Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Jul/17

23

UFOs and The ‘Religious Mind’

Writing in the New York Times, Clay Routledge notes the interesting, if unsurprising, fact, that someone’s religious instinct doesn’t disappear simply because he or she has rejected ‘established’ religion:

Just a couple of decades ago, about 95 percent of Americans reported belonging to a religious group. This number is now around 75 percent. And far fewer are actively religious: The percentage of regular churchgoers may be as low as 15 to 20 percent. As for religious belief, the Pew Research Center found that from 2007 to 2014 the percentage of Americans who reported being absolutely confident God exists dropped from 71 percent to 63 percent.

Nonetheless, there is reason to doubt the death of religion, or at least the death of what you might call the “religious mind” — our concern with existential questions and our search for meaning. A growing body of research suggests that the evidence for a decline in traditional religious belief, identity and practice does not reflect a decline in this underlying spiritual inclination.

Ask yourself: Why are people religious to begin with?

Well, there was that Minnesota study of twins reared apart described in this Wall Street Journal article a few years back (I posted about it here):

The Minnesota study’s IQ results hit a nerve years before their publication in 1990, overshadowing other controversies that might have been. Many of its findings are bipartisan shockers. Take religion, which almost everyone attributes to “socialization.” Separated-twin data show that religiosity has a strong genetic component, especially in the long run: “Parents had less influence than they thought over their children’s religious activities and interests as they approached adolescence and adulthood.” The key caveat: While genes have a big effect on how religious you are, upbringing has a big effect on the brand of religion you accept. Identical separated sisters Debbie and Sharon “both liked the rituals and formality of religious services and holidays,” even though Debbie was a Jew and Sharon was a Christian.

I eagerly looking forward to what Routledge had to say about the “religious mind” as something that is inherited, an aspect of the ‘God Gene’, yet another by-product of the evolutionary process.

But no, to Mr. Routledge, the “fundamental nature” of the religious mind is:

[O]ur awareness of, and need to reckon with, the transience and fragility of our existence, and how small and unimportant we seem to be in the grand scheme of things. In short: our quest for significance.

Count me out of that “quest”, but each to his own…

But then Routledge moves into more interesting territory:

Evidence suggests that the religious mind persists even when we lose faith in traditional religious beliefs and institutions. Consider that roughly 30 percent of Americans report they have felt in contact with someone who has died. Nearly 20 percent believe they have been in the presence of a ghost. About one-third of Americans believe that ghosts exist and can interact with and harm humans; around two-thirds hold supernatural or paranormal beliefs of some kind, including beliefs in reincarnation, spiritual energy and psychic powers.

These numbers are much higher than they were in previous decades, when more people reported being highly religious. People who do not frequently attend church are twice as likely to believe in ghosts as those who are regular churchgoers. The less religious people are, the more likely they are to endorse empirically unsupported ideas about U.F.O.s, intelligent aliens monitoring the lives of humans and related conspiracies about a government cover-up of these phenomena.

An emerging body of research supports the thesis that these interests in nontraditional supernatural and paranormal phenomena are driven by the same cognitive processes and motives that inspire religion. For instance, my colleagues and I recently published a series of studies in the journal Motivation and Emotion demonstrating that the link between low religiosity and belief in advanced alien visitors is at least partly explained by the pursuit of meaning. The less religious participants were, we found, the less they perceived their lives as meaningful. This lack of meaning was associated with a desire to find meaning, which in turn was associated with belief in U.F.O.s and alien visitors.

When people are searching for meaning, their minds seem to gravitate toward thoughts of things like aliens that do not fall within our current scientific inventory of the world. Why? I suspect part of the answer is that such ideas imply that humans are not alone in the universe, that we might be part of a larger cosmic drama. As with traditional religious beliefs, many of these paranormal beliefs involve powerful beings watching over humans and the hope that they will rescue us from death and extinction.

A great many atheists and agnostics, of course, do not think U.F.O.s exist. I’m not suggesting that if you reject traditional religious belief, you will necessarily find yourself believing in alien visitors. But because beliefs about U.F.O.s and aliens do not explicitly invoke the supernatural and are couched in scientific and technological jargon, they may be more palatable to those who reject the metaphysics of more traditional religious systems.

