New Religion of the Late Axial Age

Aphrodite and the Rabbis
by Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky
pp. 226-230

I have suggested here that rabbinic Judaism is a new religion, divorced and separate from the biblical, Israelite religion of the Temple cult that preceded it. Yet my discussion of the late biblical antecedents of Hellenism, added to the evidence I quoted earlier in this book about the possibility of synagogues’ existing before the destruction, should raise a flag of caution. In fact, the rabbinic obsession with Scripture, manifest in the rabbis’ interpretations of every detail of biblical law, including the minute facets of the moribund Temple and its procedures, makes it clear that rabbinic Judaism is not a wholly new religion, created ex nihilo, out of nothingness. This shift was already under way before the time of the rabbis. On one hand, there would be no wholesale assimilation to Hellenism with a loss of Jewish identity. On the other, ancient Jewish rituals were not abandoned. Rather, there would be a measured appropriation and adaptation of Greco – Roman culture that found its expression in post – 70 CE Judaism.

The ways in which I have characterized Judaism, whether as utterly new or as a remix of an old tune, are fraught with ideological significance. What characterizes the new Judaism and separates it from other emerging ideologies? Is rabbinic Judaism just one more new religion, one more flavor of many Judaisms in the Late Antique world, there to take its place alongside Christianity and other Greco – Roman religions? Or is rabbinic Judaism the one and only authentic inheritor of biblical “Judaism,” genetically similar by virtue of both the performed commandments ( mitzvot ) and the constant justyfying of those mitzvot through tying them to their presumed Scriptural origins? Remember that in the period I am considering, rabbinic Judaism was not the major face of Judaism it would become for the millennium of its European ascendance, say from 940 to 1940 CE. It was only in that much later period that rabbis had the actual power to enforce their dicta. The first millennium of rabbinic Judaism resembled the Judaism we have now, in which each individual Jew chooses adherence to the commandments and how that adherence is manifested in daily behavior. To get to now, the rabbis then needed persistence, vision, and Roman Stoic stolidity to survive. The very virtues the rabbis adopted from Roman culture were among the forces that allowed Judaism to survive against oppressive odds. […]

Even as one could distinguish between the rabbis and other Jews within the Jewish world—the rabbis themselves made this distinction—nevertheless they all shared a common Judaism that was heavily inflected by their common Hellenism. The details I have surveyed in this book have made it clear that by and large, the water they swam in was very good. And when they were asked “What the hell is water?” the answer, surely, was that among the many tributaries that made up the empire—from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, from the Euphrates to the Caspian Sea—Judaism took its place within the Roman Empire as a Roman people and religion. Its transformation from the Jerusalem – centered Temple cult to a world religion was a reinvention, a resurrection if you will, accomplished through the vivifying waters of Greco – Roman culture.

The Minds of the Bible
by Rabbi James Cohn
Kindle Locations 1089-1103

It is fascinating to consider that in the same moment that the New Testament is championed in Christianity as the fulfillment (and operatively the replacement) of the Old Testament, the Jewish world creates a new system of Rabbinic Judaism that accomplishes the same thing by a different route. Like the New Testament, the Mishnah cannot afford doctrinally to discard the Old Testament. Both insist that the Old Testament is divinely authored (and authorized), since neither could set aside the idea of a perfect, infallible revelation. But, like the New Testament, the Mishnah insists that it (and only it) is the true interpretation of the “voices” of the Old Testament — and then, like the New Testament, it proceeds to limit those voices for all time.

So I would re-frame this (wrong) question:
“As a religion, why is Christianity so much kinder and more loving that Judaism, which by contrast is sterner and more legalistic?”
The right question is,
“Why is it that, in the space of a scant millennium, religious authorization moves from the auditory reception of articulated voices, to the idea of an indwelling spirit whose essence is revealed in the written word (and, in the process, in the specific de-authorization of all future ‘voices’ as sources of binding religious belief and/ or law)?”

Neither the New Testament nor the Mishnah/ Talmud will admit that it is a new religion: both Christianity and Rabbinic (modern Orthodox) Judaism claim that they are simply fulfillments of the Old Testament. This is philosophically untrue (modern Orthodox Judaism has very little in common with Old Testament Judaism), but strategically effective (and successful, historically, in terms of survival).

