shouse@macomw.ARPA (claude shouse) writes: >> Atheists are under-represented in U.S. priso

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shouse@macomw.ARPA (claude shouse) writes: >> Atheists are under-represented in U.S. prisons. I don't know why this >> is; I don't think that Christianity causes people to commit crimes. > > I will tell you exactly why this is. It is the same reason that athiests > are under-represented in AA. These are populations of people who have > lost control of their lives and are turning to God as a means of coping > with the situation in which they find themselves. And something else: > Any religion will do (sorry Joe, its true). My understanding (although I could be mistaken here) is that these statistics are not due to people turning to religion after they have been caught. It is possible that people turn to both crime and religion when they lose control over their lives, in which case social changes that gave people more control over their lives might lead to less crime and more atheism. The point of the thought experiment was to raise the possibility that the social conditions which would lead to atheism (or possibly the adoption of atheism itself, although that's less likely) could lead to a decrease in crime. Of course this is only one possible interpretation of the data. On to more interesting stuff: > [My point] was addressed by William Goldman (Golding?) [yes, Golding] > in *Lord of the Flies* wherein a society is permitted to develop without > the guidance of a religious tradition. The rule of law breaks down and > ultimately barbarism reigns until a Superior Being (Naval Officer) comes > on the scene. The unanswered question of the book is: Who keeps the > officer and his society from barbarism? I am here to assert that it is > religion for better or worse. For those who aren't familiar with the book, the story starts when a group of British boys are stranded on a deserted island. Two of the major characters are Ralph, who is elected leader, and Jack, who loses the election but eventually takes control and organizes a hunt to find Ralph and (presumably) kill him. Why does the "rule of law" break down? Let's consider religion first, since that is the topic of discussion. The boys *were* raised in a religious tradition. (Several of the boys, including Jack, were choir boys.) They had the same "guidance of a religious tradition" as any other boys their age, which seems to be none. I expect that the boys would have all have said they believed in God if anyone had asked them, but on the island, God never entered their thoughts. This is a rather strange sort of belief, so let me talk about the boys for a bit and see if I can explain it. What sort of boys are these? To the best of my recollection, no one is ever homesick. No one misses his parents. I forget who suggested that the most important point was this: No one had taught the boys to be kind to one another. I suppose that these children were raised with traditional Brittish strictness. Christianity was mandated; they were not allowed to question it. But they never really accepted it either; when the mandatory chapel attendance was eliminated, Christianity was no longer a force in their lives (if it ever was). The same holds to a significant degree for morality--the children didn't have much positive commitment to morality, so when the threat of punishment was eliminated, morality was eroded. I should back up here a bit and question whether saying that the "rule of law broke down" is really what happened. Certainly there is not a total breakdown of social structure. In fact, at the beginning of the story there is no real social structure; the boys are just scattered about the island. By the end of the story, the boys are organized under Jack. Ralph, the main threat to that structure, would probably have been killed if the naval officer had not arrived. But these boys were raised in a democratic society. How did they end up with totalitarianism? I would guess that they had never really experienced democracy. Have they ever made group decisions by voting (or better, by consensus)? They vote Ralph leader without any idea of his platform, and then expect him to tell them what to do. What I am suggesting is that they ended up with the rule of force because they had no very clear idea of any alternative. Compare Ralph to Captain Bligh, who also had some deficiencies as a leader. But when Bligh (after the famous Bounty mutiny) decided to risk a 3000 mile journey in an open boat to get back to England, he waited until one of his men suggested it, then warned them of the dangers, and made sure they all agreed before undertaking the trip. Ralph never made any attempt to obtain a mandate from his followers. Jack didn't make an appeal for intellectual commitment either, but he did gain what was basicly a religious commitment. Golding states that he was influenced by Euripides' play "Bacchae" about the conflict between the traditional worship of Apollo and the newfound worship of Dionysus. In the case of a traditional religion like the Apollonian one there is low tension between the religion and society. Because of this, the religion has difficulty appealing to people who are dissatisfied with the status quo. In addition, a low tension religion demands little commitment from its followers and therefore has trouble retaining its credibility. (This may in fact be one reason the boys pay so little attention to Christianity on the island: there was never any occasion for them to commit themselves to Christianity before.) This does not mean that the first new religion that comes along will wipe out traditional religions. A new religion lacks credibility simply because it's new and not widely accepted, and in fact most new religions fail. But if a new religion *is* able to make itself credible to a widespread audience it can supercede traditional religions. On the island, Ralph symbolizes the follower of Apollo and his religious appeal is zilch. Jack symbolizes the follower of Dionysus, and he makes constructs at least the beginnings of a religion. "The beast" is an evil deity, to be feared and propitiated, rather than worshiped, but deities don't have to be good. (There is a tendency for them to evolve in that direction, since a religion has to promise rewards to its followers, and protection from the Beast may not be enough.) Let's now consider the Naval officer who arrives at the end of the book. He is, to put it bluntly, a professional killer. The story takes place during wartime. Of course he is not a threat to his fellow Englishmen, any more than the members of Jack's inner circle of hunters are a threat to each other. It's not clear that religion has any answer to the problem of this Naval officer, who is presumably fighting for God and country. Some religions preach pacifism, which doesn't work so well if only one side practices it. This article has been pretty rambling. Looking it over, it's not clear that religion is the solution to anything. The rise of a totalitarian government is all too believable, but the solution is a commitment to democracy, not to a religion. A deity can try to enforce morality with the threat of punishment, but this is only necessary if genuine morality (doing what is right rather than doing what won't get you punished) is impossible. Golding may believe this; I don't. Finally, the religion that developed on the island didn't seem to help matters. There is a reason for this--it's new. Not that all new religions are bad, but some are. If the island society had continued to exist, Jack would have no doubt altered the religion in places to match the needs of the island society. With respect to this last point, you may recall James Watt's reply to a question about preserving the environment for future generations: he was confident that the second coming was coming soon. This is a risky basis for public policy! A church that's been around long enough will get tired of seeing its predictions fail and will stop making such predictions. We simply have to hope that the church will reach this stage before it becomes too influential. And by then the church will be viewed as having compromised with secular society, and it's likely to split off splinter groups that want to return to "that old-time religion." Kenneth Almquist


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