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.

Views: 465

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

It's an interesting question.  It seems plain that politics in the West has become more tribal and competitive.  We also see characters on the right wing like the malignant narcissist Milo Yiannopoulous and his supporting army of other narcissists and hateful, bullying patriarchy-defenders, who seem to have very little if any moral compass.  On the contrary, they openly justify and advocate anti-social behaviour as a political tactic. 

It also seems clear from the research quoted in the article, that a decrease in church attendance and an increase in tribalism tend to go together, at least on the right wing.  But I think it is globalisation that is causing tribalism, and perhaps decreased church attendance does make people more susceptible to tribalism, in an existing environment of scarce resources and increased competition from abroad, which is known to make people more selfish and self-protecting. 

It seems a shame if the left wing also seems to have lost its prosocial motivations and higher guiding principles, which traditionally have gone such a long way towards bringing about lasting change.  And I think this is a result of rejecting the church. 

The church only has itself to blame for falling attendance as its social attitudes seem stuck in the 1950's: people see it as homophobic, sexist, and closed, exclusive.  This is an unfortunate consequence of mixing up the pure morality of human decency, with the local culture of society.  Of 50 years ago. 

The Church has historically been just as partisan and hateful towards out-groups as anyone else.  But within it, there has always been a separate strand of universalism, which I trace back to Jesus.  Probably, faith in the church and faith in the establishment go together too.  And perhaps the mixing together of different groups through the church has an effect to decrease tribalism and increase universalism. 

Evolution did lead to cooperation - a dog-eat-dog species does not become successful like we have done - but only within groups.  We have not evolved any feelings or consideration towards out-group members, except, if anything, hostility.  This is hard-wired, but recently so, and is flexible.  Just as empathy can be automatically over-ridden by disapproval of the other, it can be just as easily activated in the other direction.   

We can take inspiration from someone like Jesus, who advocated taking the small-scale, within-group sentiments of brotherhood, cooperation, and empathy, and applying them to out-group members; and our human nature responds to this as a good thing.  Those values are hard-wired into the human race, so there are possibilities of making this work if the right conditions are in place.  There is also the situation of interdependence: it is true that the human race is becoming, globally, ever more interdependent, and interdependence breeds cooperation and prosocial behaviour.  So if we can recognise this, perhaps we can use it to become less tribal and competitive. 

So yes, I agree that politics is the poorer for losing a part of its moral compass, and historically, the church, in one of its faces, has been successful in supplying this.  In its opposite face, it has been just as successful in finding reasons to justify riding rough-shod over ordinary human decency, because it has supported the prevailing norms in society. 

confirmation bias much?

written by an orthodox author who fiddle-faddled some data to his advantage in writing a meaningless little defense of religious affiliation.

no doubt another tendentious author from the contrary position could find data to support his meaningless denunciation of religious affiliation. 

the article does not even address atheists as a  class. it is about people who attend church versus people who do not.

atheists are i suspect way more critical of group-think and far less susceptible to tribalism, mob psychology and  the alternative forms of religion-when the state or a political party is a de facto religion. 

This shit aint complicated. Religion has zero to do with reality. Religion promotes depraved and backwards ethics. Religion causes incalculable harm in so many ways. 

atheists are i suspect way more critical of group-think and far less susceptible to tribalism

Now that's some rich irony, in a post replete with name-calling and unsubstantiated claims levied against the out-group.

If you read for shit you would not get a sniff. The mind-blowing article you adduce to promote your unsubstantiated claim is no better than used toilet paper.  I have indicated how narrow and lacking in probative value it is and also that the author is promoting his religious agenda.

I linked the same article in Sunday School (line 4). While most theists don’t understand what atheism is, they also do not understand what secularism is. I will try to explain it below.

There are 2 basic parts to Secularism. First, it means a complete separation of church and state and second, that all people are equal before the law, no matter what their religion or beliefs are.

Most theists incorrectly assume that secularism equals atheism. This is completely wrong. Secularism seeks to ensure and protect freedom of religious belief and practice for all citizens. It also seeks to ensure that the freedom of thought and conscience apply equally to all citizens that do not hold any religious beliefs.

