Science

Not all religions are the same, you know: Can a faith be good if it’s not true?

Not all religions are the same, you know: Can a faith be good if it’s not true?

THE QUESTION:

Are various religions good for individuals and for society even if, as skeptics contend, their beliefs are not really true?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Time for a skepticism update. Never before in history has there been such a concerted effort to question the value of religious faith like we now see across the West’s free societies (as distinct from artificially enforced atheism under Communist tyrannies).

For instance, the common conviction that religion is important for shaping youngsters’ morals is questioned in a recent qz.com article by Annabelle Timsit, a writer on early childhood. “Parents who decide to raise their kids without a religion shouldn’t worry,” she assures us. “Studies have shown that there is no moral difference between children who are raised as religious and those raised secular or non-believing. Moral intuitions arise on their own in children.”

Admittedly, terrorism by Muslim cults raises doubts about the moral credibility of religion in general. Yet even Timsit acknowledges there are “well-documented” potential benefits from religiosity, such as “less drug, alcohol, and tobacco use; lower rates of depression and suicide; better sleep quality; and greater hopefulness and life satisfaction.” Faith also provides a “buffer” against stress and trauma, she says, not to mention fostering “better test scores” for students.

Stephen T. Asma, philosophy professor at Columbia College Chicago, takes a similar stance. The above question is The Religion Guy’s blunt distillation of the intriguing scenario in his new book “Why We Need Religion” (Oxford University Press). He summarized it in a June 3 nytimes.com opinion piece “What Religion Gives Us (That Science Can’t).”

Say that again: “We need religion.”


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Is it crucial for reporters to know basic facts about what Jordan Peterson is saying?

Is it crucial for reporters to know basic facts about what Jordan Peterson is saying?

As I have said many times here at GetReligion, it is helpful if -- every now and then -- journalists listen to the voices of people who have been on the other side of a reporter's notepad.

This also applies, of course, to television cameras and any other form of technology used in modern newsrooms.

Thus, I would like to share a think piece that I planned to run this past weekend, only the tornado of news about Archbishop Theodore "Uncle Ted" McCarrick got in the way and rearranged my writing plans for several days (while I was traveling, once again).

Here is the overture of a recent essay by Mark Bauerlein, published in the conservative interfaith journal First Things, that ran with this headline: "Dr. Peterson and the Reporters." This is, of course, a reference to the now omnipresent author of "12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos." 

The crucial question from the other side of the notepad: Would it be a good thing if journalists actually read what Peterson has written and listened to what he is actually saying?"

 One ingredient in the astounding fame of Jordan Peterson is his capacity to show just how lazy, obtuse, unprepared, smug, knee-jerk, and prejudiced are many journalists at leading publications.

In a tendentious New York Times profile, for example, Peterson is held up for ridicule when he cites “enforced monogamy” as a rational way of fixing wayward, sometimes violent men in our society. If men had wives, they’d behave better, Peterson implied, and they wouldn’t “fail” so much. The reporter, a twenty-something from the Bay Area, has a telling response to Peterson’s position: “I laugh, because it is absurd.”

Her condescension is unearned. With no background in social psychology or cultural anthropology, she doesn’t get the framework in which Peterson speaks. But that doesn’t blunt her confidence in setting Peterson’s remarks into the category of the ridiculous. And the category of the sexist, too, as the subtitle of the profile makes clear: “He says there’s a crisis in masculinity. Why won’t women -- all these wives and witches -- just behave?” 

The problem, of course, is that Peterson is using language from his professional discipline and his own writings.

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Friday Five: Ethical question, 'Uncle Teddy,' faith-free aliens, Muslim swimmers and more

Friday Five: Ethical question, 'Uncle Teddy,' faith-free aliens, Muslim swimmers and more

I have a question for you, dear reader.

It's not directly related to religion, but it is about journalism — and GetReligion has a lot of smart readers who either work in the news business or care deeply about it.

Via Peggy Fletcher Stack, the religion writer for the Salt Lake Tribune, I came across a chilling column written by the widow of a reporter killed in the Capital Gazette shooting. 

