You can’t talk about U.S. History or our political dynamics without understanding religion. Of the two surviving English-speaking colonies — Plymouth Rock and Jamestown — one involved religion right from the get go. The other involved money initially but then also got religion. And, as a result, the two third rails in American politics are money and religion — and they’ve affected a lot of American life.
Good luck to you. I hope you tackle these topics and don’t shy away from becoming edgy.
Needed saying and you did it well.
God and religion are social constructs – let’s not confuse religion with morality or virtue. Religion, with the excepton of the deeply humaniterian work of missionaries in some third world countries, has not been a force for good – in fact just the opposite.
I have a problem with these sociological defenses of faith and morals. What about God? Does it matter if we please or displease Him? Can he do us any good or harm? Does the possibility of gaining His blessing or the fear of inciting His wrath enter into our thoughts at all? Discussing religion as a purely human phenomena seems strange to me. When is the last time yousaw a serious commentator say “We should make our public policy X in order to be pleasing to God,” rather than “in order to cut down on teen pregnancy” or something.
Anyone choosing to dispute Doug Page’s point to understand Americaa one must grasp the essentials of religion, speciffically, of Christianity. Howard Dean’s not knowing which books of the Bible set in the OT or which in the NT is not only a lack of knowing thing one about Christianity, it’s also blindly deliberate cultural ignorance of an aspect central to American history, culture and character.
I don’t care if Howard Dean’s ancestors came over on the Mayflower or if they came here at Ellis Island, such ignorance brands him not an American culturally, regardless he’s an M.D. & was goveernor of a state.
He’s just not one of us. Even perhaps foreign-born [disparaging reference to the President of the United States –ed], is more American in character than Dean.
Leftist secularists such as the usurper in the WH, [repeated disparagement of the President — ed], may whimper about Americans being religious, but it isn’t to do them a whale of a lot of good. Despite claims that Christianity is in decline in the USA the fact remains that, at last count, 76% of us self-identify as Christian.
Atheism is an affliction of the snobbish half-educated.
Mead writes, “It is a culture of restraint and virtue that prevents (at least some) bankers from ripping off their clients and the government, that holds politicians back from the worst kinds of demagoguery and dirty tricks — and that punishes those who break these unwritten rules.”
Maybe. I’m not a fan of cultural explanations for political or economic outcomes. I’d rather examine the costs and incentives that bankers or politicians face, and try to explain their behavior in these terms. It’s damn near impossible to define or describe a culture, let alone change it. But it is often rather straightforward changing incentives so that outcomes change.
Mr. Mead, I appreciate your willingness to takle a sensative subject. After 30 years in the Marines my friends ask me about DADT. My response is based on scripture. The emotional responses are many. Instead of discussing differences, or examoining the source of their convictions, they want to add labels – it is easier to dismiss the opposite view if you demean it.
My response to them is : your argument is NOT with me. Your argument is with God. Jesus told us that it is not our job to water the seed but rather to plant the seed. Some seed with grow and flourish while others will wither an die.
I particularly enjoy the hypocrit example. My question is, “Are there hypocrits in the grocery store?”
I believe this one of the best articles I have ever read. I also believe it should be mandatory reading in all schools of higher education.
an extremely moving article. I myself am an unabashed atheist, but I always find myself disturbed when other atheists attack religion so venomously. I think religious is inherently a good thing for humanity, and I would not wish atheism upon everyone.
Your analysis of the interplay between loss of virtue and the rise of government is preceptive.
And, as to the hypocrisy issue, my wife and I have raised five children in a religious home. At the same time, my actions fall short of my beliefs at times–yet I’ve tried to continue to teach my children the right way (and have tried to be up-front whenever I’m telling to do what I say instead of what I do). I then try to mend my ways so that they can see that even dumb old dad can change. If we have to attain perfection before commenting on religious/ethical topics, we would all stand mute.
“”And the problems we face today can’t be addressed constructively without getting into the deep stuff and asking the hardest questions about the things that matter most.””
This is the reason progressives, and all secularists, have proven lately that they cannot solve political and social problems and instead rely upon ad hominem in their struggle to remain in power. They have only rehashed, unworkable ideas from the past, or “new” ideas that sprout from the effect of redefining, distorting and/or neglecting honest first principles (which they abhor in the first place!). For instance, if political parties relied on the Constitution and the Federalist papers for solutions to political and social problems, but merely had differences of perspective, degree or intent among them, much would still be debated but would then “progress” Constitutionally. What we have now, in one party, is ad hoc, ad hominem and no depth.
