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.

The Monstrous, the Impure, & the Imaginal

This interview about the ‘monstrous’ made me think of a related idea. The monstrous is a more extreme version of the ‘impure’, whether impure in terms of the physical, psychological, social, religious, etc. The monstrous and the impure are both in some way ‘wrong’ at a gut level. They just feel wrong causing an instinctual response to get away from the perceived source of danger… or else to force it to get away from us, to attack it, to banish it.

The reason the idea of the ‘impure’ came to my mind was because of research I’ve seen on ideology. Conservatives have a stronger disgust response. The research I recall had to do with rotting fruit. To conservatives, this was more likely to be responded to with disgust. This makes sense in that rotten food has the potential to cause sickness, but rotten fruit is hardly an unusual experience. Anyone who keeps fruit around the house regularly experiences fruit that is in varying states of rot. It’s just what fruit does when it sits around long enough.

This is also interesting in that rotting fruit is the cause of alcohol. Learning how to make alcohol was one of humanity’s greatest discoveries. More importantly, alcohol has the ability to alter our consciousness (often making us more ‘open’ which is a trait related to liberalism) and this is probably the reason alcohol has been associated with the divine and with religious rituals.

So, rotting fruit doesn’t only endanger our physical health. It also endangers us through its potential to alter our minds, to connect us to realms unknown and uncontrollable. Dionysus, after all, is the God of wine. To the modern (especially the modern conservative religious type), a God like Dionysus is a bit on the monstrous side.

This makes me wonder what has become of the monstrous. In the Old Testament, Yahweh wasn’t disconnected from the monstrous. We moderns tend to see fear as being somehow unacceptable. This is even true for modern conservatives who often portray God as lacking the true horrific power that Yahweh had in the distant past.

The liberal tends to not have much understanding or respect for the monstrous/impure. The liberal response to rotten fruit is to be curious. As a liberal, I highly recommend this response. However, I also wonder if something is lost when fear isn’t given a place in our values and beliefs, in our religious conceptions.

This is why I’ve been drawn to the imaginal. The imaginal is the realm of the trickster, neither this nor that or else maybe both.

The trickster has always had an liminal role, often a being above or greater than or prior to humans and also below or lesser than or progeny of the Gods. Godmen, both God and man, like Jesus tend to have Trickster qualities. Other beings, neither God nor man, such as Prometheus and Loki also tend to have Trickster qualities.

Depending on the culture, the Trickster may be perceived as either good or evil, either as defender of religious/social purity or as tempter/deceiver. Take Dionysus for example. He originally was worshipped by one group, but deemed dangerous by others, especially those in power who would attempt to deny him. With the Romans, he was turned into Bacchus who was less overtly divine. Dionysus, however, lived on in another form as many of his attributes were inherited by and made into more human form with Jesus Christ.

Humans have always been wary of the imaginal. It’s disconcerting to come face to face with something unknown and not be able to discern whether it is friend or foe. It’s easier to make an arbitrary designation one way or the other and create social boundaries and cultural norms to protect against it. Most often, especially for the conservative, this means the imaginal gets portrayed as evil or dangerous. The liberal goes the opposite direction by often dismissing the imaginal entirely. Neither side necessarily takes the imaginal seriously on its own terms.

Trust & Compromise, Science & Religion

I noticed several different sets of data about trust in terms of public opinion. (My thoughts here are somewhat a continuation of my thoughts in one of my other recent posts: .)

The first piece of data was something I’ve come across before. Basically, Democrats tend to trust government whether or not they’re in power and Republicans only trust government when they’re in power.

Imbalance of Trust
By Charles M. Blow

Is it partly the utter gullibility of some people? Sure. Is it partly deep-seated resentment of the black man in the White House? No doubt. But it’s also about something more fundamental: fluctuations of basic trust in the federal government.

These fluctuations highlight a peculiar quirk of recent American politics — according to an analysis of The New York Times/CBS News polls from the past 33 years, Americans seem to trust the government substantially more after a Republican president is elected than they do after a Democratic one is elected — at least at the outset.

