New Age America

A Pew Forum survey provides a very mixed picture of the US religious landscape. As with most human populations, Americans are besotted with supernatural beliefs. But the current picture is also one that would make a conventional monotheist uncomfortable. Increasing numbers of Americans hold a mishmash of spiritual beliefs. More and more, a hybrid, almost Newagey kind of faith seems to be the background belief system, rather than a doctrinally clear(ish) monotheistic picture.To some extent, this … [Read more...]

The millet system

I'm used to nostalgia for the Ottoman Empire in Turkey, particularly among religious and conservative circles. Nationalists like the "Turks carrying forth the banner of Islam" bit; the religious like to think of the Empire as a time when Islam was properly dominant.The funny thing is, I run into praise for the Ottoman Empire's "millet system," in which subjects of the Empire were organized into semi-autonomous religious communities, from some unlikely quarters as well. Recently I was reading … [Read more...]

Homo stupidus

There is something vaguely stupid about religion. This doesn't mean that it is irrational to be religious—I suspect that sometimes it can be rational to adopt even grossly stupid, fundamentalist beliefs. Nonetheless, from asserting the literal truth of ancient myths to driveling about how liberally interpreted myths still lead us to deep and ineffable truths about supernatural realms, there is something about religion that I can't help but think insults my intelligence.Still, I also have to … [Read more...]

Religion and social dysfunction

Gregory Paul's paper "The Chronic Dependence of Popular Religiosity upon Dysfunctional Psychosociological Conditions" is available online. Among its conclusions:all hypotheses that religious belief and practice are the normal, deeply set human mental state that is highly resistant to conversion to nontheism are unverified. Instead popular religion is in the main a superficial psychological response that seeks the daily aid and protection of supernatural entities to alleviate the stress and … [Read more...]

Is atheism like nudism?

I've been playing around with this analogy, but one of Keith Parsons's latest comments made me want to think out loud about it. Could someone defending a privileged social and legal position for religion make an analogy between atheism and nudism, and justify a limited regime of tolerance of nonbelief, excluding it from the common public sphere?Culturally, especially in conservative places such as the United States and Islamic countries, nudity is considered to be morally dubious in general, … [Read more...]

Bad news for agnostics?

While past studies have shown religious believers to be happier than nonbelievers, some new analysis shows that it's not quite so simple. Luke Galen has found that the convinced non-religious are also quite happy, but people who are uncertain are the ones who are dissatisfied. Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn has analyzed data from the World Values Survey and found some more interesting details:Religious people are both happier and unhappier. While a higher percentage of religious people report themselves … [Read more...]

The Moral Fool

Here's a nice little book I just laid my hands on: The Moral Fool: A Case for Amorality by Hans-Georg Moeller.Both our religious and philosophical traditions push us toward a notion of Morality—with a capital M. There have to be Moral Truths that are objective, absolute, binding, categorical, etc. etc. We think there is a way Things Ought To Be, independent of particular interests. A chief source of employment for our Gods is to be an Authority that underwrites Morality. And a chief source … [Read more...]

Blasphemy again

Derek C. Araujo points out that Pakistan is using the definition of blasphemy used in the recent Irish law as part of the concerted Islamic effort to get the UN to urge member states to prevent defamation of religion.Now, let me make a not-so-wild guess and predict that in the medium term, we should expect free speech to become more curtailed where criticism of religion is concerned. Conservative religious groups are strong, organized, and determined to remove offense to their sensibilities from … [Read more...]


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