America is beloved because we have a deep attachment to first principles, not because we are “politically correct”.
Wow, those atheists had better watch it. By saying that all religions are scams, they are ridiculing Islam. That is a good way to find yourself dead and mutilated.
Good post- I believe de Tocqueville said it best – “Freedom requires morality, and morality requires faith.”
Good article. In practical terms “only the feelings of awe, gratitude and fear occasioned by the awareness of a Creator can give them the strength and will to set out on the earnest and difficult road of struggle on the path to a moral life” is true.
You may wish also to consider that major religions recognize both the individuality and fallibity of human beings and the common theme and potential transendence of humanity. A bridge betwen the obviously real and the known ideal.
Also the basic two commanments are explained so many different ways that we sometimes pick up clues both to understanding them and to trying to practice them in our real lives. I refer to knowing right from wrong (“thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength”), and to becoming one’s best, happiest self through service (“Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”).
1. “Religion” is not a synonym for faith or for God or for Christianity. You use as if it were.
2. Nowhere do I see the word “humility” .which essential to belief in God. We live in an age of arrogance top to bottom and on every side. More humility, I say
Respect brother! I’m tickled that you reference G.K. Chesterton. A giant among religious philosophers in every sense of the word. His Christian apologetics has been confounding atheists for more than a century. One of my favorite points that he made about “moderns” as he called progressives and liberals still comes up in every debate on religion and society is that the one point that the “moderns” never dare approach with any honesty is whether what is written in the Bible (or other religious texts) is in any sense “The Truth”. For that possibility has implications that are extremely uncomfortable. The arguments usually devolve into denunciations of the religious establishments, self-proclaimed religious people and their negative impacts on societies. As if proclaiming or teaching a belief in a God is somehow supposed to imbue perfection on that person or else the lack of perfection is somehow a negation of the existence of a God.
Please press on. This is a vital and noble effort you have undertaken.
I have enjoyed reading your essays for a long long time. I coached intercollegiate competitive debate for a couple of decades before “retiring” into a professorship. Almost every debater in the US has a favorite “Mead card” to use in debates: a quote of yours which helps them make an argument well.
I have been sharply critical of a couple of your other “Yule Blogs”. I enjoyed this one.
An intimation of this essay is that religion is a force for morality, or at least that it serves as an incentive for ethical behavior. This is a claim oft-repeated but seldom demonstrated. Is there good evidence for it?
I have read the Heritage Foundation’s joke of a literature review of the benefits of religiosity: it is a bad joke of cherry-picked and spun results. Comparing secular European nations and Japan with a religious United States (or the much more religious developing world) clearly points to the importance of atheism in societal well-being. Atheists in America have among the lowest divorce rates of any “religious” group. Atheists are under-represented in prison populaitons while Christians are not. Atheists don’t strap on explosive vests and blow up cafes full of believers…
So… is there any good evidence that religion generates virtue rather than vice?
Another entailment here is that even if it is a scam, we ought to spread religion because believing the lie is good. This view dehumanizes us: it treats us as tools for social ends rather than as ends in ourselves. I thought we learned from the catastrophes of Communism and Fascism the folly of using persons this way.
Please write more on this topic.
The only caveat I would have to your really excellent article is that it casts the worship of the Creator in a somewhat utilitarian light, i.e. “We should go to Church because it is a good social glue.”
I worship God because God is Goodness, Truth and Beauty! God is Love! If we come to get even the briefest glimpse of God, we can’t help but fall in love with Him. This is the gournd truth of all true religion. Let’s not forget it.
Something essential is for Americans to look critically at the fields of child emotional development and psychiatric diagnosis in order to be more conscious of the moral content there. Secular psychologists presume, with varying degrees of deliberateness, to tell the rest of us what it means to be a good or happy (“responsible” or “self-actualized”) person and how to raise our children accordingly. Increasingly, especially in the realm of sex and the family, Leftist values dominate. Leftist psychologists and their ilk dictate morals to the rest of us in the name of “current science.” Matters of homosexuality, transgenderism, teen and subteen sex, abortion–psychologists pontificate on these all the time. They throw their weight around through professional ethics codes, amicus briefs in court cases, and probably (though I don’t know of a particular instance) testimonies at congressional hearings. We citizens have got to get control of the discourse. We’ve got to make it public in a way that allows us all to really participate in it.