Sunday reading: Epiphenom on the link between religion and homophobia

8 03 2009

What’s the connection between religion and homophobia?

You don’t need me to tell you that religious people are more likely to be homophobic. But what you might not have thought too hard about is why that should be. Is it that religion makes people homophobic, or is it simply that religion attracts people who are conservative and/or authoritarian – people who also tend to be homophobic? Then again, ‘religion’ is a pretty broad church. Is all religion linked to homophobia, or is it just specific types?

And what about racism? Are religious people more likely to be rascist? And if not, why not? This is an important question because religion acts to strengthen group cohesion, and it also comes with a lot of moral rules. Either of these could explain the link to homophobia. But most religions tend to be at least overtly anti-racist. So if religious people are more racist, this is probably because the ‘group cohesion’ effect overrides the ‘moral censure’ effect.

Sometimes it seems like you wait years for big studies to come along tackling these issues, and then two come along at once! Putting both of them together starts to put some really interesting meat on the bones of this very fundamental question (with the caveat that, like most research in religion, these studies were done in the USA/Canada)

More here.

Is secularism about to get its groove back?

5 06 2008

Peter Canellos, Washington bureau chief at the Boston Globe, certainly seems to think so. He’s noticed a distinct trend across the 2008 election primary campaign, which started out with candidates wrapping themselves in the Bible, making antidemocratic utterances about freedom “requiring” religion, and generally embracing anyone able to pronounce the words “Gawud” and “Jeebus” with sincerity, but is “ending with candidates rushing to repudiate them. An election cycle that was supposed to usher in the marriage of religion and politics may be hastening its divorce.” Canellos continues:

From the evangelical ministers who questioned the fitness of a Mormon to be president, to the religious-right activists who denounced John McCain as godless, to the McCain-backing radio preacher who said Hitler was fulfilling God’s will, to Barack Obama’s longtime minister who blamed the United States for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, to Obama’s Catholic adviser who last week mocked Hillary Clinton, the clergy haven’t just made a bad show of it: They’ve behaved like small-minded bigots.These preachers have managed the amazing feat of making all the politicians involved in the campaign seem, by comparison, more tolerant, more reasonable, and less self-interested.

It hasn’t been all clergy, of course. The vast majority of religious leaders have sensibly stayed out of politics – or, rather, above politics, where spiritual leaders function best. But encouraged by candidates and perhaps envious of the religious right’s influence on the Bush administration, many religious figures have sought to weigh in on the presidential election this year.

What they’ve discovered is that once they turn their pulpits into lecterns, they lose the deference that attaches to men and women of God. The rain of criticism has caught many by surprise, more accustomed as they are to nods and amens.

It ought to go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that among mature and enlightened citizens, zero deference should attach to people simply because their names are prefixed by “Father,” “Pope,” “Pastor” or “Reverend.” (Or “Imam,” or “Rabbi,” etc.) Perhaps, if Canellos is right, Americans are beginning to realise this, and are finally growing up. And (assuming Canellos is right) you have to wonder where this is coming from. Despite their (at times) mutual antipathy, secularists and religious progressives have for the past several years been pushing back against that noisome and toxic admixture of religion and politics known as the Religious Right. Maybe, even on the religious side (as journalist Christine Wicker argues), the slit in the burqa is widening, to borrow Richard Dawkins’ metaphor.

How do we know what is right?

27 02 2008

There’s a great discussion between Bruce and SB on the “Counter-apologetic pwnage” comments thread regarding religion and morality. Here are my 2 cents worth:

[SB:]The psychological theory you proposed (i.e. most people know what is right and act accordingly, and those that don’t know, or who know but don’t act on that knowledge are consigned to categories of the mentally ill) tells us why people behave as they do, but not what they ought to do. At best it may describe what they ought to do if they want to be like most others. It certainly creates problems when people have differing moral sentiments – how do we know which is right?

[Me:]That is a problem that existed already. Read the rest of this entry »

Quote of the week: Barack Obama

4 02 2008

Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

Now this is going to be difficult for some who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do. But in a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice. Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. It involves the compromise, the art of what’s possible. At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. It’s the art of the impossible. If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God’s edicts, regardless of the consequences. To base one’s life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime, but to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing. And if you doubt that, let me give you an example. Read the rest of this entry »

Religion: about 294,000 years older than some religionists believe?

21 01 2008

According to this article in the British online current affairs magazine First Post, the arrangement of 27 skeletons of Homo heidelbergensis, along with a hand axe carved in rose quartz, in a cave in Spain’s Atapuerca hills, suggests to at least one archaelogist evidence of deliberate burial:

As archaeologist Susana Callizo explains: “Sixty metres beneath us here is the Sima de los Huesos, the Pit of Bones. That’s a cave where we have found 27 skeletons of Homo heidelbergensis, who lived here 300,000 years back.”She continues: “The question you have to ask is, how did those skeletons get down there? The Pit of Bones is inaccessible. Even today it is difficult to approach – the archaeologists have to abseil down a narrow chasm, then crawl through passages, before they can start digging. Some people think the bodies might have been washed down there, by rainstorms or wind, but most believe that this is very unlikely, given the remote nature of the cavern.”

Callizo concludes: “It is likely that the bodies were deliberately buried here. Interred by their relatives maybe.”

The term ‘buried’ is deeply contentious when talking of hominids from so long ago, because it implies religion.

Obviously the practice of religion had to start somewhere, but why does burial “imply” religion? Certainly it would imply some kind of ritual or ceremony, but it seems a bit of a stretch to extrapolate faith in a god/gods or the afterlife from a burial ground.

Matthew LaClair: still a deadset legend

8 01 2008

Back in November 2006 I posted on Matthew LaClair, the US high school student who took a stand against a proselytising Evangelical Christian history teacher and invoked the wrath of the loving Christians in his community. I tangled with a few of those loving Christians myself, both at Five Public Opinions (on Blogspot) and on the discussion board “Kearney on the Web,” encountering all manner of logical fallacies and argument from CAPSLOCK.

In a recent speech delivered to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, LaClair recounted his dealings with the history teacher and an obfuscatory school board, as well as his treatment at the hands of his fellow students and townsfolk. As LaClair put it, “the religious right has no discernible shame or sense of decency.” Indeed. The good news is that his story received national media attention, and he has been able to attract some notable speakers to school assemblies, including the biologist Kenneth Miller and Barry Lynn from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

Via Friendly Atheist, where you can read LaClair’s speech in full.

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