Gene Expression

A religious analogy

The discussion below about the adaptive value of religion was interesting, but it sparked in me an analogy which captures my attitude toward this phenomenon. Consider religions, such as Christianity, as analogs to political parties, such as Republicans. Many of the founders, including George Washington, were not positively disposed toward political parties because they were conscious of the problems of “faction” (which plagued the last years of the Roman Republic). Nevertheless, it seems that the past two centuries of the spread of liberal democracy show that political parties are a natural outgrowth of a vibrant representative democracy. Nations where political party systems are weak and based around personalities as opposed to ideological visions, such as the Russian Federation, also tend to be only notionally democratic. I suspect that organized “higher” religions are similar in a mass society. In small scale cultures supernaturalism is more diffuse, but in societies characterized by numerous civic associations and the necessity of political activism it seems that it is inevitable that supernaturalism will be reshaped into an organized framework. In other words, supernatural ideas might be an inevitable byproduct of the modal mind, but organized religion s the inevitable byproduct of the modal mass society.

Comments

  1. #1 Tyler DiPietro
    March 28, 2007

    I don’t really think I have the biological chops to enter into these sorts of discussions, but I do have a question.

    In America, it would seem at least, varied religious groups flock into common political blocks that correspond to the conservatism of their religious creed. Fundamentalist evangelical Christians, conservative Catholics and ultra-Orthodox Jews seem to form the modern “religious right”. While Unitarian-Universalists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, reformist Jews and followers of non-Abrahamic creeds seem to find more common political ground with traditional humanist causes and form a sort of “religious left”. The conceptual contiguity of the theological beliefs doesn’t seem to be a huge factor. For instance, Episcopalians have more in common theologically with conservative Catholics than they do with Christian UU’s (the latter of which usually reject traditional trinitarian beliefs and other things), but politically are more in alignment.

    So I guess my question is, what is the dominant factor here. The religion, or the politics?

  2. #2 Ruchira Paul
    March 28, 2007

    I would think it is politics. I have noticed my religious friends seek congregations which reflect their own social views rather than the other way around. Those who are concerned about material prosperity as a reward for their devotion tend to find the mega-churches comforting where the message is always about God’s “personal” love and fulfillment of material ambitions. The southern Baptists are concerned hugely about homosexuality and abortion and they go where both are considered abominations. Even among Catholics, where the official positions on death penalty and war lean towards the “liberal” views, I have friends who find suburban area churches which are less strident and more “patriotic” on such issues.

    As for reformist Jews and non-Abrahamic “liberals,” you’d be surprised by how many crossed over in the 2004 elections because they believed Bush was the right person to deal with Muslims/ Arabs even though they knew that other social matters that they cared about would be trashed by him.

  3. #3 razib
    March 28, 2007

    So I guess my question is, what is the dominant factor here. The religion, or the politics?

    this is a big topic. i believe that epiphenomenally individuals tend to gravitate toward churches which reflect their own world views in other ways. even within american churches there is a lot of variation, there is, for example, a conservative biblical literalist association of congregationlist churches! (by most measures this is the most liberal christian denomination in the united states). but, over time churches do evolve quite a bit as mass movements. the association with evangelicalism and right-wing politics is a relatively recent phenomenon. remember than in the early 20th century evangelicals were often “progressive populists,” like william jennings bryan. additionally, while during this period evangelicals could be populists you also had men like william howard taft being both moderately conservative (as a republican he was less progressive than teddy roosevelt) and religious liberal (he was a unitarian who rejected christian divinity). the nature of a religion is often dependent on the character of the devotees. in the united states ‘gay buddhist’ isn’t really that controversial because of the social liberalism of many converts, who are very influential. in contrast, in south korea buddhists tend to be more traditionalist then christians on social issues, as the latter are more likely to be educated and cosmopolitan (and converts).

    As for reformist Jews and non-Abrahamic “liberals,” you’d be surprised by how many crossed over in the 2004 elections because they believed Bush was the right person to deal with Muslims/ Arabs even though they knew that other social matters that they cared about would be trashed by him.

    there was a small quantitative trend in this direction. in 2004 bush won

    25% of jews (+6 from 2000)
    23% of ‘others’ (-5 from 2000)
    31% of ‘none’ (+1 from 2000)

    looking at jews alone, that’s a 33% increase in the bush vote and an 8% drop in the non-bush vote. he increase was non-trivial, but the base so small that there was a lot of room for growth.

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