*Bad Religion*

by on April 18, 2012 at 11:48 am in Books, Film, History, Religion, Television | Permalink

The author is Ross Douthat and the subtitle is How We Became a Nation of Heretics.  It is a very good and very serious book arguing that America needs better religious thinking and practice, excerpt:

The entire media-entertainment complex, meanwhile, was almost shamelessly pro-Catholic.  If a stranger to American life had only the movies, television, and popular journalism from which to draw inferences, he probably would have concluded  that midcentury America was a Catholic-majority country — its military populated by the sturdy Irishmen of The Fighting 69th (1948) and The Fighting Sullivans (1944); its children educated and its orphans rescued by the heroic priests and nuns celebrated in Boys Town (1938), The Bells of Saint Mary’s (1945), and Fighting Father Dunne (1948); its civic life dominated by urban potentates like Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York and Denis Dougherty of Philadelphia; its everyday life infused with Catholic kitsch, from the 1950s hit single “Our Lady of Fatima” to the “win one for the Gipper” cult of Notre Dame football.

My main question is what could have become of most organized religion in an era of newly found television penetration — a competing source of ideas about right and wrong — and the birth control pill and sexual liberation of women?  Not to mention gay rights.  The recent evolution of American religion may not be optimal, but it is endogenous to some fairly fundamental forces.  Non-religious thinking seems to offer especially high returns to successful people these days, and while American religion certainly has survived that impact (unlike in the UK?), what is left will seem quite alienating to much of the intelligentsia, Ross included.

For most mainstream religions, for most urban and suburban intellectuals circa 2012, it is hard to live a religiously observant life during the ages of say 17-25.  American religion is left with late convert intellectuals and proponents of various enthusiasms, all filtered through the lens of America’s rural-tinged mass culture.  Where is the indigenous and recent highbrow Christian culture of the United States?

Ross’s close comes off as voluntarist (“That quest begins with a single step…”), but in an economic model which change might nudge the United States back toward a more intellectual Christianity?  Your suggestions are welcome.

1 Roy April 18, 2012 at 11:58 am

Atheistic totalitarian communism? That would be my best suggestion. However as a Catholic, I’d really rather not. Actually the church was founded and nurtured in a society far less amenable to religion than this one, the first three centuries of Imperial Rome, so as a believer I am far less worried about church survival than many I seem to encounter. Self marginalization and self imposed isolation of the church is something I am however quite worried about.

2 Sung April 18, 2012 at 2:09 pm

This is what I believe to be Tyler’s reasons for supporting religion: “Christianity generally instills respect for the rule of law, property rights, and the virtue of hard work. All of these things have large, positive externalities.” It is a very explicit trade-off between having individuals seeing without blinders and maintaining social order.

3 Sung April 18, 2012 at 2:14 pm

I should also add: “People tend to believe in things religiously, even if it they aren’t ‘religious’ in the traditional sense. I am worried about what they might take up in religion’s place.”

4 JG April 18, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Sung, your second point undermines the trade-off in the first: if human beings believe in other things “religiously” are they in fact ever “seeing without blinders”?

5 Jacques René Giguère April 18, 2012 at 6:57 pm

As Napoleon said :”The role of religion is to tell people that those who don’t pay their taxes will go to hell.”

6 Vanya April 19, 2012 at 7:24 am

“Actually the church was founded and nurtured in a society far less amenable to religion than this one”

Not at all. Imperial Rome was incredibly amenable to religion. This was a world with no social safety net (for non citizens), fairly arbitrary justice, but at the same time traditional communities were being uprooted by military conquest, population movements, new economic opportunities and rapid social change. Religion in the imperial Roman world was one of the few ways people had to create support networks when older tribal or clan structures were becoming irrelevant. The ability of the Christian faith to triumph in a world where there many many other competing faiths is what makes the story of early Christianity so compelling.

7 TmC April 19, 2012 at 9:33 am

Christians often had to stay in hiding. An ‘x’ was placed at sites where you couls go to mass.

8 Foobarista April 24, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Rome was very amenable to polytheistic religions. All you had to do was allow the divinity of the Emperor in your (polytheistic) religion. The rest of your particular pantheon wasn’t a major concern to Rome.

Monotheistic religions didn’t allow for the Emperor as a divinity, which is why they were “a problem”.

9 Rustywheeler April 19, 2012 at 12:50 pm

“Actually the church was founded and nurtured in a society far less amenable to CHRISTIANITY than this one…”

Which amounts to a tautology. Christianity challenged the Gods of Record, including the emperor, but the Roman culture was rife with deities and religion.

10 Joe April 19, 2012 at 1:37 pm

How about superstitious totalitarian communism? As a Catholic, you should approve of that. Read up on the Dark Ages sometime, when your church ruled supreme.

11 sam April 19, 2012 at 2:15 pm

The idea that the first three centuries of Imperial Rome was a time where society was less amenable to religion is absolutely incorrect.

12 David April 18, 2012 at 12:02 pm

It’s interesting that we’ve arrived in a time when people are looking to religion for solutions to earthly problems. Allain de Batton is now advocating a sort of religion for atheists, and the concerns behind his project seem to me similar to Douhat’s. Here’s an interview that I thought was entirely worth watching:

http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/Alai

13 Chris Purnell April 18, 2012 at 12:04 pm

“an economic model which… might nudge the United States back toward a more intellectual Christianity?”

This is almost beyond parody. “Intellectual Christianity” or a futile attempt to defend the indefensible is in itself a non sequitur but to add to the general meriment by suggesting an “economic model” is piling nonesense onto nonesense. There is a vague feeling that religious people have warmer feelings of community but then that is off-set by inter-communal warfare etc. We in the UK find competitive religiosity utterly obnoxious and bizarre. My suggestion is that US teenagers have it about right and you should just leave ‘intellectual Christianity’ to those who like that sort of thing.

14 anan April 18, 2012 at 12:32 pm
15 Steve April 18, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Faith and reason are like oil and water. Here is Aquinas’ attempt to resolve them:

http://www.josephkenny.joyeurs.com/CDtexts/ContraGentiles1.htm#7

I am not impressed.

16 reg April 18, 2012 at 11:31 pm

You mean metaphysics and empiricism are like oil and water.

17 Rustywheeler April 19, 2012 at 12:54 pm

I’ve often thought that ‘metaphysics’ was a bit of a nonsense word, as ‘meta-‘ is a physical descriptor with a spatial/physical referent meaning ‘beyond’. It’s like saying “before time.”

But yes, doesn’t mix well with empiricism.

18 Major April 18, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Yes, who can deny the overwhelming intellectual power of ‘arguments’ such as “Nor is it permissible to believe as false that which we hold by faith, since this is confirmed in a way that is so clearly divine.”

19 Chris Purnell April 19, 2012 at 9:27 am

I don’t mind consenting adults doing whatever makes them happy but an ‘economic model’? Stroll on

20 Ted Craig April 18, 2012 at 12:45 pm

“There is a vague feeling that religious people have warmer feelings of community but then that is off-set by inter-communal warfare etc.”

When has this happened in the U.S. since the end of the Civil War?

21 Anti-Gnostic April 18, 2012 at 1:13 pm

It’s a matter of time after we’ve imported the protagonists from all sides of overseas inter-tribal conflicts here. Oh well, I’m sure everything will be fine.

22 Greeneyeshade April 18, 2012 at 1:35 pm

“We in the UK find competitive religiosity utterly obnoxious and bizarre.”

We outside the UK find a state religion led by the crown, utterly obnoxious and bizarre.

The UK will Anglostan in a few years, so “competitive religiosity” will be the least of your problems.

23 Ted Craig April 18, 2012 at 1:59 pm

“Oh well, I’m sure everything will be fine.”

I’m glad you feel that way, since it probably will be.

24 msgkings April 18, 2012 at 2:41 pm

He won’t be around to see it, though. Seems like a crotchety old man the way he posts.

25 Anti-Gnostic April 18, 2012 at 2:47 pm

Given that the trend worldwide is for multicultural societies to devolve into into their constituent nations, you are probably correct.

26 Soho April 18, 2012 at 1:31 pm

Ah, beat me to it Chris. The last thing America needs right now is more religion.

27 dead serious April 18, 2012 at 2:42 pm

+1

Glad the calls to teach creationism as “just another competing theory to evolution” seem to have died a quick death.

28 Skip Intro April 19, 2012 at 8:13 am

Guess you haven’t been following the news out of Tennessee.

29 dead serious April 19, 2012 at 9:29 am

Ugh, no I haven’t. Teh Google reports back with this nonsense:

http://slatest.slate.com/posts/2012/04/11/tennessee_evolution_law_allows_creationism_intelligent_design_in_the_classroom.html

Stereotypes of ignorant Southerners persist for some nagging reason; this seems to be the most current driver.

30 Joshua April 18, 2012 at 12:06 pm

I’ll put this in the category of “people who’ve never heard of Tim Keller”

31 Mike D April 18, 2012 at 12:25 pm

…precisely my same thought, though I’d rephrase TC’s question in that light to “what change internal or external to American evangelical Christianity could make the intellectual Reformed tradition (of which Keller is its most prominent advocate) the majority view?”

32 byomtov April 18, 2012 at 10:19 pm

Who is Tim Keller?

I’ve never heard of him.

33 Brian Timoney April 18, 2012 at 12:09 pm

Not a disinterested party, but here goes–

Substitute “Sears Roebuck” for “mainstream religions” and a profitable business model of the 1950s and 60s that appealed to a large undifferentiated mass middle.

Enter WalMart on the low end, and (much) smaller niche providers on the high end. Bye bye Sears.

