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Archive for April 2009



Pakistan is already an Islamic State

So claims Ali Eteraz:

Most people in the world, including some Pakistanis, live under the illusion that the country is secular and just happens to have been overrun by extremists. This is false. Pakistan became an Islamic state in 1973 when the new constitution made Islam the state religion. Under the earlier 1956 constitution Islam had been merely the “official” religion. Nineteen-seventy-three, in other words, represents Pakistan’s “Iran moment“—when the government made itself beholden to religious law. Most western observers missed the radical change because the leader of Pakistan at the time was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a whiskey-drinking, pseudo-socialist from a Westernized family. Those that did notice the transformation ignored it because the country was reeling from a massive military defeat in 1971, which led to half the nation becoming Bangladesh.


The comment thread here has me wondering how many conservatives we actually have reading Secular Right.

•  The 14th Amendment was adopted in 1868. The idea of gay marriage emerged from the lunatic fringe around 10 years ago, I think. So for 130 years it occurred to practically nobody that the 14th implied gay marriage — surely not, I’ll wager, to anyone whose opinion carried jurisprudential weight. Now suddenly it’s clear as daylight to all but a minority of mentally-diseased reactionaries.

That’s a point of view, but I’ll be damned if it’s a conservative point of view.

•  I can’t see the parallel with inter-racial marriage, which has been proscribed by law only spottily through history. (It obviously didn’t seem outrageous to Shakespeare and his audience.) Same-sex marriage has never, so far as I know, been proscribed by law anywhere, because it never occurred to lawmakers that it was a thing anyone would want to do! The human prejudice against same-sex marriage is far, far deeper-rooted than that against inter-racial marriage, a picayune thing by comparison, as witness the fact that legislatures had to draw up statutes about it. There are no laws against eating rocks.

(And I must say, I don’t actually see why communities shouldn’t prohibit inter-racial marriage if they want to. I’d prefer not to live in such a community — given my domestic circumstances, in fact, I wouldn’t be able to! — but this doesn’t strike me as an unreasonable or immoral restriction for a state or country to impose on its citizens. But perhaps that’s just me. I simply don’t “get” the hysterical race panic that’s consumed so much rational thought in the modern West.)

•  Hospital visiting. Still not getting it. If your hospital’s rules won’t allow gay lovers to visit, agitate to get the rules changed. What does this have to do with gay marriage? Sledgehammer, nut.

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Religious Left

Why do we need a secular right blog? Well for one thing, because institutional religion, and religious institutions, are all too often cheerleaders for the multicultural Left. Case in point: Providence College. From a friend:

Congressman Tom Tancredo will be making an appearance at Providence College today at 4:30 PM vigilant in his goal of visiting campuses and discussing topics such as immigration and cultural assimilation. He has been invited to the school by the new conservative group called Youth for Western Civilization that was founded in late 2008.

The administration initially barred Tancredo because YWC was not yet recognized. However, when a recognized group offered to host Tancredo, they claimed his views “directly contradict” the Bishop of Providence Thomas J. Tobin. Bishop Tobin agreed with the school’s position, stating he “supports a robust debate of the immigration issue, but hopes that the debate will be productive and respectful, while avoiding inflammatory rhetoric that unfairly stereotypes groups of people and further divides our nation.”

This is in spite of the fact that in the past Providence College, a devoutly Catholic institution, has allowed virulently pro-choice speakers on campus such as Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, and this past fall the most pro choice member of the US Senate, Senator Shelden Whitehouse of Rhode Island was allowed to speak on campus.

“The hypocrisy is overwhelming,” says Tancredo. “I think the school is more concerned with the God of Political Correctness than the Church’s teaching.”

Tancredo plans on speaking specifically about the issue of cultural assimilation and for effectively dealing with the problem that illegal immigration poses to the United States of America.

This is on the heels of a violent protest by radical leftist protestors at the University of North Carolina where Tancredo was assaulted and forced to exit the campus for his own safety. Arrests have been made and the school has officially apologized to Tancredo for the breach of free speech that occurred.

