Biden Administration

The Biden Inauguration and Civil Religion

The Rise of the Religious Left?

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Last month's presidential inauguration was quite unprecedented in some ways, but in others it was quite traditional. Consider, for example, the religious imagery that pervaded the day–in the Mass the President and other administration officials attended before the ceremony, in President Biden's address itself, in the remarks of other speakers. Civil religion, the body of religious symbols that unite a nation and add solemnity to public occasions, seems alive and well in our country, if last month's ceremony is any evidence.

In America, we tend to associate civil religion with conservatives and the Republican Party. But President Biden is a Democrat and, broadly speaking, a man of the progressive left–and the progressive left usually feels quite uncomfortable with the sort of religious displays that characterized the Biden inauguration. How to explain those displays, then? In our new Legal Spirits podcast, my colleague Marc DeGirolami and I explore the religious imagery at the Biden inauguration and reflect on what it suggests about contemporary American politics, particularly about the rise of what some commentators call the "Religious Left." Have a listen!

NEXT: Testifying before House Judiciary Committee on the Pardon Power

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  1. Which religion do the fences, barbed wire, and armed troops represent?
    Which religion does abortion represent?

    1. “Which religion does abortion represent?”

      Moloch.

      Biden is reversing the alleged appropriation of Roman pagan practices by early Christians.

      1. What’s funny, is in the John Podesta emails, aside from the “spirit cooking” there is at least one actual email talking about making an animal sacrifices to Moloch to achieve good luck or to thank Moloch for such. Not sure how much of that was just joking.

        1. Neat. Link? Clearly there’s joking, and just as clearly there is a lot of taking it seriously, and also a lot of hucksterism. But they really do worship evil, and some think they are tapping into something like Epstein with his island temple.

          1. Check out this email, number 30489, from the WikiLeaks archive: https://wikileaks.org/clinton-emails/emailid/30489

    2. The progressive religion. They know better than you what’s good. Hence the barbed wire and troops and censorship and blacklisting and vindictive show trials: if you ever get the idea that they don’t always know best, they have a (figurative, for the moment) gulag waiting for you.

      1. This is nonsense (but standard for “religious liberty” advocates). The Right doesn’t have a monopoly on religion, and thank God for that.

        For four years, Trump gave The Religious White® carte blanche to do their worst to our First Freedom — the Establishment Clause, the religious liberty of not having tyrants legislate their religious beliefs, making slaves of who are meant to be a Sovereign People.

        For good reason, the Right’s heroes are the Pilgrims and Puritans, who sailed an ocean blue for “religious liberty” — FOR THEMSELVES. Advocating for religious liberty must mean that evangelical Christianity (or more explicitly “God’s law”) does not have primacy.
        “A government cannot be premised on the idea that all persons are created equal when it asserts God prefers some. ” – Justice Harry Blackmun

    3. “Which religion do the fences, barbed wire, and armed troops represent?”

      I assume this is in reference to the Capital security. But, it could also be a reference to the war in Iraq or Afghanistan or immigration detention, or any number of other things involving force that conservative religious people have supported over the years.

  2. It is Republicans who have encouraged the notion that they have a monopoly on (authorized, valid) religion, of course. And it has always been bullshit.

    The politicized religious right is the one in decline, having shot its wad with Donnie. The young increasingly see it for what it is – an authoritarian control structure with increasingly consumerist self-help on top.

  3. What the left is uncomfortable with is religion appropriating government for its own purposes (and, for that matter, vice versa). Democrats are privately just as religious as Republicans.

    1. What the left finds uncomfortable about religion is that it presumes that not everything is the government’s. That there are rights of conscience the government isn’t entitled to override.

      It’s one of the few forces in society that is capable of motivating people to refuse the government’s orders on a large scale.

      The left is only comfortable with religion that it has already taken over, and knows will not oppose it.

      1. “The left” is not a monolith and perhaps upon reflection we should not pretend that everyone who is part of the left believes the same things or has the same feelings about religion as everyone else in the left. That said:

        Brett, “the left” agrees with you that not everything is the government’s. This includes ability of women to make their own reproductive decisions (including abortion), the ability of gays to decide for themselves whom they wish to marry, the right to be secure in one’s own home from government intrusion, etc. I would go so far as to say that probably *everybody* agrees that some, maybe even much, is outside the government’s purview. We just don’t agree with you on the specific details of what is and what isn’t, and it’s frankly disingenuous to represent conservatives as being pro-freedom when you can be just as totalitarian as the left depending on the issue. So please stop already with the nonsense that this is a dispute between defenders of freedom and defenders of big gummint.

        And the issue with religious freedom is, as with most issues, a question of line drawing. If your religion says you shouldn’t drink chocolate milk, then nobody should force you to. If your religion says you should hijack a plane and fly it into the World Trade Center, then you can go straight to hell and take your religion with you. In between those two extremes is an awful lot of gray. And many of us on the left agree with you that religious freedom deserves protection; we just don’t always agree on where that line gets drawn.

        1. “The left” is not a monolith and perhaps upon reflection we should not pretend that everyone who is part of the left believes the same things or has the same feelings about religion as everyone else in the left.

          The beginning of your immediately previous post:

          What the left is uncomfortable with is…

          The beginning of the paragraph immediately following your admonishment:

          Brett, “the left” agrees with you that…

          1. Responding to someone’s characterization of “the left” is not the same thing as objectively agreeing that their characterization is accurate.

            1. Uh…you seem to have missed the obvious point. It wasn’t about the characterization itself, but about referring to “the left” as though it were a monolith of beliefs.

