The Talmud and the Constitution

This post is about similarities between the development of Jewish law and American law.

A story is recounted in the Babylonian Talmud, which I am going to paraphrase slightly for clarity:

Rabbi Yehudah said, “Rav (Abba Aricha) said, “When Moses ascended Mount Sinai, up to the heavens, to receive the Biblical law, he found God sitting and adding calligraphic flourishes (crowns) to the letters.

Moses said,”Master of the Universe! Why are you going so slowly? Why aren’t you finished?”

God said to him, “Many generations from now, Akiva the son of Yosef will expound on every calligraphic detail to teach piles and piles of laws.”

Moses said, “Master of the Universe! Show him to me,” so God told him to turn around, and a vision of Rabbi Akiva teaching his students appeared. Moses went and sat in the back row, but the teaching style was so intellectual that he did not understand what they were talking about and got upset.

Then one of the students asked Rabbi Akiva, “Our teacher, where did you learn this law?”

Akiva replied, “It is from a law that was taught to Moses at Sinai.”

So Moses calmed down. He returned and came before the Holy One, Blessed be He, and said before Him, “Master of the Universe! If you have a man like this, why are you are giving the Torah through me?”

But God only replied, “Be silent. This is what I have decided.”””

2,000 years ago, when Yeshua of the house of David still walked the Earth, rabbinic Judaism–the Judaism you’ll find if you walk into any synagogue–did not fully exist.* The Judaism of Roman Judea was a temple cult, centered on the great Temple in Jerusalem (though there were others, in Turkey, Greece, Egypt, and of course, Samaria.) Ordinary Jews went about their business–raising crops, tending goats, building tables, etc–and every so often they visited the Temple, bought or brought an offering, and had the priest sacrifice it.

*Note: See the comments for a discussion of continuity between Pharisaic Judaism and Rabbinic Judaism. I am not arguing that Rabbinic Judaism was invented whole cloth.

69 AD, also known as the Year of the Four Emperors, was particularly bad for the Roman Empire. Galba seized power after Nero‘s suicide, only to be murdered on January 15 in coup led by Otho. Emperor Otho committed suicide on April 16 after losing Battle of Bedriacum to Vitellius. Vitellius was murdered on December 20 by Vespasian‘s troops.

Meanwhile, Judea was in revolt. In 70 AD, Vespasian’s son (and successor) Titus besieged Jerusalem, crushed the rebellion, and razed the Temple.

Without the Temple–and worse, scattered to the winds–what was an ordinary Jew supposed to do? Where could he take his sacrifices? How was he supposed to live in this new land? Could he visit a bath house that had a statue of Aphrodite? Could he eat food that had been sold beside non-kosher meat?

The Bible has 613 laws for Jews to follow, but do you know how many laws you live under?

I once did a research project on the subject. I found that no one knows how many laws there are in the US. We have federal, state, county, and city laws. We have the code of federal regulations, containing thousands of rules created by unelected bureaucrats within dozens of agencies like the EPA, which is enforced exactly like laws. We have thousands of pages of case law handed down by the Supreme Court.

It’s one thing to live in an organic community, following the traditions handed down by your ancestors. Then perhaps 613 laws are enough. But with the destruction of the Temple, Judaism had to adapt. Somehow they had to get a full body of laws out of those measly 613.

Enter the Rabbi Akiva (also spelled Akiba or Aqiba) and his calligraphic flourishes. By examining and re-examining the text, comparing a verse from one section to a similar verse to another, groups of rabbis (teachers) and their students gradually built up a body of laws, first passed down orally (the Oral Torah,) and then written: the Talmud.

For example, the 5th Commandment says to Remember the Sabbath Day, but how, exactly, are you supposed to do it? The Bible says not to “work” (or so we translate it,) but isn’t a rabbi preaching his sermon on Saturday working? To clarify, they look to the next verse, “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” (Exodus 20:11) and declare that “work” here refers to creative work: building, writing, sewing, sowing, reaping, carrying (materials for creative work), building fires, or inversely, putting out fires, knocking down buildings, etc. Merely giving a speech–even if you get paid for it–is not work. (Though you can’t accept the payment on Saturday.)

The word for “work” in the Bible, transliterated as “melachah,” is further interpreted as related to “melekh,” king, relating it back to God (the King)’s work. Melachah is not found very often in the Bible, but shows up again in Exodus 31, during a discussion of the work done to build the Ark of the Covenant [which is not actually a boat] and various related tents–a discussion which is suddenly interrupted for a reminder about the Sabbath. From this, it was reasoned that work specifically mentioned in the first part of the passage was what was prohibited in the second part, and therefore these were among the specific varieties of work forbidden on Shabbat.

If a suitably similar verse could not be found elsewhere in the text to explicate an inadequate passage, rabbis found other ways of decoding God’s “original intent,” including gematria and the aforementioned calligraphic flourishes. Hey, if God wrote it, then God can encode messages in it.

Which gets us back to the story at the beginning of the post. Note how it begins: The Talmud says that Rabbi Yehudah said, “Rav said… ‘Moses said…'” This is a written account of an oral account passed from teacher to student, about a conversation between Moses (recipient of the Torah or first five books of the Bible from God and recipient of the Oral Torah, which was just how everyone lived,) about the transformation from Mosaic Judaism, centered on the Temple and lived tradition, to Rabbinic Judaism, centered on repeated reading and interpretation of the holy text, which contains in it all of the things that used to just be part of everyone’s traditions.

The result, of course, was the Talmud–or rather multiple Talmuds, though the Babylonian is the most commonly cited. The Vilna Edition of the Babylonian Tamud runs 37 volumes, and looks like this:

The inner section is a passage from the original Talmud. The inner margin is Rashi (a famous rabbi)’s commentary, the outer margin is additional commentary from other famous rabbis, and around the edges you can see marginalia from even more rabbis.

Like an onion, it is layer upon layer upon layer.

But what authority do the rabbis have to make pronouncements about the law?

The Talmud recounts an amusing argument about whether an oven could be purified:

The Sages taught: On that day, when they discussed this matter, Rabbi Eliezer answered all possible answers in the world to support his opinion, but the Rabbis did not accept his explanations from him.

After failing to convince the Rabbis logically, Rabbi Eliezer said to them: If the halakha is in accordance with my opinion, this carob tree will prove it. The carob tree was uprooted from its place one hundred cubits, and some say four hundred cubits.

The Rabbis said to him: One does not cite halakhic proof from the carob tree.

Rabbi Eliezer then said to them: If the halakha is in accordance with my opinion, the stream will prove it. The water in the stream turned backward and began flowing in the opposite direction.

They said to him: One does not cite halakhic proof from a stream.

Rabbi Eliezer then said to them: If the halakha is in accordance with my opinion, the walls of the study hall will prove it. The walls of the study hall leaned inward and began to fall.

Rabbi Yehoshua scolded the walls and said to them: If Torah scholars are contending with each other in matters of halakha, what is the nature of your involvement in this dispute?

The Gemara relates: The walls did not fall because of the deference due Rabbi Yehoshua, but they did not straighten because of the deference due Rabbi Eliezer, and they still remain leaning.

Rabbi Eliezer then said to them: If the halakha is in accordance with my opinion, Heaven will prove it.

A Divine Voice emerged from Heaven and said: Why are you differing with Rabbi Eliezer, as the halakha is in accordance with his opinion in every place that he expresses an opinion?

Rabbi Yehoshua stood on his feet and said: It is written: “It is not in heaven” (Deuteronomy 30:12).

The Gemara asks: What is the relevance of the phrase “It is not in heaven” in this context?

Rabbi Yirmeya says: Since the Torah was already given at Mount Sinai, we do not regard a Divine Voice, as You already wrote at Mount Sinai, in the Torah: “After a majority to incline” (Exodus 23:2). Since the majority of Rabbis disagreed with Rabbi Eliezer’s opinion, the halakha is not ruled in accordance with his opinion.

The Gemara relates: Years after, Rabbi Natan encountered Elijah the prophet and said to him: What did the Holy One, Blessed be He, do at that time, when Rabbi Yehoshua issued his declaration?

Elijah said to him: The Holy One, Blessed be He, smiled and said: My children have triumphed over Me; My children have triumphed over Me.

So say the rabbis!

(you might be thinking, “Didn’t Elijah live a long time before the rabbis?” But since Elijah was taken up in whirlwind he never died, and thus may still be encountered.)

The importance of this little bit of Talmudism–in my opinion–is it lets the rabbis modify practice to avoid parts of the Bible that people don’t like anymore, like stoning adulterers. Sure, they do so by legalistically telling God to buzz off, they’re interpreting the law now, but hey, “Israel” means “wrestled with God“:

So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. … Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” …

Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel,[a] because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” (Genesis 32: 24-28)

Arguing with God. It’s a Jew thing.

The downside to all of this is that the Talmud is SUPER LONG and gets bogged down in boring legal debates about EVERYTHING.

Every so often, a group of Jews decides that all of this Talmud stuff is really too much and tries to sweep it away, starting fresh with just the Laws of Moses. Karaite Jews, for example, reject the Talmud, claiming instead to derive all of their laws directly from the Bible. They have therefore written several hundred books of their own interpreting Biblical law.

Hasidic Judaism was founded by the Baal Shem Tov, a rabbi who (according to his followers) emphasized the importance of having a “spiritual connection” to God (which even poor Jews could do) over legalistic arguing about texts, (which a rich atheist could do but not a poor man.) Today, Hasidic Jews are prominent among the Orthodox Jews who actually care about extensive, strict interpretation and implementation of Jewish law.

It’s not that reform is worthless–it’s just that the Bible doesn’t contain enough details to use as a complete legal code to govern the lives of people who no longer live in the organic, traditional community that originally produced it. When people lived in that community, they didn’t need explicit instructions about how to build a sukkah or honor the Sabbath day, because their parents taught them how. Illiterate shepherds didn’t need a long book of legal opinions to tell them how to treat their guests or what to do with a lost wallet–they already learned those lessons from their community.

