Religion

I can think of a few reasons:

1. Many of the structures in places are perceived as failing, even though in absolute terms they are not obviously doing worse than previous times.

2. There is a rise in nationalist sentiment and a semi-cosmopolitan ethic is starting to lose influence.

3. The chance of violent conflict is rising.

4. Dialogue is becoming more polarized and bigoted, and at some margins stupider.

5. Tales of gruesome torture are being spread by new publishing and communications media.

6. The world may nonetheless end up much better off, but the ride to get there will be rocky iindeed.

I have been reading Carlos M.N. Eire, Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650.  Yes I know it is 893 pp., but it is actually one of the most readable books I have had in my hands all year.

Swedish church to use drones to drop thousands of Bibles in ISIS-controlled Iraq

The story is here, via Joel Grus.

The young are more hostile to refugees than their parents: over 80% of Poles aged 18-34 oppose taking them in, compared with 52% of those over 65. They are also more in favour of border controls within the EU. Many of the teenage pilgrims in Krakow say they fear a wave of “Islamisation” or “secularisation” from western Europe. (Oddly, they sometimes conflate the two.) The Pope is “great on faith but not on politics”, says a young street sweeper from Nowa Huta, an industrial area of Krakow.

That is from The Economist, the article is interesting more generally.  I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: the important European thinkers of the next generation will be religious, not left-wing and secular.

Here is the latest report:

The man behind the Nice truck attack drank alcohol, beat his wife and has been described as “not a Muslim but a shit”.

Furthermore about a third of the dead from the attack were Muslims (NYT).

One form of radical Islam is Sufism, many strains of which are pacifist in nature.  It was not too long ago that Amjad Sabri, of Sabri brothers fame, was shot dead in Pakistan by terrorists.  Was he the radical or were they?  And which do we want more of?

Recently I had a long lunch with a researcher in Brussels who was studying terrorism in the city.  He was very much of the view that most of the terrorists and terrorist-candidates are not very religious, although most did end up latching onto Islam as an identity marker and source of group support.

In other words, they are not “radical Islam.”  Here is a Vox piece on why the term “radical Islam” is not always productive.

In general, I am suspicious when someone dismisses a view for being “radical” or “extreme.”  There is usually sloppy thinking behind that designation.  Why not just say what is wrong with the view?  How for instance are we supposed to feel about “radical Christianity”?  Good or bad?  Does it mean Origen or Ted Cruz or something altogether different?  Can’t we just debate the question itself?

The same is true in politics.  Let’s say someone favors free trade and the First Amendment.  Is that “radical”?  Or is it mainstream and thus non-radical?  Does labeling it radical further the debate on whether or not those are the correct positions?

For similar reasons, don’t be too quick to call someone or someone’s views “divisive.”  If the status quo is problematic, a good reform might be divisive in some critical regards.  Arguably the modern world is specializing in “non-divisive” means of creating an ultimately divisive state of affairs.

More generally, when that term “radical” or “extreme” is introduced, there is a presupposition  that no external argument or perspective can be so strong to counter what one’s own swarmy group takes for granted.

This topic seems to have entered the news cycle.  I am not sure how, so I thought I would add a few observations in the interests of clarity:

1. Under the most plausible “yes” scenario, Lucifer inhabits the corpus of us all, not just the Clinton family grandchildren included.

2. The correct answer is still “probably not.”

3. Is there a greater chance that Hillary Clinton is in fact Lucifer himself, rather than merely being possessed by him?  (Would that not also be a new kind of transgender relation?)  No, more likely she would have a Satanic familiar.  In most equilibria, the number of familiars is greater than the number of Satans.  Far greater.

4. Saul D. Alinsky once cited (Milton’s) Lucifer: “Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins — or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom — Lucifer.”  Who does that sound like?  Not Hillary.

