Yes, fundamentalism is religion. And it starts wars.

Connor Wood

U.S. marine hiding from explosion

There’s a saying: no true Scotsman would ever drink Irish whiskey. Or move to London. Or put sugar on his porridge. But this saying’s not actually about Scottish people. It’s about our own willingness to play with our categories, stretching them to fit our prejudices. For example, if you claimed that “no religious believer would start a war,” current events – particularly the ISIS assault on Iraq, which has claimed thousands of lives and threatens to extinguish entire cultures – would prove you wrong. So you might backpedal: “Well, no true religious believer would start a war.” But this would be a fallacy. What’s going on in Iraq has everything to do with real religion. Fundamentalism is a real piece of the religious puzzle – and a surprisingly fragile one.

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Russell Brand is wrong about Western religions

Living tree

Connor Wood

Are you worried about the environment? I am. So is the British comedian Russell Brand, who’s been all over the internet, television, and magazines recently, proclaiming the need for the world’s people to revolt against an entrenched economic system that’s despoiling the planet and keeping billions in poverty. I share Brand’s abject horror at the ravenous destruction of the earth’s ecosystems (and I rather envy his wardrobe). But I think he’s off base when it comes to how to change our ways. Turning our backs on our religions and traditions, as Brand urges, isn’t going to fix our looming global problems. This is because traditions, as stultifying as they might seem, are humanity’s best tools for forging links between cultures, environments, and time.

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Over generations, religion shapes genetics

Connor Wood

In the United States, religion is usually said to be a personal affair – one’s own private decision about how and what to believe. But this remarkably private and individualistic approach is somewhat odd when compared with the vast majority of cultures and religions throughout history. Far more often, religion has been a public affiliation, determining cultural identities, affecting marriage and family choices, and defining groups in relation to each other. A fascinating recent study published in PLOS Genetics shows just how inextricable religion often is from culture, finding that religious identity has decisively shaped the genetic landscape of the Levant – so decisively, in fact, that Lebanese Muslims are more closely related to fellow Muslims from Morocco or Yemen than they are to their Christian or Jewish compatriots.

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Darwinism: It’s true. But it ain’t pretty

Connor Wood

Dangerous lionFor the scientifically literate, few things are as confusing as the persistent, even rabid refusal of millions of Americans to accept the theory of evolution by natural selection. How, the science-minded want to know, can these blubbering know-nothings ignore the vast body of evidence that supports Darwinism? How is it possible for them to trust a millennia-old Hebraic tribal legend over the hardworking efforts of countless brilliant scientists? Are they simply that stupid? The viscerally satisfying answer to that last question might be “yes.” But as a researcher, I believe the reality is far more complicated.

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Religion and personality

Nicholas C. DiDonato

religious_personality

Envision the typical religious believer. What personality traits come to mind? For some people, religious people epitomize ignorance, intolerance, and stubbornness; for others, they personify love, grace, and forgiveness. Of course, simply asking how people perceive a certain group in no way indicates whether they accurately perceived said group. An empirical approach is needed. Taking up this challenge, psychologist Vassilis Sarogloul (Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium) argues that the fundamental personality characteristics of the religious, regardless of culture, are Agreeableness and Conscientiousness. [Read more...]


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