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February 1, 2009 12:59 PM   Subscribe

The Virtues of Godlessness. "It is not the most religious nations in our world today, but rather the most secular, that have been able to create the most civil, just, safe, equitable, humane, and prosperous societies."
posted by plexi (108 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yet Oregon, known as the least "churched" of the 50 states" is just as, or more, depressed as the other 49. Otoh, I thought Sweden was the suicide capital of the world.
posted by Cranberry at 1:05 PM on February 1, 2009


Well, I think the picture's more mixed - the Vatican State does have one of the highest crime rates in the world, but there's no abortions and not been a single teenage pregnancy for centuries.
posted by Abiezer at 1:06 PM on February 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


Also, there are no gays in Iran.
posted by PlusDistance at 1:11 PM on February 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


And to offer something serious, if this survey on belief in evolution is to be believed, no reason for smug resting on any laurels in the UK, though I think the general thrust of what this report apparently says is right.
posted by Abiezer at 1:13 PM on February 1, 2009


Cranberry, it's a myth that Sweden is the suicide capital of the world.
posted by WPW at 1:15 PM on February 1, 2009


As ever, I'd want to see the exact wording of that survey.
posted by Artw at 1:15 PM on February 1, 2009


> Otoh, I thought Sweden was the suicide capital of the world.

People tend to think it is, but it isn't, its suicide rate is a third of Lithuania's (which tops the list).
posted by bjrn at 1:17 PM on February 1, 2009


Right about now someone ought to be reminding us that correlation and causation are, at best, distant cousins.

There you go. You are now reminded.
posted by oddman at 1:20 PM on February 1, 2009 [8 favorites]


I love Sweden and it's meatballs, and Denmark and it's danish.
posted by jonmc at 1:21 PM on February 1, 2009


Religions are inherently elitest and, sometimes, segregationist too. If you're not of my religion, then you're wrong, or less than me, or you need to be 'saved'. That breeds all kinds of negative feelings among those who aren't members of the 'right' religion. And Jewish parents want their nice Jewish girl to marry a nice, smart, Jewish man (preferably a doctor or lawyer, of course, but whatever...as long as he's Jewish.) That's the segregationist aspect of religions, and it's not limited to the Jews; that was just an example.

Religions are tension-causing institutions because inevitably you will find people who are unwilling to accept something merely because they are told to do so, or because someone wrote a book in a previous age and people tell you it's literal and error-free. Or you will find people who believe in alternate religions. For every religion on the planet, there is a group of people who believe (often fervently) that they are the only ones who are right/moral/just, and everyone else is wrong/immoral/scary.

It should be completely unsurprising that religions cause many problems. I know that I am not surprised a bit that available data backs this up.
posted by jamstigator at 1:28 PM on February 1, 2009 [6 favorites]


Cranberry: Yet Oregon, known as the least "churched" of the 50 states" is just as, or more, depressed as the other 49.

Hasn't Oregon been under fire because of its protection of anti-medicine Christian sects? Y'know, religious parents forcing their dogma onto their children in the form of letting them die of easily curable/treatable conditions? Absolutely horrible.

---

As far as the article... interesting, but nothing new. I guess I'm not really the target audience, since I'm an atheist that has already read a fair amount about secular societies. I wonder what the rest of his book will be like.
posted by defenestration at 1:34 PM on February 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Cleanliness is next to godlessness.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:35 PM on February 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


They're only secular because their gods all got eaten by Jormagund and Fenris.
posted by Caduceus at 1:40 PM on February 1, 2009 [13 favorites]


Religion is simply an expression of the phenotypic tendencies of a given gene pool towards ethnocentrism, authoritarianism, spiritualism, etc. If there wasn't religion there would be something else; ultra-conservative zealots would remain ultra-conservative zealots, the referent of their zealotry does not matter.

Religion, like any other human institution, is both good and bad. In prehistoric times it was probably vital to human survival. Nowadays corporate and governmental institutions have superseded it. And humanity whimpers on.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 1:48 PM on February 1, 2009 [7 favorites]


@norabarnacl3

What are Unitarians then?
posted by Phalene at 1:52 PM on February 1, 2009


posted by Caduceus: They're only secular because their gods all got eaten by Jormagund and Fenris.

Suddenly I want to play Starcraft again.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 1:53 PM on February 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


Abiezer: the Vatican State does have one of the highest crime rates in the world, but there's no abortions and not been a single teenage pregnancy for centuries.

Coincidence, I'm sure, given the Vatican's age of consent of 12 years
posted by LanTao at 1:54 PM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


[See Tibet Protest for refutation on same news page.]
posted by gorgor_balabala at 1:55 PM on February 1, 2009


A couple of things:

In Sweden, a portion of every citizen's tax is ring fenced to support the Swedish Church. I believe there is a way to opt out, but in a secular society that should be an opt in, shouldn't it?

