Contrary to what so many of us want to believe, humans are not wired to act only as individuals; we are also wired to be intensely social. In his March 14, 2012 TED presentation, Jonathan Haidt characterized humans as half-bee. We aren’t completely socially integrated like bees–our social side clashes with our individualistic side. These two aspects of what it means to be human—our proud individualism and our craving to meld our selves with each other in large social groupings–often conflict with each other. As a result, human “hives” (the many types of human social groupings) don’t run as smoothly as the hives of true bees. Haidt argues that the scientific study of this inner-conflict offers us powerful insights into such things as religion, existential angst and warmongering.
Haidt began his 18-minute talk by asking for a show of hands. How many people in the audience consider themselves to be “religious?” Only a few raised their hands, yet a strong majority of the audience members declared themselves to be “spiritual.” Why is it that that so many people who don’t consider themselves to be religious do consider themselves to be spiritual?
[More . . .]
I considered writing something about the recent primaries in Michigan and Arizona, in advance of Super Tuesday, but things have become so mind-numbingly bizarre I’m not sure I’d have anything relevant to say, at least not about this particular election cycle. As a personal observation, I’d like to say that any of the Republican candidates […]
At the end of a social event on the weekend before Mardi Gras, a casual friend asked a surprising question. I was bedecked with beads, primarily in purple and gold. This Catholic friend comes up and says something like, “Why are you all dressed up for the Christian holiday? Don’t you believe that anyone who believes in God is stupid?”
Dumbfounded. It took me a moment to parse this and compose a reply. As we were all heading out the door, I didn’t have time to fully answer all the implied misconceptions. So I said something on the order of, “I don’t think that; I know many smart people who are faithful.”
Let me first detail a minor misconception. Sociologically, rituals are important. Mardi Gras (literally Fat Tuesday, also Shrove Tuesday) was adopted by Christians from the earlier Carnival, and Saturnalia before that. It is a long standing late winter festival ending the season of harvest plenty in the days when food preservation was limited, and entering the lean period of rationing until the spring produce appeared (greens, lambs, milk, etc). And festivities are fun, whatever the nominal purpose. The Holy Roman church had so successfully rebranded all the pagan festivals that most Christians are unaware of the deeper not-Jesus purpose behind them, even as they embrace all the pre-Christian trappings.
But the big issue is the perception that I, an an atheist, think that Christians (the majority faith at present time and place) are stupid. Many converted Atheists do vehemently decry their former faith and deride its practitioners, as do Dawkins and Hitchens. My parents converted from religious to irreligious, and so I was raised without a particular god and with their lower expectations of people of faith. But that didn’t stick.
I grew up as a closeted atheist. On Sunday mornings I was dragged to a secular Sunday School where I had to wear jacket and tie from the age of 5. It didn’t fool my church going peers. I opted for the less hated liberal-Jew label that try to explain that all invisible friends seemed equally improbable to me. I endured various epithets in public schools hurled at non-Christians by the God fearing. But as I grew older and my peers become more reasonable, I started talking to them about such things.
I was actually less surprised to find people of deep faith at my fairly-high-standards college than I was to find sports fans. One of my closest college friends was a Young Earth, Born Again sort. I admit that I would sometimes light his fuse in a room full of geology or astronomy types, just to see to what heights his rationalizations could wax. (Anyone else visualizing Ceiling wax?)
I have also been reading arguments from both sides of the God conjecture since puberty. The problem is not whether one side is smarter, but which is the set of assumptions on which their sense of reality rests. Either cause and effect are real and the universe is knowable through a continuing and contentious process of observation, documentation, and modeling (science), or else the continually meddling god of Christianity is possible, as was declared by ancient authority. The majority of the American founders were Deists who believed that if there was a creator God, he did not meddle in the day-to-day affairs of men. I can accept that God, but still don’t believe in it. Cosmologists and astronomers are pushing his creative acts farther and farther to the margins.
So although I acknowledge the high correlation between less-learned people and deep faith, I do not assume that having faith implies that people are stupid.
I wonder sometimes how a modern conservative maintains.
