I want to thank you for contibuting to this blog with your comments. I disagree with your conclusions but I agree with your method, which I see as coming to conclusions on the basis of available evidence.
You have stated that religion leads to the dysfucntionality of a given society. I trust that you made this statement in light of the evidence that you presently possess. I want to change that balance. Please read the following selection and see if you still stand by your statement.
There are two more books that I would recommend but I was not able to find them as a “read online” version. They are: Faith and Philanthropy in America by Wuthrow and Hodgkinsons, and Jews, Justice and Judaism by Robert St. John.
Note: The sources were drawn from Lawrence Keleman’s book; Permission to Receive
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal
Thanks for the suggested reading list. I have no doubt some, perhaps all, of them may be very worthwhile. But none of these are necessary for my thesis and have no bearing on the overwhelming evidence in its favour.
If various religious beliefs by a majority of its people improved the function of a given society, then we should find this evidence quite easily. The higher the rate of religiosity – especially cohesive religiosity – should produce higher rates of social cohesion and lower rates of social dysfunction.
That is exactly what we do not find. We find the opposite.
Where religiosity is lowest, we find nothing but positive correlations with higher rates of all kinds of social function, meaning statistically significant lower rates of dysfunction.
The right question to ask is how can this be? What is it about religiosity in all its various forms that consistently and reliably correlates negatively with the health and welfare and social function of citizens when we’re assured repeatedly by the earnest and caring concerned religious folk that joining their communities will somehow change this incompatible yet compelling evidence? It seems either the evidence is wrong or these people have confused their beliefs with reality. Unlike the evidence itself , religious folk depend on their beliefs to support their case whereas the evidence is not just ubiquitous but exists independently of any motivated presuppositions an honest inquirer may have.
tildeb You are lumping all religions together – not scientific. The evidence I presented is primarily not written by Jews but about Jews documenting how the Jewish religious society – while far from perfect – has been far more functional than the societies that surround them – religious or secular.
Yes, once again I am lumping all religions together and calling the exercise of particular religious belief and activities associated with it ‘religiosity’. By doing this we can see the very robust correlation between the religiosity of populations and the varying rates of social dysfunction. We can then compare and contrast these population with populations of low religiosity and see the same robust correlation in vastly lower rates of social dysfunction.
This is a very powerful argument against those who try to tell us that moral and ethical behaviour is associated with a religious acceptance. The opposite seems to be the case when put inside a metric of behaviour that can be measured, compared, and contrasted.
You are trying to make an exception for Judaism but this is highly problematic in that this religious belief has co-evolved into a very specific cultural identity that no longer possesses the essential religious-belief-through-faith component (even in Israel, where just over 60% believe in God and over 40% define themselves and their cultural identity as ‘secular’ Jews). You simply don’t find people claiming to be secular Hindus or secular Muslims with the same level of cultural overtones (meaning a common language, common social practices, and so on). This is because most religions require the religious components of faith-based belief to be the identifier (that defines the difference between, say, a Mormon and a Southern Baptist) whereas this is not the case with the Jewish diaspora where the central identity component is cultural. The Jewish identity has its historical roots in the faith but the modern expression is cultural first and religious second*.
I point this out to show why claiming that the religious beliefs of Jews accounts for the tremendously disproportional academic and artistic productivity from this group (quickly being equaled and now overtaken by various East Asian immigrant populations in the West) is not accurate: the cultural practices are far more influential. This is the same mistake many Christians make when they try to argue that Christianity is responsible for the advances made by many Christians. What has to be done to back this up is to show how the particular religious belief linked to the particular advance and this is where the argument simply evaporates from lack of any evidence. Religious belief, it is safe to say, does not produce knowledge, does not produce insight into how reality operates and by what causes.
Like you have done, those who assume religion must have contributed to knowledge really don’t understand what evidence means, what makes this bit here evidence but that bit there just another claim, and so they fail to realize their generic attributions they grant to religious belief as some kind of causal motivator is not evidence for the advancement itself. And that’s why no religious promoter to date has been able to demonstrate by example how any knowledge – any advancement in human understanding about reality, any accurate and revealing insight into reality, and how it actually operates by revealed forces, processes, and functions – has ever come from any faith-based belief, has ever come about by being linked specifically to some religious belief that produced it. It hasn’t. It doesn’t. It can’t because the very method that empowers faith-based belief has already rejected reality’s role to arbitrate claims made about it. That’s why it’s faith and not knowledge that empowers religious belief.
In comparison to the method of revelation, authority, and scripture used to defend faith-based belief about reality, the scientific method has produced, does and continues to produce, applications, therapies, and technologies that work for everyone everywhere all the time with nary a divine influence anywhere to be seen. Confused people who wish to think religious belief is another way of knowing anything about anything mistake religious claims made about reality as ‘explanations’ rather than what these claims really are: at best ‘pseudo-explanations’ that are in fact discredited hypotheses that are incompatible with the knowledge we do have about the reality we share. Creationism is a prime example. That’s why conferences of dialogue between representative of religion and representatives of science experience the unidirectional flow of knowledge about reality: from science to religion and receive back not knowledge, not insight, but only nebulous and vague and numinous references to ‘the divine’ paired with directive and claims about how the pathway to that Dear Leader and transcendental realm go through the doors of this temple or that mosque, this synagogue or that church.