The Soviet Union was history's biggest experiment in creating a secular state. It often billed itself as a Worker's Paradise, but that might be a case of selling the sizzle rather than the steak.
posted by veedubya at 2:04 PM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh I just love it when Metafilter discusses religion. Please keep it up.
posted by xmutex at 2:05 PM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Not anxious to get into any sort of argument but one comment noted high suicide rate as an indication that godlessness is not so good a thing. Is suicide then truly criminal (because the law says so) or a choice that one can make in a free and godless society?
posted by Postroad at 2:05 PM on February 1, 2009 [2 favorites]



What are Unitarians then?


Just a social group.
posted by Hobgoblin at 2:18 PM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


In Sweden, a portion of every citizen's tax is ring fenced to support the Swedish Church. I believe there is a way to opt out, but in a secular society that should be an opt in, shouldn't it?

One of the ironies of life is that many Western countries with formally established religious (such as England and the Scandanavian nations) have far less day-to-day intrusions in citizens' lives than those with formal separation of church and state (the US).
posted by rodgerd at 2:20 PM on February 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


Postroad: Not anxious to get into any sort of argument but one comment noted high suicide rate as an indication that godlessness is not so good a thing. Is suicide then truly criminal (because the law says so) or a choice that one can make in a free and godless society?

Well, that correlation isn't at all clear. Gore Vidal says in one of his essays that "Sweden = suicide" is a line that is drummed into Americans to make them associate socialism and secularism with desperation. It certainly does seem to crop up a lot. However, even if the Scandinavian countries do have unusually high suicide rates (which they do not seem to), I would suggest it has more to do with hours of daylight and depth of winter than secularism.
posted by WPW at 2:20 PM on February 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


Piety isn't limited to the religious. Economists, politicians and scientists have all tried their hand at shilling some sort of secular transcendence whenever they posit a universal law based on human reason, proceeding from observations of phenomenal patterns to general certainty. Whether it's demand and supply or liberal freedom, secularism has developed institutions that induce as much strife and tension as any religion and a correlative creativity in justifying consequent hardships. About the only universal you can count on that doesn't justify itself to a transcendental system is the universality of antagonism, that each generation will always disagree with the last and fight amongst themselves over the interpretive frame.
posted by doobiedoo at 2:22 PM on February 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


What?
posted by tkchrist at 2:29 PM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


You know who else created a secular society that was safe, humane, etc.?

That's right . . . ENVER HOXHA!
posted by jason's_planet at 2:31 PM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Whether it's demand and supply or liberal freedom, secularism has developed institutions that induce as much strife and tension as any religion and a correlative creativity in justifying consequent hardships.

As soon as you point out a secular institution that systemizes bigotry and hatred that stems from the institution itself and not from cults of personality and nationalistic jingoism that have subverted the institution, I'll buy that.
posted by Caduceus at 2:32 PM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


posted by jason's_planet You know who else created a secular society that was safe, humane, etc.?

That's right . . . Matt Haughey.
posted by mattdidthat at 2:34 PM on February 1, 2009 [8 favorites]


I you read the whole article, his whole point is that a society's lack of religion doesn't cause it to have some kind of moral meltdown, as some would have us believe. I don't really think he's trying to say anything much beyond that, which actually makes the article kind of obvious and pointless.
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 2:37 PM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Every time, Sweden & suicide rates come up, I think to myself: ''in this day of the interwebs, why isn't there a site I can go to check out these claims? More, why don't other people do the research before they claim whatever thought drops in to their pretty little heads?''
posted by dash_slot- at 2:37 PM on February 1, 2009


As ever, I'd want to see the exact wording of that survey.
Have you ever killed yourself?
Yes [ ] No [ ]
posted by YoBananaBoy at 2:41 PM on February 1, 2009 [6 favorites]


which actually makes the article kind of obvious and pointless.

Not to anyone who reads and believes Ann Coulter or Michelle Malkin.
posted by Caduceus at 2:46 PM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is an old question that has been handled by smarter people. (Russell/Copleston debate.)
posted by voltairemodern at 2:49 PM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Not to anyone who reads and believes Ann Coulter or Michelle Malkin.

If he can change those peoples' minds, he's my new hero.

Also, I had no idea that (non-Chinese) men killed themselves at such higher rates than women.
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 2:50 PM on February 1, 2009


Right about now someone ought to be reminding us that correlation and causation are, at best, distant cousins

Seconding that.
posted by southof40 at 2:56 PM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


From the first link:

Although they (Scandinavian countries) may have relatively high rates of petty crime and burglary, and although these crime rates have been on the rise in recent decades, their overall rates of violent crime — including murder, aggravated assault, and rape — are among the lowest on earth.

