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Old 12-10-2018, 05:21 PM   #1
Aaron W.
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America’s New Religions

http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2018/...religions.html

It's a long article, but there are a number of interesting statements here to discuss/argue about. I've excerpted a few chunks to see if anything gets taken up.

This first quote sets up some of the framework of "religion" that the author is using.

Quote:
In his highly entertaining book, The Seven Types of Atheism, released in October in the U.S., philosopher John Gray puts it this way: “Religion is an attempt to find meaning in events, not a theory that tries to explain the universe.” It exists because we humans are the only species, so far as we can know, who have evolved to know explicitly that, one day in the future, we will die. And this existential fact requires some way of reconciling us to it while we are alive.
This part starts into the topic of politics as the new religion.

Quote:
So what happens when this religious rampart of the entire system is removed? I think what happens is illiberal politics. The need for meaning hasn’t gone away, but without Christianity, this yearning looks to politics for satisfaction. And religious impulses, once anchored in and tamed by Christianity, find expression in various political cults. These political manifestations of religion are new and crude, as all new cults have to be. They haven’t been experienced and refined and modeled by millennia of practice and thought. They are evolving in real time. And like almost all new cultish impulses, they demand a total and immediate commitment to save the world.

Now look at our politics. We have the cult of Trump on the right, a demigod who, among his worshippers, can do no wrong. And we have the cult of social justice on the left, a religion whose followers show the same zeal as any born-again Evangelical. They are filling the void that Christianity once owned, without any of the wisdom and culture and restraint that Christianity once provided.
And here's some analysis of the left and the right under that framework.

Quote:
For many, especially the young, discovering a new meaning in the midst of the fallen world is thrilling. And social-justice ideology does everything a religion should. It offers an account of the whole: that human life and society and any kind of truth must be seen entirely as a function of social power structures, in which various groups have spent all of human existence oppressing other groups. And it provides a set of practices to resist and reverse this interlocking web of oppression — from regulating the workplace and policing the classroom to checking your own sin and even seeking to control language itself. I think of non-PC gaffes as the equivalent of old swear words. Like the puritans who were agape when someone said “goddamn,” the new faithful are scandalized when someone says something “problematic.” Another commonality of the zealot then and now: humorlessness.

And so the young adherents of the Great Awokening exhibit the zeal of the Great Awakening. Like early modern Christians, they punish heresy by banishing sinners from society or coercing them to public demonstrations of shame, and provide an avenue for redemption in the form of a thorough public confession of sin. “Social justice” theory requires the admission of white privilege in ways that are strikingly like the admission of original sin. A Christian is born again; an activist gets woke. To the belief in human progress unfolding through history — itself a remnant of Christian eschatology — it adds the Leninist twist of a cadre of heroes who jump-start the revolution.

The same cultish dynamic can be seen on the right. There, many profess nominal Christianity and yet demonstrate every day that they have left it far behind. Some exist in a world without meaning altogether, and that fate is never pretty. I saw this most vividly when examining the opioid epidemic. People who have lost religion and are coasting along on materialism find they have few interior resources to keep going when crisis hits. They have no place of refuge, no spiritual safe space from which to gain perspective, no God to turn to. Many have responded to the collapse of meaning in dark times by simply and logically numbing themselves to death, extinguishing existential pain through ever-stronger painkillers that ultimately kill the pain of life itself.

Yes, many Evangelicals are among the holiest and most quietly devoted people out there. Some have bravely resisted the cult. But their leaders have turned Christianity into a political and social identity, not a lived faith, and much of their flock — a staggering 81 percent voted for Trump — has signed on. They have tribalized a religion explicitly built by Jesus as anti-tribal. They have turned to idols — including their blasphemous belief in America as God’s chosen country. They have embraced wealth and nationalism as core goods, two ideas utterly anathema to Christ. They are indifferent to the destruction of the creation they say they believe God made. And because their faith is unmoored but their religious impulse is strong, they seek a replacement for religion. This is why they could suddenly rally to a cult called Trump. He may be the least Christian person in America, but his persona met the religious need their own faiths had ceased to provide. The terrible truth of the last three years is that the fresh appeal of a leader-cult has overwhelmed the fading truths of Christianity.
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Old 12-10-2018, 07:46 PM   #2
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Re: America’s New Religions

Quote:
Originally Posted by Aaron W. View Post
http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2018/...religions.html

It's a long article, but there are a number of interesting statements here to discuss/argue about. I've excerpted a few chunks to see if anything gets taken up.

This first quote sets up some of the framework of "religion" that the author is using.
I'm not impressed by this argument:

1) Religion is whatever it is that provides meaning and purpose in your life.
2) Atheists claim to have no religion.
3) Atheists claim that x provides meaning and purpose in their lives.
4) Therefore atheists are mistaken that they aren't religious.