* From PEW: “62% say being Jewish is mainly a matter of ancestry and culture, while just 15% say it is mainly a matter of religion. Even among Jews by religion, more than half (55%) say being Jewish is mainly a matter of ancestry and culture, and two-thirds say it is not necessary to believe in God to be Jewish.”
tildeb The studies I provided the links for actually account for the question of Jewish religion versus Jewish identity – and they demonstrate that it is the Jewish religion that accounts for the low rate of crime, alcoholism, drug abuse and the high rate of charity, caring for others and obedience to the Law – some of these studies date back to the time when all Jews were religious. One of these studies goes so far as to say that it is the Jewish rituals that affirm the importance of man that aid the Jew in these areas. I find it insulting that you assume that I don’t know what “evidence” is or that I don’t know the dynamics of rational argument – I also find it insulting that you call my religion “faith” based. Do not judge Judaism by Christianity. And to say that religion contributed nothing to the body of knowledge possessed by man is to ignore the entire field of study of human behavior (I cite this field because it is something that can be objectively observed) again – read the ethics of the fathers and say that the Jewish religion contributed nothing to the knowledge of mankind
tildeb you could also read Ecclesiastes, Proverbs or Job
A couple of things…
Because you don’t demonstrate the link you claim is causal, I assumed you didn’t know any better… hence the explanation of what evidence IS. That you say you do (and feel insulted that I explained it) and yet don’t provide any evidence means something else entirely, doesn’t it?
If your religious beliefs were grounded in knowledge, then the claims they make about the reality of your god could be demonstrated and, thus, there would be no need to qualify these claims as ‘religious’; they would be factual and open to anyone who honestly and reasonably inquired. You say you are offended that I would dare call your religious beliefs ‘faith-based’ but what else could they be and still be called ‘religious’? Understanding why water is composed of two hydrogen and an oxygen is not a ‘religious’ claim but believing ina causal agency called ‘god’ is. The difference is that the former is evidence based whereas the latter is faith based. I hope that clarifies why I would say your religious beliefs are by definition ‘faith-based’ claims and not evidence-adduced claims. Although I have no doubt that you assume your religious beliefs are grounded by evidence, I think you know perfectly well these elements beyond revelation, authority, and scripture are simply selected bits and pieces that appear to support your case while those they do not are ignored. These bits and pieces are used for what what we call confirmation bias.
Please cite an example of knowledge about reality (and not a hand-wave towards a field of study like ‘art’ or ‘human behaviour’) that is linked directly to a religious belief, please. You will be the first and I eagerly await this precedent.
As for scripture, you presume I am not widely read and lack some serious academic study on specific books of the Bible. You’d be wrong on both accounts. I wrote and presented a thesis paper on Job – probably one of the most confusing, obfuscating, and disturbing books of the Bible with multiple authors and no clear moral directives beyond presenting a boastful, capricious, insecure, and adolescent god quite willing to cause untold suffering on a selfish whim. This is hardly a book to present as an ethical advancement for and example to humanity by a supposedly divine and morally righteous figure; rather it is an example of just how empty of moral insight many such books of different scriptures really are.
tildeb The first book I referenced (Alcohol and the Jews) is a lengthy scientific study demonstrating through statistical evidence that the cause for low alcoholism amongst Jews is linked to religious observance – I know what evidence is, I know what science is and I know what closed-mindedness is. Dismissing a person’s arguments because of your preconceived notions and your lumping of all religions together is closed-mindedness.
You seem to be under the impression that the word “religion” by its very definition means “not reasonable” – I am no expert in the English language and if that is what the word “religion” means, then it does not rightly apply to Judaism.
I am not sure why you dismiss human behavior as something ephemeral as art – alcoholism, drug-abuse, crime are behaviors that can be studied, measured and quantified – but I’ll give you what you are looking for – The Talmud teaches that the moon cycle is 29.530588 days – None of the ancients came close to this number – NASA’s high-tech calculations confirm the Talmud’s number to within about a second. Here is another one for you – Scripture predicts that the Jewish people will not be destroyed – realize, that the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Romans and the Assyrians (amongst many others did not make it) These are two facts about reality that came to us through revelation.
I don’t presume anything about your knowledge or lack thereof – I will just say that you are changing the subject on the book of Job. I presented it as a book that introduces knowledge to the collective of human knowledge – and it does. Many of Job’s arguments are deeply insightful and you use them yourself. God confirms that Job’s arguments are more correct than the pious arguments of his friends (Job 42:7) – in other words – one of the foundational teachings of the book is that the arguments used by Job’s three friends are NOT the true explanation for suffering (Many Christians did not get the message of the book and still use those arguments). I would take you through the book and show you the insights – I already showed you one – Job 31:13-15 about the equality of man – where do you have any of the ancients speaking such concepts? Is the concept of the equality of man so meaningless to you that you cannot recognize its contribution to civilization?