Here you will find that property crime spikes in cold months and violent crime spikes in warm months.

If you allow correlation to dictate causation you can come to any conclusion you want.
posted by vorpal bunny at 2:57 PM on February 1, 2009


Viz., violent acts cause the sun to come out. Which takes us back to religion again.
posted by Wolfdog at 3:00 PM on February 1, 2009 [5 favorites]


"I love Sweden and it's meatballs, and Denmark and it's danish."

I love jonmc, and his misplaced apostrophe's.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 3:00 PM on February 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


Tell me more about those godless utopias, the (former, and historic) Soviet Union, and China.....
posted by availablelight at 3:02 PM on February 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


As soon as you point out a secular institution that systemizes bigotry and hatred that stems from the institution itself and not from cults of personality and nationalistic jingoism that have subverted the institution, I'll buy that.

Yes that would be nice except I don't think institutions, religious or secular, exist without the people in them or the historical conditions beyond them.
posted by doobiedoo at 3:03 PM on February 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


(middle-aged musings)

Religion was an inevitable and necessary part of developing the ability to think in the abstract, or symbolically. Any symbolic grammar or system has limits, and there are things that most of us "just know" or feel that cannot always be explained symbolically.

Abstract thinking leads one to speculate about Big Questions like why are we here, why shouldn't we just club out neighbour and bang his daughter, what is wrong with slavery anyway, and so on.

Religions provide facile answers to these sorts of questions, expressed or inexpressible. The answers are mostly of the form "because I/we/He told you so" or some version of reward system (heaven, smiting, etc). Another way to look at it is that religions are metaphors that outgrew their box and have been taken too literally by people who should now know better. Most of them, anyway.

Religions will still be around til there's a widely-accepted secular rationale for acting cooperatively and peacefully. Meaning this won't likely happen in any of our lifetimes. Drag.
posted by Artful Codger at 3:09 PM on February 1, 2009 [6 favorites]


our neighbour. Sorry
posted by Artful Codger at 3:10 PM on February 1, 2009


religion and illiteracy closely correlated
posted by fleetmouse at 3:11 PM on February 1, 2009


If you allow correlation to dictate causation you can come to any conclusion you want.

Well, no. You can only come to one of a relatively limited set of conclusions. Indeed, we should all be very much aware that causation does not follow logically from causation, but if we immediately dismiss any argument that starts with an observed correlation, then we wouldn't really be able to do social science at all. If you have a better explanation for an observed correlation, then go ahead and offer it. Frankly, it's tiresome to see every argument dismissed with the wave of the hand by the correlation ≠ causation crew.
posted by ssg at 3:22 PM on February 1, 2009 [7 favorites]


Abstract thinking leads one to speculate about Big Questions like why are we here, why shouldn't we just club out neighbour and bang his daughter, what is wrong with slavery anyway, and so on.

Religion is really not necessary for any of that. A decently developed sense of empathy is all it takes, no religion necessary--I know! I've been irreligious all my life and have never once seriously wondered whether it would be wrong to club my neighbor and bangrape his daughter.
posted by Caduceus at 3:22 PM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


I personally am pretty godless as things go, but I gotta say *coff* USSR *coff*
posted by edgeways at 3:23 PM on February 1, 2009


Religion is a mirror for the internal state of the individual nowadays. If you are a "good person" you can justify and find justificati0on for it in religious texts, if you are a "bad person" you can do the same. Of course, no one admits to being "bad", even when caught doing the most vile things.

You don't need religion, or lack of religion, to be a good person, your actions towards others determine that.
posted by edgeways at 3:26 PM on February 1, 2009


Is it the godlessness that does it, or the historical traditions of eugenics? DUH DUH!
posted by grobstein at 3:27 PM on February 1, 2009


Oh, they're talking about US and UK, not Canada, Germany, and the Scandinavian democracies. Huh.
posted by grobstein at 3:31 PM on February 1, 2009


If you have a better explanation for an observed correlation, then go ahead and offer it.

You'll notice that I did. My point was that using a single variable to explain a phenomena is pretty foolish.
posted by vorpal bunny at 3:32 PM on February 1, 2009


Religions will still be around til there's a widely-accepted secular rationale for acting cooperatively and peacefully.

What? "Do unto others" isn't enough? No religion required.
posted by tkchrist at 3:41 PM on February 1, 2009



"I love Sweden and it's meatballs, and Denmark and it's danish."
I love jonmc, and his misplaced apostrophe's.


Are you sure the apostrophes are misplaced, though? Look again - I think there's something much deeper at work here.
posted by sneebler at 3:45 PM on February 1, 2009 [7 favorites]


In Sweden, the Church was officially separated from the State at the start of the Millenium - 1st of january 2000

Before that it was generally assumed that God could not manage on his own.