It is important to note that thus far, research indicates only that the need for meaning inspires these types of paranormal beliefs, not that such beliefs actually do a good job of providing meaning. There are reasons to suspect they are poor substitutes for religion: They are not part of a well-established social and institutional support system and they lack a deeper and historically rich philosophy of meaning. Seeking meaning does not always equal finding meaning.

Or at least an acceptable facsimile of meaning for the individual in question. ‘Meaning’ in this sense can only ever be subjective.

Routledge:

The Western world is, in theory, becoming increasingly secular — but the religious mind remains active. The question now is, how can society satisfactorily meet people’s religious and spiritual needs?

Well, it’s not up to ‘society’ to decide on this one way or another, but, if Routledge is correct (which, I think he is, if not quite for the right reasons) , the religious impulse is not going anywhere soon. That suggests that much of atheist rage—itself an expression, I suspect, of religious feeling—against organized religion is misdirected.

Organized religion can be a device for channeling the innate religious impulse in a positive manner. It can be, but very often is not. Those who either lack or have little in the way of a religious mind should oppose the more destructive forms of organized religion (there are plenty of examples to choose from) while welcoming the existence of those that are relatively benign.

As I’ve noted here before, the more or less agnostic Winston Churchill said that he was not a pillar of the Church of England, but a buttress, ”supporting it from the outside”. I feel much the same way.

To repeat myself from that earlier post:

At its best, the C of E…is in some ways as close to perfection as religion—a man-made thing—can come to perfection, benign, kindly, gently patriotic, theologically broad-minded, a quiet conservator of tradition and order with room (for those who want it) for a spot of the supernatural, but little time for superstition, the navel-gazing nonsense of mysticism or an over-insistence on dogma.

Beats a UFO cult any day.

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Jul/17

22

Machine Trumps Ghost

It is—time flies—now thirty years since the appearance of The Closing of the American Mind, an anniversary noted by Alexander Riley in The American Conservative.

The whole thing is well worth reading, but this passage caught my attention:

Some elements of Allan Bloom’s analytical framework are frankly inadequate.  He is too perfunctory in dismissing the contribution made to knowledge about human nature by the sciences, and his Great Books/Thinkers list is missing a figure the right makes a grave mistake in ignoring:  Darwin.  Rigorous evolutionary thinking connected to empirical research into the foundations of human behavior and social order offers some of the sturdiest support for conservative politics, and the right would do well to embrace these findings.

The book’s second section (“Nihilism, American Style”) lays out the complex intellectual history undergirding Bloom’s description of the state of the university, and its obscurity for readers not already thoroughly grounded in the ideas it presents is only its most obvious weakness.  Too much is made to depend on the lasting importance of the insights of Locke and Rousseau on human nature, and too much in contemporary behavioral science shows that their systems will not bear that weight.  Locke thought human beings were essentially unmarked at birth by our animal nature, and Rousseau believed it was only social institutions that make us selfish and competitive.  The Darwinian evolutionary perspective tells us considerably more of lasting importance about what we are and what the social world likely can and cannot do to alter that.

Indeed.

Machine trumps ghost.

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Well, here’s something for everyone: Pipelines, eminent domain, nuns, ‘religious liberty’ or (take your pick) religious privilege.

As the Washington Post explains the story, an energy company (Williams Cos) wants to run a natural gas pipeline through agricultural land owned by an order of nuns, one of whom, explains the Post’s writer, “has always known this land as sacred”.

I’ll let that comment stand there.

What Williams does is pay for an easement to dig up the land and put a pipe in. It then hands back the land to its owners. According to the company’s spokesman, it will compensate farmers for lost crops and will return to inspect whether agricultural output over the pipeline returns to normal.

The nuns are opposed to the project. According to one of their number they “believe in sustenance of all creation.”

No matter that, compared with most fossil fuels, natural gas is associated with relatively low CO2 emissions. And no matter (I’m making a guess, but not, I suspect, an unreasonable one) that the nuns make use, directly or indirectly, of fossil fuels themselves.