Since 1976, the polls have occasionally included the following question: “How much of the time do you think you can trust the government in Washington to do what is right — just about always, most of the time, or only some of the time?”

The first poll taken in which this question was asked after Ronald Reagan assumed office found that 51 percent trusted the government in Washington to do the right thing just about always or most of the time. For George H.W. Bush, it was 44 percent, and for George W. Bush it was 55 percent. Now compare that with the Democrats. In Jimmy Carter’s first poll, it was 35 percent. In Bill Clinton’s, it was 24 percent, and for Barack Obama’s, it was only 20 percent. (It should be noted that the first poll conducted during George W. Bush’s presidency came on the heels of 9/11.)

Surprisingly, Democrats’ trust in government was the same or higher after a Republican was elected than it was after a Democrat was elected. That in spite of the fact that all three Democratic presidents came into office at the same time that their party had won control of both chambers of Congress.

There are two parts to this data.

First, Republican administrations are trusted more for the very reason that Democrats trust government in general. Democratic administrations can’t win because Republicans won’t trust them from the moment they take power, no matter what they promise or accomplish.

Second, Democrats are seemingly more open to being self-critical. Maybe this is because Democrat voters have high expectations of Democratic politicians. Or it could be that the Democratic Party is big tent and the Republican Party is small tent. It’s easier for the GOP to keep it’s narrow base satisfied. The diversity of Democrats, on the other hand, will always contain much disagreement.

This relates to another poll which shows the differing views on compromise. Unsurprisingly, the small tent Republican Party dislikes compromise and the big tent Democratic Party likes compromise. Independents are halfway between the two parties, but what is interesting in that same poll Independents identify more with the Democratic Party than with the Tea Party which would seem to imply that Independents realize a party that compromises (however imperfectly) is more likely to represent them. The Tea Party likes compromise even less than the Republican party which corresponds with data showing the average Tea Party supporter is more conservative than the average Republican.

Many Say Ending Tax Cuts for Wealthy Would Hurt Economy
The Pew Research Center

There is little agreement among the public about compromise in politics. About half (49%) say they most admire political leaders who stick to their positions without compromising, while slightly fewer (42%) say that they most admire political leaders who make compromises with people they disagree with.

The latest Pew Research/National Journal Congressional Connection poll, sponsored by SHRM, conducted September 16-19 among 1,005 adults, finds that Republicans, in particular, admire politicians who stick to their positions (62%) over those who compromise (33%). Although independents are more divided on the question, a majority (53%) says they favor leaders who do not compromise; four-in-ten independents (40%) say they most admire leaders who compromise. The balance of opinion is reversed among Democrats; 54% of Democrats say they prefer politicians who compromise with those they disagree with, while 39% say they prefer politicians who stick to their positions without compromising.

The next poll I came across (The AP-National Constitution Center Poll) dissected how much trust people had in various institutions and news sources. The data shows a split between what is trusted and who trusts it. There wasn’t a majority trust any of them, but here is the order of most trusted (least mistrusted) to least trusted (most mistrusted):

  1. Military
  2. Small and Local Business leaders
  3. Scientific Community
  4. Organized Religion
  5. Broadcast News Media
  6. Print Media
  7. US Supreme Court
  8. Local Government
  9. Public Schools
  10. State Courts
  11. Organized Labor
  12. State Government
  13. Federal Government
  14. Independent or Citizen Media
  15. US Congress
  16. Banks and Financial Institutions
  17. Major Companies

AP-NCC Poll: Not Much Trust in Major Institutions
By Alan Fram and Jennifer Agiesta

Republicans most trust the military, followed by small business and religion. Democrats prefer science, small business, then the military. Just one in five Republicans expressed strong confidence in science, about the same proportion of Democrats who said so about religion.