Now look what's happened
posted by jan murray at 3:57 PM on February 1, 2009


Religions are currently the "best fit" symbolic system that help rationalize and steer the ethics of the individual. In the secular world, you cannot effectively direct or influence ethics or intent, you can only punish actions that are grossly anti-social, and only from the standpoint of property rights or harm.

The benefits of religions - community, collective support of ethical behaviour, reassurance about those big questions (ignoring my earlier frivolous ones, please) - do not have equivalent support or expression yet in the secular world.

Religion is a mirror for the internal state of the individual nowadays.

I would say that modern religions find themselves adapting their backstory and outlook to match the times (eg acceptance of evolution in some quearter), and this process will ultimately erode all religions.

What? "Do unto others" isn't enough?

You tell me. Poverty, famine, genocide. Iraq, Gaza, Gitmo. Seems no-one has that part down yet.
posted by Artful Codger at 3:57 PM on February 1, 2009


If you believe you'll be living in eternal happiness later, there's less incentive to make things work well on Earth.
posted by DU at 4:01 PM on February 1, 2009 [10 favorites]


Correlation != Causation
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 4:04 PM on February 1, 2009


If you have a better explanation for an observed correlation, then go ahead and offer it.

You'll notice that I did. My point was that using a single variable to explain a phenomena is pretty foolish.


A link to a pdf about seasonal variation of crime rates in England and Wales is neither explanatory nor relevant in this context.
posted by ssg at 4:11 PM on February 1, 2009


The teaser text reminded me of the MacArthur Foundation's NPR sponsorship blurb, "toward a more just, equitable, and peaceful world," which has now for some reason been changed to "just, verdant, and peaceful world."
posted by mynameisluka at 4:23 PM on February 1, 2009


Right about now someone ought to be reminding us that correlation and causation are, at best, distant cousins.

Correlation is not the same thing as causation but to say that they are not tightly related is idiotic. In fact, if there is a correlation of significant statistical validity, there must be some causal relationship. Either A causes B, or B causes A or some unknown X causes both A and B. But it has to be one of those three relationships.
posted by delmoi at 4:31 PM on February 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


Yet Oregon, known as the least "churched" of the 50 states" is just as, or more, depressed as the other 49. Otoh, I thought Sweden was the suicide capital of the world.


U.S. suicide rates by state.

International rates of suicide by country.
posted by Brian B. at 4:33 PM on February 1, 2009


correlation and causation are, at best, distant cousins.

Quite the contrary, as there is no true correlation without causation. While it's good to separate the terms, particularly to fight a common and annoying fallacy, we can't forget that they are two sides of the same coin. Or rather, correlation tells you that a coin exists somewhere, and causation tells you which side of the coin is which, or that the coin has a third or fourth side. Ok, maybe the coin analogy doesn't fit at all, but the point is that correlation and causation are closely related, though not identical.
posted by Llama-Lime at 4:43 PM on February 1, 2009


(argh, lulled into complacency by Live Preview!)
posted by Llama-Lime at 4:44 PM on February 1, 2009


I don't think that religion is causing these problems in these countries (and I don't think the authors of these reports do either).

I think these countries may be more religious because of these problems.

If you live in a "civil, just, safe, equitable, humane, and prosperous" society, what on earth do you need God for? Where do religious beliefs take root if the people's psychological and social needs (not to mention physical needs...food, shelter, etc.) are already fulfilled?

On the other hand, if your first-hand experience constantly affirms that we live in a hostile and chaotic world, and that we are not necessarily rewarded for our actions nor punished for our faults, and that the history of the world is, by and large, a history of barbarism, chances are you'll be more receptive towards an alternative system of belief--and more likely bind together in a community with like-minded others.
posted by duvatney at 4:48 PM on February 1, 2009 [6 favorites]


You tell me. Poverty, famine, genocide. Iraq, Gaza, Gitmo. Seems no-one has that part down yet.

Really? Poverty, famine, genocide, Iraq, Gaza, and Gitmo are your reasons that we still need ethical systems derived from religions?

From an admittedly U.S. centric view point, poverty and famine have gotten, if anything, worse over the last thirty years because of selfish, greedy business interests cynically manipulating the religious to put into power those who supported their campaign to take everything they could get for themselves and fuck all the rest of us.

Four out of the seven genocides in the last century that I can come up with off the top of my head (Holocaust, Rwanda, Darfur, and Yugoslavia) were the results of racial and ethnic conflicts badly inflamed and justified by religious reasoning and doctrine, and the other three (Soviet gulags, Chairman Mao's Five-Year Plans, and the Nanking Massacre, which aren't really genocides so much as massacres on a genocidal scale) were caused by ideologies and cults of personality that intentionally utilized the religious impulse by suppressing the former religions of the perpetrators and substituting themselves.

