Who Dares to Speak of Easter Week?

by Kieran Healy on April 5, 2004

We’re on an “Evolutionary”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/001628.html “Psychology”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/001629.html kick here at CT. It seems most of our commenters are more enamored of it than some of our contributors. This is maladaptive for the CT meme, because the realization that we disagree will cause traffic to our site to drop. Unless it’s actually adaptive, because the disagreement means traffic to our site will rise. While we’re on the topic, I mean meme, I want to know how my 12-week-old daughter’s emerging desire to put everything that comes her way into her mouth is either evolutionarily adaptive or individually rational. I’ve also spent the day variously exposed to something else realist-types tend to explain, according to taste, as a matter of “adaptive fitness”:http://faculty.wm.edu/lakirk/evo_rel.html or “rational choice”:http://www.findarticles.com/cf_dls/m0SOR/1_61/61908759/p1/article.jhtml, namely religion.[1]

I’m in South Carolina at the moment, and this morning I listened to a lot of radio programming from a station broadcasting Baptist preachers from Easley and Pickens. It was interesting, because as this form of preaching goes it was pretty bad. The highly conventionalized rhetoric of the preaching — marking pauses with “Amen,” namechecking brothers and sisters in the congregation, working through the verses — had little of the intensely musical quality it’s capable of. Instead it served as filler while the Preacher figured out where the next sentence was going. The guy I listened to was working on an extended metaphor about loving your enemies, in particular those people who honk at you from their fancy trucks on the local highways even though you’re only going a few miles below the speed limit of 45 and that’s only because you’re on the phone. But then he segued into a whole piece about how when _he_ was a boy his parents, gathered up now by the Lord God Almighty, Amen, had always told him to respect the Preacher, there was never any talk about how the Preacher ain’t no good, and how can you expect the Preacher to win your children over to Christ when you go home on a Sunday and have the Preacher for dinner? Or lunch? Why I imagine some of you even have him for breakfast, Amen. How can this church grow and prosper — and I tell you that it _will_ grow and prosper, and you may grow and prosper with it and the Lord God Jesus Christ, I know you will come with me, Brother Ray — when people are spreading rumors about the Preacher? How many of you are here — I ask you how many of you are here just to honk your horns today?

The rumor — whatever it was — tended to keep the Preacher’s mind off of the verse, and he kept drifting back to it until his time on air ran out. Later, in a more professional but less satisfying production, CNN addressed “The Mystery of Jesus”:http://www.cnn.com/2004/WORLD/meast/03/29/mystery.jesus/. The main problem with it was the escape-hatch issue that plagues religious documentaries. (Or rather, documentaries about Christianity.) The biblical scholars, historians and archaeologists were on screen for next to no time. Just enough to suggest that there’s a large body of fairly well-established knowledge about the historical Jesus and the creation of the Gospels, but not enough time to actually get much of that information across and help, you know, address the mystery rather than enhance it. Instead, “science” was wheeled out to answer questions like “What did Jesus actually look like?” (Answer: probably not like someone raised on brie in Stockholm) and “What would the medical cause of death by crucifixion really have been?”

My third bit of religion today came via South Park’s “Passion of the Jew”:http://www.southparkstudios.com/down/video.html?season=8, which I hadn’t seen before. It offered a pretty balanced take on Mel Gibson’s _The Passion_, not to mention the broader theological and social dimensions of the film as a cultural phenomenon. I found Cartman’s ability to organize the unwitting townspeople into a neofascist lynch mob particularly convincing, together with the analysis of Gibson’s psychological motivations. At least in the cartoon version, even Steven Pinker would have find it hard to construe them as adaptive. Or rational.

fn1. Judging by the abstract, that first article seems to rediscover “Tylor’s animistic theory”:http://www.indiana.edu/~wanthro/religion.htm of religion.



Cosma 04.05.04 at 2:14 pm

Actually, there’s a rather well-worked-out theory of religion in the evolutionary psychology literature according to which it is not adaptive, but rather a side-effect of a number of (specific) adaptations. Probably the best summary is Scott Atran’s In Gods We Trust.


david 04.05.04 at 2:22 pm

Sorry, KH. Yours was funny, but Cosma’s funnier still.


ogged 04.05.04 at 4:14 pm

Daughter? Congratulations!


Realish 04.05.04 at 10:45 pm

My boy just reached 7 months, Kieren — you have much to look forward to.

Watching a little creature sit up and start to move around and intensely absorb and make sense of their environment really makes any and all simplistic gene vs. environment arguments taste like thin gruel.


P O'Neill 04.05.04 at 11:06 pm

If your title means to have a little Irish reference in there, don’t you mean “Who FEARS to speak of Easter Week?”


Strange 04.06.04 at 1:53 am

Speaking of evolutionary psych and religion, have you read Atran’s missive on the evolution of religion? It embodies all the problems you’ve mentioned about evolutionary psych.


Amardeep Singh 04.08.04 at 11:14 pm

Actually your first two examples (rambling radio preacher, incompetent pseudo-journalistic documentary) tell us more about the failure of American society to meaningfully engage with its fountains of chaotic religiosity than they do about evolutionary psychology. (*Unless I’m missing the point, which is entirely possible*)

Perhaps South Park has evolved as an adaptive mechanism for those of us who don’t understand a) the appeal of American evangelicalism or b) the failure of journalism to evaluate facticity on any matter whatsoever?

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