The Washington Post:

The pipeline company first sought without success to negotiate with the nuns. Now as Williams Cos. tries to seize the land by eminent domain, the order is gearing up for a fight in the courtroom — and a possible fight in the field, as well.

There, smack in the path of the planned pipeline, the nuns have dedicated a new outdoor chapel.

“We just wanted to symbolize, really, what is already there: This is holy ground,” said Sister Janet McCann, a member of the national leadership team of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, whose 2,000 nuns around the world have made environmental protection and activism a key part of their mission.

The sisters’ chapel is a rudimentary symbol, but a powerful one: eight long benches, a wooden arbor and a pulpit, all on a straw-coated patch of land carved out of the cornfield.

I am no great fan of eminent domain (even if it is sometimes necessary), but the key question here is whether a makeshift chapel (built primarily as a legal device) and claims that this piece of Pennsylvania is ‘holy land’ should give these nuns a privilege denied almost everyone else – an exemption from the law.

The Washington Post

The Adorers and their supporters’ nascent faith-based resistance, which has been compared to the anti-pipeline activism led by Native Americans at Standing Rock, N.D., could eventually set a precedent in a murky area of religious freedom law.

U.S. appeals court judges have ruled inconsistently on whether federal law protects religious groups from eminent domain in such cases. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, which covers Delaware, New Jersey and the part of Pennsylvania where the nuns reside, has yet to issue a ruling on the matter. Legal observers say a case could make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“There is something to this ‘holy land’ thing,” said Dan Dalton, a Michigan land-use and zoning attorney and the author of a book on the litigation of religious land-use cases. “There haven’t been a lot of appellate cases. . . . It really is a relatively new issue.”

… In a complaint they filed in federal court Friday, the nuns argued that FERC’s authorization of the pipeline on their property violated their religious freedom, protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“FERC’s decision to force the Adorers to use land they own to accommodate a fossil fuel pipeline is antithetical to the deeply held religious beliefs and convictions of the Adorers. It places a substantial burden on the Adorers’ exercise of religion,” the nuns’ attorneys wrote.

Another federal law, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, could more specifically protect the nuns, depending on a judge’s interpretation. That law seeks to shield religious institutions from land-use laws that would otherwise impose a substantial burden on their religious exercise. But the nation’s appellate courts have offered differing opinions on whether the law applies to eminent domain. The 3rd Circuit, where the Adorers are located, has never ruled on that question, several lawyers familiar with this area of law said, so the nuns may be the ones to set the precedent.

This will be a  story to watch.

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Jul/17

9

The Pope’s “Distorted Vision”

Cross-posted on the Corner.

I don’t know whether his views on this matter are driven by authoritarianism (Peronism dies hard), a theocratic contempt for national borders or simple bone-headedness, but, in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica Pope Francis has now come out in favor of a federal Europe, well, soonish.

l’Europa deve assumere al più presto una struttura federale.

In the same interview, the Pope had this to say (translation via AFP):

I worry about very dangerous alliances between powers which have a distorted vision of the world: America and Russia, China and North Korea, Putin and Assad over the war in Syria…”

So Pope Francis thinks that America has a “distorted vision of the world”? Say what you will, the man has chutzpah.

Meanwhile, the inhabitants of the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa may be turning into something of a disappointment to the Pope. Lampedusa, which is just off the North African coast, has become a landing point for many of the migrants headed Europe’s way and, for others, tragically, a last resting place, something that prompted Francis to choose the island as the site of his first official visit outside Rome after becoming pope in 2013.

While he was there he gave a talk on the topic of immigration that displayed both the demagogic skills and profound intellectual dishonesty that have become a recurring theme of his papacy. I’ve blogged about that talk a few times. Theodore Dalrymple filleted it here. This extract gives a flavor:

By elevating feeling over thought, by making compassion the measure of all things, the Pope was able to evade the complexities of the situation, in effect indulging in one of the characteristic vices of our time, moral exhibitionism, which is the espousal of generous sentiment without the pain of having to think of the costs to other people of the implied (but unstated) morally-appropriate policy…..

