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January 09, 2007

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curtisstrong

On a tangential trajctory, I find it very interesting...the idea about "reform" Mormons.

Certainly "reform" Mormons don´t exist in the same way that reform Jews do. However, there are some certain groups that could fit the description. For example, a fairly recent addition that has come into Mormon circles are "post Mormons," or, people who no longer want to be part of the church, or who do not agree with the church´s teachings, yet still hold the church in high esteem, and often still live basically according to it´s teachings because of habit or a belief that such a lifestyle is beneficial. Contrasted with others who have strong, bitter or angry feelings towards their former religion, this "post Mormon" group may consist of a sort of reform group.

In addition, there are some who go to church simply for the social benefit they see within the organization. Better said, they do not attend church because of a strong conviction of it´s truthfulness, but rather because they have friends there, they think the organization is beneficial for themselves and others, or whatever other reason. This could also consist of a "reform" Mormonism.

Next, there are some of us that basically adhere to the idea that politics and religion should remain seperate inasmuch as it is possible. Religion can act and convince others within the sphere of a private institution as much as anyone else, but that when it comes to politics, we should be making the best decision we can for everyone (including different religions, different parts of the country, different philosophies...etc.). This is basically the "give unto Caesar" idea. Within this group there are widely, widely varying views all along the political spectrum, but no one within this group seems to feel extremely threatened when things don´t go exactly as we would prefer.

The last group, perhaps not as large as one might imagine, but very sizeable and persuasive nonetheless, put themselves basically in line with other right wing religious groups as far as politics go. They´re much more inclined to allow religious actions in government, and want the government to implement a sort of basic moral code for everyone to follow. I have been very outspoken against this political philosophy, as BAC can attest. However, even as I disagree, there is a strong conviction that they have a responsibility to do the best they can to influence others to do good. They feel personally responsible for the "righteousness" of their society.

In sum, any of the first three groups could be viewed by some within the Mormon culture as "reform" groups, and not necessarily with much praise in the tone. However, it depends on who you talk to.

Bringing this back to the topic somewhat, my guess is that Mitt Romney is a bit torn between the last two groups. That´s what his political decisions seem to suggest. This may or may not be objectionable, but I don´t think Mitt Romney is quite the "fundamentalist" Mormon that some have implied here.

He certainly won´t be using seer stones to form national policy, in any case.

curtisstrong

Now that I´ve addressed LAK,

I was just wondering exactly how you think ridding the world of religion is going to solve any problems. The nations that have tried to rid themselves of religion are historically just as violent, corrupt, and hellish as those who seem to profess a religious fervor.

In the end, I think it´s the human condition that causes us problems, not religion in and of itself. Religion is used as a mask for our rugged, violent humanity. It´s an excuse, not the cause. If people could listen to their own doctrines of "thou shalt not kill" and so forth, religion could be a wonderful thing.

What do you say?

BAC

I am not sure what your source is for saying that Mr. Romney's position is that "his religion informs his politics."

Consider, for example, the following quote from Mr. Romney:

"People of integrity don't force their beliefs on others, they make sure that others can live by different beliefs they may have."

As Governor, he has never sought to turn his personal religious beliefs into state policy.

LAK

Curtis,

to argue that the failed attempts by communist dictators to rid their countries of religion somehow shows that religion is inevitable or good is a patently absurd argument. It show nothing other than anyone attempting to create some kind of totalitarian state through violent revolution is doomed to fail. Let's not confound the issue.

Go read the Dawkin's new book "The God Delusion." Sounds like you need it.

Romney is heading right on the abortion issue:
http://www.ontheissues.org/Governor/Mitt_Romney_Abortion.htm

Quite honestly, all religious people are creepy. Mormons are especially creepy becasue they believe in even more far fetched stories created by a known swindler, what, less that two hundred years ago? The conformity of behavior, the complete lack of independent thought, the wanton ambition of mormon kids freaked me out in law school. These were not free thinkers, these were automatons, the kind of people who can identify with religious institutions created recently becuase their arents indoctrinated them. A sign of mental weakness above anything. At least the social institutions of Judaism and Christianity have 2-6 thousand years of weight behind them. It doesn't make it any better, but it makes those who succumb to these institutions less creepy in my mind.

