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Crime rates from FBI, % "No Religion" from General Social Survey

Crime rates from FBI, % “No Religion” from General Social Survey

The_Blank_Slate It’s easy to point out the cultural Left’s adherence to all sorts of social constructionisms. My post Men Are Stronger Than Women (On Average) has a lot of Google juice because it now gets cited online a fair amount in arguments…because people are obviously taking the converse position (not that women are stronger, but that the difference is not major). But, there’s a fair amount of ignorance and flight from reality to go around. Probably the biggest blind spot on the cultural Right in the United States is the “family values” Uber Alles stance. As documented over 15 years ago in The Nurture Assumption shared family environment, basically your parents’ non-genetic influence, is relatively minor in affecting behavioral life outcomes (this is not to say that the issues aren’t subtle, but a simple projection from family home to individual outcomes is not viable).

But there’s another major confusion when it comes to the religious Right in particular, and that concerns the origins of morality and ethics. Most people are probably aware of the Josh Duggar fiasco at this point. If you aren’t, Google it. There isn’t much to say that hasn’t been said, but this post from his father-in-law has been raising eyebrows:

…It is a mercy of God that he restrains the evil of mankind otherwise we would have destroyed ourselves long ago. Many times it is simply lack of opportunity or fear of consequences that keep us from falling into grievous sin even though our fallen hearts would love to indulge the flesh. We should not be shocked that this occurred in the Duggar’s home, we should rather be thankful to God if we have been spared such, and pray that he would keep us and our children from falling.

This attitude is entirely unsurprising to me, I’ve heard it many times from evangelical Christians. The theory is that without religion, and particularly their religion, they would be “a rapin’ and murderin’”. Why? Because that’s what people do without God. Believe it or not, I have never believed in God, nor have I raped and murdered (or molested). Nor do I think that raping and murdering would be enjoyable. Nor do I think that the evangelical Christians who proudly declaim that without their savior they would rape or murder with abandon would actually rape or murder.

This idea that without religion there is no morality is very widespread in the subculture, to the point of being an implicit background assumption that informs reactions to many events in concert with the idea of original sin and fundamental human depravity (thank you St. Augustine and John Calvin!). I have a socially liberal friend from an evangelical background, who is still somewhat associated with that movement, who confided in me that to did look forward to debauchery in a post-Christian life on some occasions. I had to convince him that even if he was not religious life was not likely to change much for him in the sex department unless he shifted his standards somewhat. Without God all things are not possible, believe it or not.

Religion_Explained_by_Pascal_Boyer_book_cover The fundamental misunderstanding here is actually one of intellectual history. Many evangelical Protestants in particular envisage the world before the revelation of God to Abraham, but sometime after the Fall, as a Hobbesian one of “all-against-all.” This is not limited to evangelical Christians. Many Muslims also conceive of the pre-Islamic jahiliyya in Arabia as one of pagan darkness and debauchery. The root misunderstanding is conceiving of morality and ethics as a historical human invention, as opposed to formalizations of deep cognitive intuitions and social-cultural adaptations. Broadly, I agree with Peter Turchin that the origin of modern organized religions has its ultimate roots in the social and institutional needs of pan-ethnic imperial systems during the Axial Age. The synthesis of a supernatural Weltanschauung with the nascent enterprise of philosophy and the older intuitions of tribalism allowed for the emergence of the multi-textured phenomenon which we now term organized religion. Religion co-opted and promoted morality, but it did not invent it. The Israelites put in their Lord God’s mouth their own morality that was existent before his invention! Prior to the development of organized religion it seems likely that the connection between supernatural agency and morality was more tenuous and conditional (and even then, the angry and jealous petulant Yahweh of the Hebrew Bible has plenty of glimmers of the amoral gods of yore).

That is why even with the diminishing of organized religion in the modern West there has not been a correlated rise in crimes such as murder. The connection between ethical monotheism and ethics is not nearly as necessary as the religious would have you believe. The chart at the top does not prove at all that irreligion leads to decrease in crime (on the contrary, there is modest evidence that religious involvement results in mild prosocial tendencies when you control for confounds). But, it does show starkly that over the last 25 years in the United States there has been a simultaneous decrease in violent crime, and, a massive wave of secularization. This contradicts a model which proposes that religion and ethical behavior are necessarily and deterministically associated.

So no, in the case of Josh Duggar it isn’t a matter of “there, but for the grace of God, go I.” I’ll let others psychoanalyze his behavior, but it isn’t a normal human impulse which has to be constrained by the teachings of religion. If religion has to teach you not to molest your sisters you’ve got a problem, son! And it has nothing to do with your soul. This may be a boundary condition which validates the “nurture assumption.”


Year Murder and nonnegligent manslaughter rate Forcible rape rate % No religion
1991 9.8 42.3 6.3
1992 9.3 42.8 9
1993 9.5 41.1
1994 9 39.3 9
1995 8.2 37.1
1996 7.4 36.3 11.9
1997 6.8 35.9
1998 6.3 34.5 13.7
1999 5.7 32.8
2000 5.5 32 14.1
2001 5.6 31.8
2002 5.6 33.1 13.8
2003 5.7 32.3
2004 5.5 32.4 14.1
2005 5.6 31.8
2006 5.8 31.6 15.9
2007 5.7 30.6
2008 5.4 29.8 16.8
2009 5 29.1
2010 4.8 27.5 18
2011 4.7 27
2012 4.7 27.1 19.7
2013 4.5 25.2
2014 20.7
 
• Category: Ideology, Science • Tags: Ethics, Morality, Religion 
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  1. To what extent is the morality of atheists simply the result of cultural inertia, as most atheists grew up on an environment permeated by religion and its tenets?

    Not many places in the world are so removed from religion that its cultural influence has been erased completely. We’ll have to see how atheist societies will evolve as the after effects of religion abate.

    The few truly atheist societies were communist. Was it atheism or communism that made them hellholes? I wonder how atheism+democracy will combine.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    consult the data if you want to comment again. there is plenty of it.
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  2. Some of the most irreligious countries like Japan and those in Northern Europe also have the lowest crime rates in the world, others irreligious countries like the Czech Republic and China have lower crime rates than you would expect given their level of economic development.

    Nevertheless I believe that religion can make a difference in subcultures where people habitually engage in crime. I would be curious to see an analysis of the crime rates of evangelical gypsies in Europe compared to the crime rates of general gypsy population. For a gypsy group arrest was a coming-of-age ritual for males, nobody was called a man unless it has been to prison. In situations like this changing beliefs may change behaviour.

    Read More
    • Replies: @aeolius
    I think that you are misinformed about religion in China and Japan. Only if you use Christianity as the paradigm of a religion does your comment make sense. But if you talk about having a moral and ethical standard to live by,then religion is much more widespread in China and Japan
    , @abj_slant
    It would be an interesting experiment.

    I will say that few prison inmates claim to be atheist.
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  3. Your quotation does not support your argument that evangelical Christians believe “that without religion, and particularly their religion, they would be raping and murdering.”

    You quote an evangelical’s claim that “it is a mercy of God that He restrains the evil of mankind.” The claim that God, not authentic religious response to God, restrains evil conduct is a standard, commonplace element of traditional Christian theology. This is all that your quotation indicates: “Many times it is simply lack of opportunity or fear of consequences that keep us from falling into grievous sin even though our fallen hearts would love to indulge the flesh.” That is, man generally sins less than the evils desires of his heart would otherwise lead him to because he is socially and psychologically constrained, not because he is authentically willing good.

    In keeping with long theological traditions, evangelicals believe that God restrains evil with a variety of wholly natural social mechanisms, including the fear of legal punishment, psychological guilt and restraining mechanisms (locks, walls, guarding) that make outward sin unlikely even by very cruel and selfish people.

    The belief that most social morality does not derive from true religion is part of the basic claim of Christianity. In fact, Christ taught and evangelicals warn people who are outwardly controlled morally that this is not necessarily reflective of a proper relation to God, but may indicate merely a life of fear and shame and social conformity. Augustine and Calvin are both filled with arguments that non-Christian religions and cultures are works of divine grace that restrain evil. Augustine was particularly acute in analyzing how the commitment of Roman society to military glory, not its false and idolatrous religion, was important in establishing the virtues of the Republican era.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Chrisnonymous
    I believe this is correct. If I remember, in the Reform tradition, there is a distinction between "specific grace" and "general grace."

    However, I think Razib's caricature of Evangelicals is broadly correct. I think the mindset of Evangelicalism leads people into considering their own very minor issues to be on par with serious anti-social behavior.

    So in a small group situation, you could have three people confess

    Without God, I would have gone to Dunkin Donuts again.
    Without God, I would have slept with that married man.
    Without God, I would have beaten up that old woman to get money for meth.

    and no one bats an eye.
    , @Razib Khan
    i am not interested in discussing theology. in large part that's because the people understand religion differently than what's in the books. a basic consultation of the low religious literacy of the american populace will convince anyone of this. i have heard of this necessary connection between morality and faith among evangelicals to understand that it is a sort of folk belief.
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  4. Without God all things are not possible…

    Well, some religious people may believe this, but I think what RK* intends to convey is that Without God not all things are possible… . This has been another edition of Marcel’s pedantry, brought to you for his (if not your) amusement and entertainment.

    *Do you ever feel that as you age, you are becoming more and more RKaic? If not yet, I suspect that it is only because your children are not yet old enough.

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    • Replies: @midtown
    One of my pet peeves as well.
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  5. Evangelical Christianity is not particularly “conservative”, depending on how you define that, but near-universalist. Most liberal things, social reform from abolition to women’s rights to civil rights and criminal justice reform all originate in evangelical Christianity, especially Methodism. Atheist liberals recoil at the idea, but it is the case.

    A peaceful society doesn’t depend on Christianity, but on a strong government that swiftly and harshly punishes wrongdoing. For this reason Paul approved Roman government and ordered Christians to obey it. Secularization over the last three decades has been accompanied by big increases in imprisonment, which is the key to reducing crime.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    Secularization over the last three decades has been accompanied by big increases in imprisonment, which is the key to reducing crime.

    no one knows the key. it's possible. the main issue for me is that the rise and decline in crime occurred concurrently in developed societies. these societies had a wide range of policy responses.
    , @Biff
    "big increases in imprisonment, which is the key to reducing crime."


    Couldn’t be more wrong. Many societies handle crime differently, and low crime rates do NOT equal large prison populations. In fact here in America where everything is illegal(check the book Three felonies a day) the stats are augmented by the large litany of laws on the books which produces the desired outcome of large prison populations housed in for-profit private prisons.
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  6. You’re starting at 1991, which was a peak in crime, it could only go down from there. 1991 isn’t known a particularly religious year. You should extend the chart back to 1950.

    Murder 1950: 4.6
    Murder 2010: 4.8
    This without factoring in medical technology an wound to death ratio.

    Rape 1960: 9.6
    Rape 1990: 41.1
    Rape 2010: 27.7
    Rape rate quadroupled from 1960 to 1990, and has declined since then to merely triple the 1960 rate.

    Year Murder Rape
    1950 4.6
    1955 4.1
    1960 5.1 9.6
    1965 5.1 12.1
    1970 7.9 18.7
    1975 9.6 26.3
    1980 10.2 36.8
    1985 8.0 36.8
    1990 9.4 41.1
    1995 8.2 37.1
    2000 5.5 32.2
    2005 5.6 31.8
    2010 4.8 27.7

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    1991 isn’t known a particularly religious year. You should extend the chart back to 1950.

    i know more about this topic than you. if you assert things like that again, i will ban you.

    basically there were two waves of secularization in the USA after WW2. one that began in the 1960s. which coincided with the rise in crime. then there was a period of stabilization in the 70s and 80s. then in the early 90s there was an uptick in secularization, which then seems to have accelerated in the 2000s.

    also, i specifically said it wasn't causal. don't argue against something i didn't argue.

    , @Andrew
    Its problematic to cite rape statistics in this way. Rape rates are obviously confounded by recent (post 60's) changes in reporting (~changing perceptions re date rape, the end of rape in marriage etc)
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  7. @Pensans
    Your quotation does not support your argument that evangelical Christians believe "that without religion, and particularly their religion, they would be raping and murdering."

    You quote an evangelical's claim that "it is a mercy of God that He restrains the evil of mankind." The claim that God, not authentic religious response to God, restrains evil conduct is a standard, commonplace element of traditional Christian theology. This is all that your quotation indicates: "Many times it is simply lack of opportunity or fear of consequences that keep us from falling into grievous sin even though our fallen hearts would love to indulge the flesh." That is, man generally sins less than the evils desires of his heart would otherwise lead him to because he is socially and psychologically constrained, not because he is authentically willing good.

    In keeping with long theological traditions, evangelicals believe that God restrains evil with a variety of wholly natural social mechanisms, including the fear of legal punishment, psychological guilt and restraining mechanisms (locks, walls, guarding) that make outward sin unlikely even by very cruel and selfish people.

    The belief that most social morality does not derive from true religion is part of the basic claim of Christianity. In fact, Christ taught and evangelicals warn people who are outwardly controlled morally that this is not necessarily reflective of a proper relation to God, but may indicate merely a life of fear and shame and social conformity. Augustine and Calvin are both filled with arguments that non-Christian religions and cultures are works of divine grace that restrain evil. Augustine was particularly acute in analyzing how the commitment of Roman society to military glory, not its false and idolatrous religion, was important in establishing the virtues of the Republican era.

    I believe this is correct. If I remember, in the Reform tradition, there is a distinction between “specific grace” and “general grace.”

    However, I think Razib’s caricature of Evangelicals is broadly correct. I think the mindset of Evangelicalism leads people into considering their own very minor issues to be on par with serious anti-social behavior.

    So in a small group situation, you could have three people confess

    Without God, I would have gone to Dunkin Donuts again.
    Without God, I would have slept with that married man.
    Without God, I would have beaten up that old woman to get money for meth.

    and no one bats an eye.

    Read More
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  8. @Hippopotamusdrome
    You're starting at 1991, which was a peak in crime, it could only go down from there. 1991 isn't known a particularly religious year. You should extend the chart back to 1950.

    Murder 1950: 4.6
    Murder 2010: 4.8
    This without factoring in medical technology an wound to death ratio.

    Rape 1960: 9.6
    Rape 1990: 41.1
    Rape 2010: 27.7
    Rape rate quadroupled from 1960 to 1990, and has declined since then to merely triple the 1960 rate.

    Year Murder Rape
    1950 4.6
    1955 4.1
    1960 5.1 9.6
    1965 5.1 12.1
    1970 7.9 18.7
    1975 9.6 26.3
    1980 10.2 36.8
    1985 8.0 36.8
    1990 9.4 41.1
    1995 8.2 37.1
    2000 5.5 32.2
    2005 5.6 31.8
    2010 4.8 27.7

    1991 isn’t known a particularly religious year. You should extend the chart back to 1950.

    i know more about this topic than you. if you assert things like that again, i will ban you.

    basically there were two waves of secularization in the USA after WW2. one that began in the 1960s. which coincided with the rise in crime. then there was a period of stabilization in the 70s and 80s. then in the early 90s there was an uptick in secularization, which then seems to have accelerated in the 2000s.

    also, i specifically said it wasn’t causal. don’t argue against something i didn’t argue.

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  9. @Thrasymachus
    Evangelical Christianity is not particularly "conservative", depending on how you define that, but near-universalist. Most liberal things, social reform from abolition to women's rights to civil rights and criminal justice reform all originate in evangelical Christianity, especially Methodism. Atheist liberals recoil at the idea, but it is the case.

    A peaceful society doesn't depend on Christianity, but on a strong government that swiftly and harshly punishes wrongdoing. For this reason Paul approved Roman government and ordered Christians to obey it. Secularization over the last three decades has been accompanied by big increases in imprisonment, which is the key to reducing crime.

    Secularization over the last three decades has been accompanied by big increases in imprisonment, which is the key to reducing crime.

    no one knows the key. it’s possible. the main issue for me is that the rise and decline in crime occurred concurrently in developed societies. these societies had a wide range of policy responses.

    Read More
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  10. @Londoner
    To what extent is the morality of atheists simply the result of cultural inertia, as most atheists grew up on an environment permeated by religion and its tenets?

    Not many places in the world are so removed from religion that its cultural influence has been erased completely. We'll have to see how atheist societies will evolve as the after effects of religion abate.

    The few truly atheist societies were communist. Was it atheism or communism that made them hellholes? I wonder how atheism+democracy will combine.

    consult the data if you want to comment again. there is plenty of it.