It’s only with the destruction of the Temple and the expulsion of the Jews from Judea that there comes a need for a written legal code explaining how, exactly, everything in the culture is supposed to be done.

Okay, but what does all of this have to do with the Constitution?

As legal documents go, the Constitution is pretty short. Since page size can vary, we’ll look at words: including all of the amendments and signatures, the Constitution is 7,591 words long.

The Affordable Care Act, (aka Obamacare,) clocks in at a whopping 363,086 words, of which 234,812 actually have to do with the law; the rest are headers, tables of contents, and the like. (For comparison, The Fellowship of the Ring only has 177,227 words.)

Interestingly, the US Constitution is both the oldest and shortest constitution of any major government in the world. This is not a coincidence. By contrast, the Indian Constitution, passed in 1949, is 145,000 words long–the longest in the world, but still shorter than the ACA.

People often blame the increasing complexity of US law on Talmudic scholars, but I think we’re actually looking at a case of convergent evolution–the process by which two different, not closely related species develop similar traits in response to similar environments or selective pressures. Aardvarks and echidnas, for example, are not closely related–aardvarks are placental mammals while echidnas lay eggs–but both creatures eat ants, and so have evolved similar looking noses. (Echidnas also look a lot like hedgehogs.)

US law has become more complex for the same reasons Jewish law did: because we no longer live in organic communities where tradition serves as a major guide to proper behavior, for both social and technical reasons. Groups of people whose ancestors were separated by thousands of miles of ocean or desert now interact on a daily basis; new technologies our ancestors could have never imagined are now commonplace. Even homeless people can go to the library, enjoy the air conditioning, log onto a computer, and post something on Facebook that can be read, in turn, by a smartphone-toting Afghan shepherd on the other side of the world.

The result is a confused morass. Groups of people who don’t know how to talk to each other have degenerated into toxic “call-out culture” and draconian speech codes. (Need I remind you that some poor sod just lost his job at Google for expressing views backed by mountains of scientific evidence, just because it offended a bunch of SJWs?) Campus speech codes (which infringe on First Amendment rights) are now so draconian that people are discussing ways to use a different set of laws–the Americans with Disabilities Act–to challenge them.

Even the entry of large numbers of women into colleges and the paid workforce (as opposed to unpaid labor women formerly carried out in homes and farms) has simultaneously removed them from the protective company of male relatives while bringing them into constant contact with male strangers. This has forced a massive shift both in social norms and an increase in legal protections afforded to women, whom the state now protects from harassment, “hostile work environments,” rape, assault, discrimination, etc.

Without tradition to guide us, we try to extrapolate from some common, agreed upon principles–such as those codified in the Constitution. But the Constitution is short; it doesn’t even remotely cover all of the cases we are now trying to use it to justify. What would the founding fathers say about machine guns, nuclear missiles, or international copyright law? The responsibilities of universities toward people with medical disabilities? Medications that induce abortions or unionized factory workers?

The Constitution allows Congress to grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal–that is, to officially commission pirates as privateers, a la Sir Francis Drake, private citizens allowed to attack the boats of (certain) foreign nations. But Letters of Marque and Reprisal haven’t actually been granted since 1815, and the practice has been out of favor among European governments since 1856. Like stoning, privateering just isn’t done anymore, even though it is technically still right there in the Constitution.

By contrast, the Supreme Court recently ruled that the Constitution says that the states have to issue gay marriage licenses. Whether you agree with gay marriage or not, this is some Rabbi Yehoshua, “It is not in heaven,” level reasoning. I’m pretty sure if you raised the Founding Fathers or the authors of the 14th Amendment from the dead and ask their ghosts whether the Constitution mandates gay marriage, they’d look at you like you’d just grown a second head and then call you crazy. Gay sex wasn’t just illegal in every state, it was punishable by execution in several and Thomas Jefferson himself wrote a bill for the state of Virginia which penalized it via castration.

But “living constitution” and all that. A majority of modern Americans think gay marriage should be legal and don’t want to execute or dismember homosexuals, so society finds a way.

It’d be more honest to say, “Hey, we don’t really care what people thought about gay marriage 200+ years ago; we’re going to make a new law that suits our modern interests,” but since the legitimacy of the whole legal edifice is built on authority derived from the Constitution, people feel they must find some way to discover legal novelties in the text.

Like a man trying to fix a broken fence by piling up more wood on it, so American law has become an enormous, burdensome pile of regulation after regulation. Where traditions can be flexible–changing depending on human judgment or in response to new conditions–laws, by nature, are inflexible. Changing them requires passing more laws.

The Talmud may be long, but at least I can eat a bacon cheeseburger on leavened bread on a Saturday during Passover with no fear of going to jail. Even Israelis aren’t significantly restricted by Talmudic law unless they want to be.

By contrast, I can be put in prison for violating the endlessly complex US law. I could spend the next ten pages recounting stories of people fined or imprisoned for absurd and trivial things–bakers fined out of business for declining to bake a gay wedding cake, children’s lemonade stands shut down for lack of proper permits, teenagers imprisoned and branded “sex offenders” for life for having consensual sex with each other. Then there’s the corporate side: 42% of multi-million dollar patent litigation suits that actually go to court (instead of the parties just settling) result in the court declaring that the patent involved should have never been granted in the first place! Corporate law is so complex and lawsuits so easy to bring that it now functions primarily as a way for corporations to try to drive their competitors out of business. Lawsuits are no longer a sign that a company has acted badly or unethically, but merely a “cost of doing business.”

How many businesses never get started because the costs of regulation compliance are too high? How many people never get jobs as a result? How many hours of our lives are sucked away while we fill out tax forms or muddle through insurance paperwork?

Eventually we have to stop piling up wood and start tearing out rotten posts.

 

PS: For more information on the development of Rabbinic Judaism, I recommend Visotzky’s Aphrodite and the Rabbis: How the Jews adapted Roman Culture to Create Judaism as we Know it.

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Gay marriage didn’t win; traditional marriage lost

From the evolutionist point of view, the point of marriage is the production of children.

Let’s quickly analogize to food. Humans have a tremendous variety of customs, habits, traditions, and taboos surrounding foods. Foods enjoyed in one culture, like pork, crickets, and dog, are regarded as disgusting, immoral, or forbidden in another. Cheese is, at heart, rotten vomit–the enzyme used to make cheese coagulate is actually extracted from a calf’s stomach lining–and yet the average American eats it eagerly.

Food can remind you of your childhood, the best day of your life, the worst day of your life. It can comfort the sick and the mourning, and it accompanies our biggest celebrations of life.

Eh, I’d be happy giving him a microstate and seeing how he does running it.

We eat comfort food, holiday food, even sacrificial food. We have decadent luxuries and everyday staples. Some people, like vegans and ascetics, avoid large classes of food generally eaten by their own society for moral reasons.

People enjoy soda because it has water and calories, but some of us purposefully trick our taste buds by drinking Diet Coke, which delivers the sensation of drinking calories without the calories themselves. We enjoy the taste of calories even when we don’t need any more.

But the evolutionary purpose of eating is to get enough calories and nutrients to survive. If tomorrow we all stopped needing to eat–say, we were all hooked into a Matrix-style click-farm in which all nutrients were delivered automatically via IV–all of the symbolic and emotional content attached to food would wither away.

The extended helplessness of human infants is unique in the animal kingdom. Even elephants, who gestate for an incredible two years and become mature at 18, can stand and begin walking around shortly after birth. Baby elephants are not raised solely by their mothers, as baby rats are, but by an entire herd of related female elephants.

Elephants are remarkable animals, clever, communicative, and caring, who mourn their dead and create art:


But from the evolutionist point of view, the point of elephants’ family systems is still the production of elephant children.

Love is a wonderful, sweet, many-splendored thing, but the purpose of marriage, in all its myriad forms–polygamy, monogamy, polyandry, serial monogamy–is still the production of children.

There are a few societies where marriage as we know it is not really practiced because people depend on alternative kin networks or women can largely provide for themselves. For example, 70% of African American children are born out of wedlock; and among the avuncular Apache:

In the Southwest United States, the Apache tribe practices a form of this, where the uncle is responsible for teaching the children social values and proper behavior while inheritance and ancestry is reckoned through the mother’s family alone. (Modern day influences have somewhat but not completely erased this tradition.)

source: BBC News

Despite the long public argument over the validity of gay marriage, very few gay people actually want to get married. Gallop reports that after the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling, the percent of married gay people jumped quickly from 7.9% to 9.5%, but then leveled off, rising to only 9.6% by June 2016.

In contrast, 46% of US adults are married.

Even this number, though, is in sharp decline: in 1960, 72% of adults were married; by 2010, only 51% were.

The situation is similar throughout the Western world. Only 51% of Brits are married. In Italy, the crude marriage rate (the number of new marriages per 1,000 people), has fallen from 7.35 in 1970 to only 4.21 in 2007. Only 58.9% of Japanese are married.