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An Inconsistency on the Political Left

Sam Harris and Noam Chomsky had some strong disagreements a while back, about religion in its relation to extremism and terrorism. It was a dialogue that didn’t really go anywhere. Their ideological worldviews were too different. But it occurred to me what exactly is odd about the conflict.

Harris believes there is something inherent to certain religions and to the religious mindset in general. Chomsky takes the opposite tack by emphasizing conditions and context. Islamic terrorists are the result of a half century of geopolitical machinations that involved Western governments eliminating secularism and promoting theocracy.

It’s a difference of whether one emphasizes civilizational war or common humanity. The divergence of these worldviews extends back to the Enlightenment and even further back to the Axial Age.

That isn’t exactly what I want to discuss, though. It came to my mind that these two thinkers switch positions when it comes to the human mind. Harris denies that there is an inherent self, whereas Chomsky has long argued that there are inherent modules within the mind.

Both seem inconsistent, but as mirror images of each other. Some have noted that Chomsky’s linguistic theory doesn’t fit his political ideology. There is a drastic mismatch. Chomsky dismisses this as two separate areas, as though the human mind and human society had nothing to do with each other. That is odd. Harris, as far as I know, has never even attempted to explain away his inner conflict.

Most on the political right would argue that nearly everything is inherent: human nature, language, culture, religion, genetics, biology, gender, etc. It is assumed that there is a fundamental, unchanging essence to things that determines their expression. I disagree with this viewpoint, but at least it is consistent. There are other areas of inconsistency on the political right, some real whoppers such as with economics. Yet for this set of issues, the greater inconsistency appears to be on the political left.

The Right-Wing New Age

Describing a Salon article by Mitch Horowitz, there is a post over at Matt Cardin’s blog. He offers a summary:

“But the article’s overall topic is much broader, as indicated in the provided editorial teaser: “If you think New Age alternative spirituality is solely the domain of lefty hippies, you don’t know your history.” In just under two thousand words Horowitz discusses such things as the influence of Manly P. Hall on Ronald Reagan, Madame Blavatsky’s promulgation of the idea of “America as the catalyst for a revolution in human potential,” Donald Trump’s association with Norman Vincent Peale, FDR’s decision to put the eye-and-pyramid of the Great Seal of the United States on the dollar bill, Hillary Clinton’s visioneering meetings Jean Houston (who once told Bill Clinton that he was an “undeveloped shaman,” at which point he got up and walked out), and more. Horowitz’s basic point is that none of this represents a conspiracy, notwithstanding the claims of the paranoid conspiracy theorizing crowd”

It doesn’t surprise me. And I can’t say that I worry about the media having “characterized Bannon as the Disraeli of the dark side following his rise to power in the Trump administration.” That said, there might be a connection between Bannon’s attraction to both mysticism and fascism, which could cause one to wonder what kind of New Age he might envision. But the general connection between alternative spirituality and the political right isn’t particularly concerning. As Horowitz explains, that is simply a part of the social fabric of American society and far from being limited to right-wingers.

My conservative parents raised my brothers and I in several liberal New Agey churches, from Christian Science to Unity. It was my paternal grandmother, coming out of a Southern Baptist upbringing, who after she moved to California introduced my parents to New Age spirituality. It helped transition my dad from his earlier doubting agnosticism to his present family values Christianity. Interestingly, my parents now attend a liberal mainstream church, even as they remain strongly conservative. Both of my parents are into positive thinking, my dad being a fan of Norman Vincent Peale.

Religion plays a major role on my dad’s side of the family. My paternal grandfather was a minister who was more spiritual than religious, odd as that might sound. Along with reading my grandmother’s copy of A Course In Miracles, I enjoyed looking at some books my dad had inherited from my grandfather. Among those books, I was introduced to world religions and the likes of the two Krishnamurtis (Jiddu and U.G.).

I could point out that there is a common history to Evangelicalism, New Thought Christianity, and Prosperity Gospel. There are a number of books that cover this and other related history. Theosophy took hold in the US during the late 1800s Populist Era. There was a lot of odd mystical and spiritual thinking that arose in the 1800s, such as the popularity of spiritualism.