    Read More
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  11. @Pensans
    Your quotation does not support your argument that evangelical Christians believe "that without religion, and particularly their religion, they would be raping and murdering."

    You quote an evangelical's claim that "it is a mercy of God that He restrains the evil of mankind." The claim that God, not authentic religious response to God, restrains evil conduct is a standard, commonplace element of traditional Christian theology. This is all that your quotation indicates: "Many times it is simply lack of opportunity or fear of consequences that keep us from falling into grievous sin even though our fallen hearts would love to indulge the flesh." That is, man generally sins less than the evils desires of his heart would otherwise lead him to because he is socially and psychologically constrained, not because he is authentically willing good.

    In keeping with long theological traditions, evangelicals believe that God restrains evil with a variety of wholly natural social mechanisms, including the fear of legal punishment, psychological guilt and restraining mechanisms (locks, walls, guarding) that make outward sin unlikely even by very cruel and selfish people.

    The belief that most social morality does not derive from true religion is part of the basic claim of Christianity. In fact, Christ taught and evangelicals warn people who are outwardly controlled morally that this is not necessarily reflective of a proper relation to God, but may indicate merely a life of fear and shame and social conformity. Augustine and Calvin are both filled with arguments that non-Christian religions and cultures are works of divine grace that restrain evil. Augustine was particularly acute in analyzing how the commitment of Roman society to military glory, not its false and idolatrous religion, was important in establishing the virtues of the Republican era.

    i am not interested in discussing theology. in large part that’s because the people understand religion differently than what’s in the books. a basic consultation of the low religious literacy of the american populace will convince anyone of this. i have heard of this necessary connection between morality and faith among evangelicals to understand that it is a sort of folk belief.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Pensans
    I wasn't discussing theology but whether your quotation supported your argument. It clearly does not. Given your misinterpretation of the meaning of the commonplace belief expressed in this quotation, it seems likely that you have misinterpreted other statements that you attribute to evangelicals because you seem to lack basic contextual grounds for interpreting their remarks. Additionally, you seem to eager to make their views seem simplistic, vain and vicious. Evangelicals, as you observe and they would admit (indeed as the Duggars' in-law stresses in your quotation), suffer from all the sinfulness of man generally but nevertheless would be more easily understood if interpreted with some charity.
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  12. Sean says:

    This attitude is entirely unsurprising to me, I’ve heard it many times from evangelical Christians. The theory is that without religion, and particularly their religion, they would be “a rapin’ and murderin’”. Why? Because that’s what people do without God. Believe it or not, I have never believed in God, nor have I raped and murdered (or molested).

    Probably control of behaviour is more necessary for some populations than others. If you use a good training method you can raise a wolf to act like a obedient dog. That method might be superfluous for an actual dog, but a wolf that hadn’t been subjected to the training would be potentially dangerous. I suppose that just as some breeds of dog don’t need to be trained in a very deliberate way some people don’t need religion. Some humans might well behave a lot worse without religion.

    I don’t think anyone really knows why there are fewer murders now, but I would point out that there are also fewer births. Secularisation may reduce the terms of competition that produces violence. Interesting article in New Scientist

    GARDENERS who apply insecticide do not expect pest populations to flourish. Nor do fishery regulators anticipate that more fishing will boost the size of their stocks. Perhaps they should. Thanks to the complexity of the natural world, killing individuals doesn’t always end up diminishing their population. The failure to consider this possibility could be confounding resource management and pest eradication, and perhaps even attempts to boost numbers of threatened species. A decade ago, my collaborator Hiroyuki Matsuda and I coined the term hydra effect to describe all situations where a higher death rate in a particular species ultimately increases the size of its population.

    It goes on to say lowering the death rate can shrink a population.

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  13. @Razib Khan
    i am not interested in discussing theology. in large part that's because the people understand religion differently than what's in the books. a basic consultation of the low religious literacy of the american populace will convince anyone of this. i have heard of this necessary connection between morality and faith among evangelicals to understand that it is a sort of folk belief.

    I wasn’t discussing theology but whether your quotation supported your argument. It clearly does not. Given your misinterpretation of the meaning of the commonplace belief expressed in this quotation, it seems likely that you have misinterpreted other statements that you attribute to evangelicals because you seem to lack basic contextual grounds for interpreting their remarks. Additionally, you seem to eager to make their views seem simplistic, vain and vicious. Evangelicals, as you observe and they would admit (indeed as the Duggars’ in-law stresses in your quotation), suffer from all the sinfulness of man generally but nevertheless would be more easily understood if interpreted with some charity.

    Read More
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  14. if you try and leave a comment you might want to keep it short

    1) not interested in some of the topics people bring up (ie i don’t know, nor care, details about the duggars)

    2) not interested in talking theology

    3) i can’t understand some of what people are saying

    if you leave a long comment and i put it in trash you might just be wasting your time ;-)

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  15. This attitude is entirely unsurprising to me, I’ve heard it many times from evangelical Christians. The theory is that without religion, and particularly their religion, they would be “a rapin’ and murderin’”.

    I have talked to many more evangelicals than you ever will, Razib, and the most common belief or folk-level interpretation of the current topic is this:

    Man is by nature sinful and is frequently tempted by Satan to engage in sinful behavior. Having confessed Christ as one’s Savior you are in a better position to resist and deflect Satan’s temptations. This does not mean that you will always be successful, only that with God as your co-pilot you will have a higher probability of resisting temptation. I have never heard an Evangelical state that if they were not a born-again Christian they would like to do a little raping and I know and have talked to thousands. What one does hear, particularly on a topic like sexual behavior, is that if I wasn’t a Christian I might partake of some of the sinful sexual behavior that the rest of the world seems to be enjoying. (Whether this wild sexual behavior is real or just their imagination at work is questionable.)

    you seem to eager to make their views seem simplistic, vain and vicious

    I have been reading your column for over two years and I have read most of your archives and I say that this is not an accurate description.

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  16. Welt says:

    Women initiate two thirds of divorce. Between married couples, it’s closer to 90%. Smart man marries smart girl, they have two kids and get divorced before the kids turn 5. The kids, particularly the boys, will do worse than if the parents stayed together and the divorce would never have happened without easy no-fault divorce and a family law regime that heavily favors women.

    Is the divorce largely irrelevant to their outcome? If I’m understanding Razib and others correctly, they are arguing “yes”. My hypothesis is no.

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    • Replies: @Karl Zimmerman
    I know Razib hates it when other people speak for him. So I'll just express the usual "hereditarian" explanation for why divorce leads to bad social outcomes, which has been discussed in the past.

    Basically, people vary in terms of their personalities in various traits, all of which seem to be approximately 50% genetic. At least some of these traits seem to track with martial health. For example, some studies have found that high neuroticism leads to less happy marriages, while high agreeableness leads to more happy marriages.

    Regardless, in the modern era people who have personality traits which tend to lead towards marital instability tend to get divorced. Their kids inherit predispositions to the same traits, which leads them to also be likely to get divorced (or have "comorbid" negative outcomes with marital instability). Historically, however, such people would have stuck in unhappy marriages, either being miserable or flagrantly cheating on their spouses.

    A good way to see if divorce actually hurts children, or of it's just the "divorce temperament" being inherited is to see how adoptive children from divorced households fare. There have been several studies of this sort, and the results have been mixed, some indicating only environmental effects, while others indicated a mixture of environmental and genetic effects. All of the studies I have seen have been somewhat flawed as well, as they do not track children into adulthood. We know that, when out of the home they were raised in, offspring seem to regress to the mean along many traits. Divorce may be a bad thing to live through as a child, but have limited effects by adulthood. It certainly deserves more study regardless.
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  17. I’m typing this from the least religious riding in Canada (Vancouver East), it’s also the poorest and has the worst neighbourhood in Canada, the downtown eastside.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vancouver_East

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  18. With the recent suicide of Paula Cooper, a see a lot of pleas for forgiveness from well meaning Christians in the article comments. One often cited reason is that “it could happen to any family.” The grandson of Cooper’s victim was even instrumental in obtaining her release.

    You won’t get any argument from me about the delusional elements of the conservative right. However, the right only incorporates it into their religion; on the left, tabula rasa is their religion. It is the basis of their “equal opportunity must result in equal outcome” mythos. The rest of their propaganda diverges from this base, and they use it to manipulate, control, and reward or ostracize its members in whatever way best benefits the party – just like any other religion.

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    • Replies: @AndSo
    on the left, tabula rasa is their religion.

    Except being born gay. That is from birth and can never change. And it's illegal to try.

    So you are born with a blank slate except sexual preferences.

    Odd theology.
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  19. Dahlia says:

    Please trash:
    My concern is that illustrating the point with this Duggar episode is fraught with problems presented by the huge gulf between what we know and what they know. Because of this, to our ears, they come off as extremists, cartoonish, one-dimensional; they don’t even make sense to other evangelical Christians, hence why some upthread were being dismissive.
    When one learns more about what the principals themselves know and what’s informing their statements, not only would this cease being a particular example of Blank Slatism, it becomes something far more complicated altogether.

    (I don’t care about the Duggars, either, but am interested in how the media reports on these topics. Very corrupt.)

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    • Replies: @iffen

    (I don’t care about the Duggars, either, but am interested in how the media reports on these topics. Very corrupt.)
     
    Compare how this incident is treated vis-à-vis the recent admission of childhood incestuous behavior by a celebrated TV writer and actor. If one thinks she is too young to consider think about the treatment accorded one famous movie director who committed incest in form and was accused by family member of committing it in fact.
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  20. When I read the quote from Duggar’s father-in-law, the first thing that came to my mind was the so-called secret sin theory of politics. I think I read it on Eugene Volokh’s blog some years ago.

    It goes something like this: people tend to look into their own minds, think of their own “secret sins” and project them onto the public at large and construct laws/political ideology accordingly. So religious conservatives are people who think that without the law, it’s going to be Sodom and Gomorrah, because *they* have such impulses. “Liberals” think that without the law, those with money will victimize the poor, whites blacks, etc. because *they* are secretly heartless and racist. Libertarians are supposed to be those who are internally power mad, so they generalize that onto others and want to reduce the power of the government. So apparently the conclusion of the “theory” was that we should listen to libertarians, but never elect them into office.

    With that bit of humor out of the way, I have a more serious methodological question, Mr. Khan. In the post, you seem to equate lack of criminality (murder and rape) with morality/ethics or at least use the former as a proxy for the latter. But given that there is strong physical and material sanction against such crimes, wouldn’t a better measure for morality be about something that has little or nothing to do with state-imposed punishment? Such as charity (% of disposable income given to charity or perhaps % of free time spent on charitable works) or, on the negative side, perhaps other measures of moral, but non-criminal, transgressions such as rate of adultery or even number of average sexual partners? How do those stack up in context of declining general religiosity?

    Broadly, I agree with Peter Turchin that the origin of modern organized religions has its ultimate roots in the social and institutional needs of pan-ethnic imperial systems during the Axial Age.

    As a devout Roman Catholic, I have no problem whatsoever with agreeing to this statement. It strikes me as factual. But, regarding this:

    Many evangelical Protestants in particular envisage the world before the revelation of God to Abraham, but sometime after the Fall, as a Hobbesian one of “all-against-all.” This is not limited to evangelical Christians. Many Muslims also conceive of the pre-Islamic jahiliyya in Arabia as one of pagan darkness and debauchery. The root misunderstanding is conceiving of morality and ethics as a historical human invention, as opposed to formalizations of deep cognitive intuitions and social-cultural adaptations.

    Would you not see ancient/animist religions (or religious impulses), as opposed to “modern monotheistic religions,” as also early “formalization of deep cognitive intuition and social-cultural adaptations”? In other words, instead of playing the game of chicken or egg first, is it not possible, perhaps even likely, that moral and religious impulses co-evolved?

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    • Replies: @guest
    "Secret sin" is a confusing and needless concept. What you're describing is called "projection," one of the best known and most easily understood of psychological buzzwords. It doesn't work according to ideology. Even if there's a conservative personality type, a libertarian personality type, and so on, which I don't whatsoever believe (there certainly are types, and some ageless types may coincide with this or that currently popular ideology, but the idea that the pack of beliefs randomly clustered together to make up today's liberal match up with a cluster of secret desires that people we call "liberals" happen to possess I find ridiculous), they don't derive from the secret desires we attribute to others.

    That's far too rational, for one thing. For another, just about everyone has entertained just about everything a person can be or do inside their heads. We each contain multitudes of sin within. There's no reason to believe, either, that we project unto others only our most revisited "secret sins." I don't think any could say for sure which of their secret sins they sin the most. That'd be entirely too self-aware.

    No, most likely they hit on the ideology first, or at least lean a certain way first, then come up with what sorts of sins predominate. But that doesn't account for people who switch sides. Is ideology swapping preceded by discovery of new secret sin, or better information about the sort that was always there? I highly doubt it.
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  21. The view that religion is necessary was also held by numerous elites of the Age of Enlightenment, including many Founding Fathers who were heterodox in their religion, bordering on atheism (if not actually atheists). I think during this period there was elite distrust of the common man, as well as the belief that a rational society in which divine right was supplanted by social contract required some type of social cohesion provided by religion. In the Anglo-world, the French Revolution heightened the perceived need for “ordered liberty,” individualism within the framework of tradition. I don’t believe they were as much concerned about sin, so much as a functioning society.

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  22. during this period there was elite distrust of the common man

    Not just during this period, this distrust is eternal and universal.

    I think you make a very good point. Many of them were very much afraid of mobocracy and political conditions today show that they were right to be afraid.

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  23. An interesting (and pretty much canonical) proverb in Jewish orthodoxy is that it is the government that keeps the world from descending into violent chaos. (The actual quote is something like “Pray for the welfare of the government, for if people did not fear it, they would eat each other alive.”)

    At the same time, in some isolated groups of very traditional Orthodox Jews there is a widespread belief that the non-Jewish / non-religious world is steeped in licentious behaviour (random casual sex, robbery, etc.) and that those who turn away from Orthodoxy do so largely because they want to engage in said behaviour.

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    • Replies: @iffen

    some isolated groups of very traditional Orthodox Jews
     
    Interesting. The two groups might have a lot of similar beliefs. Evangelicals are fond of comparing the "falling away from God" of the US to the lapses of faith of the Israelites in the Old Testament. You may have heard different evangelical TV preachers claim that some disaster or tragedy that has befallen the US is chastisement from God for our wickedness.
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  24. I have little doubt that morality and ethics precede organised religion. However I speculate without evidence, that most souls do not have the self-discipline to observe an uninterrupted ethical and moral life.

    Organised religion is an attempt to formalise the rules and provide an enforcing mechanism. (Not claiming that it has succeeded entirely, although as you point out there is evidence that it is prosocial).

    Razib, your conclusions are noted with appreciation, yet as a Jew, with the Torah serving as a legal contract between G’d and the B’nai Brith, I would rather take the costless side of Pascal’s Wager.

    BTW, in Judaism, casual sex a few hundred miles from home and the wife is not considered licentious

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  25. @Pseudonymic Handle
    Some of the most irreligious countries like Japan and those in Northern Europe also have the lowest crime rates in the world, others irreligious countries like the Czech Republic and China have lower crime rates than you would expect given their level of economic development.

    Nevertheless I believe that religion can make a difference in subcultures where people habitually engage in crime. I would be curious to see an analysis of the crime rates of evangelical gypsies in Europe compared to the crime rates of general gypsy population. For a gypsy group arrest was a coming-of-age ritual for males, nobody was called a man unless it has been to prison. In situations like this changing beliefs may change behaviour.

    I think that you are misinformed about religion in China and Japan. Only if you use Christianity as the paradigm of a religion does your comment make sense. But if you talk about having a moral and ethical standard to live by,then religion is much more widespread in China and Japan

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    • Replies: @Chrisnonymous
    This post is about having a personal relationship with God or some supernatural power, so for you to redefine religion in that way is pointless in the context of this discussion. Anyhow, I live in Japan right now, and I would say that they don't have a moral code, they have social habituation. Some people describe Japan as shame-based rather than guilt-based for example. The fact that Japanese are good at following explicit rules is not a sign they have a good moral sense, it is a sign they are afraid of social retaliation for breaking rules, and, in addition, dislike rule-breakers per se rather than people who lie, cheat, etc.
    , @Balaji
    I agree with you about moral and ethical standards.