According to Tancredo: “I respect Providence’s status as a private religious institution, but I hoped they would be more tolerant of conservative views on immigration than the radical left wing protesters at UNC.”

After the address to YWC off the campus near the front gates, Tancredo will give another speech to Youth for Western Civilization and Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement at the Euart VFW Post in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

Former Presidential Candidate and Congressman Tom Tancredo represented Colorado’s Sixth Congressional District for ten years before stepping down in 2008. He founded and chaired the 100+ member bipartisan Immigration Reform Caucus. He currently serves as chairman of Team America PAC, president of the Rocky Mount Foundation and honorary chairman of Youth for Western Civilization. Tancredo’s national political reputation has risen and his name is being mentioned as a possible candidate in the 2010 election races in Colorado.

[Emphasis added by me. — JD]

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I know there are plenty of polls in regards to gay marriage, but I don’t ever see them broken out by religious attitudes. So I looked at the GSS at the MARHOMO, “Homosexuals should have right to marry,” variable for 2008.  I then cross-referenced with the “GOD” variable, which asks people about their confidence in the existence of God. The trendlines are as you would expect, but there is more diversity of belief than I suspect many would have assumed. (more…)


New York Governor Dave Paterson made some curious remarks on the gay marriage issue yesterday. The gist of them, so far as I can understand it, was that (a) opponents of gay marriage are motivated by their religion, and (b) the present opposition is vitiated by failure to speak out against the hell on earth (“beaten and often brutalized”) that homosexual college students endured before … well, before some unspecified event that enlightened everyone and made it all stop. Gov. Paterson’s accession, perhaps.

It’s all pretty incoherent, but that’s our Gov. for you. It did get me thinking, though, in the secular-right context, of the non-religious conservative case against gay marriage. There certainly is one, composed of some the following elements, mixed in proportions according to personal taste.

(1) Anti-Minoritarianism. The majority has rights, too.

(2) The social recognition of committed heterosexual bonding has been a constant for thousands of years. No-one of a conservative inclination wants to mess lightly with that. Counter-arguments like “so was slavery” are unconvincing, as the occasional slights suffered by homosexual couples are microscopic by comparison with the injustice of human beings buying and selling other human beings. Gay marriage proponents make much of the cruelty and injustices of the past. I must say, though, being old enough to remember some of that past, I am unimpressed.  I was in college in the early 1960s. There were homosexual students, and nobody minded them. They seemed perfectly happy. Certainly they were not “beaten and brutalized”; and if they had been, I assume the ordinary laws of assault and battery would have come into play. I can recall even further back, known homosexual couples keeping house together in my provincial English home town in the 1950s. People made jokes about it, but nobody bothered them — though sodomy was illegal in England at the time! I don’t think private consensual acts should be illegal; but that aside, I don’t see much wrong with the mid-20th-century dispensation, based as it was on the great and splendid Anglo-Saxon principle of minding your own business.

(3) There really is a slippery slope here. Once marriage has been redefined to include homosexual pairings, what grounds will there be to oppose futher redefinition — to encompass people who want to marry their ponies, their sisters, or their soccer team? Are all private contractual relations for cohabitation to be rendered equal, or are some to be privileged over others, as has been customary in all times and places? If the latter, what is wrong with heterosexual pairing as the privileged status, sanctified as it is by custom and popular feeling?

(4) If you have a cognitively-challenged underclass, as every large nation has, you need some anchoring institutions for them to aspire to; and those institutions should have some continuity and stability. Heterosexual marriage is a key such institution. In a society in which nobody had an IQ below 120, homosexual marriage might be plausible. In the actual societies we have, other considerations kick in.

(5) Human nature exists, and has fixed characteristics. We are not infinitely malleable. Human society and human institutions need to “fit” human nature, or at least not go too brazenly against the grain of it. Homophobia seems to be a rooted condition in us. It has been present always and everywhere, if only minimally (and unfairly — there has always been a double standard here) in disdain for “the man who plays the part of a woman.” There has never, anywhere, at any level of civilization, been a society that approved egalitarian (i.e. same age, same status) homosexual bonding. This tells us something about human nature — something it might be wisest (and would certainly be conservative-est) to leave alone.