5. I find it striking how many observers can so suddenly grow intolerant of religious sentiment, once such sentiment upsets the status relationships they are so intent in seeing through.  It is considered politically incorrect and indeed downright unacceptable to mock those who believe the Deity is present in various religious ceremonies.  Yet may not the Deity’s former premier angel also reside somewhere?  Is it more plausible to believe the demoted angel haunts an obscure mold or grape than that he has carved out a small corner in the crook of the elbow of Hillary Clinton?  What if someone held the latter to be true on grounds of religion and faith?  Is the chance there simply too low compared to the chance of other specific religious beliefs being true?  Where exactly is the probability threshold set for allowed mockery?  How many other people would you need to have believing that with you before it would be “a religion” rather than…?

6. No sir, the separation of church and state will not save you here.  If you indeed felt Lucifer inhabited the corpus of Hillary Clinton, it would be strange to stay silent about such ontology on the grounds of the First Amendment.  So any potential ridiculousness of said belief must derive from epistemic grounds, and not its political implications or uses.

7. The Straussian interpretation of the Republican Convention is the correct one, which is perhaps one reason why Peter Thiel will be speaking there.  They are not saying what they are saying, in fact they are saying “the world is going to hell, and many of those amongst us have been traitorously disloyal.  That is why we scream out stupidities, debase ourselves, and court attention by waving our arms in ridiculous ways.  We are a small church seeking to become larger.”  Is that not how many smaller churches behave?  Is that not how some of the early branches of the Christian church behaved?  Did they have any influence?  See also the remarks of Cass Sunstein.

8. You may or may not agree with the true message of the Convention, but if you think it is merely stupid you are, sooner or later, in for a big surprise.

It seems Millennarian cults really mean it, at least in the experimental context:

We model religious faith as a “demand for beliefs,” following the logic of the Pascalian wager. We show how standard experimental interventions linking financial consequences to falsifiable religious statements can elicit and characterize beliefs. We implemented this approach with members of a group that expected the “End of the World” to occur on May 21, 2011 by varying monetary prizes payable before and after May 21st. To our knowledge, this is the first incentivized elicitation of religious beliefs ever conducted. The results suggest that the members held extreme, sincere beliefs that were unresponsive to experimental manipulations in price.

That is from Ned Augenblick, et.al., forthcoming in the Journal of Public Economics.  Here are ungated copies.

The original pointer was from Robin Hanson.

I have pre-ordered this forthcoming Robert P. Jones book, here is the Amazon description:

Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), challenges us to grasp the profound political and cultural consequences of a new reality—that America is no longer a majority white Christian nation.

For most of our nation’s history, White Christian America (WCA)—the cultural and political edifice built primarily by white Protestant Christians—set the tone for our national policy and shaped American ideals. But especially since the 1990s, WCA has steadily lost influence, following declines within both its mainline and evangelical branches. Today, America is no longer demographically or culturally a majority white Christian nation.

Sam Tanenhaus called it (NYT): “…quite possibly the most illuminating text for this election year.”

Very often they are passed down father to son.  Here is a recent paper by Avdeenko and Siedler:

This study analyzes the importance of parental socialization on the development of children’s far right-wing preferences and attitudes towards immigration. Using longitudinal data from Germany, our intergenerational estimates suggest that the strongest and most important predictor for young people’s right-wing extremism are parents’ right-wing extremist attitudes. While intergenerational associations in attitudes towards immigration are equally high for sons and daughters, we find a positive intergenerational transmission of right-wing extremist party affinity for sons, but not for daughters. Compared to the intergenerational correlation of other party affinities, the high association between fathers’ and sons’ right-wing extremist attitudes is particularly striking.

Here is a sentence from the paper:

Young adults whose parents were very concerned about immigration to German during their childhood years have a 27 percentage point (60 percent) higher likelihood of also expressing strong concerns about immigration as young adults.

This of course should make you less confident of your anti-immigrant views, if indeed you hold them.  Similarly, the intergenerational transmission of particular religious beliefs is also a strong reason not to be very confident in them.  If you get your religious beliefs from your parents and other relatives, through whatever mechanism, rather than from God, well…why are your parents a more reliable source of knowledge about this question than anyone else’s parents?

Maybe so, here is the latest:

Where witchcraft beliefs are widespread, American University Economics Professor Boris Gershman found high levels of mistrust exist among people. Gershman also found a negative relationship between witchcraft beliefs and other metrics of relied upon for a functioning society, including religious participation and charitable giving.

