Thursday, January 05, 2017

January 5, 2017--Belief Systems

Here is one more example of the problem progressives have connecting with large swaths of the American electorate--we still think that when times are scary, to quote candidate Obama in 2008, "average" people get "bitter" and "cling to guns or religion."

When I ran this thought by a lifelong friend, who is intelligent and prides herself on being liberal and open-minded, she said, "That's the problem with Republicans--they don't believe in evidence or in facts or, more generally, science. Most of them come at everything from a religious perspective."

"And you don't?" I asked.

"You know, I'm an atheist. Anything that smacks of religion, where you have to believe and not think, I'm against."

"Except the certainty that is a part of being an atheist? The certainty that there is no God, no divine force?"

"Show me the evidence for that and I'll change my mind and believe that there is."

"I'm sort of an atheist myself," I said, "But when I look at the wonder of the complexity and efficiency of my hand or at a flower blossom or a sunset, I'm more persuadable that there might be, might be, some sort of intelligence behind that."

"I can't believe you're saying this. I know you're getting old. The next thing I'll hear is that you've become religious!"

We both laughed at that.

"But you have things that you believe in," I said. "You have belief systems that guide you."

"Not religious ones."

"Let me give you an example," she seemed interested in this, "What's so different about believing in an ideology and a body of religious beliefs?"

"Like if I was a socialist, or something?"

"Great example. You came from a family of communists and you're at least half a socialist. Didn't you send money to and vote for Bernie?"

"I did, but . . ."

"But nothing because full-blown socialism (and Bernie's not that) is a belief system that is not much more empirical or fact-based than being a Presbyterian."

"You'll have to give me more examples," my friend said, sitting back with her arms folded skeptically across her chest.

"A big part of socialism calls for economic fairness and even equality."


"How much of that is fact-based and not derived from beliefs that you have? Beliefs that are not objectively verifiable?"

"Well, there's natural law."

"It's not a law in the same way that there are laws in physics that are measurable and quantifiable. Newton's laws of motion or gravity, for example, which are very different than natural law, which is purely a human construct derived from beliefs, not science."

I could see that my friend was giving all this some thought.

"So in your political ideology, which includes a strong belief in social justice, as another example, you have a powerful, not a fact-based belief system that guides your thinking and much of your behavior. Which is fine. I don't have a problem with that, just that I hope you'd fess up to the fact that you are not so different in this than Christian Evangelicals, who you are traditionally quick to dismiss as superstitious and anti-intellectual."

"I'm open to hearing more," she said.

"Does that natural law you mention refer just to laws of nature that you believe are naturally there to guide humans or do they also pertain to the rest of the natural world? I ask because I don't see too many systems out there of natural law leading to cooperation and generosity. There are a few examples in the animal kingdom, among whales, for example, but they do not seem to be widespread. Thus, perhaps for the sake of human survival, we derive laws either from nature or we make them up to keep us from killings each other. We need a lot of 'Thou Shalt Not's. Human's by nature can be pretty predatory. We can be self-sacrificing too--even give up or lives for others--but in the human realm, nature feels quite 'red in tooth and claw.'"

"Where are you going with this?" my friend asked, seemingly beginning to get tired of me.

"Just to remind us not to be too disdainful, not allow ourselves to feel too superior to fellow citizens who are religious. Half the reason we lost the election is because our candidates couldn't figure out a way to connect with them. In fact, we did quite the opposite, feeling superior by looking down our noses at anyone born-again. Two-thirds of those who defined themselves as religious voted overwhelmingly for someone married three times who doesn't know anything about the Bible."

"You could be right," my friend said. "I know for one that I'm not that good at being tolerant toward religious people."

"Saying that, acknowledging that means you're at least halfway there. As liberals, doesn't our belief system--sorry about that--mean we're supposed to be open-minded, and tolerant?"

"It does. It also means, if you're right about any of this, if we want to be politically viable, that we'd better figure out how to get comfortable relating to, genuinely relating to people who cling to religion."

At that we both laughed.

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