Since most atheists (myself included) do not agree with (1) and Sullivan just assumes it, whatever. Given (1), I'm guessing that most atheists will acknowledge that they are "religious." Given the more common understanding of religion I am comfortable claiming to have no religion.
Quote:
So what happens when this religious rampart of the entire system is removed? I think what happens is illiberal politics. The need for meaning hasn’t gone away, but without Christianity, this yearning looks to politics for satisfaction. And religious impulses, once anchored in and tamed by Christianity, find expression in various political cults. These political manifestations of religion are new and crude, as all new cults have to be. They haven’t been experienced and refined and modeled by millennia of practice and thought. They are evolving in real time. And like almost all new cultish impulses, they demand a total and immediate commitment to save the world.
I think this is a misread of social justice ideology. Sullivan writes that "the need for meaning hasn’t gone away, but without Christianity, this yearning looks to politics for satisfaction." Really? All ideologies of course do look to politics for satisfaction to some extent - including various Christian ones of the past. But almost all of the examples given by Sullivan show that social justice is more focused on changing social norms rather than laws or political structure. That is, it is focused on classroom and workplace relations and regulations, how people talk, having people recognize and acknowledge certain moral truths, public shaming, and so on. As a political program, there is relatively little in terms of actual legislation, except for things that most traditional left-wing liberals would already agree with, eg banning workplace discrimination against LGBT workers, less incarceration and drug prohibition, more funding for welfare programs, universal healthcare, and so on.

I think it's fair to say that many of the people Sullivan is talking about are less tolerant than more traditional liberals of people with views they consider discriminatory or prejudicial towards marginalized groups. They might advocate for them being fired or consider such views unacceptable, be less willing to compromise with such people, participate in public shaming, deplatforming, etc. I also think it isn't implausible to think that insofar as tolerance for opposing viewpoints makes liberal democracies more stable that this increased intolerance weakens America's democracy. But I'm skeptical that this has much to do with its lack of Christian character, except perhaps in the most basic sense that this means there is more disagreement between these groups. When Christianity was more common, disagreeing publicly with its own pieties carried a social cost as well.

Quote:
Yes, many Evangelicals are among the holiest and most quietly devoted people out there. Some have bravely resisted the cult. But their leaders have turned Christianity into a political and social identity, not a lived faith, and much of their flock — a staggering 81 percent voted for Trump — has signed on. They have tribalized a religion explicitly built by Jesus as anti-tribal. They have turned to idols — including their blasphemous belief in America as God’s chosen country. They have embraced wealth and nationalism as core goods, two ideas utterly anathema to Christ. They are indifferent to the destruction of the creation they say they believe God made. And because their faith is unmoored but their religious impulse is strong, they seek a replacement for religion. This is why they could suddenly rally to a cult called Trump. He may be the least Christian person in America, but his persona met the religious need their own faiths had ceased to provide. The terrible truth of the last three years is that the fresh appeal of a leader-cult has overwhelmed the fading truths of Christianity.
Sullivan doesn't really grapple with the problem here. Trump is only a manifestation of a longer-running problem for evangelical Christians and Christianity in general. As an old religion, Christianity has many dogmas (exclusionary theism, creationism, miracles, revelation) and moral claims (eg views about divorce, birth control, homosexuality, etc) that don't fit well in modern, wealthy Western societies. Some Christian denominations have tried to deal with this by embracing modernity and revising their traditional beliefs to bring them more in line with modern views about the world. This hasn't worked very well in the States, with most mainline Protestant denominations that follow this route rapidly declining in membership and relevance.

Other denominations have tried to avoid compromising with modernity, holding on to more traditional theological and moral views. However, this has bred a conspiratorial and anti-intellectual attitude among these Christians, convinced that the intellectual (i.e. universities) political (GOP "establishment," Democrats), and social (Hollywood) elites of American society are all opposed to them and their values. This leaves them vulnerable to hucksters like Trump because his lack of conventional qualifications, character, or ideas for the Presidency and the rejection by elites that this usually entails only shows them that he has the right enemies.
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Old 12-11-2018, 11:50 AM   #3
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Re: America’s New Religions

I haven't gotten to reading either yet, but I noticed Ezra Klein published something of a rebuttal in Vox today.

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-polit...stianity-trump
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Old 12-11-2018, 12:01 PM   #4
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Re: America’s New Religions

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Originally Posted by Original Position View Post
Sullivan doesn't really grapple with the problem here. Trump is only a manifestation of a longer-running problem for evangelical Christians and Christianity in general. As an old religion, Christianity has many dogmas (exclusionary theism, creationism, miracles, revelation) and moral claims (eg views about divorce, birth control, homosexuality, etc) that don't fit well in modern, wealthy Western societies. Some Christian denominations have tried to deal with this by embracing modernity and revising their traditional beliefs to bring them more in line with modern views about the world. This hasn't worked very well in the States, with most mainline Protestant denominations that follow this route rapidly declining in membership and relevance.

