Origins of Ritual Behavior

Here is something from the Scientific American. It’s an article by Laura Kehoe, Mysterious Chimpanzee Behavior May Be Evidence of “Sacred” Rituals:

“Even more intriguing than this, maybe we found the first evidence of chimpanzees creating a kind of shrine that could indicate sacred trees. Indigenous West African people have stone collections at “sacred” trees and such man-made stone collections are commonly observed across the world and look eerily similar to what we have discovered here.”

Apparently, this has never before been observed and documented. It is an amazing discovery. Along with tool use, it points toward a central building block of primate society.

I immediately thought of the first evidence of settled civilization. Before humans built homes for themselves in settlements, they built homes for their gods. These first temples likely began quite simply, maybe even as simple as a pile of rocks.

Human society, as we know it, developed around ritual sites. This may have begun much earlier with the common ancestor of both humans and chimpanzees.

A Plague of Possessions

The Discover Magazine blog discusses an unusual paper. This quote amused me:

The Babylonians were remarkable observers and documentalists of human illness and behavior. However, their knowledge of anatomy was limited and superficial. Some diseases were thought to have a physical basis, such as worms, snake bites and trauma. Much else was the result of evil forces that required driving out… many, perhaps most diseases required the attention of a priest or exorcist, known as an asipu, to drive out evil demons or spirits.

Back in the ancient days of the mid-1990s, I spent several summers in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina. It is part of the Bible Belt and sometimes it is referred to as the Buckle. There are a lot of fundamentalists there, more than I ever met in South Carolina or Iowa.

There was one shocking incident that I still have a hard time believing. I was riding with a friend along some winding mountain road. We passed by a billboard. It was an official public health message. It stated that epileptic seizures aren’t caused by demonic possession and that people should seek the help of a doctor.

From the earliest civilizations millennia ago to modern America, there has been a continuous belief in demon-caused mental illness and health conditions. When will it ever end?

I told my friend about this and his half-humorous response was that maybe there is something to it when it’s lasted that long. Considering that, someone really needs to take care of this demonic and spirit infestation. Imagine all that we humans could have accomplished by now, if not for evil beings keeping us down.

Making Gods, Making Individuals

I’ve been reading about bicameralism and the Axial Age. It is all very fascinating.

It’s strange to look back at that era of transformation. The modern sense of self-conscious, introspective, autonomous individuality (as moral agent and rational actor) was just emerging after the breakdown of the bicameral mind. What came before that is almost incomprehensible to us.

One interesting factor is that civilization didn’t create organized religion, but the other way around. Or so it seems, according to the archaeological evidence. When humans were still wandering hunter-gatherers, they began building structures for worship. It was only later that people started settled down around these worship centers. So, humans built permanent houses for the gods before they built permanent houses for themselves.

These God Houses often originated as tombs and burial mounds of revered leaders. The first deities seem to have been god-kings. The leader was considered a god while alive or spoke for god. In either case, death made concrete the deification of the former leader. In doing so, the corpse or some part of it such as the skull would become the worshipped idol. Later on it became more common to carve a statue that allowed for a more long-lasting god who was less prone to decay.

God(s) didn’t make humans. Rather, humans in a very literal sense made god(s). They made the form of the god or used the already available form of a corpse or skull. It was sort of like trapping the dead king’s soul and forcing it to play the role of god.

These bicameral people didn’t make the distinctions we make. There was no clear separation between the divine and the human, between the individual and the group. It was all a singular pre-individuated experience. These ancient humans heard voices, but they had no internal space for their own voice. The voices were heard in the world all around them. The king was or spoke for the high god, and that voice continued speaking even after the king died. We moderns would call that a hallucination, but to them it was just their daily reality.

With the breakdown of the bicameral mind, there was a crisis of community and identity. The entire social order broke down, because of large-scale environmental catastrophes that killed or made into refugees most of the human population back then. In a short period of time, nearly all the great civilizations collapsed in close succession, the collapse of each civilization sending refugees outward in waves of chaos and destruction. Nothing like it was seen before or since in recorded history.

People were desperate to make sense of what happened. But the voices of the gods had grown distant or were silenced. The temples were destroyed, the idols gone, traditions lost, and communities splintered. The bicameral societies had been extremely stable and were utterly dependent on that stability. They couldn’t deal with change at that level. The bicameral mind itself could no longer function. These societies never recovered from this mass tragedy.

An innovation that became useful in this era was improved forms of writing. Using alphabets and scrolls, the ancient oral traditions were written down and altered in the process. Also, new literary traditions increasingly took hold. Epics and canons were formed to bring new order. What formed from this was a sense of the past as different from the present. There was some basic understanding that humanity had changed and that the world used to be different.

A corrolary innovation was that, instead of idol worship, people began to worship these new texts, first as scrolls and then later as books. They found a more portable way of trapping a god. But the loss of the more concrete forms of worship led to the gods becoming more distant. People less often heard the voices of the gods for themselves and instead turned to the texts where it was written the cultural memory of the last people who heard the divine speaking (e.g., Moses) or even the last person who spoke as the divine (e.g., Jesus Christ).

