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Monday, October 19, 2009

RELIGION - an overview and theoretical investigation (April 15, 2003)

Ron Paige, Bush's secretary of education, gave a speech in Boston last night. He's better known for his remarks about the value of an investigation.

This post is an attempt to present some of the author's views about religion.

To start with, revivals, and the best movie ever made about them, Elmer Gantry, with Burt Lancaster. This is a phenomenon that reappears frequently in American history. But the question is why does it reappear, as though the previous events never happened, as though they failed in their goals. For one these revivals always call upon many of society's lost and failed. They enter the religious institution--along with all their problems, placing enormous stress on the institution they have joined. Then there is the inevitable, or so it seems, corruption and failure of some or all the revival leaders. And the faithful drift away, some forever, others remain at a greater distance and reduce their financial support. This can be seen with the Catholic church today because of the child sex scandal--which is not just a phenomenon in that church, but others as well.

So the lost and failed become part of the church. Another component, group of people in any religion is the fakers. This is not meant in any perjorative sense, but some people join who don't believe and have to pretend in order to gain the benefits of the groups resources. They tend to drain a revival movement. Then there are those who want to believe but there is no seeing or feeling for the "truth" evident to the true believers. Another drain. So after some time the initial energy rewards of the revival have sapped the institution, causing the leadership to believe it is time for a new revival. Or a subset of the group thinks the leadership no longer sees the true light and goes off to start their own sect, making the need for a revival imperative.

England has been wrestling with the church/state separation issue for 700+ years--since the Magna Carta. This struggle is nearly 400 years old here in America. How peculiar our experiment, where the Pilgrims come here to escape England's religious persecution then turn, themselves to persecuting un-believers. The Salem Witch Trials and the Scopes Monkey Trial come to mind.

So Americans, like much of the history of the world, have been attempting to create a theocracy. One could say that the current administration has gone a considerable way in that direction. But, like any "revival", it contains its own internal contradictions and hypocrites.

If we divide the country into blue (democrat) and red (republica) states, we find some evidence of this. Divorce, on average, is higher in the red states, as are STD rates, murder and some other negative social indexes. But then tax rates of certain types tend to also be lower in these red states--leading to a consequent lower total social services provided by those states, and, perhaps, higher rates of various social problems. But then one can also say that perhaps the need for religion as a way to solve these social problems is greater, as opposed to having higher taxes and more social services. But these trends have been in place for some decades, indicating that neither religion or social services will make much difference.

Higher tax rates indicate greater prosperity. Leading this writer to think that perhaps prosperity and religion are inversely correlated. That is, religion is less prevalent in a more prosperous society. One can see, worldwide, that none of the prosperous first world countries could be considered a theocracy--but this does not mean that some people in that country agree with that. America being one where many people think there should be no separation between church and state. One could say that Italy is a first world country that has a strong church state relationship. It is also not a first-world barnburner.

In the second world, Russia, for example, the newly revived church is in a struggle with the forces of modernization and criminal elements. Then there is Iran, theoretically a democracy, but with an authoritarian religous element that doesn't allow the democracy to go where it wants. Religious states are, universally, authoritarian. They can't maintain their hold without repression. This is, in general, true of religions, which must constantly press the "faithful" to remain in line. This is true of religions in first world and other countries. In a first world religion you can be excommunicated. In a third world country you can be executed for heresy or endangering the rule of the faithful.

Democracy does not seem to be a good model for a poor uneducated country. Religion has no reservations about stepping in and doing whatever is necessary to bring the population into line and working for the good of the society. In a democracy religions compete with each other for souls. In a religious state one religion attempts to force everyone into a single set of ideas about how the world is, how the world came to be, your role in it and what will happen to you on leaving the world.

A religious state is inefficient compared to what seems to be the chaos of a democratic state. You have your position in a religious state based on your family and religous connections. In Iran or Iraq, for example, you get to be a fighter pilot on the basis of these unrelated values. In a democracy you become a fighter pilot on the basis of merit. The average Middle East army is designed to control unruly crowds of women and children. Most of the soldiers in those armies don't want to be there. They have little to no choice. The war in Iraq easily makes clear this connection. American soldiers come from a prosperous democratic society where the soldiers have a choice. They can do something else. All there are then selected for a variety of jobs on the basis of merit. Front line combat troops do not need an elite force of regime members behind them to move forward.

So my best estimate of the future of religion is that prosperous states will become less religious, with less prosperous to poor states going the religious/authoritarian route as a way of maintaining unity and national progress. And while there is a resurgence of religious influcence on government in the US, it will likely exhaust itself from previously mentioned internal inefficiences and contradictions.

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