Other denominations have tried to avoid compromising with modernity, holding on to more traditional theological and moral views. However, this has bred a conspiratorial and anti-intellectual attitude among these Christians, convinced that the intellectual (i.e. universities) political (GOP "establishment," Democrats), and social (Hollywood) elites of American society are all opposed to them and their values. This leaves them vulnerable to hucksters like Trump because his lack of conventional qualifications, character, or ideas for the Presidency and the rejection by elites that this usually entails only shows them that he has the right enemies.
this is very well said imo
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Old 12-12-2018, 08:55 PM   #5
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Re: America’s New Religions

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Originally Posted by Original Position View Post
1) Religion is whatever it is that provides meaning and purpose in your life.

Since most atheists (myself included) do not agree with (1) and Sullivan just assumes it, whatever.
This also struck me as an odd setup. I'm not familiar with Gray's book, and am curious as to whether Sullivan's statement is consistent with what Gray had put forward, of if this an extrapolation beyond those writings.

Quote:
Some Christian denominations have tried to deal with this by embracing modernity and revising their traditional beliefs to bring them more in line with modern views about the world. This hasn't worked very well in the States, with most mainline Protestant denominations that follow this route rapidly declining in membership and relevance.
Given that ALL mainline Protestant denominations are rapidly declining, it's not obvious to me that an "embrace of modernity" is the thing that's not working well, unless you're saying here that the "embrace of modernity" did not work sufficiently well to reverse the outflow and not saying that the embrace is the cause for the outflow.

I think it's a subtle but important distinction when juxtaposed with your next paragraph, which can be read as suggesting that the ones that did not compromise actually remained strong.

http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/c...on-of-the-u-s/

Quote:
The share of adults belonging to mainline churches dropped from 18.1% in 2007 to 14.7% in 2014.
I don't believe (though I couldn't find data) that this 20% (relative) drop is solely on the shoulders of the mainlines that tried to go progressive.
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Old 12-13-2018, 07:10 PM   #6
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Re: America’s New Religions

I like OrP's response a lot, and I'm not sure I have much to add, but...

I'll say I don't personally have any objection to really broad definitions of religion, like the one Sullivan employs. I just think you have to be careful not to equivocate. I think there are interesting and important conversations to be had amongst non-believers about some of the social roles that religion plays in society and how to have secular institutions that fill similar needs. The problem with Sullivan's piece isn't really his definition of religion, it's the rest of his argument.

I also liked parts of this article from The Atlantic, which is meandering but interesting, and in particular this part about Sullivan's claim that the contemporary liberal order lacks meaning:

Quote:
This question is an empirical one: Does tribalism feed a deep human hunger that liberalism does not? Liberals, I think, give up too easily on this point. Defenders of the old liberal order are tired and jaded, it’s true—who can observe the iniquities and false promises of modernity without a loss of faith? But the contention that Enlightenment liberalism’s mojo has natural limits, and that illiberalism’s mojo is inexhaustible, seems to me at best debatable, with the evidence pointing away from Sullivan’s conclusion.
The author doesn't really survey the evidence :P

But I think it's good to point out that the claim is debatable, and I think there's a lot of meaning and significance to be found in those values (which speaks to the broad definition of religion as a way of life, even).

Otherwise, Klein's reading seems right on to me:

Quote:
But if Sullivan’s essay fails as historical analysis, it succeeds as a metaphor for our times. What he has done is come up with a tribal explanation for political tribalism: The problem is not enough people like him, too many people unlike him.
I was a subscriber to his site for a number of years and have enjoyed a lot of his blogging, but I think he's always had a bit of a blind spot in just this way.
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Old 12-13-2018, 08:48 PM   #7
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Re: America’s New Religions

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Originally Posted by Aaron W. View Post

Given that ALL mainline Protestant denominations are rapidly declining, it's not obvious to me that an "embrace of modernity" is the thing that's not working well, unless you're saying here that the "embrace of modernity" did not work sufficiently well to reverse the outflow and not saying that the embrace is the cause for the outflow.

I think it's a subtle but important distinction when juxtaposed with your next paragraph, which can be read as suggesting that the ones that did not compromise actually remained strong.

http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/c...on-of-the-u-s/

I don't believe (though I couldn't find data) that this 20% (relative) drop is solely on the shoulders of the mainlines that tried to go progressive.
Which mainline Protestant denominations are you referring to that are not progressive and/or liberal relative to evangelicals? Obviously some are more liberal than others, but I'll point out that the coding in the survey data you linked to sorts people who attend mainline denominations that identify as evangelical or born again into the evangelical category and vice versa (eg it says only about 60% of Baptists are sorted as evangelical). And the relatively faster decline of mainline denominations is clear (from 2007 to 2014 it has declined as a share of US population from 18% to 15%, while black Protestants have held steady at 7% and evangelicals have declined from 26% to 25%). The longer run historical data is equally discouraging for mainline Protestants.

