Tuesday, January 17, 2012


MLK: Always Saying the Best Stuff

"Science keeps religion from sinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism. Religion prevents science from falling into the marsh of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism."

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Scientific materialism: despised and misunderstood since time immemorial :(


@Emby Which, according to QI, was June 6, 1159, because someone somewhere decided to re-set legal time to that date, during the reign of King Richard I.

And this, I learned on QI episodes from Youtube.

Also, I would say King understands religion pretty well. And also sounds like a Liberation Theologian to me:

In spite of the noble affirmations of Christianity, the church has often lagged in its concern for social justice and too often has been content to mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. It has often been so absorbed in a future good 'over yonder' that it forgets the present evils 'down here.'


@Emby I really wish there were a better way to get QI in the States. Stephen Fry is the boss.


@PistolPackinMama I agree with his stance on religion. I think he's got it pretty well figured out. I quibble with his opinion of science.

'Course, you can't separate out science from scientists, and scientists themselves have a pretty spotty history. So there is plenty of context and history to consider here. But still, science as an enterprise and philosophy has no need for religion, and thus I quibble.


@Emby Quibble on, dear lad. Quibble on!


@Emby +1 to your quibble. Science doesn't need religion. But lapsed Catholic, agnostic (maybe taoist?) me thinks that every person, scientists included, need some sort of faith and spirituality, whether or not it lives in a church. Because there are a lot of things that science not only does not explain, but cannot and should not explain. Subjective experiences are not what science is actually for, and when it delves too far down that road, it is No Good.


If someone's prone to moral nihilism or outrageous bad acts, religion generally has something on offer with which to cover their asses.


@wharrgarbl So does economics, evolutionary biology, physical and cultural anthropology, philosophy, and history. So I don't think the fact that religion helps justify badness does much to explain religion or distinguish it from any other human-created institution.

I think religious belief and unbelief don't indicate much about if someone will be a good person or a bad person. I do think religious belief or unbelief will tell you a lot about how they will be a good person or a bad person.


@PistolPackinMama I don't really buy that, insofar as we've had many periods of near 100% religiosity without seeing much difference in overall human behavior. The main divergence seems to be that religion provides more cover for people to do bad while cloaking themselves in good and more impetus for people not ordinarily inclined to behave badly to do so "for the good of the soul" or a similar excuse.

I'm not surprised that Rev. King would expect religion to provide a moral center to the universe--he clearly took his faith seriously and felt it very deeply. But I do not entirely agree with the statement quoted above.


@wharrgarbl And so does atheism, come to think of it.


@wharrgarbl I don't particularly agree with the statement he made either, at least in the sense that it's not a universal law, it's a context bound thing, mostly rooted in the person rather than the institutions.

I absolutely maintain you could swap out "religion" and "economics" in your "main divergence" statement and then "for the good of a rational and efficient" in place of "for the good of the soul" and end up in exactly the same place.

I also think for a lot of reasons that generally, our "religion is the excuse people use etc etc" is understandably but problematically ethnocentric.

It doesn't help me understand the place of religion in the world if it just stops there.


@PistolPackinMama I also know some people who use atheism as the excuse to ignore other's subjective experiences. As in, that person has some form of faith, therefore everything that person says and thinks is stupid, as they are not rational beings. These people are often some of the most dogmatic and irrational people I have met. And basically, if some white, rich, cis, straight dude tells me how to think, I'm going to resent it, whether they are telling me because god told them to, or 'science' and 'rational thought' did.


.2% of the US prison population are atheist. Just saying.


@bowerbird They're also disproportionately minorities, men, mentally ill, poor, illiterate, and under-educated.

Just... sayin'...?

I am not going to trust the causation implied here, on account of all the other correlations we can identify.

Also, the American Indian Movement, which had political, cultural, and religious components really got on its feet in the maximum security prison in Stillwater Minnesota, where sweat lodge and Native spiritualities were and still are very, very important.

By and large, I don't tend to see AIM as a bad thing.


@bowerbird I just can't stand any implication that society needs religions moral framework or everything will go to shit. I feel like this statistic demonstrates that nicely. If we needed religion to be good people, wouldn't you expect atheists to be over-represented rather than under-represented.


@PistolPackinMama Was it an implied causation? Don't think they mean to say religion causes crimes. I thought it was a more of a "Since when does religion improve your moral fiber?"