              1. No, Brett’s opening sentence was “the left . . .” In my first comment, I responded to his characterization without pointing out the flaw that the left isn’t a monolith; in the second I clarified. I probably could have been a bit more clear, but if that’s really the best you can do for a criticism, great.

                1. I responded to his characterization without pointing out the flaw that the left isn’t a monolith;

                  You didn’t just not point out the flaw in the practice, you employed it yourself.

                  in the second I clarified.

                  And then proceeded to continue employing the same generalization.

                  1. Like I said, if that’s the only criticism you can come up with, great. I accept your concession that there was nothing in the substance of what I said that’s objectionable.

                    1. So now your claim is that your argument…

                      “The left” is not a monolith and perhaps upon reflection we should not pretend that everyone who is part of the left believes the same things or has the same feelings about religion as everyone else in the left.

                      …was a not a substantive one?

      2. I’m on the left. What I find uncomfortable about religion is that it is a bunch of superstitions with no basis in reality that often encourages people to behave in immoral ways towards others. It claims a monopoly on morality based on the unfalsifiable belief that a supernatural being sets those rules. Those rules just so happen to permit people to behave without regard to others. Since God always must come first, and can be used to justify anything and everything, no one has to ever consider others in their actions. That’s a problem.

        Also the general hypocrisy of the religious, and the picking and choosing among doctrines. Catholics are the worst at this. They’ll harp on abortion and LGBT issues but completely ignore every other social teaching or vise versa. Pick a lane. It’s among the reasons I am no longer Catholic. (Other reasons include that the Bible is a contradictory mess with a monster as its hero.)

        Nothing to do with government.

        1. “behave without regard to others”

          You do not know anything about religion if you think this is an accurate statement.

          1. Bob, some of us have had enough actual experience with religion to know that he’s telling the truth.

            1. Do you mean religions such as Nazism, Mussoliniesque fascism communism, Comte progressivism?

              1. You left out secular humanism.
                I have to say, this argument is as stupid as it gets.
                Last month, some bigot in North Dakota’s Legislature introduced a bill that defined hetero marriage as secular because the official policy of the state is that it promotes one-penis-one-vagina marriage.
                Same-sex marriage, however, is a religious ceremony for those who have committed their lives to religion of secular humanism.
                Not only is this just another swipe at gay people (letting us know we’re just one mob [or activist Supreme Court justice] away from Poland or Hungary), it’s unconstitutional and repeats the some dimwitted notion that gays don’t have religious beliefs.

          2. Well I went to Catholic School for 9 years, was an altar server, and then took several classes in college about Church history as well as doing a deep dive into the historiography of the Inquisition as a global phenomenon for a seminar, so I’d like to think I know a little something about it. And the thing I came to the conclusion was: saying God wants me to do it lets you off the hook for a wide variety of depraved acts.

            1. The left does depraved acts without God’s involvement.

              1. So maybe God is just an excuse by depraved people who happen to be religious to do what they were going to do anyway.

              2. Okay. What’s your point? They cut out a fictional middleman?

        2. @What I find uncomfortable about religion is that it is a bunch of superstitions with no basis in reality”

          Prove it. Otherwise it’s just opinion.

          1. You want me to prove that there is no such thing as a sky Santa Claus who decides who is naughty or nice for all eternity?

            1. You assert there is “no basis in reality” to any religion.

              Prove the assertion.

              Otherwise its merely an uninformed opinion, like Jerry said.

              1. Okay.

                Every religious text lacks a strong empirical basis. The historical events described therein lack a strong archaeological or textual evidence. The miraculous events recounted have never been repeated despite the assertion that the diety cares for us. Also miraculous events only apply to things you can’t see: limbs don’t regrow and buildings don’t reconstitute themselves; apparently miraculousness has physical limits, despite the existence of omnipotent dieties.

  4. “How to explain those displays, then? ”

    The Devil quotes Scripture for his purposes.

    1. Yup, acting under the guise of so-called Christian conservatives, he certainly has.

      1. Its not “Christian conservatives” who support the murder of a million unborn children each year.

        1. I don’t think anyone supports the “murder of a million unborn children”; we don’t agree with you that they’re unborn children, so please stop trying to win the argument by redefining things.

          That said, there is much in the creed of modern religious conservatism that would chill the heart of a hyena. Separating children from their parents at the border, executing the retarded and the mentally ill, turning a blind eye to mass shootings because Second Amendment, voter suppression. And yeah, you can find plenty of objectionable things done by leftists too, but leftists don’t wrap themselves in the cloak of religion and claim that God put them up to it.

          1. “we don’t agree with you that they’re unborn children

            What are they?

            “so please stop trying to win the argument by redefining things.”

            Why? Encroaching on a leftist copyright?

            Dude, that is what the left does everyday.

            1. An acorn is not an oak tree, and a fetus is not a child. Left to itself it may eventually turn into a child, but until it’s born, it’s a fetus.

              1. I think the real question isn’t so much the philosophical question of when life begins, but what level of force is a person willing to engage in to make sure a child is born, or to punish non-births?

                Would you shackle a 13 year old rape pregnant victim to a bed for several months for instance? Permit a mother to die from an ectopic pregnancy or attempt a magical “reimplantation” against her will? Do miscarriages create probable cause for murder permitting the police to detain anyone who has one? Do you force women to have pregnancy tests regularly? Detain them at the airport if positive in case they are pregnant so they don’t get an abortion in another country?

                1. I think the real question isn’t so much the philosophical question of when life begins

                  Except that the question you’re positing as the “real” one is utterly meaningless without first addressing the one that you’re trying to hand-wave away due to its inconvenience.

                  1. Not necessarily. One could take the position that personhood begins at conception and also take the position that one person does not have the right to the use of another person’s body for nine months without their consent.