    God(s) are not always necessary for religion, More essential are prophets, saints, holy books and creed. By this standard, Soviet and Maoist Communisms were religions. In today's world, the Cult of Social Justice is gaining strength. Probably a good number of the 20.7% of the people in 2014 who professed no religion are acolytes of Social Justice. They may zealously battle in the media, new and old, against those who are blasphemers, apostates and heretics against the orthodox views of Social Justice.

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  26. Religion encourages taboos and taboos can be powerful. More power to ‘em!

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  27. Using the ancient pre-Christian world as a negative foil seems to be pretty standard among Christians…there’s this whole argument that Christianity produced a profound revolution in morals in every sphere, causing the decline of slavery and of practices like exposing unwanted children; and that Christianity with its “man in the image of God” and “everyone equal before God” theology is at the root of everything seen as desirable by most Westerners today…individualism, democracy, human rights…and that view is not just found among Christians who might be exspected to be biased but also among secular leftists and liberals.
    I’m unconvinced by this interpretation (seems too neat somehow, such grand explanations based on the alleged power of ideas seem dubious to me). What are your views on this, is Christianity really that special or would history have taken much the same course if Mithraism or some other oriental cult had become the Roman empire’s favoured religion in the 4th century?

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    • Replies: @Twinkie

    Using the ancient pre-Christian world as a negative foil seems to be pretty standard among Christians
     
    Among *some* Christians. We Catholics like Aristotle so much that we are frequently accused of being "worshippers of that pagan, Aristotle" by *those* particular Christians.
    , @Jeff77450
    I believe that Christianity was a major, although not the sole, contributor to the development of Western Civilization. Ideas like, if we're all equal before God, the rich & the poor and the weak & the powerful alike, then shouldn't we all be equal before the law and have an equal say in how our government works?

    Other ideas flowed from Christianity. Isaiah 33:22 says, "The Lord is our Judge (judiciary), The Lord is our Lawgiver (legislative body), The Lord is our King (chief executive); He will save us." NKJV

    Leviticus 27:30 discusses tithing. Flat-tax, anyone?
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  28. @Hippopotamusdrome
    You're starting at 1991, which was a peak in crime, it could only go down from there. 1991 isn't known a particularly religious year. You should extend the chart back to 1950.

    Murder 1950: 4.6
    Murder 2010: 4.8
    This without factoring in medical technology an wound to death ratio.

    Rape 1960: 9.6
    Rape 1990: 41.1
    Rape 2010: 27.7
    Rape rate quadroupled from 1960 to 1990, and has declined since then to merely triple the 1960 rate.

    Year Murder Rape
    1950 4.6
    1955 4.1
    1960 5.1 9.6
    1965 5.1 12.1
    1970 7.9 18.7
    1975 9.6 26.3
    1980 10.2 36.8
    1985 8.0 36.8
    1990 9.4 41.1
    1995 8.2 37.1
    2000 5.5 32.2
    2005 5.6 31.8
    2010 4.8 27.7

    Its problematic to cite rape statistics in this way. Rape rates are obviously confounded by recent (post 60′s) changes in reporting (~changing perceptions re date rape, the end of rape in marriage etc)

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  29. @Welt
    Women initiate two thirds of divorce. Between married couples, it's closer to 90%. Smart man marries smart girl, they have two kids and get divorced before the kids turn 5. The kids, particularly the boys, will do worse than if the parents stayed together and the divorce would never have happened without easy no-fault divorce and a family law regime that heavily favors women.

    Is the divorce largely irrelevant to their outcome? If I'm understanding Razib and others correctly, they are arguing "yes". My hypothesis is no.

    I know Razib hates it when other people speak for him. So I’ll just express the usual “hereditarian” explanation for why divorce leads to bad social outcomes, which has been discussed in the past.

    Basically, people vary in terms of their personalities in various traits, all of which seem to be approximately 50% genetic. At least some of these traits seem to track with martial health. For example, some studies have found that high neuroticism leads to less happy marriages, while high agreeableness leads to more happy marriages.

    Regardless, in the modern era people who have personality traits which tend to lead towards marital instability tend to get divorced. Their kids inherit predispositions to the same traits, which leads them to also be likely to get divorced (or have “comorbid” negative outcomes with marital instability). Historically, however, such people would have stuck in unhappy marriages, either being miserable or flagrantly cheating on their spouses.

    A good way to see if divorce actually hurts children, or of it’s just the “divorce temperament” being inherited is to see how adoptive children from divorced households fare. There have been several studies of this sort, and the results have been mixed, some indicating only environmental effects, while others indicated a mixture of environmental and genetic effects. All of the studies I have seen have been somewhat flawed as well, as they do not track children into adulthood. We know that, when out of the home they were raised in, offspring seem to regress to the mean along many traits. Divorce may be a bad thing to live through as a child, but have limited effects by adulthood. It certainly deserves more study regardless.

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    • Replies: @Muse
    It would interesting to see the results of these studies to see the relationship between young children that live through a divorce and their life outcomes as adults.

    There is no doubt though that the traits of parents, notwithstanding marital status impact life outcomes of children.

    I jokingly tell my neighbor that I judge how well our neighbors' households are functioning based on how quickly each household brings their trash can back from the curb after it is collected. Every house has an occaisional time when the trash can is left out for an extended time, but the married families I perceive as having problems leave the trash can at the curb for over 24 hours far more frequently than those households of married coulples that seem to have it together.

    The single divorcee with kids invariably leave the can out for an extended period of time, while the young widow with children manages to get her trash can off the curb promptly. I need a bigger sample size if I wanted to do more than amuse myself here! The widow, luckily has means and does not need to work, yet the divorcee does and this gets me to my final point.

    Perhaps outcomes for children are negatively impacts from divorce during childhood, but regardless most families with lesser means are impacted in a negative way economically when households break apart. No doubt this causes demands on supports provided by government, and thus as a taxpayer, it seems reducing divorce rates (or bad matches and their subsequent offspring) is in my interest. Religion may very well be the most effective institution for doing this.
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  30. @German_reader
    Using the ancient pre-Christian world as a negative foil seems to be pretty standard among Christians...there's this whole argument that Christianity produced a profound revolution in morals in every sphere, causing the decline of slavery and of practices like exposing unwanted children; and that Christianity with its "man in the image of God" and "everyone equal before God" theology is at the root of everything seen as desirable by most Westerners today...individualism, democracy, human rights...and that view is not just found among Christians who might be exspected to be biased but also among secular leftists and liberals.
    I'm unconvinced by this interpretation (seems too neat somehow, such grand explanations based on the alleged power of ideas seem dubious to me). What are your views on this, is Christianity really that special or would history have taken much the same course if Mithraism or some other oriental cult had become the Roman empire's favoured religion in the 4th century?

    Using the ancient pre-Christian world as a negative foil seems to be pretty standard among Christians

    Among *some* Christians. We Catholics like Aristotle so much that we are frequently accused of being “worshippers of that pagan, Aristotle” by *those* particular Christians.

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  31. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    I agree with Christopher Badcock’s take on the roots of religion as mankind assigning theory of mind intentionality to events not directly caused by man’s actions. Types of interactions between people, such as forgiveness, were eventually transferred to spiritual entities.

    As religion evolved, it took form as a cultural behavior to promote ingroup morality and therefore worked towards survival of the culture and itself. Successful cultures and religions go hand in hand while long dead peoples are buried with their long dead religions.

    Currently, religion’s role in promoting a population’s survival is losing ground to the State as an ingroup identifier and protector. That is not a good sign for religions in general.

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    • Replies: @Drapetomaniac
    32. Anonymous = Drapetomaniac, sorry.
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  32. @aeolius
    I think that you are misinformed about religion in China and Japan. Only if you use Christianity as the paradigm of a religion does your comment make sense. But if you talk about having a moral and ethical standard to live by,then religion is much more widespread in China and Japan

    This post is about having a personal relationship with God or some supernatural power, so for you to redefine religion in that way is pointless in the context of this discussion. Anyhow, I live in Japan right now, and I would say that they don’t have a moral code, they have social habituation. Some people describe Japan as shame-based rather than guilt-based for example. The fact that Japanese are good at following explicit rules is not a sign they have a good moral sense, it is a sign they are afraid of social retaliation for breaking rules, and, in addition, dislike rule-breakers per se rather than people who lie, cheat, etc.

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  33. Your graph shows increasing irreligiosity coincident with declining rates of rape and murder. It does not, however, chart irreligiosity against, say, the rise in welfare dependence, illegitimacy, etc. Those graphs might tell a different tale.

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  34. @Anonymous
    I agree with Christopher Badcock's take on the roots of religion as mankind assigning theory of mind intentionality to events not directly caused by man's actions. Types of interactions between people, such as forgiveness, were eventually transferred to spiritual entities.

    As religion evolved, it took form as a cultural behavior to promote ingroup morality and therefore worked towards survival of the culture and itself. Successful cultures and religions go hand in hand while long dead peoples are buried with their long dead religions.

    Currently, religion's role in promoting a population's survival is losing ground to the State as an ingroup identifier and protector. That is not a good sign for religions in general.

    32. Anonymous = Drapetomaniac, sorry.

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  35. @aeolius
    I think that you are misinformed about religion in China and Japan. Only if you use Christianity as the paradigm of a religion does your comment make sense. But if you talk about having a moral and ethical standard to live by,then religion is much more widespread in China and Japan

    I agree with you about moral and ethical standards.

    God(s) are not always necessary for religion, More essential are prophets, saints, holy books and creed. By this standard, Soviet and Maoist Communisms were religions. In today’s world, the Cult of Social Justice is gaining strength. Probably a good number of the 20.7% of the people in 2014 who professed no religion are acolytes of Social Justice. They may zealously battle in the media, new and old, against those who are blasphemers, apostates and heretics against the orthodox views of Social Justice.

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    • Replies: @Jay Fink
    I am in the 20.7% yet I am against social justice. For example, I favor cutting off all welfare to illegitimate children. Being non-religious does not necessarily equal being liberal. On some issues I would guess I am more conservative than the vast majority of the Christian right.
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  36. Per 1960 or 1991 to pick as a start date, 1960 is most assuredly better. Everyone, liberal democratic politicians included, was a social conservative in 1960, and this was not true in 1991. Also, ‘secular’ in this context is so vague as to be meaningless. The difference between a social liberal and a social conservative is that the latter is an Aristotelian virtuecrat and the latter is a Epicurean hedonist and that per Aristotle the welfare or well being of a man is to be an excellent man, while for the epicurean it’s a pleasure pain calculation. By 1991 a mainline Protestant was more or less ‘secular’ in all the ways that count, and lot’s of Roman Catholics were just as secular (Nancy Pelosi might be a good example) even if officially the church isn’t that way. The Aristotle/Epicurus dichotomy is what counts not self identifying as a church member.

    To add to this, in the early 1920’s the C of E decided that birth control was OK, and this is what caused GK Chesterton to swim the Tiber. His reasoning was that the underlying reason for the switch was that the C of E was now saying the point to sex was now pleasure rather than babies, as the natural law says it is, that is the point to birth control, and that the C of E would start reexamining all of their do’s and don’ts like morality being an Epicurean bargain rather than the Aristotelean pursuit of excellence, and what would then happen is pretty much what did happen, everything proceeded as GKC foresaw.

    Having said all that, you cannot just list things that both an Epicurean and an Aristotelean would both see as bad, like rape and murder, and declare morality intact, since morality in the US in 1960 was Aristotelean, you have to rate moral advance or decline per what would have been thought moral or immoral in 1960, and there are lots of things, like the out of wedlock birth rate, that would have appalled most people in 1960, but per Epicureanism are thought to be improvements, or at least the unavoidable consequences of said improvements, because per Epicureanism they are improvements. Remember too, abortion was thought by most people to be murder in 1960, and I think no more need be said on that. 1 to 2 million a year in the US is it?

    So secularization has had an enormous effect on morality, it’s just that secular people think they’re improvements.

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    • Replies: @Dutch Boy
    A keen insight!
    , @Karl Zimmerman
    I don't claim to be well versed in the classics (Razib has forgotten more than I have ever learned), but I don't see how you can use epicurean to mean hedonist. I mean, yes, that is the modern, colloquial sense of the term. But that was not what Epicurus had in mind at all - he didn't define pleasure in the sense of positive sensation, but as a feeling of tranquility, absence of fear, and lack of bodily pain. It's easy to see the direct line from epicurean thought to utilitarianism (not surprising, given Jeremy Bentham considered himself an epicurean). Epicurus was also the first thinker to devise what would later be thought of as social contract theory - which may have been part of why Thomas Jefferson was also a major fan. Basically while Aristotle may have been central to pre-modern European thought, it's hard for me to see the Enlightenment going forward the way it did without the influence of Epicurus.

    As to your broader point, of course there have been changes to morality which have happened in concert with secularization. This has not just included things which were formerly verboten becoming permitted, but also the inverse. Stephen Pinker noted in The Blank Slate that things such as smoking, littering, wearing fur, etc have become more moralized, and more frowned upon, at the same time that sexual relations have become liberalized. Basically society is just as "moral" as ever - it's just that the moral code has shifted.
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  37. @Dahlia
    Please trash:
    My concern is that illustrating the point with this Duggar episode is fraught with problems presented by the huge gulf between what we know and what they know. Because of this, to our ears, they come off as extremists, cartoonish, one-dimensional; they don't even make sense to other evangelical Christians, hence why some upthread were being dismissive.
    When one learns more about what the principals themselves know and what's informing their statements, not only would this cease being a particular example of Blank Slatism, it becomes something far more complicated altogether.

    (I don't care about the Duggars, either, but am interested in how the media reports on these topics. Very corrupt.)

    (I don’t care about the Duggars, either, but am interested in how the media reports on these topics. Very corrupt.)

    Compare how this incident is treated vis-à-vis the recent admission of childhood incestuous behavior by a celebrated TV writer and actor. If one thinks she is too young to consider think about the treatment accorded one famous movie director who committed incest in form and was accused by family member of committing it in fact.

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  38. @Joe Q.
    An interesting (and pretty much canonical) proverb in Jewish orthodoxy is that it is the government that keeps the world from descending into violent chaos. (The actual quote is something like "Pray for the welfare of the government, for if people did not fear it, they would eat each other alive.")

    At the same time, in some isolated groups of very traditional Orthodox Jews there is a widespread belief that the non-Jewish / non-religious world is steeped in licentious behaviour (random casual sex, robbery, etc.) and that those who turn away from Orthodoxy do so largely because they want to engage in said behaviour.

    some isolated groups of very traditional Orthodox Jews

    Interesting. The two groups might have a lot of similar beliefs. Evangelicals are fond of comparing the “falling away from God” of the US to the lapses of faith of the Israelites in the Old Testament. You may have heard different evangelical TV preachers claim that some disaster or tragedy that has befallen the US is chastisement from God for our wickedness.

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  39. @j mct
    Per 1960 or 1991 to pick as a start date, 1960 is most assuredly better. Everyone, liberal democratic politicians included, was a social conservative in 1960, and this was not true in 1991. Also, 'secular' in this context is so vague as to be meaningless. The difference between a social liberal and a social conservative is that the latter is an Aristotelian virtuecrat and the latter is a Epicurean hedonist and that per Aristotle the welfare or well being of a man is to be an excellent man, while for the epicurean it's a pleasure pain calculation. By 1991 a mainline Protestant was more or less 'secular' in all the ways that count, and lot's of Roman Catholics were just as secular (Nancy Pelosi might be a good example) even if officially the church isn't that way. The Aristotle/Epicurus dichotomy is what counts not self identifying as a church member.

    To add to this, in the early 1920’s the C of E decided that birth control was OK, and this is what caused GK Chesterton to swim the Tiber. His reasoning was that the underlying reason for the switch was that the C of E was now saying the point to sex was now pleasure rather than babies, as the natural law says it is, that is the point to birth control, and that the C of E would start reexamining all of their do’s and don’ts like morality being an Epicurean bargain rather than the Aristotelean pursuit of excellence, and what would then happen is pretty much what did happen, everything proceeded as GKC foresaw.

    Having said all that, you cannot just list things that both an Epicurean and an Aristotelean would both see as bad, like rape and murder, and declare morality intact, since morality in the US in 1960 was Aristotelean, you have to rate moral advance or decline per what would have been thought moral or immoral in 1960, and there are lots of things, like the out of wedlock birth rate, that would have appalled most people in 1960, but per Epicureanism are thought to be improvements, or at least the unavoidable consequences of said improvements, because per Epicureanism they are improvements. Remember too, abortion was thought by most people to be murder in 1960, and I think no more need be said on that. 1 to 2 million a year in the US is it?