The Pope’s use of a term such as ‘those who take the socio-economic decisions in anonymity’ was strong on connotation but weak on denotation, itself a sign of intellectual evasion. Who, exactly, were ‘those’ people? Wall Street hedge fund managers, the International Monetary Fund, opponents of free trade, African dictators? Was he saying that the whole world economic system was to blame for the migration across the Mediterranean, that the existence of borders was illegitimate, that Denmark (for example) was rich because Swaziland was poor, that if only Lesotho were brought up to the level of Liechtenstein (or, of course, if Liechtenstein were brought down to the level of Lesotho) no one would drown in the Mediterranean? There was something for everyone’s conspiracy theory in his words….

Note also a few of the facts and figures that Dalrymple cites:

Lampedusa is an Italian island of 8 square miles with a permanent population of 6000, which so far this year has received 7800 migrants trying to reach Europe across the Mediterranean from sub-Saharan and North Africa, that is to say more than 1000 a month. When the Pope officiated at mass on the island’s sports field, there were 10,000 in the congregation, two thirds more than the permanent population…

Now fast forward to 2017, and this report in the Guardian:

Anyone looking for an insight into the growing disillusionment of ordinary Italians as their country is left to deal alone with a summer surge of migrants on its southern shores should contemplate the fate of Giusi Nicolini, the former mayor of Lampedusa.

Earlier this year Nicolini won Unesco’s Félix Houphouët-Boigny peace prize for the “great humanity and constant commitment” with which she has managed a migration crisis that began in earnest during the summer of 2011, as the Arab spring turned north African societies upside down.

A politician from the centre-left Democratic party, Nicolini also won the Olof Palme prize in 2016 and was among the Italians celebrated at a dinner with former US president Barack Obama at the White House in October.

But as she travelled the world and courted the media, regularly appearing on Italian TV and portraying the tiny island of around 6,000 people as a safe haven for migrants, discontent simmered back on Lampedusa, closer to Tunisia than mainland Italy, where she held office. Islanders made their feelings known last month when Nicolini was resoundingly ousted from her post, coming third in municipal elections with just 908 votes.

It wasn’t a surprise to us that she lost,” said Salvatore Martello, a hotel owner and fisherman who won the election running independently from Italy’s main parties. “In the years she was mayor, she curated an image abroad of the island and the migrant situation, forgetting its people.”

…“People didn’t like Nicolini because she put herself first,” said Vincenzo Esposito, a fisherman for 50 years. “Yes, it was right to help migrants, but millions have been spent on that and not on our basic needs….”

Moral exhibitionism”, that was the term that Dalrymple used. Works well, I think.

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Jun/17

14

Facing Death for Blasphemy

Technology may progress, but there is no right side of history, no rule than man is  going to progress:

New York Times:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — An antiterrorism court in Pakistan has sentenced a Shiite man to death for committing blasphemy in posts on social media. The man, Taimoor Raza, 30, was found guilty of making derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad, his wives and others on Facebook and WhatsApp.

Mr. Raza was sentenced to death on Saturday by Judge Bashir Ahmed in Punjab Province. It was the first time anyone has been given the death penalty for blasphemy on social media in Pakistan. Mr. Raza can appeal the sentence…

Mr. Raza was initially charged under a section of the penal code that punishes derogatory remarks about other religious personalities for up to two years. Later, during the course of the investigations, he was charged under a law that focuses specifically on derogatory acts against the Prophet Muhammad, which carries a death penalty.

Mr. Raza’s sentence comes amid a widening crackdown against blasphemous content on social media, especially Facebook and Twitter. This year, the country’s interior minister asked Facebook to identify people suspected of committing blasphemy so that they could be prosecuted.

Critics say the government’s move has spread fear and intimidation, leading to vigilante justice and violence.

In April, a university student in northern Pakistan was tortured and shot to death by fellow students. The student, Mashal Khan, who attended Abdul Wali Khan University, was accused of posting blasphemous content on Facebook…

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Apr/17

30

Pope Francis against the Individual

On stage, Pope Francis, like Juan Perón, his predecessor in so many respects, can be a vivid speaker. The same cannot be said of his prose, where his arguments are all too often swamped by jargon, citation and the failed, muddy language of someone who cannot, I am afraid, quite keep up.