Only 10 percent of Republicans expressed strong confidence in state governments, despite frequent GOP demands that Washington cede more power to the states.

Just 10 percent of Democrats voiced strong trust in Congress, even though their party controls it.

The print and broadcast media were strongly trusted by just 13 percent, only slightly more than the 8 percent with faith in blogs. Those under age 30 were far likelier than older people to voice confidence in what they read.

I would criticize one part of this poll, especially as it was described above. The poll lumped the professional New Media with the blogosphere. Some blogs are good and some aren’t. Some blogs are written by professional journalists and some aren’t. Anyway, the New Media isn’t limited to blogs. Cenk Uygur has been running an online news show for years and has been a guest on the mainstream media. Of course, most people don’t trust blogs written by often anonymous people. But I’m willing to bet that if New Media would be higher on the trust ranking if it were categorized separately from the blogosphere.

This seems indicated by the fact that the younger generation has more trust in non-traditional media. The reason for this is probably because the younger generation is able to distinguish the New Media from the general blogosphere. Older people don’t trust anything on the internet because older people know less about how to vet sources. As a side note, liberals are the demographic that gets more news from the internet than any other demographic and this goes along with the present younger generation being more liberal than other generations at the same age. This younger, liberal generation is also more trusting in general of big government and big business. So, public trust will probably be increasing in the coming decades.

What some might find surprising is that both Republicans and Democrats trust small businesses. Republicans are always trying to portray Democrats as anti-capitalist, but other data (Beyond Red vs Blue) shows Liberals have high rates of small business ownership and high rates of trading in stocks and bonds.

Not surprising is that Democrats trust science more than religion and Republicans trust religion more than science. I was glad to see that Americans in general trust science more than religion (or at least organized religion). So, on this issue, Democrats are in line with the majority position.

This issue of public opinion about science is what got me started on this whole line of thought and the research that ensued. I heard on NPR about a global poll about science. The global data should offer clear context for where US public opinion stands and how Democrats and Republicans respectively compare to people in other parts of the world.

Scientific beliefs vary by culture, says global poll
By Margaret Munro

Americans are far more pronuclear and willing to trust flu experts than Europeans, and much less concerned about genetically modified crops, according to a survey by Scientific American and the journal Nature.

But the most notable difference was between East Asia and the rest of the world. The survey found 35 per cent of Japanese and 49 per cent of Chinese respondents agreed there is “reason for doubt” that evolution can explain the incredible variety of species on Earth. That view was shared by about 10 per cent of respondents from the rest of the world.

Japanese and Chinese respondents were also less likely to say that they trust scientific explanations of the origins of the universe. And almost one-third of Chinese respondents said that scientists should stay out of politics, compared with about 10 per cent of respondents from other countries.

That would seem to put US conservatives more in line with Asians and US liberals more in line with Europeans. I don’t know what that means, but it’s interesting. I was glad to see that the world’s overall trust in science is strong and growing stronger. And liberals would seem to be in line with people worldwide in trusting scientists more than religious authorities.

The survey did find some common ground. Worldwide, respondents agreed that scientists are more trustworthy than other public figures. Religious authorities were deemed least trustworthy, followed by politicians and company officials.

And more than 70 per cent of respondents agreed science funding should be spared in tough economic times. When asked what should be cut instead, defence spending was the overwhelming choice — 82 per cent of Canadian respondents favouring cuts to defence over cuts to education or social-welfare programs.

And despite a recent controversy over leaked emails by climate researchers and the UN’s climate panel, the survey found climate change denial is in decline. Among Canadian respondents 41 per cent said that over the past year, they’ve become more certain that humans are changing the climate, compared with 12 per cent of respondents who have grown more doubtful.

In conclusion… well, actually I don’t know if I have any conclusion. I just found the data interesting and even more interesting when compared. The closest to a conclusion I could offer you is that there are distinct demographics (such as those belonging to the two parties) which have consistently distinct positions and attitudes. Most significantly: among Democrats, there is a correlation between trusting the government and trusting science; and, among Republicans, there is a correlation between being against compromise and being in favor of religion. Maybe that doesn’t provide any grand insight, but it does provide data to back up what many would suspect to be true.