People raised in mainline Protestant churches are also less likely to remain in them as adults compared to evangelicals, at 45% compared to 65%. Furthermore, most members and clergy at growing churches are conservative in theology. Causation here is obviously tricky, so I don't want to claim that this is all because these churches became more liberal in theology and progressive in morals. But I think there are good theoretical reasons to think so, and and at worst it hasn't stopped the decline.
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Old 12-13-2018, 08:59 PM   #8
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Re: America’s New Religions

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Originally Posted by well named View Post

I'll say I don't personally have any objection to really broad definitions of religion
Yeah, as someone with a broad definition of religion, I see a lot of truth in the article. I would say what he is missing is that the status seeking (individual desire for status projected onto the group cause), which drives much of the political tribalism, and tribalism in general, is part of religious progress.

Maybe more accurately, he is missing that religion, or meaning seeking, is a journey, and this phase we’re currently in, at a cultural level, was an inevitability. It’s the trend toward individualism. The beginning was symbolized with Martin Luther, on through the Enlightenment, and finally we are nearing the end which is Postmodernism. Postmodernism is the transition point from being lead culturally to individually, since cultural Postmodernism (or extreme skepticism) leads to societal destruction and chaos. Only individuals, within a stable enough society, can transition through the Postmodern/Nihilistic stage.

There is no going back to traditional religious society. However, cultural progress is defined more by speed, but individual progress is defined more by accuracy, so there is value in going back to retrieve wisdom that we have culturally undervalued in our haste.
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Old 12-13-2018, 09:29 PM   #9
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Re: America’s New Religions

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I also liked parts of this article from The Atlantic, which is meandering but interesting, and in particular this part about Sullivan's claim that the contemporary liberal order lacks meaning:

The author doesn't really survey the evidence :P

But I think it's good to point out that the claim is debatable, and I think there's a lot of meaning and significance to be found in those values (which speaks to the broad definition of religion as a way of life, even).
I think Sullivan is correct that replacing religion with liberalism leaves a less meaningful life. Liberalism is meant to be compatible with a wide variety of personal lifestyles, philosophies, and religions, not replace them. This is why the public/private split is important in liberal philosophy - liberalism is much more about the public sphere, but people's most important decisions are in the private sphere.

Quote:
Otherwise, Klein's reading seems right on to me:

I was a subscriber to his site for a number of years and have enjoyed a lot of his blogging, but I think he's always had a bit of a blind spot in just this way.
Quote:
Ezra Klein:
Polarization is rising, and to the extent that Sullivan senses a hardening of tribal lines, he’s not wrong. But the driving force here isn’t the waning of Christianity but the politicized sorting of it, and much else. Married white Christians made up 80 percent of voters in the 1950s, and were evenly split between the two parties; today, they make up less than 40 percent of voters, and they’re overwhelmingly concentrated in the Republican Party. The parties have similarly organized around race, geography, and even age.
Klein's arguments seems wrong to me. He claims that the problem here is not the waning of Christianity, but its partisan sorting. Okay, it seems plausible to me that religion sorting along partisan lines is a proximate cause of the hardening of tribalism, but that sorting along religious lines also seems to be possible now in a way it wasn't in the 1950s at least in part because married white Christians are no longer 80% of voters. Isn't this Sullivan's point? Yeah, he takes some potshots at the "new religions" he identifies, but complaining that he is himself being tribalistic in doing so misses the point. Sullivan doesn't hide the fact that he is a Catholic and so "tribalistic" in that sense.

Sullivan's criticism here isn't the fact that "tribes" exist, but rather that he doesn't like specific features of some of the new ones coming up, specifically their collectivism and unwillingness to compromise and general lack of pragmatism. This criticism follows pretty naturally from Sullivan's conservative pragmatist philosophy about politics, so it seems uncharitable to ascribe it to his own tribalism. Anyway, I'm prima facie skeptical that Sullivan, a prominent gay activist who is also a conservative American Roman Catholic is overly tribalistic in his own thinking.
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Old 12-14-2018, 12:42 PM   #10
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Re: America’s New Religions

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Sullivan, a prominent gay activist who is also a conservative American Roman Catholic is overly tribalistic in his own thinking.
Isn't that an oxymoron?
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Old 12-14-2018, 01:48 PM   #11
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Re: America’s New Religions

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I think Sullivan is correct that replacing religion with liberalism leaves a less meaningful life. Liberalism is meant to be compatible with a wide variety of personal lifestyles, philosophies, and religions, not replace them. This is why the public/private split is important in liberal philosophy - liberalism is much more about the public sphere, but people's most important decisions are in the private sphere.
I take your point, and I mentioned my belief that there is a need for the development of secular institutions that fulfill needs met by religion. But I think Sullivan was going further than that. It seems to me that he's implying that it's impossible for a non-religious (in the narrower sense) worldview to be meaningful in any satisfactory way at all, rather than just saying that liberalism is less of an overarching worldview by default. For example when he writes:

Quote:
But none of this material progress beckons humans to a way of life beyond mere satisfaction of our wants and needs. And this matters. We are a meaning-seeking species.
Quote:
Our modern world tries extremely hard to protect us from the sort of existential moments experienced by Mill and Russell....