In the course of a new screed the Pope turns his attention (as so often) to neo-liberalism, that rarely seen, frequently imagined bogeyman that seems to spend so much time rattling around the papal skull:

A society in which the true fraternity dissolves is not capable of having a future; a society in which only “giving in order to have” or the “giving out of duty” exist, is not capable of progressing. That is why neither the liberal-individualist vision of the world, in which everything (or almost) is an exchange, nor the state-centric vision of society, in which everything (or almost) is a duty, are safe guides for overcoming inequality, inequity and exclusion that now overwhelm our societies. It is a search for a way out of the suffocating alternative between the neoliberal thesis and that neo-state-centric thesis.

Leaving aside the fact that Francis’ description of the ‘liberal-individualist vision’ is little more than stale demagogic caricature—something of a specialty of this pope–his call for a ‘third way’ between free market systems and socialism shouldn’t be missed. In reality, that’s we already have across the West, but what Francis wants is something akin to the corporatism (there are unkinder words) that did so much damage to his native Argentina.

And as always with Francis, his perspective is saturated with conspiracism, often vintage conspiracism:

Almost one hundred years ago, Pius XI [warned of] a global economic dictatorship that he called the “international imperialism” of money.

Hmmm

And then Francis turns his attention to a fresh enemy—demagogues can never have enough enemies—in this case the “invasion…at high levels of culture and education in both universities and in schools…of libertarian individualism”, an invasion, it must be said, is not immediately apparent to me.  Looking at today’s schools, and even more so the universities, very little libertarian individualism seems to be on display. On the contrary, we see the collectivism of the left, being enforced with ever increasing degrees of rigor, something that this Pope whether by ignorance, malice or willful ideological blindness or a blend of all three has chosen to overlook.

The Pope continues:

If individualism affirms that it is only the individual who gives value to things and interpersonal relationships, and so it is only the individual who decides what is good and what is bad, then libertarianism, today in fashion, preaches that to establish freedom and individual responsibility, it is necessary to resort to the idea of “self-causation”.

But individualism does not affirm (or does not have to affirm) that it is only the individual who gives value to things…

Over at Reason (of course!), Stephanie Slade writes:

As with [the Pope’s] comments about capitalism, then, the problem is not so much that he’s speaking to issues that go beyond the scope of his office; the problem is his speaking to matters on which he is ill-informed. In this case, his statements betray a shallowness in his understanding of the philosophy he’s impugning. If he took the time to really engage with our ideas, he might be surprised by what he learned.

He might, for instance, be taken aback to discover that many libertarians hold beliefs that transcend an Ayn Randian glorification of selfishness (and that Ayn Rand rejected us, too, by the way)…. Or that lots of us are deeply concerned with the tangible outcomes that policies have on vulnerable communities, and that libertarians’ support for capitalism is very often rooted in its ability to make the world a better place. Or that some of us are even—hold on to your zucchetto—followers of Christ.

Most of all, he would likely be startled to find that, far from thinking “only the individual decides what is good and what is evil,” few libertarians are moral relativists. (Except the Objectivists, of course. Or am I getting that wrong?) Speaking as a devotee of St. John Paul II, one of the great articulators of the importance of accepting Truth as such, this one is actually personal.

It’s hard not to wonder whether Pope Francis knows any libertarians. In the event he’s interested in discussing the ideas of free minds and free markets with someone who ascribes to them, I’d be happy to make myself available.

