Tag Archives: God

Good Without God

It has been an article of faith (pun intended) among politicians and pundits that Americans will not vote for non-religious candidates. President Eisenhower famously said that “Americans need religion, and I don’t care which religion it is,” nicely capturing the conviction of most Americans that only believers can be trusted to do the nation’s business.

Our preference for piety has led–among other things– to the ludicrous spectacle of thrice-married, biblically-ignorant Donald Trump courting Evangelicals and tweeting out “questions” about Hillary Clinton’s religious bona fides.

The public is evidently willing to overlook the history of religious warfare and the long list of injustices perpetrated in the name of religion–at least, when those wars have been waged and those injustices perpetrated by adherents of their own religion.

Americans who remain firmly convinced that religious belief is an unalloyed good will find a recent study reported by the L.A. Times disconcerting.

The article began by noting the growth of what have been called the “nones.”

The number of American children raised without religion has grown significantly since the 1950s, when fewer than 4% of Americans reported growing up in a nonreligious household, according to several recent national studies. That figure entered the double digits when a 2012 study showed that 11% of people born after 1970 said they had been raised in secular homes. This may help explain why 23% of adults in the U.S. claim to have no religion, and more than 30% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 say the same.

The obvious question raised by these statistics is the ultimate fate of the children raised by nonbelievers. Can they possibly turn out to be upstanding, moral citizens without experiencing prayers at mealtimes and morality lessons at Sunday school? Without being warned that God is watching them?

Evidently, they can.

Far from being dysfunctional, nihilistic and rudderless without the security and rectitude of religion, secular households provide a sound and solid foundation for children, according to Vern Bengston, a USC professor of gerontology and sociology.

When Bengston noticed the growth of nonreligious Americans becoming increasingly pronounced, he decided in 2013 to add secular families to his study in an attempt to understand how family life and intergenerational influences play out among the religionless.

He was surprised by what he found: High levels of family solidarity and emotional closeness between parents and nonreligious youth, and strong ethical standards and moral values that had been clearly articulated as they were imparted to the next generation.

“Many nonreligious parents were more coherent and passionate about their ethical principles than some of the ‘religious’ parents in our study,” Bengston told me. “The vast majority appeared to live goal-filled lives characterized by moral direction and sense of life having a purpose.”

As the writer of the article noted, nonreligious family life has its own sustaining moral and ethical values, including “rational problem solving, personal autonomy, independence of thought, avoidance of corporal punishment, a spirit of ‘questioning everything’ and, far above all, empathy.”

The article concludes with a summary of social science research:

Religion and Football–More Alike Than We Might Think

It’s Sunday, and today’s sermon will consider the origins of religion.

There are all kinds of theories about religiosity. Some scientists believe humans are “hard-wired” for religion, although there is considerably controversy over that theory.

Anther is that belief in a deity arose from the need to explain otherwise inexplicable phenomena –the “God of the gaps” thesis. Why did lightning strike that guy’s hut? He must have angered the Gods…The problem with the God of the Gaps theory is that science and empirical inquiry keep narrowing the gaps.  (Bill O’Reilly famously defended the existence of God by the fact that “the tides come in and the tides go out, and no one knows why.”  As Neil DeGrasse Tyson pointed out, however, we actually do know why, and God isn’t involved.)

Whatever the genesis of religion, social scientists have pointed to the benefits of religious affiliation, most of which can be explained by membership in a supportive community.

Because supportive communities come in all shapes and sizes, and don’t necessarily revolve around worship, one social scientist suggests that membership in a religious group is a lot like being a football fan.

Anthropologist Harvey Whitehouse has concluded that belief in the supernatural is window dressing on what really matters—elaborate rituals that foster group cohesion, creating personal bonds that people are willing to die for. (He doesn’t suggest that football fans go quite that far.)

The cooperation required in large settled communities is different from what you need in a small group based on face-to-face ties between people. When you’re facing high-risk encounters with other groups or dangerous animals, what you want in a small group is people so strongly bonded that they really stick together. The rituals that seem best-designed to do that are emotionally intense but not performed all that frequently. But when the group is too large for you to know everyone personally, you need to bind people together through group categories, like an ethnic group or a religious organization. The high frequency rituals in larger religions make you lose sight of your personal self….

