Tom Gilson

“BBC NEWS | Health | Religion ‘linked to happy life'”

Via Shadow To Light:

A belief in God could lead to a more contented life, research suggests. Religious people are better able to cope with shocks such as losing a job or divorce, claims the study presented to a Royal Economic Society conference. Data from thousands of Europeans revealed higher levels of “life satisfaction” in believers.

[Link: BBC NEWS | Health | Religion ‘linked to happy life’]

This adds to a growing list of positive relationships between spirituality and life outcomes. Research such as that reported here is very consistent in showing similar results. Please note on that page some guidelines on how to interpret studies of this nature. Here, from the BBC report, is one person’s take on what it means:

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, which represents the interests of atheists and agnostics, said that studies purporting to show a link between happiness and religion were “all meaningless”.

“Non-believers can’t just turn on a faith in order to be happy. If you find religious claims incredible, then you won’t believe them, whatever the supposed rewards in terms of personal fulfilment.

“Happiness is an elusive concept, anyway – I find listening to classical music blissful and watching football repulsive.

“Other people feel exactly the opposite. In the end, it comes down to the individual and, to an extent, their genetic predispositions.”

As far as can be told from this quote, Mr. Sanderson appears to consider this “meaningless” just in terms of telling what we each can do to achieve happiness. (He very well may have said more, but all we have available to deal with is what the reporter gave us.) Perhaps he’s right that it is meaningless for that purpose. There is another way to interpret studies like this, though, which is as supporting the predictions made by religions. Christianity predicts followers will experience increased joy, contentment, satisfaction, and resilience (“happiness” was by no means the only factor mentioned in this report).

Bearing in mind the proper caution with which correlational studies should be interpreted, this nevertheless indicates support for the predictions made by Christianity. (The majority of subjects in the studies I’ve linked to in my list of positive relationships are Christians, and the current BBC report was on research conducted just with Catholics and Protestants.)

As for “happiness,” Sanderson is exactly right about its being an elusive concept, and not at all exclusive to Christians or other religious persons. Christianity tends to emphasize levels of satisfaction much deeper and more enduring than that: for example, joy, contentment, satisfaction, and resilience.

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73 thoughts on ““BBC NEWS | Health | Religion ‘linked to happy life'”

  1. I don’t find it surprising that religion has psychological benefits—and resulting health benefits. Believing there’s a life after death obviously serves to greatly reduce the anxiety resulting from one of humanity’s greatest fears. As would belief that powerful forces (an all-powerful force in some religions) “has your back”.

    Also people who are serious about religion are more likely to follow those requirements of their religion that promote health than the general public.

    The thing I find odd, though, about this article is that it doesn’t even bother to provide any details of any sort, tell us when or where it will be published nor link to anywhere that we can find any of the details that the article neglected to include.

    Does anyone know where more information about the study can be found? If we’re going to discuss the findings of this study we really need to know at least some specifics concerning its methodology and findings.

  2. Tom,

    I came across this article a few months ago and flagged it in my RSS reader. It deals with a recent study in the States and will be the subject in a book coming out next year. It is along the same lines as the article you posted from the BBC, but it has more to do with community than belief.

    Also the recent book Fingerprints for God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality discusses the positive effects of belief.

  3. And, so long as we’re comparing correlations with well-being, rather than rational warrant of beliefs, here’s an article on the correlation between peace and lack of religion.

    http://atheism.about.com/b/2009/06/20/global-peace-index-atheist-irreligious-nations-most-peaceful.htm

    I’ve yet to see a religious blog I frequent post this sort of information despite frequent posts pointing to possible benefits of religion. So, for balance, it seems worth mentioning that the positive data isn’t all on one side.

    Some info on the global peace index here:

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

  4. If we’re going to be very specific and careful, then let’s be so: The ‘irreligious’ are not necessarily atheist, just as the ‘religious’ are not necessarily christian. And the cultures of those countries can be complicated to say the least.

    Have a look at Norway, a favorite example of an atheist nation. The 2005 Eurobarometer poll gave these responses on belief:

    * 32% of Norwegian citizens responded that “they believe there is a God”.
    * 47% answered that “they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force”.
    * 17% answered that “they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force”.
    * 4% answered that they “do not know”.

    17%. Of course, the 47% could be argued as agnostics – but agnostics who ‘believe there is some sort of spirit or life force’ are pretty far away from conventional atheism, and certainly modern atheism. We have that to consider, along with Norway’s state church and historical/cultural climate of christianity, and other factors. The “correlation between peace and a lack of religion” is spurious – even in Norway, religion is “there” in a number of ways, whether or not regular churchgoing is currently anemic.

  5. No one is claiming they’re mostly atheist nations (there are few if any such countries—and I didn’t even mention Norway, for that matter). Only that the nations with the lowest religiosity seem to consistently correlate with many measures of social well-being.

  6. Who said you specifically mentioned it? I went by the data you linked to as well as the wiki entry, where Norway is showing up near the top in the GPI. And the “source” of this article seems to be saying exactly that: Epiphenom’s site seems to be the actual source of this claim, leading in with the title “Atheist nations are more peaceful”. If these aren’t actually “atheist nations”, then so much for the claim.

    What’s more, apparently this data was the result of an atheist blogger taking the GPI data, applying his own standard for “religiosity”, and informing everyone of the correlations. For added fun, note this: By his entry, his “religiosity” standard was apparently “weekly attendance to church”. But when data came out indicating regular churchgoers were more healthy and well-off than others, his reply was that many people were attending but weren’t “really” believers. So weekly attendance is a reliable measure of belief, unless said attendance is showing positive results. Then it’s not a very good measure at all.

    Either way, between the source and apparent methodology of this “finding”, the GPI’s standards for peace, and the cultural factors and complications – I’d say take it with a large grain of salt. From this vantage point, it looks to involve quite an amount of data massaging and “well, if you squint your eyes and look at things from this perspective…”.

