Saturday, July 19, 2008

Plain To See

I noticed this little article and saw that it summed up my own feelings on faith in the public square. I don't know too much about Jim DeMint other than the fact that he is always mentioned as one standing firmly for conservative principles. He echoes my thoughts with the following quote from the article:

"Before the 1960s, it was pretty clear that abortion was wrong, that sex outside of marriage was wrong, that unwed birth was wrong, and pornography, homosexuality – all this was considered wrong by the society," DeMint contends. "But government came in and turned right and wrong upside down."

I've made pretty much the same statement myself in discussions regarding the moral state of our culture. Now, I wouldn't say that government took the lead in this change for the worse, but they certainly sealed the deal, as it were, in much of it. The courts have done more to steer us in the wrong direction, but more than anything else, it was we the people who are mostly responsible. A segment of us decided that they did not want to deny themselves the pleasures of the flesh and as they were finding like-minded judicial support, the rest of us sat back and did nothing as they made their incremental progress toward the full moral decline the now afflicts our nation.

But look again at the list in the DeMint quote. Each of those items are directly related to sexuality and civilization's unwillingness to control their urges and keep sex in it's proper place. The only thing that really did a lot to keep such things in check was religion and the belief system of its adherents. Nevermind whether or not God's existence can be proven. Indeed, let us concede for a moment that He doesn't and still, nothing since the 60's has had nearly the positive influence on people regarding sexuality. In fact, without God in the public picture, society has chosen to elevate sexuality far above its proper place and sought ways to justify further disregard for the responsibility that should be attached to it. It has become soley a matter of self-gratification

And so we have inflated rates of STDs, particularly amongst younger and younger kids, an unforgivable amount of abortions, too many marriages that should never have taken place which end in divorce within the first decade, broken homes and families, and a push by a tiny but vocal group who demand their abnormal urges gain the acceptance of all society, even at the cost of the majority's Constitutional rights to express their faith. One can't help but believe this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of just how bad things will get as a consequence of religion, particularly the Judeo-Christian influence, being pushed out from any public considerations.

So we've pushed out God and replace Him with, what? Ourselves. Yeah, that's working out really well.

19 comments:

4simpsons said...

Good points, Marshall. Those things all tie together. It is stunning to stand back and watch. It happened quickly in the sense of history, but slowly in the sense of the consequences taking years to manifest. I keep thinking that people will wake up and see how awful all these things are and realize that God's way is the best way.

Marshall Art said...

I've always believed that even were it true that God doesn't, that is, if it was proven, adhering to Christian teaching would still be the most beneficial strategy for the world. God's Will has a practical value for society that is not dependent on His existence. It stands alone if folks would just take the time to study it. This is seen no better than in the realm of human sexuality and all the many negatives that are now manifested.

Democracy Lover said...

The DeMint quote is really looking more at effects than causes. If we look specifically at the negative effects mentioned, they are: births out of wedlock, high STD rates particularly among the young, and high divorce rates. These I think we would all agree are societal problems. The question is, what are the causes, and what are the solutions?

If lack of religion is the cause and religion is the cure, then we should see a clear negative correlation between church attendance and the problems. But is that the case?

A study cited by the Times (London) Online notes "RELIGIOUS belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research published today." It further quotes the study saying, “Many Americans agree that their churchgoing nation is an exceptional, God-blessed, shining city on the hill that stands as an impressive example for an increasingly sceptical world.

“In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies.

“The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so.”

So it would appear that Mr. DeMint may be precisely and exactly wrong.

Marshall Art said...

DL,

Your exerpted quotes from the Times piece gives me all I need to know regarding what poor reasoning led to its conclusion. (I wonder if you think the Times more closely reflects the attitudes of a Margaret Thatcher, or a Karl Marx) There is a tendency to lazily consider everyone who claims to believe as equal to those who live as one who truly believes. True people of faith do not commit the listed acts in great numbers, though some fall prey to temptation.

