Religion Needs the Poor

A new study by the Pew Research Center predicts that the global percentage of those who are religiously unaffiliated will decline in the next coming decades. It is a prediction that seems on face value to go against trends of an increase in those who are ostensibly less religious than in previous decades – especially in Western nations.

One theory is that existential security is inversely proportional to religious commitment. Put simply, “existential security” is the level at which I feel my life is at risk. It’s a good measure of happiness as well.

So if I live in a society where healthcare is universal, for example, and quality of life is stronger and more secure, my religious commitment will likely decline. I will also have more access to birth control and engage in less risky behaviors. These are the pockets where religion has less a hold on the community. When we take away those social securities, behaviors are more risky, people are less healthy, poorer, and more desperate. Existential crises are petri dishes for religious experimentation, for religion to be a social carrier, and the psychological desire or assumed need for a God or salvation. A less economically advantaged nation will naturally have a higher probability of existential insecurity.

(S)ocial vulnerability and lack of human development drive both religiosity and population growth. This means that the total number of religious people continues to expand around the globe, even while secularization is also taking place in the more affluent nations (Norris & Inglehart, 2006, p. 64).

The happiest nations are by far not the most religious. These trends are deep in the sociology of religion literature. However, one variable to bear in mind is the way that different religions carry societies. In previous centuries, Christianity carried both wealth and social mobility in the West. It is not an effective carrier in these societies as it once was. Islam and its network of banks and other social mechanisms designed to institute and maintain existential security are creating different patterns of religious behavior and may actually aid in its expansion.

Some social theorists have suggested that as countries develop economically, more of their residents will move away from religious affiliation, as has been seen in Europe. But there is little evidence of such a phenomenon in Muslim-majority countries. Moreover, in Hindu-majority India, religious affiliation is still nearly universal despite rapid economic and social change.

It will be interesting to see if Islam follows a similar pattern. As it carries people into a more existentially secure state of mind, will it continue to have the same sway over belief?

Even with this variable accounted for, the relationship between having one’s life at risk and becoming more religious seems to be continually supported in what we are finding out about patterns in religion worldwide.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, indeed.

It’s About Personhood Not Sexuality, Indiana

The fundamental problem behind the “religious freedom” laws of Indiana and Arkansas isn’t sex. The problem is that non-heteronormative people are simply not full persons. They are not given the same rights and are not afforded the same protections as other classes of human beings under the law.

The root is buried deep in the theologically informed notion that non-heteronormative people are defective. They are impure and unclean. Allowing something that is unclean or impure in your presence is something that puts your own purity in danger. This is old school Jewish purity law which the Christian right just loves to cite ad nauseum (and likely incorrectly). As being gay is fundamentally a defect in what constitutes a full human being, it is not in the state’s interest to protect that part of the person. And so, this “religious freedom” law is not actually discrimination, but civil rights for those persons who do not accept any behaviors that are “defective.”

This reasoning includes a specific reading of the bible that colors what “America” means and who its citizens are. America has rather high, although often arbitrary purity codes about what makes someone a full person.

This is where the state needs to step in and protect all classes of citizens. Right now the state has no compelling interest in any non-heteronormative person. None. Equality in marriage fixes a symptom but not does not get at the root of the problem: the religious force of these laws from the religious mission of these lawmakers is telling them that a homosexual is not a full person. It is a religious mission as such a discriminating set of criteria of what makes someone a full person otherwise would not fall under the umbrella of a specific kind of religious protection.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not give any direct help to a non-heteronormative person, “Title VII doesn’t forbid discrimination or harassment because of sexual orientation.” It explicitly protects religious affiliation and belief. The current action is to protect a group that is already a protected class under federal law making it even easier to discriminate against a non-protected group under that same law. That sounds really messed up.

Indiana is now trying to clarify the law by saying that the law is not discriminatory. However the fundamental nature of the law is to protect people in their discriminatory behaviors if those behaviors are motivated by religious need. It is a law that opens the door to other sorts of religiously based discrimination just as long as the state does not have a compelling interest in those that the law discriminates against. It will devolve into absurd proportions and it should. When lawmakers are this near-nearsighted, the laws need to be tested by those who carefully walk on its very edge so we can all see where it goes. Case-in-point: The First Church of Cannabis, Inc.