Iraq was the result of jingoistic Christians being whipped up into a holy fever against the entire religion of Islam based on the actions of a small group of Islamic extremists, led by a man who claimed he could talk to God and whose father once said atheists shouldn't be considered U.S. citizens, and steered by a nationalistic, pro-business psychopath who wanted Iraq's oil and manipulated his religious base to get at it. Gitmo was orchestrated by by the same two men, and to this day its biggest supporters are rightwing Christian extremists and people cynically manipulating the same.

And Gaza, which is quickly turning into the latest 21st century genocide, is explicitly religious in every way imaginable.

I'm sure there are probably horrors of the last century or so that were caused by explicitly secular institutions and belief systems and were in no way tied up with religion or the religious impulse, but no one's mentioned one yet.
posted by Caduceus at 4:54 PM on February 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


LL: Correlation is not the same thing as causation but to say that they are not tightly related is idiotic. In fact, if there is a correlation of significant statistical validity, there must be some causal relationship. Either A causes B, or B causes A or some unknown X causes both A and B. But it has to be one of those three relationships.

Delmoi: Quite the contrary, as there is no true correlation without causation.


Umm... No? Can I go with no on that one? Spurious relationships exist. For instance, if everyone with green eyes is found to be seated on one side of a particular room, this may have just happened by chance. Even with a perfect correlation there is no causation.
posted by Avelwood at 5:03 PM on February 1, 2009


You can't go with "No" on that, as it's a spurious measurement of correlation, not "true" correlation as I said. The spurious measurement wouldn't be repeatable, and it would be fairly ill-supported to say "green eyes are associated with left-roomedness" after a single room. If repeatedly, you found that green eyes truly are found with left-roomedness, then there's a reason to start looking for causation for an apparent correlation.
posted by Llama-Lime at 5:10 PM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


fleetmouse: religion and illiteracy closely correlated

Do the numbers. The correlation between illiteracy and godliness that I get in Excel using the cited data sets is 28%.

Even as someone who wishes to think that those two things should be correlated, that is the lamest bit of pseudoscience I've seen in awhile.
posted by A-Train at 5:11 PM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


ideologies and cults of personality that intentionally utilized the religious impulse by suppressing the former religions of the perpetrators and substituting themselves.

Well, yes, but how do you prevent that, as a matter of policy? If all religion disappeared tomorrow, would personality cults go too? There doesn't seem to be evidence to that end.

You could just as easily say "Human beings have a tendency to form cults, and can do so with religion or with personality."

I'm much more with the commenter upthread; religious and secular cults take hold more easily in the midst of chaos and fear. Swedish and Danish citizens have a remarkable lack of both in their societies, making them less fertile ground for such things. Which isn't so much an argument for atheism as a cure-all, but for socialism and the elimination of poverty.
posted by emjaybee at 5:21 PM on February 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


U.S. suicide rates by state:
50th.... New Jersey (second *lowest* suicide rate in US)


New Jersey? New Jersey? New Jersey?
posted by terranova at 5:21 PM on February 1, 2009


I'm sure there are probably horrors of the last century or so that were caused by explicitly secular institutions and belief systems and were in no way tied up with religion or the religious impulse, but no one's mentioned one yet.

What about the bomb?

Nationalism + Nuclear Fission + Utilitarianism / 1945?
posted by doobiedoo at 5:31 PM on February 1, 2009


As you can see this is a pretty stupid way to proceed with the discussion, I don't think we should try to outgore each other on the atrocities scale.
posted by doobiedoo at 5:33 PM on February 1, 2009


You can't go with "No" on that, as it's a spurious measurement of correlation, not "true" correlation as I said.

I can and I will. Are we just quibbling about the meaning of the word 'true' now? A correlation is just the relation between two measures. Causation doesn't enter into it. If you mean to say that it is only "true" if a causation exists, then you are saying: "Correlation implies causation when correlation implies causation." Is that really worth stating?

Without prior knowledge about the true relationship in the first place, as is the case with most of our real-world data, you really can't claim these to be true or untrue correlations.

The spurious measurement wouldn't be repeatable, and it would be fairly ill-supported to say "green eyes are associated with left-roomedness" after a single room. If repeatedly, you found that green eyes truly are found with left-roomedness, then there's a reason to start looking for causation for an apparent correlation.

I'm not saying that repeated observations don't lend credence to a hypothesis. I just get annoyed when people see a correlation, ignore the thousands of other factors and noise that may contribute to it, say that there has to be a common cause, and use that as a launching pad for any handy idea they want to advance.

