Thursday, September 29, 2005

Reality vs. The Times of London

Jason Pitzl-Waters chased down the actual conclusions of the study I wrote about yesterday. The Times of London appears to have played fast and loose with the facts. All the researcher wanted was to spur more investigation. He didn't claim that theism leads to social problems.

The opportunity to claim the Times was indulging in America-bashing is almost too obvious. But I've also been hearing about the hurricane coverage in some of the more salacious tabloids over there. The Sun claimed American soldiers were killing Katrina survivors from gunboats. I realize that the Sun is not the Times, but what the former does blatantly, the latter has been known to hint at. And jumping from "we need to investigate whether theism is a related cause" to "America stinks because it's too damned religious" is a very easy way to drop such ideas into what looks on the surface to be a respectable article.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Religion, government, and binary thinking

Wow. I ask the universe for source material, and I get this article popping up on my reading list. Thank you, universe. Have a cookie.

The Times of London has reported a study that claims a direct relationship exists between religious belief and social problems. The author attempts to prove this by showing that the United States, the only industrialized nation where the majority of its citizens believe a lone deity created the universe, is also near or at the bottom on such metrics as teen pregnancy, homicide, and STI rates.

The fact the United States has a piss-poor performance level on those matters is hard to refute, especially ones dealing with the aftereffects of poorly handled sexual behavior. But this study appears to suffer from one of the logical fallacies so many of these do: correlation implies causation. I'd need to look at it more deeply to be sure, as I don't trust newspaper summaries of case studies. But I also have a hard time believing simple comparisons of statistics. The bias of the author is always a risk factor in such situations.

I will note that many people have deluded beliefs about what Christianity as a professed faith does and doesn't mean. It doesn't take away the raging hormones of youth. It doesn't cure insanity. It certainly has only a palliative effect on poverty if taken purely as a belief instead of put into action in the form of charitable work. And regardless of what the voting patterns of the faith's most vocal adherents may demonstrate, it does at least hint at the need for fair taxation and attention paid to the downtrodden. But all faiths share the lack of a magic wand against all ills. I'm hardly faulting the majority in comparison to the rest of us.

The article itself has a very large flaw aside from taking this study at face value. It falls right into the trap of assuming the options are sloppy monotheism or nothing. It pays no attention to whether a nation that truly lived by Christian values, which this country categorically does not, might or might not do better than one that only pays lip service to the notion. And I realize it wasn't in the purview of the study to look at subsets of the American population to see if those who practice non-JudeoChristian belief systems were just as prone to those ills. But the insistence it's one or the other shows a short-sightedness about religion that I recognize all too well from sexual orientation studies that ignore bisexuality. Once again, binary thinking leaves the picture incomplete.

I'm the last person to say that religion is mandatory for a good system of ethics. I must note, however, that ethics are nothing without action. I can believe in the gods of the Celts, but if I do not act on those by living an honorable life and remembering the gods and ancestors in ritual, I may as well drape myself in plastic shamrocks and get drunk on green beer. There are many professed Christians in this country, but far too few actually understand what that means and how to live within its strictures. I don't mean taking the right-wing approach of "go ye into all the world and force the gospel down the throat of every creature." I mean noting where it suggests approaching life with respect. Treating oneself with respect. And any government that claims Christian inspiration needs must remember that "God helps those who help themselves" was said by a Deist, not an apostle.

There are those who will note any government that pays too much attention to religion is a problem. The Taliban is an extreme case, but history is rife with only marginally less toxic examples. I don't know if we have a record of a government that used what many 21st century people would call higher ethics, claiming their religion as the source, and how it went for them. Lack of evidence in this case is not proof it's impossible. Human nature is too diverse. I also know we have clear and recent records of how fanaticism needs no deity to wreak havoc. Neither Stalin nor Saddam Hussein were particularly religious. Religion is a tool. How we use it makes the difference.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Writer's block runaround attempt

I'm wanting to write more for this site, but I find myself hitting a mental roadblock. Topics rise up, start to gel, and then dissolve. So, I ask you, my friendly readership. Are there topics you'd like to see me write about? I may not do all of them, especially if I think I'm underinformed on it and can't get to it, but I'm sure I can think of something based on what's said.

I feel a bit like a cheater for doing it this way, but I have no idea when I'd be inspired if I didn't get myself some kind of kick in the rear. Of course, I could just grab my book on Celtic sex magic when I get home and use it for the Books I've Read So You Don't Have To idea I had when I started this but haven't done anything with. Still, I'd appreciate the feedback if any of you have suggestions.

Friday, September 16, 2005

In honor of the day

As today is a national day of prayer and remembrance for the victims and survivors of Hurricane Katrina, I wanted to contribute mine. I wouldn't call it brilliant, but I mean every word.

