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Kaj_Sotala comments on Rationality Quotes January 2010 - Less Wrong

3 Post author: Zack_M_Davis 07 January 2010 09:36AM

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Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 09 January 2010 08:40:20AM 5 points [-]

I'm dubious of militant atheism, as it seems counter-productive. Promoting atheism is closely related to promoting science. Aggressively promoting science and proclaiming it to be in direct conflict with religion will polarize society as religious groups will in turn attack science. On the other hand, if you just quietly taught science to everyone and not mention anything about a conflict, religious people would just compartmentalize their beliefs so that they didn't interfere with the things science teaches. You'd basically get people who were technically religious, but close to none of the negative sides.

This has pretty much already happened in my country (Finland). The majority still belongs to a religious domination, but religion is considered a private thing and actually arguing in favor of something "because of the Bible" will get you strange looks and likely branded as a fanatic. Yes, there is still a Christian political party in parliament, but they're a minor player, fielding 7 representatives out of 200. There has traditionally been practically no public debate about any sort of conflict between science and religion, though that's possibly changing as parts of the populace have began to express a fear of Islam. Judging from past evidence, that is probably just going to make any clash of cultures worse. That article is also a good example of the results you'll get when the debate gets polarized, as it shows people who might otherwise have been moderates become extremists.

And yes, we should regardless still continue to provide some critique of religion and the fallacies involved, to shift the social consensus even further into the "religion is just a private way you look at the world, not something you can base real-world decisions on" camp. But one can do that without being overly aggressive.

Comment author: soreff 23 January 2010 06:05:33PM *  5 points [-]

religion is considered a private thing and actually arguing in favor of something "because of the Bible" will get you strange looks and likely branded as a fanatic.

Pardon my drooling - I live in the United States. The inmates run much of the asylum here.

Do you know the history of how Finland acheived this compartmentalization of religion? Are there lessons in the path you followed that we can learn from? We can't directly follow your current-day practices because our would-be theocrats are still quite rabid, and hold significant power. I agree that head-on confrontation doesn't work. What did work?

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 23 January 2010 08:19:32PM *  4 points [-]

Sociology isn't my strongest field (though not my weakest either) and I haven't studied this issue in detail, so I can't provide any very conclusive answers. Still, there's one thing that many people suspect to be at least partially responsible. Curiously enough, this is the existence of a state church. Two to be exact, one Lutheran and one Orthodox.

Most people are members of the Lutheran one (79,7% of the population in 2009, down from 85% in 2000 and from 90% in about 1980). They'll attend a week-long Confirmation camp around age 14, get a church marriage and have their children baptized, have a church funeral when they die. But the church is a very mild, non-radical one. Most of the kids I knew had their Confirmation because tradition says you get gifts afterwards and hey, a week spent camping! The lessons on theology you have to endure are an acceptable price to pay for that.

A prevailing theory is that this acts as a sort of an inoculation against more radical strands of religion. Religion is that traditional thing you grew up with, with neat rituals that bring some comfort and you'll likely believe in at least some of what they say, but that's about it. It's been mostly relegated to the position of "those nice people who provide nice traditional rituals for a few special occasions in everyone's life". And once you're used to the thought of that being the church's function, any church or religion that gets more involved in the daily lives of its followers will seem radical and fanatic in comparison.

ETA: The fact that the church is funded by taxes probably also helps, as it makes the church more independent from the common populace. They don't need to actively collect money from people. If they needed to, the fundraising events would probably reach out to more people and make them feel more committed to the church.

ETA2: Of course, this doesn't explain how the Lutheran church became so secularized. I don't know the answer to that myself either. A plausible hypothesis might be that as a state church, it's had a need to do what the rulers told it to, which has forced it to be more secular than churches that don't need to answer to anyone. That doesn't help much for the situation in the United States, of course.

Comment author: soreff 23 January 2010 10:58:56PM 0 points [-]

Many thanks!

A prevailing theory is that this acts as a sort of an inoculation against more radical strands of religion.