Not that I don't think that the articles don't present a good case, or that crime isn't a different phenomenon is secular societies than it is in highly religious societies. Are these datapoints related? It would seem so. Is there some sort of meaningful relationship that could point to a common cause? There seems to be good evidence. Does this mean there has to be a causal relationship? No.
posted by Avelwood at 5:45 PM on February 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


As you can see this is a pretty stupid way to proceed with the discussion, I don't think we should try to outgore each other on the atrocities scale.

I would stack atrocities by dogmatists, colonialists, and all such true believers under their banner of self-righteousness against all others at any chance. There really is no comparison and cherry-picking communism misses the point:

The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance--it is the illusion of
knowledge. I have observed that the world has suffered far less from
ignorance than from pretensions to knowledge. It is not skeptics or
explorers but fanatics and ideologues who menace decency and progress. No
agnostic ever burned anyone at the stake or tortured a pagan, a heretic,
or an unbeliever. - Daniel J. Boorstin, Living Philosophies, The
Reflections of Some Eminent Men and Women of our Time
(Doubleday, 1990) 24.

posted by Brian B. at 6:02 PM on February 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


Stylus Happenstance - not... quite. More (non-Chinese) men manage to successfully kill themselves. The rate of attempted suicides might be more interesting.
posted by porpoise at 6:03 PM on February 1, 2009


oh, right, yadda yadda causation !~ correlation, but perhaps more successful, educated, egalitarian, and stable societies don't need outspoken evangelical religion?

Opiate of the masses and all that...
posted by porpoise at 6:05 PM on February 1, 2009


Avelwood: yes, we are quibbling over a definition. However, I think my definition of correlation is more broadly used by statisticians and scientists, and indeed a more useful one. In support of this, most estimates of correlation either include a p-value or a confidence interval, indicating that the number reported as a correlation is just an uncertain measurement of an underlying concept of correlated/uncorrelated. And if one measurement of correlation is found to be spurious, I don't think anyone would refer to that spurious measurement as finding a "correlation."

I too am annoyed when improper data is used to assert a correlation, and when that correlation is in turn to advance just one of many possible causes of a correlation, if indeed there is a correlation. However, place the blame where it is due, rather than the heart of scientific reasoning.
posted by Llama-Lime at 6:17 PM on February 1, 2009


On second thought, maybe it's the other way around. Instead of need, successful societies comprised of an educated, egalitarian, and happy populace isn't an environment where outspoken evangelical religion can take hold?

As in, religion gives hope and comfort and community - if it's already there because people are rationally optimistic, are a part of a functional and transparent economy, and have stuff in common with their neighbours, there's really no need to believe in an invisible sky-daddy and all the things that religious leaders say that sky-daddy likes and dislikes from which to create a faith-based sense of optimism and an artificial commonality with one's neighbours.
posted by porpoise at 6:17 PM on February 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


From the last paragraph:

It is a great socioreligious irony — for lack of a better term — that when we consider the fundamental values and moral imperatives contained within the world's great religions, such as caring for the sick, the infirm, the elderly, the poor, the orphaned, the vulnerable; practicing mercy, charity, and goodwill toward one's fellow human beings; and fostering generosity, humility, honesty, and communal concern over individual egotism — those traditionally religious values are most successfully established, institutionalized, and put into practice at the societal level in the most irreligious nations in the world today.

Is it me or does this work both ways?

You notice that these fundamental values are not in fact secular values, that however a fantastic framework for achieving these objectives, secularism is not a substitute for religious values, but a means for them? The great religiosocial irony then, to coin an equally horrible neologism, is that when we consider the values we most cherish and upon which we still orientate our personal lives and national policy, they are religious ones. I mean it's not like secularism was a collective nietzschean effort that gave us an ubermensch in every village, it was the opposite, the propogation of an ever finer, more comprehensive meshwork of safe, hygienic, professional, humane practice.

I would also ask where and when is secularism a relevant frame of analysis? Certainly in Europe it seems good for little other than bible bashing, if you are considering the state or society, public or private life there are many many other things threatening our values and forms of life other than religion. Domestically in the west I'd say that religious extremism is tied into a complex web of problems to do with immigration and integration at a moment when civil society has been evacuated in favour of hysterical commercialism, whereas problems of the Christian right are an American speciality.
posted by doobiedoo at 7:05 PM on February 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


So… What is the confidence interval for the correlation of religion and, uh, badness as vaguely defined?

Since, I mean, no one can be dumb enough here to be arguing that religion directly causes crime, and no one seems to be arguing that it's crime that causes religion. Which means we're assuming a common cause, something else that I haven't seen argued.

Instead, I notice again that this line of argument boils basically down to an ad hominem attack on religion, that it's seen in the same places as suicide, violence, etc. Then fuzzy arguments about how it's all from intolerance, man, because they, like, think we're all going to hell or something. Which is pretty stupid to put forth as a causal factor, because the incidence of people joining churches because they're really interested in sending anyone to Hell is pretty low (self-reported, of course).

