Often here at TA an argument is made that if only we dumped all religion and everyone was secular without belief in doG, we would all be farting petunias.  Less war, less viciousness, evolution leads us naturally to cooperation, etc.

I admire the goal and the idealism.   As everyone knows, however, I'm on the other side of the argument, because I don't think that argument is scientifically or historically sound, nor particularly rational given the available evidence.  I'm a practitioner of religion, though, not a researcher in the field.

This month's Atlantic, however, has a very cogent piece based as close as I can tell on real data and research by the folks that do this stuff.  Correlation is not causation, and all real social science work is correlative because it's impossible to conduct true experiments.  Nonetheless, it's really quite illustrative, and supports the concerns that I have occasionally offered here much more clearly than I ever have.  It's also quite timely, and seems to accurately reflect my sense of what has been going on with the politics of my state and nation, particularly in our rural areas. 

The piece is: 


I'd be curious, after you have read and digested it and preferably after you set aside knee-jerk responses, whether it helps you understand the concerns I have been raising.  The trends here in the U.S. are quite concerning.  Dismantling religion without having a better theory to replace it with seems increasingly dangerous, since the rest state humanity is likely to return to is a much uglier version of tribalism.

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What I have a problem with, sometimes, and especially in the past, is what religion considers to be a sin, and the things that it will reject and punish people for. 

Sure, and we'd probably agree on most of those.

But that's true of every organization and school of thought in humanity, isn't it?   I have a problem sometimes, and especially in the past, with what democracies have done.  I have a problem sometimes, and especially in the past, with what scientists have done.

That can't become an indictment of democracy, or science, or religion, nor should it be an indictment of the modern people who believe in those ways of thinking.

Not if we're rational.

It's not an indictment, it's a criticism, a plea for something to be fixed. 

It seems to me that religion works well as a companion to a strong, humane and uncorrupted state.  The state keeps law and order and provides the infrastructure; religion acts as the conscience of society.  Under the best conditions, that works best in my opinion. 

In other words, when someone doesn't play ball, there are, broadly, two kinds of response:  help them overcome their difficulties, and carry on;  or punish and reject them.  You could call it, love them, or hate them.  Religion is a varied thing, and it is good at doing both.  Many religious people the world over are intolerant and hateful, in the name of policing sin.  Sin is often locally and culturally defined. 

I think it's a lot to do with the fact that organised religion comes from the second phase of human history, when we began living in large groups, and policing was necessarily a more impersonal, and therefore brutal, affair, delegated to a higher authority. 

Jesus went back to the first phase, when we lived in small groups, and we were more likely to take an accepting and correcting (and more personal) approach to policing bad behaviour. 

Living within a large population, if your cooperative partner lets you down, there is a greater possibility of finding a new partner, it is easier to reject them, than in a small population where it makes more sense to control the partner you have than to find a new one. 

So, the more accurate title might be "Is the remaining population of alt right and the religious causing the country to not advance as quickly as if all people were secular?"

LOL.  Perhaps.   The question is what, pragmatically, will move that population?  It isn't atheism/secularism if that's not something they will buy into.

Wow, so many errors in correlation vs causation and false equivalencies its a riot.

Homework assignment: design a modern social science study that is non-correlational, meaningful, and can be done within the funding limits of any ordinary grant funding mechanism.

It's the nature of their discipline to have to rely on correlational studies.  I can isolate an electron, and electrons don't have individual backgrounds and personalities.  They can't isolate humans, or strip them of their backgrounds and personalities.

Here is an old article that demonstrates the ignorance of theists about secularism and their ability to consider their own views as superior to all others.

Well, that's pretty clear cut.  It remains a dilemma:  tolerance of intolerance.  I think the issue comes down to a difference of values.  The values of the Catholic Church in Malta seem to be "we're right, everyone else is wrong, about everything".  Secular values seem to depend on "everyone has the right to live the way they wish, unless it causes harm".  I know which one I prefer. 

If the Church wants to push a particular agenda, it needs to be well justified in terms of the actual benefits to society and individuals.  "Do it because we say" or "we speak for Jesus" is not good enough.  It's interesting that religious people are never able to properly justify causing the harm that they do. 

 It's interesting that religious people are never able to properly justify causing the harm that they do. 

Come now.  That's an awfully broad brush for you.  

Can you give me one example of "religious people" doing "harm" in the way you are talking about?

The religious ideas that have persisted are the ones that have been integral to and perhaps foundational to successful modern societies.  That's not "do it because we say", that's "do it because this way has been especially useful for thousands of years to billions of humans from a wide range of cultures."

It's changing those ideas (or abandoning them without a well-accepted replacement) that poses risks to society and individuals.  That's what needs to be justified by actual benefits.

Excluding, banishing and refusing to accept the legitimacy of gay people. 

Convincing people they're going to hell for smoking weed. 

There are all kinds of examples.  A great deal of what's done in the name of religion is not considered or thought about or really questioned.  Consequently, it's too easy to rub out people's personal rights to live their lives quietly and harmlessly.  The hierarchy of the churches are all too ready to protect their own power at the expense of doing the right thing. 

I'm of the opinion that religion needs to be fixed, to have its good sides encouraged, and its corrupt excesses, and tendencies to uphold whatever is in the local culture, to be curbed. 

A big thing in the church's favour is that it is a strong and ancient institution, therefore it has a lot of power, and therefore it can do a lot of good. 

I don't think we've banished any gay people.  I know my parish has quite a few.  I have family members who are gay and a practicing Catholics.  

I'm not sure why someone would be "going to hell" for smoking weed.  That strikes me as a venial sin.

I think perhaps it's your weird misconceptions about religion that are what needs to be "fixed".   Yes, we have our share of corrupt or lazy or hypocritical leaders, just as democracy has its share of corrupt and lazy and hypocritical leaders.  Or any other institution.  Humans are, in the end, human.  

What doesn't follow is that democracy is inherently harmful.  Or religion.  Or any other particular human institution.

Of course the Catholic Church hasn't banished gays--at least the ones that play by the "rules", hint hint...

(p.s., fuck the Catholic Church.)


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