Stretching the analogy, the closest we’ve come to an Amazon of religious sensibility is Oprah: endless variations on the sin-and-redemption cycle with a little good-for-you reading thrown in for good measure.

Brian

34 Michael G Heller April 18, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Alternatively, start all over again with Spinoza. He could take nature seriously, but not god.

35 John April 18, 2012 at 12:15 pm

The growth of antibiotic-resistant strains of STDs will bring back religion

36 anonymous April 18, 2012 at 12:16 pm

The title of the book is redundant.

37 Dennis Tuchler April 18, 2012 at 12:19 pm

One event might bring thoughtful people who concern themselves with the way in which Westerners deal with one another, to religion. Find some transcendent-seeming substitute for a godhead who commands and must be obeyed. The idea is to make common beliefs the way to the construction of a viable and vibrant community; not to keep us stuck in the 8th Century (Islam) or earlier, in the strictures of the “Old Testament”. Thoughtful people who treasure ideas and like to talk and write about them would find such a godless religion rather exciting.

38 Greeneyeshade April 18, 2012 at 1:38 pm

Thoughtful people would be Hitler, Stalin and the rest of the folks who made the state a god. Ooh, how exiting.

39 The Original D April 18, 2012 at 4:22 pm

Hitler sold himself as a Christian to achieve power. http://www.nobeliefs.com/Hitler1.htm

40 Joe April 19, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Thoughtful people would be anyone whose actually read the Bible.Anyone who has read it and believes it to be “God’s Word” is a lunatic.

41 sd April 18, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Potential nudge:

Much higher quality of journalism on religious issues. Reporters on the “God beat” are often notoriously bad journalists with little understanding of the subject matter they specialize in. A sports writer whose knowledge of sports was comparable to the average religion writer’s knowledge of the contemporary religious scene would be drummed out of the profession. Intellectuals find it easy to dismiss religious points of view because they are presented in such a ham-fisted manner.

42 Rahul April 18, 2012 at 4:08 pm

That could be an intractable problem though. As an extreme analogy could we ever tempt star journalists to cover the “Astrology beat” or the “UFO beat”?

Just wondering whether maybe there is a reason behind why bad journalists are the ones who cover religion.

43 Rustywheeler April 19, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Boom. Not to mention that the go-to criticism of religious journalists/critics/observers (and non-believers in general) always seems to be that they ‘just don’t understand it.’

The truth is that many intellectuals “find it easy to dismiss religious points of view” based on their content, not their presentation.

44 anon April 18, 2012 at 12:25 pm

This is absolutely wrong. The media/entertainment complex was pro-“Catholic”, but anti-Catholicism. Essentially, the American elites were working to turn Catholics into heretics. Who do you think was giving the money and attention to the various heretical/liberal councils of Bishops. Why was the Rockefeller foundation dangling conditional money at Notre Dame and other Catholic Universities. Believe it or not, I’m not a Catholic or even a Christian, but lets try to get history at least reasonably correct.

“Where is the indigenous and recent highbrow Christian culture of the United States?”

You are it, Cowen. You are the quintessential specimen of the dominant form of Christianity.

45 Daniel Klein April 18, 2012 at 12:57 pm

You say Tyler is the quintessential specimen of the dominant form of Christianity.The statement arouses my curiosity. What does it mean, and why do you say it?

46 anon April 18, 2012 at 1:26 pm

Tyler has inherited his intellectual position in America from whom ? I don’t mean who in the past was analogous to Tyler; I mean trace the unbroken chain of his position. What was he taught? What were the reasons for his selection? Where does the money come from? Is there anything like a discontinuity anywhere between Tyler, the “non-religious” public intellectual and say, Richard Ely? When does promoting more or less the same ideals, by more or less the same methods become “non-religious” as opposed to our duty to bring about God’s kingdom? Even if there is a good answer to that question, it doesn’t change the fact that all of Tyler’s beliefs about the world which he promotes are taxonomically essentially Christian.

47 Derek Scruggs April 18, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Yeah, but he uses Arabic numbers!

48 Ryan Cousineau April 18, 2012 at 5:46 pm

You are Mencius Moldbug and I claim my five pounds.

49 Contemplationist April 20, 2012 at 12:13 am

+1

Awesome, I think you nailed it.
I do think he’s right about the history though.

50 Dain April 18, 2012 at 6:09 pm

Nah, it actually matters that he doesn’t couch any of his arguments in Christian terms.

Ask any actual, self-described Christian.

51 Brent April 18, 2012 at 6:04 pm

I think that “1 in 20” is probably pretty consistent with the behavior of most “Christians” today. They believe in something, just not sure what, and that Jesus and love are generally good concepts.

52 Miley Cyrax April 18, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Religion is still very much alive, for example, the followers of liberal creationism who clamp their hands on their ears and shriek when it comes to the possibility of sexual and/or racial differences.

53 Ryan April 18, 2012 at 12:41 pm

I’m with you. I wouldn’t put it that way, but religion is pretty obviously being replaced with statism and people should well remember this when considering the future of “religion.”

54 Joe April 19, 2012 at 1:25 pm

What the hell is “liberal creationism”?

55 Tom April 18, 2012 at 12:28 pm

How does Douthat deal with the rise of religious pluralism in the US, especially since the 1960s? This seems like a much more important point that amateur sociological/cultural critique related to the fit between religions and “economic models.”

Would he be content with a more religious/pious society if it was a diverse mixture of Catholic, Protestant, other-Christian-related, Jewish, Hindu, and Buddhist practices, institutions, and communities?

56 Tom April 18, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Also I wonder if Douthat is overestimating how central “intellectual Christianity” ever was to Christianity. There’s a deep, long tradition of Christian theology and religious thought, but it’s always been very small and marginal to the larger culture. It seems like he’s more worried about how mainstream mass culture (lowbrow and much middlebrow) has become polarized between a greater secularism and nutzoid religious radical modes. One need not make any argument about “intellectual Christianity” to discuss this issue of mainstream culture.

57 Urso April 18, 2012 at 2:59 pm

Intellectuals always overestimate how important intellectuals are to anything.

58 msgkings April 18, 2012 at 4:13 pm

+10

59 JWatts April 19, 2012 at 2:03 pm

“Intellectuals always overestimate how important intellectuals are to anything.”

+1

60 prajiv April 19, 2012 at 12:45 am

This.

61 Joe April 19, 2012 at 1:28 pm

“Intellectual Christianity” is no longer possible. Disturbed individuals like Douthat make a living by trying to give intellectual heft to thousand year old Bedouin hallucinations. That’s how you get books published and make the big money.

62 Tom April 19, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Oh, I think it’s possible; you’re being a little too dismissive. It just will not ever be the locus of religious life in America or the mode in which American politicians operate when relating religion to politics.

63 AC April 18, 2012 at 12:30 pm

One of the technological changes that helped dissolve religion was mobility and urban anonymity, which prevented the enforcement of accountability. Whereas once social sanction was enough to keep people following a religious programme, now it’s easy to remain anonymous and unaccountable to any greater society.

This has not been costless, and the modern epidemic of loneliness is one symptom of the same change. But it certainly advantages people pursuing their immediate interests and disadvantages any institution that would try to have an influence on how people behave. (The main example of such modern conformity that comes to mind is the political correctness regime that dictates what respectable opinions are permitted on a narrow range of topics. But note that the enforcers of PC essentially have control over all elite institutions and thereby careers. No church has ever had that much overt power.)

Possibly the rise of Facebook and the electronic paper trail people leave through email may signal a trend where monitoring becomes easier and conformity is more enforcable, and, on the positive side, stable communities can evolve. This will tilt the balance somewhat back away from the Dunbar+ anonymity regime we’ve been experiencing for the last few decades.

64 dead serious April 18, 2012 at 3:27 pm

“But note that the enforcers of PC essentially have control over all elite institutions and thereby careers. No church has ever had that much overt power.”

Surely you’re joking.

65 Dr. Rumack April 18, 2012 at 5:51 pm

He is joking. And stop calling him Shirley.

66 Dain April 18, 2012 at 6:15 pm

Possibly the rise of Facebook and the electronic paper trail people leave through email may signal a trend where monitoring becomes easier and conformity is more enforcable.

Careful, Roland Martin is an example of what happens when the above and your elite enforcers of PC come together.

67 Joe April 19, 2012 at 1:34 pm

“But note that the enforcers of PC essentially have control over all elite institutions and thereby careers. No church has ever had that much overt power.”….When was the last time you saw someone burned at the stake or drawn and quartered for being “un-pc”? Rush Limbaugh and other crude loudmouths seem to be doing just fine. And ignorant religious drivel benefits from “PC” more than anybody. Look at how politicians bow and scrape to the RC hierarchy in their silly Halloween costumes. Do you know where the one legal place to smoke indoors is in New York State? Bingo halls, because they finance Catholic schools, and the sad wrecks that habituate them wont go if they cant continually poison themselves while they throw their money away.

68 FE April 18, 2012 at 12:37 pm

Let’s compare another institution with traditional values that have become countercultural: the US military. Like Dourhat’s priests and nuns, the military was constantly celebrated in films of the 40s, an era in which military participation was essentially mandatory and respect for patriotic virtues was an assumed part of the common culture. Then, as with the Catholic Church, the combined challenge of competing value systems and the institution’s own mistakes brought the military into disrepute among intellectuals and tastemakers. So there are no more movies celebrating the military and, as Tyler might put it, it is hard for intellectuals between 18-25 to live a military life. Yet the the all-volunteer military, without the cultural support of Hollywood or the intellectual support of Harvard, is in many ways in better shape than in eras in which cultural and intellectual support was taken for granted. Much the same can be said of American Christianity.