There have been many diverse expressions of religion across American history. My paternal great grandfather was an orphan in one of the last surviving Shaker villages, having left when he reached adulthood. Also, there was the Quakers, Deists, Unitarians, Universalists, Anabaptists, Pietists, Camisards, Huguenots, Moravians, Brethren, Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, Amanas, etc. Spiritualism and related practices became popular across religions. The Shakers went through a spiritualism phase, during which much interesting artwork was produced.

Multiple strains of dissenter religion influenced American society, in particular some of the radical thinking during the English Civil War when the first American colonies were taking hold. Roger Williams was a rather interesting religious radical in the early American colonies.

Here are some books that might be of interest, including one from the author of the article:

Occult America by Mitch Horowitz, Religion, Magic, and Science in Early Modern Europe and America by Allison P. Coudert, New Age and Neopagan Religions in America by Sarah Pike, A Republic of Mind and Spirit by Catherine L. Albanese, The New Metaphysicals by Courtney Bender, Ghosts of Futures Past by McGarry Molly, Plato’s Ghost by Cathy Gutierrez, The Occult in Nineteenth-Century America by Cathy Gutierrez, Each Mind a Kingdom by Beryl Satter, The History of New Thought by John S. Haller & Robert C. Fuller, Religious Revolutionaries by Robert C. Fuller, Spiritual, but not Religious by Robert C. Fuller, Restless Souls by Leigh Eric Schmidt, Spirits of Protestantism by Pamela E. Klassen, Secularism in Antebellum America by John Lardas Modern, The American Encounter with Buddhism, 1844-1912 by Thomas A. Tweed, America’s Communal Utopias by Donald E. Pitzer, and The Kingdom of Matthias by Paul E. Johnson & Sean Wilentz.

On a slightly different note, I would highly recommend The Churching of America by Roger Finke and Rodney Stark. The authors show how, until the 19th century, Americans didn’t have high rates of religiosity such as church attendance. The increasing focus on spirituality was simultaneous with greater concern with mainstream religion.

Another thing that could be added were the Transcendentalists. They had interest in Eastern religious and philosophical thought. Translations of Eastern texts such as the Bhagavad Gita were available in the early 19th century. Henry David Thoreau brought the Bhagavad Gita with him to Walden. See: American Transcendentalism and Asian Religions by Arthur Versluis and The Gita within Walden by Paul Friedrich.

Later in that century, the Theosophical Society translated a large number of Eastern texts. Theosophists came to have much influence during the Populist Era of the 1890s and into the following century. I recall a march on Washington, DC during the 1890s was led by someone influenced by Theosophical thought.

That was a major turning point for American spirituality, fueled by populist revolt and questioning of religious authority. There was a hunger for both new politics and new religion. This was the same historical moment when such things as New Thought Unity Church was organized, specifically 1889. Jackson Lears, in Rebirth of a Nation, describes this era (pp. 237-238):

“Yet the vitalist impulse itself had larger than utilitarian implications. Its significance, like its origin, was religious. It lay at the heart of a broad revolt against positivism, a rejection of a barren universe governed by inexorable laws, where everything was measurable and nothing mysterious. The real problem for many vitalists (and certainly for James) was the specter of a life (and death) without meaning. It is possible to see all the talk about “life” as a way of whistling past the graveyard of traditional Christianity. But the vitalist ferment was also a genuine attempt to explore new meanings for human existence amid the wreckage of collapsing dualities: body and soul, matter and spirit, this world and the next.

“Educated Protestants, dissatisfied with desiccated theology, cast about for vital conceptions of cosmic meaning. Many explored medieval Catholic mysticism as an alternative to the banalities of the typical Sunday sermon, the sort of platitudes uttered by Henry Ward Beecher and other ministers who reduced the Protestant ethic to a mere prescription for worldly success. Buddhism and other Asian religions—discovered, imagined, and synthesized—also began to play a role in focusing popular longings. Vedanta, popularized at the Chicago World’s Fair and after by Swami Vivekenanda, and theosophy, preached by Madame Blavatsky and Annie Besant, were both synthetic expressions of spiritual ferment. Paul Carus founded the magazine Open Court to carry forward the work of the World’s Parliament of Religions, begun at the Chicago Fair, to create a common ground of ecumenical discussion, which might lead to a new synthesis—a “Religion of the Future” that might appeal to believer and skeptic alike.