The divine was increasingly brought down to the human level and yet at the same time increasingly made more separate from daily experience. It wasn’t just that the voices of the gods went silent. Rather, the voices that used to be heard externally were being internalized. What once was recognized as divine and as other became the groundwork upon which the individuated self was built. God became a still, small voice and slowly loss its divine quality altogether. People stopped hearing voices of non-human entities. Instead, they developed a thinking mind. The gods became trapped in the human skull and you could say that they forgot they were gods.

The process of making gods eventually transitioned into the process of making individuals. We revere individuality as strongly as people once revered the divine. That is an odd thing.

When Nation Was Deified And God Was Nationalized

The Pledge of Allegiance was written by Francis Bellamy. That was in 1892. Then, in 1941, Congress officially made it into the pledge. There was no ‘God’ in the wording for 64 years of its existence and for the first 13 years of its official use.

The Man Who Wrote the Pledge of Allegiance
By Jeffrey Owen Jones
Smithsonian Magazine

“I first struggled with “under God” in my fourth-grade class in Westport, Connecticut. It was the spring of 1954, and Congress had voted, after some controversy, to insert the phrase into the Pledge of Allegiance, partly as a cold war rejoinder to “godless” communism. We kept stumbling on the words—it’s not easy to unlearn something as ingrained and metrical as the Pledge of Allegiance—while we rehearsed for Flag Day, June 14, when the revision would take effect.”

That wasn’t that long ago. It was about 20 years before I was born. My father was 12 years old and my mother was 7 years old when God was added to the Pledge of Allegiance.

I asked my father about it. He says he remembers when he had to learn the new wording. It was in Boy Scouts when he was in 6th grade.

The Scout leader told them that it was “One nation under God” with no comma and so he explained they weren’t to pause between “One nation” and “under God”. I suppose the implication was that nation and God were to be treated as a single entity. But my father notes that everyone pauses between the two, and so apparently most Americans came to disagree with that scout leader.

As for the issue of adding God, many diverse Americans have disagreed about ending the clear separation of church and state, as the founding fathers intended (for those who genuinely care about original intent):

“Atheists are not the only ones to take issue with that line of thought. Advocates of religious tolerance point out that the reference to a single deity might not sit well with followers of some established religions. After all, Buddhists don’t conceive of God as a single discrete entity, Zoroastrians believe in two deities and Hindus believe in many. Both the Ninth Circuit ruling and a number of Supreme Court decisions acknowledge this. But Jacobsohn predicts that a majority of the justices will hold that government may support religion in general as long as public policy does not pursue an obviously sectarian, specific religious purpose.

“Bellamy, who went on to become an advertising executive, wrote extensively about the pledge in later years. I haven’t found any evidence in the historical record—including Bellamy’s papers at the University of Rochester—to indicate whether he ever considered adding a divine reference to the pledge. So we can’t know where he would stand in today’s dispute. But it’s ironic that the debate centers on a reference to God that an ordained minister left out. And we can be sure that Bellamy, if he was like most writers, would have balked at anyone tinkering with his prose.”

What the media too often ignores is the major divides in our society aren’t between conservatives and fundamentalists on one side and secularists and atheists on the other side. No, the deepest cut in public opinion happens within religion itself. Most Americans on all issues are Christians. It was originally Evangelicals who pushed strongly for a strong separation of church and state, for they understood in their own experience the dangers of that lack of such a separation. It’s a shame that Christians on the political right have such a short historical memory.

Early Civilizations and Religions, Travel and Influence

One of my earliest interests is that of early religions, their beliefs and mythologies, and how they formed.

Most specifically, what has fascinated me the most are the numerous similarities between religions from diverse societies that were separated by vast distances, separated by oceans and mountains and continents, not to mention separated by languages. In the ancient world when travel could take years from one place to another, these weren’t insignificant obstacles to cross-cultural influence. However, there was surprisingly a lot of travel between the earliest civilizations.

“Such transfers of ideas undoubtedly took place not only at the upper levels of society, but also at the inns and bars of the ports and cities along the trade routes in Greece, Egypt, and the Eastern Mediterranean. Where else would a sailor or crew member while away the time waiting for the wind to shift to the proper quarter or for a diplomatic mission to conclude its sensitive negotiations, swapping myths, legends, and tall tales? Such events may perhaps have contributed to cultural influences spreading between Egypt and the rest of the Near East, and even across the Aegean. Such an exchange between cultures could possibly explain the similarities between the Epic of Gilgamesh and Homer’s later Iliad and Odyssey, and between the Hittite Myth of Kumarbi and Hesiod’s later Theogony.”

Cline, Eric H. (2014-03-23). 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed (Turning Points in Ancient History) (p. 59). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

A millennia before the Axial Age, there were some of the greatest of early civilizations. During this era, the pyramids were already a thousand years old. Then something caused all these interconnected civilizations to collapse.

I wonder how that relates to the later rise of the Axial Age civilizations and the religions that went with them. Did the collapse set the stage for entirely new systems of ideas, politics, economics, and social order?

