Vox populi

by Henry on April 19, 2007

Another “bloggingheads.tv”:http://bloggingheads.tv/video.php?id=247 with Will Wilkinson is up; among other things we talk about bad culturalist arguments and my sad yet inexorable decline into “Goldberg Derangement Syndrome”:http://www.matthewyglesias.com/archives/2007/04/goldberg_derangement_syndrome/. I suggest that overly determinist cultural arguments aren’t very convincing, especially when they try to explain gross differences between societies. Good cultural explanations need to identify the specific mechanisms that make for cultural stability and change. Coincidentally, I was involved in discussion today over an interesting-sounding new piece from Steve Pfaff, an University of Washington sociologist, forthcoming in Jeff Kopstein and Sven Steinmo’s new volume on divergence between the EU and US. It’s notorious that far fewer Europeans report going to church than Americans – this is often presented, especially in the pop-lit, as evidence of profound and lasting cultural divergence between the two. There’s good sociological reason to suggest that it is nothing of the sort – a key causal factor is the degree of marketplace competition.

In many European countries, churches are established and have official state support, so that they don’t have enormous need to tout for churchgoers. They’re monopolists, and as Albert Hirschman suggests, monopolists tend to be lazy. In the US, in contrast, the legal institution of church-state separation means that churches have to tout actively for business, often through means that appear crassly commercial to Europeans (megachurches and the like). Because they’ll disappear if they don’t attract adherents, they have good incentive to succeed rather better than their European counterparts in putting bums on seats. Apparently, there is a striking negative correlation between church establishment and church attendance across West European countries. Now this presumably isn’t the only causal factor – but it is an important one – and one which suggests that an apparently gross cultural divergence between the US and Europe is to a large extent rooted in the quite particular institutions governing church-state relations (you could perhaps claim that these institutions are themselves manifestations of broad cultural differences, but this would be to miss out on the quite specific historical reasons why they came into being).

{ 74 comments }

1

Mike J. 04.19.07 at 3:39 am

“And in the end, the civil magistrate will find, that he has dearly paid for his pretended frugality, in saving a fixed establishment for the priests; and that in reality the most decent and advantageous composition, which he can make the spiritual guides, is to bribe their indolence, by assigning stated salaries to their profession, and rendering it superfluous for them to be farther active, than merely to prevent their flock from straying in quest of new pastures.”
David Hume, History of England, ch. 29.

2

Rod 04.19.07 at 4:02 am

But this is not a factor in Canada where church attendance is closer to European levels.

3

Pierrot 04.19.07 at 4:27 am

This is maybe true for Sweden or Germany, but France is the most secular country in Europe, and no religion has official state support.
So I guess the point is not valid :)

4

radek 04.19.07 at 4:28 am

overly determinist cultural arguments aren’t very convincing, especially when they try to explain gross differences between societies…

This was actually the subject of a really good Cato Unbound discussion (even if you’re not the libertarian type) two months back or so. On one hand culture probably does matter for a lot of social phenomenon we observe. On the other…what the hell is it? There’s a lot of explanations (and both sides of the political spectrum are guilty of abuse on this) which basically attribute anything that cannot be explained to “culture”. You see, it’s their culture. They’re poorer because it’s their culture. They’re more violent (the Americans!) because it’s their culture. The reason the social welfare state works there but not here is because of the culture. In an absence of any good explanation culture becomes the catch all for all negative lack of knowledge that begs to be explained. As such I think economists have good reasons to be suspicious of “cultural” explanations of social phenomenon (however much you dislike Gary Becker). But less than 100% reasons.

Because “culture”, whatever it is, probably does matter. There are big things which cannot be explained by observed or even unobserved-but-plausibly-postulated mechanisms. But leaving it at that is a lazy person’s theory. So Henry’s 100% right that:

Good cultural explanations need to identify the specific mechanisms that make for cultural stability and change.

5

radek 04.19.07 at 4:34 am

And, I like your explanation for the US/Europe religious divergence. It’s the creative destruction, Schumpeter and Arrow, theory of competition-is-good-for-innovation. Quantifiable and all.

6

Bloix 04.19.07 at 4:56 am

Churches in Europe are not monopolists. In Germany the state collects a tax and pays it to whatever denomination you belong to, or no denomination if you belong to none. Therefore the various churches are in direct competition for tax dollars. In Scandinavia historically only the established Lutheran churches were supported (in 2000 Sweden moved to the German system). In England only the Anglican church is supported, yet there are many Catholics and Methodists, who have been in competition with the established church for centuries.

So, other than being factually incorrect, this is an interesting post.

7

sara 04.19.07 at 5:14 am

It’s reasonable to assume that people whose religious institutions socially coerce them into ponying up money (as tithes, donations, etc.) and time would overvalue these institutions as a way of feeling that they’re getting their money’s worth. They try to make converts so that other people will also have to contribute their share. The ones who don’t buy into it, run away to the big city and become godless atheists.

8

Tracy W 04.19.07 at 5:16 am

And in NZ the churches are not subsidised, but church attendance is at European-like levels.

Furthermore, as far as I know, in many parts of Europe only one church is subsidised – eg the Anglican church in England. Surely in such countries other churches have an incentive to hustle for members?

9

Filter 04.19.07 at 5:58 am

I suggest that well-established European churches need less attendance because they have alternative ways to make them heard and keep adherents. For example, you see a lot of priests and religious people in Italy’s TV news and talk shows.

10

fjm 04.19.07 at 6:09 am

Nah. The Church of England is quiescent because they put massive amounts of money and time into urban evangelism in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and acheived sod all. See Jerry White’s London in the Nineteenth Century.