69 James Davies April 20, 2012 at 5:07 pm

Interesting analogy. Does this have any implications for the future of religion in the US? For the future of the military?

I can imagine that further divergence between those institutions’ values and the populace at large’s values could have bad consequences, especially if those institutions have guns.

70 Bill Harshaw April 18, 2012 at 12:40 pm

In the good old days (1900 say) a minister was the best educated person in the community and one of the best paid. If you look at any of the religious, whether Catholic nuns, African-American ministers, or whoever, they occupied roles which combined prestige and rewards, whether monetary or psychic. With the rise of the professions, and the undermining of the mainline denominations, people who go into the ministry these days expect below-average salaries (and below-average prestige). So the decline of mainline denominations is accelerated by the recruitment problem.

71 Rahul April 18, 2012 at 4:11 pm

It’s hard to know whether that is cause or effect though.

72 JWatts April 19, 2012 at 2:05 pm

“It’s hard to know whether that is cause or effect though.”

It’s probably a feed back loop, so it’s both.

73 Jamie April 18, 2012 at 12:46 pm

As a member of the aging urban intellegencia (a trait I share with TC), I simply don’t care about religion. If folks want to engage in organized ritual, that’s fine, enjoy. I also don’t understand the appeal of baseball.

Morals don’t require religion, and it seems clear that religion doesn’t require morals.

74 Jim Clay April 18, 2012 at 1:07 pm

I have seen a number of studies that suggest some correlation, though.

75 The Engineer April 18, 2012 at 2:55 pm

Charles Murray would say that the data contradicts this. Belmost is still religious, and it is still moral. Fishtown is neither.

76 TommyVee April 18, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Belmont versus Fishtown is not even anecdotal evidence, but even if the data was real, two data points do not define adequate corrrelation.

Clearly Islamic fundamentalists are quite religious, would anyone argue that they are moral? So the datapoints of religious fanatics killing innocents in the World Trade Center, the Inquisition, the Crusades, anti-Jewish pogroms, stoning women in Afghanistan,etc.,etc. would tend to contradict Murray’s narrow and unfounded assertion that religion correlates with morality.

77 Rahul April 18, 2012 at 4:14 pm

Does religion correlate with discipline though? Or with industry / a work-ethic? Are religious people less prone to clinical depression?

Those are more interesting practical questions for me?

78 JWatts April 19, 2012 at 2:09 pm

“Clearly Islamic fundamentalists are quite religious, would anyone argue that they are moral? ”

Absolutely they are moral. Just because you don’t share their immorality doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I reject most tenets of Islamic fundamentalism, but I’m not foolish enough to consider their actions immoral or random, at least by their own standards.

79 Rahul April 19, 2012 at 2:59 pm

Is morality tied to religion or can there be a universal secular morality that rises above the tenets of religion?

Luckily for most part religions have morality-agreement (e.g. thieving, lying, murder etc.). It is the corner-cases that are interesting though. I’d say Islamic fundamentalists are immoral . And so were Catholic inquisitioners or Hindu widow-burners.

80 prajiv April 19, 2012 at 1:16 am

Whence morality, then? All moral claims I’ve ever read are extremely culturally-contingent. They are typically anthropocentric, and are specifically geared toward stabilizing contemporary economic and social structures.

81 Engineer April 19, 2012 at 8:15 am

> Morals don’t require religion,

Nietzsche long ago pointed out that morals associated with a particular religion (probably Christianity in your case) tend to hang around for a while after the “death of God”

But such a morality becomes less and less able to actually motivate any kind of truly self-sacrificing or “virtuous” behavior as time progresses.

82 Major April 18, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Absent a catastrophe that reduces us to the primitive social and economic conditions of the distant past, nothing will save religion. It’s simply incompatible with modern society. It’s been gradually dying off in the developed world for at least a century. And good riddance.

83 Anti-Gnostic April 18, 2012 at 1:17 pm

Yeah, except the “developed world” is going extinct and will be replaced by Muslims and Catholics.

84 Major April 18, 2012 at 1:30 pm

No, the developed world is not going extinct. Developing nations are following the same trajectory as Europe and the U.S., becoming increasingly secular as they become richer and more democratic.

85 Anti-Gnostic April 18, 2012 at 1:52 pm

TFR’s in the West are cratering because again, atheists have no good reason to have children versus just enjoying the parties and the orgasms. The secularists’ only hope is to “reproduce” themselves by converting young Muslims, Christians and Jews to secularism, using the US Global Democratic Rainbow Warrior Army if necessary. Probably some consequences to that.

It will indeed be ironic when places like Sweden, the UK, the US Southwest et al. are Muslim, Anabaptist or Catholic, and patriarchal.

86 Major April 18, 2012 at 2:04 pm

You keep ignoring the facts. There is overwhelming evidence that religion is declining in the developed world. Secularism is growing. Whatever advantage differences in fertility rates might provide to religion, it is swamped by social and cultural forces favoring secularism.

87 msgkings April 18, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Folks like A-G don’t traffic in facts. They have a mood and a world view, and they shout it online ad infinitum ad nauseam.

Purest example of a ‘crashing bore’.

88 lemming April 18, 2012 at 5:56 pm

Facts, facts facts.

89 JWatts April 19, 2012 at 2:17 pm

“You keep ignoring the facts. There is overwhelming evidence that religion is declining in the developed world. Secularism is growing. Whatever advantage differences in fertility rates might provide to religion, it is swamped by social and cultural forces favoring secularism.”

That has certainly been true in the past, but has it been true in the last 10 to 15 years? You’re confident of your opinion, but you’re not actually citing any facts. I’m not saying your are wrong, but I am saying the facts aren’t signaling as clear cut a picture as you seem to think they are.

Here is some data (though of course it’s by no means conclusive):
Religion in Europe (EU 25)
I believe there is a god: 52%
I believe there is some spirit or life force: 27%
I don’t believe in either of the above: 18%

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Europe

90 Major April 19, 2012 at 3:47 pm

That has certainly been true in the past, but has it been true in the last 10 to 15 years? You’re confident of your opinion, but you’re not actually citing any facts.

As far as I’m aware, there is no regular, comprehensive study of religious indicators throughout the developed world, so there is no single source that shows this. But there are various irregular and one-off studies of particular indicators (religious affiliation, attendance at religious services, belief in God, importance of religion in one’s life, etc.) in particular nations and regions. The trend found by these studies is one of continued religious decline. This doesn’t mean that every indicator declines every year in every country, but the overall trend of decline is clear. I don’t have the time or patience to put together a long list of links, but here is an example of a study from 2005 showing the continuing decline of religion in Europe: http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2005-08-10-europe-religion-cover_x.htm.

91 Aaron April 18, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Good riddance to the loss of volunteerism and charitable donations from religiously active people, who volunteer and give at substantially higher rates. Good riddance to the benefits of community and knowing your neighbors that religion produces. Good riddance to the most fertile soil social reform has enjoyed (think Gandhi and MLK) in world history.

Bad things are certainly done in the name of religion (and in the name of government, family, etc.), but it’s not at all clear that there is an equivalent substitute for its positive effects. But, hey, good riddance to the baby and its bathwater.

92 Major April 18, 2012 at 2:16 pm

Bad things are certainly done in the name of religion (and in the name of government, family, etc.), but it’s not at all clear that there is an equivalent substitute for its positive effects.

Yes, that must be why the highly secular nations of western Europe (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Britain, France, Germany, etc.) are such hellholes while deeply religious nations and cultures (the Islamic world, the American South, sub-saharan Africa, etc.) are such beacons of prosperity, freedom and equality.

93 Anti-Gnostic April 18, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Except, like you keep ignoring, the numbers are unbelievably bad for these “highly secular nations.” They are literally going extinct. Do you have some reason for believing that young Mexican Catholics and Arab/African Muslims will leave the inter-generational faith of their families and join the western death cult? It’s not even going to be close. If I were you, I’d find a nice Amish or Mennonite girl and beg her dad to let you marry her. They are already buying up tracts of land out west.

94 Major April 18, 2012 at 3:49 pm

No, they’re not going extinct. I don’t know why you keep making that absurd claim. The U.S. and Europe are secularizing despite immigration from more religious nations. Immigrants assimiliate and adopt the culture and values of their new country.

95 GiT April 18, 2012 at 3:12 pm

It’s called “the welfare state.”

96 Anti-Gnostic April 18, 2012 at 3:58 pm

Also going extinct.

97 Millian April 18, 2012 at 4:47 pm

I’m sorry, was the “social reform” due to an increase in religiosity, or was it one religious set of ideas replacing a (less popular, elitist) other set of religious ideas?

The Czech Republic is thoroughly socially reformed.

98 Luke Carlson April 18, 2012 at 12:54 pm

Perhaps a revival of Kierkegaard would move things in that direction. And more pastors/ministers reading Barth.

99 Cliff Styles April 18, 2012 at 1:03 pm

‘Where is the indigenous and recent highbrow Christian culture of the United States?’
Hopelessly and aptly lost in the conundrum faith presents to cognition.

100 Uninformed Observer April 18, 2012 at 1:25 pm

What a fantastic argument.

“I’m smart. I believe [x]. Therefore, people who believe [not x] are not smart.

q.e.d.”

101 Wulner April 18, 2012 at 2:32 pm

Major organized religions make a great number of claims regarding the afterlife, the nature of God, etc. A crude measure of the probability any one religion is correct is the product of the probabilities associated with all of those claims.