Declining marriage rates across the developed world have been accompanied by declining fertility rates and rising illegitimacy rates:

Graph showing children per woman rate over the years 1960 – 2009 in USA, China, India, Germany, Russia population rates.
H/T: Share of Births to Unmarried Mothers by Race

As Wikipedia notes:

Only 2% of [Japanese] births occur outside of marriage[35] (compared to 30-60% in Europe and North America) due to social taboos, legal pressure, and financial hurdles.[32] Half of Japan’s single mothers live below the poverty line, among the highest for OECD countries.[36][37][38][39]

In other words, the Japanese welfare state, while generous, does not encourage single motherhood. Wikipedia also provides a discussion of the causes of declining Japanese marriage rates:

The annual number of marriages has dropped since the early 1970s, while divorces have shown a general upward trend.[29] …

The decline of marriage in Japan, as fewer people marry and do so later in life, is a widely cited explanation for the plummeting birth rate.[29][30][31][32] Although the total fertility rate has dropped since the 1970s (to 1.43 in 2013[33]), birth statistics for married women have remained fairly constant (at around 2.1) and most married couples have two or more children. Economic factors, such as the cost of raising a child, work-family conflicts, and insufficient housing, are the most common reasons for young mothers (under 34) to have fewer children than desired. …

Between 1990 and 2010, the percentage of 50-year-old people who had never married roughly quadrupled for men to 20.1% and doubled for women to 10.6%.[41][42] The Welfare Ministry predicts these numbers to rise to 29% of men and 19.2% of women by 2035.[43] The government’s population institute estimated in 2014 that women in their early 20s had a one-in-four chance of never marrying, and a two-in-five chance of remaining childless.[44]

Recent media coverage has sensationalized surveys from the Japan Family Planning Association and the Cabinet Office that show a declining interest in dating and sexual relationships among young people, especially among men.[44][45][46] However, changes in sexuality and fertility are more likely an outcome of the decline in family formation than its cause.[47][48] Since the usual purpose of dating in Japan is marriage, the reluctance to marry often translates to a reluctance to engage in more casual relationships.[30]

In other words, marriage is functionally about providing a supportive way of raising children. In a society where birth control does not exist, children born out of wedlock tend not to survive, and people can easily get jobs to support their families, people tended to get married and have children. In a society where people do not want children, cannot afford them, are purposefully delaying childbearing as long as possible, or have found ways to provide for them without getting married, people simply see no need for marriage.

“Marriage” ceases to mean what it once did, reserved for old-fashioned romantics and the few lucky enough to afford it.

Mass acceptance of gay marriage did change how people think of marriage, but it’s downstream from what the massive, societal-wide decrease in child-bearing and increase in illegitimacy have done to our ideas about marriage.

Cathedral Round-Up #16: Infiltration of the Church?

Disclaimer: I am an atheist, so I am in no position to tell Christians how to run their religion.

That said, it seems pretty obvious even to me that mainstream Christianity has launched itself off the deep end and bears little resemblance to “Christianity” as it has been practiced for most of its 2000 or so years.

The Pope is a really nice guy, from the Guardian
The Pope is a really nice guy, from the Guardian

The thing we have now is Niceianity. Let me emphasize that “nice.” Most of the folks involved are, as far as I can tell, very kind-hearted people. Take Karen Oliveto, the first openly lesbian bishop in the United Methodist Church. Oliveto lead Glide Memorial, which I am familiar with because they serve nearly a million free meals to the homeless every year. (SF has a lot of homeless people.) That’s really nice.

Thing is, I’m not convinced that God is “nice.” The God of the Old Testament routinely acts in ways that the average modern person would probably describe as “not nice,” like killing the firstborn sons of the Egyptians or pretty much the entire Book of Job.

As a parent, I always have my kids’ best interests at heart, but I am often not “nice” from their perspective: I make them go to bed when they want to play; I make them do their homework when they want to play; I even make them go to the grocery store when they want to play, because I’m an evil person who wants to get food so I can cook dinner.

Parenting cannot be understood through a child’s understanding of “nice.”

And if there is such a thing as God, I don’t think it (he, whatever) can be understood via our particular current concept of “nice.” (Obviously I am not saying you should go out and be mean. Obey your notions of good behavior.)

One of the interesting things about Christianity is its history of schisms. For example, back in the late 1700s, the Shakers split off from the Quakers:

[Shakers] looked to women for leadership, believing that the second coming of Christ would be through a woman. In 1770, [Shaker leader] Ann Lee was revealed in “manifestation of Divine light” to be the second coming of Christ and was called Mother Ann.[6]

(More about the Shakers.)

Shakers, what with their communal lifestyle, female equality, female preachers, female incarnation of god, and near zero fertility obviously bear much in common with today’s feminists. The difference is that Shakers did not pretend to be Anglicans or Catholics or Methodists: they were just fine with being their own thing.

Let’s talk about infiltration.

Podesta email 6293, calling for a "Catholic Spring"
Podesta email 6293, calling for a “Catholic Spring”

According to Wikipedia:

Dr. Bella Visono Dodd (1904[1] – 29 April 1969[2]) was a member of the Communist Party of America (CPUSA) in the 1930s and 1940s who later became a vocal anti-communist. After her defection from the Communist Party in 1949, she testified that one of her jobs, as a Communist agent, was to encourage young radicals to enter Roman Catholic Seminaries.[3] …

Dodd testified before the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). She said: “In the 1930s we put eleven hundred men into the priesthood in order to destroy the Church from within. The idea was for these men to be ordained, and then climb the ladder of influence and authority as Monsignors and Bishops”

Dodd told Alice von Hildebrand that:

“When she was an active party member, she had dealt with no fewer than four cardinals within the Vatican who were working for us, [i.e. the Communist Party]”(Christian Order magazine, “The Church in Crisis”, reprinted from The Latin Mass magazine).[7]

Dodd made a public affidavit which was witnessed by a number of people, including Paul and Johnine Leininger.

In her public affidavit, among other things, Dodd stated:
“In the late 1920’s and 1930’s, directives were sent from Moscow to all Communist Party organizations. In order to destroy the [Roman] Catholic Church from within, party members were to be planted in seminaries and within diocesan organizations… I, myself, put some 1,200 men in [Roman] Catholic seminaries”.

von Hildebrand confirmed that Dodd had publicly stated the same things to which she attested in her public affidavit.

(I don’t know anything about this lady. Maybe she was just a crazy person trying to get attention by crying “Communist ploooot!” But see also Operation Spectrum, Singapore.)

"The Bishop of Stockholm has proposed a church in her diocese remove all signs of the cross and put down markings showing the direction to Mecca for the benefit of Muslim worshippers." (Swedes.)
“The Bishop of Stockholm has proposed a church in her diocese remove all signs of the cross and put down markings showing the direction to Mecca for the benefit of Muslim worshippers.” (Swedes.)

About a year and a half ago, I posted excerpts from an article about Stanford University’s new Dean of Religious life, Jane Shaw, who is notable for being both the first woman and the first gay person to hold the position:

“Q. At Grace Cathedral and at Oxford, you led programs far afield from what might be considered religious: Hosting forums with politicians, activists and authors; bringing in atheists and believers; and commissioning artists-in-residence to create plays and installations. What’s your guiding light?

A. I don’t think I am a very churchy person, if that makes sense. I have always been interested in how you engage people in discussing questions of ultimate meaning, really—values, ethics, spirituality, all that stuff. …

Q. What new directions will you bring to Stanford?

A. …It is certainly my desire to make sure that Memorial Church is a place for extremely lively intellectual engagement, a place where possibly difficult issues can be discussed, a place where ethical and spiritual issues can be discussed. I am hoping we’ll have different sorts of people preaching here as guest preachers, not just clergy.”

That same issue of Stanford Magazine had another article focused on insulting people who believe in Hell. As I concluded back then:

According to Stanford, a gay woman who isn’t very “churchy” but likes discussing ethics is one of the country’s best religious leaders, and the 60% of Americans who believe in Hell are literally insane and make trouble for everyone else. …

Now, let’s try to imagine a contemporary article from any sort of respectable college or university… that conveys the inverse: respect for people who believe in hell; disrespect for gays, women, and people whose faith isn’t based on Biblical inerrancy.

Can you? Maybe Harvard? Yale? Oberlin? CalTech? Reed? Fine, how about BYU? No, probably not even them.

I can’t imagine it. A hundred years ago, maybe. Today, no. Such notions are completely incompatible with the beliefs of modern, upper-class people.

I know many perfectly decent folks who believe in hell, and think they should be respected, but “be decent to people who hold denigrated religious beliefs” is not actually my point. My point is that the American upper class, academia, and the people with a great deal of power and influence over the beliefs of others clearly agrees with Pastor Shaw’s religious beliefs (when it is not outright atheist). Upper-class liberals in America are their own ethnic group with their own religion, culture, morality, and endogamous breeding habits. Conservatives are the out-group, their religious views openly mocked by the upper class and banned from the halls of academic thought.

Wikipedia has an article on R. Guy Erwin:

R. Guy Erwin is a U.S. Lutheran clergyman. … He is also the first openly-gay bishop in the ELCA, and has lived in a committed same-sex relationship for 20 years. He and Rob Flynn were married in August, 2013.[2]

Bishop Erwin received the B.A.degree from Harvard College in 1980. He holds the M.A., M.Phil. and Ph.D. degrees from Yale University. From 1993–1999 he was Lecturer in Church History in the Yale Divinity School (YDS) where he taught History of Western Christianity as well as courses on Martin Luther, the Pietists and other specialities. During the 2006–2007 academic year he was Visiting Professor at YDS while on sabbatical from California Lutheran University where he has taught since 2000.[3]

And then there's this...
And then there’s this.

Note: I don’t actually think there is anything “wrong” with being gay–there might be, there might not be, I am agnostic on the issue. I favor letting gay people get married and am pissed that we’ve spent so many decades fighting over the issue when we could be dealing with real problems, like the heroin epidemic.

But I also respect the rights of religious people to think homosexuality is a sin to believe what they believe without me interfering or telling them not to.

500 Clergy support gay United Methodist Clergy who Came Out:

A letter from 500 openly LGBTQ clergy, future pastors and faith leader in a number of different denominations offered “much love and light” to the 111 United Methodist clergy and candidates who came out as gay on May 9.

“Though we come from different traditions, you are our family in Christ and our siblings in the common struggle to live fully and authentically into our God-given identities and callings,” states the letter posted on the website Believe Out Loud, an online community that empowers Christians to work for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning (LGBTQ) equality. …

“We are here because God has called us to serve in this denomination, and our souls are fed by the theology in which we’ve been raised,” the 111 United Methodists write in what they call “A Love Letter to Our Church.” The signers come from across the United States, and one signer is from the Philippines. They identify themselves as “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer/Questioning, and Intersex” in the letter. …

[Matt Berryman] is the executive director of Reconciling Ministries Network, an unofficial United Methodist group that advocates for the church to be more inclusive. The network has coordinated publicity of this and other challenges to church law as part of the group’s “It’s Time” campaign.