                    1. Love to see the overlap between people who think deadly force is justified to defend property, even something trivial, but think that it is not okay for a rape victim to terminate the pregnancy. Bet that Venn diagram is almost circle.

                    2. Love to see the overlap between people who think deadly force is justified to defend property, even something trivial, but think that it is not okay for a rape victim to terminate the pregnancy. Bet that Venn diagram is almost circle.

                      The only thing more abysmal than your simple-minded comparison of those two things is your sad attempt at a strawman argument.

                    3. Not necessarily. One could take the position…

                      Saying that one could take a position is not an argument in favor of it.

                      …that personhood begins at conception and also take the position that one person does not have the right to the use of another person’s body for nine months without their consent.

                      Even ignoring the silliness of your characterization of pregnancy as an unborn child/fetus/whateveryouwanttocallit using another person’s body for nine months without their consent…you just made my point for me. Both your talk of the unborn entity in question having or not having specific “rights” and what LTG thinks is “the real question” are predicated on that entity being someone capable of having rights to begin with (including the right to life).

                    4. How is it simple-minded? If you think you can kill in defense of property, but you don’t think you can kill to avoid a major traumatic experience that would be remarkably inconsistent.

                    5. I didn’t say that was my position; I said that one could take that position and it would be consistent with both being pro-abortion rights and also believing the fetus is a person.

                      And not having rights doesn’t translate into personhood. If it’s not a person, that explains why it doesn’t have rights.

                    6. How is it simple-minded? If you think you can kill in defense of property, but you don’t think you can kill to avoid a major traumatic experience that would be remarkably inconsistent.

                      I see you’re ignoring the fact that you’re engaging in strawman argumentation.

                      There are several positions on the use of deadly force in defense of property, including different views on why it is/isn’t justifiable. Some of those views (my own included) hinge on issues like whether or not the perpetrator also presents a possible threat to the defender (or others), the philosophy that the perp has forfeited at least some rights via their decision to victimize others, etc.

                      The inaptness of the comparison between someone breaking into someone else’s home to rob them and a woman taking an action involving her own person (even though I recognize the distinctness of the life within her, I also recognize that her own life is an integral part of the equation) ought to be blindingly obvious to anyone with an IQ north of room temperature.

                      These aren’t the simple black-and-white issues you’re trying to characterize them as.

                    7. The 13 year old rape victim is still not “the real” issue or question, it’s the fake distraction. A million living unborn humans are killed each year and virtually all just for convenience. The question of the fringe cases isn’t even pertinent unless you think the status quo is wrong.

                    8. And yet, ML, if you believe abortion is murder, then why should the child of a 13 year old rape victim be killed because its father is a rapist? I do not see how you carve out an exception for the 13 year old rape victim while still believing that a murder is being committed.

                    9. Kyrchek, I’m not saying this is my view necessarily but it’s very easy philosophically to distinguish that based on the concept of consent. When you have a child you are bound by law not to neglect it or starve it or leave it out to die by exposure. The same reasoning applies to unborn humans, which are living human beings who can feel pain and begin to learn languages and bond with their mothers while in the womb. The science is totally and completely settled – it is a living human being. The linguistics are settled – it is a “baby” and a “child” merely because millions of expecting mothers routinely refer to it as such. What’s not settled is the morality of the issue which dictates what the legality should be, as well as the very important question of “who decides” – in a system of supposedly self-government, does a local community get to set the rules or are they ruled over by someone else. It’s really not reasonable in any way to argue that living human beings have no rights at all just because they haven’t exited the birth canal. It is reasonable to consider what those rights are, the extent and nature of enforcement that should be undertaken to secure those rights, and how the rights of others are factored in. Whenever someone becomes pregnant, the risk of becoming pregnant was voluntarily undertaken — except in cases of rape. It is certainly plausible to argue that a rationale of medical self-defense applies in those instances where the risk of impregnation was not consented to.

                    10. but it’s very easy philosophically to distinguish that based on the concept of consent

                      Bear in mind that your arguing philosophical points with someone who thinks that a human being’s passage through the birth canal is analogous to an acorn’s transformation into an oak tree, and that human pregnancy can reasonably be characterized as an unborn child “seizing” its mother’s womb without her consent.

                    11. Wuz, I totally misjudged you. I thought you were merely not bright enough to follow simple arguments, but I now see that you’re also completely dishonest. How else to explain your imputing to me positions that I’ve already said aren’t mine?

                      That being the case, there is no reason for me to respond to any of the rest of your crap on this thread. You’ll just lie about what I said, or find something to twist completely out of context. Because that’s what you do. And you being too dumb to follow basic arguments isn’t your fault, but total dishonesty is.

                      Based on your handle, I’d say you’ve always been an old fool except for when you were a young fool.

                  2. I don’t think so. I mean assuming that a zygote is a full life worthy of protection the question is valid. For instance, many here have the belief you can use deadly force to protect property. So, if they’re willing to do that, then they have to ask themselves what level of force are they willing to engage in to protect human life? And what are the moral consequences of that choice.

                    1. Abortion is done well beyond the zygote stage.

                    2. I don’t think so. I mean assuming that a zygote is a full life worthy of protection the question is valid.

                      Why are you artificially restricting the discussion to “zygotes”? And all you’re doing here is agreeing with my point. Namely, that your question is meaningless without first addressing the question of when human life begins…which you do above via your assumption regarding zygotes.

                    3. That’s correct Bob, but I am taking the most extreme position as correct. That the zygote is a full human life enjoying full human rights. There is still a question of what level of force you would engage in to ensure its development and birth.