  7. One could also look at Norway and on the basis that it has a state Church (as does Denmark, Iceland, Germany, and to some extent Finland) conclude that it is not an atheist nation. Unlike the US, everyone living in one of these countries pays the salary of the Lutheran pastors, no if, ands, or buts. They all have a low GPI (1.357-1.692) and there are several more in the 1.692-2.093 range (Morocco, Argentina, and Egypt for example). So, I would want to know what constitutes an atheist/irreligious nation?

  8. Heya Craig. According to the actual source site, what constitutes it seems to be “low level of per capita regular church attendance”. Calling these nations “atheist” requires a pretty funky use of the term “atheist”. I don’t doubt they’re comparatively less actively religious than other countries per capita, mind you. But the interplay religion has with these nations, and the influence it has even on those with marginal or unsure beliefs, is one of a number of reasons to take said observation (it’s not really a study, or even “data”) with a grain of salt.

    And, just to get back on the track of the OP – I find the response of Sanderson shockingly weak. The original study apparently dealt with contentedness with life in general, coping with shocks and negative events, etc. Sanderson replies with talking about what gives a person pleasure or not. He also says non-believers can’t just turn on faith – who said they could, or even should? But maybe the results indicate other attitudes and viewpoints people in general should consider. Freethinkers, indeed.

  9. One could also look at Norway and on the basis that it has a state Church (as does Denmark, Iceland, Germany, and to some extent Finland) conclude that it is not an atheist nation.

    And I wouldn’t claim it was. What the article said, even if its title was poorly and misleadingly worded, was:

    “…the most peaceful nations have a larger population of atheists and a smaller population of regular churchgoers than the least peaceful nations. Coincidence?”

    And this isn’t the only statistic I’ve heard of that indicates that the nations with the lowest levels of religiosity/church-going and the highest levels of atheism score higher on many measures of societal well-being. Much the same, I’ve read, goes for regions/states within the USA.

    I’m not interested in getting into a tedious statistical smack-down on this stuff. You’re free to google it for yourself. I’m just pointing out that, while there are plenty of stats you can find on the internet correlating religiosity and well-being (something I don’t dispute), you can find plenty correlating lower levels of religiosity and higher levels of atheism with well-being as well—yet I’ve never seen a religious blog post about this—they seem only interested in mentioning data that supports their preconceptions. Let’s not cherry-pick the evidence.

  10. It’s cherry-picking evidence to post some recent news, including a commentary and response by a leader of an atheist/agnostic organization? Let’s not cherry-pick evidence. Let’s also not suggest cherry-picking without warrant. If we’re going to get into anecdotes, then I’ve yet to come across an atheist blog post about the positive correlations between “religiosity” and well-being/otherwise that wasn’t devoted to talking about how it’s all nonsense.

    As for referring to google – I’ve googled. What I’ve seen hasn’t really impressed me. The example given here does a good job of illustrating why.

  11. Joseph A.

    I find the response of Sanderson shockingly weak. The original study apparently dealt with contentedness with life in general, coping with shocks and negative events, etc. Sanderson replies with talking about what gives a person pleasure or not. He also says non-believers can’t just turn on faith – who said they could, or even should? But maybe the results indicate other attitudes and viewpoints people in general should consider. Freethinkers, indeed.

    Thomas Kuhn, former professor of Philosophy and History of Science at MIT, comes to mind. He basically said that scientists aren’t the skeptical, freethinking, objective investigators that they think they are (see The Structure of Scientific Revolutions). Sanderson is just working from within the “accepted framework.”


  12. It’s cherry-picking evidence to post some recent news, including a commentary and response by a leader of an atheist/agnostic organization? Let’s not cherry-pick evidence. Let’s also not suggest cherry-picking without warrant.

    The cherry-picking charge is not due to making a single post. It’s directed at christian bloggers in general. I’ve visited many such blogs over the course of several years and seen them blog on correlations between religiosity and well-being more times than I can count—but I’ve yet to ever see them post on the data which cuts the other way.

    So, yes, I think christian bloggers in general are cherry-picking the data (this may not apply to all; i’ve not seen every christian blog nor every post at every blog I have seen—there might be exceptions—and I’d be happy to read any such exceptions if anyone is aware of one).


    As for referring to google – I’ve googled. What I’ve seen hasn’t really impressed me.

    I’m not surprised—its not unusual to dismiss data that doesn’t support one’s preconceptions (and I don’t claim to be free of that impulse either—but you won’t see me dismissing the data supporting certain psychological, social and health benefits to religion).

  13. david ellis:

    Neither side (atheist/theist) is blameless when it comes to cherry-picking. In my experience, atheists cherry-pick just as much as theists by pulling out a single verse and refusing to look at the context.

  14. Where did I dismiss anything for that reason, David? I certainly didn’t dismiss what you actually cited here flippantly – in fact, I went out of my way to read it, track down the original source, commented on the specific problems I saw, etc. And yet you suggest, unwarranted, that the reason I’m not impressed with “that thar stuff on the google” is because it doesn’t line up with my preconceptions, and so I dismiss it for that reason. Maybe your preconceptions are acting up again?

    As for your anecdotal experience, all I’ll say is that my experience differs – and the fact that Tom here made sure to include the (admittedly, weak) response from Terry Sanderson helps illustrate that the “other side” isn’t routinely ignored on these topics. Maybe, preconceptions aside, the “other data” just isn’t all that impressive in comparison.

  15. The fact that Tom included an atheist’s weak response (and I agree that it was exactly that) to data supporting benefits for religion doesn’t make the data less cherry-picked. He has a whole page of links to positive relationships with only a token mention of data cutting the other way (one item: the correlation between intelligence/education and atheism). Which is, of course, far from the only example to be found by anyone making any effort at a balanced account.

  16. Why? Because whenever there’s evidence pointing in one direction, there’s always equally abundant and quality evidence pointing in the other direction?

    And even if we were to take your claim as true – so what? If the data is out there and easily found, then the data is out there and easily found. That’s the glory of the internet. If Tom chooses to collect and highlight the data and studies which show positive benefits with religion, is he automatically required to give “equal time” to other views? Does Dan Dennett (to give one example) “cherry pick the data” when he writes a book that boosts and cites evidence for materialism, while heaping scorn on opposing views? Does Dawkins “cherry pick the data” by running a website that’s in essence dedicated to boosting atheism and attacking theism in not just a biased but outright (and purposefully) insulting manner?

