Thursday, April 12, 2012

In Other News

Last fall, I relayed an argument that I had been having about whether or not raising one's children to be religious constituted "indoctrination," and, if it did, whether or not it was possible to raise them in a state of neutral irreligion in an effort to promote choice. I concluded, and was delighted to later find my argument mimicked by Stephen Prothero, that there is no neutral state of irreligion, that the very act of raising children is a process of "indoctrination," and that proponents of "choice" for children were constructing their argument on an anthropological fallacy. Unfortunately, people still seem to be deluded by the fantasy that children can be raised as blank slates with regard to religion:

Ontological anxiety is the anxiety created after realizing the overwhelming number of choices one can make as a free individual. Most people choose the path of least resistance and allow the choice to be made for them by their parents or other social pressures. Thus, shrinking of consciousness occurs, as a simple way to relieve the ontological anxiety is to eliminate the vast number of choices. I believe the majority of people who label themselves as Christians do so during their childhood because it is comfortable and easy for them to conform to their family's atmosphere, not because they have any sort of intrinsically strong faith or spirituality. In contrast, children with parents who do not offer a clear path of least resistance must deal with ontological anxiety as an individual. They are forced to pick through many choices and understand their choices more as a result. Thus, shrinking of consciousness does not occur to such a high degree and their more conscious choice is usually atheism (those who never overcome the issue of ontological anxiety are agnostic, as they do not make a choice).

NYU student Joseph Rauch certainly dresses the argument up in fancier language (something he probably zealously picked up in a recent seminar), but the window dressing can be ignored. (We should also probably ignore his amusing misappropriation of agnosticism which is in fact more likely to be a positive theological position--the belief that knowledge is impossible or inaccessible--than atheism, which at its most basic merely describes the absence of a particular belief.) The argument is ultimately the same and the conclusions just as flawed. Children who are raised as "blank slates" have no greater or fewer choices available to them than the children of religious adherents, and parents who "do not offer a clear path" are in fact offering no less clear a path than a Christian parent who takes their child to church. Irreligion, whether in the form of religious pluralism, religious apathy, or positive irreligion (what Rauch likely means in his grossly overnarrow use of "atheism"), is not a neutral position in childrearing. The act of raising a child, which is by definition active, has no passive positions. I don't know what they are teaching you at NYU, Mr. Rauch, but around here we call that low-effort thinking.

In Arkansas, however, low-effort thinking is being linked with conservative politics. (Speaking of issues we've tackled here before.) Researchers at the University of Arkansas got some Razorbacks drunk and were delighted to find that the probability of holding conservative positions increased with each shot of corn mash:

Bar patrons were asked about social issues before blowing into a Breathalyzer. As it turned out, the political viewpoints of patrons with high blood alcohol levels were more likely to be conservative than were those of patrons whose blood alcohol levels were low.

But that's not all:

But it wasn't just the alcohol talking, according to the statement. When the researchers conducted similar interviews in the lab, they found that people who were asked to evaluate political ideas quickly or while distracted were more likely to express conservative viewpoints.

"Keeping people from thinking too much...or just asking them to deliberate or consider information in a cursory manner can impact people's political attitudes, and in a way that consistently promotes political conservatism," Dr. Eidelman said in the email.

Maintaining all the high standards of journalistic excellence discussed in the previously linked article, this report closes with the clearly innocent string of interrogatives: "What do you think? Are conservatives less intelligent than liberals--or more intelligent? And is conservatism a matter of lazy thinking?" It never occurs to anyone to ask whether or not sobriety or concentration might actually be correlated to political correctness rather than drunkenness and distraction to social conservatism. More insidiously, it automatically labels the motivating factor in conservatism with a derogatory epithet: "lazy thinking." Would it not be just as accurate to interpret the results thus: tests show that social conservatism is the default response of uninhibited individuals. If anything, the heuristic value of the study as reported in the article is to question whether or not social progressivism is actually furthered primarily by cultural pressures and fear of social marginalization more than anything. After all, the study doesn't indicate what way people lean who are more intelligent or more thoughtful, only which way they lean when they are less inhibited and less guarded in their responses. Rejoice conservatives; your views are instinctive (at least in Arkansas).

And while we argue about how to not raise children to not be religious and what it means when drunks in the Ozarks sound off about gay marriage, twelve Christians in Iran were anxiously awaiting a verdict in their apostasy trial. It's almost as if the Middle East has an actual war on religion.

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