                    4. I’m not restricting it, I am expanding it, by assuming that the argument that human life worthy of all human rights begins immediately at conception. Taking this to be true: what are the moral consequences of using force to ensure its full development and birth? What level of force is justified? How do you weigh the emotional and physical trauma of a forced pregnancy vs the rights of the unborn? What level of force would you personally be willing to engage in to ensure a birth?

                    5. That’s correct Bob, but I am taking the most extreme position as correct. That the zygote is a full human life enjoying full human rights.

                      And why would you do that if an answer to the question of when human life begins is not essential?

                    6. Because it is not essential. I don’t take a position on it. It could be yes or no, but I assume it is yes for the purpose of determining the morality of efforts to force birth.

                    7. Because it is not essential. I don’t take a position on it. It could be yes or no, but I assume it is yes for the purpose of determining the morality of efforts to force birth.

                      Either your grasp of basic logic is non-existent or you’re being intentionally obtuse here. You assumed it because it is essential to your question having any meaning.

                    8. There’s a third option, Wuz: You lack the capacity to follow his simple, straightforward argument.

                    9. Irrational bullshit is not synonymous with a simple, straightforward argument.

                    10. So why do you keep putting out irrational bullshit?

                      No, the obvious problem is you don’t understand his argument. Try reading it again. Slowly, this time.

                    11. So why do you keep putting out irrational bullshit?

                      “I know you are, but what am I?”

                      And you wonder why I said you’re not to be taken seriously.

              2. An acorn is not an oak tree, and a fetus is not a child. Left to itself it may eventually turn into a child, but until it’s born, it’s a fetus.

                Regardless of one’s stance on the issue, that’s a ridiculous analogy, and demonstrates a profound ignorance of basic biology. There’s nothing magical about passage through the birth canal that fundamentally alters the nature of the living being making that transition in location. Even severing the umbilical doesn’t result in any such fundamental change. The terms “fetus” and “child” are simply terms of convenience (and very, very imprecise ones at that) that don’t have any basis in biological reality. The course of human development from egg to “adult” is a continuum of gradual incremental change, not a series of well-defined and distinct forms of life.

                1. I was talking about legal lines, not biological lines. If you want a biological answer, I would say viability is the dividing line, but it’s not exactly a bright line. Nevertheless, bright or not, the law has to draw a line somewhere, and for most purposes it’s birth.

                  1. I was talking about legal lines, not biological lines.

                    Then your “an acorn is not an oak tree” analogy is even more asinine.

                    If you want a biological answer

                    It’s not a question of what I or anyone else wants. Biology is at the very heart of the matter, whether you want to recognize it or not. Even the Roe v Wade decision recognized that to some extent (though it did an exceedingly piss-poor job of assessing it).

                    I would say viability is the dividing line

                    The dividing line between what and what? And what makes viability that line…aside from convenience?

                    1. Are you disputing that in a lawsuit in which the issue were somehow relevant, that the law would be unable to distinguish an acorn from a tree? Because if that’s your position, then you’re the one being asinine, and if that’s not your position, you sure are blowing a lot of smoke about nothing.

                      And while biology is not totally irrelevant, neither is it determinative. As I pointed out above, one can take the position that the fetus is a full human person, and also take the position that no person has the right to seize another person’s body for nine months against her will. The law would not allow me, against your will, to sleep in your spare bedroom for nine months, so why should it allow me to seize control of your body for nine months?

                      And the issue is not whether the fetus is “human life”. Of course it is, but then so are the cells you killed last time you scratched your nose. The question is whether it’s a human person, since it’s persons that have legal rights. The answer to that is determined by what distinguishes human persons from other living things, and that comes down to consciousness, sentience, and self awareness. Again, it’s not a bright line, but I haven’t heard any others I like better.

                    2. Are you disputing that in a lawsuit in which the issue were somehow relevant, that the law would be unable to distinguish an acorn from a tree?

                      No. I’m disputing your assertion that the difference between a human that was just born and the difference between one that has not yet passed through the birth canal is even remotely analogous to that between a seed and a mature plant.

                      And while biology is not totally irrelevant, neither is it determinative.

                      That’s a rather odd argument given your positions that are based on biological terminology and phases of human gestation.

                      As I pointed out above, one can take the position that the fetus is a full human person, and also take the position that no person has the right to seize another person’s body for nine months against her will. The law would not allow me, against your will, to sleep in your spare bedroom for nine months, so why should it allow me to seize control of your body for nine months?

                      And if you’re really unable to recognize the stupidity of that argument then you’re not to be taken seriously.

                    3. Those terms are used by disciplines other than biology, sometimes with the same meaning, sometimes not. But in reading your comments I see why this is such an important issue to you: Your brain got aborted and nobody told you.

                      P.S. If you want to be treated with respect, you might try treating others with respect. Otherwise, I return fire when fired upon.

                    4. But in reading your comments I see why this is such an important issue to you: Your brain got aborted and nobody told you.

                      That’s exactly the eventual response I expected from someone making arguments that are worthy of a 5th grade classroom debate.

                    5. This from the guy who spends half his time here making playground insults?

                    6. Jesus. Your fondness for projection knows no bounds.

                    7. My name isn’t Jesus, and I haven’t seen any comments from him on this thread.

              3. “fetus is not a child”

                Use of “fetus” outside of a doctor’s office is just a way to de-humanize the human one is about to kill.

              4. An acorn is not an oak tree,

                An acorn, or an oak sapling, may not be an oak *tree*, but they’re pretty clearly oaks (not being, say, mushrooms or pines). Similarly, fetuses and embryos may not be human adults, but they’re certainly humans (not being, say, lobsters or bears).

          2. The are unborn and they are human. That you don’t call them children is not much different than Nazis excusing their acts by saying that Jews are not human.