“Since 2012, we’ve decided we would be the church no matter what,” Berryman told United Methodist News Service. The majority of delegates at the 2012 General Conference voted against a proposal to say United Methodists disagree whether homosexuality is against God’s will.

“Jesus came preaching a way that is narrow, and the way we live out that narrow way is to disrupt systemic injustice.”

Basically, official Methodist doctrine teaches that homosexuality is a sin. Disagree? Join a church that doesn’t tech that. For goodness’s sake, there are about 2,000 different Christian denominations. Surely you can find one that agrees with you. Or start your own church, and invite all of the gay people to come and worship with you.

But don’t go infiltrating a church whose doctrines you explicitly disagree with.

As Justin Martyr wrote in his First Apology: “No one is allowed to partake (of the Eucharist) but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.”

Meanwhile the United Church of Canada is actually struggling to remove a pastor who has outright declared herself an atheist:

One Sunday in 2001, she stood up in front of her congregation, as usual. But instead of a normal sermon, she declared that she no longer believed in God. …

Much to her surprise, neither the congregation nor the church board were bothered by this. Many even confessed that they, too, had their doubts. And so they carried on, without God.

But now, the church’s top brass say they’ve received too many complaints about Vosper and have launched an unprecedented investigation to determine whether she’s fit to keep her job. …

“I won’t bow out. Because if I leave, that ruling stands and my colleagues are at risk. It’s like I’d be running to safety, and everyone else gets blown up,” she said.

Vosper’s saga couldn’t have come at a worse time for the United Church, which is already hemorrhaging devotees. Its membership has shrunk more than 60 percent since 1965, when it included more than one million. 

Maybe there’s some kind of connection here between your church being run by atheists and hemorrhaging members?

Millennials increasingly are driving growth of ‘nones’

I wanted a graph that went back further in time, but this is what I found.
Courtesy of Pew Research Center, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape

More liberal Christian groups are hemorrhaging faster than the more conservative groups. Mainline Protestants, like Methodists, have lost half their members from the Silent Generation to Millenials.

Why exactly so many people are becoming atheists remains a mystery to me–I tend to blame it on electricity, but maybe I’m reaching. At any rate, I think that if you’re going to be religious, there has to be something that you actually believe. A doctrine. A theology. Just saying something like, “I believe in my heart in believiness and love and unicorns,” doesn’t seem to work.

In my personal experience, a lot of churches over the past few decades have been trying to take the Kumbaya approach, by which I mean stripping out all of the unpleasant-seeming parts of religion in order to attract new members. Latin mass? Gone! Fasting? Not necessary! Penitence? Hey, let’s sing about Jesus instead!

Ironically, I loved Sunday School as a kid, but was pretty meh on Youth Group. Sunday School was appropriately geared to a 5 yr old kid who found “Jesus Loves Me” comforting. Youth Group was an intellectual, moral, and religious wasteland. I wanted to read the Bible and discuss theology. Instead, we listened to “Christian rock” and ate pizza. There’s nothing wrong with pizza or Christian rock, but they alone don’t lead to god.

Had I received something resembling an intellectual religious guidance, I might have kept believing.

Anyway, back to schisming vs. combining, according to Wikipedia, the following groups of churches have arrangements for:

  • mutual recognition of members
  • joint celebration of the Lord’s Supper/Holy Communion/Eucharist (these churches practice open communion)
  • mutual recognition of ordained ministers
  • mutual recognition of sacraments
  • a common commitment to mission.
  1. The Anglican Communion, the Old Catholic Church, the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of India, and the Philippine Independent Church.[23]
  2. The Churches of the Porvoo Communion.[25]
  3. The Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada[23]
  4. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and each of the following: the member churches of the Lutheran World Federation, the Episcopal Church in the United States of America,[23] the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Reformed Church in America, the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church[26] and the Moravian Church in America.
  5. The Leuenberg Agreement, concluded in 1973 and adopted by 105 European Protestant churches, since renamed the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe.[27]
  6. The Moravian Church and each of the following: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church USA.[23]
  7. The United Methodist Church with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the African Union Methodist Protestant Church, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church, and the Northern and Southern Provinces of the Moravian Church.
  8. The United Church of Christ and each of the following: the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA), and the Reformed Church in America.
  9. The United Episcopal Church of North America and each of the following: the Anglican Catholic Church, the Anglican Province of Christ the King, and the Diocese of the Great Lakes.
  10. The Anglican Province of America has intercommunion with the Reformed Episcopal Church and the Church of Nigeria.
  11. The Church of Ireland and the Methodist Church in Ireland have established full communion and are working toward interchangeability of ministry.[28]

Meanwhile most American Christians are, by their own admission, heretics:

Seven out of ten respondents in LifeWay’s survey affirmed the doctrine of the Trinity—that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three Persons but one God, and six in ten agreed that Jesus is both human and divine. Their orthodoxy—and consistency—ended there. More than half went on to indicate that Jesus is “the first and greatest being created by God,” a heresy known as Arianism, which the Council of Nicaea condemned in 325 A.D. …

Rather, bizarre contradictions like this illustrate how many Americans don’t understand or even care what the Trinity means (although they say they believe in it, likely out of habits learned growing up in church).

The responses to other questions were no less heterodox or headache-inducing. Seventy percent of participants—who ranged across socioeconomic and racial backgrounds—agreed there’s only one true God. Yet sixty-four percent also thought this God accepts the worship of all religions, including those that believe in many gods. …

Over half said it’s fair for God to exercise his wrath against sin, but seemed to waffle about which sins deserved wrath (not theirs!). Seventy-four percent said the “smallest sins” don’t warrant eternal damnation, in contrast to Jesus’ brother, who when writing at the Holy Spirit’s inspiration taught that even one infraction of God’s law is enough to sink someone. But really, what did he know?

A full 60 percent agreed that “everyone eventually goes to heaven,” but half of those surveyed also checked the box saying that “only those who believe in Jesus will be saved.” So either these folks are saying everyone will eventually believe in Jesus, or they hired a monkey to take the survey for them.

13 Religious Women to watch in 2012 –most of these women are notable only for their secular endeavors (some of which are significant,) not for their theological, religious, or otherwise doctrinal work.

In many ways, I think Niceanity has been a central part of Christianity from the beginning. It is a reasonable interpretation of Christian theology (I am not really in a position to declare any Christian a heretic–that’s God’s job.) But I can’t escape the sense that mainstream Christianity is trying to shed entirely the notion of a Biblical God, of any kind of doctrine or belief beyond a vague belief that belief is good. And even if they’re right, I just don’t think religion works that way.

 

Do atheist objections to homosexuality exist?

One of the more amusing responses to my post on the recent Moldbug/Lambdaconf affair was Orthosphere‘s objection that conservatives cannot make an anti-homosexuality argument that appeals to atheists because, “if God doesn’t oppose homosexuality then there’s ultimately nothing wrong with it.” In other words, the only argument against homosexuality is religious, ergo, atheists will always be pro (or at least neutral) on the subject.

Yes, I recognize that this does not actually have anything directly to do with the Moldbug/Lambdaconf affair. Don’t worry; it doesn’t matter. My relevant bit was:

Take the most common argument against homosexuality: “God says it is a sin.” Young people are fairly atheist, believe in separation of church and state, and think a god who doesn’t like gay people is a jerk. This argument doesn’t just fail at convincing young people that gay marriage is bad; it also convinces them that God is bad.

By contrast, a simple graph showing STD rates among gay people makes a pretty persuasive argument that the “gay lifestyle” isn’t terribly healthy.

A further argument (made elsewhere, I believe, but on the same subject,) is that atheists simply do not believe in moral absolutes, because only god can command belief in moral absolutes, and since the argument against homosexuality is a moral absolute, therefore, atheists cannot be convinced.

So I thought this would make for an interesting bit of rumination: do there exist any arguments that can convince atheists that homosexuality is bad? And if not, why have Republicans harped on a guaranteed losing issue?

(Since my original post was only using the arguments for and against homosexuality as a means of illustrating a broader point germane to the Moldbug/Lambdaconf topic, I attempted to treat the matter quickly and without much depth. The version of those paragraphs I hashed out originally went on for much longer, but little of that could fit in the post without overtaking it and distracting from the actual point.)

First, can atheists hold absolute moral values?

As a practical matter, we do. We might not be able to justify why we believe something, but that doesn’t stop us from believing it.

For example, I believe that child abuse/neglect/rape/murder is absolutely, 100% morally wrong. I am normally a peaceful, tree-hugging person who feels guilty about eating animals, but harm a child, and I want to see you drawn and quartered.

I feel no compelling need to justify to myself why I believe that. It is obviously true, in the same sense that scraping my knee on the sidewalk is obviously painful.

I also believe other things in a fairly absolutest way, like “don’t torture puppies” and “don’t poop on the sidewalk.”

But to use a source with possibly a little more authority than me, the Spring 2006 volume of Religious Humanism, published by the Unitarian Universalists contains an article titled, “Theistic Moral Intuitions in a Secular Context: A Plea for Ficionalism in Moral Philosophy,” by Loobuyck, which essentially proposes that atheists should “fake it till they make it”:

Some essential ideas about the nature of morality are survivals of Judaic-Christian ideas, and function now outside the framework of thought that made them intelligible. Our ideas of the moral self, human dignity, and the Kantian summum bonum also survive from an earlier conception of theistic ethics. All these ideas became “self-evident” and essential elements of our secular moral discourse, but they belong to theistic metaphysics and do not easily fit into secular metaphysical naturalism.