It’s long been argued that witchcraft beliefs impede economic progress and disrupt social relations, and Gershman’s statistical analysis supports that theory. From a policy perspective, Gershman’s results emphasize the importance of accounting for local culture when undertaking development projects, especially those that require communal effort and cooperation. Gershman and other social scientists believe that education can help foster improved trust and decrease the prevalence of witchcraft beliefs.

Furthermore:

Parents in witchcraft-believing societies inculcate antisocial traits in children.

Second-generation immigrants from witchcraft-believing nations are less trusting.

Here is the summary statement, here is the full article.  Here are related papers by Gershman.  For the pointer I thank the excellent Samir Varma.

There are some people who are destined to become adjectives. Pick up a David Hume book you’ve never read before and it’s easy to recognize the ideas and style as Humean. Everything Tolkien wrote is Tolkienesque in a non-tautological sense. This isn’t meant to denounce either writer as boring. Quite the opposite. They produced a range of brilliant and diverse ideas. But there was a hard-to-define and very consistent ethos at the foundation of both. Both authors were very much like themselves.

Robin Hanson is more like himself than anybody else I know. He’s obviously brilliant – a PhD in economics, a masters in physics, work for DARPA, Lockheed, NASA, George Mason, and the Future of Humanity Institute. But his greatest aptitude is in being really, really Hansonian.

He really likes the book.

Here is an excerpt from a longer post, which also includes a summary:

Here are some of the most interesting ideas in the book:

1. Mind speeds: I had not previously spent much time thinking about how our brain’s hardware affects the speed at which we think. As it happens, our minds are spectacularly slow compared to what’s feasible with other materials! Better hardware, as well inequalities of hardware across individuals, will likely drive many parts of em society.

2. Death in the time of copies: An individual’s relationship to death is much different when you can make and store copies of yourself. Given how much of our current lives and societies are wrapped in who dies / how they die / when we die – a world where death is less central has major implications for identity, values, and relationships.

3. Security concerns are paramount: Theft (making copies of you without your permission) thus becomes almost more of an issue than death. As such, laws and cultural taboos will shift with security becoming more central to em value systems.

4. Less democratic: In a short period of a time, a well run non-democratic regime can outperform your average democracy. However, in the modern human world, these regimes often implode on themselves before they can dominate the rest of the world. But in the em world, things will move so fast (economic doubling rates are incredibly fast, every month or two!), that the rewards to short bursts of effective non-democratic regimes may be very high.

5. Religion: I tend not to think of robots as religious, but Robin makes the case that the utility of religion (nicer hard-working people) and the values of the em world (more farmer like) should lead to increased religiosity.

6. Increased utility: The sheer number of ems, coupled with their high mind speeds – as well as the likelihood that there lives will be ok in terms of meaning and happiness – suggests that the transition to an em world will be a positive utility move.

You can order the book here.  Here is my earlier review.

Michael Tomasello reviews theories of learning–some suggest that liberalism may be unnatural:

…a consistent finding in comparative studies is that human children are much more concerned than are other great apes to copy the exact actions of others, including arbitrary gestures, conventions and rituals (Tennie et al. 2009). Indeed, this tendency is so strong…when children do not see a clear goal to an actor’s action, they imitate even more precisely than if they do see a goal…

Moreover, children quickly learn to enforce arbitrary conventions and rituals:

…young children are so concerned with conformity that they will even enforce it on others, even when they themselves are not affected and the action involved is merely an arbitrary convention. For example, if children learn that on this table we play the game this way and on that table we play it another way, if a puppet then plays the game the wrong way on the wrong table, they intervene and stop him (Rakoczy, Hamann, Warneken, & Tomasello, 2010; Rakoczy, Warneken, & Tomasello, 2008)….Interestingly, when actors violate conventional norms, 3-year-olds admonish them more often if they are in-group rather than out-group members, presumably because in-group members should know better and be more committed to how “we” do it (Schmidt, Rakoczy, & Tomasello, 2011).