Regions & Religion: Donations, Charities, Tax Credits, etc

A typical piece of data that is often mentioned is that the most religious states donate the most money. There is a nice mapping of this by region from The Chronicle of Philanthropy:

A map showing that donors in Southern states give 5.2% of their discretionary income to charity, compared to 4.5% in the West, 4.3% in the Midwest, and 4.0% in the Northeast

But if giving to churches is excluded. it is actually the Northeast that gives more to charity:

A map showing that donors in Northeast give 1.4% of their discretionary income to secular charities, compared to 1.1% in the West, 0.9% in the Midwest, and 0.9% in the South

Of course, it is more complicated than this. The above example is a case of why one should be careful of reading too much into data before understanding the details.

* * * *

In another article at this site, they discussed different demographics, policies and other issues. For example, they mentioned tax credits:

“The reasons for the discrepancies are rooted in part in each area’s political philosophy about the role of government versus charity: At least 13 states now offer special tax benefits to charity donors, often in the hopes of stimulating giving at the same time that lawmakers are adopting big cuts in government services.” [ . . . ]

“Tax incentives matter. State policies that promote giving can make a significant difference and in some cases are influencing the rankings. In Arizona, charities are reaping more than $100-million annually from a series of tax credits adopted in recent years.”

It’s interesting that they brought up Arizona. I just read an article about that state—Give to Charity, Turn a Profit by David Cay Johnston:

“Arizona taxpayers who itemize deductions on their federal returns can turn a profit by giving to charity, thanks to a system of state tax credits.”

Is giving to charity in order to gain tax credits or even gain profit actually charity in any meaningful sense?

* * * *

In response to various articles at that site, here is what was brought up in the comments:

The lead article gives some insight:

“When religious giving isn’t counted, the geography of giving is very different. Some states in the Northeast jump into the top 10 when secular gifts alone are counted. New York would vault from No. 18 to No. 2, and Pennsylvania would climb from No. 40 to No. 4….”

It really comes down to what “giving” means. Tithing to your church or donating to your favorite PAC is a bit different than giving to your local homeless shelter,

The article is misleading by including tithing in the totals. The average church gives 3% of its proceeds to non church outlets. The other 97% is spent on the parsonage and salaries of principal leaders, church upkeep, mortgages, missionaries who evangelize primarily and other church related functions. The people who do not attend the church but benefit from money received through the church is only 3% of the take. That number is hard to verify because of the non-reporting exclusion that only churches (as charities) receive. However conversations with various financial officers will verify the statistic.

This is statistical idiocy. It says NOTHING about who actually gives. Maybe it is the case that the liberals in the red states are actually the givers? Also remember all states are about 50/50 red and blue anyway.

First, only a third of Democrats identify as liberal with another third identifying as moderate and the other third identifying with conservative.

Second, most Southerners identify with the Democratic Party, but because of disenfranchisement (voting purges, long polling lines in poor neighborhoods, etc) the vast majority of Southerners don’t vote.

Third, the poor in all states and regions who lean more toward Democrats and vote more for Democrats are being excluded from this data.

Seems like there is also more poverty in the red states making a higher need for charity there.

That is what few don’t understand. Red states have the most social problems and so need more charity to deal with those social problems. Blue states tend to spend their money on programs to prevent social problems before they begin or alleviate social problems before they become too bad. All that liberal government spending makes private charity less necessary. Even so, the Northeast gives the most to private charities (while the South gives the most to churches).

This ignores that the red states in question already start out with weaker wages and social safety nets. Liberal kindness shows more readily by realizing that poverty is a social problem needing social addressing by greater tax provision. It is the reason charitable contributions tend to be lower in Europe than the US, but typically still have lower poverty rates.

Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, SC, Idaho, Arkansas, and Georgia
(in the top ten), all have poverty rates in the approx. 15 – 20% range. States like Vermont, Massachusetts,Connecticut, Wisconsin, NH (lowest rate in the country) and NJ (2nd lowest rate) have poverty rates of approx. 6 – 10 %:

That may be true, the Blues DO pay much more in taxes, are more wealthy, and receive less per dollar in from the Gov vs. the reds who receive more per dollar in taxes paid.

but it doesn’t explain the imbalance of secular Northeastern giving in much greater amounts to secular charity. There are certainly a greater amount and variety of charitable organizations in the NE compared to the South…

Perhaps since the reds receive more Fed money, they can free up the people to give to their churches more?

Don’t forget that giving to the church is also self-serving as it can be ascribed as an “insurance policy” to get into “heaven”….

The giving was determined from median disposable income — that is money after taxes, mortgage or rent, groceries, utilities, car payments, etc.  In other words, what do people do with the money that remains after paying for necessities?

So whether or not a state is a net payer or a net receiver would not affect giving as a percentage of median disposable income.The primary reason Red States receive more federal money is for defense-related purposes — Red States are disproportionately represented in the armed services.  Blue States pay residents in Red States to fight in die in wars.

Interesting study, but note that it doesn’t count all those who give to charity but don’t own homes so can’t itemize deductions. I assume that because of this, people with lower incomes who don’t itemize and those who live in high-cost cities (less home-owners and more renters) are not included. I would be curious to see how that skews the data, as the states they list as the “most generous” probably have much lower property values, higher home ownership, and more people able to itemize their charitable deductions.

Personally I am not surprised to hear about New Hampshire, the state whose motto is “Live Free or Die” has no sales tax, and no motorcycle helmet laws ; )

“Because of discrepancies in the data for people with income below $50,000, The Chronicle’s study includes only taxpayers who reported incomes of $50,000 or more.”