    So secularization has had an enormous effect on morality, it’s just that secular people think they’re improvements.

    A keen insight!

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  40. Two possible counter examples to this:

    The better behaviour of American working class whites relative to British working class whites. American working class whites are a lot more religious and tend to engage in a lot less petty crime. Although serious violent crime is relatively low among both groups.

    In Australia and New Zealand, Polynesians immigrants (who are more religious than whites) tend to have lower crime rates than New Zealand Maoris (who are racially Polynesian, but have similar levels of church attendance to whites).

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  41. @j mct
    Per 1960 or 1991 to pick as a start date, 1960 is most assuredly better. Everyone, liberal democratic politicians included, was a social conservative in 1960, and this was not true in 1991. Also, 'secular' in this context is so vague as to be meaningless. The difference between a social liberal and a social conservative is that the latter is an Aristotelian virtuecrat and the latter is a Epicurean hedonist and that per Aristotle the welfare or well being of a man is to be an excellent man, while for the epicurean it's a pleasure pain calculation. By 1991 a mainline Protestant was more or less 'secular' in all the ways that count, and lot's of Roman Catholics were just as secular (Nancy Pelosi might be a good example) even if officially the church isn't that way. The Aristotle/Epicurus dichotomy is what counts not self identifying as a church member.

    To add to this, in the early 1920’s the C of E decided that birth control was OK, and this is what caused GK Chesterton to swim the Tiber. His reasoning was that the underlying reason for the switch was that the C of E was now saying the point to sex was now pleasure rather than babies, as the natural law says it is, that is the point to birth control, and that the C of E would start reexamining all of their do’s and don’ts like morality being an Epicurean bargain rather than the Aristotelean pursuit of excellence, and what would then happen is pretty much what did happen, everything proceeded as GKC foresaw.

    Having said all that, you cannot just list things that both an Epicurean and an Aristotelean would both see as bad, like rape and murder, and declare morality intact, since morality in the US in 1960 was Aristotelean, you have to rate moral advance or decline per what would have been thought moral or immoral in 1960, and there are lots of things, like the out of wedlock birth rate, that would have appalled most people in 1960, but per Epicureanism are thought to be improvements, or at least the unavoidable consequences of said improvements, because per Epicureanism they are improvements. Remember too, abortion was thought by most people to be murder in 1960, and I think no more need be said on that. 1 to 2 million a year in the US is it?

    So secularization has had an enormous effect on morality, it’s just that secular people think they’re improvements.

    I don’t claim to be well versed in the classics (Razib has forgotten more than I have ever learned), but I don’t see how you can use epicurean to mean hedonist. I mean, yes, that is the modern, colloquial sense of the term. But that was not what Epicurus had in mind at all – he didn’t define pleasure in the sense of positive sensation, but as a feeling of tranquility, absence of fear, and lack of bodily pain. It’s easy to see the direct line from epicurean thought to utilitarianism (not surprising, given Jeremy Bentham considered himself an epicurean). Epicurus was also the first thinker to devise what would later be thought of as social contract theory – which may have been part of why Thomas Jefferson was also a major fan. Basically while Aristotle may have been central to pre-modern European thought, it’s hard for me to see the Enlightenment going forward the way it did without the influence of Epicurus.

    As to your broader point, of course there have been changes to morality which have happened in concert with secularization. This has not just included things which were formerly verboten becoming permitted, but also the inverse. Stephen Pinker noted in The Blank Slate that things such as smoking, littering, wearing fur, etc have become more moralized, and more frowned upon, at the same time that sexual relations have become liberalized. Basically society is just as “moral” as ever – it’s just that the moral code has shifted.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    you are right. people who confuse colloquial understanding of hedonism with epicureanism are talking out of their ass.

    it’s hard for me to see the Enlightenment going forward the way it did without the influence of Epicurus.

    some people emphasize lucretius. same diff.

    , @advancedatheist

    Stephen Pinker noted in The Blank Slate that things such as smoking, littering, wearing fur, etc have become more moralized, and more frowned upon, at the same time that sexual relations have become liberalized.
     
    Think about the incoherence of this "enlightened' moral reasoning. Liberals and progressives more often than not talk about the importance of living in harmony with nature; hold the pharmaceutical industry in suspicion; and obsess over the dangers of poor diet, pesticides, food additives, environmental pollution and even vaccines, in some cases. The ones of a more philosophical turn also worry about how the capitalist form of society causes "alienation" in natural human relationships.

    Yet what do they encourage young women to do? Ingest artificial hormones to sabotage their natural fertility cycle so that these women to engage in sterile, inorganic and alienating hookups with men who have no intention of forming stable relationships with them.

    Women's bodies and minds didn't evolve to handle this kind of abuse. No wonder so many women these days suffer from depression, anxiety, eating disorders, addictions, gynecological problems like early menopause, and impairments in their ability to form sustainable marriages and bond with their own children. So much for how the liberal-progressive sexual ethic encourages a healthy lifestyle in harmony with nature.

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  42. @Karl Zimmerman
    I don't claim to be well versed in the classics (Razib has forgotten more than I have ever learned), but I don't see how you can use epicurean to mean hedonist. I mean, yes, that is the modern, colloquial sense of the term. But that was not what Epicurus had in mind at all - he didn't define pleasure in the sense of positive sensation, but as a feeling of tranquility, absence of fear, and lack of bodily pain. It's easy to see the direct line from epicurean thought to utilitarianism (not surprising, given Jeremy Bentham considered himself an epicurean). Epicurus was also the first thinker to devise what would later be thought of as social contract theory - which may have been part of why Thomas Jefferson was also a major fan. Basically while Aristotle may have been central to pre-modern European thought, it's hard for me to see the Enlightenment going forward the way it did without the influence of Epicurus.

    As to your broader point, of course there have been changes to morality which have happened in concert with secularization. This has not just included things which were formerly verboten becoming permitted, but also the inverse. Stephen Pinker noted in The Blank Slate that things such as smoking, littering, wearing fur, etc have become more moralized, and more frowned upon, at the same time that sexual relations have become liberalized. Basically society is just as "moral" as ever - it's just that the moral code has shifted.

    you are right. people who confuse colloquial understanding of hedonism with epicureanism are talking out of their ass.

    it’s hard for me to see the Enlightenment going forward the way it did without the influence of Epicurus.

    some people emphasize lucretius. same diff.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Twinkie

    people who confuse colloquial understanding of hedonism with epicureanism are talking out of their ass.
     
    But isn't Epicureanism (and Benthamism) taken to its logical (but unintended) conclusion in the context of a highly stable, prosperous, and technological society with much disposable income and time for ordinary people the widespread adoption of hedonism?
    , @Wizard of Oz
    Your mention of Lucretius makes me think you have read Stephen Greenblatt's "Swerve" based on temporarily-out-of-a-job Apostolic Secretary Poggio Bracciolini's discovery and copying of a manuscript of "De Rerum Natura" in some German monastery. If you haven't you should. It's the best read for me in the last two years at least. And it made an interesting point about the excessively admired fervently religious and highly intelligent fanatic Thomas More. In his religiously tolerant social democratic, perhaps socialist, Utopia he insisted on the death penalty for those who refused to acknowledge God and the afterlife even though the society was almost Epicurean. He was quite clear that it wouldn't if the strong weren't restrained from using their advantages over others by fear of hell.
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  43. Obviously big families create a lot more opportunity and incitement for incest. So it seems quite reasonable that traditional families like the Duggars are much more rigid in sexualibus than modern nuclear families.
    Mr. Khan seems to think that there are inborn controls against incest (an opinion which would make Josh Duggar a kind of freak). Given the amount of actual incest even in Western countries (not to speak about Middle Eastern countries), I don’t support this (prejudice) .

    Read More
    • Replies: @Karl Zimmerman
    The problem with citing anything regarding Muslim countries and incest is that while first-cousin marriage is common there, marriages are generally arranged, not because of romantic attraction. Even when you are not told you must marry a specific first cousin, there is the general social expectation you will marry one of your cousins.

    In addition, the hypothesized Westermark Effect suppresses sexual attraction to any individuals you have close proximity to in childhood, whether or not they are genetically related to you. You could easily be attracted to a first cousin who you only see a few times per year.
    , @Wilkey
    "Mr. Khan seems to think that there are inborn controls against incest (an opinion which would make Josh Duggar a kind of freak)."

    Except that Josh Duggar hasn't even been accused of incest, SFAIK. He's been accused of, while a horny young teenager, fondling his younger sisters. An awful thing surely, but a far cry from incest.

    There are inborn controls against incest. Very few people doink their close relatives, with or without laws to forbid it. Certainly a smaller percentage of the population than is gay.
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  44. advancedatheist [AKA "RedneckCryonicist"] says:

    I have a socially liberal friend from an evangelical background, who is still somewhat associated with that movement, who confided in me that to did look forward to debauchery in a post-Christian life on some occasions.

    The sexually unappealing christian guy doesn’t increase his sexual market value by becoming an atheist. He just becomes a sexually unappealing atheist guy, like those incel atheist neckbeards who show up at atheist gatherings and wonder when they can cash in on the “debauchery” promised in atheist propaganda.

    BTW, for some reason fans of the late Madalyn Murray O’Hair don’t want to talk about the fact that she advocated sexual freedom for young teens in her Playboy interview back in the 1960′s, yet her younger son, the atheist activist Jon Garth Murray, never moved away from home and apparently never had a girlfriend. At the time of his murder in 1995, he probably died a 40 year old virgin. I guess Madalyn’s godless sexual utopia didn’t exist under her own roof.

    Read More
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  45. advancedatheist [AKA "RedneckCryonicist"] says:
    @Karl Zimmerman
    I don't claim to be well versed in the classics (Razib has forgotten more than I have ever learned), but I don't see how you can use epicurean to mean hedonist. I mean, yes, that is the modern, colloquial sense of the term. But that was not what Epicurus had in mind at all - he didn't define pleasure in the sense of positive sensation, but as a feeling of tranquility, absence of fear, and lack of bodily pain. It's easy to see the direct line from epicurean thought to utilitarianism (not surprising, given Jeremy Bentham considered himself an epicurean). Epicurus was also the first thinker to devise what would later be thought of as social contract theory - which may have been part of why Thomas Jefferson was also a major fan. Basically while Aristotle may have been central to pre-modern European thought, it's hard for me to see the Enlightenment going forward the way it did without the influence of Epicurus.

    As to your broader point, of course there have been changes to morality which have happened in concert with secularization. This has not just included things which were formerly verboten becoming permitted, but also the inverse. Stephen Pinker noted in The Blank Slate that things such as smoking, littering, wearing fur, etc have become more moralized, and more frowned upon, at the same time that sexual relations have become liberalized. Basically society is just as "moral" as ever - it's just that the moral code has shifted.

    Stephen Pinker noted in The Blank Slate that things such as smoking, littering, wearing fur, etc have become more moralized, and more frowned upon, at the same time that sexual relations have become liberalized.

    Think about the incoherence of this “enlightened’ moral reasoning. Liberals and progressives more often than not talk about the importance of living in harmony with nature; hold the pharmaceutical industry in suspicion; and obsess over the dangers of poor diet, pesticides, food additives, environmental pollution and even vaccines, in some cases. The ones of a more philosophical turn also worry about how the capitalist form of society causes “alienation” in natural human relationships.

    Yet what do they encourage young women to do? Ingest artificial hormones to sabotage their natural fertility cycle so that these women to engage in sterile, inorganic and alienating hookups with men who have no intention of forming stable relationships with them.

    Women’s bodies and minds didn’t evolve to handle this kind of abuse. No wonder so many women these days suffer from depression, anxiety, eating disorders, addictions, gynecological problems like early menopause, and impairments in their ability to form sustainable marriages and bond with their own children. So much for how the liberal-progressive sexual ethic encourages a healthy lifestyle in harmony with nature.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Karl Zimmerman
    Most people are idiots, and virtually everyone holds morally inconsistent views. I think particularly when it comes to what people say about morals (rather than what they actually do) the primary concern is "groupness" - distinguishing yourself as an upstanding member of your tribe, and contrasting your behavior with those other people, who are just ignorant/depraved/nasty. In contrast, private behavior is much more wrapped up in self-interest - although clearly elements of morality (like disgust) are deeply felt even if they don't happen in public view of others.

    Regarding sexual relations more generally, I hold to the argument that Razib has voiced himself - that modern western ideals towards sex - serial monogamy, relationships by mutual consent of the individuals, relative sexual equality, relatively few offspring - are in some ways a return to form, insofar as they closely resemble how sexual relations happen in hunter-gatherer societies with low levels of social stratification - with the notable exception of considerably older age of first childbirth. I absolutely don't see that modern society as a whole is particularly promiscuous - in recent years the number of sexual partners for teens has been falling, and we don't have good enough historical data from the past to determine what levels were "normal" in the longer run.
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  46. @advancedatheist

    Stephen Pinker noted in The Blank Slate that things such as smoking, littering, wearing fur, etc have become more moralized, and more frowned upon, at the same time that sexual relations have become liberalized.
     
    Think about the incoherence of this "enlightened' moral reasoning. Liberals and progressives more often than not talk about the importance of living in harmony with nature; hold the pharmaceutical industry in suspicion; and obsess over the dangers of poor diet, pesticides, food additives, environmental pollution and even vaccines, in some cases. The ones of a more philosophical turn also worry about how the capitalist form of society causes "alienation" in natural human relationships.

    Yet what do they encourage young women to do? Ingest artificial hormones to sabotage their natural fertility cycle so that these women to engage in sterile, inorganic and alienating hookups with men who have no intention of forming stable relationships with them.

    Women's bodies and minds didn't evolve to handle this kind of abuse. No wonder so many women these days suffer from depression, anxiety, eating disorders, addictions, gynecological problems like early menopause, and impairments in their ability to form sustainable marriages and bond with their own children. So much for how the liberal-progressive sexual ethic encourages a healthy lifestyle in harmony with nature.

    Most people are idiots, and virtually everyone holds morally inconsistent views. I think particularly when it comes to what people say about morals (rather than what they actually do) the primary concern is “groupness” – distinguishing yourself as an upstanding member of your tribe, and contrasting your behavior with those other people, who are just ignorant/depraved/nasty. In contrast, private behavior is much more wrapped up in self-interest – although clearly elements of morality (like disgust) are deeply felt even if they don’t happen in public view of others.

    Regarding sexual relations more generally, I hold to the argument that Razib has voiced himself – that modern western ideals towards sex – serial monogamy, relationships by mutual consent of the individuals, relative sexual equality, relatively few offspring – are in some ways a return to form, insofar as they closely resemble how sexual relations happen in hunter-gatherer societies with low levels of social stratification – with the notable exception of considerably older age of first childbirth. I absolutely don’t see that modern society as a whole is particularly promiscuous – in recent years the number of sexual partners for teens has been falling, and we don’t have good enough historical data from the past to determine what levels were “normal” in the longer run.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Twinkie

    I absolutely don’t see that modern society as a whole is particularly promiscuous – in recent years the number of sexual partners for teens has been falling
     
    Median or mean?
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  47. @Stogumber
    Obviously big families create a lot more opportunity and incitement for incest. So it seems quite reasonable that traditional families like the Duggars are much more rigid in sexualibus than modern nuclear families.
    Mr. Khan seems to think that there are inborn controls against incest (an opinion which would make Josh Duggar a kind of freak). Given the amount of actual incest even in Western countries (not to speak about Middle Eastern countries), I don't support this (prejudice) .

    The problem with citing anything regarding Muslim countries and incest is that while first-cousin marriage is common there, marriages are generally arranged, not because of romantic attraction. Even when you are not told you must marry a specific first cousin, there is the general social expectation you will marry one of your cousins.

    In addition, the hypothesized Westermark Effect suppresses sexual attraction to any individuals you have close proximity to in childhood, whether or not they are genetically related to you. You could easily be attracted to a first cousin who you only see a few times per year.

    Read More
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  48. @Karl Zimmerman
    Most people are idiots, and virtually everyone holds morally inconsistent views. I think particularly when it comes to what people say about morals (rather than what they actually do) the primary concern is "groupness" - distinguishing yourself as an upstanding member of your tribe, and contrasting your behavior with those other people, who are just ignorant/depraved/nasty. In contrast, private behavior is much more wrapped up in self-interest - although clearly elements of morality (like disgust) are deeply felt even if they don't happen in public view of others.