As a final tangent, I think what must be most galling for those who are not just atheists but also ideologues (I do wish that atheists weren't addressed as a monolith of smug "brights"), that so far, the best way to diminish religion involves codifying it under the state.
posted by klangklangston at 7:25 PM on February 1, 2009


New Jersey has the second lowest suicide rate? Well then, check their educational levels there. Maybe they're just bad at it! Or wait, I know what the problem might be: there's no Imminent Suiciders' Union!
posted by jamstigator at 7:27 PM on February 1, 2009


Yea doobie,
Israel, the most recent religious society - even though, wink, it's supposed to be secular, wink, with that Star of David flag and crazy settler who believe in end time insanity controlling policy in all of Israel, yea that's a great example of religious virtue - Gaza - an eye for an eyelash. 200 nuclear warheads and pushing the US to go to war in Iraq and now Iran.
Yea they are so sensible b/c of their religious beliefs that their God is the Supreme Real Estate Agent in the Middle East. They deserved a country, unlike the Gypsies, or Aborigines, or Native Americans or Inuits, or South American Indians, ... b/c the Jews are truly God's chosen. There is but one true God right?
And the Taliban were rocking on virtue when they dropped walls on possible homosexuals and women who had been gang raped b/c the women were the ones who committed adultery.
The BJP is running India with such benevolence toward Muslims, even when those apostates just happen to get on trains that catch fire.
And Islamists who attacked Mumbai were just exercising religious freedom.
Religion is never a cause of war, hate, intolerance, fear, ignorance. Why would anyone think otherwise. History will bear that out. Wait,...
Religion is a means of control and a means to try to exert control over the fear of death.
That's about all religion is.
posted by hooptycritter at 7:34 PM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Really? Poverty, famine, genocide, Iraq, Gaza, and Gitmo are your reasons that we still need ethical systems derived from religions?

You misinterpret me. I listed the above as examples of how the Golden Rule ("Do unto others...") doesn't yet seem to be fashionable on a national scale.

My main point in this whole thread is that religions express and address some aspects of being human that are not yet matched in the secular world. I believe (hope) that some day we'll get there, and that cooperation and peace will be valued for their own sakes.

We're not there yet, are we...

(I only pursue this meager point cos I'm not smart enuff to play in the correlation/causation semifinals)
posted by Artful Codger at 7:39 PM on February 1, 2009


If the US is not secular then I'm a monkey's uncle.
posted by kindalike at 7:46 PM on February 1, 2009


If the US is not secular then I'm a monkey's uncle.

We are an incredibly religious country. I'm not sure what breaks in religious people to make them think that somehow a country where a non-Christian member of Congress is newsworthy and one of the two biggest political parties constantly smears its opponents as atheists and Mulsims is a secular country, but maybe it's the same damage that makes them think they're being persecuted.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:52 PM on February 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


If the US is not secular then I'm a monkey's uncle.

The US is not secular and a monkey's your great^N uncle for large enough N.
posted by grobstein at 8:55 PM on February 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oh yeah, the national religion today was Super Bowl Sunday.
posted by kindalike at 9:02 PM on February 1, 2009


The great religiosocial irony then, to coin an equally horrible neologism, is that when we consider the values we most cherish and upon which we still orientate our personal lives and national policy, they are religious ones.

Departing from the old order of things, Jesus is credited with delivering a new order of tolerance and human dignity, based on loving God, who then loves anyone back accordingly (and not just the pharaohs or priests and those that perform the ancient rituals). The priest class didn't just go away however, because it was still religion. So another order has come along based on equal rights itself, with less traditional need to pretend to love somebody in order to respect their rights. But because these rights include the freedom of religion, the traditionalists again believe this to be an attack on their faith. The bottom line is that it was always difficult to limit the ancient influences that never once valued social equality.
posted by Brian B. at 9:11 PM on February 1, 2009


“The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted.”

Correlation not being causation, you can still conclude that being secular does not have worse results than being faithful.
posted by no_moniker at 9:40 PM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


For those interested, a link to the paper in the OP 'The Times' article, can be found here.
posted by wigglin at 10:59 PM on February 1, 2009


duvatney said what I was going to say. If your child is dying, and you can't afford to go to the hospital, or the hospital has been bombed, or the hospital is too far away, or you just don't like hospitals...then your only recourse is prayer. I'm about as irreligious as it's possible to be, but if I found myself in that situation, I'd probably give it a go too.
posted by bokeh at 2:29 AM on February 2, 2009


How charming. The bacteria are discussing quantum physics again.
posted by Hovercraft Eel at 6:47 AM on February 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Religion is a way for us to discriminate against each other that is based solely on illusion. As if we didn't have enough reasons to find others strange and fearful, we *invented* some. In this way we are less than the lesser animals: they don't invent reasons to hate and kill each other. Imagination is a two-edged sword.
posted by jamstigator at 7:53 AM on February 2, 2009


