The Huffington Post has an interesting article about a recent Gallup poll showing that many Americans have lost confidence in organized religion. The shift represents a more than 22 point swing over the last forty years.
While the polls are clearly denoting a loss of faith in the institutions of organized religions and NOT a loss of faith in God or religious doctrine, they still represents cracks in the armor. Growing up, I don’t know that I held anyone outside of my immediate family in higher esteem than my church elders. Even after I was no longer a practicing Christian, I considered the ‘the cloth’ as an estimable position to have.
Very public scandals involving the Catholic church and televangelists preachers have clearly had a deteriorating effect on people’s trust in church leadership. There was the immediate effect of those scandals of course, but there were also long term effects. By painful example a religious title obviously doesn’t give a person greater insight into the human condition. It doesn’t make a person more wise or less prone to mistakes. It certainly doesn’t make a person better at decision-making.
I think another factor in this loss of confidence is the proliferation of the personal relationship with God central to evangelical Christianity–the fastest growing religion in the world. Evangelicals don’t need church fathers to intermediate between God and themselves. Through prayer and contemplation they seek the connection with God themselves and only turn to church officials for guidance in this effort.
While I still maintain that individual spirituality can have a obstructive impact on some advancements in science and technology as well as human rights, organized religion is the true culprit in the fight against cultural egality.
Most of the people I have observed who characterize themselves as spiritual rather than religious, no matter how similar their beliefs might be to organized religious dogma, do not presume nearly the same level of moral authority to impose those beliefs on others.
Obviously, the power of the church is far from broken. It’s more accurate to say the overall influence of the church is somewhat diminished and it has been considerably diminished over the last decade or so.
While it is my hope that–someday–everyone will come to see the merit–even wisdom–of skeptical reason, I have the utmost respect for religious freedom. In practical terms alone that goes to our basic freedoms of speech and thought. So I am not interested in any course that leads to the restriction or loss of rights for any churches or belief systems (except that any church that is politically active loses its tax exempt status. No one should be able to use tax free dollars to influence policy.)
It will be interesting to see how this trend continues. As an element of civilization, I think it is inevitable. The more we know, the less superstitious we become. Still, even the inevitable can take centuries and be rife with backslides and regressions. Hopefully, this trend will instead snowball to a point where we start moving towards policy dictated by evidence-based argument rather than unfounded claims based solely on religious beliefs.
It has been alleged that I like calling people stupid. 🙂
I actually don’t. It’s just an honest observation. Group think and mob mentality are well documented psychosocial states. Sometimes it manifests as a trend in the stock market other times as a guy being dragged to death behind a pick-up truck. Of course, stupidity comes in myriad forms.
I am not talking about people with legitimate cognitive disabilities, but rather people who fail (or refuse) to put adequate thought behind their words and deeds.
Like evil, stupidity is a result of behavior. It stems primarily from speaking or acting from ignorance. Ignorance is unawareness of–or disregard for–information, logic, reason, and common sense. So stupidity is nothing more than ignorance in action. It is learned and reversible.
And it is rampant in the United States of America.
This is mainly because we accept it. We allow people to espouse unfounded and illogical beliefs without challenge. We have a media that simply parrots talking points. We have an education system that is merely prep for standardized tests. We elect ignorant people to positions of power and allow them to use their ignorance to impact everyone.
So why do we do this?
As is often the case, it goes back to religion (I’m not trying to beat up on it, I’m just noting where things come from). Our nation has Christian roots. And what Christianity teaches us is that the sin that has doomed our entire race to suffering and strife is the acquisition of knowledge. Not envy, or wrath, or greed, not murder or rape, but knowledge. I’ve considered the Adam and Eve story allegorical for as long as I can remember. A disappointingly large number of people take it as literal. Either way, it’s unsurprising that after inculcating, even beating, this story into millions and millions of kids over the course of centuries, we have learned to distrust knowledge.
This distrust is nothing more than willful ignorance.
Education, discussion, and exposure to new people and experiences can do away with involuntary ignorance. Hey, I didn’t know cause I didn’t know. But with willful ignorance, commonly expressed as, “That’s just what I believe,” this baseless, line-in-the-sand positioning becomes a bulwark against enlightenment. It is often considered principled, even noble, to hold firm to one’s beliefs regardless of their validity. Unfortunately, it’s used to hurt people for “honorable” reasons.