Secular moral philosophers are confronted with the following dilemma: since the moral discourse is useful and confirms our deepest moral intuitions, doing away with it incurs a cost; a price is also paid for keeping a flawed discourse, for “truth” is a very valuable commodity. … the stance of moral fictionalism makes it possible to keep a discourse while knowing it is inherently flawed. …

Nietzsche seems to be suggesting that the acceptance of the death of God will involve the ending of all our accepted standards of morality, but if we look around, this has not proved correct. As for losing our European morality, the opposite is true. We still think about morality as theists did: as a system of objective prescriptive laws with special authority, and many of the so-called universal secular values are values we can find in the Judaic-Christian tradition. We did not reject the slave-morality, and most people will not see the Nietzschean superman as a paragon of moral excellence. We still believe in the intrinsic and equal value of human being, and moreover, we build a whole construction of human rights on these fundamental but religious ideas. …

some intuitions can be so successful that they can persist as self-evident even when the philosophical context that gives meaning to those intuitions vanished. … Secular ethics is modeled upon theological ethics and talks abut a moral agent in such terms that it structurally parallels the  notion of God… someone who argues that morality is a “myth” is seen frequently as maintaining not merely a counter-intuitive position, but also a pernicious or dangerous position. …

we can suggest the stance of “fictionalism”: the possibility of maintaining the discourse but taking an attitude other than belief towards it (disbelieving acceptance.) … atheistic Darwinists live as if their life has and ultimate meaning, we look at our child as if it is the most wonderful baby in the wold, and we think as if there is a real difference instead of a gradual difference between animals and human beings. … We could say that we must live and think as if there are absolute prohibitions, intrinsic values, human dignity and act as if morality is not a Sartrian passion inutile. … fictionalism… helps to save morality in our age of secularization, science, and deconstruction.

Now, I understand that religious folks might not be comfortable with the philosophy of “If we’re all going to act like we have a coherent theoretical basis for our moral intuitions, then let’s just go ahead and pretend we have one,” but as a practical matter, I think that’s what most atheists are basically doing.

Consider that about 20% of Americans are pretty openly atheists, (and about half of the “religious” people seem like they’re just going through the motions.) And yet, these 20-50% of Americans don’t have higher than average rates of murder, theft, abuse, or public defecation than the rest of the country. We also don’t have higher than average rates of sins like gluttony, premarital sex, drug use, or divorce.*

When you encounter an atheist, do you feel a sudden surge of fear that here is someone who might randomly stab you in a fit of Nietzschean ubermenschen glory? Or are you generally pretty confident that this person will act a lot like a normal person who believes in the principles laid down in the Ten Commandments?

To turn this around, to many atheists, the Christian reliance on an outside source for their morality makes their morality seem less absolute. Atheists see, “Do not sacrifice your children to Moloch,” as obvious, not something that needs to be spelled out multiple times. Suppose those verses had not made it into the Bible: would it then be acceptable to sacrifice one’s children to Moloch?

Consider the story of Abraham, Isaac, and the ram. When God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham obeyed. God stopped him, not Abraham’s own moral conscience.

To an atheist, this story is horrifying. You do not murder your children. It does not matter if human sacrifice is common in your neighborhood; it does not matter if god told you to. Murdering your children is always immoral.

I can hear your objection: I’ve misunderstood the story; the point is not that sacrificing your kid is good, but human sacrifice was common in Abraham’s time and God changed this by showing Abraham a new, better way. Yahweh was not like those other gods; Yahweh’s morality is superior to those other gods’.

But this is at odds with the text, in which “the Angel of the Lord” praises Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son:

Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son. … I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring[b] all nations on earth will be blessed,[c] because you have obeyed me.” (Genesis 22)

Further, there is that whole affair with Jephthah sacrificing his daughter and not even getting smited for it, but becoming a Judge of Israel.

To be fair, the Bible is pretty anti-human sacrifice overall–there are just exceptions.

I don’t think moral absolutes are supposed to have exceptions.

Nevertheless, every religious person I’ve ever met treats “don’t sacrifice children” as a moral absolute; I certainly don’t feel any fear upon meeting a Christian that they might sacrifice me as a result of an awkwardly worded and poorly thought-out vow.

As far as daily life interactions are concerned, Christians and atheists perform remarkably similar moral actions.

We ascribe, however, different origins to our beliefs. Atheists attribute theirs to “common sense,” Christians to “God.” Perhaps common sense is actually God or was created by God, allowing atheists and theists alike to act like moral beings, or perhaps religious people have just as much common sense as everyone else.

Personally, I think morality is basically instinctual.

First, most people–atheist or theist–tend not to think too much about philosophical issues like, “What if we had a 2-ton Hitler on rollerskates to push in front of the trolley? Then would it be moral?” We all use mental shortcuts that make dealing with 99.99% of everyday life easier rather than spend time thinking about the 0.01% exceptions. Likewise, I am content to proclaim that it absolutely morally wrong to torture babies without wasting my time trying to think up extremely rare exceptions.

Second, people who murder their own children have historically probably been evolutionary failures, while people who have a strong urge to nurture and protect their children have had better luck at actually passing on their genes to the next generation. As a result, any genes that lead to murdering one’s own children probably get selected against, while genes that lead to caring for one’s children are selected for.

The result is an instinctive desire to protect and care for your children. This desire to care for your children is so strong that it can even be triggered by baby animals, cute toys, and other people’s unborn fetuses.

Can I hug it? (source)
Can I hug it? (source)

Obviously there is some cultural variation on this; some groups today still practice ritual child sacrifice, though typically apparently not of their own children, but of other people’s children whom they’ve kidnapped. But I don’t live in one of these societies; I live in a society where human (and animal) sacrifice has never been practiced. So for me, at least, child sacrifice is a giant NO.

We can extend this argument to all sorts of behaviors, like not stealing from your neighbors, that have lead to evolutionary success over the generations. In short: if your morals lead to you dying out without descendants, then your morals die with you. If your morals lead to you leaving lots of descendants, then lots of people end up believing in your morals. We don’t even need a genetic mechanism to cause this, but there is plenty of evidence in favor of one.

“Evolutionary morality” (and “game theoretic morality”) are the keys Loobuyck needs to unlock why atheists still have moral intuitions.

Second: Having established that atheists do basically act like they believe in moral absolutes, do there exist any arguments against homosexuality that would actually work on atheists?

Now, obviously, the argument, “God says so,” does not work with atheists. (It doesn’t always work on Christians, either, given that the New Testament forbids women from braiding their hair or wearing pearls, and commands them to keep their hair covered.) When atheists do engage in moral reasoning, they tend toward utilitarian arguments–X makes people happy, Y makes people sad, therefore X is good and Y is bad.

There are many critiques of utilitarianism, especially when it comes to experiences outside of people’s normal, everyday lives, but it’s not a bad way of articulating why you shouldn’t hit your brother. Therefore:

Potential Argument A: “Homosexual Happiness” 

If you can demonstrate that homosexuality causes harm/suffering and that somehow convincing people not to be gay prevents this harm/suffering, then you have a good chance of convincing the atheists.

So far, people have not convincingly made this argument. Yes, gay folks have high suicide rates, but no one has convincingly argued that being gay causes this and that, say, outlawing gay marriage or convincing gay people that homosexuality is wrong lowers their suicide rate. By contrast, the other side argues pretty loudly that gay people are less happy when you tell them they’re immoral, and more happy when you say they aren’t.

Of course, you do not actually have to prove a point so much as argue it loudly and effectively. Most people are not strict utilitarians who check the statistical validity of other people’s arguments–they just react to the funny pictures they see on TV and process things in a fairly instinctual way. If they are surrounded by the narrative that gay people are happy being gay and that only meanie pantses who make them sad are opposed to them, then they will be fine with gay people. If they are surrounded by the narrative that gay people are miserable, rape children, and die of AIDS or suicide unless convinced to reject homosexuality, then they will (probably) view homosexuality as a weird aberration.

Outside of San Francisco and a few scattered neighborhoods across the US, most people encounter very few gay people in real life, just because gay people are a relatively small % of the population that is highly concentrated in a few places. (The 10% statistic turns out to be false.) Perhaps you know 2 or 3 gay people–of those, maybe one reasonably well. What do you know, genuinely, about them? How happy are they? How productive? How much do they give back to their community or civic organizations? By contrast, how many gay people have you encountered in books, TV shows, movies, or newspapers?

I’ll go ahead and admit it: far more of my “knowledge” of gay people comes from fiction of various sorts than from real life. The random vagaries of life simply have not led to me knowing that many gay people.

(Which means that that my entire conception of “what gay people are like” could be wrong.)

You will point out that there are practical issues with influencing the media narrative. So there are. No one ever said convincing people was easy. But conservatives do get enough opportunities to share their point of view that people are amply familiar with their arguments on the subject of homosexuality–so I don’t see this as a good reason to use arguments that don’t work.

Potential Argument B: “Disease Rates”

Whether you are concerned for gay people themselves or just concerned about diseases, gay people do catch STDS at a higher rate than straight people. Personally, I happen to really dislike being sick, so anti-disease arguments work pretty well on me.

An anti-disease argument doesn’t have to be rational. My fear of Ebola may not be rational, because I worry about it even though no one in my entire continent, to my knowledge, has the disease. I just think Ebola is really scary. Likewise, put some disease statistics and quotes from “bug chasing” forums on TV or in the papers every so often, and you’ll completely disgust and horrify people. Even atheists will want to hear about “gay rights” about as much as the average person wants to hear about poop.

Yes, a libertarian would argue that it’s gay people’s business if they want to engage in high-risk activities, but it does not follow that lots of people would therefore go out of their way to advocate in favor of gay peoples’ rights to do risky things. I believe that people have the right to bathe in pudding if they feel like it, but I don’t spend much time advocating it.

Further, most people are not libertarians, which is why the libertarian candidate never gets to be president.

Someone partial to gay people would point out that bug chasers are not representative of the gay population as a whole and that non-promiscuous gay people who use condoms don’t get a bunch of diseases, but since this is an argument based on triggering peoples’ instinctual disgust mechanisms, they’re probably not going to hear anything over their brains going “EW EW EW.”

Most people act on instinct, and one important instinct that’s pretty solidly embedded in most people is to avoid disease vectors. This is why poop and rotting corpses are icky–so icky, you might actually throw up from being near them.

So, even though someone could make all kinds of reasonable counter-arguments about personal liberty, medical advances, safe sex, monogamy, etc., you can may be able to hijack people’s instinctual fear of disease to make them completely unwilling to even listen to counter-arguments.