Any religion that thought black people were "cursed" until 30 years ago should be viewed with the utmost scrutiny. Same with one that thinks you can become a god and run your own planet. Creepy that they are the same one.

Religion gets too many breaks in our society. People who believe in the nonsense should be viewed as less than independent and good thinkers. It is a sign of a poor mind if you believe in any kind of religious Dogma, but especially one as off the wall as LDS or Scientology.

Save me Jebus.

Erasmussimo

Dear, dear, this discussion certainly exploded. I can offer only a few minor points.

But first, a theoretical point: I notice that there seems to be a lot of boolean thinking going on here. That is, people are expending a lot of effort trying to establish a simple black and white relationship when the truth is grayscale -- or, more accurately, probabilistic. The use of anecdotal evidence is a good example. Anecdotal evidence establishes a probability but nothing approaching a certainty. I offer the utter speculation that this tendency towards boolean thinking may be associated with legal training. After all, one does not go into court and claim that one's client is more likely to be right. Attorneys attempt to prove beyond a doubt that their client is right, right, right. That's boolean thinking. This artificial certainty may be a good way to convince other people, like advertising slogans, but it's not rational thinking.

I think Mr. Levmore nailed it with his observation that religion is a signal. Mr. BAC immediately imposed boolean thinking on the observation by noting that the signal could be misleading. Well, doh! Signals are always noisy -- that doesn't mean we reject them as without information. Voters must sift through a cacophony of signals from candidates -- and golly gee, some candidates even send misleading signals! In such cases, voters are well advised to consider every signal they can find, and the religious beliefs of the candidate are a useful signal to the degree that those beliefs inform the candidate's political beliefs. Thus, religious beliefs must be considered on a case-by-case basis.

I want to dump on the argument made by Mr. HiveRadical:

"the ultimate impotence of human's to apply correctly logical paradigms that massively out flank their finite minds."

This is about as anti-rationalist a statement as I have ever seen on this blog. Yes, rationalism is difficult -- but that does not justify rejecting it. It's not easy advancing science and technology, either, but I doubt that Mr. HiveRadical would have us abandon science and technology.

Rationalism works; irrationalism doesn't. That's why we should strive to maximize our rationalism even though it's difficult.

BAC

Eras, do you support racial profiling?

Like racial profiling, the probative value of "religious" profiling is vastly outweighed by its prejudicial effect. (Nothing "boolean" about that argument, I hope.)

LAK's open animus towards Mormons amply demonstrates the bigotry to which religious profiling appeals.

Cynic

BAC, I'll admit that with respect to Romney specifically, for purposes of this argument I'm taking Linker at his word that Romney intends to run as the religious right candidate. What I understand this to mean is that he has voiced, on behalf of himself, that his politics will be driven by religion.

Taking Romney out of the picture and talking in the abstract, what is so wrong or offensive about taking people at their word? If someone says "Wiccan values drive my politics" it would be FOOLISH of us to look the other way and say "I'm not going to consider Wiccan beliefs in my determination of whether or not to vote for this candidate." This is willful ignorance.