But it is not noble or honorable. It’s hubris. It’s dangerous. And it’s antithetical to progress.
Essentially one is saying, I am going to keep believing in something even though I have no reason to believe it other than I want to. At issue in these instances actually isn’t the belief itself but rather the feeling of safety, security, comfort and stability one gets from believing it. Ignorance really is bliss.
This is common refuge for religious people. To some degree I understand the obstinance. Faith deals with ideas that are often reassuring, unquantifiable, and–most importantly–unfalsifiable. It feels good to believe it and it can’t be disproved, so there’s little motivation to stop believing it. Plus, science doesn’t have any better answers in many cases.
While this type of reasoning is actually unsound, there is a pure logic to it that appeases common sense…until you actually think about it. Pleasant fiction is still fiction.
The troubled waters really begin when this type of thinking spills over into other aspects of life, especially legislation.
When stupidity dictates policy you get Stand Your Ground and Sharia Law bans. You get our crumbling education system. You get bigotry, tribalism, and antipathy.
You also get the Texas state GOP rejecting higher thinking skills, including critical thinking, on their official party platform. Or you get the Louisiana lawmakers who passed a school voucher program allowing people to send their kids to Christian schools pulling their support for the program after people started using those same public funds to send their kids to Muslim schools. It’s how you get people scoffing at global warming every time it snows or refuting radiometric dating without an iota of expertise.
Of course, these are right-wing issues.
On the left, fear of vaccines and other pharmaceutical drugs are built largely on conjecture, unfounded claims, and circumstantial evidence. Any charlatan with an alphabet soup after their name can write a book and present it to the masses as a breakthrough. The lay person lacks the acumen to challenge it. But does that book hold up to the scrutiny of other experts in their field? The only thing these miracle herbalists and holistic healers need to do is demonstrate–to other experts in the field–that their methods get consistent results–that anyone who follows their processes can duplicate. That is the standard for the scientific method.
Most of the people I’ve had discussions with could not articulate that standard of proof. We haven’t been taught to think in those terms. We believe what we want to believe.
So we do need better education. But we also need to let go of our own arrogance. We need to stop presuming that we’re right all the time. We need to stop thinking that we know and start proving that we know. We’ve got to stop being scared of challenging our beliefs.
I lean towards skepticism because it makes the fewest presumptions. It’s mantra is simply that I will believe whatever there is sufficient reason to believe.
It’s a renunciation of absolutes and it’s far from sexy. For some, it may seem like a cold proposition (of course, that is once again basing one’s beliefs on feelings rather than facts). Admittedly, the argument that there’s more to life than what you can measure and calculate has merit. But in terms of what rules we make to live by, we should go by a reality that we can mutually demonstrate. The standards should rely on independently verifiable evidence.
This means getting past life by je ne sais quoi, and into the realm of the provable, quantifiable, and falsifiable.
That means getting past stupidity, which means letting go of our ignorance, which begins by admitting that we are ignorant.
I know, it doesn’t feel good, but it gets better (I hope! :o).
And it’s important to remember that the problem is not the lack of knowledge but rather acting on the lack of knowledge.
Changing the culture is a generational thing. But it’s possible. And it starts with each of us.
Ah ! well a-day ! what evil looks
Had I from old and young !
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.
–From The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The line between free thought and subjugated thought is thin but absolute and can be determined with a simple question that requires no modification of current beliefs: If there is no God, if we are all that is, would you want to know?
I believe abjectly that human potential is virtually limitless. We have just scratched the surface of what we can do and become. Unfortunately, we are constrained by a fatal flaw in our design (it also happens to be one of our greatest attributes):
I’m not just talking about religious faith–although religion is a crucial aspect. I’m talking about faith as the trust we have that we are correct about what we believe (i.e., hold to be true). Because of that trust we make presumptions. We hold some presumptions so dearly that we actually consider questioning them taboo. But presumption is simply unfounded belief, no matter how logical it may seem or profoundly we may believe it. Religion then exalts these unfounded beliefs as the Will or Law of supreme and/or supernatural beings–who are themselves unfounded beliefs. It uses evidence to justify–rather than evaluate–beliefs and either disregards or denounces contradictory evidence (such as evolution and radiometric dating).