Romney has won the New Hampshire primary. All the buzz now is how he’s going to have a much tougher fight in South Carolina, primarily because of the religious and social conservatives who will see him as “not conservative enough.” There is a consortium of social conservatives meeting this week in Texas to discuss ways to stop him, to elevate someone more to their liking to the nomination. And right there I have to wonder at what it means anymore to be a conservative.
I grew up, probably as many people my age did, thinking of conservatism as essentially penurious and a bit militaristic. Stodgy, stuffy, proper. But mainly pennypinching. A tendency to not do something rather than go forward with something that might not be a sure thing.
I suppose some of the social aspect was there, too, but in politics that didn’t seem important. I came of age with an idea of fiscal conservatism as the primary trait.
That doesn’t square with the recent past. The current GOP—say since Ronny Reagan came to power—has been anything but fiscally conservative, although what they have spent money on has lent them an aura of responsible, hardnosed governance. Mainly the military, but also subsidies for businesses. But something has distorted them since 1981 and has turned them into bigger government spenders than the Democrats ever were. (This is not open to dispute, at least not when broken down by administrations. Republican presidents have overseen massive increases in the deficit as opposed to Democratic administrations that have as often overseen sizable decreases in the deficit, even to the point of balancing the federal budget. You may interpret or spin this any way you like, but voting trends seem to support that the choices Republican presidents have made in this regard have been supported by Republican congressmen even after said presidents have left office.)
[More . . . ]
This is an unscientific response to a ridiculous claim. Rick Santorum, who wishes to be the next Bishop In Charge of America (or whatever prelate his church might recognize) recently made the claim that Gay couples are going to destabilize the family in America in order to accommodate their lifestyle.
We’ve all been hearing this claim now for, oh, since gays stopped sitting by and letting cops beat them up on Saturday nights without fighting back. Ever since Gay Pride. Even on my own FaceBook page I had someone telling me I was blinded by the “Gay Agenda” and that the country was doomed—that because of the Gay Agenda little children were being taught how to use condoms in school and this—this—would bring us all to ruin.
If we collectively allow homosexuals to marry each other, how does that do anything to American families that’s not already being done by a hundred other factors?
I’ll tell you what destablilizes families. And I’m not genius here with a brilliant insight, this is just what anyone can see if they look around and think a little bit.
Families are destabilized over money.
[More . . . ]
If the Fourth is such a happy time, shouldn’t we now be equally furious that the government has been rigged to ignore the needs and wants of the People? Over the past few years, I’ve heard dozens of educated middle class Americans admit that Congress has ben bought―federal corruption at the highest levels is now accepted as unquestionable truth.
More recently, I’ve run into more than a few people who have become frustrated with the Occupy movement. For instance, last week I heard this from an acquaintance, who was speaking of the protesters:
Acquaintance: “They should get a job. What the hell are they expecting to accomplish out there?”
Me: Isn’t it a huge problem that all three branches of our federal government make decisions to accommodate large corporations, often ignoring the needs of ordinary citizens? Isn’t that worth protesting.
Acquaintance: “Still, the protesters are stupid.”
Me: What is your solution? Ordinary people are barred from participating in a government that is supposedly to be run by ordinary people. Further, the news media is largely under the control of these same interests―they are too often serving as stenographers for the corporations that pull the strings of the federal Government.
[Fourth of July flag photo]
Along the same lines, here’s an excerpt from an email I recently received from a DI reader:
About your note regarding ways to support the Occupy movement… yes, you are right to encourage people to talk about what is going on, but don’t you think that it is time for those who are actually doing the “occupying” to go home and do their homework. It seems pretty apparent that it is mostly the late teen to early 20 year olds that are involved and that they don’t seem to have any really intelligent, well thought out ideas or goals. The media and general public are already bored with the story, and the whole thing will have been an exercise in futility unless they move on in a dignified way. Their goal should be to have an effect on the 2012 election which is a full year away. They should go home and get organized and become better informed in order to form a voting block that will further their agenda (that is if they can come to a consensus as to what that agenda is).
In short, this reader wants the Occupiers to return home to do the same thing that millions of people have been doing for the past decade, i.e., doing nothing likely to invoke change.
[More . . . ]