At the same time, your argument actually supports mine very well. Those who commit those acts are NOT living according to Christian teaching or they would not be committing those acts. It's like the lame rap against abstainence education. Those students who get pregnant were not abstaining.

It is also helpful to remember that this study comes out 60 years after God was first removed from public schools and the ongoing suppression of religion in the public square. In that time, even religious institutions have been tainted by the influence of the world and its secular and liberal activism. Before that time, it was the other way around; faith traditions influenced the secular.

Finally, if this study was worth the paper on which it was printed, how does it then account for the unimaginable death and destruction wrought by non-religious societies, such as any under communist or Nazi rule?

DeMint is precisely and exactly correct, and a more objective look at reality shows that plainly.

Mark said...

It's getting really scary, the depths this country has plummeted to. Last night, I was flipping channels on the TV, when I came across a TV show on TNT called "Saving Grace". I had never seen the show before, but our friend ER, has mentioned it as being one of his favorite shows, and he is a Christian, and certainly the title of the program would seem to indicate it would have at least partly about Christian moral values, (How naive is that thinking?)so I decided to watch it.

My God! When did Television become so offensive to moral people?

The first scene had full nudity, and language that one used to be able to only find on uncensored Television! I was shocked, to say the least.

I said to my wife, "I thought television was supposed to be censored." She pointed out that TNT stands for Turner Network Television, and that pretty much explains it all. Ted Turner is morally bankrupt, so it's no surprise that he, with his feduciary power, would be able to break the rules.

Democracy Lover said...

The question Marshall is not whether the Times is leftist (since it's owned by Rupert Murdoch that's rather doubtful) or whether DeMint's argument is more palatable.

What are the facts? If religion, particularly the brand of religion you espouse, causes people to refrain from destructive behaviors such as those you cite, then those countries that are more religious and in which the dominant religion is more conservative (like the USA) should have a lower incidence of these destructive behaviors than countries where only a few people are religious and where the dominant religious groups are relatively liberal.

The study cited by the Times appeared in US academic journal the Journal of Religion and Society and is based on a survey comparing various nations. It clearly disproves the DeMint position. If you have evidence - facts, peer-reviewed studies - that contradict this, then I'd be interested. But if you simply want to assert that evidence that disproves your point proves your point, or that anyone not agreeing with your point is full of leftist bias, then one has to conclude that you know you are wrong and simply don't want to admit it.

You can claim that the problem stems from 60 years ago when "God was first removed from public schools", but that does not prove cause and effect. There are any number of other things that have changed in our society over the last 60 years - are any of them to blame? Do you have any proof?

Marshall Art said...

You're not getting it, DL. Saying one is Christian isn't enough. If they survey one hundred people, they'll find a good percentage claim to be Christian and believe in God. But if their behavior isn't Christian 100% of the time, the first thing is that it only proves they're human. The second thing it shows it that saying one is Christian doesn't mean one it truly Christian. One needs to study it and follow it's precepts continually throughout one's life to the best of one's ability. A sincere effort must be put forth. Should all attempts to live a Christian life prove to burdensome for an individual, it's not guaranteed that that individual will stop claiming to be Christian. Some will merely redefine what it means to be a Christian.

Then, one must show how living a Christian life leads to all the ills your survey presented. It just doesn't happen. Those who are devoted Christians simply do not engage in those behaviors in great numbers. But conceding that many submit to temptation, again, is only a sign of human frailty, not an effect of Christian culture or teaching. In other words, Christianity doesn't "cause" those behaviors, human nature does.

Next, the fact that the Times article appeared in other journals or periodicals doesn't increase its validity. It doesn't become more true by virtue of appearing elsewhere. BTW, the "peer-reviewed studies" approach is wasted here. Who are the peers and what guarantees their objectivity? In this particular situation, all one need do is open one's eyes. You know. It's plain to see. Adhering to Christian principles betters society, and backsliding fails society.