If you want to throw around words like "bigot" (the irony of your baseless insult is laughable -- as a lapsed Catholic who's brought home Jewish and Muslim boyfriends, I've in fact been the victim of bigotry much more than the perpetrator) at least have a damn clue what you're talking about. It is slap in the face to people who actually suffer from actual bigotry, to suggest that my belief that we should get a thorough understanding of a presidential candidate's political personality, constitutes bigotry. If you bothered to read my earlier comments you would note that I specifically said that discounting a politician solely on the basis of his/her affiliation with a particular religion, is wrong. But if that candidate gives us reason to believe that the religion might substantially affect his/her politics, then we should damn well pay attention to what that religion says. I don't care if Romney is Mormon, Catholic, Southern Baptist, Hindu, atheist, or a new Branch Davidian. If he tells me that HE believes his politics center on one of these faiths, why should I ignore them? Why should I pretend they are irrelevant when he is the one telling me they are relevant? I have nothing against Mormons. I have something against a candidate who says "I'm using Mormonism as a basis for my political beliefs," if I then learn that Mormonism is opposed to gay marriage. If he backtracks and says, "well, okay, I take Mormon beliefs for my politics EXCEPT on this issue" then I weigh his beliefs, his statements, and his history. But I don't completely ignore and leave out a relevant piece of the puzzle when HE is the one who points it out.

If Romney or any other candidate makes his or her religion fair game, how am I a bigot for wanting to learn more about that religion, and for considering that its precepts just might affect a candidate who says s/he's basing her/his politics on her/his religion?

To be clear, I disagree with LAK that religious people are bad or idiots (I don't think my grandparents are/were bad people or idiots), or whatever point he is making. I just think it would be foolish to ignore relevant pieces of information to help us with our decision-making.

LAK

Not bad or idiots, just ignorant, especially in the case of your grandparents. With religious people today who believe in stories that defy the laws of nature, there is certainly more culpability. Religion is a function of historical materialism and progress, of the advancement of reason. I believe in God, in the sense Dawkins and Einstein do, but to believe that Black people are cursed or that Jesus buried golden tablets in upstate new york and that you can become a God and rule your own planet (please Mormons, correct me if I wrong on that one, but your religion does think you can become a god and get your own planet) in this day and age is a sign of intellectual and rational poverty.

Did any of you read Under the Banner of Heaven? Any religious fundamentalist, like GWB, as President should scare the bejesus out of you. Not only is it a good signal, as was the case of our current "Born Agian" President, it is for Mitt Romney.

Save me Jebus.

Cynic

???

I think you've just insulted my grandparents, and yet I don't understand why.... That was uncalled for, particularly considering I'm mostly on your side on this one.

Erasmussimo

Mr. BAC asks if I support racial profiling. No, I do not, and in asking the question you confuse two entirely different situations. It is one thing for a voter to make a personal decision about how to cast their vote based on the signals provided by religion, attire, drawl, and so forth. We acknowledge that voting is an intensely personal decision, and ultimately subjective. We much prefer to have each voter weigh their decision as rationally as possible, but we concede that there is no objective basis for declaring any individual voter's choice as right or wrong.

Racial profiling, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter, because its subjectivity is applied by officials against individuals. If the government is to take action against an individual, it must have a rational basis for doing so.

LAK

My grandparenst too. Didn't mean to insult them. Mine were very religious as well. Just trying to point out that institutional religiosity is a function of the progress of reason and knowledge, as is the staying power of various social institutions. In a world where we live around people differnet than us, in a world where we know about electricity and elements, where we have mass media and knowledge and education, where we know how most of things pertinant to our lives work from a scientific perspective, those who are religious bear more responsibility for their ignorant beliefs than your grandparents or mine, or certainly soemoen who lived 1000 years ago. As much as Religion is answers to the unknown, as soon as we start knowing more, religious principles that are contrary to knowledge become extremely dangerous. Thus religious people today are far more of a threat to themselves and the rest of us, than say your grandparents were. Thw power of religious instituion is a function of progress. That there is a resurgence in religious fundamentalism is the greatest signal of all - the world is having problems progressing.

