Posts tagged religionhumanitiesscience
Posts tagged religionhumanitiesscience
I am a fan of Jonathan Haidt’s work. I learned a lot from his book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, and used those ideas in my column “Judging the Nations: Wealth and Happiness Are Not Enough.” I also quoted one of my favorite passages from The Righteous Mind in ”God and Devil in the Marketplace.”
Jonathan wrote a very interesting piece in the Wall Street, October 16, 2010: “What the Tea Partiers Really Want.” Here is a key passage:
But the passion of the tea-party movement is, in fact, a moral passion. It can be summarized in one word: not liberty, but karma.
The notion of karma comes with lots of new-age baggage, but it is an old and very conservative idea. It is the Sanskrit word for “deed” or “action,” and the law of karma says that for every action, there is an equal and morally commensurate reaction. Kindness, honesty and hard work will (eventually) bring good fortune; cruelty, deceit and laziness will (eventually) bring suffering. No divine intervention is required; it’s just a law of the universe, like gravity.
Karma is not an exclusively Hindu idea. It combines the universal human desire that moral accounts should be balanced with a belief that, somehow or other, they will be balanced. In 1932, the great developmental psychologist Jean Piaget found that by the age of 6, children begin to believe that bad things that happen to them are punishments for bad things they have done.
To understand the anger of the tea-party movement, just imagine how you would feel if you learned that government physicists were building a particle accelerator that might, as a side effect of its experiments, nullify the law of gravity. Everything around us would float away, and the Earth itself would break apart. Now, instead of that scenario, suppose you learned that politicians were devising policies that might, as a side effect of their enactment, nullify the law of karma. Bad deeds would no longer lead to bad outcomes, and the fragile moral order of our nation would break apart. For tea partiers, this scenario is not science fiction. It is the last 80 years of American history.
In On Liberty, Chapter III: “Of Individuality, as One of the Elements of Well-Being,” paragraph 13, John Stuart Mill writes:
In this age, the mere example of nonconformity, the mere refusal to bend the knee to custom, is itself a service. Precisely because the tyranny of opinion is such as to make eccentricity a reproach, it is desirable, in order to break through that tyranny, that people should be eccentric. Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded; and the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigour, and moral courage which it contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of the time.
I know from Twitter interactions that Peggy Noonan is not everyone’s favorite essayist. But I like what she has to say in her February 18, 2014 blog post “Our Decadent Elites.” She starts by talking about the TV series “House of Cards”:
“House of Cards” very famously does nothing to enhance Washington’s reputation. It reinforces the idea that the capital has no room for clean people. The earnest, the diligent, the idealistic, they have no place there.
Peggy points out how, rather than dispute the picture of Washington given by “House of Cards,” many Washington politicians “embrace the show and become part of its promotion by spouting its famous lines”. And she brings in the folks on Wall Street by flagging Kevin Roose’s fly-on-the-wall account of financial bigwigs at play in the New York Magazine: “One-Percent Jokes and Plutocrats in Drag: What I Saw When I Crashed a Wall Street Secret Society.”
What I like most is Peggy’s picture of how things should be. She writes:
We’re at a funny point in our political culture. To have judgment is to be an elitist. To have dignity is to be yesterday. To have standards is to be a hypocrite—you won’t always meet standards even when they’re your own, so why have them?
Judgement, dignity and standards are the watchwords. And here is her picture of the white hats (which is my attempt at a gender-neutral equivalent of “the good guys”):
No one wants to be the earnest outsider now, no one wants to play the sober steward, no one wants to be the grind, the guy carrying around a cross of dignity. No one wants to be accused of being staid. No one wants to say, “This isn’t good for the country, and it isn’t good for our profession.”
Highlighting the key words, that is:
I think that often, doing good can be more fun than Peggy suggests. But in the tough cases, this is a good picture of the kind of idealism we should all strive for—and never be ashamed of.
The need for such idealism cuts across all professions. For example, as I wrote in "When Honest House Appraisers Tried to Save the World,"
Being a bond-rater may not seem like the kind of job that could save the world, but it was. In particular, the financial crisis that has cost us so dearly since 2008 could have been avoided if the bond-raters had refused to stamp undeserving mortgage-backed securities as AAA.