The only real lock the churches have in the UK is there role in running some schools. They compete fiercely for students, claim a huge rate of succces with their students (mostly from creaming off more desirable students) and *still* can’t get them in the pews at 16.

11

magistra 04.19.07 at 6:24 am

Yet another piece of evidence against your thesis is the study by Callum Brown, ‘The Death of Christian Britain’. This make a reasonable argument (based on oral testimony and an analysis of ‘Christian discourse’ in different kinds of literature) that secularisation only really affected Britain in the 1960s.

12

Daniel Nexon 04.19.07 at 7:12 am

I know this sounds a bit curmudgeonly, but this really isn’t Henry’s thesis and he should not have presented it as such. One can find roots of this argument at least as far back as Tocqueville, but its modern variant is associated with “rational choice” (or “supply-side”) theories of religion, e.g., those of Rodney Stark.

While there’s a lot of evidence for the theory, it doesn’t explain all variation and it rests of some potentially questionable assumptions about human religiosity. Henry also doesn’t consider sophisticated social-constructionist alternatives, such as Casanova’s argument about “secularization”:

We need to entertain seriously the proposition that secularization became a self- fulfilling prophecy in Europe, once large sectors of the population of Western European societies, including the Christian churches, accepted the basic premises of the theory of secularization: that secularization is a teleological process of modern social change; that
the more modern a society the more secular it becomes; that “secularity” is “a sign of the times.”

Indeed, it strikes me that this argument better explains the rapid postwar unchurching of many western European countries. If this dimension of “secularization” were solely the result of the monopolistic character of established Churches, then we face some serious issues about the timing–and speed–of this change in European society.

IIRC, Poland provides evidence for this being something more than monopolization as well: underlying trends among Polish youth point to a (relatively) rapid convergence towards European practices.

13

Daniel Nexon 04.19.07 at 7:14 am

Okay.. that was weird. Everything looked fine in the preview box. Let me try again….

I know this sounds a bit curmudgeonly, but this really isn’t Henry’s thesis and he should not have presented it as such. One can find roots of this argument at least as far back as Tocqueville, but its modern variant is associated with “rational choice” (or “supply-side”) theories of religion, e.g., those of Rodney Stark.

While there’s a lot of evidence for the theory, it doesn’t explain all variation and it rests of some potentially questionable assumptions about human religiosity. Henry also doesn’t consider sophisticated social-constructionist alternatives, such as Casanova’s argument about “secularization”:

“We need to entertain seriously the proposition that secularization became a self- fulfilling prophecy in Europe, once large sectors of the population of Western European societies, including the Christian churches, accepted the basic premises of the theory of secularization: that secularization is a teleological process of modern social change; that the more modern a society the more secular it becomes; that ‘secularity’ is ‘a sign of the times.'”

Indeed, it strikes me that this argument better explains the rapid postwar unchurching of many western European countries. If this dimension of “secularization” were solely the result of the monopolistic character of established Churches, then we face some serious issues about the timing–and speed–of this change in European society.

IIRC, Poland provides evidence for this being something more than monopolization as well: underlying trends among Polish youth point to a (relatively) rapid convergence towards European practices.

14

sharon 04.19.07 at 7:31 am

Another data point: Wales has not had an established church since 1920 (and has plenty of competing denominations!), but regular church attendance is only marginally higher (14% rather than 12%) than in England.

I was under the impression that one of the main differences is that in the US, churches provide important social and economic services in local communities, in the absence of a welfare state. But in the UK and Europe, churches are almost exclusively religious organisations.

15

novakant 04.19.07 at 8:05 am

IIRC, Poland provides evidence for this being something more than monopolization as well: underlying trends among Polish youth point to a (relatively) rapid convergence towards European practices.

Similar points could be made about Ireland – the sea change there never fails to astonish me.

16

abb1 04.19.07 at 8:10 am

I think higher density of urbanization is a better explanation than competition of churches. High density urbanization explains not only lower religiosity but many other cultural differences too.

17

bad Jim 04.19.07 at 8:12 am

It’s my understanding that evangelical Christianity is on the rise throughout Latin America, historically a Catholic monopoly, although not always a state establishment.

What, then, explains the Americas’ relative religiosity? The weakness of the state, the reliance upon churches for social services, racial and socio-economic stratification?

The marketing of religion in the Americas is apparently more effective than it is in Europe, but there does appear to be a difference in the demand for the product.

Perhaps the secularization of Europe is the phenomenon in need of explanation, since one or two hundred years ago all three continents were pretty conventionally religious. Was it the war? Socialism? Television? Popular music? Espresso?

18

Ciarán 04.19.07 at 8:29 am

Wouldn’t some of the explanation here have to involve capacity to compete through advertising?

In Ireland adverts that are directed towards religious or political ends are banned under Section 10 of the Broadcasting Act (the political bit of which has led to a bizarre decision this year over this ad). I don’t know, but I’m willing to guess that this sort of regulation is pretty common across Europe.

19

Isabel 04.19.07 at 9:00 am

I think Sharon has a very good point. For example, in some (Roman Catholic) countries, many monasteries had a “wheel” where people would put newborns that they didn’t want to raise; later, the cities themselves organized the reception of these abandoned babies. And recently I’ve read a paper connecting the declining birth rate in Italy with the sharp drop of religious “vocations”, that caused a scarcity of cheap or free childcare centers, not quite replaced by State-run ones.

20

Katherine 04.19.07 at 9:20 am

Following on from Daniel Nexon’s point about secularisation, and at the risk of making a overly deterministic cultural argument, a noteable difference in the US and the UK around matters of religion is the public/private dichotomy.