Those who would willingly submit themselves to institutional brainwashing in this day and age are far more pathetic than your grandparents or mine.


ctw

"tendency towards boolean thinking may be associated with legal training"

while enthusiastically seconding eras' sales pitch for probabilistic thinking, I question attribution of (strictly speaking, non-fuzzy) boolean thinking to legal (or any other) education. the latter is much too widespread to be fairly associated with any particular educational specialty. the former may not even be common to those with formal training in probability/statistics since they are often most familiar with its application to issues less subjective than those typically addressed in this type of forum. (and yes, it would seem that probabilistic thinking should be especially prevalent when addressing subjective matters, but that's generally not the case.)

as to the topic at hand, my favorite reply to "are you a Christian" is "you'll have to ask my neighbors". ie, like curtis I'm not very interested in politicians' religious self-declarations, only their past actions and policy proposals. two of the last half dozen presidents are relatively vocal about being Christians. IMO, one has proven himself to be right, the other to be either mistaken or lying. and as it turned out, a vote for either candidate motivated solely by his avowed religious posture was arguably wrong-headed.

-charles

Cynic

Eras, I wholly agree and would add that in the case of a political candidate, you have someone who puts him or herself into the limelight of his or her own free will. A candidate puts him/herself in the public spotlight. It's comparing apples to oranges. It's okay to investigate someone's background when 1) that person becomes a public figure of his/her own accord, and 2) that person voluntarily speaks of his or her own background and states that this background informs the candidate's politics. This is completely different from terrorizing individuals who are simply living their own lives in their own way and minding their own business, but they have the misfortunate of being born with a skin tone that's currently out of political favor.

The notion that these two even bear comparison distorts the term "analogy" beyond recognition.

Erasmussimo

charles, I hasten to agree that my comment about legal training was highly speculative. Yes, boolean thinking pervades our society. I wonder if it's a cultural artifact? They've already shown that, in 'figure-ground' analysis, Westerners are better at figure and Sinics are better at ground. It has also been shown, although not as compellingly, that Westerners are a bit better at contrapositive thinking ("If Kerry had been elected, would the USA still be in Iraq?") I wonder if Sinics are as boolean in their thinking as Westerner?

BAC

Cynic,

We are not that far apart. I agree that if a candidate says "I will vote my religious beliefs" then we have every reason to investigate those beliefs.

But don't take Linker on his word when he says Mr. Romney is that kind of candidate. He is not.

Worse yet, if you read the Linker article his argument is that if Mr. Romney is a devout Mormon, he must let religion dictate his politics. In Linker's view, being a Mormon alone makes Mr. Romney a suspect candidate. I think LAK agrees with that bigoted position, I think from your last post you do not (and I apologize if I ascribed to you a position you weren't taking).

BAC

Eras,

So, tell me, if I cross the street every time a see a black man because I think his race signals criminal propensity, am I a bigot?

LAK

Yup. being a practicing Mormon, or a born again Christian, or an Orthodox Jew, or any one who belives such drivel (Egyptian characters, a missing 116 pages that God told Smith not to retranslate but rather providied him with an alternative account Jesu) makes you a suspect political candidate and intellectually unfit to lead a country that is a melting pot, a democracy and whose founders believed in keeping state out of religion and more importantly religion out of state.

Save me Jebus.

LAK

BAC,

do you really need such stories to convince you that being loving and having humility are good things? Decency, respect for humanity and compassion do not require fanciful tales to have spiritual force.

Are you not ashamed that up till 30 years ago, you religion believed black people were cursed and inferior?

The amazing thing to me is how someone who is smart enough to attend the U of C can believe and have faith inthese ridiculous stories without seeing them as the manipulative farce they are.

God, whatever he is, and if he meddled in human affairs, which she doesn't, does not want you to shut down your faculties of reason as soon as you step in the church. The ancient civilizations Smith speaks of never existed and we can tell that is true through the scientific method. Why would you continue to believe in stories that defy what we know of reason and nature? Why? cause your parents made you? Grow up.

Erasmussimo

Mr. BAC asks, "So, tell me, if I cross the street every time a see a black man because I think his race signals criminal propensity, am I a bigot?"

