LQCs: Sincerity, Norway, the Moral Arc

OnlySky, Hemant Mehta, 7 May 2022: The Supreme Court should stop taking religious beliefs so seriously, subtitled, “Not every ‘sincerely held religious belief’ is sincerely held. The Supreme Court should admit that.”

Two problems immediately come to mind.

First, “sincerely held religious beliefs” has always struck me a glib excuse used by anyone who needs a “get out of jail free” card in order to be exempt from the laws and standards the rest of us follow to form a civil society, when it really means they simply don’t want to deal with people they disapprove of.

Second, what about *my* sincerely held non-religious beliefs? Why can’t I cite them to avoid laws or standards that I disapprove of? The difference is, ironically, precisely that *religious* beliefs need not have any evidence or reason behind them. As if somehow that makes them superior to whatever conclusions I may have come up with based on evidence and reason. So it’s not really about sincerity.

But let’s see what Hemant says.

With a conservative super-majority on the Supreme Court, it’s no surprise that the justices are handing victory after victory to the Christian Right.


Don’t like a law? Just say your God doesn’t allow it, and poof, this Court will grant you victory.

Writing for The Atlantic, law professor Linda Greenhouse digs into how the judges have given too much leeway to the idea of religious sincerity. Among her many examples, she points out how a death row inmate cited his religious beliefs—and delayed his own execution—until his pastor could be allowed in the chamber; how former football coach Joe Kennedy said his faith allows him to pray at midfield after the final whistle; and how religious exemptions to vaccine mandates helped prolong the pandemic.

The problem is that the idea of “sincerely held religious beliefs” can’t be refuted. So what happens when someone’s religious beliefs are factually wrong and/or cause harm to other people? Right now, those things don’t seem to matter. Anything goes if God is involved.

Is there a way for sincerity to be tested? Yes: look for inconsistencies. Object to vaccines? Then what about all those similarly-derived other medications? (And I would add, object to abortion? Then why weren’t the churches concerned about it until it became politically expedient for them to do so?)

This wouldn’t work, of course; you will never win an argument with an evangelical by appealing to evidence or reason. They know.


A couple more from this site.

OnlySky, Rick Snedeker, 5 May 2022: Will American religion one day mirror Norwegian godlessness? We should be so lucky

In Norway,

“The church is important as a bearer of traditions, even for the non-religious people,” Urstad explains. “However, their interpretation of the tradition is different. They view the church as a secular arena for confirmation and other rites of passage such as baptism, weddings and funerals. To them it is not about religion but tradition. They are fine with the priest having faith, but they are just following tradition.”


One day, traditional American religion may foreseeably morph into secular gatherings more akin to Kiwanis, Rotary, and American Legion meetings than communal entreaties to the divine.

Meanwhile, it’s already happening in Norway, which according to annual surveys is continuously ranked among the happiest places on earth.

This would be the best possible future for religion in America. The problem is one of competition. Norway is relatively monocultural. In America there all these religions battling not just with one another, but especially against the heathen elite smart people. I admit in my news sweeps each day I likely see only the worst examples; and I admit the society in general is becoming less obsessive about religious fundamentalism.

(I already used an image from this article at the top of my May 5th post.)


OnlySky, Adam Lee, 11 May 2022: Your rights are up for grabs, and they always were

Liberals (and scientists and philosophers) like to think the moral arc of history bends forward, and so on. But.

[It’s a] mistaken belief that rights are discovered the same way scientific knowledge is discovered. No matter the shifting political winds, it’s unlikely that our society will forget Newton’s second law or how to make penicillin. Some people might believe that rights work the same way: once they’re added to the repository of our knowledge, they’re there for all time.


This is a lesson that liberals have to heed. It would be nice if human rights, once they’re won, were secure for all time. But they aren’t.

No society is permanently bound by the wishes of its ancestors. Every generation has to decide all over again how it wants to be governed, what to keep and what to change. That’s as it should be. It’s necessary for moral progress. It means that we can learn and do better, that the mistakes of the past won’t hamper us forever.

However, it also means that progressive changes once won can be lost again. Although history has a general “upward” trend—an escalator of more rights for more people—it’s not a ratchet that turns in only one direction. Just because the world has been getting better, it’s not a certainty that this will continue.

Even today, in the 21st century, there are deplorables who want to rewind the tape of progress. There are white supremacists who want to make the U.S. a white ethnostate, consigning all minorities to subordinate status or worse. There are libertarians who want to abolish all taxes and regulation and return us to serfdom in the service of the super-rich. There are Christian dominionists who want to make their fundamentalist faith the official creed of the state and silence all competing belief systems.

This is a variation of the idea that, in terms of education, each new child is a blank slate. The child can be exposed to the accumulated wisdom of the human race, or it can be kept in a religious bubble and taught only its parents’ beliefs. When the latter happens often enough, that accumulated wisdom can be forgotten, wiped out. At least for a while. The things that are real will eventually be rediscovered.


One more, just a link for now; haven’t read the piece thoroughly.

Quillette, 10 May 2022: Is Moral Expertise Possible?—A Roundtable

Subtitled: “Is moral expertise really a thing—normatively, theoretically, or metaphysically? All three major Western schools of moral philosophy seem to think so, including virtue ethics, deontology, and consequentialism.”

This entry was posted in Morality, Politics, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.