    Sorry, it’s hard to take your complaints seriously here. Especially on here, where Tom not only is very welcoming of critics in the comments, but where he actually had a multi-part dialog and exchange of views with Tom Clark of all people. Doubly so when the one link you gave sourced back to a blog that is, to put it mildly, tremendously biased in how it presents “evidence”.

    But I’m sure Tom can defend himself. Your definition of “cherry picking” is… let’s just call it interesting.

  17. david ellis:

    In light of earlier comments concerning Denmark, I thought some might be interested in this blog post talking about religion in Denmark by a blogger who lives there (and appears to either be a native or to have lived there most of his life):

    http://kriswager.blogspot.com/2009/05/book-review-society-without-god.html

    All I said was that Denmark (as well as several other European nations) has a national church. I never made any other claims about religion in the country.

  18. I’m simply suggesting a link where one could hear about the topic of religion in Denmark (and a little about scandinavian countries in general) from someone who lives there and has first hand experience. Not making an accusation.

  19. David Ellis, you referred to this:

    Which is, of course, far from the only example to be found by anyone making any effort at a balanced account.

    Actually the literature is overwhelmingly in favor of positive life outcomes’ association with spirituality. I have not cherry-picked.

    “The vast majority of literature confirms a positive relationship between mental health and spirituality/religion” — Ambrose, Religion and Psychology p. 127.

    “A recent meta-analysis of 147 studies [a pooled analysis] by Smith and colleagues (including nearly 100,000 subjects) found an average negative correlation between religion and depression of -0.10. While this is not a large correlation, it is the same magnitude as that seen for gender.” Koenig, Medicine, Religion, and Health, p. 70.

    “Despite the ambiguity of some of the findings related to religious commitment and mental health (30 per cent) the other findings are clearly unambiguous in that there is a relationship that is either with mental health or psychopathology.” Swinton, Spirituality and Mental Health Care, p. 69. Reasons for the ambiguity of the 30 per cent are discussed.

    “In fact, studies do suggest that religious beliefs and practices contribute to positive emotions such as well-being, life satisfaction, and happiness. In a recent systematic review of the scientific literature that uncovered 100 studies of this relationship, 79% reported a significant positive association between religious involvement and greater well-being…. Among 10 prospective cohort studies, 9 found that greater religious beliefs or activity predicted greater well-being over time. Thus, the evidence overwhelmingly supports a connection between religious involvement and positive emotions.” Koenig and Cohen, The Link Between Religion and Health, p. 13.

    The reason I have aggregated more reports on positive than negative associations between spirituality and life outcomes is because I have seen a lot more. I keep a daily eye on science press (Science News, Eurekalert, etc.) and report most of what I find. I skip some of the positive studies, just because I never committed to blogging everything I see. On my aggregation page I have included some studies that purported to show a negative relationship, and showed how their research designs or conclusions were flawed.

    As to this study on the Global Peace Index, the results are seriously confounded by taking religiosity as a unidimensional variable—as if Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam were all examples of the same thing. It confounds correlation with causation. It fails to account for other variables, such as homogeneity of the society, income distribution, and proportion of GDP spent through the government, for example. The so-called secular countries at the top of the list all, except for Japan, have a culture that was formed on Christian foundations.

    A similar “study” by Gregory S. Paul was thoroughly debunked on methodological grounds. See here, and these from Scott Gilbreath, a retired Canadian government statistician: here and here. In a private email exchange, Scott has indicated that the GPI article is at least open to the charge of the same failings as the Paul study, though it’s hard to be sure without access to the original research report. (The report here is intriguing but leaves many of the above questions unanswered.)


  20. Actually the literature is overwhelmingly in favor of positive life outcomes’ association with spirituality. I have not cherry-picked.

    I agree that this is the findings of most studies focusing on individuals (there are exceptions—racism has been found to correlate with religiosity in a great many studies). However, in the data, when looking at larger aggregates (nations and regions within nations), the least religious communities seem to score better on measures of social well-being.

    Its an odd dichotomy that studies about religion seem to favor religion when looking at the individual level and to favor irreligiousness when looking at whole societies.

    I’ve yet to hear what seems a good account for this. It’s something that really puzzles me (especially as someone about to begin studies for a degree in Applied Math with the goal of becoming a statistician). Could it be that most of the studies favoring religion were done in religious nations and that in communities where it goes against the grain of society to be irreligious this negatively affects health while it might not do so in less religious societies? That’s just one idea I’m throwing out as pure speculation. I don’t know what the answer is.

    A couple of links to articles by Phil Zuckerman ( author of Society without God – What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us about Contentment) on the sort of data I mentioned:

    http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=library&page=pzuckerman_26_5

    http://chronicle.com/temp/reprint.php?id=gqchf08syrq7qfcxqfzjh9d949ndm2k2

    A couple of highlights


    The twenty-five nations characterized by organic atheism with the highest proportion of nonbelievers are listed in Table 1. When looking at standard measures of societal health, we find that they fare remarkably well; highly religious nations fare rather poorly. The 2004 United Nations’ Human Development Report, which ranks 177 countries on a “Human Development Index,” measures such indicators of societal health as life expectancy, adult literacy, per-capita income, educational attainment, and so on. According to this report, the five top nations were Norway, Sweden, Australia, Canada, and the Netherlands. All had notably high degrees of organic atheism. Furthermore, of the top twenty-five nations, all but Ireland and the United States were top-ranking nonbelieving nations with some of the highest percentages of organic atheism on earth. Conversely, the bottom fifty countries of the “Human Development Index” lacked statistically significant levels of organic atheism.

    And:


    Regarding homicide rates, Oablo Fajnzylber et al., in a study reported in the Journal of Law and Economics (2002), looked at thirty-eight non-African nations and found that the ten with the highest homicide rates were highly religious, with minimal or statistically insignificant levels of organic atheism. Conversely, of the ten nations with the lowest homicide rates, all but Ireland were secular nations with high levels of atheism.