            1. Fuck off.

              Holocaust invocations to push your particular religious view helps no one.

              1. Meh, it triggers you apparently, so it helps the rest of us here see how ridiculous you are. This coming from the fellow who compared the border situation under Trump to concentration camps. How’s that working out for you now, with those “overflow facilities” with your flavor of idiot nominally in charge (never mind that Obama started the family separation policy)?

                Don’t answer, your rationalizations don’t matter.

              2. Ooh, fragile, are we?

        2. No, but they are often stunningly callous with regards to the lives of people who have been born.

        3. If you have information about a single murder, Bob from Ohio, you should report it to the relevant authorities without delay.

          If you do not have such information, Bob from Ohio, you should stop spouting nonsense and leave the reasoned debate to competent adults.

          1. The “relevant authorities ” are co-conspirators.

            1. Meh. Sure it’s killing a technically innocent baby, but abortion is like a real world “pre-crime” for future Democrats. Think of it as the death penalty in advance, without all the messiness in between. Cheaper that way too.

            2. Conspiracy theories and right-wingers go together like the Volokh Conspiracy and vile racial slurs.

              (A stirring illustration of how far A and E can take you)

    2. The Devil is illusory, except in a few circumstances.

      If only Pres. Biden could be as godly as Donald Trump and his base of Bible-brandishing birthers . . .

      or as pious as Republicans and their group of selfish, immigrant-bashing bigots . . .

      or as devout as clingers and their collection of gay-hating, misogynistic right-wingers.

      1. That comment about abortions is just the weakest of polemics.
        In fact it is simple unadulterated bullshit. If you have a reasoned counterargument free of ad hominem attacks (your stock in trade) let’s see them.

        1. He doesn’t. Thanks for remarking on his BS for any non VC regular who strolls by and might think that he had some sort of winning zinger or some such there.

        2. Which comment about abortions?

  5. Civil religion, the body of religious symbols that unite a nation

    Do they though?

    I would have thought that the religion that unites the United States is the worship of the Constitution, the Founding Fathers, and Abraham Lincoln. All those preachers and bibles, on the other hand, unite an ever decreasing share of the people.

    1. Martin,
      If you have ever gone to the Lincoln memorial at night, you can see that it is a civil religious symbol, not good enough for schools in San Francisco, but still a national civil religious symbol

      1. Yes, that’s what I had in mind.

  6. Joseph Schumpeter’s timeless words on leftism and religion:

    “Observe how supreme art here succeeds in weaving together those extra-rational cravings which receding religion had left running about like masterless dogs, and the rationalistic and materialistic tendencies of the time, ineluctable for the moment, which would not tolerate any creed that had no scientific or pseudo-scientific connotation. Preaching the goal would have
    been ineffectual; analyzing a social process would have interested only a few hundred specialists. But preaching in the garb of analysis and analyzing with a view to heartfelt needs.”

  7. I would like to see a study on whether religion makes people better people than they would be otherwise. (My totally unscientific hunch is no.) It would be a tough study to pull off because of the difficulty in defining and quantifying “decent human being,” but if someone ever did manage to do it, I sure would like to read it.

    1. I would not bother with any such study that came to either “yes”or “no.” The systematic errors and biases are bound to be overwhelming from the getgo

    2. Even Voltaire, who hated religion and dedicated his life to its destruction and did more than most men who ever lived to break Christianity’s hold on Europe, felt that “if there wasn’t a God, it would be necessary for man to invent one.”

      Society works better when there is a religion, again, even Voltaire said “I want my lawyer, my tailor, and my wife to believe in God, so I imagine I shall be less robbed and less deceived.”

      We have a deep seated longing for the eternal, such that even if you aren’t religious, people replace it with some Joe Rogan experience spirituality with acid trips or some sort of real-world utopianism.

      1. OK, but there’s a distinction you’re not drawing, and that’s the distinction between truth and validity.

        Every religion has two components: The narrative, or story, and the “how shall we then live” that follows. I myself believe none of the narratives to be true, whether it’s Joseph Smith’s golden plates, or Jesus rising from the dead, or Moses talking to God on Mount Sinai. Fiction every one.

        But what religion does accomplish is to provide a framework within which people often do find satisfaction, meaning, and a motivation to honest living. And that may well be a valid framework, even if the underlying narrative isn’t true.

        But it’s a mistake to say that unbelievers don’t have frameworks of our own, or that ours are inferior to the ones offered by religion. Or that having a framework necessarily makes people practice what they preach, hence my curiosity about whether religion actually makes people better people.

        1. You really need to, as noted elsewhere, to define your terms. This is not a co-out. What do you mean by “better”; and is this individually or collectively? Can you individually have no religion, but like Voltaire, free ride on other’s religion to make a society where there is less wrong doing but you yourself don’t believe? And if you free ride, is there a critical mass of non-believers before free-riding is ineffectual?

          Philosophers since Kant and his Critique of Pure Reason, have taken the generalized opinion that you can’t create societal values just from reason alone without, eventually, you ending up where the French Revolution did. You can “reason” your way to just about anything and justify it.

          Anyway, it’s also be noted by philosophers smarter than me, that those who don’t have a religion replace it with something else in its place (though they wouldn’t call it that) and in doing so re-create all the errors of religious conflict that the world has mostly banished onto another field of battle.

          1. Unbelievers free-ride because of the practical reality that religion isn’t going anywhere. Assume with me that no religion is true; religion is nevertheless the single most potent sociological force in human history, and only a fool would deny that reality. So it’s not that we want to free ride; personally I’d love to create a society built on humanistic, Renaissance values. It’s that we’re stuck with religion as the primary social force, like it or not. And, at the end of the day, if there is widespread agreement that, i.e., separating children from their parents at the border is a moral atrocity, does it really matter if you got there via religion and I got there via reason?