I would say that, taking any action that is negative towards the black man makes you a bigot. We aren't to blame for our beliefs, only our actions. I was raised in the South in a mildly racist culture. I still experience discomfort in the presence of black people. However, I am a civilized man, and I know that those feelings are inappropriate, so I overrule them and get to know the person as an individual -- and as soon as I do, all those traces of ancient racism evaporate.

In the scenario you present, I would not call you a bigot for crossing the street -- I would call you a fool. In the absence of any information other than that the man was black, I see no rational basis avoiding him. I would make my decision based on a constellation of factors: his attire, the neighborhood, his demeanor, his companions, the time of day, the presence of other people, and so forth. And if I decided that he constituted a threat, I would not cross the street, as that would signal fear to him and lack of territoriality.

LAK

BAC, your analogy would be more apt if it were a black man who said, "I'm going to rob you violently," just as Romney has indicated he is religious and is going to be the candidate of the religious right.

You are mixing apples and seer stones.

ctw

"I wonder if [boolean thinking is] a cultural artifact"

interesting question. having a casual acquaintance with Indian and zen buddhism, I can imagine that an argument could be made that a "sinic" (gotta love that homophone!) might be more inclined than a westerner toward statistical ("fuzzy") thinking. but I certainly can't make it.

addressing only the US, I'd guess it's simple ignorance - most of us don't know much if anything about statistical concepts. for example, it seems clear that even media talking heads often have no idea what "margin of error" in poll results actually means as evidenced by their saying that candidates with a percentage point spread close to but less than the MoE are "statistically tied". and when asked questions that require minimal statistical insight, my impresion is that we typically respond to the language describing betting options rather than the actual statistics.

-charles

curtisstrong

LAK,

In your haste you seem to have confused BAC and myself. Unless BAC is a Mormon, which as far as I know, is untrue.

Let´s begin, I´m sorry that you find religious people "creepy." That you use that particular word actually makes it sound like you have some sort of personal insecurity. That in and of itself is a bit strange when you remember that there are still quite a few religious people in modern America.

Much to your insatisfaction, I imagine, religious people are not quite the mindless robots that you would have us believe.

For example, within the church itself, there are endless theories of the Bible creation account... anywhere from a strict creationist approach, to a full on "the Bible is a metaphor" evolutionary standpoint. The same happens in politics, as I have illustrated above. In fact, the same goes for the Book of Mormon, the papyrus you´ve spoken of...etc. to a smaller extent. Most people believe that the book is historically accurate and that their belief will be vindicated in the future, while a small group believes that the Book of Mormon is also some kind of metaphor (though this is generally not voiced in public or at church).

As you can imagine, reasoning behind denying blacks the priesthood in the church are about as varied as each individual person. Personally, I´m glad that time is past.

You ask "why" people would believe in a church when there are rational reasons NOT to believe it. Honestly, in my experience, religious people in general, not just Mormons, all have about the same reasons. 1) They feel good about there being a meaning to their lives. This good feeling is often referred to as the "Holy Ghost" or something similar. 2) They, for one reason or another (sometimes family tradition, sometimes not) have found a certain attachment to their specific religion. 3) They find many things in their lives that confirm their beliefs. 4) Their religions in the end give them more benefits than they would have otherwise. 5) They can generally find some sort of explanation to sidestep the parts of their religion that they find disconcerting; this happens at any intellectual level. It is fairly similar to what my literature professors do in their analyses of texts.

Mormons are not going to come to your house and force you to believe in Joseph Smith. They may knock on your door a couple of times in your life, but that´s about the extent of it. That won´t change if Mitt Romney is president.

Now, as for the statements that Romney is not intellectually fit to be president. I think most here will agree that you´ve gone a little overboard there. Perhaps he´s not the best candidate out there (he´ll certainly need to convince me quite a bit more), but he does have some good professional experience turning bad situations around. He´s intellectually capable, as are most of the candidates in the field at the moment...the question is whether or not he can convince people to vote for him or not.