The church’s founder Bill Levin said he filed paperwork in direct response to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was signed into law by Gov. Mike Pence last Thursday. Secretary of State Connie Lawson approved the church as a religious corporation with the stated intent “to start a church based on love and understanding with compassion for all.”

Where they will test the law is if they light up a joint or get baked in church. On face value, this would get them arrested under the ruling of Employment Division v. Smith where it was ruled smoking peyote for sacramental purposes was not protected and Smith was not entitled to his unemployment. Indiana has not legalized pot for medicinal or recreational purposes. So we’ll wait and see.

We need to question our values. Is it right, under any circumstances, or under any set of observable behaviors, to classify any human being as less than a full person and so not recognized as such by the state?We did this with women by denying them the vote as well as to African-Americans by denying them any basic civil rights which for a long time was legal because they had no personhood. We also do this with criminals.

Discrimination is the actual force of the law for non-heteronormative people, as a minority group of citizens that is not a protected legal class. The politicians can talk about “intent” all day long, but when they back-pedal on the actual effect of the law as written, they not only must think we are stupid; but they are lying to us.

Put the Breaks on Anti-Semitism

If we were to listen to Bibi Netanyahu, Hillel, or the US Republicans, one would think that at any moment Israel would be bombed off the planet with millions of Americans cheering alongside of militant Islamists with their covert Islamist leader Barack Hussein Obama.

Except that this sort of narrative is false and uses only fear to conserve its kinetic pulse.

The number of anti-Semitic incidents on campuses in three of the last four years is actually the lowest it’s been since the ADL started keeping track in 1999.

via The Anti-Semitism Surge That Isn’t – Forward.com.

If the trend is going down, there are some positive causes somewhere out there. In fact, this might be the result of efforts at campuses to ramp up racial and ethnic dialogue in order to reduce tensions at the boundaries of differences between people. We may very well be more aware of differences that bother us and create tension and that awareness may even make a problem seem larger than it actually is. But while reality seems this way, it is important not to focus as much on the uneasiness in feeling, but on the positive outcomes and measurable behavior changes towards tolerance over time.

While appropriately muscular responses from campus authorities are welcome, our hunch is that much of this perceived anti-Semitism fits into a broader pattern of incivility with regards to race, gender and ethnicity, and should be addressed in that context.

Read more: http://forward.com/articles/217167/the-anti-semitism-surge-that-isnt/#ixzz3VKSHWN1O

Despite the fact that Netanyahu and many, many others insist that protests against Israel’s political machine and its handling of Palestinians are fundamentally anti-Semitic, I expect that what we will continue to see is evidence that this connection is a fiction driven by people who use distorted experiences to control agendas that have one goal in mind: grasping and maintaining power.

Jindal’s Chronic Islamophobia and Christian Hypocricy

“In other words, we shouldn’t tolerate those who wanna come and try to impose some variant or some version of Sharia law.”

via Megyn Presses Jindal on Suggestion to Ban Radical Islamists from U.S..

The sheer ignorance and myopia of Jindal in this clip is nearly baffling. His message is basically that there are Islamist immigrants who want to treat women as second class citizens, undermine the freedoms of others, and who will weaken American by not believing in American exceptionalism.

“There are Muslims that wanna treat women as second class citizens.”

“There are those who wanna use our freedoms to undermine the freedoms of others.”

“We believe in religious liberty but that doesn’t mean that you can use your freedoms to undermine the freedoms of other people.”

Jindal like so many in the GOP ranks will make statements like these without calling out Christians who do exactly the same thing on a much wider scale than American Muslims. Jindal delivered the commencement speech at Liberty University in May of 2014 where he spoke about his conversion experience, the current “war on religion” perpetrated by the “left,” and his support for Phil Robertson and those who defend “traditional marriage.”