But the banality of the god of progress, the idea that the best life is writing explainers for Vox in order to make the world a better place, never quite slakes the thirst for something deeper.
When I agree with the Atlantic author that there's something to be pushed back on in this, it's more the implicit conclusion in favor of traditional religion, if that makes sense?

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Originally Posted by Original Position View Post
Klein's arguments seems wrong to me. He claims that the problem here is not the waning of Christianity, but its partisan sorting. Okay, it seems plausible to me that religion sorting along partisan lines is a proximate cause of the hardening of tribalism, but that sorting along religious lines also seems to be possible now in a way it wasn't in the 1950s at least in part because married white Christians are no longer 80% of voters. Isn't this Sullivan's point? Yeah, he takes some potshots at the "new religions" he identifies, but complaining that he is himself being tribalistic in doing so misses the point. Sullivan doesn't hide the fact that he is a Catholic and so "tribalistic" in that sense.

Sullivan's criticism here isn't the fact that "tribes" exist, but rather that he doesn't like specific features of some of the new ones coming up, specifically their collectivism and unwillingness to compromise and general lack of pragmatism. This criticism follows pretty naturally from Sullivan's conservative pragmatist philosophy about politics, so it seems uncharitable to ascribe it to his own tribalism. Anyway, I'm prima facie skeptical that Sullivan, a prominent gay activist who is also a conservative American Roman Catholic is overly tribalistic in his own thinking.
Re: tribalism, I think you're right in a way, but I was allowing a little bit of poetic license on Klein's part, for rhetorical punch. Sullivan isn't tribalistic in exactly the same way as a white evangelical voter might be, my perception is that he just has some very strong ideological commitments and those color his perception of all these issues. He's always had a very negative view of anything that seems like identity politics to him, and he's always had an aversion to leftist social justice politics, although of course he shared many goals with LGTBQ activists.

It's definitely true that his rather unique social position (gay, British ~conservative catholic) gives him an interesting perspective, and I think he's always been an interesting and worthwhile writer. But I'm not sure I've seen him ever engage very meaningfully with those more left-leaning movements he's suspicious of. I think he's prone to working backwards from his favored conclusions towards whatever arguments might work to support them.

I think you're right that it would be uncharitable to dismiss him as merely tribalistic (especially given some of the connotations of the word) but I think there's a valid point that his arguments boil down to saying that the problem is "too many people who don't think like him" with regard to so-called identity politics and social justice movements, and that he doesn't really give those political movements a fair evaluation.

I think the most valid point Klein makes is just that the reading of history which Sullivan's argument depends on is a-historical:

Quote:
America’s political past was not more procedural and restrained than its present, and religion does not, in general, calm political divides. What Sullivan is missing in these sections is precisely the perspective of the groups he’s dismissing.
The problem isn't recognizing how demographic trends contribute to polarization, it's in thinking that the state of affairs in which 80% of voters were white Christians was a state of affairs in which political struggles were more restrained, especially from the perspective of those were not in that 80%. I think it's only a state of affairs in which the urgency of those struggles is more hidden from the members of the majority. So when Sullivan writes:

Quote:
So what happens when this religious rampart of the entire system is removed? I think what happens is illiberal politics. The need for meaning hasn’t gone away, but without Christianity, this yearning looks to politics for satisfaction. And religious impulses, once anchored in and tamed by Christianity, find expression in various political cults.
I don't think this idea of "removing the religious rampart" reduces simply to just a comment on demographic change and increasing pluralism. But I also think the premise is just wrong: that the more religiously homogeneous culture was more liberal. It's just that it's illiberality was not distributed equally.
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Old 12-14-2018, 02:14 PM   #12
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Re: America’s New Religions

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Which mainline Protestant denominations are you referring to that are not progressive and/or liberal relative to evangelicals? Obviously some are more liberal than others, but I'll point out that the coding in the survey data you linked to sorts people who attend mainline denominations that identify as evangelical or born again into the evangelical category and vice versa (eg it says only about 60% of Baptists are sorted as evangelical). And the relatively faster decline of mainline denominations is clear (from 2007 to 2014 it has declined as a share of US population from 18% to 15%, while black Protestants have held steady at 7% and evangelicals have declined from 26% to 25%). The longer run historical data is equally discouraging for mainline Protestants.
Perhaps my perspective is colored through my general sense of denominational affiliation. You're right that the choices of coding do all sorts of things to the conversation. I will admit to have simply grabbed the article for its numerical statement without carefully reviewing those coding decisions.

