Links and Comments from Sunday’s New York Times

I’m finishing up a book by Chris Mooney that explores motivated reasoning and how we are all subject to seeking out evidence that confirms our pre-existing views, and disputing evidence that challenges those views. And that nevertheless claims that conservatives/Republicans are far more wrong about basic matters of reality than are liberals/Democrats, and explains why this might be so. (It’s about psychology, in ways analogous to the issues explored in the Jonathan Haidt book.)

More evidence that this is so: All Politicians Lie. Some Lie More Than Others.

With a revealing graph showing results from PolitiFact rating statements from various presidential candidates since 2007, with Carson and Trump and Cruz rating worst, Obama and O’Malley and Clinton rating best.

The issue is perhaps whether voters care about what is true, or whether they care more about candidates who endorse their own version of reality.

And then there is the column by Nicholas Kristof, Take My Quiz on Religion (online title “How Well Do You Know Religion?”), a multiple-choice test about which various scriptural statements are derived from the Bible, the Quran, both, or something else.

HIs trivial point is that various statements of ancient morality come more or less equally from both — there’s nothing from the Quran especially more vile than many things from the Bible. To a disinterested religious observer such as myself, this simply means all these ancient texts are best viewed as anthropological artifacts, nothing more, remnants of earlier, primitive, unenlightened cultures. Examine them if you must, then grow up, move on, engage the real world.

Jerry Coyne finds Kristof’s piece a bit more insidious: Kristof osculates all faiths, avers that they’re equally wonderful. As if, since both holy books contain awful things, but that both also include good things, Islam is therefore just as good as Christianity and Judaism.

But at the risk of being accused of Islamophobia (as Coyne, and Sam Harris, are), Coyne observes this.

Of course there’s some [Christian] intolerance in America. But compare it to Iran, ISIS-controlled Iraq, Afghanistan, or Saudi Arabia. We don’t behead criminals, we don’t kill blasphemers, we don’t stone adulterers or throw gays off roofs, we don’t prohibit women from driving, we don’t have a religious system of law (one that gives women half the say of men), and we allow Muslims to be citizens (Saudi Arabia doesn’t grant that privilege to non-Muslims).

Maybe some religions really are worse than others.

And this leads to Ross Douthat’s column — on the same page as Kristof’s! — called The Islamic Dilemma. Douthat is one of a couple three conservative columnists at NYT, along with David Brooks; NYT isn’t entirely a liberal bastion. Douthat, is seems to me, is always finding ways to excuse religion, especially Christianity, from whatever offenses it commits in public life, or discordances from reality it exhibits. In this column he is exploring how Islam might possibly accommodate itself to a modern, pluralistic society, without changing so utterly as to become extinct.

Devout Muslims watching current Western debates, for instance, might notice that some of the same cosmopolitan liberals who think of themselves as Benevolent Foes of Islamophobia are also convinced that many conservative Christians are dangerous crypto-theocrats whose institutions and liberties must give way whenever they conflict with liberalism’s vision of enlightenment.

They also might notice that many of the same conservative Christians who fear that Islam is incompatible with democracy are wrestling with whether their own faith is compatible with the direction of modern liberalism, or whether Christianity needs to enter a kind of internal exile in the West.

(Note the link — the idea that religious communities can seal themselves off from the pluralistic, progressive world.)

The whole essay is worth reading, because it’s about how religious communities, especially those adhering to authoritative holy books, can or cannot survive in a world where all these communities are coming into irreversible contact with conflicting communities, and will have to learn how to live together, in the face of a reality so many of them deny.

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