Is that gross income of $50,000 or an AGI of $50,000? Is there any data for tax filers who don’t itemize? If not (and it seems not) out of the total universe of filers, how many filers were excluded and how many were included in the study? Without that data, and for each level of aggregation, it’s hard to believe any of the findings.

This study excluded more than half the taxpayers in the nation (those making less than fifty thousand a year). It also did not inlcude charitable donations not included in tax deductions. I rarely (if ever) include charitable donations in my tax records. I think the study doesn’t do a  very good job on who does, and doesn’t give. Not even in terms of pure dollar amounts, much less in terms of percent of income. Would christ admire the multi-millionare who gave in public, and got a tax deduction more, or the women who gave her last penny to help others?

What’s not included here is the fact that many ‘high net worth’ individuals donate massively to their children’s private schools, ‘gala’ events with $1,000 per plate dinners, etc.  This is ‘returned’ to them in the form of lowered tuition, social connections/status, food/drink/entertainment, etc. So, those who malign the ‘blue’ states need to provide data showing that this website data is quantified with the ‘net return’ to people who can afford to donate extensively to pass-through organizations and ‘party’ opportunities.

It is a bad system which actually creates the need for charity in the first place. Most givers of charity don’t realize that a system which creates or allows the need for charity to exist, is a bad system which must be replaced with a system that takes care of everyone’s needs without the need for charity at all. Charity is a way for some people to feel good about themselves, while supporting a totally evil system. Charity is a way of allowing people to pat themselves on the back for throwing crumbs to the poor while keeping more than their fair share for themselves and while supporting a system which actually needs the existence of the poor in order for the system to continue its own existence.

It is the system which creates poverty. And, it is the idea that some people actually deserve more than other people do, which helps to keep this evil and vile and criminal system in place. But, it is not true that some people deserve more than others, or that some people have more of a right to be here than others do.

The simple fact that a particular person IS here, is proof that that person deserves to be here, or that person simply would not be here. No sentient being is required by the universe, to earn their keep or justify their existence on this planet. The resources on this planet belong to everyone equally, and are meant to be shared equally with all.

No society or system can justify the existence of poverty by throwing crumbs at the poor and calling it charity. The poor cannot be justifiably blamed for their own poverty…only the system can be blamed.

Note that donations to the hateful American Family Association are tax-deductible, donations to the ACLU are not. Determining charity based on the tax code’s bias toward religious causes will (of course!) skew the results toward making religious people appear more charitable than they are. What’s worse is that this false result will be dished out against the “evil atheists” in the next “charitable” religious fundraiser rally, right? 


Maps Are Fun: US Data

Valparaiso University in Northern Indiana has a website where they maintain some pages of resources with great maps. I’ve often made use of their page of religious distribution maps, having just based a post on the religious adherents map. However, I hadn’t previously explored the full array of maps they have, in which a lot of info is contained and elegantly conveyed.

I’ll begin with the ethnic groups maps which match many of the religious maps as ethnicity and religion tend to go hand in hand; one interesting pattern being how some of the border states in the Upper South include religious groups more typical of the North such as Quakers, Mennonites, and Amish; from the culture regions maps page, there are three maps that show the Midlands influence of the Midwest and Upper South: Diffusion of the Midland CultureColonial Culture Hearths, and Contemporary Culture Areas. I’ve used the ethnic groups maps before, such as with my post on the North/South divide. Some patterns begin to appear when you look across the almost 50 ethnic groups maps available. Some of the patterns are predictable, but it is surprising where some ethnic groups are found and not.

Native Americans have some predictable patterns. They are found mostly in the West and there is that concentration in Oklahoma, but right next to Oklahoma is Texas which is empty of Native Americans despite being nearly surrounded by states with concentrations of them. There are intriguing clumps of Native Americans in North Carolina which makes sense if you know the history, and that interests me as much of my family came through there. North Carolina and contiguous states form the area of Native American mixed ancestry. One of my North Carolina and Appalachian family lines has a name (Tolliver) that is found among some Melungeons. What many people don’t think about, though, is that there are also a fair amount of Native Americans in the Upper Midwest.

One of the more interesting maps is that of leading minority group by county. The Solid South isn’t just about party politics. Even their minorities lack much diversity, at least in terms which ethnic minorities dominate. All across the North, on the other hand, has a vast diversity of minorities. The only part of the South that has much minority diversity is the the border states of the Upper South which were influenced by similar migration patterns as the Midwest. Actually, the map is deceiving. The Midwest isn’t just about ethnic diversity, but a particular kind of multiculturalism. This map shows where ethnic groups have maintained coherency in a particular area, counties in this case. That was a common settlement pattern in the Midwest where a single ethnic group would settle together in the same county, town or neighborhood. Going to the culture regions maps page, there are two maps that clarify this. The concentration of ethnic islands are in the Western Midwest, the Upper Midwest and in one area of Texas. The other map showing a border area of Minnesota and Wisconsin gives a clear example of how these ethnic islands cluster together.