The question is not about what freedoms are limited, but whose freedoms are limited and by what religious beliefs. Christianity gets a free pass on every issue – even if the kind of Christianity he endorses to speak freely is very clear in its understanding of the subordinate role of women to men and consciously and intentionally limits the ability of some Americans to exercise the same rights and freedoms as others. This is no more clear in the case of same gender marriage. It is justified to limit these freedoms as a Christian. Apparently it is not justified to do the same action in the name of Islam – even if Islam generally supports the same views regarding human freedom with respect to women and homosexuality.

This is before we even take on the fact that the way the term Shari’ah Law is casually tossed around in GOP and conservative Christian circles completely misuses and misunderstands what it actually is. It is not a process to compel the infidel to submit to Allah. Shari’ah Law is fundamentally,

“concerned with a set of values that are essential to Islam and the best manner of their protection…Faith in God, the manner of worshipping Him and observance of the five pillars of Islam thus constitute the essential concerns of Shari’ah” (Kamali, 2008, p. 2).

That its application has become overly legalistic in some Muslim communities is known and it has been an area of disagreement in Muslim communities for how Shari’ah is interpreted and applied. This is true in Sufist philosophy which has a more inward focus on one’s mystical communion with Allah as opposed to outward or legalistic displays of legal submission. It is an emphasis on Islam in which one seeks foremost, “sublime feeling of divine presence.” External legality is secondary to this aim.

The overarching Islamic principle of divine unity (tawḥīd) which requires an integrated approach to values should not simply be subsumed under the rubric of legality that focuses on the externalities of conduct often at the expense of the inner development of the human person (Kamali, 2008, p. 4).

Shari’ah is far more complex and nuanced in both its interpretation and application than perhaps Jindal and its staunchest opponents will ever acknowledge. That is beyond a shame. It is the kind of rhetoric that continues to adrenalize intolerance to the degree that even conservative pundits like Megyn Kelly are unable to it bring down to earth. Lest we think that this is limited to conservative media, liberal sources are bleeding with Islamophobia.

An exchange that we need to watch carefully and often is between CNN’s Don Lemon and Alisyn Camerota who are factually incorrect and continue to adhere to their beliefs even when confronted head-on by Reza Aslan. This is precisely why we need stronger departments of religious education as the media shows us time and again that with religion, Americans are chronically and pathetically ignorant. This, not letting those who oppose American exceptionalism become citizens, is the source of American weakness.

Source: Kamali, M. H. (2008) Shari’ah law: An introduction. OneWorld: Oxford.

When Criticism Becomes Anti-Semitism

The Swarthmore Hillel organization is changing its name and its identity in response to a long conflict with its parent organization. Hillel is decidedly anti BDS which is the Boycott, Sanction, and Divestment movement in protest of Israel’s policies and human rights violations towards Palestinians. Any event or person representing a pro-BDS perspective is not welcome by Hillel. The Swarthmore organization took issue with this and will sever its association with Hillel.

Open Hillel “is a student-run campaign to encourage inclusivity and open discourse at campus Hillels. We seek to change the “standards for partnership” in Hillel International’s guidelines, which exclude certain groups from Hillel based on their political views on Israel. In addition, we encourage local campus Hillels to adopt policies that are more open and inclusive than Hillel International’s, and that allow for free discourse on all subjects within the Hillel community.”

Rather than empower young Jews who are working to create meaningful programming, Hillel International has tried to bully them into silence,” the Open Hillel movement said in a statement. “As students involved in our Hillels around the country, we demand an immediate halt to any attempts to legally blackmail our peers and ask that supporters of openness in the American Jewish community join us in actively expressing our shame in Hillel International’s actions. via Swarthmore Hillel breaks with parent organization over Israel issues @insidehighered.

Hillel’s position conflates of the idea of delegitimizing Israel as a state with the argument that the way that Israel is enforcing its legitimacy as a state has serious and fundamental human rights issues. This is absolutist thinking in its finest form. Hillel has its own standard for when criticism becomes delegitimization and they do not appear to make much of a valuable distinction. It’s not a sound argument at all.

