Monday, February 11, 2008

Politics and Religion

I want to talk about a few things that have been on my mind recently involving religion, politics, and their intersection.

Very clearly, I don't think religion should have any influence on politics whatsoever. Having read more Bonhoeffer, even he, a Confessing Church theologian, agreed that religion should have no influence over politics. In his view, the Church's only job was the witness about Jesus. That's fine by me. They can talk about Jesus, Muslims about Allah, Hindus about Krishna (or whatever god they have in mind), and it's all peachy-keen until they try to step into the political arena and define policy. Religion, if it is to be practiced, should be practiced in private among consenting adults.

Religion, in my view, should be a semi-private practice. I say semi-private because I realize that there is necessarily an interactive element to religion. That's okay. Build your churches or meet in your homes. It's quite analogous to consensual sexual relations: I don't really want to see people having sex in public, or try to engage me with public sex; just as I really don't want to have people handing me pamphlets, tracts, or asking me about my relationship with the Jesus. Why? Well, this is partially part of the whole Enlightenment values, and something I think even Bonhoeffer, Mr. "the only basis of morality is Christ" himself, would agree on the basis that there is a necessity of private life.

Side note: this is why wiretapping and secret police are so disgusting: they utterly destroy any possibility of speech. Everything becomes public. Now, there are differences in the speech between parents and children, among friends, teachers and pupils, and between lovers. If a teacher asks a five year old student to publicly admit to the classroom that a parent is a drunkard, or in jail, or an "enemy of the state," is the child justified in lying? Ideally, this should never be asked of the child. It is an intrusion from one sphere into another. The "truth" of the family should not be exposed as "truth" in the school. As Bonhoeffer put it, the child's lie contains more "truth" than the teacher's asking. Now, normally, I'm all for openness and honesty. I don't like obfuscating language among friends, and if someone has a problem with me, I would honestly like to know it. I'm not a fan of the huge number of lies that we tell every day just to smooth over conversations. "Oh, you look wonderful!" "Have you lost weight?" "No, I think it's a great idea." In cases like the one mentioned above, however, it's a different matter - that of private life. And the state, the public, should have no intrusion into that. What does it matter who someone loves, or their personal family history (for the vast majority of cases...I realize there are exceptions to this), or what their personal religious beliefs are - so long as they are kept in the private sphere or among friends and are not forced onto the public. Here's a good article of the sort of all-encompassing paranoia secret police can produce.

Back to religion. The whole part about consenting adults is actually quite important to me. Children are programmed to trust parental instructions, and apparently learn by over-imitation, even when actions are unnecessary or inefficient. Children pick up on religious behavior probably in much the same way - they are indoctrinated into it, it is not a free choice. If a person freely chooses to follow a religion when they are an adult and can actually understands what it means (preferably after they've had some education in world religions and critical studies of religion), then...okay. That's fine. Don't force your religion on your children, however. You wouldn't identify a child as a "Democratic child" or "Republican child," but we're apparently at ease saying a child is a "Christian child" or "Muslim child." Well, no. They don't have the capability of fulling understanding exactly what their parents are getting them into, even though children do have a pretty well developed notion of predation/death from an early age. Dawkins and others have made this point very well, and I'd like to participate in this sort of consciousness raising.

More below the fold...

I assume most of you have heard about the Archbishop of Canterbury sticking his foot in his mouth. Money quotes:

But Dr Williams said an approach to law which simply said "there's one law for everybody and that's all there is to be said, and anything else that commands your loyalty or allegiance is completely irrelevant in the processes of the courts - I think that's a bit of a danger".

"There's a place for finding what would be a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law, as we already do with some other aspects of religious law."


"That principle that there is only one law for everybody is an important pillar of our social identity as a western democracy," he said.

"But I think it is a misunderstanding to suppose that means people don't have other affiliations, other loyalties which shape and dictate how they behave in society and that the law needs to take some account of that."

Dr Williams noted that Orthodox Jewish courts already operated, and that the law accommodated the anti-abortion views of some Christians.

Yes. The Archbishop is apparently calling for separate spheres of religious courts. I think he'd be perfectly happy to see a separate Christian court...unless, of course, he's assuming the British courts are already good Christian courts, which, I sort of think he is.

I'm sorry, maybe I'm too much of a Western individual, but I have the idea that when you are a citizen of a state, or when you choose to reside within a state, you are subject to that state's laws. Now, in addition, and maybe this is my colonial/imperialistic morality, but I think human rights should be universal and that it's generally not okay to kill or imprison a woman who has been raped, or to kill apostates. Call me crazy, but I really am not a fan of attempting to live under Sharia law. Probably because I would pretty quickly be killed. That's usually the dividing line for me: will this law put me to death for being a rational human being and arguing for universal human rights? If yes, not a fan. Oversimplified, for sure...but, so far it's been a pretty good guide.

Well, of course, the "good" Archbishop has responded. See? It's cool. He was just doing his Christian duty by talking about other religions. No, really, it's okay:

"If we can attempt to speak for the liberties and consciences of others in this country - as well as our own - we shall, I believe, be doing something we as a church are called to do in Christ's name: witnessing to his Lordship, not compromising it."