            Yes, people are great at self deception and can reason themselves into just about anything. But human frailties prevent us from achieving perfect understanding of anything, so we do what we do in other fields: Have checks and balances, re-visit our assumption, check the facts on the ground to see if our presuppositions are actually working out as we thought they would. It’s not perfect, but it usually leaves us better off than we were before.

            And, I think reason is better equipped than religion simply because reason appeals to evidence. If my paradigm is wrong, you can show me that it’s wrong by showing that it doesn’t match reality. Most of religion, on the other hand, assumes inerrance, and therefore it’s almost impossible for it to make a course correction.

            1. Its been the dream of every philosopher since Plato’s utopian Republic to make a society from ground up with just the right dials turned and knobs pushed for their vision of a just society. Can’t happen. Won’t happen. Human nature gets in the way is the main reason. I’ll add Krychek to that list of dreamers who allude to “reason” as if it was self evident by what you mean. Again, you can reason your way to just about anything and at the end you have the gas chambers or the guillotine and a return to authoritarianism as people crave stability above all else.

              So let me ask you, then, since you unwittingly have stumbled upon one of the logical proofs for Gods existence with your malarkey about kids and borders. (No, we can’t all agree on anything, that’s the problem, but let’s put that aside). What give you the right to say that we shouldn’t torture newborn babies with red hot pokers?

              1. Whether I can or can’t answer why we shouldn’t torture newborn babies with red hot pokers, how on earth is that an argument for the existence of God?

                And no, reason’s answer to any given question is not self evident. But the self evident answer to why gas chambers, guillotines and torturing newborns isn’t a great idea is how has it worked out in the past. It’s not like we don’t have millenia of history to inform us of what has worked and what hasn’t. (By the way, it’s possible to say BOTH that getting rid of the French monarchy was long overdue AND ALSO that the reign of terror wasn’t the way to go about it.)

                And the more basic answer is this: By giving my assent to gas chambers, guillotines and torturing newborns, I am giving my assent to have those things done to me as soon as someone stronger than I am comes along who wants to do that. It’s a matter of enlightened self interest. So unless you’re someone who actually enjoys being guillotined, gassed or burned with a poker, in which case you can try to find someone who will accommodate you, your own self preservation and interest demands that you take a hard line against those things being done to others. This is not nearly as complicated as you’re trying to make it.

                Will there be glitches and bumps along the way? Of course. If we were perfect we wouldn’t need morality. But morality is essentially what allows us to live together in civil society and prosper.

            2. if there is widespread agreement that, i.e., separating children from their parents at the border is a moral atrocity

              If the faux outrage over “kids in cages” at the border was actual revulsion over a “moral atrocity” rather than just another exercise in partisan bullshit Democrats (and the left in general) wouldn’t have embarrassed themselves so badly when someone posted the photo that started the whole kerfuffle…only to find out that it was taken in 2014, and showed the treatment of illegal immigrants at the border under the administration of, like, the greatest Prez evar!!!!

              1. What’s funny, is they are putting kids in cages now in “overflow facilities.” But hey, Biden’s the man in charge now so we are cool, right?

                I have learned, and in fact everyone should, that calling out the left for hypocrisy is a waste of time. They don’t care, as they justify it in one way or another (using their “reason” to make this comment in context). Some right wingers have built a whole media empire on doing so, but it never wins an argument and changes nothing.

                1. Ah, but the difference is that Biden (and Obama before him) is actually trying to fix the root causes of the problem, whereas the Republicans would have been happy with kids in cages indefinitely. And no, that doesn’t justify that kids are still in cages. It’s still wrong that we’re still doing it.

                  1. whereas the Republicans would have been happy with kids in cages indefinitely

                    I believe this is the kind of claim that, if Trump had made it, the press would report as being “without evidence.”

                  2. Ah, but the difference is that Biden (and Obama before him) is actually trying to fix the root causes of the problem

                    Is that why the cages were gone by the time Trump took office? Oh, wait…

                    Or maybe by “fix the root cause” you’re referring to rounding up and deporting brown people at a rate that exceeded anything the Trump admin even attempted (even though the latter was branded a “racist”, “Nazi” and “white supremacist” for doing so at a significantly lower rate)?

                    Your blind partisan bullshit would be a cause of profound embarrassment for you if you were smart enough to recognize it.

      2. Society works better when there is a religion, again, even Voltaire said “I want my lawyer, my tailor, and my wife to believe in God, so I imagine I shall be less robbed and less deceived.”

        Pretty much nonsense. I don’t think there any reason to think that believers are more honest than non-believers.

        The whole “religion is the basis of morality” is foolish. What it argues is that arbitrarily adopting a set of beliefs that I have no evidence for, and then conforming my behavior to that set, will make me a more ethical, honest, etc. person than simply adopting, perhaps arbitrarily, the view that I should behave in an ethical, honest, fashion.

        So somehow taking the arbitrariness back a step works better?

    3. Asking if “religion” makes people better people, is like asking if “chemicals” make people better people. It treats a huge field like one undifferentiated entity, as though vitamin D and arsenic were the same thing. I would assume that some religions make people better people, and some make people worse people.

      The problem here, of course, is that religion, in the general sense, is largely unavoidable. Humanity and religion co-evolved, and people are built to be ‘religious’, the only question is what their need for religion will seize upon. It doesn’t even have to be something that admits to being a religion; People who think themselves non-religious are often devoted to something that functionally is every bit as much a religion as what they deride, and they’re just fooling themselves about it. Marxism, or sciencism.