    Regarding sexual relations more generally, I hold to the argument that Razib has voiced himself - that modern western ideals towards sex - serial monogamy, relationships by mutual consent of the individuals, relative sexual equality, relatively few offspring - are in some ways a return to form, insofar as they closely resemble how sexual relations happen in hunter-gatherer societies with low levels of social stratification - with the notable exception of considerably older age of first childbirth. I absolutely don't see that modern society as a whole is particularly promiscuous - in recent years the number of sexual partners for teens has been falling, and we don't have good enough historical data from the past to determine what levels were "normal" in the longer run.

    I absolutely don’t see that modern society as a whole is particularly promiscuous – in recent years the number of sexual partners for teens has been falling

    Median or mean?

    Read More
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  49. @Razib Khan
    you are right. people who confuse colloquial understanding of hedonism with epicureanism are talking out of their ass.

    it’s hard for me to see the Enlightenment going forward the way it did without the influence of Epicurus.

    some people emphasize lucretius. same diff.

    people who confuse colloquial understanding of hedonism with epicureanism are talking out of their ass.

    But isn’t Epicureanism (and Benthamism) taken to its logical (but unintended) conclusion in the context of a highly stable, prosperous, and technological society with much disposable income and time for ordinary people the widespread adoption of hedonism?

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    But isn’t Epicureanism (and Benthamism) taken to its logical (but unintended) conclusion in the context of a highly stable, prosperous, and technological society with much disposable income and time for ordinary people the widespread adoption of hedonism?

    can you define what you mean by hedonism?
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  50. @Twinkie

    people who confuse colloquial understanding of hedonism with epicureanism are talking out of their ass.
     
    But isn't Epicureanism (and Benthamism) taken to its logical (but unintended) conclusion in the context of a highly stable, prosperous, and technological society with much disposable income and time for ordinary people the widespread adoption of hedonism?

    But isn’t Epicureanism (and Benthamism) taken to its logical (but unintended) conclusion in the context of a highly stable, prosperous, and technological society with much disposable income and time for ordinary people the widespread adoption of hedonism?

    can you define what you mean by hedonism?

    Read More
    • Replies: @Twinkie

    can you define what you mean by hedonism?
     
    The standard dictionary meaning of hedonism - maximization of pleasure/minimization of pain as the primary good in human life.
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  51. advancedatheist [AKA "RedneckCryonicist"] says:

    Along these lines, Aldous Huxley’s novel Brave New World just gets more astonishing with age as it anticipates trends in modernity:

    ART, SCIENCE–you seem to have paid a fairly high price for your happiness,” said the Savage, when they were alone. “Anything else?”

    “Well, religion, of course,” replied the Controller. “There used to be something called God–before the Nine Years’ War. But I was forgetting; you know all about God, I suppose.”

    “Well …” The Savage hesitated. He would have liked to say something about solitude, about night, about the mesa lying pale under the moon, about the precipice, the plunge into shadowy darkness, about death. He would have liked to speak; but there were no words. Not even in Shakespeare.

    The Controller, meanwhile, had crossed to the other side of the room and was unlocking a large safe set into the wall between the bookshelves. The heavy door swung open. Rummaging in the darkness within, “It’s a subject,” he said, “that has always had a great interest for me.” He pulled out a thick black volume. “You’ve never read this, for example.”

    The Savage took it. “The Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments,” he read aloud from the title-page.

    “Nor this.” It was a small book and had lost its cover.

    “The Imitation of Christ.”

    “Nor this.” He handed out another volume.

    “The Varieties of Religious Experience. By William James.”

    “And I’ve got plenty more,” Mustapha Mond continued, resuming his seat. “A whole collection of pornographic old books. God in the safe and Ford on the shelves.” He pointed with a laugh to his avowed library–to the shelves of books, the rack full of reading-machine bobbins and sound-track rolls.

    “But if you know about God, why don’t you tell them?” asked the Savage indignantly. “Why don’t you give them these books about God?”

    “For the same reason as we don’t give them Othello: they’re old; they’re about God hundreds of years ago. Not about God now.”

    “But God doesn’t change.”

    “Men do, though.”

    “What difference does that make?”

    “All the difference in the world,” said Mustapha Mond. He got up again and walked to the safe. “There was a man called Cardinal Newman,” he said. “A cardinal,” he exclaimed parenthetically, “was a kind of Arch-Community-Songster.”

    “‘I Pandulph, of fair Milan, cardinal.’ I’ve read about them in Shakespeare.”

    “Of course you have. Well, as I was saying, there was a man called Cardinal Newman. Ah, here’s the book.” He pulled it out. “And while I’m about it I’ll take this one too. It’s by a man called Maine de Biran. He was a philosopher, if you know what that was.”

    “A man who dreams of fewer things than there are in heaven and earth,” said the Savage promptly.

    “Quite so. I’ll read you one of the things he did dream of in a moment. Meanwhile, listen to what this old Arch-Community-Songster said.” He opened the book at the place marked by a slip of paper and began to read. “‘We are not our own any more than what we possess is our own. We did not make ourselves, we cannot be supreme over ourselves. We are not our own masters. We are God’s property. Is it not our happiness thus to view the matter? Is it any happiness or any comfort, to consider that we are our own? It may be thought so by the young and prosperous. These may think it a great thing to have everything, as they suppose, their own way–to depend on no one–to have to think of nothing out of sight, to be without the irksomeness of continual acknowledgment, continual prayer, continual reference of what they do to the will of another. But as time goes on, they, as all men, will find that independence was not made for man–that it is an unnatural state–will do for a while, but will not carry us on safely to the end …’” Mustapha Mond paused, put down the first book and, picking up the other, turned over the pages. “Take this, for example,” he said, and in his deep voice once more began to read: “‘A man grows old; he feels in himself that radical sense of weakness, of listlessness, of discomfort, which accompanies the advance of age; and, feeling thus, imagines himself merely sick, lulling his fears with the notion that this distressing condition is due to some particular cause, from which, as from an illness, he hopes to recover. Vain imaginings! That sickness is old age; and a horrible disease it is. They say that it is the fear of death and of what comes after death that makes men turn to religion as they advance in years. But my own experience has given me the conviction that, quite apart from any such terrors or imaginings, the religious sentiment tends to develop as we grow older; to develop because, as the passions grow calm, as the fancy and sensibilities are less excited and less excitable, our reason becomes less troubled in its working, less obscured by the images, desires and distractions, in which it used to be absorbed; whereupon God emerges as from behind a cloud; our soul feels, sees, turns towards the source of all light; turns naturally and inevitably; for now that all that gave to the world of sensations its life and charms has begun to leak away from us, now that phenomenal existence is no more bolstered up by impressions from within or from without, we feel the need to lean on something that abides, something that will never play us false–a reality, an absolute and everlasting truth. Yes, we inevitably turn to God; for this religious sentiment is of its nature so pure, so delightful to the soul that experiences it, that it makes up to us for all our other losses.’” Mustapha Mond shut the book and leaned back in his chair. “One of the numerous things in heaven and earth that these philosophers didn’t dream about was this” (he waved his hand), “us, the modern world. ‘You can only be independent of God while you’ve got youth and prosperity; independence won’t take you safely to the end.’ Well, we’ve now got youth and prosperity right up to the end. What follows? Evidently, that we can be independent of God. ‘The religious sentiment will compensate us for all our losses.’ But there aren’t any losses for us to compensate; religious sentiment is superfluous. And why should we go hunting for a substitute for youthful desires, when youthful desires never fail? A substitute for distractions, when we go on enjoying all the old fooleries to the very last? What need have we of repose when our minds and bodies continue to delight in activity? of consolation, when we have soma? of something immovable, when there is the social order?”

    “Then you think there is no God?”

    “No, I think there quite probably is one.”

    “Then why? …”

    Mustapha Mond checked him. “But he manifests himself in different ways to different men. In premodern times he manifested himself as the being that’s described in these books. Now …”

    “How does he manifest himself now?” asked the Savage.

    “Well, he manifests himself as an absence; as though he weren’t there at all.”

    “That’s your fault.”

    “Call it the fault of civilization. God isn’t compatible with machinery and scientific medicine and universal happiness. You must make your choice. Our civilization has chosen machinery and medicine and happiness. That’s why I have to keep these books locked up in the safe. They’re smut. People would be shocked it …”

    The Savage interrupted him. “But isn’t it natural to feel there’s a God?”

    “You might as well ask if it’s natural to do up one’s trousers with zippers,” said the Controller sarcastically. “You remind me of another of those old fellows called Bradley. He defined philosophy as the finding of bad reason for what one believes by instinct. As if one believed anything by instinct! One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them. Finding bad reasons for what one believes for other bad reasons–that’s philosophy. People believe in God because they’ve been conditioned to.

    “But all the same,” insisted the Savage, “it is natural to believe in God when you’re alone–quite alone, in the night, thinking about death …”

    “But people never are alone now,” said Mustapha Mond. “We make them hate solitude; and we arrange their lives so that it’s almost impossible for them ever to have it.”

    The Savage nodded gloomily. At Malpais he had suffered because they had shut him out from the communal activities of the pueblo, in civilized London he was suffering because he could never escape from those communal activities, never be quietly alone.

    “Do you remember that bit in King Lear?” said the Savage at last. “‘The gods are just and of our pleasant vices make instruments to plague us; the dark and vicious place where thee he got cost him his eyes,’ and Edmund answers–you remember, he’s wounded, he’s dying–’Thou hast spoken right; ’tis true. The wheel has come full circle; I am here.’ What about that now? Doesn’t there seem to be a God managing things, punishing, rewarding?”

    “Well, does there?” questioned the Controller in his turn. “You can indulge in any number of pleasant vices with a freemartin and run no risks of having your eyes put out by your son’s mistress. ‘The wheel has come full circle; I am here.’ But where would Edmund be nowadays? Sitting in a pneumatic chair, with his arm round a girl’s waist, sucking away at his sex-hormone chewing-gum and looking at the feelies. The gods are just. No doubt. But their code of law is dictated, in the last resort, by the people who organize society; Providence takes its cue from men.”

    “Are you sure?” asked the Savage. “Are you quite sure that the Edmund in that pneumatic chair hasn’t been just as heavily punished as the Edmund who’s wounded and bleeding to death? The gods are just. Haven’t they used his pleasant vices as an instrument to degrade him?”

    “Degrade him from what position? As a happy, hard-working, goods-consuming citizen he’s perfect. Of course, if you choose some other standard than ours, then perhaps you might say he was degraded. But you’ve got to stick to one set of postulates. You can’t play Electro-magnetic Golf according to the rules of Centrifugal Bumble-puppy.”

    “But value dwells not in particular will,” said the Savage. “It holds his estimate and dignity as well wherein ’tis precious of itself as in the prizer.”

    “Come, come,” protested Mustapha Mond, “that’s going rather far, isn’t it?”

    “If you allowed yourselves to think of God, you wouldn’t allow yourselves to be degraded by pleasant vices. You’d have a reason for bearing things patiently, for doing things with courage. I’ve seen it with the Indians.”

    “l’m sure you have,” said Mustapha Mond. “But then we aren’t Indians. There isn’t any need for a civilized man to bear anything that’s seriously unpleasant. And as for doing things–Ford forbid that he should get the idea into his head. It would upset the whole social order if men started doing things on their own.”

    “What about self-denial, then? If you had a God, you’d have a reason for self-denial.”

    “But industrial civilization is only possible when there’s no self-denial. Self-indulgence up to the very limits imposed by hygiene and economics. Otherwise the wheels stop turning.”

    “You’d have a reason for chastity!” said the Savage, blushing a little as he spoke the words.

    “But chastity means passion, chastity means neurasthenia. And passion and neurasthenia mean instability. And instability means the end of civilization. You can’t have a lasting civilization without plenty of pleasant vices.”

    “But God’s the reason for everything noble and fine and heroic. If you had a God …”

    “My dear young friend,” said Mustapha Mond, “civilization has absolutely no need of nobility or heroism. These things are symptoms of political inefficiency. In a properly organized society like ours, nobody has any opportunities for being noble or heroic. Conditions have got to be thoroughly unstable before the occasion can arise. Where there are wars, where there are divided allegiances, where there are temptations to be resisted, objects of love to be fought for or defended–there, obviously, nobility and heroism have some sense. But there aren’t any wars nowadays. The greatest care is taken to prevent you from loving any one too much. There’s no such thing as a divided allegiance; you’re so conditioned that you can’t help doing what you ought to do. And what you ought to do is on the whole so pleasant, so many of the natural impulses are allowed free play, that there really aren’t any temptations to resist. And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there’s always soma to give you a holiday from the facts. And there’s always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your morality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears–that’s what soma is.”

    “But the tears are necessary. Don’t you remember what Othello said? ‘If after every tempest came such calms, may the winds blow till they have wakened death.’ There’s a story one of the old Indians used to tell us, about the Girl of Mátaski. The young men who wanted to marry her had to do a morning’s hoeing in her garden. It seemed easy; but there were flies and mosquitoes, magic ones. Most of the young men simply couldn’t stand the biting and stinging. But the one that could–he got the girl.”

    “Charming! But in civilized countries,” said the Controller, “you can have girls without hoeing for them, and there aren’t any flies or mosquitoes to sting you. We got rid of them all centuries ago.”

    The Savage nodded, frowning. “You got rid of them. Yes, that’s just like you. Getting rid of everything unpleasant instead of learning to put up with it. Whether ’tis better in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them … But you don’t do either. Neither suffer nor oppose. You just abolish the slings and arrows. It’s too easy.”

    He was suddenly silent, thinking of his mother. In her room on the thirty-seventh floor, Linda had floated in a sea of singing lights and perfumed caresses–floated away, out of space, out of time, out of the prison of her memories, her habits, her aged and bloated body. And Tomakin, ex-Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning, Tomakin was still on holiday–on holiday from humiliation and pain, in a world where he could not hear those words, that derisive laughter, could not see that hideous face, feel those moist and flabby arms round his neck, in a beautiful world …

    “What you need,” the Savage went on, “is something with tears for a change. Nothing costs enough here.”

    (“Twelve and a half million dollars,” Henry Foster had protested when the Savage told him that. “Twelve and a half million–that’s what the new Conditioning Centre cost. Not a cent less.”)
    “Exposing what is mortal and unsure to all that fortune, death and danger dare, even for an eggshell. Isn’t there something in that?” he asked, looking up at Mustapha Mond. “Quite apart from God–though of course God would be a reason for it. Isn’t there something in living dangerously?”

    “There’s a great deal in it,” the Controller replied. “Men and women must have their adrenals stimulated from time to time.”

    “What?” questioned the Savage, uncomprehending.

    “It’s one of the conditions of perfect health. That’s why we’ve made the V.P.S. treatments compulsory.”

    “V.P.S.?”

    “Violent Passion Surrogate. Regularly once a month. We flood the whole system with adrenin. It’s the complete physiological equivalent of fear and rage. All the tonic effects of murdering Desdemona and being murdered by Othello, without any of the inconveniences.”

    “But I like the inconveniences.”

    “We don’t,” said the Controller. “We prefer to do things comfortably.”

    “But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”

    “In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”

    “All right then,” said the Savage defiantly, “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”

    “Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen to-morrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.” There was a long silence.

    “I claim them all,” said the Savage at last.

    Mustapha Mond shrugged his shoulders. “You’re welcome,” he said.

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    • Replies: @Biff
    Please don’t cut and paste novels...
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  52. @Stogumber
    Obviously big families create a lot more opportunity and incitement for incest. So it seems quite reasonable that traditional families like the Duggars are much more rigid in sexualibus than modern nuclear families.
    Mr. Khan seems to think that there are inborn controls against incest (an opinion which would make Josh Duggar a kind of freak). Given the amount of actual incest even in Western countries (not to speak about Middle Eastern countries), I don't support this (prejudice) .

    “Mr. Khan seems to think that there are inborn controls against incest (an opinion which would make Josh Duggar a kind of freak).”

    Except that Josh Duggar hasn’t even been accused of incest, SFAIK. He’s been accused of, while a horny young teenager, fondling his younger sisters. An awful thing surely, but a far cry from incest.

    There are inborn controls against incest. Very few people doink their close relatives, with or without laws to forbid it. Certainly a smaller percentage of the population than is gay.

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  53. […] and Future Orientation. Where public policy misses biology. Where Pinker got lost. Religion and morality (topologically related). The death of trust. America’s secessionist […]

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  54. The Achilles heel of science is that it trusts data.