On the whole, I am impressed with the degree to which the economists I know put truth first, and how seriously they take the responsibility to push public policy in constructive directions. And for unabashed idealism, the blogosphere is like a shining light in comparison to the darkness that Peggy sees in the halls of power.
But is idealism a chump’s game that can only lead to personal disillusionment? I don’t think so. As I wrote in my 2013 Christmas column “That Baby Born in Bethlehem Should Inspire Society to Keep Redeeming Itself”:
… the fact that the young will soon replace us gives rise to an important strategic principle: however hard it may seem to change misguided institutions and policies, all it takes to succeed in such an effort is to durably convince the young that there is a better way.
For those who have something worthwhile to say, there has never been a time in the earth’s history when it was easier to reach more young people to make one’s case. And somewhat parochially, I can’t help thinking that young economists are an especially important audience. (Here I include among economists all those who love economics, regardless of their level of formal training.) The world listens to economists—and will continue to listen to at least that subset of economists who put truth first, ahead of personal gain and partisan commitments.
The wheel of time turns, and today’s darkness is swept into the grave (sadly, along with much that is very, very good). Let us create light for the future; then in the future there will be light.
Update: In a tweet, Claudia Sahm speculates about the operative definition of “young.” My answer in that convo was this:
My image of “young” is someone who does not yet feel powerful, but is likely to have more influence in the future than now.
I have the sense that not yet feeling powerful often makes people more open to persuasion, starting with the time and willingness to hear out a new idea. “More influence in the future than now” has different timelines for different kinds of influence. Those under 18 are on a track to having more influence as voters in the future than now. Peak influence within economic in hiring and tenure decisions, and as journal referees and editors comes later. Peak influence within an organization like the Federal Reserve Board probably comes later still in the life cycle.
Thanks to Leonard B. Katzman for offering this guest post:
I read your recent Quartz column “The Case for Gay Marriage is Made in the Freedom of Religion.” I thought you might be interested in the attached, which is the testimony I delivered before the Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee last March arguing in favor of marriage equality. As a lawyer, for many years I testified as to the legal/civil rights arguments in favor. Last year I was persuaded to be part of a coalition of religious leaders and testify from a faith perspective on the topic. Among other reasons for the coalition, this was to be a counterpoint to the lobbying of the Catholic Church which holds great influence here in Rhode Island.
In essence, I explain that denying gay Jewish people legal civil marriage rights is a denial of the right of Jewish people to the free exercise of our religion. All testimony was limited to 3 minutes and so this is just about as much information as I could cram into my allotted time although I certainly could have gone on at length on this topic.
What makes the blogosphere powerful is that, with patience, it is possible for anyone who has something worthwhile to say (as well as many others) to find an audience. Anyone who does succeed in finding an audience should aspire to have a good effect on the world. In setting standards for oneself, it is useful to remember that most public discourse is mediocre. John Stuart Mill talks eloquently of the powerful forces toward mediocrity in public discussions in On Liberty, Chapter III: “Of Individuality, as One of the Elements of Well-Being,” paragraph 13:
In sober truth, whatever homage may be professed, or even paid, to real or supposed mental superiority, the general tendency of things throughout the world is to render mediocrity the ascendant power among mankind. … In politics it is almost a triviality to say that public opinion now rules the world. The only power deserving the name is that of masses, and of governments while they make themselves the organ of the tendencies and instincts of masses. This is as true in the moral and social relations of private life as in public transactions. Those whose opinions go by the name of public opinion, are not always the same sort of public: … But they are always a mass, that is to say, collective mediocrity. And what is a still greater novelty, the mass do not now take their opinions from dignitaries in Church or State, from ostensible leaders, or from books. Their thinking is done for them by men much like themselves, addressing them or speaking in their name, on the spur of the moment, through the newspapers. I am not complaining of all this. I do not assert that anything better is compatible, as a general rule, with the present low state of the human mind. But that does not hinder the government of mediocrity from being mediocre government. No government by a democracy or a numerous aristocracy, either in its political acts or in the opinions, qualities, and tone of mind which it fosters, ever did or could rise above mediocrity, except in so far as the sovereign Many have let themselves be guided (which in their best times they always have done) by the counsels and influence of a more highly gifted and instructed One or Few. The initiation of all wise or noble things, comes and must come from individuals; generally at first from some one individual. The honour and glory of the average man is that he is capable of following that initiative; that he can respond internally to wise and noble things, and be led to them with his eyes open. I am not countenancing the sort of “hero-worship” which applauds the strong man of genius for forcibly seizing on the government of the world and making it do his bidding in spite of itself. All he can claim is, freedom to point out the way. The power of compelling others into it, is not only inconsistent with the freedom and development of all the rest, but corrupting to the strong man himself. It does seem, however, that when the opinions of masses of merely average men are everywhere become or becoming the dominant power, the counterpoise and corrective to that tendency would be, the more and more pronounced individuality of those who stand on the higher eminences of thought. It is in these circumstances most especially, that exceptional individuals, instead of being deterred, should be encouraged in acting differently from the mass.