Potential Argument C: “So Few Homosexuals”

Americans vastly overestimate the number of gay people–when Gallop asked people to estimate the % of people who are gay, 33% of responders estimated that more than 25% of people are gay; 20% of responders estimated that 20-25% of people are gay. Only 9% of people got the correct answer, “Less than 5%.” (Actually, about 3.8% of people are gay.) Of these, about 60% say they would like to get married–or 2.3% of Americans.

Let’s step back for a moment and wonder at the fact that liberals and conservatives alike have devoted untold hours and dollars to fighting over the legal marriage status of 2.3% of Americans while 8% of people are unemployed; in 2013, 2.5 million American children were homeless, and 15% of Americans live in poverty and face “food insecurity.” 52% of Americans will be victims of multiple violent crimes in their lives; 1 in 30 black men will be murdered. About 50% of marriages end in divorce; the Iraq war cost between 2 and 6 trillion dollars (not to mention the continuing cost of fighting ISIS). And if you are the kind of person who cares about people in other countries, there are a few billion poor people in the third world who would appreciate some help.

In other words, there are a lot of problems in this world that a reasonable person might consider higher priority than whether or not gay people should be allowed to “get married” or have “civil unions.”

Why let the other side take the moral high ground? Whenever the subject comes up, just divert to something else that affects far more people and claim that your opponent is trying to use an obscure, tiny issue to distract from the real problems facing America.

Potential Argument D: “Functional Purpose”

This is very close to an argument that conservatives do make, which is that the purpose of marriage is to produce children. This, of course, sounds like total nonsense to young people, who don’t think marriage has a function other than to serve as a means of saying “we like each other.”

Skipping over the potential misunderstanding, let’s talk about things like insurance benefits. Why does one spouse working entitle the other spouse to health insurance?

So that one spouse can work while the other takes care of the children. “Taking care of children” and “making socks” are both activities that someone has to do for society to keep functioning, but we recognize that factories produce better socks and parents produce better children, so we try to keep sock-making in factories and child-rearing at home.

Sometimes people get confused on this point, so I’m going to spell it out in more detail: not all valuable work is paid. You could pay someone to wash your dishes, sweep your floors, cook your meals, and take care of your children, or you could do all of these jobs yourself and get the exact same benefits. These are all things that have to get done; sweeping the floor does not become “legitimate work” just because you pay someone to do it and stop being “legitimate work” the moment you do it yourself.

100 years ago, most people lived on farms and did almost all of their work themselves–they planted their own crops, built their own houses, installed their own plumbing (or outhouses), sewed their own clothes, cooked their own food, and raised their own children. Few people were formally employed. The vast majority of economic production occurred–and was consumed–within families or small communities.

But this does not mean the economic production did not occur.

Today, the locus of employment has shifted outside the home–to factories, offices, shops, etc.–and we have decided to route many valuable social functions–like health insurance–through paid employers.

This runs into a problem, because some people (mainly women) are still engaged in the valuable economic work of raising children and running households. Moms get sick, too, so the health insurance men get through work extends to cover their non-working spouses.

The same is true of various other legal/inheritance benefits accorded by marriage–they basically exist to protect the non-working spouse who is raising children instead of engaging in paid employment.

Health insurance is not some special perk society decided to give people just because they’re in love. You’re not supposed to marry someone just to get health insurance benefits. That is an abuse of the system. If you have no intention of having children (or cannot have children,) then there is no reason for you to stay home while your spouse works: you can get your own job and qualify for your own health insurance.

Of course, some gay people do have children, whether biologically or through adoption, and I see no reason to deny these children health insurance, inheritance, etc. But even fewer gay people want children than want to get married–only about 16% of gay people have children.

________________________________________

The point of this post has not been give any of my own, personal opinions on the morality of homosexuality or gay marriage, but to explore potential arguments on the subject besides “God doesn’t like it.”

Some of these arguments are appeals to emotion or otherwise dishonest, but they still exist; people could have used them. Instead, Republicans have chosen for the past 20 years to focus primarily on an argument that comes across to young people as violating the establishment clause of the Bill of Rights, which I suspect has done more to alienate young people than convince them.

 

 

PSA: Honesty is not hate

You can love people and still be honest about them. (You can also hate people and be honest about them.) For example, when my kids’ report cards come home, I don’t react in shock that they haven’t gotten 100% perfect scores and call up their teachers to demand to know what diabolical evil motivated them to lie about my darlings. Having paid at least occasional attention to my kids over the past few years, I already know their strengths and weaknesses–and I still love them.

I was recently conversing with a gay acquaintance who is convinced that mainstream Muslims are just fine with homosexuals. Only Muslim extremists are anti-gay folks, just like American extremists.

This is how to make EvolutionistX sputter in disbelief at your idiocy.

Then they asserted to say otherwise is racist.

Look. Let’s assume that you love Muslims. (And before anyone tries to resist the hypothetical, remember that there are about a billion people in the world who are Muslims and the vast majority of them think Islam is the bee’s knees, not to mention plenty of non-Muslims who’ve lived in Muslim countries and enjoyed the experience, or non-Muslims who have Muslim friends/family.)

You cannot simultaneously claim to love Muslims and profess ignorance of their values.

It’s not hard to figure out what Muslims believe; if you don’t like looking up poll statistics, you can just ask them. Muslims use the internet, too, and millions of them speak English.

In fact, this is true for pretty much everyone: if you want to know what they believe, just ask them. They will probably tell you. (Of course, if you have to ask what the mainstream view on homosexuality is in Saudi Arabia or Iran, I think you have forgotten how to think.)

To save us some time, I’ve already done this, and not only do “mainstream” Muslims disapprove of homosexuality, even “liberal” Muslims aren’t keen on the idea. But in case you don’t believe me, we have poll data:

From Pew Research Center, Muslim Views on Morality
From Pew Research Center, Muslim Views on Morality

Honestly, I suspect that if you told the average Muslim that you think most Muslims are okay with homosexuality, they’d get offended, in the same way that the average American would get offended if a Muslim said that mainstream Americans think pedophilia is moral. Saying things that are in direct contradiction of people’s deeply held moral convictions tends to get you that response.

Oh, by the way, from the New York Times:

US Support of Gay Rights in Africa May Have Done More Harm than Good:

In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, the final passage of the 2014 law against homosexuality — which makes same-sex relationships punishable by 14 years in prison and makes it a crime to organize or participate in any type of gay meeting — is widely regarded by both supporters and opponents of gay rights as a reaction to American pressure on Nigeria and other African nations to embrace gay rights.

Nigeria is about 60% Christian and 40% Muslim. I don’t think either group is keen on homosexuality.

Anti-gay sentiments are widespread across Africa. Same-sex relations remain illegal in most nations, the legacy of colonial laws that had been largely forgotten until the West’s push to repeal them in recent years.

Fierce opposition has come from African governments and private organizations, which accuse the United States of cultural imperialism. Pressing gay rights on an unwilling continent, they say, is the latest attempt by Western nations to impose their values on Africa.

“In the same way that we don’t try to impose our culture on anyone, we also expect that people should respect our culture in return,” said Theresa Okafor, a Nigerian active in lobbying against gay rights.

It’s sad how often people are genuinely surprised to discover that other people actually like their own cultures.

“Before, these people were leading their lives quietly, and nobody was paying any attention to them,” Ms. Iwuagwu said. “Before, a lot of people didn’t even have a clue there were something called gay people. But now they know and now they are outraged.”

One of the more amusing SJW-arguments is that white “liberals” aren’t actually liberal because they make every effort to insulate themselves, in real life, from black people. The immediate cause for this is obvious: black neighborhoods tend to have high crime and low property values. You don’t have to agree with SJWs or have any particular opinions to agree that 1. Whites tend to avoid black neighborhoods and know extremely little about black culture, and 2. black neighborhoods tend to be poor and high-crime.

If anything, it seems to me like whites have begun wearing their ignorance as a badge of pride, as insurance against the threat of being called “racist.” If you know nothing at all about a group of people and so never talk about their traits, then how can anyone call you racist? And better yet, when someone does say something about other groups, you can then, from your position of total ignorance, tell the other person that you are “deeply disturbed by [their] problematic and racist language” and stop the discussion.

Ignorance of others should be called what it is: ignorance.

Today we heap praises upon it and call it virtue.

To put things in slightly less politicized terms, modern conversation is like trying to talk about a local forest with someone who thinks that “forest” is a social construct. You say, “The forest is about 200 miles long and 100 miles wide,” and your interlocutor replies that you are ignorant, and furthermore, “This ‘forest’ consists of individual trees, which are found scattered across the entire country!”

There is no arguing with such people, and yet the temptation always remains.

I read something like Strawberry Girl, and I can’t help but suspect that 70 years ago, the average elementary-school aged child was expected to understand and handle concepts about human groups that today, graduates from our nation’s finest universities profess profound ignorance of. Lois Lenski can love the “Florida Crackers” and still speak honestly of their moral shortcomings and the aspects of their life that an outsider would not agree with. De Poncins loves the Eskimo and probably prefers their lifestyle to his, but he does not lie about their murder rate.

Even the humble Protestant parishioners of a century ago, who received lurid letters describing horrific cannibals and pleading for more money for their churchs’ missionary efforts, probably had a better general grasp of at least one chunk of the world than educated, urbanized moderns.

The devout Protestant of yesteryear believed a great many things that today’s atheists find absurd, such as anything about god. Indeed, a cynic might claim that requiring people to spout nonsense is a good way to separate out all but the true believers. But these articles of faith were focused primarily on the realm of the unprovable, a spiritual realm removed from Earth in time and space. When it came to daily life, these folks were practical and concrete, believing in the straightforward evidence provided by their own eyes.

Today’s devout believer is still required to spout nonsense, but about the very reality he passes through. His eyes are deemed liars; noticing patterns in peoples’ behavior is grounds for excommunication; racism is the new Original Sin. Like the virgin of yesteryear, he professes innocence.