    What if, across the board, certain crimes are simply not being reported or under-reported?

    What if criminals have adapted to discovery and found ways to hide the crimes?

    Our murder rate could easily double if we dug up and identified all the bodies in undeveloped land on the Texas-Louisiana corridor.

    Do people still even bother reporting rapes? Do rapists even bother seeking out people they don’t know anymore?

    Are police departments under pressure to misclassify crimes? (Hint: property values depend on, among other things, lower crime stats.)

    Or have criminals merely shifted to more profitable crime that almost never gets reported? I’d jack laptops instead of mugging people. The former requires sitting in Starbucks wearing sunglasses for ten minutes until someone leaves to pee, then swooping in and unplugging the laptop and fleeing.

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  55. […] the decline in religion in the US in recent decades corresponds with declines in crime. Razib Khan takes on those who mistakenly believe moral behavior originates in […]

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  56. @Razib Khan
    But isn’t Epicureanism (and Benthamism) taken to its logical (but unintended) conclusion in the context of a highly stable, prosperous, and technological society with much disposable income and time for ordinary people the widespread adoption of hedonism?

    can you define what you mean by hedonism?

    can you define what you mean by hedonism?

    The standard dictionary meaning of hedonism – maximization of pleasure/minimization of pain as the primary good in human life.

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  57. SFG says:

    Property crime’s gone up since 1960 and is only now going down:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_in_the_United_States#/media/File:Property_Crime_Rates_in_the_United_States.svg

    Here’s a link to the bit that aggravated assault rose since the 60s (peaking in the 90s–the paper is old), and didn’t turn into murder because medicine is better (it’s not murder if the victim survives):

    http://people.wku.edu/james.kanan/Murder%20and%20Medicine.pdf

    Looks like crime did rise in the 60s and is going down since the 90s. Maybe it was the lead paint?

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  58. @Ozymandias
    With the recent suicide of Paula Cooper, a see a lot of pleas for forgiveness from well meaning Christians in the article comments. One often cited reason is that "it could happen to any family." The grandson of Cooper's victim was even instrumental in obtaining her release.

    You won't get any argument from me about the delusional elements of the conservative right. However, the right only incorporates it into their religion; on the left, tabula rasa is their religion. It is the basis of their "equal opportunity must result in equal outcome" mythos. The rest of their propaganda diverges from this base, and they use it to manipulate, control, and reward or ostracize its members in whatever way best benefits the party - just like any other religion.

    on the left, tabula rasa is their religion.

    Except being born gay. That is from birth and can never change. And it’s illegal to try.

    So you are born with a blank slate except sexual preferences.

    Odd theology.

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  59. “The Westermarck effect, or reverse sexual imprinting, is a hypothetical psychological effect through which people who live in close domestic proximity during the first few years of their lives become desensitized to sexual attraction.”

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westermarck_effect

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  60. Muse says:
    @Karl Zimmerman
    I know Razib hates it when other people speak for him. So I'll just express the usual "hereditarian" explanation for why divorce leads to bad social outcomes, which has been discussed in the past.

    Basically, people vary in terms of their personalities in various traits, all of which seem to be approximately 50% genetic. At least some of these traits seem to track with martial health. For example, some studies have found that high neuroticism leads to less happy marriages, while high agreeableness leads to more happy marriages.

    Regardless, in the modern era people who have personality traits which tend to lead towards marital instability tend to get divorced. Their kids inherit predispositions to the same traits, which leads them to also be likely to get divorced (or have "comorbid" negative outcomes with marital instability). Historically, however, such people would have stuck in unhappy marriages, either being miserable or flagrantly cheating on their spouses.

    A good way to see if divorce actually hurts children, or of it's just the "divorce temperament" being inherited is to see how adoptive children from divorced households fare. There have been several studies of this sort, and the results have been mixed, some indicating only environmental effects, while others indicated a mixture of environmental and genetic effects. All of the studies I have seen have been somewhat flawed as well, as they do not track children into adulthood. We know that, when out of the home they were raised in, offspring seem to regress to the mean along many traits. Divorce may be a bad thing to live through as a child, but have limited effects by adulthood. It certainly deserves more study regardless.

    It would interesting to see the results of these studies to see the relationship between young children that live through a divorce and their life outcomes as adults.

    There is no doubt though that the traits of parents, notwithstanding marital status impact life outcomes of children.

    I jokingly tell my neighbor that I judge how well our neighbors’ households are functioning based on how quickly each household brings their trash can back from the curb after it is collected. Every house has an occaisional time when the trash can is left out for an extended time, but the married families I perceive as having problems leave the trash can at the curb for over 24 hours far more frequently than those households of married coulples that seem to have it together.

    The single divorcee with kids invariably leave the can out for an extended period of time, while the young widow with children manages to get her trash can off the curb promptly. I need a bigger sample size if I wanted to do more than amuse myself here! The widow, luckily has means and does not need to work, yet the divorcee does and this gets me to my final point.

    Perhaps outcomes for children are negatively impacts from divorce during childhood, but regardless most families with lesser means are impacted in a negative way economically when households break apart. No doubt this causes demands on supports provided by government, and thus as a taxpayer, it seems reducing divorce rates (or bad matches and their subsequent offspring) is in my interest. Religion may very well be the most effective institution for doing this.

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    Religion may very well be the most effective institution for doing this.
     
    Which religion?

    The root misunderstanding is conceiving of morality and ethics as a historical human invention, as opposed to formalizations of deep cognitive intuitions and social-cultural adaptations.

     

    Applying what Khan seems to be saying here is -- maybe the divorcee happens to be genetically less energetic; the widow is obsessive-compulsive; the married family is too busy having a good time, or being creative, or caring for their handicapped child/aged grandmother -----

    Maybe I'm not reading carefully enough --
    As I understand the use of the word "religion" in this article, it refers to those groups associated with the Hebrew scriptures and New Testament.

    In my view, that's a fundamental mistake. As the evangelical reflects, the Hebrew and New Testament traditions are only a small -- but crabbed -- subset of the world's religious myth systems, and one of its most mordant, due to its insistence on the impossible combination of monotheism and choosiness.

    Machiavelli maintained that the good republic required religion; even more did the good army require religion, and he linked good armies with good laws.

    But the religion that Machiavelli -- more specifically, Machiavelli's Livy -- was referring to was not the religions based on Hebrew scriptures and New Testament. In fact, the specific reference is ambiguous -- Machiavelli was advocating reverence for the Roman gods most likely.

    The essential point for Machiavelli/Livy was the cohesive force of a shared mythos. In that sense, it may be the case that the Iranian people come closest to being a diverse group most successfully united around a shared mythos, that of the Shahnameh.

    The Greek and Roman myths, as well as the Shahnameh and other Persian poetry, as well as the Nordic, and Chinese mythologies, are the glue that hold these respective cultures together. They are those culture's religion.

    What is, in my view, pernicious about the Hebrew and New Testament mythos is the insistence on ONE god, and that god being superior. The Hebrew god myth gets even more confusing because the myths incorporate several gods who evolve, but nevertheless confer upon themselves the right to destroy the gods of others; and also, because the Hebrew mythos insists on one god ruling over all peoples but with special regard carved out for a sub-group of "all people."

    ps The Greek and other myths all have their nasty bits, but I don't think anyone celebrates the eating of Pelops.

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  61. @marcel proust
    Without God all things are not possible...

    Well, some religious people may believe this, but I think what RK* intends to convey is that Without God not all things are possible... . This has been another edition of Marcel's pedantry, brought to you for his (if not your) amusement and entertainment.

    *Do you ever feel that as you age, you are becoming more and more RKaic? If not yet, I suspect that it is only because your children are not yet old enough.

    One of my pet peeves as well.

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  62. Biff says:
    @Thrasymachus
    Evangelical Christianity is not particularly "conservative", depending on how you define that, but near-universalist. Most liberal things, social reform from abolition to women's rights to civil rights and criminal justice reform all originate in evangelical Christianity, especially Methodism. Atheist liberals recoil at the idea, but it is the case.

    A peaceful society doesn't depend on Christianity, but on a strong government that swiftly and harshly punishes wrongdoing. For this reason Paul approved Roman government and ordered Christians to obey it. Secularization over the last three decades has been accompanied by big increases in imprisonment, which is the key to reducing crime.

    “big increases in imprisonment, which is the key to reducing crime.”

    Couldn’t be more wrong. Many societies handle crime differently, and low crime rates do NOT equal large prison populations. In fact here in America where everything is illegal(check the book Three felonies a day) the stats are augmented by the large litany of laws on the books which produces the desired outcome of large prison populations housed in for-profit private prisons.

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  63. @advancedatheist
    Along these lines, Aldous Huxley's novel Brave New World just gets more astonishing with age as it anticipates trends in modernity:

    ART, SCIENCE–you seem to have paid a fairly high price for your happiness," said the Savage, when they were alone. "Anything else?"

    "Well, religion, of course," replied the Controller. "There used to be something called God–before the Nine Years' War. But I was forgetting; you know all about God, I suppose."

    "Well …" The Savage hesitated. He would have liked to say something about solitude, about night, about the mesa lying pale under the moon, about the precipice, the plunge into shadowy darkness, about death. He would have liked to speak; but there were no words. Not even in Shakespeare.

    The Controller, meanwhile, had crossed to the other side of the room and was unlocking a large safe set into the wall between the bookshelves. The heavy door swung open. Rummaging in the darkness within, "It's a subject," he said, "that has always had a great interest for me." He pulled out a thick black volume. "You've never read this, for example."

    The Savage took it. "The Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments," he read aloud from the title-page.

    "Nor this." It was a small book and had lost its cover.

    "The Imitation of Christ."

    "Nor this." He handed out another volume.

    "The Varieties of Religious Experience. By William James."

    "And I've got plenty more," Mustapha Mond continued, resuming his seat. "A whole collection of pornographic old books. God in the safe and Ford on the shelves." He pointed with a laugh to his avowed library–to the shelves of books, the rack full of reading-machine bobbins and sound-track rolls.

    "But if you know about God, why don't you tell them?" asked the Savage indignantly. "Why don't you give them these books about God?"

    "For the same reason as we don't give them Othello: they're old; they're about God hundreds of years ago. Not about God now."

    "But God doesn't change."

    "Men do, though."

    "What difference does that make?"

    "All the difference in the world," said Mustapha Mond. He got up again and walked to the safe. "There was a man called Cardinal Newman," he said. "A cardinal," he exclaimed parenthetically, "was a kind of Arch-Community-Songster."

    "'I Pandulph, of fair Milan, cardinal.' I've read about them in Shakespeare."

    "Of course you have. Well, as I was saying, there was a man called Cardinal Newman. Ah, here's the book." He pulled it out. "And while I'm about it I'll take this one too. It's by a man called Maine de Biran. He was a philosopher, if you know what that was."

    "A man who dreams of fewer things than there are in heaven and earth," said the Savage promptly.

    "Quite so. I'll read you one of the things he did dream of in a moment. Meanwhile, listen to what this old Arch-Community-Songster said." He opened the book at the place marked by a slip of paper and began to read. "'We are not our own any more than what we possess is our own. We did not make ourselves, we cannot be supreme over ourselves. We are not our own masters. We are God's property. Is it not our happiness thus to view the matter? Is it any happiness or any comfort, to consider that we are our own? It may be thought so by the young and prosperous. These may think it a great thing to have everything, as they suppose, their own way–to depend on no one–to have to think of nothing out of sight, to be without the irksomeness of continual acknowledgment, continual prayer, continual reference of what they do to the will of another. But as time goes on, they, as all men, will find that independence was not made for man–that it is an unnatural state–will do for a while, but will not carry us on safely to the end …'" Mustapha Mond paused, put down the first book and, picking up the other, turned over the pages. "Take this, for example," he said, and in his deep voice once more began to read: "'A man grows old; he feels in himself that radical sense of weakness, of listlessness, of discomfort, which accompanies the advance of age; and, feeling thus, imagines himself merely sick, lulling his fears with the notion that this distressing condition is due to some particular cause, from which, as from an illness, he hopes to recover. Vain imaginings! That sickness is old age; and a horrible disease it is. They say that it is the fear of death and of what comes after death that makes men turn to religion as they advance in years. But my own experience has given me the conviction that, quite apart from any such terrors or imaginings, the religious sentiment tends to develop as we grow older; to develop because, as the passions grow calm, as the fancy and sensibilities are less excited and less excitable, our reason becomes less troubled in its working, less obscured by the images, desires and distractions, in which it used to be absorbed; whereupon God emerges as from behind a cloud; our soul feels, sees, turns towards the source of all light; turns naturally and inevitably; for now that all that gave to the world of sensations its life and charms has begun to leak away from us, now that phenomenal existence is no more bolstered up by impressions from within or from without, we feel the need to lean on something that abides, something that will never play us false–a reality, an absolute and everlasting truth. Yes, we inevitably turn to God; for this religious sentiment is of its nature so pure, so delightful to the soul that experiences it, that it makes up to us for all our other losses.'" Mustapha Mond shut the book and leaned back in his chair. "One of the numerous things in heaven and earth that these philosophers didn't dream about was this" (he waved his hand), "us, the modern world. 'You can only be independent of God while you've got youth and prosperity; independence won't take you safely to the end.' Well, we've now got youth and prosperity right up to the end. What follows? Evidently, that we can be independent of God. 'The religious sentiment will compensate us for all our losses.' But there aren't any losses for us to compensate; religious sentiment is superfluous. And why should we go hunting for a substitute for youthful desires, when youthful desires never fail? A substitute for distractions, when we go on enjoying all the old fooleries to the very last? What need have we of repose when our minds and bodies continue to delight in activity? of consolation, when we have soma? of something immovable, when there is the social order?"

    "Then you think there is no God?"

    "No, I think there quite probably is one."

    "Then why? …"

    Mustapha Mond checked him. "But he manifests himself in different ways to different men. In premodern times he manifested himself as the being that's described in these books. Now …"

    "How does he manifest himself now?" asked the Savage.

    "Well, he manifests himself as an absence; as though he weren't there at all."

    "That's your fault."

    "Call it the fault of civilization. God isn't compatible with machinery and scientific medicine and universal happiness. You must make your choice. Our civilization has chosen machinery and medicine and happiness. That's why I have to keep these books locked up in the safe. They're smut. People would be shocked it …"

    The Savage interrupted him. "But isn't it natural to feel there's a God?"

    "You might as well ask if it's natural to do up one's trousers with zippers," said the Controller sarcastically. "You remind me of another of those old fellows called Bradley. He defined philosophy as the finding of bad reason for what one believes by instinct. As if one believed anything by instinct! One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them. Finding bad reasons for what one believes for other bad reasons–that's philosophy. People believe in God because they've been conditioned to.

    "But all the same," insisted the Savage, "it is natural to believe in God when you're alone–quite alone, in the night, thinking about death …"

    "But people never are alone now," said Mustapha Mond. "We make them hate solitude; and we arrange their lives so that it's almost impossible for them ever to have it."

    The Savage nodded gloomily. At Malpais he had suffered because they had shut him out from the communal activities of the pueblo, in civilized London he was suffering because he could never escape from those communal activities, never be quietly alone.

    "Do you remember that bit in King Lear?" said the Savage at last. "'The gods are just and of our pleasant vices make instruments to plague us; the dark and vicious place where thee he got cost him his eyes,' and Edmund answers–you remember, he's wounded, he's dying–'Thou hast spoken right; 'tis true. The wheel has come full circle; I am here.' What about that now? Doesn't there seem to be a God managing things, punishing, rewarding?"

    "Well, does there?" questioned the Controller in his turn. "You can indulge in any number of pleasant vices with a freemartin and run no risks of having your eyes put out by your son's mistress. 'The wheel has come full circle; I am here.' But where would Edmund be nowadays? Sitting in a pneumatic chair, with his arm round a girl's waist, sucking away at his sex-hormone chewing-gum and looking at the feelies. The gods are just. No doubt. But their code of law is dictated, in the last resort, by the people who organize society; Providence takes its cue from men."

    "Are you sure?" asked the Savage. "Are you quite sure that the Edmund in that pneumatic chair hasn't been just as heavily punished as the Edmund who's wounded and bleeding to death? The gods are just. Haven't they used his pleasant vices as an instrument to degrade him?"

    "Degrade him from what position? As a happy, hard-working, goods-consuming citizen he's perfect. Of course, if you choose some other standard than ours, then perhaps you might say he was degraded. But you've got to stick to one set of postulates. You can't play Electro-magnetic Golf according to the rules of Centrifugal Bumble-puppy."