Finally, one thing that hasn't been disputed is that there has been no replacement that has done any better in elevating the character of humanity.

Democracy Lover said...

I'm not surprised that you have no respect for scientific peer-reviewed studies that present unadulterated facts. There's far too much possibility that facts would contradict your narrow view of what constitutes "real" Christianity.

Even if you want to go with your narrow view, it certainly must be obvious that the United States has a larger proportion of citizens that agree with your view than any other modern industrialized nation, so again the US should come out on top in studies like this, but it doesn't.

There are most certainly devout Christians who do not engage in risky sexual behaviors or who eschew divorce, just as there are devout Muslims, Hindus, Jews and Buddhists who are equally moral. As the study suggests atheists and agnostics are also equally moral in similar proportion.

You are right that we have some major societal problems in this nation, but they were not caused by the lack of formal official prayers in schools, nor will they be overcome by getting government in the religion business.

You might want to look at other possible causes: hyper-individualism and the loss of community, growing income and wealth inequality, the lack of a social safety net, job insecurity, etc.

Marshall Art said...

DL,

Rather than my having no respect for peer-reviewed studies, it's plain that you, and a few others with whom I've debated, have an unnaturally high degree of respect, sometimes elevating them to Biblical levels. My question was a fair one regarding the objectivity of "the peers" who review the work. If the bulk of them are disposed toward the conclusions the study seeks to validate, how would you know?

I say again, the fact that your list of crimes seems to be more likely in this country is not a result of devotion to religion, but by a decidedly lack of devotion. It's like saying abstainance doesn't work. Of course it works, if one abstains. Likewise, people will be more Christian-like if they adhere to Christian principles, not less. This is so elementary that I can't understand your opposition. So the moral is that Christianity, or religion in general for that matter, isn't the cause of any of the ills you've listed. Rather, it's the lack of it in the hearts of the people who perpetrate them.

Now, to clarify, it's not the prohibition against prayer in public schools that's the problem, it's the mindset that brought it about. To say that it has no place in public life is contradicted by the manifestations you've listed. A constant reminder of the existence of a watchful and just God, in concert with examples of how to live based on God's Will and the expectation that everyone do so goes a long long way toward major reductions of all societal ills.

What do we have instead? No reminders outside of church or family, if the family still believes. No examples of holiness in living, unless one considers the example of a Madonna-type a good one, which it isn't. And the lowest of expectations toward which our young so tragically follow in far too great numbers.

My views are not narrow, they are accurate and based on reality that is right out in the open for all to see. (On the other hand, narrowness of view results in greater accuracy. Ask any target shooter.) As far as my views on what constitutes real Christianity, I am merely presenting a clear, objective and uncompromising explanation of what that really is, just as my Lord does. Take it up with Him.

Democracy Lover said...

Peer reviewed scientific studies are intended to help us understand the actual facts of our world. The Bible is a set of ancient documents that was never intended to be historical or scientific. There is no way to compare them.

There also is no agreement on exactly what constitute "Christian principles" even among Christians, nor is there any definitive way to know whether a person has in his "heart". We have more Christians, more "real Christians" who follow what you would call "Christian principles" than any other major western nation, yet we have the highest incidence of STDs and divorce. It means that there is no correlation between the two.

As for prayer in schools, no one has every prevented any child from praying in school, only from praying out loud in front of a group (something Jesus didn't go for either, as you may recall). It is not the role of government of public schools to teach religion, nor are they the venue in which religious worship should be practiced. If families want to teach their children to follow their religion, they have all the freedom they need to do so.

Good role models for your kids aren't found a lot in our entertainment industry because there's a lot more money to be made touting "sin". It's too much capitalism, not too little Christianity that causes that little problem.

Lastly, you say "I am merely presenting a clear, objective and uncompromising explanation of what that [real Christianity] really is, just as my Lord does." I beg to differ. There are all sorts of clear, objective explanations of Christianity that differ from your own and they all claim to be authentic. There is no valid method to distinguish between them. I challenge you to prove what is or is not "real Christianity" without first asking the hearer to assume that most of your ideas about the Bible are true. It is a circular argument.