  21. David Ellis, I am curious. A large number of the studies that you have posted are Eurocentric, with no adjustment for cross cultural generalizability. They fail to address China, a nation that is not only secular, but atheist in both population and state, and other Asian atheist states such as North Korea, and Vietnam. I would think that they would address North Korea in particular, since North and South Korea are 2 parts of the same country, simply with different belief systems – both in terms of spirituality and political structure – and therefore provide a ready made control sample and experimental sample. When Zuckerman mentions Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and so on, he does so in a sneering manner which suggests contempt at those primitive superstitious natives, as opposed to the glorious Danish and Swedes (could he have picked 2 more racially homogenous, Aryan ideal countries?)

  22. david ellis:
    The dichotomy makes perfect sense to me: anyone’s individual ideology can make one feel good, especially if they frequent an organization that supports their ideology. But, ideologies that place high value on things like open-mindedness, tolerance, and compromise will enable disparate groups to work successfully together.

  23. Worldviews that place high value on loving one’s neighbor, where one’s neighbor includes members of different racial/cultural groups (Luke 10:25-37) will enable disparate groups to work successfully together.

    (Some essential context for that passage: the Jews to whom Jesus was speaking, and the Samaritans, one of whom was the hero of the story, had a history of severe racial and tribal hostility toward each other.)

  24. Tom, um, no. You have shown clear evidence in this blog that “Love your neighbor” is not a directive that allows you to work successfully with homosexuals or those who are pro-choice.

  25. Thanks for the kind words, os.

    1. What does “work successfully” mean on a blog? I think I’m communicating what I agree with and disagree with. People even say I do it respectfully. I think you are communicating what you agree with and disagree with. Most of the time you do it respectfully, too, but I’ll make an exception for that last comment you made. If my communication here is not working successfully with those I disagree with, then what does your highly judgmental comment just now indicate about your own ability to work successfully with those you disagree with?

    2. This is only a blog. What evidence do you have that I am not “working successfully” with people I disagree with in the rest of my life activities?

  26. I have joined in on a “game” here that has serious potential to degenerate. Let’s make it about worldviews rather than persons. OS says that my actions belie my worldview. He has not specified what those actions are. I certainly disagree with the gay rights and pro-choice positions, and I have articulated my disagreements. As far as I know I have been respectful toward the persons who hold those positions on this blog. (Elsewhere in my life, I think there are some gay men and some pro-choice people who would say the same, and that for a couple of them with whom I have a closer connection, there is a definite brotherly love and friendship. But OS could not know about that.)

    So unless I see other evidence, then I have to conclude that the reason OS has said I don’t work successfully with those groups is because I have voiced my disagreement, and that that contradicts Jesus’ command to love my neighbor, and that means the Christian worldview is less successful in working with other groups than the open and tolerant worldview OS has espoused.

    My question for OS, then, goes back to (1) the starting premise, which is that voicing one’s disagreement indicates an inability to work successfully with others that one disagrees with; and (2) the conclusion that therefore the open and tolerant worldview is therefore more successful in that. But (2) would seem to imply that those with that open and tolerant worldview never voice disagreement; for while the open and tolerant worldview is supposedly successful, any worldview whose proponents voice disagreement cannot be a successful worldview in the sense we are discussing.

    The premise is obviously false. Expressing disagreement does not make a worldview fail. If it did, then OS’s worldview fails as quickly as the Christian one does.

    I go back to where this started. OS suggests that the open and tolerant worldview is more successful than others in promoting the ability to work together. I see no evidence that it is better than Jesus’ “love your neighbors,” and I would even suggest that the history of world missions and humanitarian relief indicates that Christians have loved their neighbors, including those different than ourselves.

  27. Tom,

    Jesus’ view on this goes beyond love your neighbors…to love your enemies. It includes not only those who love you; it also includes love those who are different than you, who don’t love you. See the Sermon on the Mount as recorded in Matthew chapters 5-7.

  28. Chris White:

    Jesus’ view on this goes beyond love your neighbors…to love your enemies. It includes not only those who love you; it also includes love those who are different than you, who don’t love you. See the Sermon on the Mount as recorded in Matthew chapters 5-7.

    True enough Chris. But by loving your neighbor Jesus did not mean that you must agree with your neighbor, act like your neighbor or agree with governmental policies endorsed by your neighbor.

  29. OS:

    As the new person here, I just want to say that Tom has been very respectful of differing opinions. I have made it very clear on here that I am pro-choice. Tom has never attacked me for that belief, although he disagrees with it. I have commented on other blogs only to have my Christianity or my morality/ethic called into question. Not so here. I do not always agree with what Tom writes and he probably doesn’t agree with all of my comments. That’s fine because he is speaking the truth in love. There is a difference between speaking the truth in love and being disrespectful. Speaking the truth in love involves speaking the truth in a way that builds up, where being disrespectful tears down. In my opinion, Tom speaks the truth in love and thus shows love of neighbor.

  30. William,

    Agreed. I think the kind of love Jesus was noting was a love that produces action–meeting the real needs of those around you–even if you disagreed with their views on issues or choices. The Apostle Paul puts it like this in Galatians 5:16 The only thing that counts is faith EXPRESSING itself in love. Paul was dealing with the struggle between Gentiles and Jews and issues about the Mosiac Law.

  31. On a previous thread I wrote and then edited out something along these lines:

    Tom, Your ability to write comment[s as you do] and then to deal graciously with [comments like OSs] is beyond commendable. I don’t know if you can ever get through but know that I am praying for you.

    Like Holopupenko, I feel there is a point at which a critic has made discussion useless and they ought to be cut loose – for the good of your blog and your sanity.

