Archive for October, 2010

The Existential Decrepitude of Conservative Christianity


Jesus and Mo

A disingenuous anonymous reviewer piped out so many scripted conservative Christian/Templetonian  memes in her/his review of my paper on scientific literacy that it looks like something concocted by Mo Jones for Jesus and Mo. So saith the distinguished scholar:

“My remaining objection to the paper is the tone, which I noted in the first review.  My comments were ignored and you then proceeded to condescendingly lecture about church and sect…this also clarified for me that my objection is not to your employment of concepts, but rather the unrelentingly strident tone.  Rather than circumspection and carefully measured claims we get info about Bobby Jindal “railing” in his State of the Union response (if that was a rail it’s one of the meekest I’ve ever seen), creationist movements potentiating violence (???), and the claim I previously objected to that scoring low on the science module on the GSS means that members of conservative Protestant denominations are having trouble taking care of themselves.  Frankly, they seem just fine existentially.”

Jesus Fuck! They let this person teach children for fuck’s sake! Really. “Just fine.” Yeah. Sectarians and fundamentalists are doing Just Fine, existentially, you know. Whatever the fuck that means, right. Well, let’s explore this “existentially” just fineness a little bit more. Existentially, you know. Fucking fuckhead. Existentially, these religious motherfuckers occupy a place in the cultural landscape where they have diminished capacity to communicate because of verbal deficits.  Fundamentalists and sectarians attain less education because they are opposed to allowing their children to be educated, and millions of them now “homeschool” their children or send them to Christianist schools which teach no science and a warped inaccurrate, and dangerous version of  history and civics. Because of their aversion to education, sectarians and fundamentalists remain at the bottom of the stratification hierarchy in terms of education, income, and wealth. That’s their existential state.

Ah, but what does science matter when you’re a carpenter like Jesus? Lots. First, in modern societies, you really need to know a bit of modern science in order to get along. Basic decisions about health and well-being require that one have some facility with scientific concepts and scientific reasoning. Should you put that chemical on your tomatoes? Can you take this medication with ibuprofen? What are the chances that surgery will cure me versus kill me? Of course, when you dismiss the veracity of science, you pretty much don’t care about any of that. So, there they are uneducated, poor, in occupations that suffer from instability (even worse for women, who may forgo real careers entirely), and they’re stupid to boot. Ill informed about very basic information that influences their own living conditions and life chances.

If that isn’t enough, the existential state of sectarians and fundamentalists is also one in which they have lots of children, often at inappropriate points in the life course. Early marriage and childrearing mean that even if they wanted to pursue status attainment, it will be even more difficult. Generally, this gods given mandate results in women withdrawing from human capital accumulation and the workforce, while men quit school and go to work at dead end jobs. Young people do a poor job of raising children, particularly when they have few resources. As a consequence, they raise a batch of ill mannered brats who reflect the prejudices and violent tendencies which are prevalent in sectarian and fundamentalist communities. Divorce rates are high among sectarians and fundamentalists, which combines with negative views of women and opposition to divorce to further hinder the life chances of women and children who experienced divorce.  So, existentially, these Christianists have large, fucked-up families. You know, existentially.

Because sectarians and fundies reject science, they also ignore basic public health prescriptions and proscriptions. As a consequence, obesity is rife in sectarian and fundamentalist communities. Exercise is looked upon as a frivolity which might get in the way of religious piety, but gluttony does not seem to be a salient issue in contemporary US sectarian Christianity (outside of a few sects like the Adventists). And, of course, they pray first, go to the doctor later–forgoing preventive care and early identification of morbid conditions.

But fuck them, that’s just natural selection at work, you say?! Unfortunately, first, we should be concerned about their poor children, who are nothing short of victims of abuse. Second, these fuckers are fucking with us right now!!! The other aspect of having a large subcultural group (comprising nearly a third of the US population) which relishes ignorance, intolerance, and stupidity, is that these motherfuckers are also allowed to vote and participate in the political process which determines the content of public goods and bads for everyone else. Opposing education, opposing healthcare, ignoring environmental problems, defunding science and education, starting religious holy wars….  The existential state of ignorance and intolerance makes these rubes ripe for mobilization by demagogues, and political successes for these parties are collective bads for the remaining 70% of the population.

Existentially, these religious nutjobs are ruining themselves, their children, the nation, and the world.

The Historical Jesus and the Scientific Study of Religion


Some goofball theologian has a ridiculously mind-numbing discussion of what is left of the old Jesus Seminar over at RD. I’m finally beginning to understand the depths of the frustration that my buddy Mike Humphries (who was a member of the Jesus Seminar/Q  project) felt and feels about the gaggle of committed Christians who completely undermined the entire enterprise and its scholarly value. The Jesus Seminar just celebrated it’s 25th anniversary, and only members of the Seminar who hold fealty with Christianity were invited to the festivities–Mike didn’t get an invite, I don’t think. What is clear from this theologian’s disjointed religious nonsense is that these stupid theological motherfuckers never cared one shitsquirt about the veracity of the texts they claim to be sacred, or about evidence of whether or not Jesus even existed. I’m not talking about a divine beings or virgin births or any of that nonsense, I’m talking about using social and archeological science to discern who the person (or people) were who became a god to millions of people, and to delve into the actual origins of what are now considered sacred texts which are viewed as the literal word of the gods by about 30 percent of Americans. For the liberal theologians, it matters not one bit that it’s all bunk. But it is bunk, and that matters for both the liberals and the fundies.