NDE: Spirituality vs Religiosity

Last night, I was listening to Coast to Coast AM. The host mentioned a study in passing which caught my interest. The study was about the impact of NDEs on spirituality and religion. He said the results of NDE experiencers was the opposite of those church attenders who never had an NDE. After their NDE, experiencers were increasingly interested in spirituality and yet their church attendance decreased. On the other hand, non-experiencers over time (as they aged?) became less interested in spirituality all the while attending church more often.

I tried to find this study, but was unable to find it. NDEs is the topic of tonight’s show on Coast to Coast Am. The guest is Pin van Lommel who has written about the topic, but I don’t know if the study is discussed in one of his books. I did find other research which was related. In the following paper, I found a description of research showing that belief in the paranormal is negatively related to religious participation.

The Polarization of Psi Beliefs:
Rational, Controlling, Masculine Skepticism Versus Interconnected, Spiritual, Feminine Belief
J. E. Kennedy
pp 31-2

There are mixed findings and opinions from research on the relationship between religion and paranormal beliefs. National surveys in Canada and Iceland found that religious interests or beliefs were associated with belief in the paranormal (Haraldsson, 1981; Orenstein, 2002). These results are supported by other studies (see Thalbourne & Houtkooper, 2002). However, a national survey in the U.S. found that the correlations between religious and paranormal beliefs were largely nonsignificant (Rice, 2003). Various other studies found no relationship or mixed results between religion and belief in the paranormal (reviewed in Irwin, 1993; see also Orenstein, 2002; Rice, 2003).

These inconsistencies apparently reflect the fact that certain measures of religion are related to psi beliefs and others are not. Orenstein (2002) reported that belief in the paranormal was positively related to religious faith but negatively related to religious participation in a representative national survey in Canada. For those who had high religious belief but low church attendance, 78% scored high on 6 paranormal belief questions. For those who had high religious belief and high church attendance, 24% scored high on paranormal beliefs. For those who had low religious belief and low church attendance, 11% scored high on paranormal beliefs.

So, what does that mean? My guess is that this connects to Ernest Hartmann’s research on boundary types. Thick boundary types would prefer organized religion because it’s clearly defined in its social structure and in its belief system. However, thin boundary types prefer more open-endedness and inconclusiveness which goes against most organized religion, especially of the highly organized variety such as the Catholic Church. Research shows that thin boundary types are more open to non-ordinary experiences (i.e., spiritual, paranormal; et cetera). An NDE, by definition, is a thin boundary experience in that it’s a very personal experience of thin boundary between life and death.

Even if you don’t believe in religion or the paranormal, I think this type of research is interesting in what it says about human nature. A thick boundary person simply is less comfortable with spirituality and the paranormal. If the thick boundary person is religious, they’re more likely to label the non-ordinary as evil or at least consider it highly suspect. If a thick boundary person isn’t religious, they’re likely to deem claims of non-ordinary experiences as false or meaningless or else to rationalize them away merely brain malfunctions. In this way, the religious fundamentalist and the atheistic fundamentalist would find themselves in similar opposition to the spiritual believer and paranormal experiencer.

The Elephant That Wasn’t There

I was talking to someone the other day who was telling me about a recent family visit (by the way, her telling of it reminded me of the type of story David Sedaris writes).

It was her older sister who was visiting and they were discussing the past. The older sister claimed that she used to go for rides on a pony that a neighbor had. The neighbor gave pony rides somewhere for money and would allow the sister to ride the pony home. However, the older sister also claimed that this pony owner also owned an elephant who would also sometimes follow along. The woman I was talking to didn’t believe her sister’s story about the elephant and so investigated by asking other family members and some old neighbors from the area. No one else remembered the elephant, but the older sister was absolutely certain about the elephant’s existence. It was real in her mind.