    "But value dwells not in particular will," said the Savage. "It holds his estimate and dignity as well wherein 'tis precious of itself as in the prizer."

    "Come, come," protested Mustapha Mond, "that's going rather far, isn't it?"

    "If you allowed yourselves to think of God, you wouldn't allow yourselves to be degraded by pleasant vices. You'd have a reason for bearing things patiently, for doing things with courage. I've seen it with the Indians."

    "l'm sure you have," said Mustapha Mond. "But then we aren't Indians. There isn't any need for a civilized man to bear anything that's seriously unpleasant. And as for doing things–Ford forbid that he should get the idea into his head. It would upset the whole social order if men started doing things on their own."

    "What about self-denial, then? If you had a God, you'd have a reason for self-denial."

    "But industrial civilization is only possible when there's no self-denial. Self-indulgence up to the very limits imposed by hygiene and economics. Otherwise the wheels stop turning."

    "You'd have a reason for chastity!" said the Savage, blushing a little as he spoke the words.

    "But chastity means passion, chastity means neurasthenia. And passion and neurasthenia mean instability. And instability means the end of civilization. You can't have a lasting civilization without plenty of pleasant vices."

    "But God's the reason for everything noble and fine and heroic. If you had a God …"

    "My dear young friend," said Mustapha Mond, "civilization has absolutely no need of nobility or heroism. These things are symptoms of political inefficiency. In a properly organized society like ours, nobody has any opportunities for being noble or heroic. Conditions have got to be thoroughly unstable before the occasion can arise. Where there are wars, where there are divided allegiances, where there are temptations to be resisted, objects of love to be fought for or defended–there, obviously, nobility and heroism have some sense. But there aren't any wars nowadays. The greatest care is taken to prevent you from loving any one too much. There's no such thing as a divided allegiance; you're so conditioned that you can't help doing what you ought to do. And what you ought to do is on the whole so pleasant, so many of the natural impulses are allowed free play, that there really aren't any temptations to resist. And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there's always soma to give you a holiday from the facts. And there's always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your morality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears–that's what soma is."

    "But the tears are necessary. Don't you remember what Othello said? 'If after every tempest came such calms, may the winds blow till they have wakened death.' There's a story one of the old Indians used to tell us, about the Girl of Mátaski. The young men who wanted to marry her had to do a morning's hoeing in her garden. It seemed easy; but there were flies and mosquitoes, magic ones. Most of the young men simply couldn't stand the biting and stinging. But the one that could–he got the girl."

    "Charming! But in civilized countries," said the Controller, "you can have girls without hoeing for them, and there aren't any flies or mosquitoes to sting you. We got rid of them all centuries ago."

    The Savage nodded, frowning. "You got rid of them. Yes, that's just like you. Getting rid of everything unpleasant instead of learning to put up with it. Whether 'tis better in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them … But you don't do either. Neither suffer nor oppose. You just abolish the slings and arrows. It's too easy."

    He was suddenly silent, thinking of his mother. In her room on the thirty-seventh floor, Linda had floated in a sea of singing lights and perfumed caresses–floated away, out of space, out of time, out of the prison of her memories, her habits, her aged and bloated body. And Tomakin, ex-Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning, Tomakin was still on holiday–on holiday from humiliation and pain, in a world where he could not hear those words, that derisive laughter, could not see that hideous face, feel those moist and flabby arms round his neck, in a beautiful world …

    "What you need," the Savage went on, "is something with tears for a change. Nothing costs enough here."

    ("Twelve and a half million dollars," Henry Foster had protested when the Savage told him that. "Twelve and a half million–that's what the new Conditioning Centre cost. Not a cent less.")
    "Exposing what is mortal and unsure to all that fortune, death and danger dare, even for an eggshell. Isn't there something in that?" he asked, looking up at Mustapha Mond. "Quite apart from God–though of course God would be a reason for it. Isn't there something in living dangerously?"

    "There's a great deal in it," the Controller replied. "Men and women must have their adrenals stimulated from time to time."

    "What?" questioned the Savage, uncomprehending.

    "It's one of the conditions of perfect health. That's why we've made the V.P.S. treatments compulsory."

    "V.P.S.?"

    "Violent Passion Surrogate. Regularly once a month. We flood the whole system with adrenin. It's the complete physiological equivalent of fear and rage. All the tonic effects of murdering Desdemona and being murdered by Othello, without any of the inconveniences."

    "But I like the inconveniences."

    "We don't," said the Controller. "We prefer to do things comfortably."

    "But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin."

    "In fact," said Mustapha Mond, "you're claiming the right to be unhappy."

    "All right then," said the Savage defiantly, "I'm claiming the right to be unhappy."

    "Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen to-morrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind." There was a long silence.

    "I claim them all," said the Savage at last.

    Mustapha Mond shrugged his shoulders. "You're welcome," he said.

     

    Please don’t cut and paste novels…

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  64. @Razib Khan
    you are right. people who confuse colloquial understanding of hedonism with epicureanism are talking out of their ass.

    it’s hard for me to see the Enlightenment going forward the way it did without the influence of Epicurus.

    some people emphasize lucretius. same diff.

    Your mention of Lucretius makes me think you have read Stephen Greenblatt’s “Swerve” based on temporarily-out-of-a-job Apostolic Secretary Poggio Bracciolini’s discovery and copying of a manuscript of “De Rerum Natura” in some German monastery. If you haven’t you should. It’s the best read for me in the last two years at least. And it made an interesting point about the excessively admired fervently religious and highly intelligent fanatic Thomas More. In his religiously tolerant social democratic, perhaps socialist, Utopia he insisted on the death penalty for those who refused to acknowledge God and the afterlife even though the society was almost Epicurean. He was quite clear that it wouldn’t if the strong weren’t restrained from using their advantages over others by fear of hell.

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  65. The Religious Right’s Blank Slate Fallacy seems evident also in geographical statistics of the very social ills religions claim to ameliorate. Maps I recall seeing show higher incidences of various crimes, sloth, and social problems in parts of the United States where religion has a higher profile.

    Furthering the nature side of the argument, these geographical distributions also coincide with “interesting” racial demographics. This leads to the question, “if religion is so good at controlling one’s nature, how come the nature of particular demographic groups seems uncontrolled in regions where religion reigns supreme?”

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  66. @Muse
    It would interesting to see the results of these studies to see the relationship between young children that live through a divorce and their life outcomes as adults.

    There is no doubt though that the traits of parents, notwithstanding marital status impact life outcomes of children.

    I jokingly tell my neighbor that I judge how well our neighbors' households are functioning based on how quickly each household brings their trash can back from the curb after it is collected. Every house has an occaisional time when the trash can is left out for an extended time, but the married families I perceive as having problems leave the trash can at the curb for over 24 hours far more frequently than those households of married coulples that seem to have it together.

    The single divorcee with kids invariably leave the can out for an extended period of time, while the young widow with children manages to get her trash can off the curb promptly. I need a bigger sample size if I wanted to do more than amuse myself here! The widow, luckily has means and does not need to work, yet the divorcee does and this gets me to my final point.

    Perhaps outcomes for children are negatively impacts from divorce during childhood, but regardless most families with lesser means are impacted in a negative way economically when households break apart. No doubt this causes demands on supports provided by government, and thus as a taxpayer, it seems reducing divorce rates (or bad matches and their subsequent offspring) is in my interest. Religion may very well be the most effective institution for doing this.

    Religion may very well be the most effective institution for doing this.

    Which religion?

    The root misunderstanding is conceiving of morality and ethics as a historical human invention, as opposed to formalizations of deep cognitive intuitions and social-cultural adaptations.

    Applying what Khan seems to be saying here is — maybe the divorcee happens to be genetically less energetic; the widow is obsessive-compulsive; the married family is too busy having a good time, or being creative, or caring for their handicapped child/aged grandmother —–

    Maybe I’m not reading carefully enough —
    As I understand the use of the word “religion” in this article, it refers to those groups associated with the Hebrew scriptures and New Testament.

    In my view, that’s a fundamental mistake. As the evangelical reflects, the Hebrew and New Testament traditions are only a small — but crabbed — subset of the world’s religious myth systems, and one of its most mordant, due to its insistence on the impossible combination of monotheism and choosiness.

    Machiavelli maintained that the good republic required religion; even more did the good army require religion, and he linked good armies with good laws.

    But the religion that Machiavelli — more specifically, Machiavelli’s Livy — was referring to was not the religions based on Hebrew scriptures and New Testament. In fact, the specific reference is ambiguous — Machiavelli was advocating reverence for the Roman gods most likely.

    The essential point for Machiavelli/Livy was the cohesive force of a shared mythos. In that sense, it may be the case that the Iranian people come closest to being a diverse group most successfully united around a shared mythos, that of the Shahnameh.

    The Greek and Roman myths, as well as the Shahnameh and other Persian poetry, as well as the Nordic, and Chinese mythologies, are the glue that hold these respective cultures together. They are those culture’s religion.

    What is, in my view, pernicious about the Hebrew and New Testament mythos is the insistence on ONE god, and that god being superior. The Hebrew god myth gets even more confusing because the myths incorporate several gods who evolve, but nevertheless confer upon themselves the right to destroy the gods of others; and also, because the Hebrew mythos insists on one god ruling over all peoples but with special regard carved out for a sub-group of “all people.”

    ps The Greek and other myths all have their nasty bits, but I don’t think anyone celebrates the eating of Pelops.

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  67. @Pseudonymic Handle
    Some of the most irreligious countries like Japan and those in Northern Europe also have the lowest crime rates in the world, others irreligious countries like the Czech Republic and China have lower crime rates than you would expect given their level of economic development.

    Nevertheless I believe that religion can make a difference in subcultures where people habitually engage in crime. I would be curious to see an analysis of the crime rates of evangelical gypsies in Europe compared to the crime rates of general gypsy population. For a gypsy group arrest was a coming-of-age ritual for males, nobody was called a man unless it has been to prison. In situations like this changing beliefs may change behaviour.

    It would be an interesting experiment.

    I will say that few prison inmates claim to be atheist.

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  68. @German_reader
    Using the ancient pre-Christian world as a negative foil seems to be pretty standard among Christians...there's this whole argument that Christianity produced a profound revolution in morals in every sphere, causing the decline of slavery and of practices like exposing unwanted children; and that Christianity with its "man in the image of God" and "everyone equal before God" theology is at the root of everything seen as desirable by most Westerners today...individualism, democracy, human rights...and that view is not just found among Christians who might be exspected to be biased but also among secular leftists and liberals.
    I'm unconvinced by this interpretation (seems too neat somehow, such grand explanations based on the alleged power of ideas seem dubious to me). What are your views on this, is Christianity really that special or would history have taken much the same course if Mithraism or some other oriental cult had become the Roman empire's favoured religion in the 4th century?

    I believe that Christianity was a major, although not the sole, contributor to the development of Western Civilization. Ideas like, if we’re all equal before God, the rich & the poor and the weak & the powerful alike, then shouldn’t we all be equal before the law and have an equal say in how our government works?

    Other ideas flowed from Christianity. Isaiah 33:22 says, “The Lord is our Judge (judiciary), The Lord is our Lawgiver (legislative body), The Lord is our King (chief executive); He will save us.” NKJV

    Leviticus 27:30 discusses tithing. Flat-tax, anyone?

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  69. I second Londoner. It’s too early to assess the influence of irreligion in crime. I think we will have some good data about 100 years from now. Social changes are very slow and we have to take into account other factors, such as more police in the streets, rate of use of contraceptives among the classes that are more prone to produce criminals, immigration, genetic factors and so on and so forth.

    But I wanted to share a personal story. It’s not statistically significant and you can say that it means nothing and you may be right.

    When I was a kid, my country was officially Catholic. The door of my parents’ house was completely open, without key. Everybody who wanted to get in could get in. Kids went to school by walking and played on the street for hours unattended, as they had always done.

    Today my country is one of the most socially progressive in the world. Now my parents’ house has a reinforced door and an alarm that connects to the Police. Kids are taken to the school by parents and they are not allowed to play on the street. The population is almost the same but the crime rate has greatly increased.

    They say we have freedom and democracy. In reality, decisions are made by the powers that be and we are allowed to choose between political parties that agree about everything important and disagree about some minor issues.

    But I really miss the open door.

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  70. “It would interesting to see the results of these studies to see the relationship between young children that live through a divorce and their life outcomes as adults.”

    Do you mean this?

    http://www.photius.com/feminocracy/facts_on_fatherless_kids.html

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  71. @Balaji
    I agree with you about moral and ethical standards.

    God(s) are not always necessary for religion, More essential are prophets, saints, holy books and creed. By this standard, Soviet and Maoist Communisms were religions. In today's world, the Cult of Social Justice is gaining strength. Probably a good number of the 20.7% of the people in 2014 who professed no religion are acolytes of Social Justice. They may zealously battle in the media, new and old, against those who are blasphemers, apostates and heretics against the orthodox views of Social Justice.

    I am in the 20.7% yet I am against social justice. For example, I favor cutting off all welfare to illegitimate children. Being non-religious does not necessarily equal being liberal. On some issues I would guess I am more conservative than the vast majority of the Christian right.

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  72. There is a much stronger correlation between crime and ethnicity than there is between religious believers and non-believers within the same ethnicity. Think about it. Portland-Vancouver area, where I live, is full of liberal people, the vast majority of whom would probably describe themselves as non-Christian. Yet, I can go downtown at night and generally feel safe.

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  73. @Twinkie
    When I read the quote from Duggar's father-in-law, the first thing that came to my mind was the so-called secret sin theory of politics. I think I read it on Eugene Volokh's blog some years ago.

    It goes something like this: people tend to look into their own minds, think of their own "secret sins" and project them onto the public at large and construct laws/political ideology accordingly. So religious conservatives are people who think that without the law, it's going to be Sodom and Gomorrah, because *they* have such impulses. "Liberals" think that without the law, those with money will victimize the poor, whites blacks, etc. because *they* are secretly heartless and racist. Libertarians are supposed to be those who are internally power mad, so they generalize that onto others and want to reduce the power of the government. So apparently the conclusion of the "theory" was that we should listen to libertarians, but never elect them into office.

    With that bit of humor out of the way, I have a more serious methodological question, Mr. Khan. In the post, you seem to equate lack of criminality (murder and rape) with morality/ethics or at least use the former as a proxy for the latter. But given that there is strong physical and material sanction against such crimes, wouldn't a better measure for morality be about something that has little or nothing to do with state-imposed punishment? Such as charity (% of disposable income given to charity or perhaps % of free time spent on charitable works) or, on the negative side, perhaps other measures of moral, but non-criminal, transgressions such as rate of adultery or even number of average sexual partners? How do those stack up in context of declining general religiosity?

    Broadly, I agree with Peter Turchin that the origin of modern organized religions has its ultimate roots in the social and institutional needs of pan-ethnic imperial systems during the Axial Age.
     
    As a devout Roman Catholic, I have no problem whatsoever with agreeing to this statement. It strikes me as factual. But, regarding this:

    Many evangelical Protestants in particular envisage the world before the revelation of God to Abraham, but sometime after the Fall, as a Hobbesian one of “all-against-all.” This is not limited to evangelical Christians. Many Muslims also conceive of the pre-Islamic jahiliyya in Arabia as one of pagan darkness and debauchery. The root misunderstanding is conceiving of morality and ethics as a historical human invention, as opposed to formalizations of deep cognitive intuitions and social-cultural adaptations.
     
    Would you not see ancient/animist religions (or religious impulses), as opposed to "modern monotheistic religions," as also early "formalization of deep cognitive intuition and social-cultural adaptations"? In other words, instead of playing the game of chicken or egg first, is it not possible, perhaps even likely, that moral and religious impulses co-evolved?

    “Secret sin” is a confusing and needless concept. What you’re describing is called “projection,” one of the best known and most easily understood of psychological buzzwords. It doesn’t work according to ideology. Even if there’s a conservative personality type, a libertarian personality type, and so on, which I don’t whatsoever believe (there certainly are types, and some ageless types may coincide with this or that currently popular ideology, but the idea that the pack of beliefs randomly clustered together to make up today’s liberal match up with a cluster of secret desires that people we call “liberals” happen to possess I find ridiculous), they don’t derive from the secret desires we attribute to others.

