of you."
Me: "Do you know anyone who kissed Hank's ass, left town, and got the million dollars?"
John: "My mother kissed Hank's ass for years. She left town last year, and I'm sure she got the money."
Me: "Haven't you talked to her since then?"
John: "Of course not, Hank doesn't allow it."
Me: "So what makes you think He'll actually give you the money if you've never talked to anyone who got the money?"
Mary: "Well, maybe you'll get a raise, maybe you'll win a small lotto, maybe you'll just find a twenty-dollar bill on the street."
Me: "What's that got to do with Hank?"
John: "In this town, Hank is the same as good luck. All good things are attributed to Hank'"
Me: "I'm sorry, but this sounds like some sort of bizarre con game."
John: "But it's a million dollars, can you really take the chance? And remember, if you don't kiss Hank's ass He'll kick the guts out of you."
Me: "Maybe if I could see Hank, talk to Him, get the details straight from Him..."
Mary: "No one sees Hank, no one talks to Hank."
Me: "Then how do you kiss His ass?"
John: "Sometimes we just blow Him a kiss, and think of His ass. Other times we kiss Karl's ass, and he passes it on."
Me: "Who's Karl?"
Mary: "A friend of ours. He's the one who taught us all about kissing Hank's ass. All we had to do was take him out to dinner a few times."
Me: "And you just took his word for it when he said there was a Hank, that Hank wanted you to kiss His ass, and that Hank would reward you?"
John: "Oh no! Karl has a letter he got from Hank years ago explaining the whole thing. Here's a copy; see for yourself."
From the Desk of Karl
1. Kiss Hank's ass and He'll give you a million dollars when you leave town.
2. Use alcohol in moderation.
3. Kick the guts out of people who aren't like you.
4. Eat right.
5. Hank dictated this list Himself.
6. The moon is made of green cheese.
7. Everything Hank says is right.
8. Wash your hands after going to the bathroom.
9. Don't use alcohol.
10. Eat your wieners on buns, no condiments.
11. Kiss Hank's ass or He'll kick the guts out of you.
Me: "This appears to be written on Karl's letterhead."
Mary: "Hank didn't have any paper."
Me: "I have a hunch that if we checked we'd find this is Karl's handwriting."
John: "Of course, Hank dictated it."
Me: "I thought you said no one gets to see Hank?"
Mary: "Not now, but years ago He would talk to some people."
Me: "I thought you said He was a philanthropist. What sort of philanthropist kicks the guts out of people just because they're different?"
Mary: "It's what Hank wants, and Hank's always right."
Me: "How do you figure that?"
Mary: "Item 7 says 'Everything Hank says is right.' That's good enough for me!"
Me: "Maybe your friend Karl just made the whole thing up."
John: "No way! Item 5 says 'Hank dictated this list himself.' Besides, item 2 says 'Use alcohol in moderation,' Item 4 says 'Eat right,' and item 8 says 'Wash your hands after going to the bathroom.' Everyone knows those things are right, so the rest must be true, too."
Me: "But 9 says 'Don't use alcohol.' which doesn't quite go with item 2, and 6 says 'The moon is made of green cheese,' which is just plain wrong."
John: "There's no contradiction between 9 and 2, 9 just clarifies 2. As far as 6 goes, you've never been to the moon, so you can't say for sure."
Me: "Scientists have pretty firmly established that the moon is made of rock..."
Mary: "But they don't know if the rock came from the Earth, or from out of space, so it could just as easily be green cheese."
Me: "I'm not really an expert, but not knowing where the rock came from doesn't make it plausible that it might be made of cheese."
John: "Ha! You just admitted that scientists don’t know everything, but we know Hank is always right!"
Me: "We do?"
Mary: "Of course we do, Item 7 says so."
Me: "You're saying Hank's always right because the list says so, the list is right because Hank dictated it, and we know that Hank dictated it because the list says so. That's circular logic, no different than saying 'Hank's right because He says He's right.'"
John: "Now you're getting it! It's so rewarding to see someone come around to Hank's way of thinking."
Me: "But...oh, never mind.
wow. so clever.
Sometimes technology isn't a good thing.
An atheist was seated next to a little girl on an airplane and he turned to her and said, "Do you want to talk? Flights go quicker if you strike up a conversation with your fellow passenger."
The little girl, who had just started to read her book, replied to the total stranger, "What would you want to talk about?"
" Oh, I don't know," said the atheist. "How about why there is no God, or no Heaven or Hell, or no life after death?" as he smiled smugly.
"OK," she said. "Those could be interesting topics but let me ask you a question first. A horse, a cow, and a deer all eat the same stuff – grass. Yet a deer excretes little pellets, while a cow turns out a flat patty, but a horse produces clumps. Why do you suppose that is?"
The atheist, visibly surprised by the little girl's intelligence, thinks about it and says, "Hmmm, I have no idea." To which the little girl replies, "Do you really feel qualified to discuss why there is no God, or no Heaven or Hell, or no life after death, when you don't know crap?" And then she went back to reading her book.
Just another very old, plug-in-the-group-to-trash joke.
Ya and fully irrelevant. Just a dim witted Thiests atempt to fein intelligence.
They all digest the grass differently.
Brilliant, thank you.
Sounds like every thiestic argument I have ever encountered.
Awesome. That is incredibly funny and hopefully eye-opening.
Athiest National Holiday: April 1st
Typical theist comment: an insult.
It isn't atheists that are saying "to hell with Jesus' teachings"... it's his own followers. Atheists just aren't being hypocritical about it.
How sad it must be for him to have to rely on the hatefulness of his believers to spread his divine, loving message. It's no wonder nonbelief is spreading faster than any religion.
Agreed, though admittedly I can be quite crass on the subject. And if Christianity is right, I bet jeebus is looking down from his cloud and thinking, "I died for these azz hats? Man I got the Jew." Lol, its funny becsuse he was a Jew.
Actually, that is not true at all.... at least not worldwide.