Criticism becomes anti-Semitism, however, when it demonizes Israel or its leaders, denies Israel the right to defend its citizens or seeks to denigrate Israel’s right to exist.

When politics and religion are so related, it becomes difficult to criticize one set of policies without receiving condemnation for somehow delegitimating or rejecting not only the Jewish people, but their religion. Of course, the same can be said of Islamic states where critiquing the policy entails disrespecting the religion.

Why can’t Hillel hold in tension the fact that faithful Jews can also hold Israel in condemnation for its actions? Was that not what the judges and prophets did so long ago?

Believe It. Alcoholics Anonymous is Rational

Alcoholics Anonymous is often referred to as a “cult,” “sexist,” “faith-based,” “false,” or any other combination of terms that serve it up as a method people use to get and stay sober that is ineffective and even destructive. The first step “We admitted we were powerless…” is where the snag happens and after that it is all downhill. At that point there are too many mentions of God and too few licensed professionals leading meetings for it to have any scientific muster. If that isn’t enough, the statistics will then come out suggesting a less than 10% success rate and not going to any meetings and getting sober on one’s own are just as effective. Finally the real kicker: AA will say that it is your fault rather than the program’s if you go out and get drunk again. Talk about a punch to the ego.

The Atlantic offers up another addition to this narrative with Gabrielle Glaser’s article, “The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous.” In this she asserts that AA is essentially anachronistic and its ideas of powerlessness and a higher power perpetuate an outdated and ineffective method for treating addiction. The simple idea that healing from alcohol addiction can happen with an abstinence only approach as AA is complicated by some who argue that “going cold turkey only intensifies cravings” or “likely deters people with mild or moderate alcohol-use disorder from seeking help.” If you talk to any alcoholic newly separated from booze, the idea of abstinence sucks. However, if you talk with anyone with long-term sobriety, it was the best decision they ever made.

Glaser does point out that addiction treatment in the US does not get the attention it needs to be more effective and that too many rehabs and treatment centers rely on AA to do the work for them. I do agree with her here, but for different reasons. AA and rehab were never supposed to be married this way. Bill Wilson, co-founder of AA, had an idea of setting up hospitals to take in alcoholics, but that idea was quashed before the first edition Alcoholics Anonymous was ever published. It was always understood as something dangerous that would pull people away from the mission of the group itself. As Bill Wilson writes regarding the non-professional nature of AA in Tradition Eight: “Every time we have tried to professionalize our Twelfth Step, the result has been exactly the same: Our single purpose has been defeated.” It’s a relationship that does not produce the best results and has skewed the core of what AA is to those who have recovered from alcoholism in its steps. People in AA know this already.

Glaser’s “AA” is Straw

The AA program was intended to work only among those who has a desire to stop drinking and then to move forward with the entire program. The program itself starts with cessation of drinking. That’s just Step 1. Every step after that has to do with achieving and maintaining a “spiritual experience” which is also called a “psychic change.” Glaser talks about one small piece of AA and ignores the rest of it which would conveniently address her subsequent criticisms. Her solution is that there are ways to help addicts to drink moderately with the use of drugs among other solutions that are available. She’s right, and no literature in AA disputes this. There are other methods and AA is not for everyone.

Moreover, AA’s program teaches that drinking itself is a symptom of a deeper psychological problem. But in good straw-man building fashion, she does not take us there in the article.

Though our decision was a vital and crucial step, it could have little permanent effect unless at once followed by a strenuous effort to face, and to be rid of, the things in ourselves which had been blocking us. Our liquor was but a symptom. So we had to get down to causes and conditions. (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 64)

Glaser talks about alternatives. Among them, “motivational enhancement, a form of counseling that aims to help people see the need to change.” Or, that AA is not equipped to address issues of other mental health issues. This is where she shows that she has done some extraordinarily shoddy research into AA itself. The literature in AA is very clear about how to work with physicians and the importance of working with the medical community.