I was struck by Andrea Chamblee's repeated references to news media — the New York Daily News, ABC's "Good Morning America," the Wall Street Journal — that contacted Chamblee right after the shooting even before she knew anything about the fate of her husband, John McNamara.

I know journalists have a job to do. I've interviewed countless loved ones of people killed in various tragedies. But must reporters call people such as Andrea Chamblee almost immediately? Is there not a better way to give victims a voice yet not intrude on their humanity in such a desperate time?

I'd welcome your thoughts and insights.

In the meantime, let's dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: As GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly noted earlier today, the New York Times has a new story out on the latest accusation facing disgraced Roman Catholic Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick.

The Times story is a must read, as is tmatt's commentary ("Fire keeps falling: 'Uncle Teddy' the DC cardinal faces the reality of Matthew 18:6") and my colleague Julia Duin's earlier post ("Cardinal Ted McCarrick, Part II: The New York Times takes a stab at this old story").

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Faith-free thinking about aliens: Oxford experts say we probably are all alone in universe

Faith-free thinking about aliens: Oxford experts say we probably are all alone in universe

Near the end of his life, the great Christian apologist C.S. Lewis give a final interview to journalist Sherwood Eliot Wirt. One of the topics they discussed was the possibility of intelligent life on other planets -- a subject that interested Lewis, a fact made obvious in his trilogy of science fiction novels.

This is a subject that can be addressed in a secular manner, of course.

At the same time, if intelligent life is found on another planet, this does raise certain questions for those who believe in a God that -- one way or another -- created heaven and earth. To cut to the chase: What actions would this kind of God need to take to provide redemption on other worlds, if they are as sinful and fallen as this one?

For example, there was this exchange in that 1963 Lewis interview:

Wirt: Do you think there will be widespread travel in space?

Lewis: “I look forward with horror to contact with the other inhabited planets, if there are such. We would only transport to them all of our sin and our acquisitiveness, and establish a new colonialism. I can’t bear to think of it. But if we on earth were to get right with God, of course, all would be changed. Once we find ourselves spiritually awakened, we can go to outer space and take the good things with us. That is quite a different matter.”

Now, flip that coin over and look at the other side. What are the theological implications of evidence that this world is truly unique, that intelligent life does not exist elsewhere?

With that in mind, consider this weekend's think piece, which ran at Vox under this sobering double-decker headline:

Why haven’t we found aliens yet?

A new paper on the Fermi paradox convincingly shows why we will probably never find aliens.

Unless I have missed something, this long piece is totally free of any content linked to religion, at least in a positive sense. The absence of any religious implications -- even the obvious points that would raised by an atheist or agnostic -- is rather striking.

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As Jahi McMath — girl at center of life-support controversy — dies, coverage still haunted by ghosts

As Jahi McMath — girl at center of life-support controversy — dies, coverage still haunted by ghosts

GetReligion first commented on the story of Jahi McMath back in 2014 in a post titled "God, faith and church (or not)" by my wife, Tamie Ross.

More recently, my colleague Julia Duin delved into a magazine piece on McMath in a post titled "To die or not to die: The New Yorker probes the case of a 13-year-old girl."

Each of those posts lamented the lack of specific details concerning religion and the family's theological reasons for wanting to keep the teen on life support.

So it's little surprise to find much of the recent news coverage of McMath's death haunted by holy ghosts.

Let's start with a big chunk of CNN's report:

(CNN) Jahi McMath, an Oakland teenager whose brain-death following a routine tonsil surgery in 2013 created national headlines, died on June 22, according to the family's attorney.

She was 13 when she underwent surgery to treat pediatric obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that made her stop breathing in her sleep and caused other medical problems.

Nearly five years later, "Jahi died as the result of complications associated with liver failure," the statement from attorney Christopher Dolan said.

She underwent surgery on December 9, 2013 at the Children's Hospital & Research Center Oakland. After the procedure to remove her tonsils, adenoids and extra sinus tissue Jahi was alert and talking to doctors and even requested a Popsicle.

According to her family, Jahi was in the intensive care unit when she started to bleed and went into cardiac arrest. On December 12, 2013 she was declared brain-dead. Her family disagreed with the declaration.