The balance in this passage between elitism and a democratic attitude deserves note. While public intellectuals of wisdom and integrity are needed to get the ball rolling, regular folks can recognize nobility of character and the quest for wisdom when they see it: “The honour and glory of the average man is that he is capable of following that initiative; that he can respond internally to wise and noble things, and be led to them with his eyes open.”
Of course, people are also often subject to inappropriate hero-worship, as John says. But I think the greatest danger of inappropriate hero-worship comes when there are too few worthy heroines and heroes around. Believing that John was a bit too pessimistic about human potential, I hope that many of you who read this will aspire to become worthy heroines and heroes.
I recommend Christine Gross-Loh’s Atlantic article about the “Marriage 101” course at Northwestern University. Christine interviewed Alexandra Solomon, one of the professors teaching the class. Though my only qualifications for speaking to these issues are having read several books about marriage and experience from my own marriage, now in its 30th year, here are some of the passages that resonated for me.
… students keep a journal, interview friends about their own weaknesses, and discuss what triggers their own reactions and behaviors in order to understand their own issues, hot buttons, and values. “Being blind to these causes people to experience problems as due to someone else—not to themselves,” Solomon explains. “We all have triggers, blind spots, growing edges, vulnerabilities. The best thing we can do is be aware of them, take responsibility for them, and learn how to work with them effectively.”
Maddy Bloch, who took the course two years ago [:] “… in an intimate relationship each person holds a tremendous amount of power that you can easily turn on someone,” she says. “This is why relationships require a lot of mutual trust and vulnerability.”
Here are a few of my own thoughts on marriage:
* Math note: To pursue the logic a bit more, if your partner is coming back with 125% intensity on each round, you are going to have to return less than 80% intensity on each round to avoid an explosive chain reaction. (The two numbers have to multiply to less than 1, with % treated as just another name for 1/100. In this example, 125% =1.25, 80% = .8, and 125% * 80% = 1.25 * .8 = 1.)
Of the books I have read about marriage, the ones I recommend most are
Here is the full text of my 44th Quartz column, "The case for gay marriage is made in the freedom of religion," now brought home to supplysideliberal.com. It was first published on January 11, 2014, 2013. (Based on pageviews in a column’s first 30 days, it is currently my 4th most viewed column ever.) Links to all my other columns can be found here.
This column is a followup to my Christmas column "That baby born in Bethlehem should inspire society to keep redeeming itself."
I want to make it clear that I am not making a narrowly legal argument in this column. It is addressed at least as much to current and future voters and legislators as to lawyers crafting arguments for judges.
If you want to mirror the content of this post on another site, that is possible for a limited time if you read the legal notice at this link and include both a link to the original Quartz column and the following copyright notice:
© January 11, 2014: Miles Kimball, as first published on Quartz. Used by permission according to a temporary nonexclusive license expiring June 30, 2015. All rights reserved.