But you object: ‘claims regarding the afterlife, God, etc. are impossible to evaluate.’ Which is pretty clear. Therefore, assigning any single claim on the topic a large probability seems pretty unreasonable. Even if you assign a relatively large probability to each claim, the chances the religion ‘has it right’ (given the large number of claims made) is exceedingly small.

By extension, making decisions based on your beliefs regarding the nature of God seems fairly cavalier.

102 BrentR April 18, 2012 at 6:18 pm

“By extension, making decisions based on your beliefs regarding the nature of God seems fairly cavalier.”

Alas, complete rejection of God and an afterlife leads to a fairly hopeless and pitiful existence, does it not?

This is the conundrum faced by anyone that seriously considers the subject.

The easiest thing to do is continually kick the can down the road. Simply hold a light belief in God, but don’t let that interfere with your choices. This, I believe, is where the majority of America lives.

103 Major April 18, 2012 at 6:28 pm

Alas, complete rejection of God and an afterlife leads to a fairly hopeless and pitiful existence, does it not?

Since atheists don’t generally seem to feel that their lives are hopeless and pitiful, apparently not.

104 bxg April 18, 2012 at 10:15 pm

> Alas, complete rejection of God and an afterlife leads to a fairly hopeless and pitiful existence, does it not?

You asked a question, so here’s the simple answer: no. You probably have some argument to back up such an – on the face of it – absolutely unfounded non-sequitor so let’s hear it.

For myself (completely rejecting the idea of God) I would say: if, contrary to all reason, the Christian God as conventionally described were revealed as true and the afterlife in heaven as our “reward” were also revealed so, I would not have a happier life but I would have a more purposeful one. Whatever the absolute futility of it might be, and whatever the consequences, my moral sense would require me to devote whatever free will I actually did have to the goal of destroying such an evil, odious, being.

105 Cliff Styles April 18, 2012 at 2:33 pm

mmm…had I made that argument, indeed contemptible. I was after making a comment about the problem that magic knowledge creates for concept formation, and usage; quite regardless, I would expect, of one’s intellectual capacity.

106 Uninformed Observer April 19, 2012 at 1:56 am

Okay, I’ll accept that. Indeed, much historical “intellectual Christianity” has been rooted in just such a dry and hopeless quest to reconcile magic knowledge, as you say, to reason. And if that’s your definition of faith, then I’d agree – it’s hopeless.

But what if cognition were not divorced from knowledge through faith? What if God were real, not in the abstract but in a very concrete and personal sense? What if he could be apprehended in a way that was consistent with reason and the observable universe?

I’m not asking you to believe this, but if it were so, would that change your mind?

107 Major April 19, 2012 at 4:00 am

And if that’s your definition of faith

Well, what’s yours? I understand faith to be belief unsupported by evidence. That’s why it’s so irrational.

What if [God] could be apprehended in a way that was consistent with reason and the observable universe?

Do you claim he can be? If so, what is this alleged way of “apprehending” God that is consistent with reason and observation? (And what is “apprehending” God supposed to mean, anyway? Religious apologists often resort to this kind of obscurantist language to try and lend their nonsensical beliefs an air of profundity).

108 Uninformed Observer April 19, 2012 at 9:32 am

Reply to Major below, since we’re out of levels (though maybe that’s a hint to me to just let it go):

I would say belief unsupported by evidence is conjecture, or maybe delusion. It’s certainly understandable to call a set of beliefs delusional when the evidence for those beliefs is not available to you. And when it’s just a few nutzos claiming aliens hiding behind a comet or whatever, I’m right there with you. Would you put me in that category? Or Aquinas, or Augustine, or Calvin, or Barth, or Bonhoeffer? (not that I’m putting myself on their level, just that we share a common delusion, if you will) Is it possible that they would say that their belief was not in fact “unsupported by evidence?”

Miriam-Webster defines “apprehend” as ‘to become aware of; perceive’ and ‘to grasp with the understanding; recognize the meaning of.’ It’s not an attempt at profundity. It captures pretty well my own experience of interacting with someone my eyes cannot see and my ears cannot hear, but whom I know regardless.

109 Major April 19, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Would you put me in that category?

I’m not sure, because you still haven’t explained what YOU mean by “faith.” If you think your religious beliefs are supported by evidence, what is that evidence?

It captures pretty well my own experience of interacting with someone my eyes cannot see and my ears cannot hear, but whom I know regardless.

Why should anyone, including you, believe that this experience is some kind of perception of a real entity rather than a delusion, hallucination, or other kind of cognitive failure on your part? Many people claim to have experienced God. The fact that these claims are so varied and inconsistent strongly suggests that they are false. If God exists, why doesn’t he make his existence clear to everyone? Why is there so much disagreement among people who claim to have experienced and communicated with God as to his nature and wishes? Why do their experiences tend to support what they were taught to believe about God? The obvious explanation, the rational explanation, the economical explanation, is that your experience is simply a product of your imagination. Your mind is playing tricks on you.

110 Anti-Gnostic April 18, 2012 at 1:09 pm

“Where is the indigenous and recent highbrow Christian culture of the United States?”

It was the colonists’ Anglican, later Episcopal Church. Then they decided being respectable was more important than being orthodox and abandoned any pretense of systematic theology. Hence, increasing numbers of its membership are finding better things to do on Sunday morning. One can argue given the thin gruel of Protestantism that “highbrow” Christian culture was simply never here.

All that being said, atheists are way outbred by Anabaptist, Catholic, Orthodox Jewish, Muslim and Hindu. I sometimes wonder if this is why more fast food places offer fish. (Seriously). Fortunately there’s still lots of land. (Also seriously).

111 Major April 18, 2012 at 1:23 pm

All that being said, atheists are way outbred by Anabaptist, Catholic, Orthodox Jewish, Muslim and Hindu

Religious adherence is not a genetic trait inherited from one’s parents. Atheism is growing because people are increasingly rejecting the religion of their parents.

112 Anti-Gnostic April 18, 2012 at 1:28 pm

Atheism is dying because it really can’t provide a reason to have kids. That’s why atheistic cultures have to import theistic cultures.

Not that I think Mexican Catholics and Arab/African Muslims are going to bother with paying the nursing home bills for old, childless atheists.

113 Major April 18, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Atheism is growing, not dying. But secularism does not necessarily equate to formal atheism. Many people seem to retain a weak belief in a God or “higher power” of some kind without being religious in any conventional sense.

114 Steve April 18, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Why are religious cultures more inclined to have children? Are most “gods” against birth control? You wonder at times how modern people know the intentions of their gods with regards to modern technology. I am saying in theory – in practice it is clear religious leaders decide the god’s opinion based on their own beliefs.

115 Anti-Gnostic April 18, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Religious culture seems to cultivate a sense of a chain of being stretching from the beginning of the universe to the present and forward. Atheistic cultures are just about the here and now, which isn’t a successful attitude for families.

When you look at the statistics it isn’t even close. Western Baby Boomers are dying and the Gen X offspring they did manage to have are not replacing them. Europe, America, Canada, are going to be swamped with religious, mostly Christian and Muslim.

116 Steve April 18, 2012 at 4:20 pm

Interesting… from my (limited) experience with religion in the southern United States the opposite appears to be true. The religious believe the end of the world may be eminent while the non-religious have more distant future concerns. Regardless your point about birth rates is valid.

117 msgkings April 18, 2012 at 4:25 pm

Wrong again, A-G. The baby boom echo generation is actually ‘Generation Y’. And it’s huge.

Grow up, dude.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_Y

118 Anti-Gnostic April 18, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Their TFR’s are below replacement–they are done. White baby boomers and their silly offspring will be replaced by Mexican Catholics and African and Arab Muslims. Anabaptists, Mormons and Orthodox Jews will still be around. Cultures that can’t generate grandchildren won’t.

119 Pat MacAuley April 18, 2012 at 5:31 pm

A huge portion of Generation-Y are immigrants and their children, not the children of Baby-Boomers. I don’t think the Boomers had enough children to replace their numbers. (I checked for numbers, but I couldn’t find statistics that were organized right.)

120 Major April 18, 2012 at 5:48 pm

Gen Y is less religious than Gen X, which is in turn less religious than Boomers. Each birth cohort tends to be less religious than the preceding one. This trend has been going on for at least a century.

http://www.pewforum.org/Age/Religion-Among-the-Millennials.aspx

121 GiT April 19, 2012 at 1:01 am

“Each birth cohort tends to be less religious than the preceding one. This trend has been going on for at least a century.”

And thank God for that.

122 8 April 19, 2012 at 6:51 am

There’s some evidence that religious belief is genetically heritable, as are political beliefs. The trend towards homeschooling and the “culture wars” have religious people more likely to raise their children away from secular influences. The question is mainly whether the religious growth seen today translates into future adherence. Right now the religious with the highest growth rates are the most orthodox sects and their numbers are small, so society grows more secular, yet the orthodox religious population grows larger.

123 jseliger April 18, 2012 at 1:13 pm

I wonder why a large divergence in American religious signaling (as opposed to actual practice) has opened up, while in Europe it seems smaller (see, for example, the discussion in Slate’s “Walking Santa, Talking Christ
Why do Americans claim to be more religious than they are?
” The trappings of religion seem to offer benefits to some people, especially the non-intelligentsia, even when religious doctrine is unimportant. The only popular media representation of this sort of thing I can remember is in Friday Night Lights, when many of the characters go to church but aren’t theologically inclined.