This launched a months-long battle between the hospital, which sought to remove Jahi from a ventilator after doctors and a judge concluded she was brain-dead, and her relatives, who fought in court to keep her on the ventilator and contended she showed signs of life.

See any missing words there?

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American and Israeli religious infighting: Could it destroy the world's lone Jewish state?

American and Israeli religious infighting: Could it destroy the world's lone Jewish state?

Surveys contrasting the political and religious views of American and Israeli Jews are produced with such frequency as to make them a polling industry staple. In recent years -- meaning the past decade or so -- the surveys have generally shared the same  oy vey iz mir (Yiddish for “woe is me”) attitude toward their findings, which consistently show widening differences between the world’s two largest Jewish communities.

Well, sure, you may be thinking.

Compare, for example, the vast differences on moral and cultural issues between the institutionally liberal American Episcopal Church and the traditionalist Nigerian Anglican church leadership. That, despite both national churches belonging (at this moment in time) to the same worldwide Anglican Communion.

Why should the Jewish world be any different? It's like the old real estate cliche, location -- meaning local history and circumstances -- is everything.

Religion is just not the broad intra-faith connector some would like it to be. Often, if fact, it serves to fuel intra-faith rivalries rooted in strongly held theological differences.

Judaism even has a term for it; sinat chinam, Hebrew for, translating loosely, a “senseless hatred” that divides Jews and can even lead to their self-destruction.

Intra-faith Jewish differences, however, take on an added layer of global importance because of the possible geopolitical consequences they hold for the always percolating Middle East.

The bottom line: Minus American Jewry’s significant political backing, Israel -- a small  nation with no lack of enemies, despite its military prowess -- could conceivably face eventual destruction.

Despite that, Israel’s staunchly traditional Jewish religious and political hierarchy -- believing it alone represents legitimate Judaism -- continues to hold its ground against the sort of liberal policies embraced by the vast majority of American Jews.

Journalists seeking to make sense of the political split between American Orthodox Jews’ general support for President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s domestic policies, and American non-Orthodox Jews’ significant rejection of both men, would do well to keep this intra-faith religious struggle in mind.


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Aborting for Down syndrome -- and eventually autism? Slate doesn't spot the religion ghost

Aborting for Down syndrome -- and eventually autism? Slate doesn't spot the religion ghost

Not long ago, I was at a picnic with a family whose youngest daughter has Down Syndrome. The child never stopped moving and she had a predilection for (1) Running into the street and (2) Finding the nearest mud puddle and getting herself as dirty as possible. Keeping her still while we ate was a fantasy.

It was impossible to talk for more than a few sentences before the child would run off. I kept on wondering: How do they do it? And knowing in many ways, they are not doing it; that the mom never gets a break except for the few hours a day when the child is in kindergarten.

There’s literature out there about the joys of a Down Syndrome kid, but the reality can be much more complex and even cruel, which is why I was interested in a story in Slate titled “Choosing Life with Down Syndrome.”

It begins with a profile of Celeste Blau, a married woman in her early 30s living in a Cleveland suburb who discovers during her pregnancy that her first child has Down syndrome (DS).

Thanks to advances in pre-natal testing, it’s pretty easy to find out whether your child has the disorder. Typically, one learns of it at about 20 weeks, when a lot of women have ultrasounds to see if they have a boy or girl.

Though not widely discussed in public, the default assumption in certain milieus is that aborting after a Down syndrome diagnosis is now the natural and obvious thing to do. Introduction to this option is, after all, a primary purpose of prenatal testing. In several recent op-eds in the Washington Post, Ruth Marcus articulated the view of the “silenced majority” of women who would have aborted a fetus with Down syndrome if prenatal tests had come back positive: “That was not the child I wanted. That was not the choice I would have made,” she wrote. “You can call me selfish, or worse, but I am in good company. The evidence is clear that most women confronted with the same unhappy alternative would make the same decision.”

The piece then goes into the numerous pieces of actual and proposed legislation now out there that makes it a crime for a woman to abort a child solely because he or she has Down Syndrome.