But overall, your "creep" factor has overtaken your own intellectual grasp of Mitt Romney´s politics.

ctw

when people say disparaging things about "the religious", my guess is that in the vast majority of cases it is implicit that they are - consciously or not - really referring to those who make patently foolish statements (see falwell/robertson for copious examples). since roughly 85% of americans self-identify as religious, the only alternative is that the disparagers find almost everyone they encounter "creepy".

therefore, altho I agree with curtis's description of the motivations of "religious people in general", I see it as irrelevant. it's not the ones he describes (call them the "rational religious") that are the problem - it's the ones who do things like explain every day occurrences as being part of "God's plan for me". like it or not, some of us find that "creepy" at best. and when someone like faux Dem lieberman suggests that you can't have values without "believing", they move from creepy to positively offensive in their ignorance.

until romney makes some "creepy" pronouncement, I'll assume he's a member of the rational religious. not that it matters to me since I won't again vote for any R until the party undergoes a radical transformation, which seems unlikely to be in my lifetime given its current trajectory.

-charles

LAK

1) They feel good about there being a meaning to their lives. This good feeling is often referred to as the "Holy Ghost" or something similar.

-Yuo seemto think that you can't have a sense of meaning or wonder or a feeling of religiosity without institutional doctrine, havingto believe in magical seer stones and thinking you can be a God one day with a planet of your own. That is false. Love, compassion, good deeds, charity all provide meaning to one's life whether couched in religious dogma or as I would argue, even more so if it isn't an external irrational authority from whom your meaning is derived, but rather yourself.
2) They, for one reason or another (sometimes family tradition, sometimes not) have found a certain attachment to their specific religion.
What, we are talking probably 95% passed down as social institution. The 5% are usually poor and ignorant and hopeless who will grasp on to anyone offering them recognition and love. That is exploitation.

3) They find many things in their lives that confirm their beliefs.
-Oh yea, what? I'm talking the religious beliefs, not the oceanic feelings and sense of mystery and prfoundity we all get. You've seen the golden tablets? You've seen the seer stones? You've seen god in a burning bush, someone walking on water, someone living to be 250 years old. Do tell. Actually it is more telling that the 166 pages weren't translated agian, and that Smith wouldn't let anyone see the golden tablets and they were miraculously whisked away by and angel after he was done "translating."

-4) Their religions in the end give them more benefits than they would have otherwise.
-Well I'm not sure what you mean. I would deny this as to anything spiritual or psychological. But I will grant you that the poor are feed, the downtrodden loved and cared for through religious institutions. But that is more a function of politics, and our government's neglect of the poor and ignorant, and leaving it to the private sector to take care of social welfare.

5) They can generally find some sort of explanation to sidestep the parts of their religion that they find disconcerting; this happens at any intellectual level. It is fairly similar to what my literature professors do in their analyses of texts.

-Why bother? Sidestepping outrageous lies like a description of a North American culture that never existed, is foolish? Why not have some courage and trascend and overcome completely.

I had two friends from highschool - dynamic, intellectual free spirits who went to BYU and came back Zombies. Dull, boring, concerned with achievement over knowledge, concerned with irrational doctrines instead of logical thought. They lost their souls. They wouldn't touch a drink. They wouldn't laugh and be silly. They were brainwashed. While they described their transformation in a positive light, I could tell they had their love lights were snuffed out. One got married soonafter to a woman he didn't love. That's what happens when someone thinks they can become a God and occupy their own planet, I suppose.

And yes, 85% of our country can't think for themselves. Or have you not turned on a TV lately. You appeasl to populism aren't compelling to a social critic who identifies widespread alienation in our culture. 90% can't name a single supreme court justice. The majority believe is some version of divine intervention creationsism.

Opiate of the masses indeed.

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