I don't think secular governments are worse than religious ones or vice versa, but I do think it's possible to see that religion wasn't just an instrumental tool to control the population (even if it may seem that way now) and also to realise that rationality has its limits, this isn't to suggest that some fabulous mix of the two is the right way but that we have no right ways and that the uneasy co existence of religion and secularism in the public realm is the best way we have to find out how to continue having a meaningful existence. I don't want some authority to hand down the rules, I think people living out their lives and getting together to shoot the breeze in more or less hospitable/hostile tones is the only way to resolve the situation and by resolve I don't mean start a stable order, I mean find out what what is making us tick. That in spite of the ridiculous life taking extremes of both religion and secularism, today is the best it's gonna get, that conflict between ideals is ineradicable and in any case undesirable.

The expressed indifference or desire to ignore the religious is not much better than the explicit desire to lobotomise anyone with a religious impulse, as is the religious condemnation of any secular society as living in total sin and irredeemable, these are all coping strategies, and a demonstration that tolerance achieved via social distance isn't tolerance but alienation and neglect and it bites everyone in the ass.
posted by doobiedoo at 8:11 AM on February 2, 2009


"Correlation not being causation, you can still conclude that being secular does not have worse results than being faithful."

Well, yeah. That's basically what the articles say, which is why it's hard to get too worked up about them. The problem is when it turns into the endless clichéd "BUT RELIGIORS KILLED BAZILLIONS! WITCHES! HERETICS! RAR RAR RAR!" at which point it becomes hard not to roll your eyes.
posted by klangklangston at 9:12 AM on February 2, 2009


which actually makes the article kind of obvious and pointless.

Much like this post.
posted by languagehat at 12:10 PM on February 2, 2009


"...one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

It's interesting that the suicide rate seems to be inversely correlated with population density. Can someone with more stat-fu run a regression to confirm?
posted by Eideteker at 1:17 PM on February 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


What are Unitarians then?
Just a social group.


Unitarian Universalists are more than a social group. Social groups don't have a set of principles that they affirm and promote.
posted by diogenes at 4:47 PM on February 2, 2009



How charming. The bacteria are discussing quantum physics again.
posted by Hovercraft Eel


Before I realized that there was no way to flag your post with a "lame-ass metaphor" option, that was exactly my plan.


Unitarian Universalists are more than a social group. Social groups don't have a set of principles that they affirm and promote.


No, they really are a social group. Social groups have principles all the time; why couldn't I get into that country club? The Unitarians just happen to encourage a particularly friendly and open-minded set of principles.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 8:50 PM on February 2, 2009


to realise that rationality has its limits

What would be those limits?
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:56 AM on February 3, 2009


Start with Kant.
posted by klangklangston at 10:25 AM on February 3, 2009


The long string of fallacies and poor reasoning in Kant's moral philosophy, of which I read a lot in undergrad, makes me less than willing to believe that Critique of Pure Reason is worth my time.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:36 AM on February 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you think the USSR's problems were caused by godlessness, you're too stupid to participate in this conversation.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:07 AM on February 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


How about that rationality can't prove anything, only say whether or not two positions are consistent?
posted by klangklangston at 1:18 PM on February 3, 2009


Thats why you need axioms klang. Things like 'we exist' and such. Usually the approach is to start with the bare minimum # of axioms needed to describe something and go from there. Its also helpful to try different sets of axioms to see if they work better. But when your axiom set is something as complicated and bloated as most modern religions, you get some pretty strange (not consistent) results.
posted by no_moniker at 2:03 PM on February 3, 2009


Well, yes, of course. But as far as limits of rationality, the necessity of axioms certainly is one.
posted by klangklangston at 2:52 PM on February 3, 2009


Is "rationality" the same as logical deduction? Epistemic rationality probably includes the rule that proper deductions preserve the truth of their premises (ultimately axioms), but it probably isn't limited to that observation. For example, the rule that some inductive inferences are more valid than others is probably part of epistemic rationality, but may not reduce cleanly to a simple deductive model. So rationality is less limited than deductive reasoning.

We can't use deductive reasoning and a priori premises to show that we live on a planet instead of inside a unicorn's gut, but it may still be rational to conclude that we live on a planet, for reasons beyond whether deductive reasoning is valid. Right? Would you say it's perfectly rational to conclude we reside in a unicorn's gut?
posted by grobstein at 2:55 PM on February 3, 2009


I would say that it is not consistent with sensory information to conclude that we live in a unicorn's gut.

But that's really got very little to do with what I'm arguing, and I think you know that.
posted by klangklangston at 3:42 PM on February 3, 2009


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