In England at least, most people don’t talk about their personal religious beliefs in a public environment. Politicians never do. You won’t hear any main stream politician thanking god for getting into Parliament, or saying “god bless the UK”. And it’s a bit socially embarrassing when someone does, quite honestly.

The fact that religious belief (as opposed to, say, discussions of theology) tends to be privately expressed and privately discussed would make it culturally very difficult for any group to hussle for punters.

21

Alison 04.19.07 at 9:40 am

I was reading ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’ by George Orwell recently, and he commented (this was in 1940 I think?) that the British working classes were largely uninterested in religion

‘the common people are without definite religious belief, and have been so for centuries. The Anglican Church never had a real hold on them, it was simply a preserve of the landed gentry, and the Nonconformist sects only influenced minorities.’

Of course one never knows how a person is calibrating such a judgement. I see people in countries I consider extremely religious complaining about secularism – obviously Orwell is not complaining, but he may be operating from high baseline derived from his childhood and school experiences.

And it certainly seems from casual conversation that older generations of working class British people (our grandparents and great-grandparents) had little engagement with religion. It is different for people from other classes and backgrounds in Britain, though, for instance people whose grandparents came over from Ireland.

22

ajay 04.19.07 at 9:43 am

In many European countries, churches are established and have official state support, so that they don’t have enormous need to tout for churchgoers. They’re monopolists, and as Albert Hirschman suggests, monopolists tend to be lazy.

I stopped reading at this point. If this post had been about naval strategy, it would probably have included a line like “No one has yet invented a warship capable of travelling under water” or “Italy has the largest navy in the world”.

Seriously, did Henry just miss the entire last three centuries of European religious history or what? Is he still stuck in the era of cuius regio eius religio?

filter: true, but the US doesn’t exactly keep its clergymen away from the cameras either, does it?

sharon: very good point. Entirely plausible. Do states in the US with better welfare systems have lower church attendance?

23

Katherine 04.19.07 at 10:00 am

I take it also that we are avoiding/forgetting the Why Are Women More Religious Than Men (https://crookedtimber.org/2007/03/18/why-are-women-more-religious-than-men/) in this discussion about why the US is, apparently, more religious than Western Europe?

24

alphie 04.19.07 at 10:31 am

Interesting chat, despite the lack of Althouse-like meltdown.

I think scientists have brought their current lowly status upon themselves with their silly, costly research into things like string theory and the 40+ year search for the elusive Higgs boson.

God looks pretty reasonable compared to 10+ dimensions.

25

soru 04.19.07 at 11:05 am

@alphie: I think you may be confusing two issues.

String theory research is incredibly cheap, being untestable.

Looking for the Higgs boson is eye-wateringly expensive, but virtually guaranteed to produce a result one way or another within a decade – the lowest experimantally possible value for its mass is approaching the upper limit of that theoretically possible.

The two situations are about as different as can be, so if you disapprove of both, you run the risk of disapproving of everything else in between.

26

alphie 04.19.07 at 11:12 am

If you assume a scientist’s time is worth zero, you are correct, soru. How many hours are spent on string theory?

As for the Higgs bosun, only 10 more years before there’s a payoff?

That would make a total of 52 years looking for that little rascal.

I’m for science that has an actual shot at benefiting humans within, say, an average human lifespan.

Something science stopped working on sometime in the 60s.

27

Katherine 04.19.07 at 11:15 am

Alphie also seems to assume that science and religion are in direct competition with each other. Clearly, in some cases/places this has happened, but it doesn’t have to be so.

I rather wish that scientists would keep their talking heads out of religion, just as much as religious commentators should shut the hell up about science.

28

Mrs Tilton 04.19.07 at 11:42 am

A couple of plural-of-anecdote points…

Bloix @ 5:

In Germany the state collects a tax and pays it to whatever denomination you belong to, or no denomination if you belong to none. Therefore the various churches are in direct competition for tax dollars.

Up to a point, Lord Copper. The German state collects a church tax from registered members of, and distributes the proceeds to, the two de facto (but not de jure) established churches, the RCs and (mainstream) Lutherans, as well as to the (much smaller, but growing) Jewish community. Other Christian denominations (Methodists, Mennonites, splinter-group Lutherans, snake-handling glossolallians and whatever you’re having yourself) are known technically as Freikirchen and get nothing from the state. (They also lack the vast financial and real estate holdings of the RCC and mainstream Lutherans.) The free churches depend on the ongoing financial support of their membership, and this tends to affirm Henry’s observation — the established churches are state-subsidised, have a large notional membership and are empty; the free churches do not compete with them for tax dollars (or euro, anyway), and have a much tinier, but much more committed and active membership.

(BTW, if you don’t belong to any denomination, you simply don’t pay the tax, which is not de minimis. This is the main reason why increasing numbers of nominal church members take the steps necessary to formally deregister as members.)

The two established churches do not really compete directly, either. Conversion from the one to the other is vanishingly rare, and so far as I can see there is no active inter-denominational proselytism. Proselytising activity seems primarily inward-directed, i.e., each of the two churches trying to persuade the large numbers of its own purely notional members to become more active. In Germany, whether one is RC or Lutheran says less about one’s beliefs than it does about what part of Germany one is from (or, given the much higher degree of geographical mobility in the past couple of generations, where one’s ancestors were from) — cuius regio lässt grüssen!

Sharon @ 13:

…in the US, churches provide important social and economic services in local communities, in the absence of a welfare state. But in the UK and Europe, churches are almost exclusively religious organisations.

