It’s all or Nothin’

I posit that it is difficult for humans to adequately respond to things that they regard as merely somewhat problematic. Getting just about anything done requires a ton more work than sitting around doing nothing, so people who are motivated to change things are generally people who are convinced that things are really, really bad.

If you don’t think things are really, really bad, you’ll probably end up self-justifying that things are really good, so you don’t need to spend a bunch of time trying to change them, so you can comfortably hang out and relax.

If you do want to change things, you’ll probably have to spend a lot of time convincing yourself that things are truly dire in order to keep up the emotional energy necessary to get the work done.

Either way, you’re probably lying to yourself (or others), but I’m not sure if humans are really capable of saying, “this system is mostly good and mostly beneficial to the people in it, but it has really bad effects on a few people.”

Your opinions about a system are probably going to be particularly skewed one way or another if you have no direct or second-hand experience with that system, because you’re most likely hearing reports from people who care enough to put in the effort to talk about their systems.

Likewise, the people who care the most about political issues tend to have more extreme views; moderates tend not to be terribly vocal.

It makes an impassioned defense of moderatism kind of anomalous.

A good example of this effect is religion. If you’ve ever listened to American atheists talk about religion, you’ve probably gotten the impression that, as far as they’re concerned, religion is super duper evil.

By contrast, if you’ve ever talked to a religious person, you know they tend to think religion is totally awesome.

About 80% of Americans claim to be religious (though in typical me-fashion, I suspect some of them are lying because how could so many people possibly be religious?) We’ll call that 75%, because some people are just going along with the crowd. Since religion is voluntary and most religious people seem to like their religions, we’ll conclude that religion is more or less a positive in 75% of people’s lives.

Only about 40% of people actually attend religious services weekly–we’ll call these our devoted, hard-core believers. These people tend to really love their religion, though even non-attenders can get some sort of comfort out of their beliefs.

It’s difficult to determine exactly what % of Americans believe in particular forms of Christianity, but about 30% profess to be some form of “Evangelical”; Fundamentalists are a much smaller but often overlapping %, probably somewhere between 10 and 25%.

So let’s just stick with “about 75% like their religion, and about 40% have some beliefs that may be really problematic for other people” (after all, it’s not Unitarians and Neo-Pagans people are complaining about.)

For what % of people is religion really problematic? LGBT folks have it hard due to some popular religious beliefs–we can estimate them at 5%, according to the Wikipedia.

People who need or want abortions are another big category. Estimates vary, but let’s go with 1/3 of women being interested in abortion at some point in their lives, with I think 12% citing health reasons. 33 is a pretty big %, but since abortion is currently basically legal, religion is currently more of a potential problem than a real problem for most of these women.

A third category is non-Christians who face discrimination in various aspects of life, and kids/teens who have to put up with super-controlling parents. I have no idea what the stats are on them, but the logic of encounters suggests that the 30% or so of non-Christians are going to have trouble with the 40% or so of problematic-belief-Christians, mediated by non-Christians being concentrated in certain parts of the country, so lets go with 15% of people having significant issues at some point, though these are unlikely to be life-long issues (and some % of these people overlap with the previous two groups.)

So, let’s say 70% like religion; 40% have problematic beliefs; 20% suffer some sort of discrimination in their lives, and about 5% suffer significantly.

In short, most of the time, religion is actually a really positive thing for the vast majority of people, and a really bad thing for a small % of people.

But most people who have an interest in religion don’t say, “Religion is basically good but occasionally bad.” Most people say, either, “Religion is totally awesome,” or “Religion totally sucks.” And that has a lot to do with whether you and your friends are primarily people for whom it is good or bad. The moderate position gets lost.


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