Also, I don't at all understand your point about belief showing 'how' people are good. What does that mean? In my view, there is only one way to be a good person - by doing good things (although it is never as simple or as clear as that). I don't think it changes 'how' you are good if you hear about volunteering at the soup kitchen through your church or through your neighbor. And I don't believe going to church, being a missionary, or praying makes you a good person. So what do religious people do differently that is 'good' from how non-religious people practice 'goodness'?

I don't hate or dislike religion at all. But I do tend to bristle at comments that make it seem like religion has something more or something better than science does. Neither are perfect, but science at least encourages questioning, examining, proving, and believing in your own understanding and knowledge. If there WAS a reason religion caused crimes, it is because a system that tells you to do things without questioning their usefulness, and believe absolutely in another's rightness and power, is easily exploited. I think it is obvious that whatever faults either has are born from the exact same well of human failings.


@bowerbird There's also the sticking point of which religion's moral framework is supposed to impart the much-needed and else-absent morality.

I mean, so long as we're bringing Native Americans into the discussion anyway, their religious traditions being absolutely excluded from the legal definition of "religion" until the 1920s and selectively excluded since then are an excellent illustration of how often our statements of "you must have religion to be moral" mean "you must be Christian to be moral." It's a much more difficult argument to make when you're encompassing the whole range of spiritualities and religions that humans have developed, many of which current American religious practitioners would be loathe to recognize as religions.


@Marzipan I have to go do some work, so I can't keep up with this conversation all day, unfortunately.


I am not in any way saying religion is "better" at making people full of moral fiber any more than I think humanism is "better" at it.

I am just saying I think it's grossly oversimplifying religion to say it's "worse" at providing people with a framework for being moral.

And there are parts of various religious traditions that encourage and demand questioning, exploration, and challenge of everything, including faith. I strongly disagree that those parts of a tradition are less valuable or important or truly part of religion than the bad oppressive stuff.

Especially since I am a big fan of science/reason/the enlightenment (hello there, insulin!), but am not about to let the institution of science/scientists off the hook for allowing for the justification of gross human rights violations.

It's fine- in fact necessary- to be critical of religion. It's so important. But I am getting really discouraged by the broadly dismissive "religion-- you're stupid if it's the way you achieve your goodness we don't need it" in common discourse. We also don't NOT need it.

It's not that we "need" it. It's that we do have it, and some people use it, and so why does "need" matter? It is, it will continue to be, and it will be both a benefit and a detriment to societies. You don't have to need it for it not to be a vestigal institution.

Also, my point about prisoners is... I would say that statistic deployed in this way bothers me because I think it's walking dangerously close to discriminatory assumptions.

What I think it's telling me more than religiosity =/= something about criminality, is. People who have a religious background, in America, are also more likely to be minorities, poor, and less educated than atheists.

And that we institutionalize poor, minorities, under-educated Americans more than any other is a big, big problem, because that's not ONLY about the moral fiber of criminals. It's about the institutional discrimination and structural violence of our criminal justice system in the US.

I work at a Catholic institution where some staff have been accused of sex abuse crimes of minors (quelle surprise) AND others work with Rigoberta Menchu in Guatemala and do stuff like get arrested for protesting the School of the Americas and the state putting nuclear waste dumps on Minnesota tribal land.

And since one of the heroes of the new atheism is Richard Dawkins, who is not a picture of gender equity and has a questionable grasp on the impact of Western imperialism on non-Western peoples, including their religions (hello there American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, the law by which many many rights of Native peoples are being asserted in the USA today), I'd say the same is true of secularism and it's good-bad capacity.

Which suggests that institutions provide structures to be many things, good and bad, in minor and extreme ways.

I should end by saying I have absolutely no dog in the race of religion v. non-religion in the sense that I don't go to church, really. Or care whether not god exists at all, in the least tiny bit.


@PistolPackinMama Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. I agree fully with everything you said here.

I'm not currently a practicing Catholic, but I was raised in that framework (oh hey Ireland) and many members of my immediate family are still practicing Catholics. Among these people are some of the most intelligent, educated, compassionate, altruistic people that I know, people who are committed to human rights activism, people who are feminists and pro-gay rights, and who have resolved all these issues within the spiritual and moral framework provided by Catholicism. When I hear people tarnishing all religious people as simple, close-minded bigots, it irritates me because it is simply not true. I know plenty of bigots, some are religious, some are not.