(6) There is a thinness in the arguments for gay marriage that leaves one thinking the proponents are not so much for something as against something. How many times have you heard that gay marriage is necessary so that gay people will not be hindered in visiting a hospitalized partner? But if hospitals have such rules — a thing I find hard to believe in this PC-whipped age — the rules can be changed, by legislation if necessary. What need to overturn a millennial institution for such trivial ends?

No thoughtful, humane person wishes any harm to homosexuals; and if harm is done, it can and should be punished under long-standing laws. Let people live and love as they want. Human nature is what it is, though, and no-one of a conservative outlook can take lightly an attempt to carry out a radical overhaul of a key human institution, in a direction pointed directly at widespread (though I think normally mild) human emotions of disdain and disgust.

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The Pope visits L’Aquila

The Pope finally made it to L’Aquila today, the epicenter of an earthquake that killed 295 in Italy’s Abruzzo region on April 6.  Driving rain, cold, and mud continue to beset the occupants of the tent cities established for the 65,000 homeless victims. 

On the day of the quake, the Pope said that he was praying “especially for the children” killed in the tremors.  Two days later he assured the survivors that the “Pope prays for all, imploring the Lord’s mercy for the deceased.”  Today, in the medieval village of Onna, where the death rate was highest, he “encourage[d] everyone, institutions and businesses, to see that this village and this region are reborn.”  Later today, under a blue canopy in L’Aquila’s town square, with the green mountains of Abruzzo rising above, the Pope invoked a local saint and recalled his Easter Mass, performed after the L’Aquila earthquake.  The Italian news channel RAI raved about the Pope’s interactions with occupants of one of the tent cities: “We’ve never seen him so close to the people before,” said a reporter.  “He had a word for each person.”

The Pope is undoubtedly a caring, generous man who has brought much-needed solace to the stricken survivors of the earthquake.  Still, nonbelievers will be eternally puzzled by the logic of praising and praying to a God after a natural disaster that he could have averted.   If God is sensitive enough and powerful enough to respond to prayers now, why didn’t he intervene before?  And we know that he can intervene: see, e.g.,  the Bible and the daily priestly practice of asking for God’s protection against a whole host of human ills.  The Pope may pray to God to show his mercy to the dead children of Abruzzo.  Wouldn’t it have been more useful for God to have shown his mercy before they were killed?  Presumably, believers see proof of God’s love in the survival of quake victims rescued from collapsed buildings, leaving unexplained why other quake victims were not so blessed.  

But the need to feel protected by a supernatural power is so strong that it overcomes any logical difficulties entailed by the idea of a loving, just God who supervenes over the daily slaughter of the innocents.  And the belief in such a God provides people with strength in the face of unbearable loss. 

What does a non-religious world-view have to offer in place of irrational faith?  A celebration of human compassion as the source of every triumph over natural randomness and injustice.  An awareness that human ingenuity is all we have to save us from undeserved tragedy, but a knowledge that that is saying quite a lot.  Nonbelievers feel as much sorrow for the victims of the quake as any believer, but they look exclusively to human efforts to help them.  Since the earthquake, the Pope and the local archbishop have lauded civic solidarity, and rightly so.  The workers who have tried to help the victims have done so out of human empathy.  Most every engineer would do anything he could to prevent all loss of life from earthquakes; the same can’t be said of the divine engineer.  The rebuilding of L’Aquila, which the Pope called for, is already occurring, thanks to the Italian civil authorities.  It sure as heck isn’t God who’s rebuilding it. 

A secular perspective on suffering does not promise an afterlife, but it does focus our attention on the true source of the virtues which can lessen and sometimes overcome suffering.   For many people, that will not be enough and they will continue turning to the idea of a God.   The nonbeliever joins with them in their desire for a more just world.




Irrationality watch: Among the pandemicists

There were over 100 auto fatalities a day in the U.S. in 2008, a number that was celebrated for being so low.   So far, there have been no deaths from the swine flu outside of Mexico, where 149 fatalities are suspected.   Is there any hope that we are going to avoid a pandemic overreaction to the disease?