All really large-scale religions have rituals that people perform daily or at least once a week. We think this is one of the key differences between simply identifying with a group and being fused with a group. When you’re fused with a group, a person’s social identity really taps into personal identity as well. And identity fusion has a number of behavioral outcomes. Perhaps most importantly, fused individuals demonstrate a significant willingness to sacrifice themselves for their groups….

Unfortunately, sacrificing oneself for one’s group has often meant demonizing–or even murdering–those who belong to other groups, who worship other Gods–or none.

Religion has been, at best, a mixed blessing.

 

 

 

 

God and the Congresscritters

Hunter, over at DailyKos, reports:

During a conference call last month with the National Emergency Coalition, Rep. Steve King said that the U.S. needs to crack down on immigration because our nation’s borders were established by God. Disrespecting the borders, the congressman suggested, is disrespecting God’s will.

And then there’s this…bet you didn’t know that God doesn’t want coal regulated. Or that we have nothing to fear from climate change because in Genesis, God promised not to cause another flood. Or that God doesn’t want the woolly mammoth to be the South Carolina state fossil.

I think this is what you call “arguing from authority”–when you don’t have any rational arguments for your point of view, you can always claim that you’re listening to the Big Guy.

There was a reason this nation’s founders wanted to separate what James Madison called the different “jurisdictions” of Church and State–to make it harder for lunatics like King,   Cruz, Bachman et al to pervert religious doctrine (their version of Christianity makes the fundamentalists look reasonable–or at least coherent) and insist that government legislate accordingly.

We’ve always had crazy people; we’ve always even had crazy elected people. But we haven’t usually had so many of them.

Giving God a Bad Name, Episode Ten Zillion

Oh Virginia! You are just so not for lovers.

An official of the state that just handed Eric Cantor his walking papers–a result partially attributed to the Jewish Cantor’s inability to “connect” with his Evangelical Christian base–has refused to marry two people who don’t believe in God.

Bud Roth is a court appointed officiant in Franklin County, Virginia. He performs wedding ceremonies for couples who go to the courthouse to get married. Atheists, however, have no right to get married as far as he’s concerned….

The couple contacted the county clerk, who was floored by their story. She suggested they contact the judge who appointed Roth in the first place. So they wrote a letter to Judge William Alexander who didn’t see any problem at all with a court officiant refusing to marry a couple simply because they don’t share his religious beliefs. The judge referred the couple to the other court appointed officiant who agreed to perform the civil ceremony this coming Monday.

Apparently, the officiant and judge are among the growing number of theocrats who believe that “religious liberty” is just for Christians. (You have the “liberty” to endorse the CORRECT beliefs, which are, of course, mine…)

I guess Virginia is just for CHRISTIAN lovers…..

A Question for Tom DeLay (Yes, THAT Tom DeLay)

Since getting out of prison, Tom DeLay has made periodic forays into the political spotlight. (You might have expected–in light of his still-recent incarceration and general humiliation–that he would show some shame or remorse, but he appears incapable of either.) Every once in a while, there will be a reported “sighting,” accompanied by an idiotic quote, all of which has been worth  ignoring, perhaps with an eye roll or shrug.

But The Raw Story has a quote that is men-in-the-white-coats jaw dropping.

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) this week warned Americans to remember that God “wrote the Constitution” based on the Bible.

During an appearance on John Hagee Ministries’ Global Evangelism Television (GETV) network on Wednesday, host Matt Hagee asked the Texas Republican where the country had gone wrong.

“I think we got off the track when we allowed our government to become a secular government,” DeLay explained. “When we stopped realizing that God created this nation, that he wrote the Constitution, that it’s based on biblical principles.”

Lest you think I am making this up, you can watch the video at the link. (To be fair, DeLay isn’t the only lunatic recasting the nation’s charter as God-given. Remember “My God is bigger than their God” General Jerry Boykin? He recently claimed that Jesus wrote the 2d Amendment.)

This is probably a good place to start humming the theme from Twilight Zone.

Anyway, here’s my question for former Representative DeLay: If you believe that God wrote the Constitution, as well as the Ten Commandments (tablets containing those pesky prohibitions against stealing and bearing false witness), shouldn’t you be just a teensy bit worried about your immortal soul, since you rather consistently violated both?

Just asking.