      1. Brett, I’m not talking about the difference between, i.e., the Little Sisters of the Poor on the one hand and the 9/11 hijackers on the other. *Of course* some religions are better than others, or at least less toxic.

        I’m talking about an apple to apple comparison in which you compare, say, 100 Southern Baptists to 100 atheists. Are you more likely to find a larger proportion of crooks and scoundrels in one group than you are in the other? And my totally non-scientific hunch is no.

        1. Well, at least you recognize that it’s a totally non-scientific hunch, or more pejoratively, a “prejudice”. Data would be nice to have.

          But my point is that atheists are generally fooling themselves about not having a religion. I mean, obviously so, or they’d be agnostics, no? But in a more general sense of having some important irrational belief system.

          Irrational belief systems are, I think, practically unavoidable.

          1. It’s not a prejudice. It’s based on the fact that over the years I’ve known good and bad atheists, and good and bad religionists, and my observation is that religion has made little real difference. But you’re right that it would be nice to have data.

            Is it a religion to disbelieve astrology, palm reading, phrenology, weather reports from groundhogs, or leprechauns, or is it simply a recognition that so far, no one has put forth any good evidence for any of them? And if you agree with me that not believing in astrology isn’t a religion, then how is not believing in God different? That’s not irrational; that’s show me some evidence and I’ll reconsider.

            1. It never ceases to amaze me how many people just can’t wrap their heads around the difference between absence of the belief that something is true and the positive belief that something is untrue. The term “atheism” is, in its unqualified form, too vague to be of any value other than as a statement that the adherent lacks a belief in a god or gods. This could mean that their position is an agnostic one (“I don’t know and probably can’t know, so I do not hold any belief one way or the other.”) or one of so-called “hard atheism” (“There is/are no god(s).”) These are significantly different views.

              Most of the things you list (astrology, palm reading, phrenology and weather reports from groundhogs) are fundamentally dissimilar to something like one or more all-powerful beings because the former can be rationally discounted as false to a relatively high degree of confidence because they make predictions that can actually be tested. ie, they are falsifiable. The existence of all-powerful deities is a fundamentally different matter, as it is inherently a matter of metaphysics, and as such lies completely outside of the domain of scientific observation. That’s why the term “faith” is more apt than “belief”, in so far as the latter implies a rationally arrived at conclusion (silly attempts to prove/disprove god(s) based on scientific reasoning notwithstanding).

              1. Wuz, I agree with you up to a point. Even with the distinction you’re drawn, though, I think it is still a fair statement that there’s no real good evidence for the existence of one or more deities, and until there is, there’s no reason to act as if there is. I would also say that if there is one or more deities, he (she?) isn’t making a whole lot of effort to provide clear guidance on the point.

                And even if such evidence did exist, there is also no real good evidence as to which, if any, of the hundreds of religions out there is the true one (if any of them). OK, so suppose I concede the existence of the one true God; that still doesn’t help me sort out if the Muslims, the Jews or the 250 versions of Christianity is the one closest to the truth.

                1. Wuz, I agree with you up to a point.

                  And yet you’ve not identified any point at which you think I’m wrong.

                  there’s no real good evidence for the existence of one or more deities, and until there is, there’s no reason to act as if there is

                  You’re conflating belief with how one chooses to behave based on belief (or lack thereof). Both the hard atheist and the agnostic behave the same with regard to not basing their actions on the existence of whichever god(s) are in question. But their positions and the means by which those positions are arrived at are quite different. “I have no way of knowing whether or not god(s) exists(s)” is fundamentally different from “I know that no god(s) exist(s), and if you believe any do then you’re wrong.” The former is a rational conclusion given the fact that such questions lie completely outside the domain of things like scientific inquiry. The latter is an inherently irrational positive belief that, by the very nature of the subject, cannot be supported by observation, measurement, etc…just as the opposite belief cannot be supported in the same way. Neither belief is reachable based solely on observed physical reality.

                  1. I think the real question is whether someone who believes the probability of God’s existence is greater than zero but not much greater is an agnostic, or an atheist.

                    I cannot prove that God doesn’t exist
                    I cannot prove that the Easter Bunny doesn’t exist
                    I can say that I don’t believe in things for which there’s no good evidence.

                    Now, I very much doubt the existence of either. I would be surprised if it turned out that either one exists. If I were to assign a likelihood, I would say no more than 5% for either. But I’m not really comfortable with the term agnostic, because that implies more doubt than I actually have. Am I also agnostic on the question of whether the Easter Bunny exists? I don’t think so.

                    I will agree with you that someone who says that there is a zero probability that God exists has taken an irrational position. Very little can be known to a 100% certainty. But as a practical matter, the 5%er and the 0%er are essentially at the same place.

                    1. I think the real question is whether someone who believes the probability of God’s existence is greater than zero but not much greater is an agnostic, or an atheist.

                      That’s only the “real question” if you have no idea what those terms mean, or are simply ignorant of the vagueness of of the term “atheist” in its unqualified form…even though I just explained all that to you.

                      I cannot prove that God doesn’t exist

                      To which “God” are you referring? I’ll agree that you can’t prove that “no gods exist”, but you could certainly falsify an assertion regarding a god, the existence of which makes predictions about the behavior of the observable universe within one’s lifetime.

                      I cannot prove that the Easter Bunny doesn’t exist

                      Not in the abstract, no. But you could certainly prove that the brightly colored eggs that your children find hidden around the house on Easter morning were neither dyed nor hidden by a magical being referred to as the “Easter Bunny”. What you could not disprove is a claim like, “The universe and its contents was created by a magical, invisible omnipotent lagomorph in a way that gives the appearance of a natural cause.”

