New Café Piece

I’ve got a new post up at the Café. Given the state of things I’ve found it difficult to collect coherent thoughts, so this is more of a spur-of-the-moment reflection based on a bit of NPR. Since I was driving to and from storage with stack of boxes, I heard the report twice and each time noticed myself yelling the same things at the radio—so I decided to write it down…

Posts containing more substance are in the works.

3 thoughts on “New Café Piece

  1. Tom Armstrong

    Dr. Olsen,

    The audio of the NPR show referenced in your essay, with a transcript of the show, is online, here.

    It’s my feeling that you were hyperventilating a bit in your essay. Scientists do what scientists do: They look into everything.

    Frankly, I don’t think that episode of Morning Edition amounts to much. We all tend to behave better if we know we’re being watched or think we might be. That’s not news, nor is it surprising.

    I make yet less of the professor’s idea on the ‘use of God’ to inspire cooperation. Humans are social pack animals. There are many benefits to co-operation, and underlying it all is that we tend to like and trust each other, just like any community of coyotes or hyenas.

    There have been many fully fake religions, over the eons of human existence, surely. Do you not agree? Very possibly, even probably, an idea of God, with nothing coming from God, Himself, WAS used to compel co-operation within primative communities.

  2. Derek Olsen

    Actually, Tom, that’s one of the things that surprised me the most about the discussion of cooperation. The researcher seemed to head directly towards the notion of religion without even discussing the far more primary point that humans are pack animals to begin with. Again—that could have more to do with the way the piece was written/edited rather than the research itself.

    I do agree that religion has been used for social control and undoubtedly some have been constructed with that notion in mind. The main trigger for my hyperventilation, though, is an implicit notion that religion as a whole is reducible to social control. That’s what I disagree with so strenuously.

    You raise the notion in your comment of “fully fake religions” and that’s where I’d push you—how would you define a “fully fake religion” and by what characteristics would you identify it? To my mind, a “fully fake religion” is one that does not cultivate the habits of compassion. Do you believe that compassion/love/loving-kindness or however the religion/spirituality of your choice styles it is merely a form of social control or is something else going on?

  3. Tom Armstrong

    I’m not sure how the idea of a “fake religion” should be used, but I do think there are religious leaders who know they are performing and manipulating people and saying things that they don’t, themselves, believe to be true. There are a lot of fake religious people ‘out there,’ whether or not their religion is a charade. I think, there are religions that have faked moorings, too. [I have to confess that I have my worries regarding Mormons and Druids and witchcraft. But I don’t know a lot about these things.]

    I think the area of inquiry discussed in the Morning Edition episode is a field that researchers should explore. I would prefer that the gatherers of information be unbiased, but that is not mandatory. Biased investigators can be fully capable of being even-handed.

    I think a religion or area of spiritual interest that is truth-seeking is legit. And, I think that it is going to be the case that an established religion that is truth seeking will have found its way to compassion, loving-kindness and all that. Yes.

    I guess what I don’t understand is quite why you find “cultured despisers of religion” in the NPR piece. It’s true that the New Testament describes any non-believer as an enemy of God, but I find that to be a hyped reaction that shouldn’t be casually carried into discussions between and about human beings. You describe it, but I don’t see the evidence of anyone despising anything in the NPR story.

    Perhaps each of the three — the host, the psychologist and the professor — is some sort of atheist. Each, necessarily, looks at the topic that’s discussed from his worldview. I just don’t see that there’s an effort on anyone’s part to attack Christianity.

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