Coyne and the Gnu Atheists are fond of pointing to the very real conflict between religion and science, and they focus on the hard science questions–the science of virgin births, miracles, the existence of supernatural beings, creation myths, and the like. That’s all well and good and true. But, for my money, the real action against these ridiculous superstitions is to scientifically confront the origin of religious traditions and their sacred texts, not the origin of species or the cognitive origins of religious thought. It’s the sociological investigation of how these groups came to be which is more devastating to the parochial understandings held by devotees.

I’ve been lucky to be stuck in So. Ill with Mike, and he’s instructed me on a few important things:

1. Jesus (esau, whatever) probably did exist, but never claimed to have been born of a virgin or descended from some mythical Judaic kingdom.

2. Much of what is related to Jesus, may actually be related to other psychotic wackjobs of the same period and with whom Jesus held association (eg. John the Baptist).

3. A great deal of what appears in the sacred canon of American Christianity flies far afield from what can reasonably be attributed to Jesus.Jesus was an illiterate, itinerant street preacher who came out of the John the Baptist movement, and who didn’t like and wasn’t welcome in the dominant emergent monolatry we now call Judaism.  Mohamed is another one to come from the same social background and setting.

4. Jesus never claimed divinity. That may have been the trump charge to try to get him on the AX list with the Romans, or more likely it was simply inserted as devotees began to proclaim Jesus the messiah prophesied in several confluent traditions at that time and among those people. The Romans probably killed Jesus ( since the crucifixion story may be false). Nobody did anything in the Roman Empire except the Romans. You don’t fuck with the Romans.  The issue of the crucifixion is non-trivial. The Romans didn’t crucify three people. That’s fucking fiction. They lined the motherfuckers up down a 1k lane on both sides of the road. Maybe some hairbrained heretic was one of the people crucified in one of the many events (the Romans were really cracked down on Palestine after the uprisings), or maybe three of them and the stories merge and shift. Or maybe Jesus got sick and died, or became so psychotic that he ran off into the desert. Still, given the ubiquity of early associations between the Jesus Movement and crucifixes, it is most likely that the key figure of that movement was one of many Palestinians who was crucified by the Roman Empire.

I don’t know. I think “your sacred texts are obvious fabrications” is a whole lot more powerful than “my fossil collection disproves your origin myths, wanna see?”

Embarrassing Sociology


Moose Equivalent of Washington Post Op-Ed

Well, right-wing Christianist sociology strikes again in the public square. Now, as we should have predicted, Christianist arguments supporting the benefits of godly heterosexual marriage are being used as an explanation for why inequality has increased in the United States. Yes, Jesus said to get married early, have that woman at home barefoot and preggers, and that will allow families to accumulate income and wealth. After all, Jesus Freak Sociology shows that there is a small positive effect of being married on minor league indicators of well being, and married people make more money–because they are married. Marriage causes you to be successful, and not getting married is your own damned fault and leads to poverty. So there. And, the homos are a part of the problem, too, even, probably.

When I started out in the mid 1980s, cultural sociology was in the toilet just because of such vile reasoning. Yes, it’s the culture that drives why some groups make millions for playing golf with their buddies and hookers, and other people work a couple of 30 hour a week minimum wage jobs. It’s the culture that leads people away from educational attainment when kids who have shitty schools and not enough teachers and books (or food) fail to attain much education.  Indeed, in the structuralist environments of the 1980s, cultural sociologists were viewed with skepticism. Bourdieu and DiMaggio changed that but even their view of cultural agency is limited by structural positioning.

In contrast, more recent scholarship has theorized about how religious values and commitments might influence stratification processes. In particular times and places, religious and other cultural values can have an impact on the development of knowledge, formal educational attainment, occupational choices, income, and wealth attainment. Most current research  shows that the prescriptions of Christian Right sociologists are in contradiction with what scholarship shows about stratification outcomes.  First, marriage only helps for the attainment of status if it occurs at an   appropriate point in the life course, and there are sizable gender differences in the effect of marriage by age. Generally, religious fundamentalists, sectarians, and other religious conservatives advocate early marriage and childrearing, which limits educational attainment (especially for women),  hinders job mobility, and undermines the potential for savings. Add to this an idealistic impulse mandating sacrifice for religious organizations, and you have a people who are uneducated, underemployed, and using their credit cards to tithe. No wonder Lisa Keister finds the sectarian Protestants worse off than any other group….It’s the patriarchy, stupid!