Hail to all the gods, ancestors and spirits. May you help us here in this world to bring relief to the suffering and affliction to those who would profit from exploiting this tragedy to selfish and profane ends.

Hail to you, the honored dead, victims of the hurricane. May you be safe and secure in the Otherworld with your ancestors and gods. Please watch over your descendants and help them toward better lives.

Hail to you, Lugh, bringer of storms. Your terrible might and majesty revealed to the world the truth about the hidden corners of America. May the good such a sight can lead to far outweigh the tragedy that led to the revelation.

Hail to you, Dian Cecht, first of all physicians. May your skillful hand guide the hands of those who work to heal the wounds inflicted by this cataclysm, both physical and mental.

Hail to you, Brighid, guardian of fair judgements. May there be an accounting on all levels for the failures and poor decision-making that preceded and followed landfall. May the guilty face their just retribution.

Hail to you, Nuada, fair and honest king. May you keep our leaders honest and forthright. Let their promises of today be their actions of tomorrow.

And may those who have opened their homes and hearts to the refugees receive three times the blessings they give, in this life and the next.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

When Two Tribes Go to Four

In my blog wanderings the other day, I came across William White's Eject! Eject! Eject! discussing the concept of two tribes of people. He dubs the emotion-led tribe Pinks and the logic-led one Grays. This springs from what he sees as conflicting reactions to such events as Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 attacks.

Setting aside the pop culture significance of those terms, it's the binary thinking it shows that I find to be a larger problem in this society. The idea that everything should conform to perfect ratios and either-or arrangements did humanity no favors, even if the Greeks came out of it with some damn fine architecture. It has its place; it's misapplied outside of it.

I'm not denying such people exist, mind. I've seen examples of both in my daily life, and depending on the day in question, I could be seen to swap allegiances. This is where I start having issues with the whole notion of two tribes that are dedicatedly opposed to each other in approach. It's possible to see when it's time to play it gentle vs. knuckle down and work. If it's not possible to cross the line, there's a problem.

This leads me to Maggie Macary at Myth and Culture speaking of the need to restore imagination to a higher priority in Western culture. It is primarily considered the bailiwick of creative artists these days. In disaster planning, however, a lack of imagination gets us results such as the debacle in New Orleans. It contributed a great deal to the intelligence failures surrounding 9/11 as well. The commission report on those events made that blisteringly clear.

This led to my concept of a third tribe, one led by imagination. Drawing from logic and emotion to build a synthesis of the two, seeing where beauty and joy can lead as well as pragmatic simplicity. Making sure facts are the basis instead of mere dreams, but not letting binary logic control how they see either what-is or what-if. I can only dub this tribe Fluorescents. That might open a different can of worms, but it's the best word I can think of right now.

As I'm sure we've all seen, there seems to be a fourth sort in the human condition. They have emotionally driven behaviors springing from misapplied logic and a fantasy life that shows imagination, but not one based on facts. I think, to contrast with the third tribe, they could be called Burntouts. It sounds sadly final, but when their opposite is a longlife bulb, I'm not sure what else to use.

Analogies to Dumezil's four functions don't quite work past a certain point. Unless you want to talk about the benefits and risks of each sort of tribe member being in a first function job, anyway.

Pissing in Other People's Beer

While Celtic reconstructionst paganism/Senistrognata tries to get a self-definition that focuses more on what we are and do over what we aren't, we have growing pains. One of them is when people get fixed on what we are not to the point of insulting other traditions. It leads to the trait I titled this post with. "You're doing something I disagree with, so you're stupid and wrong and believe in a lie," in any of three dozen configurations, gets uttered far too often. I've likely been guilty of it myself as I've matured in my faith. But I have worked on letting go of it. After all, I've been the recipient of such accusations as a Senistrognatan from people who claimed to have a lock on the One True Celtic Way(tm).

Does it matter that Wicca, while having borrowed elements of Celtic tradition, is not in and of itself an ancient Celtic system of belief? Only if you want a genuinely Celtic tradition and think Wicca is it. But if you like Wicca for what it really is, I don't think it's appropriate for people to accuse you of buying into a lie. And I will act accordingly if someone tries to force that sort of opinion in a space where it isn't welcome. Like, say, any mailing list I happen to run. I may be a bit pushy about how I enforce it where I have control. But if there's one thing I want clear, it's that the spaces I run are bigoted against one thing: bigotry. If that means my butt cheeks can break coal, so be it.

I know it may be somewhat tacky to take the mailing list laundry to this forum, but I also know how rumors spread. I think this is sufficiently important for me to make it public off-list. I've been misquoted enough in the kerfuffle as it stands. But being accused of claiming Senistrognata arose from AsatrĂº gave me a laugh, at least.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The barker's calling

Jason Pitzl-Waters has brought us round two of the Pagan Carnival.