Yes, I've read analysis along those lines before as well.

The fact that the church is funded by taxes probably also helps, as it makes the church more independent from the common populace. They don't need to actively collect money from people.

Good point. And they don't need to carefully tune themselves to actually attract the population either. They are insulated from "market discipline".

That doesn't help much for the situation in the United States, of course.

Agnostics and atheists united to weaken church/state separation by funding lukewarm, preferably bureacratic state religion(s). Hmm, do I have the energy to set up a web site...

One comment and one odd suggestion:

It's been mostly relegated to the position of "those nice people who provide nice traditional rituals for a few special occasions in everyone's life".

But, but...aren't they also supposed to maintain special cuisines for religious festival days too? Once the fangs are gone, I thought that that was one of the central purposes of a nominal religion... :-)

Two to be exact, one Lutheran and one Orthodox.

Perhaps the best solution to Islam is to add a third...

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 24 January 2010 08:21:43AM 4 points [-]

But, but...aren't they also supposed to maintain special cuisines for religious festival days too? Once the fangs are gone, I thought that that was one of the central purposes of a nominal religion... :-)

I found an interesting article which contains a summary of what people in the Nordic countries think are the most important functions of the church:

This makes the Nordic position even more of a paradox. Most uncommitted or marginal Norwegian Lutherans knowingly pay to maintain an organization they do not attend terribly often and to support spokesmen for beliefs they do not hold. The explanation can be discerned from the fascinating material in the Religious and Moral Pluralism (RAMP) study. Respondents were asked to rank the importance of various church activities. There was a surprising degree of agreement between the four countries. The activities rated highest in all four countries were funerals, baptisms and weddings. Next, and surprisingly close, came the preservation of old church buildings and the celebration of Advent and Christmas. Those all came above the mid-way level. Below and in declining order of importance came 'church music and singing of the choir', the celebration of Easter, 'well-known hymns', and 'ringing in of the Sabbath'. The two least important occurrences were 'regular Sunday services' and 'holy communion'! The most important things the church could do were to give a religious gloss to significant personal and community events and to maintain the national heritage by preserving historic church buildings. Marking the Sabbath, regular worship services and what (even for Protestants) should be the most important part of church life, holy communion, were ranked lowest.

Another question asked people to rank ten activities on which the church could spend its resources. The most popular was social work with the old and sick. Second came upkeep of cemeteries. Third was 'keeping churches open for private prayers'. Fourth was international aid and emergency relief. Fifth was the preservation of church buildings. Arranging activities for children and young people was sixth, then came 'arranging services in the national language abroad'. Eighth was aid to Christians abroad, ninth was holding services every Sunday in all parishes, and last in the list was international missionary work. With the exception of keeping churches open for private prayers, there is a very clear ordering here: what have traditionally been regarded as the principle activities of the church — trying to spread the Christian message and regularly worshipping the Lord — were the last two items in order of preference and secular community activities came at the top.

Interestingly, the article also concludes that simply having a state church isn't enough, if the population is too heterogeneous:

The difficulty of interpretation is to know what things would have been like otherwise. Viewed from the USA, it may seem obvious that state support kills religion; from Britain a different interpretation suggests itself. In the Nordic countries and Britain 'demand' for the ideological core of religion is weak. However, the established status of the Lutheran Churches and their tax base allows them to provide social and liturgical services to the population at large. The homogeneity of the societies allows the national churches to be truly national while the multi-national character of the UK prevents its churches playing such a role.

Comment author: soreff 24 January 2010 03:28:12PM 0 points [-]

Many thanks!

The activities rated highest in all four countries were funerals, baptisms and weddings.

Sounds like the state churches should look for a way to inject themselves into graduation ceremonies... Tricky balancing act, keeping them banal and toothless, but not fading into oblivion...

Interestingly, the article also concludes that simply having a state church isn't enough, if the population is too heterogeneous

Ouch! So innoculation via state religion has the same heterogeneity problem that personalized medicine has...