“The results were mixed. Contributors to Open Court asked questions like “What is Life?” and then stumbled about in a soupy haze of abstractions. “The truth is, there are, as there must be, original factors in the world…and life (or chemical activity and appetency) is like gravity, one of them,” William Salter announced in 1901. “If we wish to account for them, we have to go back to the maker of all things (if there is a Maker) not to any of the things that are made.” One thing was certain: “The only salvation for society as for the individual, is from within—it is more life.” The reverence for “life” could overcome death itself. “Who knows but that that greater death which sooner or later overtakes us all…starts energies into play deeper than we had known before—that it is the death of the body, and freedom, new birth, to the soul?’

“The desire for regeneration led to death’s door and beyond. Yearnings for empirical proof of an afterlife and for communication with departed loved ones accelerated the appeal of spiritualism. Here was another example of fascination with invisible force, impossible to see but unmistakable (to believers) in its consequences—tables rising from the floor, sepulchral voices, mysterious music. Even William James was intrigued. While he remained skeptical of sweaty séances in darkened rooms, he joined the American Society for Psychical Research, providing legitimacy to the quest for connection with “discarnate spirits.” His interest in spiritualism reflected his openness to all manner of evidence, no matter how bizarre or apparently inexplicable—his radical empiricism, as he called it.”

By the way, Horowitz’s article reminded me of a passage in What’s the Matter with Kansas? by Thomas Frank. In a brief but insightful observation, Frank explains why right-wingers would find appealing what otherwise seems the New Age babble of hippies (Kindle Locations 1998-2013):

“Today bitter self-made men—and their doppelgängers, the bitter but not quite as well-to-do men—are all over the place. They have their own cable news network and their own TV personalities. They can turn to nearly any station on the AM dial to hear their views confirmed. They have their own e-mail bulletin boards, on which you can find hundreds of thousands of them plen-T-plaining about this outrage and that, from the national to the local. And although they like to fancy themselves rugged individualists (better yet, the last of the rugged individualists), what they really are is a personality type that our society generates so predictably and in such great numbers that they almost constitute a viable market segment all on their own.

“One more thing about the backlash personality type: every single one of the bitter self-made men of my youth was a believer in the power of positive thinking. If you just had a sunny disposish and kept everlastingly at it, they thought, you were bound to succeed. The contradiction between their professed positiveness and their actual negativity about nearly everything never seemed to occur to them. On the contrary; they would oscillate from the one to the other as though the two naturally complemented each other, giving me advice on keeping a positive mental outlook even while raging against the environmentalist bumper stickers on other people’s cars or scoffing at Kansas City’s latest plan for improving its schools. The world’s failure to live up to the impossible promises of the positive-thinking credo did not convince these men of the credo’s impracticality, but rather that the world was in a sad state of decline, that it had forsaken the true and correct path.2 It was as though the fair-play lessons of Jack Armstrong, Frank Merriwell, and the other heroes of their prewar boyhood had congealed quite naturally into the world bitterness of their present-day heroes, Charles Bronson, Dirty Harry, Gordon Liddy, and the tax rebel Howard Jarvis.”

(Note 2. “In The Positive Thinkers, Donald Meyer comments extensively on positive thinking’s understanding of the business civilization and extreme laissez-faire economics as the way of nature. (See in particular chap. 8.) As for its politics, Meyer points out that Norman Vincent Peale, the movement’s greatest celebrity preacher, dabbled in right-wing Republicanism, and a famous positive-thinking Congregationalist church in California embraced the John Birch Society. It is possible that the universal embrace of positive thinking by the bitter self-made men of my youth was a geographic coincidence, since Kansas City is home to one of the great powers of the positive-thinking world, the Unity Church. But I am inclined to think not. Positive thinking is today a nearly universal aspect of liberal Protestantism, traces of it appearing in the speeches of Ronald Reagan and the self-help entertainment of Oprah Winfrey.” [Kindle Locations 4350-4357])

* * * *

Some of the earliest blog posts I ever wrote was a 4 part series. In those earlier writings, I covered all of this in great detail and included much of my personal experience. They came from my old blog, originally posted on the now defunct Gaia website. I apologize for their needing to be cleaned up a bit, as the transferal of posts was done quickly, but they are readable as is.