A non-secular past, present and future

In the comments below I engaged in a little bit of glib dismissal in regards to the contention that a secular society is not sustainable. The issue though need some elaboration. I agree with John Derbyshire when he says:

Mark: “Can humanity survive over the long term without religion?” To my way of thinking, that’s like asking “Can humanity survive over the long term without music?” Religion, like musical appreciation, is just a feature of the general human personality, arising from the structure of the human nervous system. The religious impulse is more developed in some of us than in others, and a few of us are completely tone deaf (though that’s no reason to exclude us from non-musical discussions); but most human beings enjoy a good tune at some level. It’s human nature.

Religion, broadly construed as acceptance of supernatural agents, gods, and the powers associated with such beings, is universal, and has a high degree of penetration in most societies.  In some societies, such the Middle East or Africa, acceptance of supernatural agents is universal in a literal sense (the World Values Survey shows that of 2,000 respondents in Pakistan not a one admitted to being an atheist!). But even in avowedly secular societies, such as in Europe or East Asia, the majority do not deny the reality of the supernatural.

On the other hand, intellectual historians are prone to noting that East Asian societies give less pride of place to religion than those of South or West Asia, or Europe. What’s going on here?  Religion, narrowly construed as a prescribed set of behaviors & beliefs, an elaborated and robust collection of institutions, as well as a deep philosophical tradition, integrated together into an organized whole, is much less a pervasive feature of East Asian society (in early Tang China, Fujiwara Japan and Silla Korea a form of Buddhism came close to taking a central role within the society analogous to that of Christian and Islam, but it did not “take”). Terms like “folk Christianity” or “folk Islam,” as well as the philosophical schools within these religious traditions, are witness to the reality that religious expression is very diverse.  But in what was Christendom, what is the Dar-al-Islam, these diverse traditions have been tied together by a catchall framework. The elites of the pre-modern West, and the contemporary Islamic world, may have espoused, or do espouse, personal religious beliefs which are alien to the masses in terms of their sophistication, but notionally the elites and the masses are of the same religious tradition or stream. In contrast the Confucian bureaucrats who administered the polities of pre-modern China and Korea, as well as Tokugawa Japan, self-consciously understood the distinction between their own attenuated beliefs in the supernatural, which might have gone no further than ceremonial deism, and the baroque folk religions which were dominant among the masses. In this way they likely resembled the cultural framework dominant during the Greco-Roman period, when a multiplicity of folk traditions divided the loyalties of the populace while the elites dabbled in abstruse philosophy and obscure mystery cults.

So far this has been purely descriptive. That is, I’m describing what seems to be the reality across human history. A substrate of normal supernatural belief, reshaped and organized in some locales around the aegis of a monopolistic cult. What is the future? The secularization of Europe obviously does exhibit some level of rejection of the supernatural; after all, 33% of the French adhere to the atheistic position. But there are data that show that the decline of Christianity in Europe, the loss of its public monopoly, has been met not by the rise of a godless monopoly, but the resurgence of supernatural pluralism. In other words, the future of Europe may resemble the situation in many East Asian nations, where a large fraction of the population are rejectors of the supernatural, but an even larger proportion operate as freelance subscribers to a hodgepodge of supernatural beliefs and practices, and another fraction adhere to one of the world religions.




The World Values Survey

About six months ago I mentioned the General Social Survey. Have a question about public opinion & correlations? Poke around, don’t let your opinion or impression be the last word!


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Atheism, religion and politics

At ScienceBlogs I look at World Values Survey data and compare secular and conservative East Asian nations to the religious but liberal United States. I conclude (after looking over data tables):

My point here is rather simple: increased secularism in the United States would almost certainly lead toward a shift to greater Left-Liberalism. But that dynamic will almost certainly exhibit diminishing returns as secularization proceeds and the personality and social profiles of atheists starts to converge upon the general population. The bad news for conservatives is that I think the secularizing tendency in America during the current period is good for liberalism. The good news is that it probably isn’t as bad as it could be if you extrapolated on a straight line from the current secular population in terms of political outlook.

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