  32. Okay, here’s what I wrote:

    “Tom, um, no. You have shown clear evidence in this blog that ‘Love your neighbor’ is not a directive that allows you to work successfully with homosexuals or those who are pro-choice.” The second “you” I did not intend to mean you, Tom. Here’s a clearer version of what I intended: On Tom’s blog there has appeared clear evidence that “Love your neighbor” is not a directive that allows one to work successfully with homosexuals or those who are pro-choice. I agree that in almost all cases Tom has been very respectful in presenting his disagreement with others. However, I stand by my opinion that there has been evidence on this blog that those who support the “love the neighbor” Christian view have demonstrated that they could not work successfully–by which I mean compromise and build coalition with–homosexuals and pro-choice advocates in building a peaceful society.

  33. However, I stand by my opinion that there has been evidence on this blog that those who support the “love the neighbor” Christian view have demonstrated that they could not work successfully

    Hence the reason that being saved by Grace is necessary. Romans 7:7-25

  34. os,

    I stand by my conviction that you are the pot calling some other kitchen implement black. Your accusation remains free of evidence, just as evidence-free with respect to others on this blog as it was with respect to me.

    What goes on here is agreement and disagreement, usually stated respectfully, but (again) not always. If disagreement means an inability to work successfully with others, as you seem to be saying, then you’re saying it to yourself as much as anyone else here. If you think this undermines the validity of a worldview, then consider your own worldview thoroughly undermined by your own argument.

    That was what I said last time, and I don’t see anything in your most recent comment to cause me to see it differently this time.

  35. OS: I stand by my opinion that there has been evidence on this blog that those who support the “love the neighbor” Christian view have demonstrated that they could not work successfully–by which I mean compromise and build coalition with–homosexuals and pro-choice advocates in building a peaceful society.

    A characteristic of a peaceful society is treatment of others with respect when we disagree with them. That in turn means not inventing false negatives. If you are opposed to abortion and not in favor of the gay agenda then you treat those who disagree with decency and hope they have the integrity to reciprocate. The absence of dissent is something despots strive for. America should be tolerant of free speech but not require some to capitulate on their convictions.

  36. Tom and William,
    I said compromise and build coalition with. Compromise means to disagree AND reach an agreement acceptable to both parties. There can be no holding to absolute actions in compromise (although certainly one can continue to hold to absolute opinions.) Build coalition with means committing to attaining mutual goals with others with whom you may may disagree. Tell me that you and Holo and others on this site are willing to compromise on abortion and gay rights. Tell me that you are willing to work with the Human Rights Committee or Planned Parenthood to meet the goals of equal rights for all and reproductive choice, and I will withdraw my statements.

  37. Playing devil’s advocate, its not necessarily a flaw that one is unwilling to compromise.

    I, for example, don’t think inflicting torture on animals in medical experimentation is acceptable no matter how useful the knowledge that might be gained. It’s not an issue on which I’ll willing to compromise or think I should compromise (“OK, some torture, just not as much” is not a position I consider morally acceptable).

  38. Craig,

    re:34

    I agree with you. I thought it important to detail the meaning of “love your neighbor” to include “love your enemies”. It is an easy thing to say but hard to practice–hence the need for grace as SteveK pointed out (#37).

    Shalom.

  39. OS:

    Tom and William,
    I said compromise and build coalition with. Compromise means to disagree AND reach an agreement acceptable to both parties. There can be no holding to absolute actions in compromise (although certainly one can continue to hold to absolute opinions.)

    Holding absolute positions is nothing new to Americans. The Founding Fathers took that seriously when they enacted the Bill of Rights which specify absolute legal rights like freedom of speech and freedom to practice the religion of one’s own choosing. A contemporary example might be some of the protestors in Iran who take the position that fair elections are something they cannot compromise on. What I’m pointing out is that even within secular settings there are some values that are not compromised.

    Build coalition with means committing to attaining mutual goals with others with whom you may may disagree.

    That’s a bedrock value of good diplomacy. Even if you cannot come to agreement on some issues you continue to strive for mutually beneficial agreements on other issues. I’ll never compromise with the Iranian leader’s position that people be told the Holocaust did not occur. That does not mean I do not wish that American and Iranian negotiators come to mutually beneficial agreements about nuclear weaponry. It is possible despite the deadlock on other issues. That’s working together.

  40. os:

    This is (excuse me) hilarious, or maybe sad; I’m not sure which. Probably both.

    Tell me that you are willing to work with the Human Rights Committee or Planned Parenthood to meet the goals of equal rights for all and reproductive choice, and I will withdraw my statements.

    Translation: “tell me that you are willing to work with these groups to create a compromise in which you give up all your own goals and capitulate to all of theirs, and then I will withdraw my statements.”

    How about this: Why don’t we ask the HRC and Planned Parenthood to work with conservative Christians to create a compromise that meets the goals of sound and stable family structures based on historic definitions of marriage, and life for all humans at whatever stage of development? Let’s see if they do that. If they can, then I will accept that your argument does not circle back on itself and defeat itself.

  41. I hate the word “compromise”. Why people try to make it sound positive, I will never understand. Compromise is not a positive, it’s a negative. Compromise involves giving up of something. If I make a compromise with my wife, one of us is usually unhappy because we had to give up something. Compromise: A settlement of differences in which each side makes concessions.

    What we should strive for is consensus. Consensus doesn’t need compromise as it is: 1. An opinion or position reached by a group as a whole, 2. General agreement or accord. (Although I find these definitions lacking as it also entails groups in disagreement being heard and everyone involved feels as if they helped reach said consensus).

    Why should Tom or Holo have to compromise their beliefs? It’s not going to change their mind because of a compromise.

  42. Craig,

    I agree that compromise of opinions is not at all valuable. But compromise in policy – in, that is, plans of what to do – is as a practical matter absolutely necessary. People will always disagree about what is best to do; and since we are gregarious creatures who live and act in community and thus quite inevitably effect others by what we do, we must compromise in our actions if there is not to be a continual war of all against all.

    I need water from the aquifer to irrigate my crops. You need it to mine gold. There’s not enough for both of us to have all we want. What are the choices? Either conflict in which each attempts to take all and fight off attempts by the other to do the same, or compromise. Compromise seems the rational solution. Though each gets less than what is optimal, each gets as much as the situation practically allows; and compromise seems a better total solution given the initial constraints.