    That’s far too rational, for one thing. For another, just about everyone has entertained just about everything a person can be or do inside their heads. We each contain multitudes of sin within. There’s no reason to believe, either, that we project unto others only our most revisited “secret sins.” I don’t think any could say for sure which of their secret sins they sin the most. That’d be entirely too self-aware.

    No, most likely they hit on the ideology first, or at least lean a certain way first, then come up with what sorts of sins predominate. But that doesn’t account for people who switch sides. Is ideology swapping preceded by discovery of new secret sin, or better information about the sort that was always there? I highly doubt it.

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    I brought up the "secret sin theory of politics" as humor, not serious theory of politics. My original quote:

    So apparently the conclusion of the “theory” was that we should listen to libertarians, but never elect them into office.

    With that bit of humor out of the way...
     
    My more serious point in that post was that rates of serious crimes - which are harshly punishable - is probably not a good proxy measure of morality/ethics/virtue, the true essence of which requires free will (doing good in absence of reward or punishment).

    So declining crime rates may simply reflect changing demographics, effectiveness of law enforcement, increased punishment, increased prosperity, etc. more than improving morality per se.
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  74. “…It is a mercy of God that he restrains the evil of mankind otherwise we would have destroyed ourselves long ago. Many times it is simply lack of opportunity or fear of consequences that keep us from falling into grievous sin even though our fallen hearts would love to indulge the flesh. We should not be shocked that this occurred in the Duggar’s home, we should rather be thankful to God if we have been spared such, and pray that he would keep us and our children from falling.”

    This attitude is entirely unsurprising to me, I’ve heard it many times from evangelical Christians. The theory is that without religion, and particularly their religion, they would be “a rapin’ and murderin’”. Why? Because that’s what people do without God.

    Razib Khan, evangelicals do, of course, like to think that their religion can have a positive influence, but they also know that without their religion, people can live moral and admirable lives. This is not arcane thinking for the evangelical on the street. They see it with their own eyes every day and they hear it from their preachers all the time. They also know that that low-crime places like Japan exist and that there aren’t a whole lot of Christians over there.

    Yes, Evangelicals often do say that the world would descend into moral anarchy without divine intervention, but they believe that this divine intervention comes in spite of, not because of, the feeble and self-defeating efforts of religious people and their institutions.

    Evangelicals do not believe that their religion can spare them from their impulses, normal or abnormal. I’m deeply embedded in evangelical culture and I can tell you that in evangelical country “religion will not save you” is a constant refrain. In the post you quoted, the author quotes scripture that nearly every evangelical Christian has heard countless times: ‘…all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags…” This phrase underscores the evangelical belief in the stark limitations of religion and the importance of getting off one’s high horse when a brother has fallen.

    So evangelicals know that despite the best efforts of their preferred variety of religion, “rapin’ and murderin’” are sometimes going to be part of the equation for some people. That was, in fact, a major point of the post you linked. They also understand well the fact that rapin’ and murderin’ (and sister touchin’) are not everyone’s cup of tea, but they believe that everyone has some important moral weakness to contend with.

    Far from believing in a blank slate, evangelicals believe that the writing on the slate predisposes people from birth to a variety of moral failures which can be ameliorated — but never eliminated — by various influences.

    You obviously part ways with evangelical Christians on all questions supernatural, but perhaps their beliefs are not as foreign to your way of thinking as you assume.

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  75. HA says:

    “Believe it or not, I have never believed in God, nor have I raped and murdered (or molested). Nor do I think that raping and murdering would be enjoyable.”

    That’s a little like the “David Hume was the kindest, sweetest man I ever knew” argument. That may well be as true as the lack of any rapes and murders on your rap sheet. But both you and he were raised in a culture, however otherwise flawed, that valued morality and doing the right thing even when no one was looking, and that has had its influence. Would you or Hume have been as civil in a culture where morality is regarded as a human construct, and where all that really matters – to the extent anything matters at all – is what you are clever enough to get away with? (Not that there isn’t a good deal of that in Christian/Muslim cultures as it is.)

    In societies that are absent of any such sense that God is watching, there are not necessarily that many more rapes and murders – especially not when Big Brother and his CSI army are around to make sure that perpetrators will be caught, and that is enough to keep all but the most foolhardy from engaging in such acts – but there may well be a more relaxed attitude about cheating your way to the top that becomes corrosive (in comparison to societies where, cetera paribus, that kind of cynicism is less prevalent).

    These little differences may well matter, even if it takes a long while for them to be manifested. After all, it took roughly a millennium for newly Christianized barbarians to surpass the Muslim world (which had started off on third base, given their conquest of the accrued wealth of many civilizations, as opposed to the cultural wasteland that existed in Europe once those barbarians overran Rome.)

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  76. I’m sure that morality (or lack thereof) is mostly a product of conformity, whether religious or secular.

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  77. Perhaps religious people should say what stops them raping etc etc. Is their fear of god and not assume the non religious are similarly tempted by such fantasies. Not of course that history shows that the fear of god has ever been an effective mechanism for such a theory.

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    ”Perhaps religious people should say what stops them raping etc etc. Is their fear of god…”

    I’m not sure how religious anyone regards me, but I’ll take a stab at this. The Christian tradition, to take one example, is fairly vague on the mechanisms of morality. “The fear of the Lord, is the beginning of wisdom”, is a famous Biblical passage and suggests that fear of punishment is indeed a primary initial motivator to behave. However, it does not need to work in the simplistic individualistic manner you seem to be suggesting. It can also occur gradually, and on a societal level where norms and morality collectively relax and decay. The early parts of the Bible attempt to correlate Irael's violation of God's commandments with an eventual descent into societal dysfunction (and worse yet, military defeat), but they don’t specify exactly how that comes about, which is just as well, because later parts of the Bible admit that the classic image of a God who promptly rewards the good and punishes the wicked is hard to square with reality.

    Moreover, if fear is the beginning of wisdom, it is certainly not the end. To be sure, if that’s what it takes for you to be good, the Christians will accept that, but there are higher levels of morality to which they are to aspire - Saint Paul refers to those levels (I'm extrapolating here) as being the “solid foods” in comparison with the milk one receives as an infant. With regard to morality, a famous old Christian prayer says that we love God (and therefore avoid sin) not because we hope for heaven as reward, or fear hell as punishment, but simply because it should be our desire to imitate Christ. Period. That, arguably, is the highest level. Even if you never get that far, that should at least be the eventual goal.

    If you find that too mushy and mystifying, join the club; many religious people would agree with you, I suspect. Just spare us the smugness of thinking you’re the first to feel that way, or that you’re going to be able to spring the ephemerality of that argument on those stupid Christians as some kind of gotcha - as if many of them hadn’t already spent a good deal of time grappling with it themselves.

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  78. The Japanese are a poor ‘polarity’ to the Christian ethos since their ‘atheism’ is a default descriptor by outsiders – not an intellectual/philosophic position.

    Culturally, their moral sense is one of honour, derived from shinto – so-called ‘ancestor worship’. Bringing shame to the family name acts as brake on atavisms that lead to violence and social disruption.

    The Christian belief in emulating ‘what Jesus would do’ is essentially a form of displaced ancestor worship. The sacrifice of the Roman Catholic Mass is a ritualized form in which the faithful are reminded of the Scapegoat on the Cross. Without the concept of forgiveness, humans would still use vengeance as the primary tool of conflict, so leading to it’s inter-generational perpetuation.

    The Zionist cult which includes both those raised as Jews and Christians is but the latest in a long line of ‘end-times’ millennialism: it offers a snake-oil ‘salvation’ and eschews codes of conduct to those ends. It’s Islamic ‘mirror’ is the Saudi-financed Wahhabism, currently wreaking mayhem in the MENA.

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  79. HA says:
    @Stephen
    Perhaps religious people should say what stops them raping etc etc. Is their fear of god and not assume the non religious are similarly tempted by such fantasies. Not of course that history shows that the fear of god has ever been an effective mechanism for such a theory.

    ”Perhaps religious people should say what stops them raping etc etc. Is their fear of god…”

    I’m not sure how religious anyone regards me, but I’ll take a stab at this. The Christian tradition, to take one example, is fairly vague on the mechanisms of morality. “The fear of the Lord, is the beginning of wisdom”, is a famous Biblical passage and suggests that fear of punishment is indeed a primary initial motivator to behave. However, it does not need to work in the simplistic individualistic manner you seem to be suggesting. It can also occur gradually, and on a societal level where norms and morality collectively relax and decay. The early parts of the Bible attempt to correlate Irael’s violation of God’s commandments with an eventual descent into societal dysfunction (and worse yet, military defeat), but they don’t specify exactly how that comes about, which is just as well, because later parts of the Bible admit that the classic image of a God who promptly rewards the good and punishes the wicked is hard to square with reality.

    Moreover, if fear is the beginning of wisdom, it is certainly not the end. To be sure, if that’s what it takes for you to be good, the Christians will accept that, but there are higher levels of morality to which they are to aspire – Saint Paul refers to those levels (I’m extrapolating here) as being the “solid foods” in comparison with the milk one receives as an infant. With regard to morality, a famous old Christian prayer says that we love God (and therefore avoid sin) not because we hope for heaven as reward, or fear hell as punishment, but simply because it should be our desire to imitate Christ. Period. That, arguably, is the highest level. Even if you never get that far, that should at least be the eventual goal.

    If you find that too mushy and mystifying, join the club; many religious people would agree with you, I suspect. Just spare us the smugness of thinking you’re the first to feel that way, or that you’re going to be able to spring the ephemerality of that argument on those stupid Christians as some kind of gotcha – as if many of them hadn’t already spent a good deal of time grappling with it themselves.

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  80. Khan says:
    This attitude is entirely unsurprising to me, I’ve heard it many times from evangelical Christians. The theory is that without religion, and particularly their religion, they would be “a rapin’ and murderin’”.

    But this is not what Duggars says at all. He doesn’t say that “religion” restrains people. Everyone knows this would be inaccurate- whether it be Islamic religious jihadists or racist “Aryan” groups and/or their sympathizers, or Spanish conquistadors murdering people while waving their holy book. Duggar says “a mercy of God” – two different things. Some systems of organized religion are merely a human construct with a gloss of religious talking points, set up for exploitation of others. Many people themselves within these constructs may eschew that exploitation and violence, but the systems may be used for such. ‘A mercy of God” is actually in OPPOSITION to such systems, and in fact, exposes them as wanting.

    .
    This idea that without religion there is no morality is very widespread in the subculture, to the point of being an implicit background assumption that informs reactions to many events in concert with the idea of original sin and fundamental human depravity (thank you St. Augustine and John Calvin!).
    True, but only in part. There is a flip side which is explicitly stated in the Bible for example- namely the corruption and violence of organized systems of religion. See the vigorous condemnation of the Pharisees by Jesus of Nazareth for example. Such systems ARE THEMSELVES a reflection of human depravity. Ironically, the religious tenets often CONTRADICT AND EXPOSE practitioners.

    .
    Many evangelical Protestants in particular envisage the world before the revelation of God to Abraham, but sometime after the Fall, as a Hobbesian one of “all-against-all.”
    This is not necessarily so. In fact the opposite can be easily demonstrated. Far from an anarchic “all against all” in fact, systems of government are recognized and accorded a measure of respect. The Cushite king Nimrod for example in Genesis 10, is recognized as a mighty hunter before Jehovah and his kingdom beginning at Calneh and Nineveh etc, while not glowingly endorsed, is recognized as a legitimate ordering mechanism for those under its rule. Likewise the Egyptian pharaohs were established before Abraham and they are recognized as legitimate agents of rule. In fact the Hebrews initially prosper under such an orderly government, and pharaoh’s power throughout the land of Egypt in Genesis is approvingly noted.

    .
    The root misunderstanding is conceiving of morality and ethics as a historical human invention, as opposed to formalizations of deep cognitive intuitions and social-cultural adaptations.
    But numerous religious proponents make no claim that morality is a human invention at all. They hold to the contrary to a formula whereby a sort of fundamental “baseline” universal morality derives from the creator, allied with deep-seated human needs – such as the need for protecting families. Which is precisely what Dugars intimates when he says- “a mercy of God”. They actually do recognize deep cognitive intuitions such as a mother’s care of her children.

    .
    Religion co-opted and promoted morality, but it did not invent it. The Israelites put in their Lord God’s mouth their own morality that was existent before his invention!
    But all human societies do have some sort of religious basis or concepts that provide guidance in life- whether it be the materially simple ancient Khosian San, to the elaborate Egyptians. The Israelite had religious concepts in place BEFORE the elaboration of their system under Moses. Abraham the Bible specifically notes, was called out of Mesopotamia, AWAY FROM the gods he worshiped on the other side of the river or flood. Religious elements were ALREADY in place., before Abraham made his move.

    .
    But, it does show starkly that over the last 25 years in the United States there has been a simultaneous decrease in violent crime, and, a massive wave of secularization.
    The weakness of this argument is that other historical periods show the opposite. in a period of INCREASING religious observance, the 1950s, for example crime rates were also trending DOWN, and were much better than they would be in the 1960s and 1970s- a period of rising secularization. Thirdy years afe 1960, th start of the tumultuous 60s, murder rates were roughly three times higher than in the 1950s- and that is 30 years of secularization. If anything, people could argue that the decline of religion brought about worsened morality .

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  81. Pensans says:
    The claim that God, not authentic religious response to God, restrains evil conduct is a standard, commonplace element of traditional Christian theology.
    Indeed. Duggars correctly does not say “religion” restrains people, for “religion” could take in everything from “Aryan” cults to homicide bombers. Khan’s argument would be strong if he said SOME evangelicals felt the way he describes.

    .
    Chrisnonymous says:
    I think the mindset of Evangelicalism leads people into considering their own very minor issues to be on par with serious anti-social behavior.

    So in a small group situation, you could have three people confess

    Without God, I would have gone to Dunkin Donuts again.
    Without God, I would have slept with that married man.
    Without God, I would have beaten up that old woman to get money for meth.

    and no one bats an eye.

    What you say is simply not credible, and there are few evangelicals who do not recognize levels of seriousness of various acts. They like most people, would not seriously think getting a donut is the same as robbing somebody for meth money. They do recognize however that in MATTERS BOTH GREAT AND SMALL, the grace of God as they put it, is needed to eschew temptation or wrongdoing. Grace always manifests itself PRACTICALLY, and consistency is always a practical test of the operation of grace. If you avoid theft for example, you have to be consistent and avoid both shoplifting, AND the mass theft of billions via fraudulently valued mortgage securities. Doing wrong is always in a continuum. Minor shoplifting is not the same as mass murder. But in matters both great and small they recognize the principle of right and wrong.

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  82. [MORE]
    ” Without the concept of
    forgiveness, humans would still use
    vengeance as the primary tool of
    conflict, so leading to it’s inter-
    generational perpetuation.”

    Correction:

    That should read .,.”vengeance as the primary tool of justice, so perpetuating inter-generational conflict.”

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  83. @guest
    "Secret sin" is a confusing and needless concept. What you're describing is called "projection," one of the best known and most easily understood of psychological buzzwords. It doesn't work according to ideology. Even if there's a conservative personality type, a libertarian personality type, and so on, which I don't whatsoever believe (there certainly are types, and some ageless types may coincide with this or that currently popular ideology, but the idea that the pack of beliefs randomly clustered together to make up today's liberal match up with a cluster of secret desires that people we call "liberals" happen to possess I find ridiculous), they don't derive from the secret desires we attribute to others.

    That's far too rational, for one thing. For another, just about everyone has entertained just about everything a person can be or do inside their heads. We each contain multitudes of sin within. There's no reason to believe, either, that we project unto others only our most revisited "secret sins." I don't think any could say for sure which of their secret sins they sin the most. That'd be entirely too self-aware.

    No, most likely they hit on the ideology first, or at least lean a certain way first, then come up with what sorts of sins predominate. But that doesn't account for people who switch sides. Is ideology swapping preceded by discovery of new secret sin, or better information about the sort that was always there? I highly doubt it.

    I brought up the “secret sin theory of politics” as humor, not serious theory of politics. My original quote:

    So apparently the conclusion of the “theory” was that we should listen to libertarians, but never elect them into office.

    With that bit of humor out of the way…

    My more serious point in that post was that rates of serious crimes – which are harshly punishable – is probably not a good proxy measure of morality/ethics/virtue, the true essence of which requires free will (doing good in absence of reward or punishment).

    So declining crime rates may simply reflect changing demographics, effectiveness of law enforcement, increased punishment, increased prosperity, etc. more than improving morality per se.

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