New Age: Part 1
New Age: Part 2
New Age: Part 3
New Age: Part 4

* * * *

Additional thoughts (5/14/17):

My mother’s all-time favorite preacher is Robert Schuller. He is well known for his having built the Crystal Cathedral, the embodiment of the crass materialism of self-indulgence and cult of personality. Although humbly born and raised in Iowa, he became a mega-church preacher in California and thereby amassed immense wealth.

It’s interesting to learn about how California is the origins of the mega-church movement, along with the modern religious right that took over the GOP. California is also the birthplace of Nixon (infamous Orange County), as Southern California is filled with Southerners. Nixon promoted the Southern strategy and Reagan, a California transplant and professional corporate spokesperson, gave it a voice and a face. I should note that the Southern presence was so influential even in early Californian history that the state was almost split in two during the Civil War.

It was in California that my grandmother, raised Southern Baptist, converted to New Age religion. There is not much distance between the New Right and the New Age. Robert Schuller’s prosperity gospel and ‘old time’ family values easily bridges that distance. It’s why my conservative parents could simultaneously listen to the kindly patriarchal Schuller on television, attend a uber-liberal New Thought church (Unity), and vote for Reagan with his culture war religiosity and Hollywood smile — all part and parcel of the same worldview given its fullest form during the Cold War through the expression of Capitalist Christianity.

I recently learned that a regular guest on Schuller’s televized ministry was Laura Schlessinger, one of the major stars of late 20th century right-wing radio. I remember listening to her when I was still living in South Carolina. It was around the mid 1990s, considering her show was nationally syndicated in 1994 (the year I graduated high school). As the female version of Limbaugh, she was a typical egotist who thought her every ignorant opinion was God-inspired truth. She was a no-nonsense Cold War culture warrior, one of these privileged upper middle class white people who can talk tough because they’ve never dealt with a real problem in their entire life.

One time a caller complained about personal problems and Schlessinger’s advice was that the young woman should either take care of her problems or kill herself. I was shocked that any radio host would be that irresponsible, but that was common for right-wing talk radio. There is a heartlessness to this attitude. I can guarantee you that if this person had killed herself, a sociopathic social Darwinian like Schlessinger would have been happy that there was one less ‘loser’ in the world.

Now consider this mean-spirited asshole was a close personal friend of Robert Schuller, having said of her that she is “A positive voice for positive values without equal in our time.” Despite Schuller’s kind and friendly demeanor, there was a dark cancerous rot at the heart of his prosperity gospel. In the end, prosperity gospel was simply yet more rhetoric upholding the plutocracy and defending inequality. It was a worship of Mammon, in place of God.

This kind of prosperity gospel didn’t die with Schuller. It is still going strong. The mega-church movement has become more popular than ever and, with big money, it is a major political player with impressive clout. Some of Trump’s most outspoken and influential supporters were prosperity gospel preachers, such as Paula White and Joel Osteen (along with many others). This is nothing new. Going back decades, some truly hateful and demented religious leaders have openly supported and socialized with Republican politicians and even presidents. Some of these religious right leaders said things far worse than Trump and associates have dared to say and there was no backlash. Republicans have been courting rabidly reactionary radicalism for a long time.

This is not old time religion, in the traditional European sense. But America has always had weird strains of religiosity and spirituality, a hybrid spawn of Protestant Reformation and Counter-Enlightenment. The descendants of this match made in hell were suckled at the teat of American materialism with its dark history of oppression and inequality. Then driven mad through the delusional fear-mongering of generations of propaganda, from Cold War to War on Terror.

If one were feeling particularly cynical, it could be argued that Trump represents the final endpoint and highest expression of American Christianity. But that would be too dismissive toward the religious diversity that has always existed in North America, even if the ugliest expressions of religiosity too often have dominated. It should not be forgotten that the United States also has a history of radical left-wing religiosity as well. The hard-hitting Christian attitude eloquently put forth by the likes of Martin Luther King jr is alive and well, no matter how much corporate media hacks and corporatist politicians ignore it.