On a separate but related note, I’ve been reading a lot of John Updike’s novels, and the way many of his characters are aware of each other’s church affiliation is striking (such and such is a Methodist, such and such is an Episcopalian) because a) I don’t think that way, b) I don’t even know the major differences among Christian sects, save for Catholics, and c) to Updike’s characters this is important, but mostly as a form of group membership.

I get the sense that college or academic affiliation is the modern secular equivalent.

124 Uninformed Observer April 18, 2012 at 1:21 pm

In many ways the US is already on the right track. By refusing to endorse or sustain approved state churches (the way many European states do), the US forces dying institutions to adapt (or fully die). Virtually all the mainline denominations have become more reformed in their approaches.

As far as saving religion… much of the role religion traditionally played in regulating society was in effect simply moralism. And moralism is very much alive and well, it’s just a different set of morals. The center of moral authority has moved from the church to environmentalism, talk shows, and politically correct academia.

The good news is, moralists are leaving the church. The allure of moralism was always about identifying yourself as one of the right kind of people, and as the church loses its traditional place in our society the rewards of inclusion are changing. That’s affecting the reasons people have for coming to the church, and so also the kinds of people who come. If you believe as I do that the church has a role to play that is not purely economic or regulatory, this is a good thing.

125 Major April 18, 2012 at 7:06 pm

If you believe as I do that the church has a role to play that is not purely economic or regulatory, this is a good thing.

So, what is that role? “Moralism” is central to Christianity. The Fall. The Flood. The Ten Commandments. The Sermon on the Mount. Sin, judgment, atonement, redemption. Heaven and Hell. If you get rid of the moralism, I’m not sure what you think is left. When liberal western Christians attempt to transform their religion into an intellectually and morally respectable belief system, the result is either trivial or incoherent.

126 Even Better April 18, 2012 at 11:34 pm

Distinctions need to be made between a group maintaining moral standards for itself, it professing its own set moral standards, and it trying to regulate or enforce moral standards on others. For example, it makes sense for a Christian pastor to call up another Christian pastor and tell him to stop his extra-marital affairs. It makes sense for a Christian pastor to get up an church and preach that fornication and adultery are wrong.
And it is a good thing people generally no longer think it makes sense for Christians or their pastors to try to actually FORCE (by bullying or lawmaking) a nonreligious person into compliance with these strictures. Or in other words, that the equivalent to pinning scarlet As on women’s chests is no longer the prerogative of the church.

127 Major April 19, 2012 at 12:38 am

It makes sense for a Christian pastor to get up an church and preach that fornication and adultery are wrong

Most people are probably on board with the adultery-is-wrong part, at least as a general principle, because adultery typically involves deception and betrayal of trust. But the fornication-is-wrong part just sets people’s eyes rolling. Even most self-identified Christians don’t seem to take it seriously any more.

128 Even Better April 19, 2012 at 2:23 am

If they don’t take it seriously, they aren’t probably very serious Christians. I know a lot of young Christians who made maintaining purity to their future spouse a priority and were able to demonstrate fidelity to their own convictions (my own marriage and three other married couples whose weddings I was a bridesmaid in are examples). I also know Christians who failed to live up to their own convictions, and have repented their failure. I’m skeptical of people who call themselves Christians if they don’t place any importance on the issue. Now just because I think it’s wrong, doesn’t mean that I want to limit teenagers’ or anyone else’s access to sex education and birth control or that trying to minimize the possible negative repercussions like STDs and unwanted pregnancy would mean sanctioning it.

129 Major April 19, 2012 at 3:45 am

If they don’t take it seriously, they aren’t probably very serious Christians.

Then most self-identified Christians, at least in the developed world, probably aren’t very serious Christians. But I think we already knew that, from their beliefs and behavior more generally.

I wonder what proportion of self-professed Christians are virgins on their wedding day. I’m guessing it’s pretty low.

130 Bradley Gardner April 18, 2012 at 1:28 pm

Flannery O’Conner should be required reading in seventh grade. A Good Man is Hard to Find is much more entertaining than To Kill a Mockingbird.

But I’m Catholic, and the book all in all is pretty anti-protestant.

131 Mark April 18, 2012 at 1:44 pm

True peak oil or expensive personal transportation would help.

Why? Because all the things that compete with Sunday morning worship at a local confessional church would be much more expensive. Internal to the church the confessional churches have trouble competing with the big production value oriented churches. The intellectual faith was put aside as boring when it was easy to drive to the Nashville church. External to the church in our work-a-holic culture the church finds itself competing with everything that people put off until Sunday: sleep, outdoor fun, family time, museums, theater, etc. Higher personal transportation costs would make all of those things more expensive compared to the simpler joys of the community church. And it was/is that community church that was confessional or more intellectual. They demanded an educated clergy. The smaller community that knows itself better is a deeper place. You can fake emotionalism, you have to grow into an abiding intellectual faith. Cheap gas giving rise to mobility really hurt those places and put them in competition with all kinds of “candy”.

One other reason. It would completely in line with the humor of the Christian God to take policies pushed by the party of the atheist and things denied by the party of the emotional faith to marginally restore some doctrinally sound churches.

132 Urso April 18, 2012 at 3:03 pm

“External to the church in our work-a-holic culture the church finds itself competing with everything that people put off until Sunday: sleep, outdoor fun, family time, museums, theater, etc.”

This is an excellent point that I had not considered. Americans may well be “busying” themselves out of regular church attendance

133 dead serious April 18, 2012 at 3:37 pm

Like sleeping in?

I would argue that anyone who views church service as some kind of entertainment has never been to a Catholic mass.

134 Lyman Stone April 18, 2012 at 1:47 pm

This is false.

The growing denominations are more orthodox/conservative: Pentecostals, Anglican (not Episcopal), Eastern Orthodoxy, nondenominational megachurches… mainline traditions are dying out. Many flagship denominations (PCA, UCC/DOC, Episcopalians, ELCA) have merged in altar and pulpit fellowship due to severe constraints on money and recruitment.

Intellectual Christianity is struggling, however, within almost all factions of American Christianity. Pentecostalism (and many megachurches) are basically hostile to rigorous theological reasoning or detailed religious consideration, while most mainline denominations provide no incentive for intellectuals to stay: they have no meat, and are rapidly collapsing. Furthermore, headhunters on both sides ardently pursue the purification of their respective universities and denominations, seeking means to booting the other side out of the tent.

Furthermore, the church’s moral position is not changing in the sense of a tidal shift; it is simply rationalizing along lines that have existed for decades. Young Christians are not, in the whole, becoming convinced that homosexuality, for example, is right: young Christians are realizing that they don’t jive with much of Christianity at all, besides a few neat parts. However, these young Christians are not people who, in some counterfactual world, would have likely gone on to become martyrs and ministers and heroes of the faith, probably. A large number of young Christians are rediscovering old Christian intellectual traditions, and finding them vital and valuable. Their numbers will not be sufficient to replenish the church as it is today; in the long run, Christianity will likely be smaller in the US than it presently is: but you don’t need 80% of a population of 300 million or more to have a stable religious community.

In the long run, Christian intellectual traditions will be revived as Christianity declines. The church on the whole will “return to its roots,” and find new champions to carry on the gospel. This shift will be good for Christians and non-Christians alike, as it will sober Christians about their role in society (and the risk of authoritarianism), and simultaneously push Christians to a more intellectual faith. In sum, the church is already well on its away towards rediscovering a more intellectual faith: it just needs another decade or two of attrition and collapsing mainline/liberal denominations, and then it’ll be there.

135 Lyman Stone April 18, 2012 at 1:49 pm

This comment was in reply to “Uninformed Observer” about moralists leaving the church.

136 Uninformed Observer April 18, 2012 at 2:23 pm

I must have written the first post very poorly. I’d say we largely agree.

I was trying to address the economics of religious decline, and counter that with the way the church is changing in our country. For much of our national history, the economic and societal rewards of religious inclusion and conformity were evident, and concurrent with societal inclusion and conformity. Church leaders were pillars of the community. That is increasingly no longer the case, and that’s not a bad thing, I think, for the future of the church.

I do bristle somewhat at the use of ‘anti-intellectualism’ by many critics to mean ‘thinks about things differently than I.’ There is a growing Reformed movement in many US churches, even so-called non-denominational and charismatic churches. There is much to be excited about in contemporary theology and missiology. It’s just not happening in the old ivory towers.

137 Rubashov April 18, 2012 at 3:27 pm

+1 for both Lyman Stone and Uniformed Observer–the two comments on this thread that actually combine accurate facts and insightful analysis.

138 jseliger April 18, 2012 at 1:50 pm

I wonder why a large divergence in American religious signaling (as opposed to actual practice) has opened up, while in Europe it seems smaller (see, for example, the discussion in Slate’s “Walking Santa, Talking Christ
Why do Americans claim to be more religious than they are?
” The trappings of religion seem to offer benefits to some people, especially the non-intelligentsia, even when religious doctrine is unimportant. The only popular media representation of this sort of thing I can remember is in Friday Night Lights, when many of the characters go to church but aren’t theologically inclined.

On a separate but related note, I’ve been reading a lot of John Updike’s novels, and the way many of his characters are aware of each other’s church affiliation is striking (such and such is a Methodist, such and such is an Episcopalian) because a) I don’t think that way, b) I don’t even know the major differences among Christian sects, save for Catholics, and c) to Updike’s characters this is important, but mostly as a form of group membership.

I get the sense that college or academic affiliation is the modern secular equivalent.

Updike also gets the power of movies: they are sprinkled throughout In the Beauty of the Lilies, which is often boring and over-written; it should be half as long, though as always there are beautiful individual sentences.

In general I find religious discussions very boring but sometimes like meta-religious discussions about why people are religious.