Freedom of religion is a hard-won principle. In Europe, the wars of religion raged for over a century before the Peace of Westphalia solidified freedom of religion for rulers in 1648. Freedom of religion for ordinary citizens was much slower in coming: the Bill of Rights to the US Constitution was a huge advance in that sphere.Then it took the US Civil War for the principle to be firmly established in the 14th amendment that the key provisions of the Bill of Rights apply to state laws as well: “nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
The reason so much blood was shed before the principle of religious freedom was established is that it’s not a principle that comes naturally to the human mind. If a behavior or belief deeply offends God or the gods, then it doesn’t seem right to tolerate it. And if a behavior or belief will bring eternal damnation down on the heads of those involved (and those they might influence), then doesn’t the solicitous kindness of tough love demand doing whatever it takes to pull them away from that behavior or belief?
Within the United States, ground zero in the battle for freedom of religion is in Utah, where US District Court Judge Richard Shelby Federal judge ruled on Dec. 20, 2013 that Utah could not prohibit gay marriage. Utah is appealing, in a move that could put the case on a fast-track to the Supreme Court.
Gay marriage is a matter of religious freedom for two reasons: First, a substantial component of the opposition to legalizing gay marriage is religious in origin. This is particularly true in Utah, where the Mormon Church has taken a lead role in opposing gay marriage. Leave aside religious objections to gay marriage and what remains would be unlikely to garner much respect. As Judge Shelby reminded us in his opinion, “the regulation of constitutionally protected decisions, such as … whom [a person] shall marry, must be predicated on legitimate state concerns other than disagreement with the choice the individual has made.” It is easy to come up with religious concerns about gay marriage; not so easy to come up with “legitimate state concerns.”
What’s not said as often is that gay marriage is itself an exercise of religious freedom. As many with good marriages know from experience, marriage is one of the most powerful paths toward spiritual growth. A good spouse helps one to see the aspects of oneself that one is too blind to see, and inspires efforts to be a better person. And when two human beings know each other so well, and interact so thickly, the family they create is something new and wonderful in the world, even when there are no children in the picture. And for those who do choose to have children, but cannot bear their own biologically, adoption is a tried and true path.
To those who would dispute that the freedom to marry the one person you love above all others is a matter of religious freedom, let me argue that if I am wrong that this is a matter of religious freedom, it is a freedom that should be treated in the same way. In his influential book A Theory of Justice (p. 220), John Rawls made this argument:
“This idea that arose historically with religious toleration can be extended to other instances. Thus we can suppose that the persons in the original position know that they have moral convictions although, as the veil of ignorance requires, they do not know what these convictions are. … the principles of justice can adjudicate between opposing moralities just as they regulate the claims of rival religions.”
Rawls’s point is that when something touches on a fundamental liberty—as the choice of whom to marry certainly does—people gain so much from that freedom they would not sell that freedom for anything. Imagine a time before you knew whether you would be gay or not—for many a time within actual childhood memory. Would you trade away the right to marry whom you choose for the right to prevent others from marrying whom they choose? No! Almost none of us would.
At the founding of our nation, we the people struck a bargain to live and let live in matters of religion. That freedom includes the freedom to believe that God frowns on gay marriage. But it does not include the freedom to impose one’s own view of God’s law as the law of the land—unless one can make a compelling argument that speaks to people of the whole range of different religious beliefs—or as John Rawls expresses it, “by reference to a common knowledge and understanding.” I know that my own religious beliefs make legalizing gay marriage an important part of the path toward God ([1,] [2,] ). In our republic, the way to arbitrate between warring religious beliefs is to privilege freedom.
I am always moved when I read stories of happy gay couples after legalization of gay marriage in one more state. I wish everyone could feel that way. But that is not the world we live in. For some, allowing a man to marry a man or a woman to marry a woman comes hard. But I ask them to do so in order to maintain the principles that guarantee their own freedom in matters close to their hearts.
I am delighted to host another religion post by Noah Smith, the second-most-frequently-appearing preacher on supplysideliberal.com. This one I don’t fully agree with; my comments appear after Noah’s post. Noah:
"Facts are the enemy of truth!"
- Miguel de Cervantes*
Suppose you had a chip in your brain that could let you believe, or disbelieve, anything you wanted to. Now look at the nearest wall. You probably believe that the wall exists - that it’s real, that it’s there, and that if you walked toward it, you’d eventually bump into it. But suppose that, with your awesome chip, you could make yourself disbelieve in the wall. Would you?