There is another point that should be made clear. The religious right mentality isn’t limited to the religious right, for the simple reason that the religious right itself in America is the product of post-Enlightenment liberalism. The American right in general has long been in love with the rhetoric of liberalism with its focus, however superficial, on liberty and freedom in terms of not just of religion but also of states rights, free markets, hyper-individuality, meritocracy, private ownership, gun rights, civil libertarianism, and on and on. So, in direct connection to this, it’s unsurprising to realize the extent to which liberals, specifically of the liberal class, have embraced right-wing ideology as great defenders of capitalist realism that supposedly liberates and empowers even as it harms and scapegoats so many.

Having been raised in the extreme liberalism of New Thought Christianity, this understanding developed in my direct personal experience. What Barbara Ehrenreich describes in her book Bright-sided is what I absorbed form childhood. And it really does fuck with your head. Ehrenreich criticizes a type of cruel optimism popular in America that is superficial and too often used to rationalize egregiously immoral or otherwise dysfunctional behavior. In my experience, positive thinking just made me feel worse, as if my depression was a sign of personal failure.

The expectation of positive thinking can be a heavy burden to carry. This is much worse when dealing with serious issues involving conditions of poverty and inequality, oppression and injustice, pain and suffering, desperation and struggle. According to prosperity gospel, all problems are to be blamed on individuals. It’s the punishment of having a wrong relationship with God, a carryover from the bleak predestination of Calvinism that involves a God who favors an elect of individuals and damns everyone else. But in prosperity gospel, God’s elect are made clear as his favors are seen in this world through material gifts and blessings, i.e., wealth.

I went into some detail about this in a previous post:

The inspiration for her writing about positive thinking was her experience with cancer. She saw the darkside of positive thinking within the cancer community.

This brings to mind my own grandmother who died of cancer. It’s because of her that I was raised in New Thought Christianity where positive thinking is very popular. She was diagnosed with cancer. She embraced the whole alternative medicine field and she had great faith in positive thinking. My dad says she was utterly crushed when doing all the right things didn’t make her cancer go away. She died of cancer. She was a woman who had a great sense of faith, and apparently I inherited my spiritual interests from her. I’ve seen all aspects of positive thinking and so I have a personal sense of what Ehrenreich is talking about.

But what is different is that positive thinking has become mainstream like never before. It’s not just alternative types. Positive thinking has become merged with the early American ideals of meritocracy, and together they create something greater than either alone.

In one video I saw of Ehrenreich, she made an interesting connection. She was talking about the meritocracy ideal, but I don’t think she was using that term. She was just talking about the ideal of positivie thinking in general within American culture. She connected this with Ayn Rand’s libertarians. If I remember correctly, she was making the argument that Rand was a one of the factors in popularizing positive thinking. She mentioned the book The Secret and how it’s representative of our whole culture. She blames the economic troubles we’re having now with the business culture of positive thinking, and it makes a lot of sense to me.

Also see two other videos:

Barbara Ehrenreich: “Bright Sided: How Positive Thinking Undermines America”

‘Smile or Die” How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World

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:

http://philanthropy.com/article/The-Politics-of-Giving/133609/#comment-1090852348

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….”

http://philanthropy.com/article/Generosity-in-All-of-Americas/133673/#comment-721993905

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,

http://philanthropy.com/article/Sharing-the-Wealth-How-the/133605/#comment-1019563286

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. 

http://philanthropy.com/article/The-Politics-of-Giving/133609/#comment-1091764233

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.

http://philanthropy.com/article/The-Politics-of-Giving/133609/#comment-627022019

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).

http://philanthropy.com/article/Sharing-the-Wealth-How-the/133605/#comment-1188304259

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 %:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_poverty_rate

http://philanthropy.com/article/The-Politics-of-Giving/133609/#comment-625994270

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”….

http://philanthropy.com/article/The-Politics-of-Giving/133609/#comment-626981942

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.

http://philanthropy.com/article/America-s-Geographic-Giving/133591/#comment-625246428

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 ; )

http://philanthropy.com/article/How-The-Chronicle-Compiled-Its/133667/#comment-624344330

“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.

http://philanthropy.com/article/How-The-Chronicle-Compiled-Its/133667/#comment-624120412

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?

http://philanthropy.com/article/Sharing-the-Wealth-How-the/133605/#comment-645728915

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. 

http://philanthropy.com/article/Generosity-in-the-States/133707/#comment-1019578560

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.

http://philanthropy.com/article/How-The-Chronicle-Compiled-Its/133667/#comment-624441217

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.