Thursday, October 18, 2007

USA – dedicated to a unitarain, universalist, syncretist god

The libertarians are debating political theology, and they like us.

Cato Unbound (a libertarian dram shop) is running the symposium. Jonathan Rowe writes
America’s founders ... were devout theists and gave God a prominent role in politics. See for instance, the Declaration of Independence. However, the God to whom America’s founders appealed — the individual rights granting Nature’s God — arguably was not the Biblical or Christian God. For one, the Biblical God does not grant men unalienable individual rights, certainly not a right to political liberty while the God of the American founding did. Further, on matters of religious toleration, the God of the American founding was not a “jealous” God but granted men an unalienable right to worship, in Jefferson’s words no God or twenty gods.

...America’s principle founders (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin) were not closet atheists but really did believe in this rational, benevolent, unitarian deity who fit their republican ideals much better than the Biblical God could. The inescapable conclusion is that America does have a political theology; it is just not Christianity.

...Nature’s God was theologically unitarian, universalist (did not eternally damn anyone) syncretist (most or all world religions worshipped Him), partially inspired the Christian Scriptures, and man’s reason was ultimate device for understanding Him. He was not quite the strict Deist God that some secular scholars have made Him out to be. But neither was He the Biblical God.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Friday, October 12, 2007

Okie from Muskogee – Purity / Authority / Loyalty

Liberals and conservatives have different morals, especially w.r.t Purity, Authority and Loyalty. Which shows me why Merle Haggard was a prophet.

Haggard wrote the song Oakie from Muskogee. You may not like it. It's an anti-liberal anthem. Every value it hold up is strong on the Purity, Authority or Loyalty scale. He says that the values in Muskogee are very different than those of San Francisco. Who can argue with him?

We don't smoke marijuana in Muskogee;
We don't take our trips on LSD
We don't burn our draft cards down on Main Street;
We like livin' right, and bein' free.
Drugs as purity; draft cards as respect for authority.
I'm proud to be an Okie from Muskogee,
A place where even squares can have a ball
We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse,
And white lightnin's still the biggest
thrill of all
Patriotism as loyalty, pure drugs instead of impure ones.

We don't make a party out of lovin';
We like holdin' hands and pitchin' woo;
We don't let our hair grow long and shaggy,
Like the hippies out in San Francisco do.
Sexual purity, cleanliness
Leather boots are still in style for manly footwear;
Beads and Roman sandals won't be seen.
Football's still the roughest thing on campus,
And the kids here still respect the college dean.
Gender roles, respect for authority

From what I read, Haggard wrote the song as a portrait of people he'd known back in Oklahoma, not as a personal creed. But I've read quite a few essays recently on the differences between conservatives and liberals. This one does as well as any of them at capturing the different attitudes and values that form the great red/blue divide in this country.

Oh, and FWIW, Haggard just endorsed Hillary.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

I'm glad he wasn't a Unitarian minister

Any preventable death is sad, but I'm it's just as well that we don't have to deal with this.

"You can't legislate morals"

"You can't legislate morals!" Well, of course you can, and we do, and most of our laws have some moral component to them. But the claim persists. Underneath its obvious error, there's some truth in there somewhere.

Continuing my meditations on Jonathan Haidtpurity/sacredness is a cardinal difference between our liberal religion and their conservative religion. Liberals and conservatives agree that justice, rights and autonomy are part of morality, and that care of the weak is part of morality. But we split with them over purity and sacredness.

Our culture-wars are mostly fought over issues of purity and sacredness. Flag burning. Obscenity. Sex toys. Drugs. Adultery. Homosexuality. Gay marriage. (Abortion is an outlier. It hits at least as strongly along the care of the weak and the rights/autonomy axis. But sexual purity is a big component of that argument.)

Underneath the (dubious) claim "You can't legislate morals" is a more narrow truth. In a free society, in order to legislate morals, you must have at least a rough consensus. For the morals of purity and sacredness, that consensus is elusive.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The UU Ad Campaign

I finally watched some of the UUA's new video. I'm well impressed. I mean, I could pick at it and I probably will in later post. But overall, they've exceeded my expectations:

Watch the whole thing.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Cat herders and the Five Axis of moral development

I was struck by this article by Jonathan Haidt. He writes about his research into moral reasoning:
  • I told people short stories in which a person does something disgusting or disrespectful that was perfectly harmless (for example, a family cooks and eats its dog, after the dog was killed by a car). I was trying to pit the emotion of disgust against reasoning about harm and individual rights.

    I found that disgust won in nearly all groups I studied (in Brazil, India, and the United States), except for groups of politically liberal college students, particularly Americans, who overrode their disgust and said that people have a right to do whatever they want, as long as they don't hurt anyone else.

  • OK, [academic moral theory holds that] there are two psychological systems, one about fairness/justice, and one about care and protection of the vulnerable. [...] There were three best candidates for being additional psychological foundations of morality, beyond harm/care and fairness/justice. These three we label as ingroup/loyalty (which may have evolved from the long history of cross-group or sub-group competition, related to what Joe Henrich calls "coalitional psychology"); authority/respect (which may have evolved from the long history of primate hierarchy, modified by cultural limitations on power and bullying, as documented by Christopher Boehm), and purity/sanctity, which may be a much more recent system, growing out of the uniquely human emotion of disgust, which seems to give people feelings that some ways of living and acting are higher, more noble, and less carnal than others.

  • In every sample we've looked at, in the United States and in other Western countries, we find that people who self-identify as liberals endorse moral values and statements related to the two individualizing foundations primarily, whereas self-described conservatives endorse values and statements related to all five foundations. It seems that the moral domain encompasses more for conservatives—it's not just about Gilligan's care and Kohlberg's justice. It's also about Durkheim's issues of loyalty to the group, respect for authority, and sacredness.
Our UU congregations are way about care and justice. We cast a wary eye, though, on ingroup/loyalty, on authority/respect and certainly on purity/sanctity. Or so I surmise, by the all the cars with Question Authority bumper stickers in our parking lots. We welcome transgressive behavior – especially transgressive behavior that doesn't directly harm anybody – much more than most churches. We don't just ignore the other axis. We dis them as superstitious. We deconstruct them as part of our Sunday morning worship.

There's a great market – a huge cultural appetite – for that stance. My own congregation is growing steadily with it.

If Haidt is right though – if these other three morality axis are about group solidarity – it explains something about the 'herding cats' experience of trying to lead in a UU church. I mean, any church is likely to draw some strong personalities and unbalanced people who make it hard to organize and get work done. I could name some other denominations that draw in an even larger percentage of truly odd visitors than we do. But most churches valorize group loyalty, respect for authority, purity standards. We valorize freedom, which is exhilarating. But it explains why all these UUs don't want to, like, pledge regularly or maintain a commitment to show up. It explains why all these Covenant Group leaders want to keep having their groups but not actually follow any rules.