Well, it might be a bad idea to do so. Because then you’d be putting yourself in danger - if you walked into the wall, you would get hurt, whether you believed the wall was real or not. It’s simply convenient and useful to believe in the wall’s existence.
This idea is called “pragmatism”, and it gives us a handy answer to the old question of “What if none of this is real, and we’re all in the Matrix?” Pragmatism says that “real” is really just “real enough”. Walking into a wall in the Matrix hurts just as much as walking into a real wall would. It behooves you to believe in the wall.
So should you believe in God or not? Some atheists tell us that we shouldn’t believe in God because there’s no evidence of God’s existence. You may stub your toe on a wall, they say, but if the past is any guide, you will not stub your toe on God.
But these atheists are not thinking pragmatically. Even if they’re right that there’s no evidence of God, that does not necessarily mean that it’s a bad idea to believe in God.
Assuming that the atheists are right - that there is no evidence for or against God’s existence, and never will be - what will happen if you do believe in God? Well, there might be some positive consequences. You might feel better about the world. You might fear death less. You might have more of a reason to do good things for other people.
These consequences would be a lot more positive than, say, avoiding stubbing your toe on a wall.
Of course, atheists might point out that there could also be negative consequences of believing in God. You might become self-righteous. You might become violent against people of other religions. You might become lazy, believing that the next life matters more than the one you’re living now.
But there is a way to avoid these dangers: Don’t subscribe to a religious dogma. Pick and choose your religious beliefs. Yes, we are all born with the ability to do this - we don’t need any chip in our brain. Don’t believe that God tells you that you’re superior to other people. Don’t believe that God commands you to wage holy war against the infidel. Don’t believe that God trivializes the life you’re living now.
But for many people, believing in God can make their lives better. If you’re one of these people, then go for it. Believe in God. And believe in a God that tells you to do stuff that’s good for your life - to treat other people well, be happy, work hard, etc. Believe these things not because you have evidence for them, and not because you desire them to be true, but because it behooves you to believe them.
"OK," you may say, "but I’m not a pragmatist. I’m a positivist. I believe only in things I have evidence for. I value objective truth." Fine, Mr. Positivist. I will not denigrate your epistemology. Have fun wondering whether or not you live in the Matrix!
Miles: I am enough of a believer that it is a religious duty to believe the truth that I don’t don’t agree, but I will have to think deeply for some time for sound reasons why I don’t agree—that in any case you are on to something deep. Then I can do a religion post of my own sometime later giving my answer.
Of course, the beautiful irony is, by believing it is a religious duty to believe the truth, I am doing exactly the sort of thing Noah recommends!
Mormon teachings emphasize the doctrine of the "fortunate fall": It was part of God’s plan that Adam and Eve should fall, so that they could learn from their own experience and gain knowledge. Lehi, the prophet whose visions set the Book of Mormon narrative in motion, taught:
Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy. (2 Nephi 2:27)
Many other Christian religions are much harsher in their view of Eve and Adam’s courageous decision to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in one of the foundational stories of Western culture. Just like the range of different views of Eve and Adam’s legendary choice, there is a great range of views both among various people and ambivalence within individuals’ judgments about intentional life experiments of others that break new ground in our knowledge of the possibilities for human experience. This is a topic John Stuart Mill’s addressed in On Liberty chapter III, "Of Individuality, as One of the Elements of Well-Being," paragraph 12.
I insist thus emphatically on the importance of genius, and the necessity of allowing it to unfold itself freely both in thought and in practice, being well aware that no one will deny the position in theory, but knowing also that almost every one, in reality, is totally indifferent to it. People think genius a fine thing if it enables a man to write an exciting poem, or paint a picture. But in its true sense, that of originality in thought and action, though no one says that it is not a thing to be admired, nearly all, at heart, think that they can do very well without it. Unhappily this is too natural to be wondered at. Originality is the one thing which unoriginal minds cannot feel the use of. They cannot see what it is to do for them: how should they? If they could see what it would do for them, it would not be originality. The first service which originality has to render them, is that of opening their eyes: which being once fully done, they would have a chance of being themselves original. Meanwhile, recollecting that nothing was ever yet done which some one was not the first to do, and that all good things which exist are the fruits of originality, let them be modest enough to believe that there is something still left for it to accomplish, and assure themselves that they are more in need of originality, the less they are conscious of the want.