One reason I dislike Dawkins and his acolytes so much is that his brand of atheism is (paradoxically) anti-intellectual. They don't understand theology and they don't understand that not all religion = fundamentalist religion.


Dawkins may be a brilliant biologist (I can't tell, not being a biologist, but I hope he is, since people seem to think he is). But homeboy is a *terrible* anthropologist and ethnologist.

Also, "moral fiber" makes me think of ethics as some kind of cosmic Grape Nuts cereal.


@bowerbird atheists are disproportionately wealthy, white and highly educated. i think the risk factors for incarceration are not religion-based. correlation=/=causation.


@Decca YES. I grew up Irish Catholic (Australian Irish Catholic?) and while I still cannot stand the Church, the little-c church is often amazing and beautiful. I share your dislike of Dawkins et al. I find their dismissive and angry stance to be extremely offputting. And having hung out with some very smart theologians and people of faith, I can say that he's way off base with his attacks. I can't disagree with his dislike of fundamentalism, but... glasshouses, Richard. Glass houses. Basically, his refusal to admit that people have complicated beliefs for complicated reasons, and that while you can be good without go you can also be good WITH god, make me ragey.


Ranger Brad, I'm a scientist, I don't believe in anything.


@remargaret Say what you will about the tenets of National Socialism, at least it's an ethos.


Either that, or science fails to keep religion from sinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism, and religion fails to prevent science from falling into the marsh of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism.


[adjective] + [-ism] mad libs.


Science keeps Religion from wearing those wrap dresses that Religion thinks looks really good on it but actually don't.


Religion keeps Science from starting fights at dinner parties. "Isn't this lamb shank the most, everybody?"


Science keeps Religion from going off the split-beat count. "No, it's five-six-seven-eight, kick ball change, grapevine grapevine, then jazz box."


Religion tactfully keeps Science from shoplifting. "Science? You still have that watch in your purse, I think. Were you going to buy it or do you want me to put it back?"


Science keeps Religion from getting too rough with perps. "I wanna know where you hid the bodies and I want to know now, you sick fuck."


@melis Aaaaaaaaaand I just choked on my lunch, so I'm guessing you come down on the amoral, nihilistic, everybody-choke-on-some-cabbage side of the equation.


@melis Oh you.


Science helps release religion's tensions by providing excellent backrubs.

Barry Grant

"Science helps release religion's tensions by providing excellent backrubs."
Wiiiiiiith a happy ending.


@Barry Grant I should hope so!


@Barry Grant We need more data points on that for it to be statistically significant.


Evelyn Waugh was once asked about reconciling his religious beliefs with his own personal nastiness. He replied, "Madam, I may be all the things you say. But believe me, were it not for my religion, I would scarcely be a human being."

People will use the shield of any ideology - whether it be religious, political, whatever - to justify heinous acts. Religion has been responsible for some of the most disgusting human rights violations in human history. But so have Soviet Communism, Fascism, Nazism, eugenics theory, etc.


@Decca That said, I will blame Catholicism now and forever for ruining the second half of Brideshead Revisited.


HERE IS HOW IT SHOULD HAVE ENDED, for those of you playing at home: Sebastian and Charles turn Brideshead into a charming B&B and rustic retreat for the Bright Young Things of postwar England (do you see what I did there).

Julia dies or whatever from bullets or drowning.

Decades later, a little television show known as Downton Abbey uses Brideshead as its main filming location. An aged Charles and Sebastian spend many a pleasant afternoon sitting under the trees on the Front Lawn, sharing a blanket and holding hands as they watch the film crew set up. "God, I hate Edith so fucking much," Sebastian remarks as he sips his tea, which is primarily whiskey.

"More than Thomas, my little crumpet?" Charles asks, surprised.

"More than Thomas."


This has been Homorevisionist Literary History with TV Crossovers.


So true. Everybody talks about the Problem of Evil and forgets the Problem of Late Waugh.


@Tulletilsynet Right? I want to hand him a copy of Maurice and be like, Look, if Forster can do it, you can too.


TL;DR: Jerry Falwell acts in the name of God, but so does my grandmother and Al Green. Marine biologists act in the name of science, but so did Adolf Eichmann. What matters isn't the banner, but the person standing underneath waving the stick.

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