Stephanie should not hold her breath. Locked into his own convictions, and, like many demagogues, both bully and intellectual coward, Francis has shown himself prepared to talk things over with those whose disagreement—a tame atheist or two—runs on predictable lines unlikely to dent his faith, but to be prepared to debate people who offer a serious challenge to his political prescriptions, well…

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Apr/17

16

The Fires of Easter

From the not always reliable The Golden Bough:

 In Münsterland these Easter fires are always kindled upon certain definite hills, which are hence known as Easter or Paschal Mountains. The whole community assembles about the fire. The young men and maidens, singing Easter hymns, march round and round the fire, till the blaze dies down. Then the girls jump over the fire in a line, one after the other, each supported by two young men who hold her hands and run beside her. In the twilight boys with blazing bundles of straw run over the fields to make them fruitful. At Delmenhorst, in Oldenburg, it used to be the custom to cut down two trees, plant them in the ground side by side, and pile twelve tar-barrels against each. Brush-wood was then heaped about the trees, and on the evening of Easter Saturday the boys, after rushing about with blazing bean-poles in their hands, set fire to the whole. At the end of the ceremony the urchins tried to blacken each other and the clothes of grown-up people. In the Altmark it is believed that as far as the blaze of the Easter bonfire is visible, the corn will grow well throughout the year, and no conflagration will break out. At Braunröde, in the Harz Mountains, it was the custom to burn squirrels in the Easter bonfire.  In the Altmark, bones were burned in it.

Happy Easter!

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Apr/17

8

Welcome, Republican Atheists!

Writing over at Patheos, the Friendly Atheist reports on the formation of the group Republican Atheists.

That’s good news, I reckon, but the Friendly Atheist seems a little, well, skeptical:

The group hopes to “build awareness of Atheist presence in the Republican Party,” though it may have more success building awareness of Republicans among the broader atheist community. The 116 likes on Facebook and 37 followers on Twitter suggest there’s a lot of room to grow. A survey conducted in 2015 among members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation revealed only one percent identified as Republicans — the low end — while a 2014 Pew Research Center survey said Republicans represented 15% of atheists.

According to Lauren Ell, the president of Republican Atheists, the group’s main intention isn’t to influence the legislative or electoral process. Not yet, anyway. Instead, she said in an email, they want to “challenge the concept that atheist equals Democrat and Republican equals religion.”

This is an important time to note that disbelieving in deities doesn’t mean a person necessarily aligns with any particular ideology, political or otherwise. If the existence of this group has you scratching your head — why would any atheist align with this Republican Party? — keep in mind that many of them may support a GOP that even many Republican politicians no longer recognize. They support the ideas of smaller government, fewer taxes, and more personal freedom, but not necessarily a party that seems to have merged with the Religious Right.

Oh come on.

That wasn’t true before Trump, and it’s even harder to claim that now.

Political parties, like (for the most part) religious groups, are coalitions. The faithful agree with this, they disagree with that, but on balance they stick with the creed with which they are, as a whole, most comfortable.  What’s more, a choice of political party is often a vote against rather than a vote for. For all its faults, the Republican party is still the best bulwark there is against the Democrats.

To the Friendly Atheist, the Republican Atheists may be displaying “cognitive dissonance”, but that observation might say more about his beliefs than theirs.  Some of the GOP policies most associated with the religious right (opposition to abortion, say) can be supported for reasons unrelated to the supposed commands of a mysteriously elusive God.

Equally, there is no reason that atheists, if they believe that religion is hard-wired into most of us (as I do), to be disturbed by a little God talk by a politician on the make (or, even, sincerely). Nor is there any need for atheists to waste time and goodwill pushing the church-and-state separation contained in the First Amendment to the bizarre extreme that they sometimes do. Religion can be a useful social glue (that’s probably part of the reason it evolved), and, as such, it is something that a conservative atheist might be expected to appreciate even if he or she believes that the underlying premise is nonsense.

To be fair, the Friendly Atheist notes:

 “[A]theist” only means one thing: you don’t believe in a god. While there’s obviously a large overlap between atheists and liberals, it’s not an ironclad rule.

No it is not, either in the US or, even more so, Europe.

If I had to guess, the ‘large overlap’ here in the US owes more to the specifics of American history and culture rather than any ideological imperative.

All that said, there’s a reason that this blog is named Secular Right rather than Secular Republican or, even, Secular Conservative.

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Mar/17

11

Middlebury and The Heretic

Cross-posted on The Corner.

Looked at one way, the attempt to silence Charles Murray and the violence that followed it was nothing more than another chapter in a long power struggle, but there was something else about it, something more disturbing still.

