Sunday, December 16, 2018

Credit Where Credit Is Due

Andrew Sullivan has a remarkably good essay about American religion at the Intelligencer. Sullivan does not always get it right by any means, but I think his strength is that he is willing to reach far with an idea to see if he can make it work.  Sometimes he reaches too far and he is not convincing. In this essay, I find two general faults, but they are not destructive to his overall point.  While it is true that all human groups are wired for religion, and many people who believe they have no religion do have one, just not one they acknowledge, there are individuals who don't seem to have any gene for religion. That over half of those who believe this about themselves are deluded does not change the fact that some are not.  I have been convinced most on this score by my communication with people who think they would like to believe, who see themselves as the sort of people who might have a faith and have no strong emotional or intellectual objections, yet just can't believe, not Christianity, Judaism, nor anything else on the buffet.

His second error, unsurprisingly, is about Trump supporters.  He is distressed that 81% of evangelicals supported him in the end, and thinks that invalidates a claim to Christian practice he might otherwise have credited. (I believe him on this, BTW. He seems quite generous in his estimation that the lovingkindness and devotion of some evangelicals exceeds the human average by a great deal.) I have explained this so many times that I grow weary, and I am not the only one.  Voting for someone is never a 100%-0% proposition, and many times people are voting against one candidate or proposition than for another. But significantly, if you keep telling them how stupid they are for this and force them to repeatedly defend their 60%-40% preference, they will gradually become 65-35. then 70-30.  It is human nature that if you keep being extreme yourself in accusing them of being 100% wrong, you will harden them into a more extreme position in order to defend against your extremity.  I said many times during the election that if you thought Hillary was a criminal, untrustworthy, and opportunistic but you just couldn't stomach Trump I would have no quarrel.  It's only when people insisted (as relatives of mine did) that she has been falsely accused, harassed, and beleaguered all these years but has answered all these accusations admirably and with grace that I have to consider you simply insane.

I have gone far afield, and hope I have not dissuaded you from reading the essay, because it is excellent.


Texan99 said...

Two wonderful excerpts:

'Russell, for his part, abandoned Christianity at the age of 18, for the usual modern reasons, but the question of ultimate meaning still nagged at him. One day, while visiting the sick wife of a colleague, he described what happened: “Suddenly the ground seemed to give away beneath me, and I found myself in quite another region. Within five minutes I went through some such reflections as the following: the loneliness of the human soul is unendurable; nothing can penetrate it except the highest intensity of the sort of love that religious teachers have preached; whatever does not spring from this motive is harmful, or at best useless.”'

'And if you pressed, say, the liberal elites to explain what they really believe in — and you have to look at what they do most fervently — you discover, in John Gray’s mordant view of Mill, that they do, in fact, have “an orthodoxy — the belief in improvement that is the unthinking faith of people who think they have no religion.”'

The latter is something C.S. Lewis talked about all the time: if you believe in improvement, you should be willing to think about where your ideas of "better" come from. Not just whether they are in fact better than someone else's goals, but how it is you think there can be such a thing as better.

Sam L. said...

I hope those relatives did not read this post...

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Sam L - one quite liberal relative used to - my mother's favorite cousin. None of the rest of that crew do. I can't imagine why.

RichardJohnson said...

While it is true that all human groups are wired for religion, and many people who believe they have no religion do have one, just not one they acknowledge, there are individuals who don't seem to have any gene for religion.

There is currently a fair-sized divide between Europe and America regarding religion. Very few Christian believers remain in Europe, whereas there are quite a few Christian believers in America.

I believe this is in part due to sorting due to immigration to America. Previously in Europe, religion and the state were intertwined. Government didn't really care if you believed in the religion, but you were supposed to conform to the trappings at least. There were costs if you didn't. For example, one result of the restoration of the monarchy in England (which became part of Great Britain in 1707) was that only those professing the Anglican creed could teach at or attend Oxford or Cambridge. (Result: the engineering and scientific advances from 1900-1900 in Great Britain came almost exclusively from religious Dissenters.) Those who didn't believe in the Anglican creed had to dissemble were they to be associated with Oxbridge: Newton, for example.

For people who didn't care about religion, they had no problem with a pro forma obeisance to the state-supported religion. What's a Hail Mary or two? However, for those who cared deeply about religion, such pro forma obeisance grated on them if they didn't believe in the state-supported religion. Many of those for whom religion was important, who didn't want to submit to the official creed, emigrated to America.

Result: fewer in Europe for whom religion was important- they or their ancestors immigrated to America.

One more time. I highly recommend Joseph Bottum's An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America. Bottum points out that while many no longer follow the religions of their ancestors, they are still concerned with being among the elect. Today, membership in the elect is, according to many allegedly secular people, adhering to the politically correct narrative of the day.

While I do not adhere to the Protestant religion of my ancestors, I do not adhere to the secular "progressive" narrative de jour, either.

Tom Bridgeland said...

I'm one of those who doesn't have strong faith. However, I simply don't find mechanistic explanations for life and the the universe at all convincing. Big Bang? Abiogenesis? Please! If those are the best the materialists can come up with, they have little to offer.