god might be making a comeback- but not religious institutions, wooden imagination, the biggest cause of personal bankruptcies

In this interview with Caspar Melville, author of God is Back: How the Revival of Religion is Changing the World, for now at least I’ll take me at his word that studies/polls etc support his thesis that religion is on the rise rather then suffering a general world decline.

The challenge is threefold. First in line is the secularisation thesis, the argument that religion simply fades away as a natural consequence of modernisation. Not true, argue Micklethwait and Wooldridge. Modernity doesn’t usher in secularisation, it actively promotes religious pluralism. They then train their sights on the equally popular notion that religion contaminates all those who subscribe to its bogus myths and stories. Not true, argue Micklethwait and Wooldridge. Religion brings out both the best and worst in man, and secularists need to come to terms with the positive role religions have played in providing meaningful care and support for the oppressed as well as in the nurturing of aspirations for political freedom from Poland to Burma to El Salvador.

I don’t have a problem with that thesis in general. It might more semantics then substance. The positive accomplishments of those individuals and movements ( civil rights, women’s suffrage) have come about not because of the secularization of religion, but the liberalization of religion. The first, using Occam’s razor is about making individual denominations more humanistic – a phenomenon that has been occurring since Galileo, among others,  discovered sun does not revolve around the earth. The holy writ as it were was shoved aside, not because of some doctrinal dispute, but because secular methods of inquiry proved the words written in a book that was said to be infallible, were utterly wrong. Not marginally wrong or leaving a small amount of wiggle room for debate, the Bible, said to be an all powerful, all knowing deity’s final word, said we lived in a geocentric universe. The Christian Bible says that it is permissible to own other people as servants – even temporary slavery is slavery, but the concept not only had the Christian God’s blessing, but there were lots of small contractual details that went with the practice. Most of Europe had rejected  rejected slavery and biblical justifications for it long before America’s Civil War. Rational people chose liberalism over infallible writ. We as a nation did not simply end slavery, we declared that a rationally informed humanism was morally superior to the omniscient word of mankind’s creator. That obviously did not mean that many people stopped believing in a divine and powerful deity. Only that deity became fallible, he/she/it could be over ruled by humanity and be better for it, in addition to the increasing body of empirical knowledge about how the physical universe worked and the best moral guidelines for acting in that universe. We as a nation became like the the liberal democracy the founders put in writing, even if they did not adhere to the rules themselves. Despite a few couple thousand years of religious wars, scientific advancement and new philosophical insights most of humanity still believed that some supernatural or inscrutable power created the world and mankind.

Why Casper or the Economists finds the phenomenon of increased secularization or liberalism not diminishing mankind’s need or strong desire to believe in something larger then themselves is what is more deserving of a book. They (the Economist editors especially) go on to discuss the problems with fundamentalism.Islamic in particular, but show a stunning display of ignorance regarding the obstinacy, the incendiary and provocative language and actions of America’s fundamentalists- they ignore Leo Strauss altogether . They do manage to notice that we’re a relatively peaceful country and even in a depression, one of the world’s wealthiest, because, well, we don’t let religion  get in the way of making money – like laws against predatory lending and biblical warnings about usury. There are reasons that so many monotheists around the world continue to hold so many opposing thoughts about religion and how they live their lives. Clinging to that supreme deity is both personal and because so many Americans and residents of the Middle-East continue to do so, a sociological trend. Without a deity, different then living without belonging to an organized religion, people have to deal with a world that can range from dark and threatening to unfair and unjust. By the time a person reaches adulthood the realization sets in that most injustices, real or imagined will not be addressed by the church or synagogue or mosque in this lifetime. Everyone around them individually and the institutions, religious or secular are morally compromised. Pop culture, especially movies and novels are the only places we’re likely to find nice neat resolutions to problems that range from marriage problems to child rearing to war to punishing criminals. In real life we get, if we’re lucky, something that approaches closure – Bush didn’t go on trial for lying the nation into disastrously counter productive war, but he made his ideas and party irrelevant for the next few decades. Still, small consolation for the hundreds of thousands that have been killed or maimed or have lost those dearest to them. Maybe there isn’t a literal guy in a long grey bread and flowing white robe a la the Sistine Chapel that will sort out justice later, but maybe there is some force beyond this  life that will. During hurricane Katrina, the secular institutions failed, but so did traditional organized religion. That didn’t stop people, desperate, stranded on roof tops and huddling together in their attics from begging God to help them. It made what seemed like what might be the last moments of their life bearable. Some kind of god or vision of the force that caused the Big Bang like the monoliths in 2010, will last because despite the 24/7 barrage of religious messages or promises that gov’mint will get better at handling our worse crisis, many people see themselves alone in a crowd. The almost weekly murder of a spouse by their spouse, a child by their parent, a random citizen the victim of the next psycho makes us wonder if we can count on anyone. We’re not a nation of pessimists or optimists, we oscillate between the two, cultural energy and matter at the same time. We wonder about virtue because its not only inconsistent, leaders around the world try and redefine it all the time. That has a positive aspect when it brings about liberalizing change, but it also causes fear, which in turn causes anger. Causing some people to cling even more tenaciously to dogma for reassurance and willing to murder to defend it. Melville’s view is nice for those that want to be reassured, he seems right about some things, and there is some evidence to support his future predictions, but ultimately he is just too pollyannish about how painful transitions are from entrenched dogma to liberalism. At some point, other then building multi-million dollar mega-churches with bowling allies, modern totems of the egos of people like James Dobson, people are likely to see that their god might not be disposable, but their organized religion is.

wooden imagination

Medical bills underlie 60 percent of U.S. bankruptcies: study

Medical bills are behind more than 60 percent of U.S. personal bankruptcies, U.S. researchers reported Thursday in a report they said demonstrates that healthcare reform is on the wrong track.

More than 75 percent of these bankrupt families had health insurance but still were overwhelmed by their medical debts, the team at Harvard Law School, Harvard Medical School and Ohio University reported in the American Journal of Medicine.

“Unless you’re Warren Buffett, your family is just one serious illness away from bankruptcy,” Harvard’s Dr. David Himmelstein, an advocate for a single-payer health insurance program for the United States, said in a statement.

“For middle-class Americans, health insurance offers little protection,” he added.

As of today anway I don’t think the promised health-care overhaul even includes a public health option.

antiqued treasure island