It may seem like I’m calling humankind delusional, but as instinctive and intuitive animals, we are right so much of the time–purely by guessing–that belief has become innate. Whether it’s navigating through traffic, recognizing whether a door is automated or manual, or realizing that an unattended child is getting into something, we guess right an overwhelming majority of the time. It verifies our faith. It’s probably why it’s so embarrassing and even unsettling when we’re wrong; we’ve failed in our perception of reality.
Faith was crucial when we were ignorant of the natural world. But as we have passed from the age of faith, through the age of reason, and into the age of knowledge it has become imperative for us to re-evaluate the principles and processes by which we discern what is true.
We have not only acquired more knowledge–beliefs supported by evidence–we’ve gotten better at acquiring it; knowledge chafes against the limits of faith, religious or otherwise. Our understanding of the world, once buttressed by faith is becoming increasingly imprisoned by it. We resist accepting new truths because they may dispel older ones.
It has become untenable.
If we are skeptical–which is to say we presume as little as possible, only accepting beliefs supported by evidence–we can get closer to the reality of existence than we ever could by faith in unfounded beliefs. Because that faith may be displaced. Skepticism is the purest search for truth and truth encompasses all possibilities.
So this is not to denounce religious beliefs. The exploration of a transcendental origin, nature, or purpose for existence is at the very least well-intentioned. And it may very well be true. But until it is supported by evidence, it is only a belief in what is possible and therefore should neither be the basis for social law nor the arbiter of morality.
The only way to liberate thought is to prioritize truth. Science and philosophy which share this mandate with religion, will always trump religion because science and philosophy admit to fallibility. A core tenet of scientific method is scrutiny through peer review and the first rule of philosophy is that we may be wrong about everything. Meanwhile religion, particularly Christianity, Mormonism, Islam, and Judaism, profess, without evidence, to relay the infallible, yet wildly interpretive, word of God. None hold up to objective scrutiny. Their only defense is to restrict investigation, deny contradiction, and denounce skepticism.
It’s been successful. We have been programmed to avoid intellectual conflict. Never talk about politics or religion. By default I would add money to that list. But these are the core, substantive issues affecting the quality of life on earth. What better to talk about than money, politics, and religion? Or should billions suffer and starve so no one has to admit they may be mistaken?
When we are wrong–which is inevitable–failing (or refusing) to re-examine what we hold to be true diminishes our potential. We deny possibilities for no reason outside our own minds. It limits our ability to understand, even to question.
Thus faith has become the albatross around the neck of human thought.
We absolutely must free ourselves from the yoke of this superstition. We must define truth as beliefs justified by–and better, arising out of–evidence and always subject to greater truth. Only skeptical reason, tempered by compassion, can elevate society beyond unfounded belief and into the realm of knowledge in the noble quest to understand.
This is a bit of a follow-up on the post I did about celebrating stupidity in America. A great, informative argument about how legalized prostitution has its own inherent problems. I make my assessment in the comments, but it’s definitely eye-opening.
Funny to think of the (falsefied) uproar Common’s presence in the White House caused last year (ahh…politics).
The Chicago native has endured–over 21 years–because of his unique and unparallelled ability to straddle the line between poetry and rap. It’s not hip hop for dummies. This most clearly evidenced with his inspirational track The Believer off his 2011 album The Dreamer/The Believer. I find it to be insightful and sometimes moving music that gives me a little something new each time I hear it.
His line, “If he could how would Ernie Barnes paint us/look at the picture, it’s hard not to blame us,” is in reference to Barnes’ custom of painting his subjects with their eyes closed to symbolize our blindness to each others’ humanity.
Likewise, in the verse, “Destiny’s children, survivors, soldiers/in front of buildings their eyes look older,” Common uses the now-defunct R&B group’s name and song titles as a metaphor to describe the saga of young life on the streets.