That’s not quite true; at least, not universally. The churches are importantly involved in education in the UK and Ireland. In Germany, they have little to do with education as such, but play a significant role in running or supporting kindergartens, old-age homes, hospitals, advice centres for addicts etc. (That’s one of the justifications proffered for their receipt of the church tax — the churches are expected to be part of the welfare state.)

Isabel @ 17

For example, in some (Roman Catholic) countries, many monasteries had a “wheel” where people would put newborns that they didn’t want to raise; later, the cities themselves organized the reception of these abandoned babies.

In Germany, some RC-run hospitals have reintroduced that “wheel” (Babyklappe). Mothers can give up a newborn at the hospital, with no questions asked and nothing reported to the authorities. (Obviously, she could give up the baby anywhere and it wouldn’t be exposed on a hillside; but her data would be taken and recorded, the police would be informed etc.) I have very little time for the RCC, and am unreservedly pro-choice; but I admire this idea. If a mother wants to carry her child to term but cannot raise it, and is willing to give up the child rather than abort it so long as her confidentiality is maintained (and isn’t bothered by the thought that the child would likely be raised a catholic), then fair play to her. It is all the more admirable in that the catholic hospitals that do this are, technically, breaking the law (or at least were, when they started doing this a few years ago; the legislature might have made some accommodation since then).

29

Jacob T. Levy 04.19.07 at 12:04 pm

I read the post and was all excited to get the Hume indolence quote into play, only to find that it had been done at 3 am in the very first comment…

I don’t quite get the supposed opposition between the state-church Tocquevillean argument and the culturalist argument. Cultural divergence has to start *somewhere.* I suppose that Henry might be suggesting that religiosity might be highly sensitive to changes in the institutional environment *now*, and that disestablishment in Europe would make a big difference…? Whereas a culturalist, even a culturalist who explains the cultural divergence in institutionalist terms, thinks that the difference is now entrenched or sticky.

30

Barry 04.19.07 at 12:28 pm

IIRC, from the last go-around on this that I heard (back on Usenet in the mid-1990’s), that Souther Europe has higher attendance that Northern Europe, despite lesser religious competition.

31

Steve LaBonne 04.19.07 at 12:40 pm

I rather wish that scientists would keep their talking heads out of religion, just as much as religious commentators should shut the hell up about science.

Go on wishing all you want, but some of us are not going to shut up about the inanity of relgiion, especially those of us in the US where religion makes a large “contribution” to public ignorance.

32

Isabel 04.19.07 at 12:43 pm

Mrs. Tilton, apparently in the US 45 States have instituted similar “safe havens” (like police stations, hospitals, etc) where people can anonimously abandon newborns. While I can understand that this was an acceptable solution at a time where no effective contraception existed, it saddens me to see that it still has a role in our time. I would much prefer to see sexual education and free contraception more available. And I certainly hope that the survival rate of these babies is higher than before, where it was little more than acceptable infanticide, anyway.

33

Scott Martens 04.19.07 at 12:49 pm

Even if Kopstein and Steinmo’s explanation is true (it might be, I’m not dismissing it), I still see no reason to think church attendance isn’t “evidence of profound and lasting cultural divergence.” I guess I’m agreeing with Jacob Levy above. If our notion of culture does not include the institutions that sustain it, then what the hell is the word supposed to mean?

I would think it might make more sense to see church establishment as a symptom of the real cause of the difference in church attendance, rather than as a cause. For example, Norway has an established church and although most Norwegians have expressed very little personal attachment to it, there is – IIRC – a broad consensus to retain the established church as a cultural institution. Seeing a church as a cultural and social identifier is explicitly discouraged by most American evangelicals. In Europe it appears to be the domainant role of religion, and even the churches themselves seem to have accepted this function for themselves. Seen in those terms, state-established churches make a good deal of sense: the government subsidises a desired and publicly supported element of national cultural identity, and the churches are content to serve as such. In America, many people see religion as something that transcends their culture or national identity.

Canada can be explained then as an intermediate case. Many people in a Canada view their churches, although not legally established, as an aspect of a strong sense of cultural identity. Catholic for at least some francophones, the two major Ukrainian churches for Ukrainians, the Mennonites, and yes, the UCC and the Anglicans for many unhyphenated Canadians of British ethnic origin. While others, especially in Alberta, have brought a much more evangelical conception of religion with them.

34

soru 04.19.07 at 12:49 pm

‘Something science stopped working on sometime in the 60s.’

The true part of that claim is that there have been no really major society-changing discoveries from big-P physics since the A bomb, or perhaps the transistor.

No anti-gravity, invisibility, warp drive, teleportation, time travel, exotic power source or weapon.

There are 4 main explanations for that observed fact:

1. environmental: it so happens there was nothing relevant plausibly discoverable.

2. cultural: something about the culture of physics is wrong – it is too experimental, not experimental enough, etc.

3. institutional: something about the incentives or organisation of physicists has made any such discovery less likely

4. contingent: just random luck that nobody thought of the right idea

I think it is quite a stretch to claim confident knowledge that the answer is #2.

35

Steve LaBonne 04.19.07 at 12:56 pm

“Society-changing” basic science discoveries can’t just be ordered from a menu. The last few decades’ worth of society-changing discoveries in biology were made possible by highly obscure (at the time) work on things like bacterial restriction-modification systems that could not, at the time, possibly have been foreseen to have any future applications at all.