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In the end, was journalist Tom Wolfe 'cool' or not? Well, he sure was proud to be a heretic

In the end, was journalist Tom Wolfe 'cool' or not? Well, he sure was proud to be a heretic

Once upon a time, there was this era in American life called the Sixties. As the old saying goes, if you remember the Sixties, then you really weren't part of them -- which kind of implies that the only people who remember the Sixties were Baptists, or something like that.

Anyway, lots of things in the Sixties were "cool." Some things were even "groovy," although I thought -- at the time -- that no one who was actually "cool" would have fallen so low as to use the word "groovy." 

Whatever the word "cool" meant, journalist Tom Wolfe was "cool," while at the same time being "hot." If you dreamed of being a journalist in the late Sixties and early 1970s, then you knew about Wolfe and you looked at his writing and thought to yourself, "How does he DO that? That is so cool."

Revolutionaries were "cool" and traditionalists were "not cool."

So with that in mind (and as an introduction to the content of this week's "Crossroads" podcast), please read the following quotation from a 1980 Rolling Stone interview with Wolfe. The key is to understand why, at one point, he calls himself a "heretic." This is long, but essential:

RS: I believe it was in the New Republic that Mitch Tuchman wrote that the reason you turned against liberals is that you were rejected by the white-shoe crowd at Yale.

WOLFE: Wait a minute! Is that one by Tuchman? Yeah, oh, that was great.

RS: He talked about your doctoral dissertation. 

WOLFE: Yeah, he wrote that after The Painted Word. It went further than that. It was called "The Manchurian Candidate," and it said in all seriousness that I had some-how been prepared by the establishment, which he obviously thought existed at Yale, to be this kind of kamikaze like Laurence Harvey -- I think that's who was in The Manchurian Candidate, wasn't it? -- to go out and assassinate liberal culture. I loved that.

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Memory eternal: Was there a moral compass at the heart of Tom Wolfe's best journalism?

Memory eternal: Was there a moral compass at the heart of Tom Wolfe's best journalism?

I was a journalism major in the first half of the 1970s, an era in which -- even at Baylor University -- everyone who wanted to be a journalist was reading Tom Wolfe. I even dreamed that Wolfe would venture down to Waco and write the definite magazine piece on just how crazy things really were in Jerusalem on the Brazos.

Even in the Bible Belt, Wolfe was the essence of hip, cutting edge journalism. Of course, everyone assumed this also meant "liberal," whatever that word meant back then.

As you would expect, his writings returned to my radar during my graduate work in 1981-82 at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. Then there was a lull until the explosion of criticism of his reporting/fiction in "A Man in Full" and "I Am Charlotte Simmons." 

As I read press reactions to those novels, something hit me: Some of the gatekeepers in elite American media were truly afraid that Wolfe might, well, have a moral and cultural point of view that was guiding his sniper-like attacks on American culture.

Oh. My. God. Might the man in the white suits be some kind of "conservative"? Should these books be read while listening to Bob Dylan's acidic, countercultural work on "Infidels"? Was Wolfe a heretic? Hold that thought.

My task here is not to criticize or even to summarize the many, many Wolfe obituaries and tributes that are -- with good cause -- being published right now. I recognize that it takes genuine chutzpah to try to write about Wolfe, or even to write about other people writing about Wolfe. The subject is just too big, too colorful and too complex.

So right now, I would simply like to make a few observations about the articles in The New York Times and New York magazine. After all, everything begins and ends with Wolfe (a transplanted Southerner, of course) and the city that he stalked for half a century, decked out in the white suits that he called "Neo-pretentious" and “a harmless form of aggression.”

Let's start with a symbolic fact about Wolfe's life. The Times noted:

He enrolled at Yale University in the American studies program and received his Ph.D. in 1957. After sending out job applications to more than 100 newspapers and receiving three responses, two of them “no,” he went to work as a general-assignment reporter at The Springfield Union in Springfield, Mass., and later joined the staff of The Washington Post.

How many people finish a Yale doctorate and then head straight into an entry-level job on a newspaper city desk?

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