And lastly, with, “That ain’t the way the Langston Hughes wrote us/soul controllers on the shoulders of Moses and Noah,” Common laments how urban youth, despite possessing biblical potential, are running around with guns; it’s such a shortfall to how poets (and visionaries) such as Langston Hughes described African Americans during the Harlem Renaissance–which was the first real exposure the modern world got to the potential contribution blacks could make to culture and thought.
I love stuff like that. 🙂
P.S. The lyrics are included below.
– John legend – Hook –
I believe in the light that shines and will never die
Oh I believe the fire burns, we stay alive
They will talk about us
Like they talked about the kings before us
They will talk about us
– Common – Verse 1 –
These are the words of a believer, achiever, leader of the globe
Feeding souls of those in need
I bleed the blood of the struggle
Walking over troubled puddles
Hustles in my chest, no hustle no progress
Extremities of life and it’s process
Birth of a son, death of another
With love I caress both mothers
And tell ‘em, who’s in control is the One that’s above us
I walk where money talks and love stutters
Body language of a nation going through changes
The young become dangerous, pain gets spent into anger
Anger gets sent through the chamber
It’s tough when your own look like strangers
We are the sons of gangsters and stone rangers
If he could how would Ernie Barnes paint us?
Look at the picture, hard not to blame us
But time forgives, in the Chi where the young die often
Do they end up in a coffin because we haven’t taught them?
Is it what we talking? We really ain’t walking
Dues hustlers pay, how much did it cost ‘em?
Find myself on the same corner that we lost ’em
Real talking, in their ear like a Walkman
Thoughts spin around the corner to the World
When I see them, I see my baby girl
– Hook –
– Verse 2 –
The lord lives among us
The young ‘uns hunger becomes a means to get it
By any means necessary, under pressure
Children feeling lesser, with the steel upon the dresser
Kill-at-will aggressors, Destiny’s children
Survivors, soldiers, in front of buildings their eyes look older
Hard to see blessings in a violent culture
Face against weapons, sirens, holsters
That ain’t the way that Langston Hughes wrote us
Soul controllers on the shoulders of Moses and Noah
We go from being Precious to Oprah
Cultivated to overcome ever since we came over-seas (seize)
The day and the way that you can see we determined
Solar keeps burning, shorties know to keep learning
Lessons in our life, but life stripes that we earning
Took Gramp’s advice that Christ is returning
Like a thief in the night, I write for beacons of light
For those of us in dark alleys and parched valleys
Street kids spark rallies of the conscience conquerors of a contest
That seems beyond us, even through the unseen, I know that God watches
From one King’s dream he was able to Barack us
The prophets, nothing can stop us
[John legend] I know I know I know our dreams won’t turn to dust
They will talk about us
I know I know I know our dreams won’t turn to dust
They will talk about us
I know I know I know our dreams won’t turn to dust
They will talk about us
It appears a measure banning the death penalty may be on the ballot in California this November. The 800,000 signatures gathered are currently being validated so we shall see.
I posted in a previous blog about the systematic racism inherent in the application of capital punishment, but in doing so I may have missed the greater point:
Innocent people are very likely being executed–in which case race or any other group identifiers are a secondary concern. There is no way to be sure about how many wrongful executions have taken place because courts do not review the potential innocence of a convict after execution. Resources are allocated to those whose lives can still be saved.
The execution of Claude Jones is a prime example. Jones was executed in 2000 after George W. Bush’s clemency advisers failed to inform the Texas governor of a request for a DNA test. A hair allegedly coming from Claude Jones was the only evidence linking him to the crime scene. The DNA technology was not available at the time of Jones’ conviction and Gov. Bush had stayed previous executions to allow for DNA testing. In 2007, a judge ordered for a DNA test of the hair sample. The results were not definitive, but suggested that the hair sample did not come from Jones. (You can read more about Claude Jones and others who may have been wrongfully executed here.)
DNA evidence has played a key role in exonerating several death penalty convicts. Unfortunately, DNA testing is impossible in a great majority of cases. However, there are other evidential and procedural mistakes that lead to convictions of innocent people.
Confessions have been obtained by police through coercive interrogation tactics.
Faulty line up techniques and witness leading has strengthened inaccurate witness testimony.