139 Lewis April 18, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Tyler was brought up by atheists. I doubt he understands how much people believe in religion because they think it’s true. Intellectuals are more consistent in their beliefs, and have a harder time reconciling science with biblical authority. It’s easy to say, from the outside, “the bible gives true moral guidance,” or “the bible is the narrative god wants us to know to understand who jesus christ is” or something else vague, but after a while of holding mash like this in your head you start to suspect it’s just hand-waving.

To really believe in christianity, after a while you’ll have to accept that the bible is an accurate account of true events, when it’s not being obviously metaphorical/poetic or presenting symbolic prophecies. Even leaving aside the evolution vs. ID/creationism debate, you’ll have to believe that God wiped out almost all earthly life with a flood around the years 3000-2400 BC; that consequently all races must be descended from eight people in that year; that witchcraft can successfully summon the dead; that demons are ubiquitous; that not only did Jesus rise but all the jewish saints rose from the dead and wandered around Jerusalem for a while…etc. The defences of these beliefs, available on many websites, show the endless imagination needed to justify them. Maybe the bible just isn’t plausible to most educated people, and that’s why there are few Christian intellectuals. I’d like to think at least some of our beliefs are not due 100% to the moralistic fallacy.

140 BrentR April 18, 2012 at 6:44 pm

“To really believe in christianity, after a while you’ll have to accept that the bible is an accurate account of true events, when it’s not being obviously metaphorical/poetic or presenting symbolic prophecies. Even leaving aside the evolution vs. ID/creationism debate, you’ll have to believe that God wiped out almost all earthly life with a flood around the years 3000-2400 BC; that consequently all races must be descended from eight people in that year; that witchcraft can successfully summon the dead; that demons are ubiquitous; that not only did Jesus rise but all the jewish saints rose from the dead and wandered around Jerusalem for a while…etc.”

I’m not sure that is really the case anymore. I think that there is room for Christianity without believing in the infallibility of the Bible, especially many of the very early histories of the Earth. In fact, I think that this assumption is almost necessary for many people to hold an intellectually honest faith. However, this is a road largely untraveled, as it collapses the foundation for too many arguments regarding what is and what is not considered pious living.

At some point, I think that some portion of the church will tackle this issue out of necessity.

141 Ricardo April 19, 2012 at 12:51 pm

I believe one of the reasons Salman Rushdie stirred up so much controversy in the Muslim world was that it rehashed a story (apparently attested to among early Islamic historians) that Muhammed inserted a few lines of his own about the acceptability of worshiping certain pagan idols for political and diplomatic reasons. This presents a rather obvious problem for serious believers of Islam — if it is really true that Muhammed was capable of faking a few lines of the Quran, why stop at the conclusion that only those few lines were faked?

The point here is that Christianity, Judaism and Islam are all based on revelation (not all religions have this problem). Once the credibility of these revelations is called into serious question, the only remaining justification for faith is personal preference. As Bill O’Reilly once put it in one of his discussions with atheists, “It’s true for me.” O’Reilly is a fan of Nietzsche without even knowing it!

142 swedenborg April 18, 2012 at 3:12 pm

Klaas Hendrickse is showing the way: a Christianity that acknowledges that gods are imaginary and that Jesus was a myth.

143 Steve Sailer April 18, 2012 at 3:17 pm

As Ross notes, the movie industry was wildly pro-Catholic in the immediate post-War years, partly because of the huge Catholic market, partly as a solvent to undermine Protestant hegemony. The election and, more decisively, martyrdom and apotheosis of JFK, left Catholics mostly satisfied that they were accepted as equals by Protestants. That left the entertainment industry with new approaches to achieving their goals.

144 highnumber April 18, 2012 at 5:03 pm

Their goals being…?
Selling tickets to movies? Shilling for the tobacco industry?

145 Millian April 18, 2012 at 5:25 pm

It’s iSteve, so “something something head size”.

146 Peter A April 19, 2012 at 7:16 am

I think the correct answer is “undermining the Protestant hegemony so that Jewish hegemony could take its place.”

147 Rahul April 18, 2012 at 4:29 pm

Apart from movies is there a theory to explain the correlation of mafia and religion?

148 MPS April 18, 2012 at 4:35 pm

I don’t think you can go back to an “intellectual” version of Christianity. We know too much.

The fact is, in light of what we know about the human body and the way matter behaves, the idea that a human could be dead for three days and then come back to life and then… what? live forever but fly up into space? I don’t know but any way you end the story it is intellectually repugnant. There is no way to dress this is a way that survives any serious intellectual scrutiny other than to give up on the the “fact” that Jesus the human person rose from the dead.

And yet, once you do that the whole construct degenerates. It degenerates in part because after some thought and debate you realize that you’ve lost contact with all objective standards and all you are doing is making things up, pushing yourself into corners where you hope you can survive objective scrutiny because you already know your ideas have no basis in empirical reality.

I realize that there are plenty of smart people who believe they subscribe to an intellectual version of Christianity, but they are engaging special pleading and simply haven’t confronted every aspect of the question with an open mind. This works for people with their private thoughts, it doesn’t work in an open world of free discussion and debate. There is simply no room for Christianity in open, critical, intellectual discourse.

149 Millian April 18, 2012 at 5:07 pm

Yes, I have to agree with this: “We know too much.” Setting aside the ability to openly express non-religious beliefs without being ostracised, the advances in knowledge between 1850 and 1950 are too big to nudge in a democratic society, especially:
– evolution
– germ theory
– brain damage and theories of mental illness
– theoretical physics
– the Holocaust

The first four reduce the need to believe in a god in order to avoid seeming like a gadfly or a charlatan about basic questions of human existence. The last is a very serious challenge to the idea of a loving god (theodicy).

Falls in religious practice are only partially due to this list, though evolution surely plays a part. None of this list need repress sheer numbers! Most people don’t care about having true beliefs! But an intellectual does – and the apparatus, social and intellectual, no longer exists that made Christianity advantageous for intellectuals in 1900.

150 Ted Craig April 18, 2012 at 6:54 pm

For thousands of years, the Jews lived without a homeland. They have had one since the Holocaust.
I’m not saying I believe that happened, but one could just as easily argue the Holocaust was a refutation of science, along with Hiroshima.

151 James Davies April 20, 2012 at 5:41 pm

For many Jews, the Holocaust was a refutation of a loving, caring God.

152 BrentR April 18, 2012 at 7:01 pm

Do we really know enough? Does this argument strike anyone else as a bit arrogant concerning the body of knowledge regarding Science?

We are still infants regarding the understanding of the really small stuff like energy and matter. I wonder if, in future generations, the idea of a being that is not bound by the physical universe as we currently understand it today will become more plausible.

“I realize that there are plenty of smart people who believe they subscribe to an intellectual version of Christianity, but they are engaging special pleading and simply haven’t confronted every aspect of the question with an open mind. This works for people with their private thoughts, it doesn’t work in an open world of free discussion and debate. There is simply no room for Christianity in open, critical, intellectual discourse.”

I generally agree with you here, except for the “Open mind” part. The arguments required to form an intellectual foundation require some skepticism of the plausibility of the historic texts, along with some cynicism regarding our current understanding of the physics of the universe, both of which are out of the mainstream, and therefore not credible to most.

153 Major April 18, 2012 at 7:30 pm

Do we really know enough? Does this argument strike anyone else as a bit arrogant concerning the body of knowledge regarding Science?

We have a mountain of scientific evidence that a 3-day-old human corpse cannot come back to life. We cannot absolutely rule out the possibility, just as we can’t absolutely rule out the possibility that the earth is only 6,000 years old, but both claims are so implausible as to be laughable.

154 BrentR April 19, 2012 at 10:27 am

Thanks Major, this post made my point completely.

If people are unwilling to consider: 1) super-natural (as we understand nature) explanations for certain things; and 2) many of the Biblical teachings regarding ancient history are incorrect, but that is not a critical flaw to the concept of Christianity, there is no room to have a “rational” discussion.

155 Major April 19, 2012 at 2:27 pm

It’s not a matter of failing to “consider” supernatural explanations. We reject those explanations because there’s no evidence that they’re true.

I don’t know what you mean by “the concept of Christianity.” What’s that supposed to mean? The Resurrection (Jesus rising from the dead and ascending into Heaven) is certainly a central teaching of Christianity.

156 Rustywheeler April 19, 2012 at 5:24 pm

I think that ‘people’ (intellectual non-believers) ARE willing to consider such propositions, provided some compelling evidence is put forth.

Alas…

157 Benny Lava April 18, 2012 at 7:45 pm

High brow Christians? They went extinct. It turns out that Christianity is a peasant religion. No birth control? Why, so the peasants are forced to spit out an army of poor miserable children? Oh ok. Whatever you say. I mean this is probably the biggest reason why the Catholic Church is falling apart. It won’t let anything stand in the way of protecting its own pedophiles and it tells the faithful that they cannot use birth control? Married couples must either abstain from sex or have huge families like those poor Irish peasants? Boy the Catholic Church sure did a number on Ireland.

Oh but what about the Protestants? Oh they are going through their own mini inquisition and determined to throw out all those poor souls who believe in evolution. Again the peasants with their superstitions. This is why there are so few smart people who are devout. If you stop being a peasant and think about it for a few minutes the whole system is so stupid.

158 Anti-Gnostic April 18, 2012 at 10:07 pm

The Catholic Church has severe institutional problems. Both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches have rigorous, systematic theologies that have thought through these issues. But in America, Christianity is just a bunch of Protestants wandering around with their King James Bibles.