36

Henry 04.19.07 at 1:01 pm

I’ll get into the substantive comments later, but just wanted to make clear to Dan Nexon and any one else who might have thought it that I’m not claiming that the arguments are original to me. They are in the Pfaff piece, and, I understand from my colleague (and ex-CT-guest blogger) Kimberly Morgan that this line of argument is well established in the sociology of religion. Kimberly also mentioned yesterday that there is research suggesting that the quoted figures for church attendance are pretty suspect, but that is the matter for another post.

37

soru 04.19.07 at 1:09 pm

@stave: so, in your view, is the difference in outcome for biology vs physics, environmental, cultural, institutional or contingent?

38

norbizness 04.19.07 at 1:10 pm

Did you drown a bunch of kittens in a previous life to have been sentenced to bloggingheads.tv?

39

Steve LaBonne 04.19.07 at 1:19 pm

Contingent. Discoveries that lead to major applications later on happen when they happen- not on a schedule- and moreover, often can’t be recognized as such at the time. It’s unfortunate that scientists themselves, when they’re hyping their work to attract grant funds, often obfuscate this fact (they will often acknowledge this in private but “defend” it as beng necessary to survive- behavior of which I strongly disapprove since it’s not only dishonest, which is bad enough, but also merely perpetuates lay ignorance about how science actually works. Of course it’s easy for me to say since I’m no longer an academic scientist dependent on grant money.)

40

Mike J 04.19.07 at 1:20 pm

I read the post and was all excited to get the Hume indolence quote into play, only to find that it had been done at 3 am in the very first comment…

And what’s my reward? One guy complains that Henry didn’t realize that the idea goes back to Tocqueville, and one guy complains that he wanted to quote from Hume first.

Pedantry just doesn’t pay.

41

Daniel Nexon 04.19.07 at 2:35 pm

Jacob: “Whereas a culturalist, even a culturalist who explains the cultural divergence in institutionalist terms, thinks that the difference is now entrenched or sticky.”

I’m not sure this follows. If European levels of “secularization” (understood in terms of, for example, “believing without belonging” or attitudes less tolerant of religious figures and claims being advanced in the political sphere) stem from a dominant discourse about “modernity,” then it might easily be reversed. This is a point I make, IIRC, in my chapter in the edited volume I linked to.

42

Daniel Nexon 04.19.07 at 2:36 pm

Henry: I apologize for implying that you were deliberately misleading us. But it did seem that a number of commentators misread you on this point.

43

Steve LaBonne 04.19.07 at 2:53 pm

Has anybody published a study on changing attitudes toward religion, and the causes of those changes, in the course of Quebec’s Revolution tranquille? That’s a recent case of pretty rapid and dramatic secularization, in a “country” with a dominant though not legally established church. (I’m also curious about the somewhat similar Irish case.)

44

Doug 04.19.07 at 3:21 pm

Any of the historians here know how Albion’s Seed was received within the field?

The central thesis is that four competing strands within US culture can be traced to very specific migrations from Britain (and to a much lesser extent Ireland) that set up institutions and cultural frameworks that persisted quite a long time from the early colonial period, and in some aspects into the present.

There’s a good argument in there, with cultural attributes, speficic carriers, institutions and effects. On the other hand, he goes through topics so lickety-split that there’s not enough there to get really consistently convincing on the specifics. (I may be the first person to complain that the 800-page doorstop of a book is way too short.)

Anyway, the book has been out almost twenty years, and it bears on this discussion, so any expert opinions out there?

45

Katherine 04.19.07 at 3:25 pm

“I rather wish that scientists would keep their talking heads out of religion, just as much as religious commentators should shut the hell up about science.

Go on wishing all you want, but some of us are not going to shut up about the inanity of relgiion, especially those of us in the US where religion makes a large “contribution” to public ignorance.”

steve labonne @ #31, you’ve rather made my point for me. Hey, I don’t know who started it, but if you keep beating up on religion because they are beating on science, and religion keeps beating up on science because science keeps beating up on them, well, where exactly does it end?

My point was only that it does not have to be that way. I haven’t the faintest clue how you’d go about changing it, but I suspect a good start would be not being quite so loud and obnoxious about the “inanity” of religion, when there are plenty of religious folk who have nothing against science and scientists except when they call their beliefs “inane”.

46

dearieme 04.19.07 at 3:28 pm

I’ve lived in both Scotland and England and can confirm that neither established church has a religious monopoly. More worryingly, I have no memory of paying either church a subsidy. How did the wily buggers slip that past me?

The reason that more Americans than Europeans believe in God is that more Americans are bonkers.

47

Steve LaBonne 04.19.07 at 3:39 pm

Katherine, I’m rather afraid that for those of us who believe that the honest answer to “are religion and science really compatible” is NO, it really does have to be that way. Now, perhaps those of us in the US would feel free to be a bit less vocal if religion here were as relatively non-injurious as it’s become in Europe, but that’s very far from being the case.

Rather, I would say it’s actually the duty of the more reality-based segment of religious believers to confront their many co-religionists who have gone off the deep end- that also might increase the willingness of people like me to stay out of it. But with some honorable exceptions- which I salute- they’ve been pretty dilatory about doing so.

48

Mrs Tilton 04.19.07 at 3:58 pm

Isabel @ 32:

While I can understand that [the “wheel” for giving up babies] was an acceptable solution at a time where no effective contraception existed, it saddens me to see that it still has a role in our time. I would much prefer to see sexual education and free contraception more available.

I am in complete agreement with you. However, where a woman is, for whatever reason, pregnant, and sees her options as (1) without the “wheel”, abortion and (ii) with the “wheel”, abortion or giving up the baby, then the “wheel” is a Good Thing. It increases the choices available to the woman, and that is to be desired.