    I would say that, where once there was dispute over how to use scarce resources, if there was no compromise, there must have been dominance of one over another.

  43. I agree, Franklin. That’s a good way to put it. If OS had, in that last comment, spoken in terms of compromise over policy, possibly even coming to a meeting of minds over goals to be agreed on for practical purposes, I very likely could have found points of agreement.

    One goal that seems to be mutually agreeable with respect to abortions is to reduce their number or frequency. We could work with a “pro-choice” group on that. Another mutually agreeable goal could be to reduce the economic and emotional burden carried by women with unwanted pregnancies, and to find ways to help babies born to women who didn’t want them or don’t feel capable of caring for them. There’s plenty of room for policy compromise on those kinds of things.

  44. Tom Gilson:

    One goal that seems to be mutually agreeable with respect to abortions is to reduce their number or frequency. We could work with a “pro-choice” group on that. Another mutually agreeable goal could be to reduce the economic and emotional burden carried by women with unwanted pregnancies, and to find ways to help babies born to women who didn’t want them or don’t feel capable of caring for them. There’s plenty of room for policy compromise on those kinds of things.

    Well said Tom. Compromising on ways to attain common goals, as opposed to compromising one’s convictions, makes sense. The former allows both sides to retain their integrity. The latter calls for capitulation while describing it as compromise.

  45. Franklin,

    I think we’re coming about it the same way only using different working definitions, but I’m not sure.

    I still think consensus is better than compromise. Consensus might involve some compromise, but it ensures that everyone’s voice is heard and that everyone walks away feeling good about the decision being made. Compromise doesn’t always entail that.

    Also, I think I’m kind of touchy about consensus/compromise right now because the ELCA is getting ready to vote on the proposed sexuality statement in August. So I’ve been arguing this a lot lately. And as I see it, consensus is getting tossed out the window in exchange for a simple majority.

  46. Willian wrote: Compromising on ways to attain common goals, as opposed to compromising one’s convictions, makes sense. The former allows both sides to retain their integrity. The latter calls for capitulation while describing it as compromise.

    In this example, I think the former is getting close to what I mean by consensus.

  47. Tom,
    I don’t think you are reading what I write carefully. In #40 I wrote: “…(although certainly one can continue to hold to absolute opinions.)” and “Build coalition with means committing to attaining mutual goals with others with whom you may may disagree” (italics added). In so saying it was my intent to convey that opinion and practice are and may remain different things, and that the goals of any coalition must be decided upon by all parties, not imposed by one group. I tried to use broad language (“equal rights for all,” “reproductive choice”) to convey what I think might be mutual goals, but I am certainly willing to admit that they may not satisfy you.

    I did note that in a later comment, you spoke to how you could, in fact, compromise on reproductive issues. I wonder if there are ways you could do so with the issue of equal rights?

  48. Don’t worry, I was reading what you wrote. Do you think the broad language of “equal rights for all” and “reproductive choice” can really speak to mutual goals? I think it could, actually, but I’m not sure you would agree.

    I certainly agree with “reproductive choice” if properly defined. I’m absolutely fine with the idea that every couple (indeed every woman) should be allowed complete reproductive choice. The choice is made and accomplished, however, when reproduction has occurred; i.e., when a new human being has been conceived. After that, “reproductive choice” is a misnomer.

    You could never speak of “learning-to-ride-a-bicycle choice” after one has already learned. The choice can only be made up to a certain point; after that it’s not about learning to ride, it’s about whether one chooses to continue to ride. In the same way, reproductive choice is only possible up until the point when reproduction has been accomplished, which is at the point of conception. After that, the choice has already been made. The issue is no longer reproductive choice. All the reproduction that can happen, has already happened, from a biological perspective. All that remains is to nurture the young human being and bring him or her up. So the question is really one of “nurturing choice:” will the mother nurture the human being within her until it is born? Should she have the legal right to refuse to nurture the life that has been reproduced within her? What is your position on “nurturing choice”?

    You also spoke of “equal rights for all” with respect to marriage. I’m fine with that, too. Everyone has the full legal right to enter into marriage, provided that the partners are of legal age and not too closely related to each other, and neither is already married. I’m fine with complete equal rights in that respect—provided that “marriage” is defined as a union between a man and a woman, as it has been for centuries upon centuries (and for good reason, too).

    Can we find common ground here? If not, then why do you refuse to compromise? Can you show evidence that someone with your worldview can “work successfully–by which I mean compromise and build coalition with [persons of other worldviews] in building a peaceful society”?

  49. Tom,
    My position on “nurturing choice” is complicated by the fact that I have, unfortunately, known thirteen year old girls who were pregnant due to incest, and I have seen drug-addicted newborns who cannot sleep because of the jerky movements of their bodies in drug withdrawal. In a perfect world, of course, these things wouldn’t happen, but in our world, they do. So, I suppose if you and I were working together, I could compromise with you in regard to reducing the number of abortions by reducing the economic and emotional burden carried by women and by finding ways to find more parents for babies whose birth parents couldn’t or didn’t want to care for them (are you aware of how overburdened our foster care system is and how difficult it is to raise a drug- or alcohol-affected child?) But, I would hope for compromise from you in terms of allowing safe legal abortion in at least some situations. (On a side note, I do believe that abortion kills a potential being, and that we should grieve those losses; however, I also believe that at times abortion is the best choice in an imperfect world.)

    As for equal marriage rights, I don’t see where we could meet. Perhaps, if I absolutely had to, I could compromise on semantics, on not calling gay marriages marriages, as long as whatever they were called afforded those in them all the rights afforded those in heterosexual marriages. But, I would see it as a temporary step toward full equality.

  50. os: As for equal marriage rights, I don’t see where we could meet. Perhaps, if I absolutely had to, I could compromise on semantics, on not calling gay marriages marriages, as long as whatever they were called afforded those in them all the rights afforded those in heterosexual marriages. But, I would see it as a temporary step toward full equality.

