Dalai Lama: We need ethics beyond religion

Ian Cooley

Global ethics

We’ve all experienced that haunting sensation of dismay in the middle of the grocery store. Do you reach for the bottle of mustard now, or is that elderly woman near enough to notice that the bottle is not…gasp…organic!? Perplexed by a seemingly intractable moral dilemma, to whom do you turn? The philosophers are no help, of course (remember, we’re seeking clarity); the scientists, too cold and mechanical. Before reaching for the trusty assurances of your religion in such matters, however, a recent proposal made by the Dalai Lama may give you reason to reconsider.

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Where does religious doubt come from? The forebrain

Doubt

Connor Wood

You wake up one morning to a phone call. On the other end, a friend’s voice excitedly tells you that he knows where to find a leprechaun’s pot of gold in a nearby park. Do you want to come help him dig for it? If you are a normal person, you will roll your eyes, hang up, and (hopefully) go back to sleep. But according to new research from the University of Iowa, if you have damage to a specific area of your neocortex related to doubt and skepticism, you might jump up and start looking around for your shovel. And guess what – if so, you’re also more likely to be a religious fundamentalist.

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AAP: Health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh risks

Baby boy

Nicholas C. DiDonato

In a time when medical knowledge seems to grow exponentially, suspicion of ancient medical practices seems to grow at nearly the same pace. If an ancient medical practice has religious meaning, then skepticism skyrockets. Many consider male circumcision an obsolete, if not barbaric, practice. Yet, its medical efficacy remains an empirical question, regardless of people’s gut reactions. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has updated their position on circumcision, concluding that it reduces the risk of urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted diseases, and penile cancer.

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A mystery in the history of Anabaptists

Nicholas C. DiDonato

Amish buggy

The attitudes of Anabaptist Christians toward violence have created quite a mystery for historians. On the one hand, some Anabaptists embraced extreme pacifism, renouncing violence altogether (for example, Quakers and Mennonites). On the other hand, some Anabaptist congregations embraced an opposite extreme: violence as a means to overthrow the establishment and create a theocracy. How could a tent seemingly as small as Anabaptism cover such contrasting ideologies?

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Does religion turn people into haters?

Connor Wood

Open mind

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, left a smoking crater in lower Manhattan, it’s been common knowledge that religion divides people. After all, the hijackers who steered jetliners into some of the world’s best-known buildings were hardline Islamists, motivated by a grim theological doctrine of holy war against the West. When taken against the backdrop of history, with its endless Crusades and holy wars, these horrific attacks cast religion as the root cause of human violence and strife. But is this hard-and-fast conclusion really true? A just-published paper suggests that, on the contrary, some religious people are actually less prejudiced against outsiders. [Read more...]

Is religion disappearing?

Jonathan Morgan

Modern_religion

This question fuels a persisting debate at the heart of the sociology of religion. Does modernization lead to secularization? Any answer to this question demands explanation. If modernization causes religiosity to fade, then why? If not, then how are we to understand the seemingly common trend of religious influence diminishing in the wake of modernization? Over the past decades the theory of secularization has fallen to the wayside, but two political scientists, Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel, are amassing a prodigious body of data that brings the debate back to life. With the World Values Survey, they suggest that religion fades not necessarily as a country develops economically, but as a country becomes more existentially secure.

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Education’s effect on religion

Nicholas C. DiDonato

College

Since the beginning of the Enlightenment, academics assumed that as education increases, religion would decrease. Yet, in the late 19th century, the world witnessed the birth of fundamentalism, Biblical inerrancy, and papal infallibility. Despite the great increase in education beginning in the 18th century, religion has not only grown but has become more conservative. Interested in higher education’s real effect on religion, sociologist Jonathan Hill (Calvin College) found that it mildly increases skepticism toward super-empirical beliefs, decreases adherence to exclusivism, and increases preference for institutionalized religion.

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Painful rituals: good for some, not for others

Connor Wood

Painful_ritual

From the somber Catholic high mass to the painful, often frightening initiation rites of many tribal cultures, every human society practices some form of ritual. But the rituals themselves differ radically – in ways that may be predictable across cultures. Namely, new research shows that complex cultures that depend on agriculture tend to have frequent, repeated rituals that are relatively sedate and calm. Smaller cultures with less agriculture, on the other hand, feature rituals that are less frequent but far more emotionally and physically arousing. Ultimately, these trends may give us a vital clue as to how human culture changes over time.

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Orthodox and progressives differ worldwide

Connor Wood

Hindu_woman

From religion blogs to blockbuster academic books, debates and conversations on religion are plentiful in today’s world. But if one digs deeply into the mass-media conversation about religion, something becomes apparent: people are just not understanding each other. Writers and thinkers constantly express bafflement at their ideological opponents’ outlandish views. Pundits seem to talk right past each other. A research paper from the late 1990s may give us a hint as to why – around the world, progressives and the orthodox use completely different language for talking about the right way to live.

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The evolution of atheism

Nicholas C. DiDonato

Atheist_symbol

Typically, when researchers study religion, they find that it brings various benefits to society: cohesion, cooperation, trust, etc. Religion evolved and persisted because of the gains religious cultures reaped. However, these findings implicitly seem to uplift religious people and make a puzzle out of atheists. If atheism (by implication) hurts the fabric of society, why did it evolve? What’s the evolutionary purpose of atheists? Political scientist Dominic Johnson (University of Edinburgh), rather than offering a definitive answer, instead suggests no less than ten possible hypotheses. [Read more...]


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