To highlight a bit more the issue of coding, because of the splintering of denominations in the early 2000s or so in which all sides were trying to maintain affiliations, we have a collision of sorts with names:

https://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/201...patterns-trump

Quote:
These churches are dying off at a very quick pace. Within the Presbyterian family, the “mainline” Presbyterian Church (USA) is shrinking while the “evangelical” Presbyterian Church of America is growing. Within the Lutheran family, the “mainline” Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (yes, the “Evangelical Lutherans” are mainline, not evangelical; one of many absurdities in religious verbiage) is shrinking rapidly while “evangelical” Wisconsin or Missouri Synod Lutherans are either holding steady or shrinking slowly. Within the Methodist family, “mainline” United Methodists are shrinking while “evangelical” Free Methodists are holding steady. Both sides of the Baptist family tree are shrinking, but the mainline side is shrinking faster.
After further reflection, I think the claim I was making (which I now think is not as relevant to your statement) has to do with the general decrease in denominational affiliation. That is, someone attending a "Lutheran" church doesn't necessarily identify as "Lutheran" and may also not even be aware of which branch of Lutheranism their church is a part of. That aspect of religious identity simply doesn't carry meaning. In other words, my interpretation of the claim had more to do with the decline of denominationalism as a relevant identifier to Christians.

This observation may also play into the self-identification that you brought up. People may be in churches that are classified as "mainline" even though they self-identify as evangelical because there just isn't that much to clarify the distinction.

I might have linked this article on the rise of nondenominational churches at some point in the past:

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ne...inational.html

Quote:
According to a recent paper published by sociologist Simon Brauer in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, the number of religious congregations in the United States has increased by almost 50,000 since 1998. A key reason: growth in nondenominational churches.
To sum up, I'll withdraw my objection to your claim, as I don't believe it's directly addressing the specific issue you've raised. I think the point I had in my head was in a different direction than the claim you were making.

I am still relatively unconvinced that the "embrace of progressivism" is playing the causal factor you are suggesting, but I don't have data that speaks to the issue clearly enough.
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Old 12-14-2018, 10:10 PM   #13
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Re: America’s New Religions

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Isn't that an oxymoron?
Evidently not.
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Old 12-15-2018, 12:43 AM   #14
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Re: America’s New Religions

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I take your point, and I mentioned my belief that there is a need for the development of secular institutions that fulfill needs met by religion. But I think Sullivan was going further than that. It seems to me that he's implying that it's impossible for a non-religious (in the narrower sense) worldview to be meaningful in any satisfactory way at all, rather than just saying that liberalism is less of an overarching worldview by default. For example when he writes:

When I agree with the Atlantic author that there's something to be pushed back on in this, it's more the implicit conclusion in favor of traditional religion, if that makes sense?
I agree with you that traditional religion is not required for a satisfactorily meaningful life. However, I took Sullivan to be echoing John Gray's critique of modern atheism/humanism and its assumption of moral and intellectual progress, not necessarily claiming that traditional religion is required for meaning (a claim that Gray, himself a non-religious atheist, rejects).

There is also a long-standing criticism of liberalism (most recently from communitarians) that it relies on an overly atomistic conception of the self as an economically rational actor self-sufficient in itself and this view seems lurking in the background of Sullivan's critique here, even if he takes himself to be defending liberalism.

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Re: tribalism, I think you're right in a way, but I was allowing a little bit of poetic license on Klein's part, for rhetorical punch. Sullivan isn't tribalistic in exactly the same way as a white evangelical voter might be, my perception is that he just has some very strong ideological commitments and those color his perception of all these issues. He's always had a very negative view of anything that seems like identity politics to him, and he's always had an aversion to leftist social justice politics, although of course he shared many goals with LGTBQ activists.

It's definitely true that his rather unique social position (gay, British ~conservative catholic) gives him an interesting perspective, and I think he's always been an interesting and worthwhile writer. But I'm not sure I've seen him ever engage very meaningfully with those more left-leaning movements he's suspicious of. I think he's prone to working backwards from his favored conclusions towards whatever arguments might work to support them.

I think you're right that it would be uncharitable to dismiss him as merely tribalistic (especially given some of the connotations of the word) but I think there's a valid point that his arguments boil down to saying that the problem is "too many people who don't think like him" with regard to so-called identity politics and social justice movements, and that he doesn't really give those political movements a fair evaluation.
Nah, this is too reductive an analysis. For instance, I disagree with the Republican Party's view that climate change isn't real, or if it is then not that big a deal, or if it is, there's nothing we can do about it. I have reasons and arguments with which to defend each of these claims, but it is also true that you could describe my view as boiling down to saying that the problem is "too many people who don't think like me" regarding climate change. Well, yeah. That's the nature of political disagreement in a democracy, where you can't achieve your goals because other people disagree about that goal or the means to achieve it. Under this analysis of Sullivan's claims the arguments and reasons he gives for any of his views are irrelevant and all we are left with is how many people are on his side or not.