In purely practical terms, it’s good to have an unquestionable belief system that tells high time-preference individuals to get married and stay married and help each other out.

159 Benny Lava April 18, 2012 at 10:59 pm

Why?

160 Anti-Gnostic April 19, 2012 at 9:14 am

To use Murray’s terms, Fishtown needs bright-line rules so its residents do good, forward-thinking things like the cognitive elites do. In practice, Belmont is downright puritanical, with stable, hetero-normative families, exercise, substance abuse discouraged, work ethic, etc. But Belmont now espouses a relativistic worldview which, when practiced by Fishtown, doesn’t turn out so well. “Murphy Brown” (an actual rarity among the elites) has the brains and money to get away with being a single mom. But in Fishtown that means ghettoes and trailer parks full of inter-generational poverty. The abandonment of religion by the elites has not been a positive development for the left half of the curve.

161 Rustywheeler April 19, 2012 at 5:26 pm

Is it just me or:

1. …are you making a purely utilitarian argument in favor of religion?
2. …how would you sell utility as revealed truth?

162 Benny Lava April 19, 2012 at 7:34 pm

I have no idea what you are saying but it sounds like you are arguing in favor of family planning, which would of course be the norm if Christians got out of the way. I don’t know much about this fish town place but poor people tend to be religious which is why they are poor. They follow the teachings of the peasant religion Christianity. Rich people go on birth control, go to college, and don’t believe in god. So it sounds like you don’t know what you are talking about, which is not surprising.

163 figleaf April 18, 2012 at 7:53 pm

My biggest guess for why there’s less balance in Christian intellectual traditions on the left is that to a very large degree the New Deal agenda is effectively the Sermon on the Mount made Federal law.

It has always puzzled me that no one on the Right have never made an establishment-clause argument against the Head Start, Families With Dependent Children, Medicaid, Earned Income Tax Credit, the ACA, and so on.

There’s simply no denying that the essence of the contemporary Republican political agenda is the repeal of the Sermon on the Mount both at a federal level and, more insidiously for real Christianity, at the church level where more and more extremist churches abandoning “good works” on the principle that charity = mollycoddling the meek, the sick, the poor in spirit, and those who are persecuted and falsely spoken evil of for righteousness’ sake.

The problem, I think, is that a very accurate metric of left vs. right Christianity is that Christians on the left love Jesus and Christians on the right only fear Hell or perhaps covet Heaven. Christians of the left are drawn to the celestial message of forgiveness. And as such I think we’re just disinclined to nail Matthew 23 through the tongues of the hypocrites, Pharisees, money changers, and war-hippies of the Right no matter how richly they deserve it. And, unfortunately, I think, no matter how much they they tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them, how much they shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces without themselves entering, nor allow those enter who are trying to. No matter how much the Right cleans the outside of their cups and dishes, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.

Nor, for better or worse, are Christians of the left inclined to preach on Matthew 6 — which if there was a rich intellectual and spirited tradition of Christianity on the left, is an oversight because of the ominous prospect that the Rick Perrys and Michelle Bachmanns, the Roy Moores, the Glenn Becks, the Franklin Grahams and Rick Warrens, the George Wills and even the Ross Douthats could learn too late from St. Peter that they had already had their rewards.

It’s significant that the only President in the last 50 years to openly profess his faith and and conscientiously attempt to incorporate his faith in policy was a) unambiguously an intellectual and of the Left and also b) scrupulous never to criticize the Christian faith of others no matter how much it pained him to remain silent. If he were unique and not of a pattern then perhaps we would have the religious challenges we face today in America.

I don’t know how we got here. But having arrived it’s very difficult to see how to “rebrand” Christianity away from the emptiness of Jumbotrons, the paradox of homophobic pedophilia, the hypocrisy of virginity fetishism, the restoration of the money changers, the the ugliness of being “pro-life” only until birth (and even then only because children are “the wages of sin” for women), literal interpretations of an amazingly limited number of lines in the Bible, and above all the vilification and abandonment of the poor, the sick, the elderly, and the meek. And without a turnaround it’s hard to imagine why those young, spirited, potentially intellectual people with any chance of actual salvation would seek it in the nest of vipers contemporary “Christianity,” as triumphantly reigned over by the Right.

Meanwhile, for better or worse (perhaps for worse) the people who might otherwise lead them are too busy hiding their lamps under bushels. Possibly out of embarrassment. Possibly out of (justified?) fear of Gabrielle Giffords style persecution.

figleaf

164 Bill April 18, 2012 at 9:24 pm

Really good writing!

165 Benny Lava April 18, 2012 at 11:02 pm

I concur!

166 Rustywheeler April 19, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Third.

167 Even Better April 19, 2012 at 3:45 am

“The problem, I think, is that a very accurate metric of left vs. right Christianity is that Christians on the left love Jesus and Christians on the right only fear Hell or perhaps covet Heaven. Christians of the left are drawn to the celestial message of forgiveness.”

As far as your characterization of the Right, you seem to be overgeneralizing a bit. Or rather, denying the possibility that a good portion of the population can be motivated by conscience when, in your reference to Matthew 6 and 23, you suggest they are all as hypocrites who only pay lip service to morality for the sake of their image. However, I think you have confused the passage’s message against not practicing what you preach with not preaching at all. The sweetness of forgiveness can only be understood in light of an appreciation of the bitterness of failing to live up to God’s standards of holiness.

I think the real problem with the Right is the money fueling the political system. Between unlimited donations to political action committees and a certain cable news organization in the lucrative business of fear-mongering, the religious right is being co opted by the moneyed interests in the country.

As a moderate, an independent and a Christian, the whole process of Left and Right vilifying each other is tedious in the extreme. The Right becomes incensed when programs via radio and TV (mediums which used to supply reliable information) terrify them with supposed threats from liberals to their values or their paycheck. They cling to their guns and make speeches about defending their God, their family values, and their incomes, upon which, the Left dismisses them as greedy, self-righteous crazies. If Left and the Right spent more time talking to each other about issues instead of repeating lies and misconceptions about each other to people who agree with them, there would be more peace on earth and goodwill to men.

168 Ricardo April 19, 2012 at 5:27 am

“Between unlimited donations to political action committees and a certain cable news organization in the lucrative business of fear-mongering, the religious right is being co opted by the moneyed interests in the country.”

Might the causation here be backwards? American Christianity has always had its charlatans and Elmer Gantry fund-raising types. The association of evangelical Christianity with the Republican Party goes back at least to Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson in the 1980s before SuperPACs or Fox News.

Both certain evangelical organizations and right-wing political organizations depend on the strategy of loyalty through outrage. The extremes on both sides rely on this as do charismatic religious sects. Accusing the ACLU of wanting your children to watch gay porn will almost certainly fill up the collection plate faster (or attract more fans do your cable TV or talk radio program) than delivering staid sermons about Tertullion.

This is just a basic fact about mass movements and attracting money. For instance, Ron Paul’s former staff mentioned that they made more money the more extreme they made the rhetoric in his newsletters. This strategy does not aim to attract a majority of people — it instead attracts hardcore supporters who will be loyal donors or viewers.

169 choncan April 20, 2012 at 4:49 am

bravo, figleaf!

170 Tony April 18, 2012 at 11:26 pm

It’s impossible to prove whether there’s a god or afterlife, but one thing we know for sure is that every religion we have was created by man. Just because a religion is really old doesn’t make it less of a fiction than Scientology or some other recent invention. Each religion has also changed what it believes over time. So, which version of the truth is true? And, even if some belief or other ends up being true, that doesn’t make that religion right, but merely lucky. So, maybe there’s a lack of intellectual exploration of religion because there’s nothing to explore?

171 Matt April 18, 2012 at 11:29 pm

I would say getting rid of the welfare state is likely to have a positive impact on the intelligence in religion. I think if more people were dependent on a church for basic welfare (or perhaps basic medical care), belonging to church would be more interesting and intellectually stimulating. Basically, I think a lot of intelligent people see poor people as pets or an experiment or some grand complex problem to be solved. So if affecting the poor was a question of which theology better served man instead of which government policy best served man, the intellectual would turn to religion (on the margin, of course). They would go to church and bring their big brains with them. And maybe Tyler’s blog would become Marginal Revelations.

I used welfare but my point is that religion needs something that is; intellectually challenging, unique to religion, important, and is inherently separate from theology. They need to make church more nerd friendly by providing nerds with a challenge that only nerds could solve and only through religion. I believe that welfare used to be that for the church.

172 SCS April 19, 2012 at 12:00 am

A comment about the quote; having not read the book. Did Jewish writers use catholicism as a stand in for Judisim. Both having been outside early century WASPS views but catholicism being the more acceptable of the two.

173 8 April 19, 2012 at 7:19 am

Most atheists seem to have rejected God around age 12-16 and their arguments haven’t developed beyond that. The average atheist seems to be a 110-120 IQ person raised in a 100 IQ believer environment. (As someone who went through Catholic CCD, I can attest that generalized religious education is dumbed down to the common denominator.) Atheists and secularists think they’ve reinvented the wheel, but their arguments were made thousands of years ago and at least previous generations of atheists had studied theology. Today, atheism is perhaps more anti-intellectual than it has ever been. Dawkins is to atheism as Rick Warren is to Protestantism. The idea that intellectual believers haven’t wrestled with atheism is not supported by the evidence, but many atheists claim there’s no need to study theology because there’s no God. Atheists in history at least studied religion because they had to, many atheists today are surprisingly ignorant of theology and make absurd claims, such as saying to a Catholic that they don’t believe in evolution, that they believe in creationism and the rapture, when none are Catholic teachings.