The enforcement of conformity is so important for young children that 5-year-olds have more positive feelings toward a norm enforcer (even though he is acting aggressively) than they do toward someone who simply lets a norm violation go (even though he is behaving in a neutral manner; Vaish, Herrmann, Markmann, & Tomasello, 2016).

In the environment of evolutionary adaptedness (EEA) an individual could not survive outside the group of their birth and so conformity was a matter of life and death. Conform or be cast out. Conformity to arbitrary convention was not in fact arbitrary but signalled affiliation. Conformity banded groups together.

Today, however, conformity is often counter-productive. Trying to enforce the arbitrary conventions of one’s in-group impedes social cooperation on the scale that makes modernity possible. Conformity also slows the development of new ideas and new ways of doing things–the essence of growth and progress. Even though conformity is now counter-productive the desire to conform and to enforce conformity is buried deep–the atavism of social justice.

Individualism and liberalism are foundational ideas for modernity but these adult ideas battle the desire to conform in our childish hearts.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen on twitter.

Jay McCarthy writes:

I am Mormon. I am from Massachusetts, but lived in Utah for a long time, and have lived in prosperous and not-prosperous Mormon areas.

I don’t think tithing is an effective way to get social status.

Let me explain some mechanics. When I get a paycheck, I got to a Web site the church runs and tell them to transfer 10% from my checking account to their accounts. The new online system lets me do it whenever I want, whereas previously (the online system is about eight months old) I wrote a check and handed it to a local church leader. Even in the old days of physical checks, there was extreme paranoia about keeping this an anonymous process. You would occasionally see people handing their checks, but the only people who could know what the amount was was the local leader (called a bishop) and their one or two clerks. (Aside: this local leader and their clerks are lay people that volunteer on a rotating basis for terms of about three to five years.) In the new system, only the local leader sees your tithing amount and maybe a clerk as they print out reports.

The next step is that each year, around the end of the year (December), you have a meeting with the local leader called “tithing settlement”. Before the meeting, you get a sealed letter from a clerk with a statement of all the money you’ve given. You go to the meeting as an entire family (in my case, my wife and three kids younger than 8). It normally lasts about 30 minutes and you spend the time chatting about how things are going in your life and if you have any needs and what is going on. At the end the bishop remembers, “Oh, it’s tithing settlement.” And says, “Is this amount tithed listed on your report accurate?” then asks “Are you a full tithe payer, a partial tithe payer, or not a tithe payer?”. Whatever you answer, he will have no comment about and then you leave.

The other way that tithing is noticed is that every two years you renewed what is called your “temple recommend”. This is an barcoded ID card that is tied to your membership records in the church database. When you want to go to the temple, you bring this card and they scan it to verify that you are allowed in the temple. (Aside, the temple is not where you go each Sunday. There are about 150 in the world. It is for special occasions and most people that are working try to go monthly, but most retired people try to go daily.) During this renewal process, you have an interview with two local leaders—one that you go to church with and one from the administrative unit above that (called a stake). During this interview, you are asked lots of “Yes” and “No” questions (they are encouraged to not require more than “Yes” or “No” answers, because historically some of these leaders changed the requirements to reflect their own interpretations of the rules.) One of the questions is, “Are you a full tithe payer?”. There is no checking of this answer with the answer you give at tithing settlement.

So, in summary, tithing is such a secretive process that I don’t believe it is a good way to get status.

In the preceding discussion, I always wrote “tithing”, but actually we would say “tithes and offerings” because when you pay you can always give additional money. The additional money can be flagged for certain programs. (The tithing CANNOT be flagged.) For instance, one program is called a “fast offering” and it is used for the poor and needy who are local to you. Others are to sponsor a missionary or help build a temple.

I have never heard a local leader with knowledge of offering matters ever say anything about how much a family gave or if they were giving a lot or being generous or anything like that. I have not been a local leader, but I have been on the executive committee of local congregations and attended all the meetings that the local leader did. If they said anything, it would be considered an incredible violation of protocol.