But that spot will not out.

There is no god for the atheist to sacrifice to exculpate his guilt; no bleating goat to load with his sins and turn out into the wilderness.

The modern man must sacrifice himself, give his own–or his children’s–life to absolve the sin of Knowing.

What Heaven does he hope to attain?

 

As the Peacock Struts: are liberals more competent than conservatives?

Very anecdotal observations of the people I know suggests that the conservatives are more likely to be “dysfunctional” than the liberals–ironically, in precisely the ways conservatives claim liberals are dysfunctional in.

The important thing here is to go beyond hand-wavey anecdotes and get actual data. It’s easy to find things like this: Red America vs. Blue America: state maps illustrate the difference, but these maps are significantly confounded by different ethnicities being concentrated in different parts of the country. For example, the high % of people who never graduated from highschool in SW Texas is probably due to Mexican immigrants, and so not germane to the present conversation.

Here is a map assembled by demographers Glass and Levchak demonstrating the correlation between conservative Christianity and divorce:

I really wish this were a graph instead of a map.

Some quotes from the article:

“Their work confirms that one of the strongest factors predicting divorce rates (per 1000 married couples) is the concentration of conservative or evangelical Protestants in that county. …

“Yet even controlling for income and region, divorce rates tend to be especially high in areas where conservative religious groups are prominent. …

“So even though conservative Protestants are much less likely to cohabit, this didn’t make a difference. There was no evidence that cohabiting would have “weeded out” the less promising unions…

“a careful analysis of variations nationally reveals that this explains none of the association between religious conservatism and divorce. …

“Glass and Levchak found that the high divorce rate among conservative religious groups is indeed explained in large part by the earlier ages at first marriage and first birth, and the lower educational attainment and lower incomes of conservative Protestant youth.

“Explains Glass, “Restricting sexual activity to marriage and encouraging large families seem to make young people start families earlier in life, even though that may not be best for the long-term survival of those marriages.” In an earlier report to the Council on Contemporary Families, economist Evelyn Lehrer from University of Illinois at Chicago explained that every year a women postpones marriage, right up until her early 30s, lowers her chance of an eventual divorce.

“But people who live in conservative religious counties have a higher risk of divorce even when they are not affiliated with a conservative religious group.”

The HBD explanation, of course, is that Evangelical Protestantism is concentrated among dumber whites, and people who postpone marriage and childbearing are smarter and more competent at planning their lives. If you squint at the map, you may notice that Evangelical Protestants in the Deep South seem to have lower divorce rates than their religious brethren in Appalachia. (Is a finding of “Appalachians don’t act very smart” even interesting?)

But this is not necessarily an important detail in this particular conversation.

The important thing is that liberal atheists, Unitarians, and the like get divorced less than religious conservatives like Evangelical Christians.

And yet, these same Evangelicals have been protesting mightily against their very own divorces (among other marital novelties,) while blaming the whole business on liberals!

 

I’ve been looking for data on abortions, but can’t find any broken down by conservative vs liberal. Overall, it looks like conservatives get fewer abortions, but state regulations are an obvious confounder.

However, I think we can calculate teen pregnancy rates:

WV, you've got no excuse.

You know, this isn’t looking very good for West Virginia…

Okay, I was totally going to do math for you, but it turns out that someone has been keeping track of this data by race for me, so I’m going with that:

    From The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy
From The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy

West Virginia leads, but the rest of the South follows pretty closely.

“But wait,” I hear you saying, “what if this is just a side effect of Northerners aborting their unintended pregnancies?”

Never fear, I have another map:

From The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy
From The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy

Nope! White Southerners just get pregnant a lot.

It’s probably already obvious, but the folks getting pregnant are also rather promiscuous:

Picture 4

The data ain’t great, but it looks like Southerners are sluts. And New Hampshirites.

My suspicion, based on data I’ve seen elsewhere and will try to dig up later, is that dumber people have higher sex drives and mature faster than smarter people–so dumb people are much more likely to have sex while still in highschool. But even intelligent people from the South seem to have more sex than more liberal folks.

A friend of mine who grew up in one of the more conservative parts of the country, who has always prided themself on being morally upright and derided the permissive immorality of liberals, moved a few years ago to a much more liberal part of the country, and describes everyone there as, “A bunch of prudes.” Yes, the descendants of Puritans are sexually reserved and don’t like to be touched–who’d have thought?

 

So. Conservatives are more promiscuous, have more teen pregnancies, and more divorces.  Even on a subject as trivial as weight, liberals are more likely to be part of the “fat acceptance movement,” but conservatives are more likely to actually be fat. I could go on, with other stats like educational attainment and GDP, but you get the idea: Conservatives walk one walk, but talk another.

This raises a question: If liberals are really better at doing the things conservative claim are moral, then is liberal morality really so “dysfunctional”?

The answer looks like: No.

(Those of you stressing out that gay marriage may be the downfall of civilization, take heart: it’s much more likely that stupid people fucking are going to be the downfall of civilization.)

Which raises the second question: Then why are Conservatives complaining about Liberal morality in the first place?

My theory: They aren’t.

In real life, liberals and conservatives don’t actually interact very often. They are concentrated in different parts of the country, are descended from different ethnic stock, and would rather their children married a non-white than a member of the opposite political party. They have very different personalities, and even when they aren’t talking politics, they get along horribly.

The “Liberal,” as far as the average conservative is concerned, is a boogeyman on TV doing horrible things in far-off places like CA or NYC. The inverse is also true: the “Conservative” is a disembodied talking head on Fox News or rural boogeyman in a place they’ve never been, like Indiana.

When conservatives talk about the sanctity of marriage, what they really mean is, “I screwed up. I did dumb things, and that’s how I got pregnant/divorced/etc. Whatever you do in life, don’t be like me.” But most people don’t like to admit that they’re talking about their own mistakes, so they blame everything they can on some mysterious, unknown “other”: the liberal. The other is, after all, but a foil for the self.

Liberals do the same thing. They blame all sorts of things (black-white test score gaps, incarceration rates, etc.) on the actions of conservatives (conservative and “racist” are pretty much synonymous to liberals,) even when no conservatives are even around. The invisible, insidious, omni-present conservative gets blamed for everything liberal policies can’t fix. (Saboteurs to the gulag!)

But why do liberals support policies they don’t themselves follow?

Two obvious reasons come to mind:

1. Liberals tend to believe that they shouldn’t tell others what to do, so if you want to do something dumb, hey, that’s your business, and…

2. It’s hard to muster a good argument for banning something if you’ve never been personally affected by it. Among the liberals I know, divorce is vanishingly rare, but I know conservatives with 4 or 5 divorces each. Divorce is a real issue for conservatives because it’s a thing they frequently do, just as low blood sugar is an issue for a diabetic. In an environment where lots of people get divorced, it is probably a good social strategy to advertise one’s qualities as a mate by roundly denouncing the practice–you look more serious about staying married. In an environment where few people get divorced, declaring your opposition isn’t so useful. There, the inverse may be true: people can signal that they are such good mates, they’re not even worried about divorce being legal. Like the peacock, they signal strength by flashily showing just how low they can lower their strength without getting eaten.

The only downside, of course, is that sometimes liberals do get eaten by their permissive attitudes toward sex. Like when they get AIDS.

Implications: Should conservatives ditch conservatism and adopt more liberal attitudes?

In general, it probably wouldn’t help. The liberals have their attitudes due to conditions in liberal areas, and conservatives have their attitudes due to conditions in their lives. Further, divorce and promiscuity probably have more to do intelligence than any particular attitudes, and encouraging divorce isn’t going to make people smarter.

If your goal is monogamous, stable, long-term marriages with happy, healthy people in them, you’d be better off focusing on the social policies that make people with these genetic traits breed less than people who don’t.

Democracy Fails Because Conservatives Suck at Opposing Liberals

Democracy is supposed to work like some sort of capitalistic free market of ideas where the best ones get the most dollars and thus float to the top and become law. Since we have this coupled with a two-party system, you’re voting for which of two candidates sounds like they have the best ideas.

Unfortunately, conservatives tend not to bother with tough intellectual shit like “ideas,” preferring instead to throw rocks at their heads. Voters, being at least a little rational, tend to back away from this in vague horror and default-vote for whoever the other guy is, at least until the other guy realizes the only constraint on him is “don’t throw rocks at head” and starts doing something equally dumb. Eventually you get Congress.

“Gay marriage” is a prime example of how conservatives have completely shirked their duty to contribute anything worthwhile to American discourse in decades.

For the past two decades–maybe longer–conservatives have not managed to muster a single coherent argument against gay marriage, and yet they have dedicated substantial resources to making sure that everyone knows they don’t like it.

Yes, standing up on a podium and yelling, “I hate people for totally irrational reasons and do not understand how the Constitution works,” actually makes people think you’re dumb, hateful, and have no idea how to run the gov’t.

One of the results of this is that young people, near as I can tell, pretty much universally despise conservatives. It’s hard not to, when conservatives keep throwing rocks at their heads.

With a few hours of research and writing, I managed to cobble together a better argument against gay marriage/homosexuality than anything conservatives have come up with in the past two decades, and I wasn’t even trying. I was just reading about California. This stuff is not secret; you don’t need to fund any fancy studies or have any technical background to find a ton of information that would make the average voter much more amenable to the conservative position, but people who are actually paid to do this and claim to actually, deeply believe this have not even bothered.

Instead, we get dumb arguments like, “Homosexuality is immoral,” (what does that even mean?) or “God says it’s a sin.” (Great, your argument depends both on a swiftly diminishing belief in god and a willingness to violate the Establishment Clause?)

If one side can’t do their job and generate at least something close to rational thought, then there is no pressure on the other side to generate rational thought, either. And that means the entire political system goes down the shitter.

And that’s why we can’t have nice things, like winter.

Now that gay marriage is the law of the land, everyone wants to pretend they were in favor of it from the start

We have always been at war with Eurasia--I mean, supported gay marriage
CONFORM

Thus proving that we have always been at war with Eurasia, pretty much every company you can think of–including the President Himself (who I guess is technically not a company)–has jumped on the Yay Gay Marriage bandwagon.