174 Ricardo April 19, 2012 at 9:42 am

I agree with most of this but this is all premised on a rather strong double standard. It is true that your average 110-IQ atheist does not have elite-level knowledge of theology. Nor, of course, does your average 110-IQ Christian. Nor are most Christians familiar with the Jewish scholars who considered and argued against the tenets of their theology to say nothing of modern philosophy.

If you are going to base the strengths of Catholicism on the quality of arguments of its elite apologists, you have to seek out their worthy opponents rather than authors of popular-audience books and other amateurs.

175 dead serious April 19, 2012 at 9:44 am

I’ll admit that I fall into that category.

I don’t think about religion just as I don’t think about the universe as a stack of tortoises. As someone said above: we know more now.

Put it this way, I also don’t think about – and thus don’t have an argument against – Gods. E.g. Zeus, Hera, Thor, Loki, Vishnu, Lakshmi, etc. Should I spend time developing debate points against them?

As to “creationism not being a Catholic teaching” – I think you weren’t paying very close attention in CCD.

176 RAR April 19, 2012 at 4:47 pm

@dead serious – I learned about evolution in my
Episcopalian school. So while I can’t speak for Catholic school, I can say that at least some Christian schools do in fact accept evolution. I never understand why atheists assume that all Christians are anti-evolution. It seems creationists and atheists have one thing in common – they both believe evolution disproves God’s existence. Creationists take this to mean that evolution is false. Atheists take this to mean God does not exist.

177 dead serious April 19, 2012 at 8:52 pm

I don’t assume that all Christians are anti-evolution. I assume that many Catholics – and perhaps not even most Catholics – are. Unfortunately, that subset seems to be very vocal in trumpeting their ignorance and worse, wants the rest of us to be subjugated to it.

With regard to your last three sentences, evolution is pretty far down on my list of the many things that disprove God’s existence so I don’t agree with your premises.

178 dead serious April 19, 2012 at 8:54 pm

Furthermore, I can understand the argument that says an all-knowing power – if one were to exist – could have created a world in which evolution was the mechanism for the eventual spawning of mankind.

I simply don’t believe in the all-knowing power part of that equation.

179 Major April 19, 2012 at 4:04 pm

I’m not sure why you think the arguments for atheism need to be “developed.” The basic argument for atheism is the lack of evidence that God exists. This can be elaborated in various ways to show that theism in any of its traditional religious incarnations is not merely unsupported but wildly implausible. But the basic argument for disbelief in God is the lack of evidence that there is a God. If you think you have a persuasive rebuttal to this argument, present it.

Theology is mostly nonsense. As Dawkins says, one doesn’t need a detailed knowledge of theology to dismiss it any more than one needs a detailed knowledge of, say, “fairiology” (speculations on the nature of fairies) to dismiss that.

180 Major April 19, 2012 at 4:20 pm

many atheists today are surprisingly ignorant of theology and make absurd claims, such as saying to a Catholic that they don’t believe in evolution

A self-identified Catholic may or may not believe any particular teaching of the Catholic Church. We know from polls and other data that there is massive dissent among the Catholic laity on many of the church’s sexual teachings. As far as I’m aware, the Catholic Church has not issued a definitive statement about evolution, but church leaders, including the previous pope, have made statements favoring some form of “Intelligent Design.” Intelligent Design is not Evolution. Evolution describes a mechanism of unguided natural processes, not interventions from supernatural agents.

181 Lobster April 20, 2012 at 6:44 pm

Unless there’s been a recent change, I recall the current ‘official’ Catholic position being along the lines of: (1) evolution has occurred by the processes identified by scientists, (2) God has played a role in initiating and likely “guiding” these processes in a way that is not clear but also not incompatible with the modern synthesis, (3) ‘intelligent design’ is not scientific and its core idea that natural processes cannot explain the diversity of life are false.

Fake edit: the Wikipedia page on this is interesting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_and_evolution

182 Major April 21, 2012 at 12:27 am

God has played a role in initiating and likely “guiding” these processes in a way that is not clear but also not incompatible with the modern synthesis

Any kind of supernatural “guidance” is incompatible with evolution. Evolution is about natural processes. The only “guidance” is the laws of nature. Supernatural interventions to alter the course of natural processes aren’t allowed.

183 Lobster April 21, 2012 at 4:22 am

No doubt the Vatican respectfully disagree with your assertion of incompatibility. And I suspect they’d begin their explanation by pointing out that according to their beliefs, God, the Creator, was responsible for crafting the laws and matter of our cosmos, that the processes directly follow from His design, and in His wisdom He might order things in such a way that on a planet such as ours these processes might form and sprout the seeds of life that may bloom into mankind, and that this was His intent as indicated to us through His Word. They may also argue that God is not removed but exists in all things, and that in talking about matter and natural processes we are not talking about something separate from God. etc.

I’m not Catholic, so I can’t lay out for you what really comprises their position. The point is that the supernatural, being outside direct experience and unverifiable empirically either pro or con—that its role in our world is an argument that won’t end, that’s gone on for thousands of years and may continue hundreds or thousands yet. I think we could all save ourselves a lot of trouble and stress and ill will by focusing instead on the important part, the thing that moves us forward and allows the co-existence of mature and robust secular and religious domains, which is this: the church accepts scientific understanding. They are not interested in kicking and screaming against the inevitable expansion of knowledge that may challenge some of our old ideas of the natural world. They view the findings of science as deepening our wonder and awe of creation, expansion of knowledge itself becoming a sort of worship. The Vatican is all-in on evolution and the Big Bang (and so on), and they strongly support its proper teaching and oppose the unscientific likes of young-earth creationism and intelligent design.

184 Major April 21, 2012 at 10:51 pm

A God who created the laws of nature and then stepped back and allowed them to unfold is the God of Deism, not Christianity. Evolution’s naturalistic account of life does not contain, and does not allow, a black box labeled “And God tweaked things here.” Either the Catholic Church accepts evolution’s account of life, or it rejects that account in favor of supernatural agency. It can’t have it both ways.

185 someofparts April 19, 2012 at 12:23 pm

Last I heard from anthropologists there were over a hundred existing religions on the planet as we speak. So, even if religion is not something a community can change by fiat, shouldn’t we at least try to jettison our own backward religion when there are so many better ones to adopt?

Religions that only worship male gods correlate consistently with cultures that are unjust to women. Since this is a time of transition anyway, why not go for an upgrade? Any church that makes the world a better place for wanker misogynist crackpots like Douthat, while making everything much worse for over 50% of the population, seems like a system that could use some improving.

Plus, think of the doctors whose lives would be saved if we switched to a religion that doesn’t believe in gunning them down for helping women.

186 Anti-Gnostic April 19, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Which religions out there regard abortion as “helping women?”

Why would any society that doesn’t want to disappear adopt such a stance?

187 Lobster April 20, 2012 at 6:53 pm

Because legal availability of abortion, even positive regard for abortion (w/ or w/o reasonable restrictions), does not logically submit to the disappearance of said society? Because we accept that though some pregnancies will end in abortion and that in some cases this may be a good thing, it does not stand to reason that all or even most pregnancies will end in abortion, or that nobody will seek to have a child or children, or even that those having one or more abortions will not also at some other time bear children (if they have not already)?

188 BobN April 19, 2012 at 8:33 pm

“Not to mention gay rights.”

Ah, the irony. Why do you suppose there were so many pro-Catholic movies, stories, etc. in the 50s? Yes, it did happen to coincide with the penetration of television, which made it all the more effective and rapid, but what was going on was a purposeful campaign of trying to achieve, first, tolerance and, eventually, acceptance of the Catholic minority after a very long period of oppression and discrimination. America was in the final stages of digesting the vast influx of Catholic immigrants that began in the late 1800s. Turns out, those Catholics weren’t so bad after all. At least not until they had a firm enough hold to turn on other minorities…

189 BobN April 19, 2012 at 8:34 pm

Of course, my “they” in the last sentence was in reference to the hierarchy, not the laity.

190 Anti-Gnostic April 20, 2012 at 10:17 am

This is in response to Benny Lava and Rusty Wheeler:

If you’re a high time-preference individual, you are not going to devote much thought to long-term consequences of things like promiscuous sex, substance abuse, gambling, etc. The cognitive elites do, and as Murray documents, their personal lives are downright puritanical. Publicly though, their message is one of uber-tolerance and moral relativism. When some poor schmuck in a trailer park puts this in practice, he ends up with a horribly complicated personal life and doesn’t have the resources to turn things around. Robert Downey, Jr. can go on a bender for a decade and then spring back. Jodie Foster can be a multi-millionaire single mom. The proles, not so much.

We spend an awful lot of money trying to rehabilitate people who put in practice what the ruling class propounds, or at least enables: unbridled sexuality, drug use, easy divorce. Maybe it’s not a bad idea for the elites to at least give lip service to religious faith for the benefit of people who don’t think for themselves.

This reminds me of another thread where, as someone else commented, all the high-G atheists’ heads were exploding upon realizing that the rules of social conservatism aren’t for their benefit.

191 James Davies April 20, 2012 at 4:47 pm

I would add that in addition to television, birth control and sexual liberation, the things that really have hit religion hard are the fact that its Eternal Truths are at odds with empirical facts about the world. The modern, educated person does not accept virgin births and resurrections. The modern world is a testament to the empiricism of science and technology. It’s no coincidence that scientists as a group are far less religious than the US population as a whole.

We can’t encourage expanded training in science for young people and at the same time ask these people to take traditional, popular religion seriously. Perhaps Ross discusses this in his book?

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