There is a subset of the maps that offer a fascinating viewpoint: absence of particular ethnic groups. However, it isn’t an entirely fair portrayal. Absence is defined as having fewer than 25 members of an ethnic group in counties. Some counties have an absence of large populations in the first place and so you have to take these maps with a grain of salt. With that in mind:

The absence of Native Americans/Alaska Natives and the absence of Asians is mostly found in a corridor starting in Texas going up to North Dakota, including surrounding states and with significant areas of the South, both Upper South and Deep South. The only partial exception in the corridor is Oklahoma that has an absence of Asians but not of Natives Americans/Alaska Natives. Florida similarly is an exception to the patterns of the South. As for absence of Blacks, the same pattern holds except for the Deep South, of course.  Absence of Hispanics is a much smaller area, though, with it almost entirely being located in the Mid-Northwest with its greatest concentration in the most northern states. This same area has an absence of minorities of all varieties.

When you look at the Percent Mexican map, the obvious pattern is shown which about everyone knows without looking at any map. However, the Midwest has a fair amount of Mexicans as well, especially Illinois with Chicago. In Iowa, there are 8 counties with 13-26% of the population being Mexican; and it is similar for Minnesota, but not Wisconsin. What stuck out to me is that there are 4% or less in the entire Northeast.

The Northeast, in general, isn’t lacking in ethnic diversity. There is the typical pattern of ethnic diversity that the Northeast shares with the Midwest (because of the influence of the multicultural tradition of the Mid-Atlantic states going back to the Middle Colonies). Beyond that, there is an odd similarity between the specific ethnic groups of the North and the the specific ethnic groups of Florida with the Southern region in between being almost entirely empty of these ethnic groups; also, California and Texas often though not always fits in with this pattern, specifically in terms of the migration pattern that went from the Midwest to California and Texas: GermanDutch, CzechSwedish, Lebanese, Hungarian, Polish, Ukranian, RussianItalian, Greek, Arab, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Korean, and maybe others could be added as well. In some cases, this pattern shows a link of the Northeast and/or the North with Louisiana (because of the Canadian influence), along with some of that connection to Florida and the West Coast: French and French Canadians. The Northeast sometimes and the Midwest more often, especially the Upper Midwest, also matches up with all those other Northern European ethnic groups that particularly became concentrated mostly in the furthest north states and all away over to the Northwest — along with those Northern European ethnic groups already listed above, often along with Eastern European ethnic groups: Scandanavian, Norwegian, Danish, Icelandic, and Finnish.

All of those ethnic groups I just listed are miniscule minorities in the South, excepting for some of the Gulf of Mexico states of Florida, Louisiana and Texas which were originally part of the Spanish Empire. There was another pattern in the South that really stands out. It’s not just about who is and isn’t in the South, but who is and isn’t in particular areas of the South. Where Blacks and African Americans are most concentrated is precisely where there is a scarcity of Scots-Irish, Scottish and Irish; and vice versa. I can’t recollect any other regional pattern that so starkly mirrors that inverse relation in the South.

The map gallery of language is a great way to get past the superficial Melting Pot view of America. Many non-English languages have been spoken throughout American history and many of these languages remain spoken in the original settlement areas of the respective ethnic groups.

Native American speakers are where you’d expect them to be as that is where the US government put Native Americans. On the West Coast and in the Southwest, there are the unsurprising concentrations of non-English speakers, specifically Spanish speakers and Chinese speakers; along with the unsurprising concentration of the former in Florida and the more surprising significant numbers of the latter in the Northeast as well. There is that pattern I’ve pointed out before connecting the Northeast and Lousiana with French speakers which also includes the pattern connecting the Northeast and Florida. There is another pattern connecting German speakers, Scandinavian speakers and Russian speakers which is generally in the North, especially with the first two in the Upper Midwest, while the latter two are found in some concentration in the Northeast, in Florida and on the West Coast.

The North overall has the highest diversity of non-English languages spoken at home, even though it is the Southwest with the highest numbers of non-English speakers. This shows the long lasting tradition of multiculturalism in the North, a tradition especially in the Upper Midwest of which the average American is oblivious. Multiculturalism doesn’t just happen on accident. By way of laws, communities decide to either allow or disallow diversity. The states that have no state language legislation are all in the Northeast, Upper Midwest, Northwest and Southwest. The South stands out in contrast with being a solid block of English only states.

The politics maps page further strengthens these regional distinctions, thus showing the relationship between cultural traditions and political traditions. The political regions maps shows the boundaries of the regions and identifies the main theme of each, and those boundaries follow the standard flows of migration and settlement.

Closely aligned with state language legislation, states without capital punishment are all in the North and mostly in the Upper Midwest, those easygoing kindly people of Northern European ancestry. Among states with capital punishment, those with more than 20 executions since 1973 are mostly in the Deep South with some in the Southwest.

This relates to states with strong traditions of participatory democracy and those without. The highest concentration of voting population are in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Louisiana and Oregon; or to put in terms of ethnic groups: English related to the Puritans, Northern Europeans and French. To put it in the terms of standard racial groupings in America, non-Hispanic Whites fit the pattern of the general population, but even non-Hispanic Blacks and Hispanics have higher rates of voting in the North than in the South. Blacks in many Northern states, specifically those states with higher rates of Northern European ancestry, have higher voting rates than whites in many Southern states.