49

Walt 04.19.07 at 4:09 pm

Alphie: You have no idea what you are talking about. The Higgs boson is a prediction of the most successful theory in the history of humanity, the only significant prediction not yet borne out by experiment. That testing this prediction does not seem important to you says more about you than it does about physicists.

Katherine: The situation is not symmetrical. “Scientist” is not the same type of thing as “religious person”. There are religious scientists, and atheistic non-scientists. Steve is as entitled to say that science shows that God does not exist as a religious person is entitled to show that science proves that God is glorious.

50

Henry 04.19.07 at 4:11 pm

Some brief replies:

bloix – what mrs. tilton said. And the question here is not whether or not religions in Germany have an incentive to attract people who claim they are Catholic etc, but people who attend church services regularly. In Germany, the mainline churches don’t have that incentive. As best as I recall from the couple of years that I lived there, the main incentive to declare yourself Catholic on the tax forms was that you had enormous difficulty getting married, kids baptized, funeralled etc by Catholic priests if you didn’t. This is, I suspect the only force that keeps some of the nominal catholics that mrs. t. talks about from defecting completely.

Novakant and Dan, I think that the rapid secularization in Poland and Germany probably isn’t well explained by this. But I heard a presentation of the findings rather than reading the original paper – it may be that it is addressed there. I’ll try to find out. Dan – the wording of the original post was somewhat circumlocutory so I certainly don’t blame you for making the wrong assumption here.

jacob and scott – I could see this as the basis for a reasonable culturalist explanation (although my intellectual biases would lead me to predict that incentives count for more than culture here, I could well be wrong). But the point is that this kind of explanation would be in principle a ‘good’ one – it would have an account of where the cultural values came from, and perhaps of what is sustaining them over time (with the room for predictions over when they might change). This is light years away from the pretty banal ‘Europeans are atheists, Americans sincere believers” kind of stuff that tends to dominate semi-popular discourse.

norbizness – have no memories of doing so. On the other hand, I’ve always thought that occasional CT commenter novalis’s blog, “It Doesn’t End Well for the Kitten” has the best title evah.

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Katherine 04.19.07 at 4:42 pm

Walt, I’m not entirely sure what you are trying to say there. I didn’t say scientists and religious people are symetrical and I am more than aware that there are religious scientists and athiest non-scientists.

I was, in fact, saying that two things (science and religion) are NOT, in fact, incompatible (see #27). Now Steve obviously disagrees, and my post at #27 was wishing that this did not happen. Of course he is entitled to say whatever he wants, I just wish he wouldn’t.

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Mrs Tilton 04.19.07 at 4:58 pm

This is, I suspect the only force that keeps some of the nominal catholics that mrs. t. talks about from defecting completely.

You’re largely right, I think. Lots of essentially irreligious people want — perhaps for sentimental reasons, perhaps because denominational affiliation is an element of their identity — to be “hatched, matched and dispatched” from a church. If you’ve struck yourself from the rolls, the priests are likely to balk (and fair enough, I suppose).

Another reason is that a fair few people with no strong religious feelings are supportive of “religion in general” — everyone should have one, they feel, though they are largely indifferent to what it is. Another anecdote: a friend’s father was a farm equipment dealer in a rural part of Bavaria. He was a (rather apathetic) atheist, but never formally left the church. He thought his business would suffer if he did; the pious yeomanry wouldn’t give their custom to a godless heathen. What’s interesting is that he was a prod in a heavily RC area. The neighbours didn’t care that he dug with the other foot (they would have done, a generation or two earlier), just so long as he had some (not too outlandish) religion.

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will u. 04.19.07 at 5:28 pm

It’s my understanding that we can expect experimental confirmation or disconfirmation of the Higgs mechanism after the LHC comes online. As Walt notes, the Standard Model has been enormously successful — so much so that any experimental evidence that points beyond it would be a Big Deal Indeed and provide a needed reality check for the string theorists.

As for the purported failure of physics to yield any substantial social utility since the transistor: I’d be more sympathetic if I subscribed to the 1950s view of applied physics as nuclear + solid state — a view which excludes complex fluids, biophysics, etc.

Moreover, it seems a little unreasonable to expect a technological revolution on the scale of Steam or Silicon every decade.

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Walt 04.19.07 at 5:47 pm

Katherine, I don’t see how that is a reasonable wish.

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alphie 04.19.07 at 7:12 pm

walt,

If you asked Americans to name the most famous living American scientist…could they even name a single one?

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Luis Alegria 04.19.07 at 7:16 pm

Mr. Henry,

It seems to me that this is not a good example at all of an explanation for social phenomena. It really isn’t sufficiently concrete, and is no better than the “arm waving”. We really do need to go much deeper for mechanisms, and prove them empirically and through experiments before we can make such explanations useful.

Let me make another example, or parable, of a cultural explanation that went wrong, one much more concrete than that religious one. Back in the 1960’s James Coleman ran a very large scale series of studies on what could be done to get black students performance up to national standards.

The results showed conclusively that what made a difference was not teaching approaches, funding, or any other input variable, but simply the nature of the students – middle class students simply did better no matter the situation – a cultural phenomenon, probably. That observation at least has been repeated and proven reliable since (no matter what Kozol says). So the conclusion was that the best policy was to integrate the schools (or rather, the study results were often used as a justification for this already established policy), on the grounds that putting poor black students in a white middle class context would transfer successful bourgeois values through “peer effects”. There was little in the way of examination of the mechanics of peer effects, or experimental analyses of policies.