For the record, I was pro-gay marriage before it was cool; I’m so hip and indie, my best friend was trans back in middle school.

Now a bunch of companies that never gave a shit about gay people are proclaiming how happy they are about the SCOTUS decision.

Of course, companies just want to make money. But there was a time when companies endeavored not to take political stances, not wishing to alienate potential customers. Suddenly seeing all the companies simultaneously adopt the same logo is, well, creepy. Even if I want to bomb the shit out of Eurasia and am happy to see the troops head out, doesn’t mean I want everyone to suddenly start pretending like we’ve always been at war with Eurasia.

Part of what’s going on is that gay marriage has been recast by the left as “not a political issue.” These companies don’t see themselves as taking a political stance, but a moral stance, or a just plain celebratory stance. Of course, it is a political issue.

To be honest, conformity bugs me. When I hear people agreeing with each other, I start trying to figure out why they’re wrong. (It’s probably a bad habit.) I hate being expected to act a certain way just because everyone else is or perform certain emotions just because it’s a holiday or something. (This probably contributes to my dislike of holidays.) Groupthink annoys me; the “tyranny of the status quo” makes me rage against my keyboard.

This level of unanimity in just about anything post V-Day is further evidence of the radical speed of horizontal meme-transmission due to modern mass media like the internet.

It was not so many years ago, you may recall, that states were busy passing anti-gay marriage bills or amendments en mass. Not in the bad old days of the 1950s or 80s, but in 2004-2008.

I remember a friend freaking out about the bans somewhere around 2005. I tried to reassure them that the bans were good news: no one ever put that much effort into trying to ban something that people had no interest in doing. That much effort could only mean the conservatives were terrified of gay marriage triumphing–after all, back in 1950, when gay marriage wasn’t even a thing people were talking about, no one was bothering to try to pass amendments on the subject. “You’ve already won,” I told my friend. They did not believe me, but here’s the win.

Unfortunately, there are dozens–perhaps thousands–of issues I consider higher priority than gay marriage, which directly affects only a small % of the population. I’d rather we stopped Global Warming or cured cancer or helped the homeless, reformed the tax code or balanced the budget or got jobs and wages up for ordinary Americans, streamlined the legal and criminal justice system or even just increased Americans’ understanding of basic science. But most of these are boring things; it’s way more fun to argue about gay marriage or tabloid stars’ sex changes than to try to figure out the best way to run the country.

 

The “Other” is but a Foil for the Self

The “other”, somewhat by definition, is not someone you are particularly well-acquainted with. This is not generally a matter of malice–there are about 7.5 billion people in this world, and you’re only capable of really getting to know a couple hundred, at best. Even if you spent years of your life living in different countries, you’d still only manage to sample a small selection of the world’s people. For better or worse, most people out there are strangers.

People profess to care a lot about strangers. In a recent example, lots of people who aren’t gay and do not live in Indiana or run bakeries became very worried about laws affecting gay people and bakeries in Indiana. Your particular opinion on the subject is, I’m sure, absolutely the correct one, but that’s beside my point–the point is, it’s highly unlikely that you, the reader of this post, are actually affected by the legislation or even know anyone who is, just because the chances that you live in Indiana and are a baker or are gay are low. Your opinions are basically in support of (or against) someone else–total strangers.

There are three reasons to be skeptical of just about any conversation that hinges heavily on professed interest in the well-being of strangers:

1. Low information: We aren’t there; we aren’t on the ground; we don’t know these people and what they’re really going through. We’re getting our information second or third or more-hand. There is always a good chance that we are completely wrong.

2. No negative impact from being wrong: If I advocate for a water-conservation strategy for California that turns out to be totally wrong, Californians will suffer, not me. If I advocate a bad foreign policy position, foreigners will suffer, not me. If I advocate for laws that harm people or businesses in Indiana, I remain unharmed.

3. People don’t really care about strangers: Most people care deeply about their close friends and family, their pets, and some groups they identify with, like “Harley riders,” “Linux users,” or Muslims. They don’t actually care that much about strangers. The average American, for example, spends more money feeding cats than feeding starving children in Africa.

All of which means that even the best-intentioned people are often completely wrong, and factors other than rationally constructed, reasonably cautious, genuine concern for others tends to motivate us without us even noticing.

The myth of the “Noble Savage” is a fine example. It is generally credited to Rousseau, though probably someone else thought of the idea before he did, but the idea didn’t really gain too much currency while Euros while still busy killing “savages.” Other or not, you’re unlikely to be inclined to romanticize people you’re killing, and some folks–headhunters, cannibals, the Aztecs, King Gezo of the Benin Empire–were actually pretty horrifying. The notion that life in the “state of nature” was “nasty, brutish, and short,” had a lot of merit.

Still, neither Hobbes nor Rousseau (nor Locke) was actually advocating policies meant to affect “savages”; they utilize notions of the primitive “other” to advocate policies for their own societies.

Between lurid tales of head-hunting cannibals and depictions of dire, third-world poverty, it is pretty easy to see how people used these ideas to boost notions of Euro-exceptionalism and justify slavery, colonialism, war, and other horrors.

After WWII, people were justly pretty horrified at Euros and stopped believing Euro culture was all that–noble, enlightened Europeans looked just as bad as everybody else on the planet, except that now some of us were armed with nukes instead of pointy sticks and rocks, which is a pretty worrying situation.

So the savages got re-written. Anthropology, archaeology, linguistics, even commercials urging people not to litter began pushing the new narrative that non-Euros were, to put it plainly, better than Euros. American Indians became spiritual curators of nature; stone-age people became peaceful matriarchists; ethnographies were written portraying hunter-gatherer tribes as bastions of non-violent cooperation.

Many of the new narratives were total, factual nonsense. Indians don’t have an exceptional environmental record (though they did historically lack the tech and density levels to do too much damage.) There was no universal stone-age matriarchy. And most hunter-gatherers actually have pretty high murder rates.

But that’s all beside the point; that was never the point. No one wrote ethnographies about the Bushmen with the intention of somehow affecting the Bushmen (who couldn’t read them, anyway.) The point of all these stories is to change the self; to influence one’s own society to rise to the level of these mythic, noble savages.

This is the purpose of most myths: to instruct people in proper morality and inspire them to behave well. Done well, myths probably aren’t particularly problematic.

There are some problems to watch out for, though:

1. The “other” isn’t actually mythic. They are real people, and claiming total nonsense about them can have real effects on them (good or bad).
2. A mythos of self-hate can do actual harm to yourself/the people you were trying to inspire to be better.
3. I have an irrational affection for honesty.

(I suppose, 4. Saying really incorrect things about other people can make you sound dumb, but this is a minor issue.)

A lot of our tribal signaling (ie, “politics”) is conducted via expressing opinions about the other. Homosexuality, as previously referenced, is a good example of this; gay folks are only about 3% of the population (and gay people who want to get married are an even smaller %,) so most people expressing opinions on the subject don’t actually know that many gay people. If they turn out to be wrong, well, it’s not them and it’s not their friends, so there’s not that much incentive to be correct. But if socially signalling group membership is of direct benefit to the individual (which it generally is,) then people will signal group membership by saying whatever is useful to say about others–and reality be damned.

The Decline of Religion part 4

Upon further reflection, I’ve decided that all of that other stuff (parts 1, 2, and 3) is probably small potatoes and the biggest, most important thing driving the surge in atheism is information technology/mass media bringing people into contact with millions of other people.

Since religious belief is probably driven by some kind of neural feedback loop that basically results in people doing whatever the majority of people around them are doing, if you live in a world where everyone you talk to is Catholic, you’ll probably be Catholic, but if you suddenly switch to a world where you are watching TV and movies and talking to people on FB and Twitter and whatnot and some of them are Catholic and some are Protestant and you can even follow the Dalai Lama’s FB feed, suddenly you aren’t surrounded by Catholics anymore. Now your feedback loops cannot pick out any dominant religion for you to follow, and without the belief-experience feedback loops going on, you start to feel nothing at all.

In other words, all of those crazy Christians who homeschool their kids and refuse to let them watch TV because they don’t want them exposed to the sinful, fallen world are actually correct. Being around godless atheists all day will turn their kids into godless atheists. Except their kids grow up and join the world anyway, so it’s not really a great strategy.

Anyway, back on track: Once upon a time (about 70 years ago,) most people (at home and abroad!) got the vast majority of their functional information about the world from their parents and other members of their immediate community. We call this vertical transmission. With most of the people in a community adhering to a single religion, people were religious.

Since then, the rise of mass media communication has massively increased the amount of information people get horizontally (or laterally.) This brings people into massive numbers of people not from their own communities–thus all meme-plexes that were passed vertically through communities are under intense, novel competition from horizontally passed meme-plexes.

So Ireland, once an overwhelmingly Catholic country that rejected divorce back in 1987, just legalized gay marriage. Why? Because atheism has suddenly completely triumphed in the past 30 years–probably because the Irish started interacting with a bunch of people who weren’t Catholic via the internet.

(Hilariously, though, “Closer to Dublin, British-ruled Northern Ireland has refused to join the rest of the United Kingdom in recognizing same-sex marriage. …the majority right-wing Protestant Democratic Unionist Party, to which he still belongs, voted down same-sex marriage in the Northern Ireland Assembly for the fourth time in three years.

Much of the opposition there is rooted in religious convictions, based in evangelical Protestantism. The Catholic nationalist Sinn Fein party supports gay marriage in Northern Ireland, but has not been able to overcome the opposition.”–from the NY Times.)

Note that this does not mean that the modern meme-plexes (ie, Progressivism,) that are succeeding at horizontal transmission are “better”, more moral, or in humanity’s or your personal self-interest. It means that this particular environment (mass media/information) favors meme-plexes that are optimized for horizontal transmission over meme-plexes that are optimized for vertical transmission, and religion happens to be (in most cases) optimized for vertical transmission.