This interestingly aligns with something I noted in a previous post. The average IQ in the North is higher than the average IQ in the South. That just fits the typical North/South divide that can be found in all kinds of data. It’s rather predictable in that the Northern states on average have better public education systems and healthier populations, two things among many others that improve IQ. Where it gets really interesting is when broken down into race. Here is what I wrote in that above post:

black populations in some Northern states have on average higher IQs than black populations in Southern states. And, even more significantly, white populations in many Northern states have on average higher IQs than white populations in Southern states (excluding Texas). So, doing comparisons just within single races, there are IQ differences that show a North/South divide for both black and white populations. However, the difference is most clear for white populations. This can only be explained, as far as I can tell, by poverty being the central factor in IQ differences. Blacks experience higher rates than whites of poverty in all states, but whites mostly just experience high rates of poverty in the South.

This is further corroborated by the fact that rural Southern Whites have higher rates of violence than even Blacks, whether in the South or North, including inner city Blacks. I included analysis of this in my post about the North/South divide. A more detailed analysis can be found in the book Culture of Honor by Richard E. Nisbett and Dov Cohen. Just yesterday I randomly came across two interesting posts about this topic by hbd chick which consider this from an inherited genetics perspective: “culture” of honor and hatfields and mccoys. This isn’t just academic to me as I spent many years in the South. I remember, while in a South Carolina public high school, how often kids got in fights or otherwise acted aggressively confrontational. It never occurred to me at the time that such behavior wasn’t normal, since I never went to high school anywhere else and so had no comparison.

As I’ve noted many times before, the South has lower rates of health as shown by diverse indicators: obesity, diabetes, STDs, childhood hunger, etc. Along these lines, there is a socio-economics maps page. The North has the highest median family income and low percentage of adults lacking a high school diploma. The Upper Midwest has the lowest percentage of divorced adults in the country.

There is an apparent connection between a healthy democracy, a healthy society/community and a healthy population. The regions with the highest rates of Northern European ancestry show this connection most clearly. The obvious next thought is to consider the fact that Northern European countries also show this same health connection; for example, Germany and Finland.

I think I covered nearly every map in the Valparaiso University collection. I could have gone further into the religion maps, but I’ve already explored them enough elsewhere. The nice thing about maps is that it just shows you the data. Many connections can be made by the discerning observer and many possibilities can be conjectured. So, don’t just take my word for it.

Religious Adherents: Concentrated in Central US

I was perusing various maps of data. I visited a favorite website of mine that has a great set of maps of religions in the United States. One stood out to me just now. It is a map of religious adherents:

Map of Religious Adherents as a percentage of all residents, 2000


The pattern of the highest concentrations of religious adherents doesn’t follow the pattern one would suspect. It doesn’t follow the Bible Belt (the Bible Belt may get the most attention, but maybe its not deserved). It doesn’t split between the North and South or between the East and West.

It is mostly situated in the central core of the country. Besides the Mormons, it sticks close to the 100th Meridian and the Great Plains.

I was wondering what religious patterns it does follow. The only two maps that show some similarity are those of the Methodists and Catholics, but I don’t know why that might be or if it is significant at all. It’s very intriguing, whatever its cause.



Literary Loss of Faith: Literary Criticism as Doomsaying

I noticed the article Has Fiction Lost Its Faith? by Paul Elie in The New York Times. It initially interested me, but the more I thought about it I felt irritated by it. I did like the idea about making belief believable, as Flannery O’Connor originally explained it.

What irritated me was the simplistic conclusion. It reminded me of the articles I constantly come across about the world coming to an end in some way or another. Books will disappear and along with it reading. Before that, people worried books would make oral culture disappear. Before that, people worried oral culture would make cave paintings disappear. People used to fear-monger about how the first land-line telephones would destroy American society and corrupt the youth. Then they said that about the television, and then cable, and then the internet.

It just goes on and on endlessly. The world is always ending and yet it never ends. The world of faith, of miracles, of gods ruling on earth, of humans and animals as a brotherhood, of the fairyland still being accessible, etc; all of it is always in the past, always declining, always disappearing. For as long as civilization has existed, there have been prophets of doom proclaiming the decline of civilization or some particular tradition.  It has been millennia of failed predictions and disproven criticisms.

This article expresses a related kind of rhetoric. The hypothesis stated as fact is that faith is disappearing from literature and that this somehow implies a deeper problem or malaise, a societal corruption or moral decline or weakening of serious thought, or something like that. People have been worrying about the loss of faith at least since the Protestant Reformation and probably long before that. This obsession is particularly strong in America where religion has had some of the strongest roots in all the world. If faith truly was weakening, no one would even write an article like this or want to read it because no one would give a flying fuck.

I don’t have a dog in this fight. I’m neither religious nor anti-religious. It’s not the substance of the argument that annoys me, rather the style and structure of it. It’s so simplistic and predictable, so tired and cliché. If society is collapsing from internal decay, it is weak journalism like this that is a sign of the coming apocalypse… except journalism has always been this way, as long as journalism has existed… so, I guess no apocalypse for the time being. I’ve always thought that if and when civilization finally collapses or modern Western society declines to a point of no return, it probably would come from a confluence of events and conditions that no one would or could foresee.