    This issue is useful in pointing out that the compromises are made only by one side and that coalition is a farcical descriptive term for that reason. New Jersey illustrates why. After discussions and wrangling, concessions by those opposed to the views put forth by os were made. The civil union concept was afforded legal status in the state so as to satisfy complaints about unequal “rights.” The tax code was revised and changes were made in insurance coverage to make real financial gains for homosexuals complaining about inequalites of marriage. In addition gays were allowed adoption privilages. All to no avail on the compromise issue. Despite the real and substantive changes the pushing of the envelope was merely advanced to the next stage. It was- as os suggests- a temporary advance from his standpoint. Compromises are one sided and always followed by demands for further compromises until the point of total capitulation is reached. There is a manipulative feel to this type of strategy.

  51. Good points, Bradford.

    OS, you wrote,

    As for equal marriage rights, I don’t see where we could meet.

    But earlier you had said it was Christians’ worldview that crippled our ability to compromise.

    You said that placing

    high value on things like open-mindedness, tolerance, and compromise [would] enable disparate groups to work successfully together.

    But here I see you unable to compromise.

    Now, let’s zero in exactly on the point I’ve been making repeatedly. You said that Christians’ worldview was deficient in that we could not move toward the goals of (what you called) reproductive choice and gay rights. But you cannot move toward the goals Christians have.

    Why is our worldview deficient for being unable to move in the direction of compromise, but your worldview is not? Your whole premise fails. It’s not the ability to waffle on one’s convictions that makes a worldview good or bad. It is (a) the congruence of that worldview with reality, and (b), relevant to this discussion, its promoting the ability to get along with, respect, even to love those who disagree.

  52. Again, Tom, you misread me–I’m beginning to think, intentionally. My comment in #53 was in RESPONSE to your already-stated position: “I’m fine with complete equal rights in that respect—provided that ‘marriage’ is defined as a union between a man and a woman, as it has been for centuries upon centuries (and for good reason, too),” which was NOT open-minded nor tolerant and allowed no room for compromise. DESPITE that, however, I went on to OFFER a compromise, that the term marriage not be used for homosexual unions, but that whatever the term, they be equal to heterosexual unions in all legal respects. You seem to have a pre-determined idea about my position.

    In response to your earlier comment which seems to have disappeared, yes, I could agree to limit abortion to serious circumstances, IF there were sufficient supports in place for those women who were bringing a baby to term whom they would be unable to parent, and IF your definition of “drug addiction” was expanded to include, for example, the use of drugs which are not addictive, like cocaine.

  53. OS:

    In response to your earlier comment which seems to have disappeared, yes, I could agree to limit abortion to serious circumstances, IF there were sufficient supports in place for those women who were bringing a baby to term whom they would be unable to parent, and IF your definition of “drug addiction” was expanded to include, for example, the use of drugs which are not addictive, like cocaine.

    Cocaine is highly addictive. It’s a myth to think that it’s not (see http://www.emedicinehealth.com/cocaine_abuse/article_em.htm).

  54. ordinary seeker says:

    Again, Tom, you misread me–I’m beginning to think, intentionally. My comment in #53 was in RESPONSE to your already-stated position: “I’m fine with complete equal rights in that respect—provided that ‘marriage’ is defined as a union between a man and a woman, as it has been for centuries upon centuries (and for good reason, too),” which was NOT open-minded nor tolerant and allowed no room for compromise.

    Tom and others are reading you accurately. The reason I mentioned civil union statutes in New Jersey was to point out that they addressed substantive complaints (financial) about inequality. Defining marriage as between a man and woman is consistent with historic norms. Abandoning that is not compromise. It is capitulation. Where are your compromises?

    DESPITE that, however, I went on to OFFER a compromise, that the term marriage not be used for homosexual unions, but that whatever the term, they be equal to heterosexual unions in all legal respects. You seem to have a pre-determined idea about my position.

    There is nothing substantive in your proposal. Changing the word used to describe a de facto reality is not compromise. It’s linguistic manipulation.

  55. OS, this is getting sadly comical. I am not misreading you. You keep telling us your position, from which you are unwilling to budge, and you call me closed-minded and intolerant for holding to a position that I am unwilling to give up:

    : “I’m fine with complete equal rights in that respect—provided that ‘marriage’ is defined as a union between a man and a woman, as it has been for centuries upon centuries (and for good reason, too),” which was NOT open-minded nor tolerant and allowed no room for compromise.

    Here’s what I think may be going on: gay “marriage” and abortion rights have become linked sociologically with groups who describe their positions as open-minded and tolerant, with the support of a whole lot of opinion leaders such as educators and members of the media. Therefore these positions gain the automatic status of being open-minded and tolerant.

    But from the first, this part of the discussion has been about whether Christianity is deficient on account of its inability to compromise, and my rejoinder from the beginning has been that OS is just as unwilling to compromise. As WB pointed out, your “compromise,” OS, is not much of the sort.

    I do appreciate your willingness to move to the middle on abortion. I’m willing to meet you there, for legal purposes at least. Please recall that I was the one who offered that position first. Or rather that I OFFERED it, to echo your language. Does that mean you’re a better compromiser than I am, or that your worldview is more successful than mine?

    And is calling me names for holding to my position a good demonstration of open-mindedness or tolerance?

  56. Tom,
    I called you no names. Not once. Do I think you are close-minded and intolerant at times? Yes, from what you write here, I do, but I did not “call” you those “names.”

    There are problems for both of us in regard to any joint venture, certainly, but I am all for us (those in your position and those in mine) working together. In my circle, I am the one who often points out that “they” (meaning you and those who believe as you do) feel the same way about their beliefs as “we” do about ours, and we can’t simply say they’re wrong and we’re better. This is not a comfortable stance to take, and yet I take it because I really do believe that it’s vitally important for all of us to make the effort to understand the other. I continue to read here, despite some concerns, because I truly want to understand you (that’s a plural “you”) and find ways to meet on common ground.

  57. Thank you, os. Technically I suppose you didn’t “call me names,” but you did have these kind words to say about me:

    which was NOT open-minded nor tolerant and allowed no room for compromise.