Other characteristics, such as gang affiliation, drastically affect conviction rates, irrespective of the evidence.
There is also the political angle. District attorneys, often elected to office, don’t want to look weak on crime. Convictions rates sell better than satisfying justice. An example of this is the injunction filed against Los Angeles district attorney Steve Cooley for retaliating against prosecutors who unionized because they were being pressured to convict people they believed to be innocent.
Perhaps the best argument against continuing with the death penalty is the staggering (even prohibitive) cost of capital cases. Simply put, it is far more expensive to execute a convict than to imprison that convict for life without parole. In fact, several states have repealed or discontinued capital punishment solely because of the expense.
The exorbitant cost (roughly US$30 million per execution) lies in the additional requirements imbued in death penalty cases. There are typically twice as many attorneys involved; there are more pre-trial motions; jury selection is more in -depth and jurors are usually sequestered; two trials are required, one for guilt and one for sentencing; the actual trial tends to take 3-5 times longer; then comes the series of Constitutionally-mandated appeals, during which time, inmates are held in maximum security on death row at an additional cost of roughly US$90,000 per year, per inmate for a duration generally lasting between 10-15 years. The appeals system is so backlogged it takes roughly 5 years just to get an attorney assigned (imagine if you’re innocent :().
This long, drawn out system full of multiple appeals is the source of much consternation for death penalty supporters. Unfortunately for them, there’s not much that can be done in this regard. The Fifth Amendment plainly states:
No person shall…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.
So until the convicted have availed themselves of every legal process they are due, the state does not have the right to kill them. It might seem like a hassle but it’s for good reason. A Columbia Law School study showed that 68% of death penalty convictions are overturned on appeal and 82% of re-tried death penalty cases resulted in life sentences. In fact, only 1 in 10 death penalty convictions actually leads to an execution.
Death penalty cases are often motivated by the emotional response to the crime rather than a reasoned evaluation of the evidence. Once reason is applied, juries find that most of these cases do not meet the death penalty standard–because you don’t just want to be sure, you want to be absolutely-fucking-positive of guilt. That’s almost never the case, as the stats show.
We must also consider the toll death penalty convictions take on prosecutors and jurors. These people are responsible for answering for the murder of one person (or more) with the murder of another. We have to remember that in reality, capital punishment tests people’s conscience and moral compass. It’s one thing to pontificate in the abstract and quite another to make the decision about a person you can look in the eye and live with it.
I am sympathetic to seeing violent, merciless killers pay the ultimate price for what they’ve done. I would certainly want anyone who kills someone I care about to face execution. But I am not so thirsty for revenge that I’d risk murdering an innocent person.
The death penalty does not deter crime. It is extremely costly. It’s rife with mistakes, politics, and abuse. It’s bogged down with mandatory procedures. It takes an emotional toll on everyone involved. It has and will continue to kill innocent people. It is a revenge tool primarily used by third world nations and despotic regimes–most of the modern world has abandoned it. And in the end it does not bring the victims back.
If and when you cast your vote on this measure in November, it’s important to remember that it’s not about the morality of executing brutal murderers, it’s about whether or not you want to continue this terribly flawed, biased, and ineffective system.
You have to ask yourself if a little blood from the guilty is worth a little innocent blood and a lot of taxpayer money.
This post was inspired by a rant on Sinister Blog and the subsequent comments and responses. I’ll be reiterating some of the ideas discussed there.
Why do Republicans hate women?
The answer is, they don’t. They just hate strong independent women. They hate women who think they are the equal of men. For them this hate is justified; men are physically stronger.
Might makes right. Right?
Leaving aside the fact that pretty much any woman is capable of picking up a .357 and turning your dome into a stadium, we live in the age of information and technology. Brains are far more important than brawn. (And for those of you who would argue that women aren’t as intelligent as men, I would say that this is the point where I must beg your leave so that you may return to digging in the mud with your mighty fine stick. Never argue with fools, I says; let them run and play.)
For the rest of us, we need to understand how we got to this point before we can truly determine where we need to go.
1. Back Story
Religion, as in nearly all things in our culture, plays a significant role in the subjugation of women. Religion didn’t give birth to misogyny, it merely justified it.