Marshall Art said...

I did not, nor would I attempt to, try and compare the Bible with any peer-reviewed study. There's no point in doing so. But tell me, does peer review mean peer acceptance, or are those peers merely commenting on the methods used by the author of the study. As I said earlier, I'm not impressed by the peer review card because the name suggests only that the study was looked at by other researchers/scientists. I have heard that it is largely a confirmation that the study was done under accepted methods suggesting validity of the conclusions, but not necessarily that it, the peer review, certifies the conclusions as irrefutable. Would this be accurate as far as you know?

I ask because after finally reading the linked piece, I found that it told me nothing about anything regarding how the study was done beyond where the stats came from. I suppose I could google the author of the study, but it'll be a while before I can get to doing that. As you know, one can make stats say anything.

There's more than enough agreement on the core principles of Christian behavior to easily see when someone is adhering to them. For example, despite what Geoffrey and some others seem to believe, the Bible is pretty clear on what constitutes holy living insofar as sexuality is concerned. In a nutshell, remain chaste until marriage. STDs & out-of-wedlock pregnancies are clear indications of people NOT adhering to Christian teaching regarding living a holy life. Murder is clearly against Biblical teaching and thus murderers have, at least for that moment when they pulled the trigger and likely because of events that led to it, rejected their Christian teachings.

Another point to consider is that, at least from reading the article, no effort was made to explain just how religion "caused" anything. I would posit that it never does. But healthy or destructive behaviors are the result of adhering to or rejecting religion. One needs to study the Bible and learn it's message for living a holy and Godly life, and then adopt those principles with a conscious decision to abide by them. If this is done, fornication doesn't occur. Murder doesn't occur. Theft doesn't occur. Lying doesn't occur. One needs to abandon those principles in order to commit any of those or other sins. What about this is so difficult to grasp?

Now those were the obvious principles with which even the most liberal Christians can agree. Just consider those and anyone can readily see when someone is or isn't adhering to Christian principles. Yes, other religions and even atheists agree with those (with the possible, but probably likely exception of fornication).

So the point here is that "real" Christians may backslide and succomb to temptations, but the rate of incidents of non-Christian behavior only shows that perpetrators abandoned Christian principles. It certainly doesn't show cause in any way, shape or form. Christian belief didn't "cause" anyone to get laid, for example. Thus, the high rate of incidents is a result of backsliders and non-believers.

"...no one has every prevented any child from praying in school..."

Happens a lot actually, and whether privately or in front of others means nothing. David Limbaugh's book, "Persecution" is a tome of case studies showing exactly such situations. Not letting a valedictorian relate Christ's impact on her life in explaining her academic success was a recent case, but it's not the only one. There's no reason to prevent such an expression in that context and it doesn't cross any of the imaginary lines created by secular fools. But again, the public expression of faith is an influence that is beneficial, but it has been stifled so that there is less to counter other nefarious influences. I'm not saying that schools should teach religion, only that they shouldn't stifle expressions of it. There should be no reason to as long as it doesn't interfere with the main point of school. Funny thing is, with events like the stupid Day of Silence, the policy is mute. This is counter to Judeo-Christian teaching (and Muslim as well) and it gets full support. So anything opposite religion is fine. In other words, anti-religion in schools is just peachy.

I agree with your role model paragraph for the most part, but there's really no such thing as "too much capitalism". There's only capitalism. What you're referring to is "lust for money", also a rejection of Christian teaching.

I stand by my statement. You can differ if you like, but what the Bible teaches us about how to live is not the mystery some would like to make it out to be. The truth is that really There are all sorts of clear, subjective explanations of Christianity that differ from your own and they all claim to be authentic. You can recognize them easily by their looser standards regarding sexuality. That's a tell even a new poker player can dig. The best way to prove what "real" Christianity is, is for you to go back and study the Bible without thought to what you'd like it to mean. As I said, there's no real mystery about the basics, particularly as regards how we live our lives.