Anyway, I know Klein's response is popular towards critics of identity politics, but it is pretty clearly an ad hominem argument. Of course, on some level that is just another way of describing the disagreement between them - how much weight should we give to identity characteristics of the people making an argument in evaluating their arguments.

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I think the most valid point Klein makes is just that the reading of history which Sullivan's argument depends on is a-historical:

The problem isn't recognizing how demographic trends contribute to polarization, it's in thinking that the state of affairs in which 80% of voters were white Christians was a state of affairs in which political struggles were more restrained, especially from the perspective of those were not in that 80%. I think it's only a state of affairs in which the urgency of those struggles is more hidden from the members of the majority. So when Sullivan writes:

I don't think this idea of "removing the religious rampart" reduces simply to just a comment on demographic change and increasing pluralism. But I also think the premise is just wrong: that the more religiously homogeneous culture was more liberal. It's just that it's illiberality was not distributed equally.
Well, as I said, I'm also skeptical this has much to do with Christianity. We were more Christian in the mid-nineteenth century when polarization was much worse than in 1950s America. Nonetheless, religious difference is clearly an identity that can lead to severe political conflict and polarization. Insofar as the US is less religiously homogeneous than in the past, the opportunity for religious identity specifically to contribute to political strife is probably greater than before. However, I also think people today are just less religious in general, so in absolute terms the likelihood of serious religiously-based conflict is actually lower than in the past.

Here's a way of putting Klein's criticism that I think is better. Sullivan's version of liberalism is a limited one. He seems to think, along with Tocqueville and other republican thinkers, that a stable political order requires more than just agreement on the fundamentals of secular liberalism, but also some level of agreement about how you should live and what constitutes a good life. In this sense he seems to disagree with eg John Rawls's view in Political Liberalism that an overlapping consensus between different religious and secular philosophies about core liberal ideas of human rights and freedoms is sufficient for political stability. If he actually does reject this, then I think it is fair to point out that on his view liberalism isn't really the kind of ideology for a large, diverse country like the US and so all he really offers is a kind of useless nostalgia for a different time that won't ever return.
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Old 12-15-2018, 12:20 PM   #15
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Re: America’s New Religions

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Originally Posted by Original Position View Post
I agree with you that traditional religion is not required for a satisfactorily meaningful life. However, I took Sullivan to be echoing John Gray's critique of modern atheism/humanism and its assumption of moral and intellectual progress, not necessarily claiming that traditional religion is required for meaning (a claim that Gray, himself a non-religious atheist, rejects).
Ah, I see. I'm not familiar with Gray, so I read it differently.

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Anyway, I know Klein's response is popular towards critics of identity politics, but it is pretty clearly an ad hominem argument.
I suppose you're right, but I guess I didn't think of that part as the argument, more like a glib statement of a conclusion. And I guess for better or worse my reaction to Sullivan on some of this stuff is to shrug and just say "yeah, I know you think that."

I don't think all of what Klein said in response is an ad hominem though, just that part.

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Here's a way of putting Klein's criticism that I think is better. Sullivan's version of liberalism is a limited one. He seems to think, along with Tocqueville and other republican thinkers, that a stable political order requires more than just agreement on the fundamentals of secular liberalism, but also some level of agreement about how you should live and what constitutes a good life. In this sense he seems to disagree with eg John Rawls's view in Political Liberalism that an overlapping consensus between different religious and secular philosophies about core liberal ideas of human rights and freedoms is sufficient for political stability. If he actually does reject this, then I think it is fair to point out that on his view liberalism isn't really the kind of ideology for a large, diverse country like the US and so all he really offers is a kind of useless nostalgia for a different time that won't ever return.
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Old 12-18-2018, 06:45 AM   #16
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Re: America’s New Religions

I have little doubt that all of the underlying reasons behind religion also crop up in other social phenomena. In fact if they did not, that would probably be a very good argument for religion being of non-human / divine origin.

But similarities alone does not make two phenomena the same.

Consider that that tribal warfare and league sports might show similarities, but they are still not the same and it would muddle definitions and language to claim that they are. Ultimately it would also open the door to bogus arguments ala "and therefore we see that tribal warfare is just healthy competition" or "league sports creates unrest". Arguments that sound awfully close to the kind wielded in the linked article.