I doubt that there are fewer authors of faith. A better query might be: Have the literary gatekeepers lost their faith? If the great Christian writers of the past were writing today, would they be published by the major publishing companies, would the mainstream critics review their works, and would they make it on Oprah’s book club list?

Then again, I don’t even know that those are good questions. This article, after all, was published in the mainstream media. It is a literary gatekeeper who, in his dual role as journalist and fiction writer, is complaining about this literary loss of faith. It’s like Republicans claiming other Republicans are secret Democrats for not being right-wing enough or nationally viewed MSM pundits complaining about the MSM being liberally biased. It’s a rhetorical trick to manipulate one’s audience.

In this case, the critic of literary loss of faith is setting the stage for his upcoming novel about faith. This means he is offering the solution to the problem he portrays as a threat. How convenient.

In criticism of the article, the following are two good responses.

D.G. Myers writes in The Novel of Belief:

It is not immediately clear why a setting in the past should disqualify any novel from the category “of belief.” Perhaps the greatest religious novel ever written by an American—Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop—is also set in the past. [ . . . ] There have been enough historical novels of religious faith written by Americans that Elie’s demand for contemporaneity begins to seem arbitrary.

[ . . . ] Elie also stipulates that the novel of belief be a novel of Christian belief, which leaves out of account the remarkable turn toward religion on the part of Jewish novelists [ . . . ]

There is no possible stipulation, however, which can explain Elie’s neglect of Christopher R. Beha’s extraordinary What Happened to Sophie Wilder. I’ve called the novel a modern saint’s life. It has everything Elie is looking for—the living language of religious faith, a distinct and conclusive personal transformation under the influence of the Holy Spirit, the acceptance of religion’s explanatory power, a commitment to the established Church instead of the Do-It-Yourself religiosity that so many Americans seem to prefer, an ethical quandary that is directly caused by Christian faith, an emphatic and unembarrassed Roman Catholic character, and best of all, it is entirely contemporary in its setting—but its author is young and not yet famous (he will be), his publisher is a small house (not like Elie’s own Farrar, Straus & Giroux), and it does nothing whatever to confirm the trend away from novelistic belief which Elie is at such pains to illustrate. Even worse, Beha’s novel may be part of a countervailing trend toward anew Catholic fiction, which rejects the literary Catholicism of Flannery O’Connor for predecessors like Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh instead.

Abe Rosenzweig comments (from an article by Dominic Preziosi):

To be honest, this is the sort of “trend piece” one expects from the Times. He sort of takes a James Woodsian tour of recent fiction (Delillo! McCarthy!), meaning that he seems stuck on Big House publications, and his dismissal of Robinson seems wholly contrived along the rather arbitrary parameter that works set in the past must be dismissed (seriously, Robinson is one of the most lauded of contemporary authors, and her work is driven by Christianity; his rejection of her is just silly). Also, of course, is the simple fact that he’s not actually interested in works dealing with faith, but rather works that deal with (and are motivated by) Christian faith (equating “faith” with “Christian” is, of course, a typically Christian move).

I also find myself wondering what the point of the piece is. I don’t see how it could really be part of a program (reinvigorating Christian literature?); it seems to just be another soft lament for the fact that the Sikhs are next door.




Radical & Moderate Enlightenments: Revolution & Reaction, Science & Religion

Biblical historicism and anthropogenic global warming, these are two of the most important issues. They clearly portray the two sides of religion and science, belief vs fact.

I don’t want to get complicated with this post as it would be easy to do so, or at least I don’t want to waste the space explaining the detailed background (something I’ve done many times already). Trying to explain the history, demographics, and psychology behind it all is complex. For my present purposes, I simply want to use these examples to show a trend.

* * * *

I’ve observed many trends in recent years. The trends in biblical studies and climatology interest me because they are so symbolic. Their symbolism allows for a deeper trend to be seen, a trend that I perceive as including or causally related to these many diverse trends.

Over the years, I’ve become aware of how the general public has become increasingly supportive of liberal views, especially what in the past had been considered liberal or even radically leftwing: drug legalization or decriminalization, health care reform with public option or single payer, better government regulation, decreasing inequality, etc.  Oddly, the majority of Americans support these liberal positions even as they label themselves as ‘conservatives’.

So, liberalism has become the new conservatism, by which I mean it is the new public opinion status quo and it is the conservative inclination to defend the status quo. As the old guard of reactionary conservatives dies off and as the younger moderate conservatives come to defend the former liberalism (specifically 20th century liberalism), this will free up the liberal-minded to take on new liberal positions which will be partly defined by the direction in which the leftwing leads.

Nonetheless, the shift isn’t clear. It’s not about liberals defeating conservatives. What is going on is more profound. The very notions of liberalism and conservatism are shifting.

No one can know where to the shift will ultimately lead. If anything, the shift is best understood in terms of something like Spiral Dynamics. Liberals defend science and conservatives defend religion, but not necessarily for intrinsic reasons. Rather, it’s the historical circumstance that puts these two political movements in defense of these two social institutions.

* * * *

Two events got me thinking. First, I was having one of my standard debates about climatology science with a conservative. Second, I was looking at biblical studies books from these past few years. The first is irrelevant other than giving my thinking context for the second.