Democracy Lover said...

There is no guarantee of final truth in a peer-reviewed study. The only thing you can say is that the methodology was appropriate, it was conducted properly, and the data gathered is accurate. It gives the conclusions value, but it doesn't provide absolute certainty. Of course, nothing provides absolute certainty. One can only assume it.

I will agree that there are many subjective explanations of Christianity - there just is no objective explanation. There is no explanation that can provide a factual basis for making such a judgment. Referring to the Bible as you do, presupposes that one believes as you do about the nature of the Bible - a subjective explanation. I have never heard a explanation of the variety of Christianity you believe that did not rest on circular logic, and a rejection of all mainstream contemporary Biblical scholarship.

Marshall Art said...

"...a rejection of all mainstream contemporary Biblical scholarship."

Ah, there's the rub. Traditional scholarship is at great odds with contemporary scholarship, which isn't really mainstream at all, but counter to it. It IS however, making the most noise that attracts those unwilling to do the heavy lifting spiritually. The path is narrow, as Jesus says, but contemporary scholarship seeks to widen the path and smooth it out. Merely breathing is all it takes to enter Heaven, if contemporary scholars are to be believed.

But there IS an objective explanation for the Bible. That's the big debate, then, isn't it? The point is to find it and understand it. Here's one: Jesus died as a sacrifice to save us from God's wrath and belief in Him is our path to Heaven. The wages of sin is death. The OT laws provided the means by which to gain some absolution through the death of the sacrificial animals, or in severe cases, the death of the sinner. But no sacrifice could ever be perfect enough to truly absolve one until Christ sacrificed Himself. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This is pretty plain and is an objective truth of the Bible.

Most of the Bible is this blatantly obvious and where there is "gray" is either man-made or simply harder to understand and it is there where subjectivity comes into play.

As regards DeMint or the study you've presented, these truths about Christian living are equally easy to glean without a lot of deciphering necessary. Should people adhere to the principles, most of society's ills would heal quickly. It's when they don't that things go south. Why this country would be ranked last as far as that which the study speaks is not "because" of Christianity, but in spite of it. People pay lip service to their faith.

Democracy Lover said...

The only way to accept your "objective truth" about the Bible is to first accept your ideas about the Bible. Your "objective truth" is merely your belief. It cannot be proven except by first believing. As I said earlier, circular logic.

You argue that the higher prevalence of Christianity and even fundamentalist Christianity in America doesn't matter because (according to you) people are only paying lip service to their faith. Since you cannot know what is in the minds and hearts of other people, this argument is also without any objective merit.

I posted my ideas on the subject of "real" Christianity and "true" religion on my blog. Feel free to read and be enlightened.

mom2 said...

I posted my ideas on the subject of "real" Christianity and "true" religion on my blog. Feel free to read and be enlightened.>>

Could there be some vanity there?

Marshall Art said...

DL,

I think I know where we're not connecting here. Based on the way this discussion began, I have trying to explain that there are teachings in the Bible regarding how we are to live that are not debatable. To murder, for example, is clearly and without question contrary to Christian teaching. To steal and lie are two others. Just, for a moment, focussing on these issues, and then reviewing the list of "sins" perpetrated by a Christian America, it is plain to see that people are acting contrary to Christian teaching. Thus, Christianity cannot be a cause of the ills that your study purports to prove. It simply cannot be. This is not a matter of saying that the miraculous of the Bible is fact or fiction, which sounds like the point from which you are coming. Regardless of whether or not God exists, the teachings of the Bible are clearly opposed to those behaviors. Other behaviors might require a more in depth study, but many, if not most, are crystal clear. The fact that too many fail to adhere perfectly in every waking moment is NOT a failure of Christianity, but of the people themselves. Thus, to say that more religion is somehow harmful to any society is plain goofy and the study is not worthy of respect. I'm guessing the researcher is not a man of faith.