                      But as a practical matter, the 5%er and the 0%er are essentially at the same place.

                      If you think that a 1-in-20 chance of something being true is practically the same as a 0% chance (an absolute impossibility) then I’d love to sit across from you at a poker table some time. However, I don’t want you sitting on the committee that decides whether or not a near-Earth asteroid poses a threat to us and warrants an attempt to prevent it from wiping out all life on the planet.

                    2. Context, Wuz, context. Whether a 1 in 20 chance is the same practically as a 0% chance depends on what it is that we’re talking about. Assuming something else doesn’t destroy the planet first, there’s a 100% chance that an asteroid will hit the earth sooner or later — one did 65 million years ago and wiped out the dinosaurs, remember — but it’s probably not going to happen in time to save me from having to write a brief that’s due next week. It does mean that 95% of the time, they’re both going to get the same bottom line.

                      And the real dispute is functionality versus theory. Are 0% and 5% theoretically different? Yes. Are they different in practice? Most of the time no, but again, that depends on what we’re talking about.

                    3. Whether a 1 in 20 chance is the same practically as a 0% chance depends on what it is that we’re talking about.

                      Yes, and the cases in which they would be are an infinitesimally tiny fraction of all relevant cases.

                      there’s a 100% chance that an asteroid will hit the earth sooner or later — one did 65 million years ago and wiped out the dinosaurs, remember — but it’s probably not going to happen in time to save me from having to write a brief that’s due next week.

                      If the context is the time period between now and next week then your 100% probability is utterly irrelevant. What matters is the probability that one will hit within the next ~7 days or so. If that probability is 5%, is that functionally the same as 0%? No, not even close.

                      And the real dispute is functionality versus theory. Are 0% and 5% theoretically different? Yes. Are they different in practice? Most of the time no

                      That you can say something that idiotic and (apparently) actually believe it is astounding.

      2. People who think themselves non-religious are often devoted to something that functionally is every bit as much a religion as what they deride, and they’re just fooling themselves about it. Marxism, or sciencism.

        Or libertarianism? I don’t think any of those are functionally equivalent to a religion. Humans certainly are prone to believing silliness, but not all arbitrary beliefs involve supernatural beings, special rituals, or even moral instruction, etc.

        Nor do they rely on holy scripture and revelation. It may seem to those who don’t share the beliefs that they do, but I doubt the most Marxy Marxist around would claim Das Kapital is divine writ. They would claim that it is logically compelling, which differs from how Muslims view the Koran, for example.

      3. I would assume that some religions make people better people, and some make people worse people.

        I would say that religious beliefs sometimes affect behavior, and that sometimes the effect is good, sometimes bad. Which is which depends on the individual more than the religion (within limits).

        Religion can inspire noble behavior, or be an excuse for being an asshole or worse. I have no confidence that anyone knows which way the scale goes.

    1. Only clicked on a Twitter link because I recognize you as a commentator are not a knucklehead.

      That blue check mark is always late to the party, and also like a college freshman who just learned a fancy word in Sociology 101 and wants to use it in in average conversation. The point he makes has been made by others, more convincingly and completely for years. Yes, SJW ideology is a religion, and “whiteness” is an original sin.

      Imagine if these fools asked God for forgiveness instead of black people, what a better place the world would be.

      1. Totally agree. I just think that video clip is a sight to see.

  8. If this comment section is any indication, it seems Democrats are divided over what kind of religion they’re comfortable with. Can they accept some theism, prayer and ceremonies, appeals to Jesus in favor of tax hikes, etc., or is their religion based on progress into a bold new future unshackled by (other people’s) superstition?

    Maybe we can use the healing energy of Wicca to resolve this dilemma –

    https://www.vox.com/identities/2018/10/10/17952388/magic-ritual-spells-self-care-feminism-brett-kavanaugh

    1. That’s the funniest thing!

      Feminists: “Get your ancient religious superstitions away from me and my body. I can be a whore and kill my unborn offspring without your judgements. ‘Thoughts and Prayers’ delusional thinking.”

      Also Feminists: “Let’s light these candles in our sky clad ceremony and hex Trump and the Kavanaugh.”

      1. Democrats have thrived when they’ve built broad coalitions. For quite a while, the balanced a coalition of white southern racists and northern blacks who’d moved north to get away from the white southern racists. But they were all nestled in the arms of the same party.

        So today we have the militant atheists, who wished God *did* exist so they could get up in His face and tell him off…and the left-wing evangelicals…and the Catholic leftists who think Francis is so dreamy (when he isn’t going on about abortion)…and the spiritual but not religious crowd…all in a glorious interreligious coalition!

        1. The coalition admittedly badly fractured, especially without Trump Derangement Syndrome to tie them together with a common enemy.

          When the Hispanics displace blacks in the “gibs” coalition, it may fracture.

  9. It was about as authentic as that Bruce Springsteen ad for Jeep.

  10. The struggle over the brand here is real.

  11. Choose reason. Every time.

    Choose reason. Especially over sacred ignorance and dogmatic intolerance.

    Choose reason. Most especially if you are older than 12 or so. By then, childhood indoctrination fades as an excuse for backwardness, bigotry, ignorance, gullibility, and superstition. By adulthood — this includes ostensible adulthood — it is no excuse, not even in the most desolate backwater one can find.

    Choose reason. Every time. And education, progress, tolerance, freedom, modernity, science, and inclusiveness. Avoid ignorance, superstition, backwardness, bigotry, insularity, authoritarianism, dogma, and pining for good old days that never existed. Not 50 years ago, not 150 years ago, not 2,000 years ago.

    Choose reason. Every time. Be an adult.

    Or, at least, please try.

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