I also take issue with statements such as "tempered wisdom" when referring to Christianity. It comes of as a purposeful obfuscation. It looks like it is trying to side-step the debate on whether the reduction in Christianity's power over states (or more correctly at the time: countries) came as a result of theology or despite theology, by covering both bases. But that argument should never be sidestepped, since it is the very heart of the debate.
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Old 12-18-2018, 06:05 PM   #17
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Re: America’s New Religions

Religion isn't something you can demolish and it goes away. Even with atheists. It's something people have engaged in cross culturally across time. It isn't just an invention that spread, cultures all did this independently. It coincides with social and psychological structures. Also how we orient ourselves in the world. Demolish Christianity for example, it's not just like someone carries on life with the absence of the belief in Jesus. They still have value structures and perceptions that orient them. Many are still "Christian" in how they act. You can't really act without value structures because those tell us what to aim at. When one religion goes (formal or not) it will be replaced. We are seeing this play out in the west right now



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Old 12-19-2018, 01:13 AM   #18
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Re: America’s New Religions

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Religion isn't something you can demolish and it goes away. Even with atheists. It's something people have engaged in cross culturally across time. It isn't just an invention that spread, cultures all did this independently. It coincides with social and psychological structures. Also how we orient ourselves in the world. Demolish Christianity for example, it's not just like someone carries on life with the absence of the belief in Jesus. They still have value structures and perceptions that orient them. Many are still "Christian" in how they act. You can't really act without value structures because those tell us what to aim at. When one religion goes (formal or not) it will be replaced. We are seeing this play out in the west right now



There is no such thing as "Christian" values, so there is no such as a Christian religion on a construal of religion as solely whatever values direct your actions. There are many values that are commonly associated with Christianity, but those values on their own are consistent with non-Christian mythos and beliefs as well (in general values underdetermine theory). The "Christian" character of the values associated with Christianity comes from the contingent history of humanity: the specific beliefs, organizations, and communities that identify as "Christian" and have espoused those values.

In principle, there is nothing preventing non-Christian communities and organizations from having the same values, but with a different mythos, beliefs, organizational structure, history, and so on. Sure if you want to call those other organizations "Christians" as well because they have the same values, you can do that. This is chauvinistic though - there is then no reason to not call Christians by the name of this other religious community.

If you instead understand Christianity as a social artifact, instantiated through the actions of the actual people and institutions that identify as Christian, then you can distinguish it as a real thing that is distinct from other social organizations. Here you can talk about the impact of Christianity on history, its role and influence in contemporary society, how it affects or guides specific people and so on. But this implies that someone can continue to have the same or similar values to contemporary Christian values without thereby being themselves a Christian. Atheists who repudiate the most central claims of Christian theology, do not participate in Christian rituals, or attend Christian meetings, even if they still have many of the values usually associated with Christianity, would seem likely to be an example of this.
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Old 12-21-2018, 08:20 AM   #19
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Re: America’s New Religions

I think a term like "Christian values" can be useful in the sense that it embodies a collection of commonly held traits.

I understand the objection that the values are probably not uniquely Christian. I would also go one step further and hold that term, while useful, can also be outright bad in the sense that it might assuming values that aren't necessarily held or agreed upon. Or in the worst case it might be assuming the values exist simply because one is a Christian, an equivalent could be the dangerous difference between "it is right to punish him because it is the law" vs "we should have laws with just punishments".

Still, all that said, in everyday parlor the term has some utility. If someone says that "this clashes with my christian values" then I understand that the objection is rooted in their religious belief. For example if someone says "it is a disgrace to our Christian values to let the homeless starve", then I understand that the person is implicitly arguing not only from conviction, but also from a view of theology.
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Old 12-21-2018, 04:49 PM   #20
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Re: America’s New Religions

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Still, all that said, in everyday parlor the term has some utility. If someone says that "this clashes with my christian values" then I understand that the objection is rooted in their religious belief. For example if someone says "it is a disgrace to our Christian values to let the homeless starve", then I understand that the person is implicitly arguing not only from conviction, but also from a view of theology.
I agree with this, I was arguing against the idea that someone with "Christian values," but non-Christian beliefs and self-identification is thereby still Christian.
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Old 12-21-2018, 04:57 PM   #21
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Re: America’s New Religions

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I agree with this, I was arguing against the idea that someone with "Christian values," but non-Christian beliefs and self-identification is thereby still Christian.
I've wondered if there's some utility to a label like "culturally Christian" to describe people in this group, living in countries with historical Christian majorities. The description would fit me fairly well.
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Old 12-22-2018, 07:48 AM   #22
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Re: America’s New Religions

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I've wondered if there's some utility to a label like "culturally Christian" to describe people in this group, living in countries with historical Christian majorities. The description would fit me fairly well.
The term "Cultural Christian" is a term often used by evangelists to describe persons who perhaps were brought up in a Christian family and perhaps even still attend church services regularly, even though they no longer (or never were) an actual believer in Christian dogma.
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Old 12-22-2018, 03:52 PM   #23
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Re: America’s New Religions

Roguish conversion seems to come around from presumption that an absence of religion is an absence of ‘better meaning’ and so when people find meaning but don’t have religion it’s taken as a confirmation of religion. “Oh look if they had religion they’d have our better meaning”. It’s like rooting for their team to declare ‘better meaning’.
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