Marshall Art said...

BTW DL,

Your second paragraph is a bit off my meaning. What I was saying about lip service is that despite the number of people who claim to be Christian or believers in a deity, many of them are merely paying lip service to the notion and don't exhibit any proof that they are sincere. Their actions belie their claims of belief. This is not to say that I can be certain which individuals are sincere or not. That's neither here nor there. It was a generalization. The fact that some people do put on airs is nothing that should surprise. Christians in general are accused of that all the time by atheists and more liberal Christians.

Democracy Lover said...

Marshall, I don't think we can judge the effectiveness of Christianity on a society's behavior based on what the bible says they ought to do. That's sort of like judging Americans based on the Declaration of Independence. The bible is a collection of documents, it is not the religion. The religion exists in the minds and hearts of believers.

Christian belief does not actually result in a more moral society. We can blame the Christians for not living up to the ideals of their holy book, but that deflects the issue.

We should be asking why it is that the strong influence of Christianity in America and particularly the strong influence of fundamentalist Christianity has not made this nation more moral than secular nations.

It may be that the practice of Christianity is the problem. Not the shortcomings of individuals, but the focus of Christian leaders. Perhaps there has been too much focus on the OT and not enough on Jesus. Perhaps the focus has been on doctrines about Jesus rather than on what Jesus himself taught. I don't have the answer here, but I think the questions need to be asked.

Marshall Art said...

DL,

I can't disagree with anything within your first two paragraphs of your last comment.

Paragraph three leaves out a few points. The first is that the study upon which you've based your assertions is likely incomplete insofar as the total picture is concerned. For instance, we know that in this country, the availability of guns for use by the criminal element, unopposed by a citizenry prohibited from owning or carrying weapons themselves, skews the stats of the study. It makes comparisons between nations more difficult.

Also, in this nation, we are more open to other ideas and thoughts that counter any religious influence, and some of this has permeated the body of Christ in America so that many denominations and/or congregations are decidedly less than Christian. Aside from merely alternate notions of spirituality and lifestyles is the heavy squelching of religious expression in a variety of areas that once did not suffer from such interference and prohibition. This all points to far less influence by true Judeo/Christian ideology than a country that claims such a high percentage of believers should indicate.

We need to also look at who is doing the nasty things in which the study claims we lead the world. What percentage of the total population is responsible for the stats used? And for all that is perpetrated upon our society, how is it been handled? How do our methods of law enforcement and justice differ from other nations?

Now, if we ask why Christian influence hasn't improved our stats in comparison with others (per the study), it can only be because of the fact that an individual must accept the teachings and act on them daily for life. The problem is that Christian teaching is so counter to human nature and too many reject those parts of the teachings that deny them their personal desires. One can't be half-assed and expect to not run into difficulties. So one can't blame the practice of Christianity if people aren't really practicing, or practicing only those parts that don't cramp one's style.

As to the focus of Christian leaders, it is always on Christ. But by focussing on Christ, one cannot ignore the OT, especially since Christ never did. In fact, there are examples of Jesus tightening the "rules" even more than they already were in the OT, such as in equating lusting with adultery and hate with murder. To teach us to live like Christ means to keep the law of God more closely.

But back to the study. You (and the link) listed how we compare when the subject is bad behavior. What did it say about good behavior? In a recent book, "Who Really Cares?" by Arthur Brooks, he states that conservative Christians are the most generous amongst all other demographic groups, with their time as well as money, no matter what the cause, be it religious or secular. And our nation has a reputation for generosity and helpfulness in a variety of situations internationally.

In short, our nation prizes freedom and individuality as a result of Christian influence and when people are free to choose God or reject Him, finding the many rejet Him shouldn't be a surprise. This too is plain to see, and the point of DeMint is that we need to accept His Word and His Teachings and live as if we do.