Back in the hunter-gatherer days, marriage didn’t really exist, not the way we consider it today. Groups of people stuck together for protection and to raise young but there was, generally speaking, and so far as we can tell, no higher purpose.
As hunting and gathering gave way to farming, the importance of owning stuff increased. People wanted to pass their lands on to their kids. A fertile wife could provide lots of children to help out around the farm. So a “good woman’ (i.e a virtuous woman) had value. Monetary value. A virtuous woman was one about whom their could be no controversy regarding the paternity of children. The easiest way ensure this was by marrying a virgin. Thus a virtuous woman was either a virginal woman or a faithful mother and wife. At the same time, nobody wanted this other woman to take the family’s hard-earned (and often hard-fought for) possessions, so ownership passed from father to son. A woman was considered an asset, like a sturdy mule.
So marriage wasn’t always the wondrous union of love-struck souls it supposedly is now; it was a business transaction. This social contract was codified pretty much unanimously in the western religious texts:
Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour’s wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbour’s house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or any thing that is thy neighbour’s.
We always quote the first part, but not the rest. Kinda changes the meaning, doesn’t it? And remember that the Old testament is a canonical religious text for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. There are other texts that demand a woman’s submission to man, but Deuteronomy clearly illustrates the idea that a woman was viewed as a man’s property, like his slaves, his animals, and his land.
2. Present Predicament.
Like all things, the role of woman has evolved over time. What has remained constant, however, is that in nearly every return to cultural piety, the status of women is greatly reduced. There currently is an effort to return to those times once more.
Unlike many other issues of social injustice, gender discrimination is not confined to religious fundamentalism. It is far more pervasive and goes to the core of our culture itself. The true liberation of women requires a fundamental redefining of gender roles. Women can take care of themselves and no longer need men to provide for them. When a man can no longer hold over a woman provision for her lifestyle, he is forced to use other, less developed skills to maintain her favor. It gives women much more control in relationships and other social interactions.
Additionally, women have increasingly become legitimate competitors in the professional world. Women graduate from high school, college, and graduate school at higher rates than men. Women also tend to get better grades in school. More young women have become disinterested in starting a family, preferring instead to pursue other interests.
Then comes the scary part: women asserting their sexuality. Women have become increasingly free to explore and express their sexual desires and interests. And it turns out, women are as kinky and perverted as men (over 30% of all pornography is purchased by women). That all sounds fine and dandy…until your girlfriend breaks out a surprise apparatus she wants to try on you.
Things can get a bit confusing.
I believe this confusion has led to resentment from men and women alike. The backlash seems to have started sometime in the 1990s when women’s liberation was rolling along.
I started hearing terms like feminazi catching steam. “Shut up and make me a sandwich” jokes started making the rounds again. Then corporations began doubling down on the glass ceiling. Equal pay became an unreasonable demand because women are hormonal and unreliable employees. In the media, women became increasingly portrayed as victims of physical and sexual brutality or objectified for their sexual beauty. Pornography got flat out violent. Slut shaming became vogue again. And now, reproductive decision-making is being taken out of women’s hands and given to the state.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to see the interconnectivity between these events. They’re man’s way of reasserting gender dominance. Unfortunately for its proponents, this reassertion is nothing more than a last desperate gasp. In the end, the War on Women will share the same fate as the Jim Crow south. The extreme vestiges will linger; the rest will die.
3. Looking Forward.
As with any movement in social justice, action must be purposeful and deliberate. And in the push for women’s rights we are doubly obstructed. Women are as confused by the redefining of gender roles as men. Many women conform to the male-driven ideal of sexual objectification and submission to remain appealing; many other women conform because they agree with it. Plus, many women are confined by their own guilt and shame about their sexuality.
The problem is we cannot, as a society, empower women; women must empower themselves (see Rihanna & Chris Brown). Society can only give women tools: the information and social programming that will allow them to suffer neither fools nor abuse by a fool’s hand; and to explore their own individuality without constraint or societal judgment. Women’s liberation is not about making every woman a bisexual-chic big city professional; it’s about a woman being accepted for whatever she chooses to be.
If we truly love women as we claim, we will all work (and fight) to ensure such a future.