Writing in New York magazine, Andrew Sullivan:

At around the 19-minute mark, the students explained why they shut down the talk, and it helped clarify for me what exactly the meaning of “intersectionality” is.

“Intersectionality” is the latest academic craze sweeping the American academy. On the surface, it’s a recent neo-Marxist theory that argues that social oppression does not simply apply to single categories of identity — such as race, gender, sexual orientation, class, etc. — but to all of them in an interlocking system of hierarchy and power. At least, that’s my best attempt to define it briefly. But watching that video helps show how an otherwise challenging social theory can often operate in practice.

It is operating, in Orwell’s words, as a “smelly little orthodoxy,” and it manifests itself, it seems to me, almost as a religion. It posits a classic orthodoxy through which all of human experience is explained — and through which all speech must be filtered. Its version of original sin is the power of some identity groups over others. To overcome this sin, you need first to confess, i.e., “check your privilege,” and subsequently live your life and order your thoughts in a way that keeps this sin at bay. The sin goes so deep into your psyche, especially if you are white or male or straight, that a profound conversion is required…

Like the Puritanism once familiar in New England, intersectionality controls language and the very terms of discourse. It enforces manners. It has an idea of virtue — and is obsessed with upholding it. The saints are the most oppressed who nonetheless resist. The sinners are categorized in various ascending categories of demographic damnation, like something out of Dante. The only thing this religion lacks, of course, is salvation. Life is simply an interlocking drama of oppression and power and resistance, ending only in death. It’s Marx without the final total liberation.

It operates as a religion in one other critical dimension: If you happen to see the world in a different way, if you’re a liberal or libertarian or even, gasp, a conservative, if you believe that a university is a place where any idea, however loathsome, can be debated and refuted, you are not just wrong, you are immoral. If you think that arguments and ideas can have a life independent of “white supremacy,” you are complicit in evil. And you are not just complicit, your heresy is a direct threat to others, and therefore needs to be extinguished. You can’t reason with heresy. You have to ban it. It will contaminate others’ souls, and wound them irreparably.

And what I saw on the video struck me most as a form of religious ritual — a secular exorcism, if you will — that reaches a frenzied, disturbing catharsis. When Murray starts to speak, the students stand and ritually turn their backs on him in silence. The heretic must not be looked at, let alone engaged. Then they recite a common liturgy in unison from sheets of paper. Here’s how they begin: “This is not respectful discourse, or a debate about free speech. These are not ideas that can be fairly debated, it is not ‘representative’ of the other side to give a platform to such dangerous ideologies. There is not a potential for an equal exchange of ideas.”

Sullivan’s article comes with a few nods to orthodoxy of its own, but the fundamental point he makes, which can be applied to many other religions beyond Puritan New England, not least to Marxism (itself a millenarian creed) and its offshoots, is very well worth noting.

And here, writing more explicitly from the left (his observations  on the role that class has  to play in what’s going on in the colleges of the elite is something to think about), in The American Scholar, is William Deresiewicz. If I had to guess the article was written before the events  at Middlebury, but:

Selective private colleges have become religious schools. The religion in question is not Methodism or Catholicism but an extreme version of the belief system of the liberal elite: the liberal professional, managerial, and creative classes, which provide a large majority of students enrolled at such places and an even larger majority of faculty and administrators who work at them. To attend those institutions is to be socialized, and not infrequently, indoctrinated into that religion…

What does it mean to say that these institutions are religious schools? First, that they possess a dogma, unwritten but understood by all: a set of “correct” opinions and beliefs, or at best, a narrow range within which disagreement is permitted. There is a right way to think and a right way to talk, and also a right set of things to think and talk about. Secularism is taken for granted. Environmentalism is a sacred cause. Issues of identity—principally the holy trinity of race, gender, and sexuality—occupy the center of concern. The presiding presence is Michel Foucault, with his theories of power, discourse, and the social construction of the self, who plays the same role on the left as Marx once did. The fundamental questions that a college education ought to raise—questions of individual and collective virtue, of what it means to be a good person and a good community—are understood to have been settled. The assumption, on elite college campuses, is that we are already in full possession of the moral truth. This is a religious attitude. It is certainly not a scholarly or intellectual attitude.