Ah. Yes. Now it's so clear. Talk all you want about other faiths because, of course, you have the truth of the Jesus on your side. And that makes it okay. And bring the faults of other religions to public focus. Now see, that last part...especially if it works retrospectively as well...would actually be pretty good. Let's bring it to public attention just how ridiculous this stuff is.

Moving on...Turkey is apparently divided over the headscarf ban. This is a fairly complicated issue: a division over a secular government and free choice. I haven't made my mind up on this one yet over whether I come down more on the side of "if they want to, they should be able to wear head scarfs" or "this would be the first step in a lot of backsliding for Turkey." Keep your eyes open for this one.

And in the Philippines, there's a huge row over contraceptives. The Church has a lot of influence on the government, and thus has stopped the free distribution of alternative contraceptives in favor of "natural" family planning - the cycle method.

Good job guys. You do realize that we have evolved so that females have hidden estrus and concealed ovulation. Now, there are a few studies (I'll try to dig them up and retroactively link them) that there may be some unconscious knowledge (both in females and males) of the exact timing of maximum fertility, but in general, it's a pretty iffy thing most of the time. So, no surprise, the contraceptive ban has led to all sorts of problems which have been seen the world over anytime the Catholic clergy is taken seriously on this. If you don't want abortions (especially unsafe ones), please, for the love of whatever god you claim to worship, allow contraceptives and promote good education about them. At least try it out. Test it. C'mon guys.

Now for something completely different: evolutionary politics?

Let me throw out some major problems with this.

First, their scale. Really guys? That's the best you can do? A semi-Likert scale? Just one? "Extremely" and "Moderately"? Please define these better and expand the questionnaire. I'm extremely skeptical as to the validity of this one.

Also, not a whole lot of info on the identical twin study. Reared apart or reared together? This is important. Need more info before I'm going to commit to this at all.

That being said, I think there is probably some genetic predisposition to level of xenophobia, or in-group/out-group affiliation. This might have an influence on politics, but of course, environment is going to have a huge influence on this. Show me the details of your study and the effect sizes (main effects AND interaction effects, please!) after you get a better questionnaire. Then we can talk.

Lastly, a little psychology. Why we are so bad at making decisions. I think this is a pretty good playful article with some good information to follow up on. The equation at the end? Hilarious. I'm convinced there tends to be regular mathematical relationships that can describe complex social interactions, so I guess this is a bit of my woo that I'll be convinced by. Plus, it's good to know about the biases and irrational decisions - they really help you rationally think about a plan or study that comes out.

Okay...really, finally. Why did I post the "Lisa's Father" video and links to the Chick Tract? Part of it was to show just how absurd and disgusting Chick can actually be. Another interesting thing to note is the characterization of the "atheist" characters. Notice they're all drunkards and child molesters. This is very common in the rest of Chick's work, and it's pretty common across most fundamental or cult-like groups, i.e. the despicable Westboro Baptist Church, and the crazies and wackos of the Church of Scientology. When you have that level of indoctrination - that anyone outside the group has to be horrible (a common example of extreme coalitional psychology) - you have made a very solid wall that will prevent any attempt at rational thought or help from the outside. This is a large reason why cults are so dangerous: they completely separate you from the outside world and buffer you with other people who seem normal. The most extreme people in the center don't even really realize that they are extreme, because they have so many levels of buffers they never interact with the real world at all. Hannah Arendt's The Origin of Totalitarianism has a very good description of this. I would suggest picking up the book if you have time to read it and want to feel a little depressed.


Zie said...

hmm.. i think the public vs private deal is a bit overrated. Somehow it screams of a Protestant morality - keep a smile on your face and your opinions to yourself. I can't tell if I have a premodern opinion, or a post-modern idea, but nothing can ever be purely contained within their acceptable boundaries. Society, human nature, etc., all contain interrelating and interacting spheres of experience. Even if you close all the church doors, when the people leave they will bring the church with them.

But what does this say about our always important sense of a separation between church and state? Though I believe that a person's beliefs will inevitably seep into their identity and general nature of relating to the world, I think we are clearly capable of picking and choosing different lenses in which to see and interact. It is the states responsibility to keep the church out, and the church's in keeping the state out of their direct affairs (within reason obviously, Catholic priests and little boys comes to mind!) So what happens when the "church" runs the state, as is obviously clear in our stupid country? Its a clear example of people seeped in religion gaining political power and using only one lens. boo to them. I have no solution, except kick them out of washington, but obviously I am doing very little to make that happen (and would never conceive of such a campaign).

So to get back to my point: public and private are a farce. people are having sex outside and you just don't know it. (thats a metaphor). our decade is interesting because the public attempts to be private (i blog with a pseudonym, though I'd be perfectly happy for others to know my identity) and the private is out and proud. They are just false constructions, and are more psychological then anything else.

Ragoth said...

I realize the public vs. private deal is a bit overrated. I've had enough sociology classes for that. I got a really good chuckle out of the "screams of a Protestant morality," though. Ouch!

And people are having sex outside and I know it (that wasn't a metaphor). It is an interesting tension between living in public spheres and trying to have a private life. Certainly with the rise of electron communication, it's becoming increasingly impossible. I haven't found a good way to frame/talk about this yet, so I'm falling back on some pretty outdated and bad lines of argument. Thanks for calling me on it (and yes, that is sincere).

I'll try to come back to this later. Hell...maybe I'll write an ETHICS!