I find that amusing. None of us really knows how much of our memories are correct. Few of us are ever motivated or capable of fact-checking most of our memories. Stories we’ve encountered over our lifetimes (especially when young) can become incorporated into our own personal story. I mean it’s logical that where there is a pony there might be an elephant. Science has proven that we literally re-member every time we recall something. The more often we recall something the less reliable the memory becomes. We don’t remember the thing itself. We remember our own retellings.

We all live in our own private fantasy worlds. I’ve been drawn to this idea. I think I first encountered it with Robert Anton Wilson’s writings about reality tunnels. It’s not just individuals but whole societies that get caught up in reality tunnels. In the case of personal memories, another person who knows us can offer a reality check. A collective reality tunnel is different because everyone within the society will reinforce the shared view of reality. Our collective retellings are rituals that remake the world in the way the Australian Aborigines remake the world by retracing the pathways of the gods. What if there is some truth to this? Maybe scientific laws and evolution are simply forms of collective memory.

This avenue of thought is explored in great detail by Philip K. Dick and by those influenced/inspired by PKD (for example: Jonathan Lethem’s Amnesia Moon and Ursula K. Leguin’s The Lathe of Heaven). I just finished reading PKD’s Eye in the Sky. I was mostly reading that novel while at work which led me to contemplate the world around me. I work late at night and staring into the concrete interior of a parking ramp (where I work) offers an interesting opportunity for contemplation.

My job at the parking ramp is cashier. In the large picture, it’s kind of a pointless job. With developing technology, it’s almost obsolete for all practical purposes. I sometimes envision myself working there in the future after the robots have taken over the job and my only purpose will be to wave and smile at the customers as they drive out. My job is merely representative of most of the pointless work humans occupy themselves with… but is it really pointless? Or is there some purpose being served that is less than obvious? Work is a ritual that sustains our society, the reality tunnel of our culture, of our entire civilization. From a practical perspective, most jobs could be eliminated and many things would run more smoothly and effectively without all the wasted effort of keeping people employed. But if all the pointless jobs were eliminated, there would be chaos with the masses of unemployed. Employing the mindless masses keeps them out of trouble and keeps them from revolting. Make them think their life actually has purpose. Still, a purpose is being served even if it’s simply maintaining social order. My point is that social order is merely the external facet of any given collective reality tunnel.

In PKD’s stories, the protagonist is often faced with a true reality that is hidden behind an apparent reality. This true reality isn’t somewhere else but is instead all around us. This is a gnostic vision of the kingdom on earth. PKD had a few spiritual visions which inspired his theologizing and his fiction writing. I too have had some visions that have made me question the status quo of normal reality.

In enacting our social rituals and retelling our social myths, what kind of reality are we collectively creating? When I look upon a structure like an ugly parking ramp, what kind of world am I looking upon? Why are we creating such a world? What is the motivation? If we stopped enacting these social rituals and stopped retelling these social myths, what would happen to this consensus reality of civilization we’ve created and what would replace it? Or what would be revealed?

“As long as we keep ourselves busy tilling the earth, there is no fear of any of us becoming wild.”
~  J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur

National Day of Prayer Unconstitutional

ProfMTH — April 30, 2010 — A look at the recent decision that declared the federal law establish the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional.


1. Freedom from Religion Foundation, et al. v. Obama and Gibbs…

2. The National Day of Prayer Task Forces website

3. Federalist #78…

ProfMTH — April 30, 2010 — The second part of my look at the recent decision that declared the federal law establishing the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional.


1. Freedom from Religion Foundation, et al. v. Obama and Gibbs…

2. Lemon v. Kurtzman…

3. Christian activist Tony Perkins talking about the National Day of Prayer (from JesusSavesAtCitibanks channel here on YouTube)…

4. Engel v. Vitale…

5. Marsh v. Chambers…

6. Walz v. Tax Commission of the City of New York…