In my opinion, Mormons gain social status within the group by two major ways. First, by externality conformity to norms, such as dressing modestly, having lots of kids, never cursing, discussing the gospel with each other, and so on. Second, by in kind donation of time. Everything that happens at church is done by volunteers and there are many things that need to happen. Each Sunday, meetings are three hours long and there are many classes and lectures that need to be given. The first hour has about three lectures. The second and third hour each have about fifteen concurrent lessons (for different age groups). So, this means that about 33 people need to volunteer to teach for an hour weekly. On the Wednesdays, all youth from 8 to 18 have their own classes and activities at the church that need to be taught by someone. There’s another program for high school students called Seminary (a dumb name) where they are taught about the scriptures EVERY DAY before school. Outside of Utah, this is a volunteer position typically done by one person and is an immense time commitment. (That’s what I do.)

I think these things are much more expensive than tithing and an academic analysis of Mormonism would get more out of studying their impact than studying tithes and offerings.

— A few small comments.

The tithing settlement form says “The Church provided no goods or services in consideration, in whole or in part, for the contributions detailed below but only intangible religious benefits.” I chuckle every time I see that.

I assume that the details of your tithing are considered if you are considered for prestigious volunteer jobs, like bishop.

In executive meetings, we do hear about what percentage of the local membership paid tithing. In my experience, in Utah, social conformity is high but tithing payment is relatively low, but outside of Utah it is the opposite: there are more diverse Mormons and everyone is paying tithing.

Mormon home production is not caused by tithing. It’s explicit motivation is worry about the millennium (a similar impetus to “preppers”) and getting attacked by the government (as happened in Missouri, Illinois, and Utah in the 1800s.) It’s implicit motivation is to gain social status by conformity to norms.

Here is the original post.

Kenya fact of the day

by on May 13, 2016 at 3:16 am in Religion | Permalink

There are about 300,000 Quakers in the world, and over one-third of them live in Kenya…

While you’re at it, solve for the equilibrium:

While the amount of constituents there is growing by the day, numbers in the West (the United Kingdom and United States, in particular) have nosedived in recent years, some 25 percent from 1972 to 2002, according to the Friends World Committee for Consultation.

More broadly:

The Pew Research Center estimates that there will be two and a half times more Christians in Africa than Europe by 2050. Currently, the numbers are about equal.

Here is the article, via Rachel Strohm.

JR, a loyal MR reader, writes to me:

Your loyal readers, such as myself, know of your love for mormons. This made me curious whether you think the tithing requirement in mormonism have have the same incentive effects as a tax.

On one view, people will only bother giving if they are actually pleased about being able to contribute to church so the tithing is a form of consumption, not a tax.

On another view the tithing is a price you pay to maintain social status in your group. You may be able to cheat a little, but not too much on the requirement before the church notices that you are not paying a sum that corresponds to your apparent income. In that case one would expect it to act more like a tax.

Finally one can speculate that even if one has internalized the requirement to pay the tithe, and really, truly believes it, it might still act as a tax. One might feel it like a duty to pay, but feel any guilt over not maximizing ones income in order to pay more.

What is your take? There are many religions with tithing requirements including Islam so it ought to be of general economic interest to figure out its effects.

I would model tithing as similar to paying a tax, except that a) the act of payment itself yields utility, and b) there may be a kink at the level of the suggested tithe.  For instance you know that if you pay ten percent, you are respected within the church community.  Paying eleven percent does not get you proportionately more respect, however.  In such a model, tax incidence theory changes.  It would matter which side of the market a tax is levied upon, to give one concrete example.  You don’t just care about “how much the church gets,” you also care about “how much you give to the church,” and with the kink  you’ll try to stay at ten percent whether the supply side or demand side of a donation is taxed.  Thus if there is a tax on the demand side you will give more, but not if your contribution is taxed on the side of the church.

This kind of tithing motives also weakens the crowding out of donations if the government subsidizes the church, for instance.  You’ll stick at ten percent even if the church coffers are overflowing from the subsidy.  Or tax subsidies to giving may not push many people over ten percent, because ten percent suffices to earn most of the respect on tap.