Hence the wave of attempts at integration, through busing schemes and, often, extremely expensive attraction schemes (magnet schools, and much larger scale failures like the Kansas City experiment). Nothing worked. The whole business was not just a failure in integration, as the public successfully resisted it, but where there was a degree of integration, black children still underperformed.

In recent years the analyses of large-scale testing databases, by people like Hoxby, has shown that there is indeed a peer effect, but it is very limited, and perhaps requires a critical mass of the bourgeois that is very hard to arrange in practice. It also seems to be a very complex business in the interplay of cultures, as similarly underperforming Hispanics don’t seem to benefit from such peer effects. I have seen other studies that show that it is much more effective on the upper quintile of black kids. All of which which implies a very different sort of integration policy is needed to create a practical effect, if any. In any case, this is certainly not the path to a solution.

Other results from different natural and deliberate experiments show other more effective methods, which go along the path of specialized educational approaches tailored to the population, which contradict integration as a public policy. Even they just nibble around the edges of “the gap”; this remains what I think is the biggest and most frustrating problem in American sociology.

Ogbu’s work on integrated, middle class black children shows, in my opinion, that the problem is definitely cultural at a micro-scale – maybe specific child-rearing behaviors from birth to age 3, where the differences are already apparent. But it will be necessary to get very deeply and thoroughly into this micro-scale of culture before one could reliably use cultural analysis as a guide to public policy.

Which brings us back to that matter of religion. It seems like a much more complex phenomenon without a fraction of the body of data that the primary US educational problem has, which has resulted in gross and very expensive policy errors.

“Good cultural explanations need to identify the specific mechanisms”. Yes indeed, and these seem to be very specific, much more specific than your example. Which is not an argument for abandoning cultural analyses, but for a great deal more attention to them, as it seems to me the potential payoff from a better understanding will be enormous.

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Walt 04.19.07 at 7:36 pm

Huh?

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alphie 04.19.07 at 7:58 pm

It’s a simple question, walt.

Could an average American name even a single living American scientist?

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Barry 04.19.07 at 8:48 pm

“Has anybody published a study on changing attitudes toward religion, and the causes of those changes, in the course of Quebec’s Revolution tranquille? That’s a recent case of pretty rapid and dramatic secularization, in a “country” with a dominant though not legally established church. (I’m also curious about the somewhat similar Irish case.)”

Posted by Steve LaBonne

I remember reading something associating it with the fact that the RCC was, in effect a supporter of the subordinate relationship of Quebecois to Anglophone cultuer (i.e., that many religious leaders found it convenient), but it was pop history/sociology. I’d appreciate references which could be taken seriously.

Similarly, I’ve seen the post-WWII Western European attitude believed to be helped by a very disasterous few decades – WWI and WWII. After that, people didn’t trust strong ideologies.

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Detlef 04.19.07 at 9:23 pm

@Mrs. Tilton

In Germany, some RC-run hospitals have reintroduced that “wheel” (Babyklappe). Mothers can give up a newborn at the hospital, with no questions asked and nothing reported to the authorities.

Just to mention it, the first “Babyklappe” in 2000 was introduced by a civic group (is that the right term?) in Hamburg-Altona. It´s a private group of citizens called “SterniPark” financed by private donations. And while some RC-run hospitals have followed that example, publicly-owned ones have done the same.

It is all the more admirable in that the catholic hospitals that do this are, technically, breaking the law (or at least were, when they started doing this a few years ago; the legislature might have made some accommodation since then).

Uhh, not exactly. At least not now.
Actually German law uses a legal “fiction” here. The one who might be in trouble here is the mother because she abandons her newborn child. Thus breaking the law. However for a period of 8 weeks German law will view this as simply giving away your child to someone trusted because you were unable to care for it. Like for example a single mother having to stay in hospital and letting her parents care for the child.
Which means that the mother can rethink things and reclaim her baby during this 8 week period without any legal problems.
After 8 weeks though the hospital has to inform the state child care agency. After which legal proceedings are started for an adoption.

The hospital or private group isn´t in any legal trouble here. In fact they can even advertise their telephone numbers to advise troubled pregnant women. Or advertise the locations of their “wheels”. Just common sense since otherwise the newborn babies might end up in less “hospitable” locations and face death.

The remaining legal problem is that according to German Basic Law, adopted childs (when grown up) have a right to know who their birth parents are if they want. Obviously that´s impossible with the anonymous “Babyklappe”.

@isabel

Mrs. Tilton, apparently in the US 45 States have instituted similar “safe havens” (like police stations, hospitals, etc) where people can anonimously abandon newborns. While I can understand that this was an acceptable solution at a time where no effective contraception existed, it saddens me to see that it still has a role in our time. I would much prefer to see sexual education and free contraception more available.

Well, contraception probably isn´t the main problem here. After all, in Germany a girl aged 16 can go to a gynecologist to get the pill without the consent or knowledge of her parents. In fact the doctor is legally forbidden to mention it to her parents without her consent.
However “incidents” do happen (especially in the passion of the moment so to speak). And I can well believe that some young girls, afraid of the reactions of her parents, try to hide their pregnancy. And then try to get “rid of” their newborn baby because they simply don´t know what to do.
Now that´s true for any society. But I should point out the director of that program mentioned that some of the telephone calls they´re getting about the program come from young Muslim girls. Which parents are maybe a bit more “conservative” than German society at large.

And I certainly hope that the survival rate of these babies is higher than before, where it was little more than acceptable infanticide, anyway.

That´s probably a given.
If the newspaper articles are right, in the years before that program around 30-40 newborn babies were abandoned by their mothers per year in Germany. More than half of them didn´t survive.
Since then the death rate has gone down dramatically.