As a secularist I will defend the absolute freedom of all religious people, of any faith, to believe in any god they wish to. I wish to have exactly the same freedom protected by law when it comes to not believing what other people believe. The right to freedom of religion should always be balanced by the right to be free from religion.

It is also about equal access to all public services. A publically funded school or hospital should not be allowed to discriminate against any member of the public. A member of the army or police, and especially a judge, should not be required to swear a religious oath of office.

It is about the rights of minorities to have their human rights held in higher regard than any discriminatory religious belief or demand. Equality laws are not about equality if they discriminate.

Once again, secularism has nothing to do with atheism.  This misunderstanding has been abused by the religious. They see calls for non-discrimination on grounds of religion as an attack on their beliefs. I have always called the “Religious Freedom Act” (in the USA) the “Religious Privilege Act”. It allows the religious to discriminate against those of different beliefs. It has got to the stage now where many religious in American are claiming to be persecuted by atheists and that they suffer greater discrimination than Muslims do!!  In Ireland, for example, it allows for schools to discriminate against 4 years old children as to what government funded school they can enrol in. In other countries it allows for religious discrimination against LGBT people who want a non-religious marriage to have equal (legal) rights with religions people.

Secularism is the best chance for a society to live in harmony, where everyone is free to follow any philosophical or religious idea and where the State is an independent referee to see that no one group impinges on the rights and freedoms of others.

All the atheists I know would generally agree with the above. None of us are interested in living in “an atheist state” as many religious commentators suggest. I would be opposed to any attempts by atheists to prevent the religious from having their freedom of religion. I strive to gain freedom from religion. My ideal (as in the ideals of Atheist Ireland) is to get a secular state where the government strives to ensure each citizens freedoms and rights equally. There must be no religious privilege allowed. Secularism makes things better.


So well said, Reg.

Absolutely Strega, Reg's posts are as usual thoughtful and concise. I wish my writings could be as good as his.

Well put. Very well put.

Secularism makes things better.

It's also the driving force not only behind respecting human autonomy...but also behind picking away at dehumanising laws and practices deeply rooted in pre-secular societies at a pace unheard of in human history. Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey. They've all gone secular, desecularised and resecularised (and turkey now desecularising) again and human-rights, equality, oppression, poverty and misery went up and down like a predictable yo-yo (and is doing so in Turkey now). When a correlation works in both directions and does so universally in almost every case in scenarios with broadly different histories, cultures, religions and other world views, demographics, economies etc ... you are an intellectually crippled fool if you refuse to see that it is a meaningful correlation.

Thanks for the definition, @Reg.  There seem to be so many different definitions, historical and modern, of "secularism".

Most of us religious would not disagree with a separation of church and state, and we would be supportive of equality under the law for all people.   I wonder if that makes us secularists?  As you say, secularism is orthogonal or at least somewhat independent of atheism; similarly it may be orthogonal to or at least independent of theism.

While the definitions help and the theories are always nice, the challenges are when people of different beliefs share the Commons, and debate over what should be the laws.

You give one example with schools.  Admittedly Ireland, where most schools were founded by religious and are still run by them is a bit of an outlier.   We're on the other side here in the U.S., where most parents are forced into a government school system for elementary and secondary education.  To my mind neither is ideal, but if you look at the results Ireland's system is superior. 

Do we want only government-funded schools that are run by the government, teaching only government-approved curriculum, advocating only what the government says so as to indoctrinate our kids?  Do we want only religious schools doing their form of indoctrination?  Do we want parents to be able to choose schools with different views from the (near-)monopoly only if they can afford it?  Or do we want a system like our universities, where students can choose Johns Hopkins (private) or Georgetown (religious) or University of Maryland (public) and government grants and student loans are available to each?

I'd suggest that objectively in terms of student outcomes the best system is the latter, where we allow schools to select pupils and pupils to select schools and we support them all equally.  That's my version of "separation of church and state", I suppose, where we let no one have a monopoly on ideas enforced economically by the government.  

Your version of "secularism", I would guess, would allow such a monopoly where only the government's schools were available to the poor and middle class, even though everyone paid the same tax dollars to support all the children of the country.

Which one really respects each person's freedoms and rights equally?  Which objectively has the best outcomes?