    Close enough.

    Let me remind you that abortion and gay rights have only been illustrations of an issue I’ve repeatedly tried to point you back at, and that I’m not sure you’ve responded to yet.

    That issue is the inaccuracy of your claim (comments 25, 27, 36) and that Christianity is a defective worldview compared to yours in view of its alleged ability to support cooperation with groups that disagree with it. You say you continue to read here in order to gain understanding and to find common ground. I read a lot that’s written by people I disagree with, too, and I do a lot of interacting with them, so there’s at least parity there. There is at least parity on the abortion question, based on our previous comments to each other. You won’t budge on same-sex unions, other than to put a different name on them, as if that mattered, so we’re at least equally committed to our positions.

    As I said in comment 44, your claim circles back and points at your own worldview at least equally with that of Christianity. I asked you in Comment 52 to show evidence of your superior ability to compromise, and you haven’t done so. I think your charge against Christianity, and your claim that your worldview leads to a more cooperative approach toward groups that disagree, have both failed.

  58. Let me add to that what I started with: Jesus’ “love your neighbor” is a great way to support working together with different groups of people, and his illustration of the Good Samaritan is still just about the best model of all to follow—other than his own example, in the way he dealt with the people who hated what he himself stood for.

  59. Tom,
    In fact I don’t think “Christianity is a defective worldview compared to [mine] in view of its alleged ability to support cooperation with groups that disagree with it.” I think that there are interpretations of Christianity different from your own that are equal to or even surpass mine in terms of their ability to support cooperation with groups that disagree with them. And, I think these are based quite strongly on the “love your neighbor” doctrine, but interpret it differently than you do. I’m speaking of liberal theologies, of course. It’s the conservative to fundamentalist groups of any stripe that I think are not flexible enough to participate in the kind of coalition-building necessary in our current and hopefully future world.

    Oh, and as for evidence, I would point to the evidence previously presented here, that countries with less religiosity are more peaceful. And, I would point to the fact that despite my strong views on the subject, I did offer a compromise on the issue of equal marriage rights (whether you think it “matters” or not, I did move toward your position), and you did not.

  60. OS:

    “countries with less religiosity [is that a real word? are more peaceful.” Yeah, like the former Soviet Union (committed to the dust bin of history) and the People’s Republic of China and Communist Vietnam and Cuba other “more peaceful countries”… ALL officially atheist.

    Regarding “liberal” Christian sects, well, that’s pretty blatant cherry picking, isn’t it? I mean, picking “interpretations” that allegedly support your values while labeling “defective” those that don’t shows a real lack of rigor, doesn’t it? Isn’t the whole thing about truth… or is it all about personal interpretations that meet ones ideological and emotional commitments?

    I’m sure you have in mind the sect (some call it a cult, which is problaby not too far from the truth) of Unitarian Universalism, which encourages cognitive dissonance in the worst way: atheism is invited on an equal footing with generally liberal interpretations of Christianity with New Ageism with, etc., etc., anything under the sun. It doesn’t matter these views fundamentally clash with each other: the UU “group hug” approach to life permits that. Of course, UU is also bigoted in the worst way: if anyone tried to preach objective morality or the dignity of unborn persons or the truth of the incarnation… well, those views cannot be “tolerated,” can they? I’d call that pretty “defective,” (since you’re name-calling)… wouldn’t you?

  61. Holo,
    I did not use the word defective except when quoting Tom.

    I never pointed to Unitarian Universalism as an example of liberal Christianity: it is not because it is not a form of Christianity.

  62. OS:

    I know, but the extension beyond Tom was clear. However, I must sincerely thank you (and hence apologize in trying to read your mind) for understanding (in the broad sense) UU not being Christian.

  63. os: It’s the conservative to fundamentalist groups of any stripe that I think are not flexible enough to participate in the kind of coalition-building necessary in our current and hopefully future world.

    As conservative Christians support a number of socially beneficial causes (feeding the hungry, prison ministries etc.) there is ample place for cooperation if there is real sincerity about that.

  64. William,
    I agree, with the emphasis on “if there is real sincerity about that.” There is a real difference between charity and mutuality (which might be expressed as, “There but for the grace of God go I.”)

  65. Craig,
    I don’t know of one group that illustrates liberal Christianity. I have come across it in individuals, and I am sure it exists in some group, but I don’t know of it.

  66. OS:

    You said, “I’m speaking of liberal theologies, of course.” Craig then asked, What would you consider to be liberal/progressive Christianity? He wasn’t asking you about specific groups but about “liberal/progressive Christianity”. So, instead of broad-brushing two huge groups of people, please be specific and answer Craig’s question: what constitutes for you “liberal/progressive Christianity”? By the way, my point regarding your cherry-picking interpretations that support your worldview still stands.

  67. Holo:

    Where and how did I “broadbrush two huge groups of people”?

    My exemplars of liberal Christianity: the liberation theologies in South America in the 1980’s; Christian feminist theologies; Episcopal and Church of Christ teachings that are inclusive. I’m sure there are more, but as I said previously, most of what I am familiar with is on the individual level.

    Please point me to your point regarding cherry-picking interpretations.

  68. OS:

    My exemplars of liberal Christianity: the liberation theologies in South America in the 1980’s; Christian feminist theologies; Episcopal and Church of Christ teachings that are inclusive. I’m sure there are more, but as I said previously, most of what I am familiar with is on the individual level.

    Thanks.

    William:

    As conservative Christians support a number of socially beneficial causes (feeding the hungry, prison ministries etc.) there is ample place for cooperation if there is real sincerity about that.

    It’s been my experience that while conservative Christians do support a number of social justice issues, they are less likely to work with more liberal Christians. As someone who was out working with the homeless a year ago, I noticed that the more liberal Christians were willing to help while the more conservative Christians sat back and watched. I will also acknowledge that it may have well been the area I was in. Although, maybe they (the conservative Christians) weren’t sincere about helping when I first approached them or maybe they were embarrassed that a lowly intern did something…Some things I will never know.

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