Just a small nitpick. :)
It wasn´t seen as “acceptable infanticide” before. I mean, the numbers were “small”. But each case did get a lot of coverage in the media. Because it involves helpless little babies. And everything that might help them is okay in my book.

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Detlef 04.19.07 at 9:33 pm

@Barry,

Similarly, I’ve seen the post-WWII Western European attitude believed to be helped by a very disasterous few decades – WWI and WWII. After that, people didn’t trust strong ideologies.

I´m not sure but I think I´ve read Internet articles saying that the decidedly pro-war stance of the UK Anglican Church at the beginning of WW1 did hurt them after that war ended?
Likewise I can readily believe that after two World Wars – where each European country´s church blessed the armed forces of that country – the citizens might become a tad cynical…

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Walt 04.19.07 at 10:02 pm

Fuck you and your fucking question, alphie. I’m not your monkey. Make a goddamn point and I’ll address it.

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Barry 04.19.07 at 10:26 pm

Yes, detlef, and I’ve heard that the attitude of the majority (not all, by any means) of the German church leadership (RCC and Lutheran) was a big problem after the war. For the sheer amount of slaughter and suffering that they led the German people into commiting and into suffering. And after, pictures of church leaders with Hitler were probably pretty common. Blows a lot of moral credibility.

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alphie 04.19.07 at 10:28 pm

Nice logic there, walt.

My point is that everyone believes in the scientific method…as long as you agree to their core beliefs and biases first.

Bush is the greatest president ever.

Iraq is a tremendous success.

The tens of billions of dollars we’ve sunk into the search for the Higgs boson has gone towards extremely important research.

etc.

The average American couldn’t name a single living American scientist because?

They’re a bunch of self-interested wankers who don’t want anyone to judge them by any standards but their own, maybe?

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will u. 04.19.07 at 10:38 pm

Could an average American name a single living American philosopher? Literary theorist? Sociologist? etc. etc. etc.

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Mrs Tilton 04.19.07 at 10:51 pm

Detlef @ 60,

the Babyklappe that I am familiar with is the “Operation Moses” in Frankfurt, an RC initiative. And (at least, when the Babyklappe project began) the Klappen wereviolating law by declining to record and report information as to the mother. As you note, the state seems to be accommodating such projects now.

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Matt McIrvin 04.19.07 at 11:18 pm

I’m for science that has an actual shot at benefiting humans within, say, an average human lifespan.

Something science stopped working on sometime in the 60s.

Ah, yes, my parents tell me October 17, 1967 was a remarkable day: when the order came down to cancel all applied and medical science and retrain the researchers as elementary particle physicists.

Seriously, this is a truly bizarre claim. There have been various counterarguments in this thread about the worth of elementary particle physics, and I’ve defended it myself from time to time (having been trained in it), but it’s also worth mentioning that elementary particle physics never was characteristic of science as a whole and is certainly not now. If anything, the life sciences, with all their potential for benefit to human and ecological health, are a greater center of excitement and activity in modern science, as Jakob Bronowski predicted decades ago.

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Matt McIrvin 04.19.07 at 11:19 pm

Sorry, that second sentence should have been italicized too… probably should have used a blockquote.

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alphie 04.19.07 at 11:27 pm

Maybe America’s life expectancy will surpass Bosnia’s one day, matt, if only we keep the money flowing?

Number 45 with a bullet!

http://tinyurl.com/s7p5q

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david 04.19.07 at 11:59 pm

“although my intellectual biases would lead me to predict that incentives count for more than culture here,”

Henry, I don’t know what biases you’re working with, but you can’t have incentives without culture; it’s culture that makes the incentives meaningful. Sahlins etc.

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kb 04.20.07 at 12:09 am

“I have no memory of paying either church a subsidy. ”

Well to be fair the Church of England does receive some government money.

From the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England.

Out of 166 million spent , the HB&MCfE give 8 million to ‘Cathedrals & places of worship’.

Including 127,000 to a Buddhist centre which occupies a listed building.

So i guess we can now expect to see stories about the collapse of the Buddhist congregation.

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Danny Yee 04.20.07 at 1:16 pm

What do people think of Steve Bruce’s argument in God is Dead: Secularization in the West, that secularization in the West is ongoing and pretty much inevitable barring changes in political systems?

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lindsey 04.20.07 at 2:39 pm

Can a distinction be made between religion and faith. Many Americans are caught up in the Christian religion (rituals, dogmas, etc) with little that could be called real faith. Yet there are irreligious folks who are strong believers, in some sense. They refuse to tie up their faith in a rigid institution, because faith to them is more dynamic. So is the secularization at hand a move away from faith as a part of an institution, or it is the move away from faith entirely? Or both?

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Anomalous 04.22.07 at 4:44 pm

On the coast in Spain, at night; summer with 4 or five families of 3 or more generations each lounging by the pool. No asshole germans or brits anywhere nearby. One american and a couple of Filipino maids.

Me, expecting a bemused response: “I love this country. Everybody’s Catholic, and no one believes in god”
My host: “Exactly! It’s perfect!”

As usual, the discussion here is predicated on the author’s own tastes and mores being themselves free from any determining factors. And the discussion dwells within the bounds of the rational-actor theory of the moderate left.
[I like my new tag-line.]

“Good cultural explanations need to identify the specific mechanisms that make for cultural stability and change.”

There’s no need to be specific in themselves. All that’s necessary is that they can be shown to undermine anti-determinist arguments. And that’s not very hard.

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