@Dr. Bob. There is no reason a theist cannot be a Secularist. It does not make one any less religious. Atheist Ireland is a pressure group and one of our aims is bring about a separation of Church and State while at the same time allowing people of (any) faith to have complete freedom to practise their religion. We are not “anti-religion”. We are anti-religious privilege. We do not want our lives or our human rights to be subjected to the demands of any religion.

I may have mentioned this before but Atheist Ireland were the first Atheist group to get to speak to the UN Human Rights Committee. However we did not just represent Atheists. We also raised the concerns of Muslim minorities groups and (wait for it) the Evangelical Christian Alliance. We want them to have equal rights in our society too. They also have to endure the privileged position of the Catholic Church.

In general I have no problem with faith schools so long as they adhere to the same standards and review policies that government or State run schools do. Just because they are a faith school does not allow them to “teach” creationism in Science class. That to me is child abuse.

I have had parents tell me that they cannot get their child into a tax funded state run school because they were not baptized or that they child is put on a waiting list and called a “category two” child (non-Catholic). I recently had a mother tell me that the local priest threaten to expel her son from school when he found out he was not baptized. He is now 11 years old and in the same school for 5 years. She was told this on the main shopping street of the town on a Saturday afternoon.

I recently had a father tell me that his son was being forced to attend religious (Catholic) class even though the family are not atheists. They are Hindus!!

I have been to a few elementary schools in the Bible Belt. I have nieces and nephews in the education system there. I find their standards to be excellent. I was very impressed. Three of them are in the TAG program which I would love to see over here.  They have never had any religious education in school. Some of their friends attend faith schools and are nowhere nearly as well educated or mature. I have met and spoken with people like Aron Ra and I have a very clear perception of how many faith based schools are run, especially in Texas. Children are fed lies as facts.  It is disgraceful.

I am not sure how you got to thinking that “my version of secularism” would allow for a monopoly within the education system. I am trying to break the 95% monopoly that the Catholic Church has. In most occupations in Ireland it is illegal to discriminate against a person on grounds of race, color, religion, sexuality, etc. However the Catholic Church, through its monopolised position on school boards of management can legally terminate the employment of any teacher that does not actively help in the “faith formation” of children, even if these children are 6 or 7 years old. I know many teachers who are closeted atheists. They have been teaching English or Science for years but can be sacked for not teaching 6 year olds about Adam and Eve. Bear in mind that the Catholic Church does not fund these schools. They are 100% tax payer funded. Teach don’t Preach.

Comparison between Ireland and USA seems tad unjust. I would recommend comparing both to Finland instead (or most scandanavian and nordic countries for that matter). I am a huge fan of the welfare state system.

I sense that your comparison (and dialogue) between the private sector and government sector educational facilities is the very same used currently for health care reforms in USA. Having the ability to access a certain school (or health care) is not the same as being able to afford it. Yes, student loans and scholarships are present, but those are not enough at all, and  why should anyone be forced to look for handouts when there is a possibility that they simply won't have to. Also, people are buried underneath student loans. It seems absolutely silly to bring all new graduates with such large amounts of outstanding loans already.

You are talking about education as an industry, which gives individual schools the autonomy to make all their own decisions. Education is an industry, but looking for profit within the future of your own nation sounds like a terrible idea. Like making a profit out of the prison system or even healthcare. These are basic necessities and should be protected from predators who seek to make a profit out of it as an industry. I hope you will not confuse "seeking a profit as an industry" with "academic employment".

Why would everyone pay the same amount of tax? I don't follow. Taxes are based on the amount of income.

Another interesting thing happening right now is in Canada, with the muslim students allowed their midday break for prayers. I don't see any harm in it, i think it's great, if that's what they want. Giving some students the freedom to practice their religion doesn't take the freedom away from others to practice theirs (or not practice).

You're making a very weak argument regarding the freedoms and rights of individuals, by giving autonomy to institutions. Making an institution independent of any amount of accountability by the state does not help secure the rights of the individual, only the rights of the institution. And institutions, like ideas, do not have rights.

Separate religion from the State. That is not only the better option, but I do sense it is an eventuality as well. I do see religion as a dying idea, a thought which warms my heart. And like most people, it has carried the seeds of its own destruction, within itself.

very nicely put! couldn't agree with you more.


© 2021   Created by Rebel.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service