My big brother Chris gave me permission to post a (lightly edited) email discussion giving his reaction to my post "Flexible Dogmatism: The Mormon Position on Infallibility" that he sent in an email. You will have to read that post first to understand what he is talking about on that. What is of equal interest is what Chris had to say about gay marriage, later on in our exchange.
Chris: I think you are hypercritical in your post “Flexible Dogmatism: The Mormon Position on Infallibility." Understandable (a common reaction of one who has felt oppressed by the "follow the prophet" meme) but unnecessary.
First, the strong form of “infallibility” (not counting backroom conversations in Seminary and Sunday School) is not “we are right” but “we will not lead you astray”. Logically quite different and the difference matters—one is a truth statement, the other a safety or comfort statement.
Second, your statement that “According to these principles, the Mormon Church can renounce past policies and can renounce past theologies, but it cannot renounce the rightness of past policies at the time they were in effect. “ may be literally correct as qualified by “According to these principles” but I think it is simply wrong as a statement of theology, doctrine, or Church practice. To give credit, the “at the time” theory is frequently used in regard to 19th century polygamy, but I view that as a special (and specially troubled) case from which I would be slow to generalize. (Not that I agree with the theory even in that application.)
Third, the “Race and the Priesthood” statement does say to me “Brigham Young was wrong”. (Notably, it is not a first for Brother Brigham, who said a number of things that have been disavowed.) Extracting from the statement:
In 1852, President Brigham Young publicly announced that men of black African descent … Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain … None of these explanations is accepted today …”
Recognizing that for all of the rationalization and reasons-behind-the-reason theories, the preeminent explanation was always “so says the prophet”, this adds up to Brigham was wrong. That doesn’t mean that people who want to rationalize around to a flexible dogmatism can’t find a way to do it. But such rationalizations will always be with us, and nothing anybody can say will end it.
Fourth, your closing reference to the Hopak/Cossack dance/Ukrainian dance doesn’t work literally (the LDS primary music is more like the Hava Nagila if I were looking for a non-Mormon reference, and the music I associate with the Cossack dance is various but more reminds me of what I’d hear in square dance or folk dance, or a circus) and therefore the reference comes across as an expression of your own feeling of oppression that you make vivid by associating it with the old Soviet state (my reaction) or marionettes (perhaps your first meaning).
Miles: By the way, did you see my column on gay marriage, "The case for gay marriage is made in the freedom of religion"?
Chris: I did. I’m not persuaded that SSM is a matter of religious freedom. The Rawlsian move might be effective in a due process or equal treatment argument but doesn’t get me to religious freedom.Now if you reversed grounds and argued that a man-woman-only rule is an establishment of religion, one that violates the 1st Amendment … I’d have more to think about. I don’t know the Establishment jurisprudence so I can’t judge the strength of the argument, but it sounds good, especially in Utah where the case can be made that the anti-SSM position is state religion.
BTW, opinion polls in Utah are showing a shift, where an anti-SSM amendment would very possibly fail a popular vote today—a reversal of the actual voting in 2004.
Miles: Very interesting. On my "Flexible Dogmatism" post, I added this note:I am not making a narrowly legal argument in “The case for gay marriage is made in the freedom of religion.” It as addressed at least as much to current and future voters and legislators as to lawyers crafting arguments for judges.
Chris: It’s probably worth mentioning that my 1998 speech advocated marriage. I refer to it as the speech that made nobody happy: to the one-man-one-woman traditionalist I said “they should get married” and to the gay couple looking for permission but not necessarily obligation I said “you should get married”. There are plenty of churches and religious leaders (now there are, anyway) who are willing and happy to celebrate a same-sex marriage. But I haven’t yet seen a church or religious leader take the completely logical and in my mind necessary step of layering a moral imperative on same-sex marriage. Until that happens, it will be hard to see an affirmative freedom of religion argument for SSM.