We recognize that alcoholics are not immune to other diseases. Some of us have had to cope with depressions that can be suicidal; schizophrenia that sometimes requires hospitalization; bipolar disorder, and other mental and biological illnesses. Also among us are diabetics, epileptics, members with heart trouble, cancer, allergies, hypertension, and many other serious physical conditions. Because of the difficulties that many alcoholics have with drugs, some members have taken the position that no one in A.A. should take any medication. While this position has undoubtedly prevented relapses for some, it has meant disaster for others.

She also describes the AA program consisting of “attending meetings, earning one’s sobriety chips, and never taking another sip of alcohol.” In fact, if you present this to anyone in AA who has long-term recovery under his or her belt they will laugh at you and tell you that AA approached this way is a recipe for relapse! The examples she gives are simply examples of people who may have had bad experiences in AA. But to someone with long-term sobriety, these examples are of people who did not do the work to change their lives in a way where the cravings desisted. Glaser fails to talk about all of the stuff in the steps that restructure life and redirect behaviors in ways that are exactly the opposite of the self-seeking behaviors of the active addict.

“J.G.” in Glaser’s article, who rationalizes his way into “a cycle of bingeing and abstinence,” is not a new character in AA lore. Again, the person sober for a while will tell him that he might not be done researching his own drinking and is probably not ready for AA just yet. That guy doesn’t want to get sober, he wants to drink. But no one in AA is stopping him. Abstinence is not the cause of his bingeing, his alcoholism is.

Trading One Dependency for Another?

Words such as “retention” and “success” are frequently thrown out in articles such as Glaser’s without any description of what they the measure of them is. Is someone who gets sober in AA for a decade, then goes out for a night of binge drinking a failure? What does it mean to “get better?” Perhaps to Glaser dependence on pills in order to resist cravings is the way to go.

She plans to keep taking naltrexone indefinitely, and has become an advocate for Sinclair’s method: she set up a nonprofit organization for people seeking information about it and made a documentary called One Little Pill.

That might work for some people, but without working through all the other shit that alcoholism brings with it, you are just slowing down the physical cravings. Alcoholics destroy the lives of those around them, not only their own. Unless you can clean up that mess, nothing will really change. If you just want to slow down your drinking, AA is just not the place for you. But if your drinking has been the primary cause in what you perceive to be a majorly fucked up life, a pill is not going to resolve that – even if it takes away your physical cravings to get lit.

The core problem with Glaser’s article is that it focuses on the physical problem of alcoholism which the Big Book talks about, but then ignores the majority AA program which is primarily a pragmatic method to radically change one’s thinking not just to stay abstinent from alcohol, but then to become a more honest and helpful person than what one was before hand. It is primarily a program about solutions rather than problems. It is about replacing one set of behaviors and environmental conditions with another in order to produce different behavior outcomes after recognizing the root causes for one’s drinking – causes that are discovered in steps 4-9.

Seen in its fullness, AA is about as rational as any program of recovery can get. When you see the rational work done between a sponsor and a sponsee you can see how rational it is and how striking it is compared to many of the modern programs of behavior and cognitive therapies used in other addiction treatment theories.

As one of Glaser’s critics says, “What keeps me in the AA rooms despite this is, first and always, the people–a community whose impact is hard to grasp unless you are part of it (which the self-proclaimed non-alcoholic Glaser most definitely is not).”

Portraits of the Lunatic Fringe, 1869

Old images are always a bit creepy. Old images of insane asylum artifacts are even creepier. I wonder how our current treatment of the mentally ill will be viewed far off in the future?

Inspired by the Retreat, the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum pioneered the care and treatment of the mentally ill during the Victorian and Edwardian era. Gone were days of brutality and fear. Patients were cared for as best as was then able and according to the available medical advice. It may seem strange and harsh to us today—especially the use of confinement cells to hold some violent, paranoid and delusional patients—but in relative terms, our treatment of the mentally ill will no doubt be seen as harsh by future generations.

via Portraits of inmates from a ‘Lunatic Asylum,’ 1869 | Dangerous Minds.

What do you think?