The book that really got me thinking is a book I haven’t even read, but I did read several very in-depth reviews and the author is someone I’m very familiar with through his other work. The book in question is Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth and the author is Bart D. Ehrman. Even some of the reviewers who agreed with the author’s conclusion didn’t agree with his way of defending it, instead some even thought he had fallen into the traps of apologetics that Ehrman had previously criticized.

Most interestingly, some reviewers noted that it seemed Ehrman was on the defense. This is a new event in biblical studies. Belief in a historical Jesus has been the academic consensus, given that most biblical studies academics are believers and those who aren’t believers are typically former believers. Biblical studies is the only academic field that is so dependent on belief, as both a starting and ending point. The field itself and many if not most academics in it began with apologetics, Ehrman included.

Another academic that began with apologetics is Robert M. Price. Like Ehrman, Price went from believing apologist to non-believing scholar, the apologetics having led to the academic study which in turn led to doubt. The difference between Ehrman and Price is that the former couldn’t let go of the last remnant of biblical literalism (i.e., belief in a historical Jesus) and the latter could let it go. Price, although often a fence-sitter holding no allegiance to a single theory, has gone even further in recent years. He once held to the historical position until he looked at the mythicist position in detail, but Ehrman apparently has refused to look at it in detail and prefers to protect his beliefs by dismissing out of hand anything that would challenge it. The irony in this is immense considering Ehrman is one of the most well known enemies of apologetics.

Anyway, none of that is my concern here. All that interested me is how it has become clear that the table has turned. Mythicists are no longer on the defense and instead historicists are. The arguments and criticisms presented by mythicists has become an insurmountable challenge, as demonstrated by the increasing number of mythicist scholars – besides Robert M. Price, there is: G.A. Wells, Alvar Ellegard, Richard Carrier, Earl Doherty, D.M. Murdock, etc. Add to this the Gnosticism scholars and the disagreement with academic consensus keeps growing.

* * * *

Consensus is an interesting thing in academia.

As I pointed out, biblical studies is the only academic field so fully dominated by believers. The contrast with climatology is immense. Conservatives agree with the biblical studies consensus despite the lack of evidence and conservatives disagree with the climatology consensus despite the surplus of evidence. Their criticisms of science are inconsistent and self-serving. They aren’t being anti-intellectual out of principle (as Richard Hofstadter pointed out, no one is ever anti-intellectual about all issues). Conservatives simply realize that in certain cases the facts contradict their beliefs and so they pragmatically prioritize the latter, even as giving lip-service to the former.

Belief and fact are two very different worldviews. We have lived in a world, despite all the changes, that has remained held in check by ancient beliefs. However, we are finally coming to a point when those ancient beliefs are being challenged.

This is tremendous. Even many non-believers have been unwilling or undesirous of challenging the belief in a historical Jesus. Almost everyone wants a historical Jesus, just as long as it is their preferred version – for example: God born in human form to save mankind, travelling philosopher, enlightened wisdom teacher, failed apocalyptic preacher, political revolutionary, etc. To challenge this belief is to challenge a core assumption of all western civilization.

* * * *

There is one historical detail I will add as my concluding thought. I add it partly for the simple reason that it comes from another book I’m reading: Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750 by Jonathan Israel. As I said, I want to avoid the complexity to the extent I can, but I feel compelled to give a brief view of it.

There was no single Enlightenment (the reason for why there is no single classical liberalism, i.e., liberalism prior to the 20th century; also, why there still is no single liberalism; and, furthermore, why there is no single conservatism). Radical Enlightenment, according to Israel, began in the 17th century with Spinoza; and the proponents of the Radical Enlightenment (such as Paine) led to the reformist progressive liberals and paved the way for socialism. The moderate Enlightenment was a reaction to the radical Enlightenment and led to what Corey Robin calls ‘reactionary conservatism’.

I bring this up to clarify a point. We all are children of the Enlightenment, liberals and conservatives alike. This relates to Hofstadter’s observation that no one is absolutely and consistently anti-intellectual, at least not any modern post-Enlightenment person. The point that is clarified by Israel’s book is that the moderate Enlightenment proponents were wary of reason even as they respected it. They wanted the positive results of reason, but they also wanted to make sure reason was subjugated to religious belief, to hierarchical authority, and to social order. They didn’t want to destroy the aristocracy, just re-create it so that it would be less oppressive and more meritocratic. Both sides argued for reason, although one side argued more radically.

As such, we are still fighting the battle between the radial Enlightenment and the moderate Enlightenment. Should faith be subjugated to reason? Or should reason be subjugated to faith? Should we follow reason as far as it will go? Or should we withhold reason when it gets too close to what we deem fundamental?

For the first time in American history, the radical Enlightenment may be getting a foothold in public opinion and hence in mainstream society. Religion has never been weaker and science has never been stronger.

* * * *

If my observations are correct, this will be an earth-shaking shift and American society will never be the same again. Most people don’t notice the changes, not even most experts in their respective fields. That is the nature of such changes. They go below the radar for they can’t be understood within the present context. It’s a paradigm shift. The ideas planted centuries ago may be finally coming to fruition or at least experiencing a major growth spurt.

Of course, this doesn’t mean the proposed shift will make those on the left happy. It’s not to say that it will make anyone happy. We will all be challenged by it. The precise results can’t be predicted.