Deresiewicz understands how this religion uses of the mechanisms of social control:

So it is with political correctness. There is always something new, as my students understood, that you aren’t supposed to say. And worst of all, you often don’t find out about it until after you have said it. The term political correctness, which originated in the 1970s as a form of self-mockery among progressive college students, was a deliberately ironic invocation of Stalinism. By now we’ve lost the irony but kept the Stalinism—and it was a feature of Stalinism that you could be convicted for an act that was not a crime at the time you committed it. So you were always already guilty, or could be made to be guilty, and therefore were always controllable.

There is always another sin.

Speaking of which, there was this in Reason:

A residential advisor at Pitzer College sent a campus-wide email informing students—white women, in particular—that they should stop wearing hoop earrings.

·

Mar/17

11

Compassion That’s Not

Writing in America Magazine, Jean Welch Hill, director of the ominously-named Peace and Justice Commission for the [Roman Catholic] diocese of Salt Lake City, argues against peace and justice for the terminally ill:

Imagine telling someone who is unable to walk that their life no longer has value. Or telling a loved one who needs help eating that they have lost all dignity. Or explaining to a friend that you can’t visit them anymore because their illness has made them unattractive.

Few would say any of these to a stranger, let alone a loved one. Yet the message of assisted suicide amounts to telling people who have lost the ability to function as they have in the past that they should just cease to exist. This has been the message we have heard for three years in Utah from proponents of assisted suicide legislation.

The definition of dignity implied in these proposed laws, which have followed the Oregon model, is not about the inherent worth of the person but about their physical state. We should keep in mind the great injustices that occur when we decide that human worth depends on perceived mental capacity or physical attributes.

This, I am afraid, is at best misleading and at worst dishonest.

What assisted suicide is about is allowing terribly ill people to decide for themselves that enough is enough. It is about autonomy, it is about dignity and, often, it is about the ability to bring unbearable suffering to an end.

Of course, there are many who have profound religious and philosophical objections to the idea of assisted suicide (even when it is accompanied with the sort of safeguards seen in Oregon). They are free to follow those principles up to the very end. But to insist, by force of law, that others should do likewise is about coercion, not compassion, a coercion made worse by the condescension in which it is wrapped. These poor dying folk, you see, are simply incapable of deciding what is right for themselves.

After all, they might even be nuts.

Hill:

[M]ost terminally ill patients will overcome these fears with proper mental health care. Britain’s “Care Not Killing” Alliance cites a 2006 study by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, in which almost all patients who sought assisted suicide changed their minds after competent and effective ongoing psychiatric treatment.

One study.

It’s worth adding that in 2014, the Royal College of Psychiatrists issued a statement on assisted dying for the terminally ill that ended as follows (my emphasis added):

As individuals and citizens we also cannot fail to acknowledge that notwithstanding our appropriate cautions and caveats,  there will still be those who continue to believe that their current circumstances are unendurable and unacceptable.  Each of us will have our views on how we should respond to these situations.  We do not think that the College should take a specific position on this.  Finally, the decision on whether to legalise physician assisted suicide is a matter for Parliament and the Courts. The only position the College takes on this matter at present is that we will always act within the law.

As is usual in this debate, Ms. Hill isn’t slow to start talking about the slippery slope, citing some (genuinely) disturbing (at least as presented) data from The Netherlands appearing to show that, in some cases. doctors not patients are taking the decision to end patients’ lives. If that’s true, it’s very wrong, and the way to stop it is well-crafted legislation. But using the slippery slope as an argument against the autonomy of those who have slid very far down a hideous slope of their own is to add insult to appalling injury.

Hill concludes with a call for better care for those at the end of life, noting, not inaccurately, that it is not always available. She wants, she claims, to “fix the existing problems within our health care system and allow all people to truly die with dignity.” The first half of that sentence may be sincere, but it is also boilerplate. The second half is disingenuous. Ms. Hill only wants people to “die with dignity” on her terms, terms that not a few patients will find remarkably arrogant and, yes, horribly cruel.

And they would be right to do so.

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