The Talmud teaches that the moon cycle is 29.530588 days – None of the ancients came close to this number.
Not true. Having studied Babylonian astronomy, I know perfectly well that the precise cycle of the moon time can be calculated simply between lunar eclipses every 24 months: this is precisely 708 days, 17 hours, 37 minutes. The Babylonians knew this because they marked it. 17 hours, 37 minutes is .734 days. so… 708.734 divided by 24? Yup: 29.53058. This was already well known by the Babylonian astronomers at least 5000 years BCE. This is probably where the Talmud writers ‘borrowed’ their data… but claimed divine revelation, of course. We know it isn’t divine revelation because this number slowly changes over time because we now know the moon is moving ever so slowly away from earth…. something either the Talmud writers failed to receive or the divine agency forget to include.
Note that what you’ve done is more confirmation bias in practice, presuming that the Jewish religion itself somehow somehow (magically) produced or caused or brought about this knowledge. It didn’t. Astronomy through careful observation did. Like all religious claims to knowledge, its supporters stole knowledge and claimed it for its own. This is so common throughout various religions that it is absolutely typical. And claims about divinely inspired human behaviour is no different. Again, you fail to produce the necessary link between the dancer and the rain you think the dancer causes.
If you want to learn about humanity, religion is not the appropriate subject: the human sciences are. If you want to learn about the universe, religion is not the appropriate subject: astronomy is. And so on. Keep in mind that unlike all other academic pursuits, only religion by special privileging is a subject of study that has no object… but pretends it does and most people go along with this charade. That why we end up with something like this. This is the history of religion over time and the idea that one contains the ‘truth’ about some divine agency is a thesis that is shown to be more and more unlikely over time. What we should see if the thesis was supported by reality is opposite to this, where various and diverse religions slowly funnel into the One True Faith (TM) as more and more people come to appreciate its revelatory truth value.
And when you speak of the ‘ancients’, you conveniently ignore the far East where much knowledge and philosophy was equivalently ‘borrowed’ and repackaged as if divinely inspired through a particular religious faith. Studying the history of religions as an academic subject reveals exactly this.
tildeb I did not know that the Babylonians left any records from 7000 years ago – I will look into this.
About human behavior however – you need to look into the matter – I have supplied studies conducted by the secular scientific community confirming what I said about the link between religious behavior and low addiction rates – no rain dances here.
By the way – Christianity is shifting ever slowly toward Judaism – aside from the trend of Christians leaving Christianity in favor of Judaism.
And when I speak of the ancients – I haven’t forgotten about the far east – I respect that they arrived at much knowledge – but still and all – the contribution that emerges from the body of Jewish religious literature to the advancement of civilization is undeniable.
I did a bit of research – your number (5000 bce) seems to be greatly exaggerated – I do however accept that there was a practical way of figuring out the lunar cycle – so thank you for educating me on that – I was under the impression that the precise numbers were not known till recently so I was impressed by the Talmud’s calculation – which is NOT presented in the Talmud as a proof to divine inspiration
Upon further research it emerges that you are wrong about the periodicity of lunar eclipses and you are wrong about the accuracy of the Babylonian calendar – they were close but not as close as the Talmud – but I accept that this is not proof of divine revelation – just that the Jews were smarter
In any case tildeb – don’t just accept what the various atheist websites are teaching you – just as you would not accept what religious websites are telling you
On another note – you may appreciate this article – https://yourphariseefriend.wordpress.com/christianity-unmasked/
Thanks again for your comments
YPF, the Harvard links don’t work but the Lendering article does.
I think you are exaggerating to call the Babylonian link to figuring out lunar cycles ‘wrong’ because the variable accuracy to the fifth decimal place for the lunar cycle is slightly different by the Talmud writers (I’m taking your word for it). The point I was raising that it did not take divine revelation to come to this understanding and that knowledge of this bit of astronomy was available to the Talmud writers. As for the 5K years, that refers to the scope of known astronomical data collection by the Babylonians. It would only take any two years of that data to reveal the lunar cycle with a very high degree of accuracy. After all, it was the Babylonians who came up with the 24 hour day, broken down into hours and minutes and seconds (it’s the slight variance by a second you take issue with) and the 360 compass, so these guys were clearly clever with applying their astronomical data long before any Talmud writer showed up to ‘borrow’ their knowledge (and then misrepresent their mundane sources).
And you’re falling into a mindset that is very disturbing to me when you differentiate claims made about reality on various websites to be either religious or atheist. Very conservative people tend to do the same kind of philosophical parsing of knowledge by disregarding compelling evidence from reality as too ‘liberal’ when it contrasts with their preference for what’s true.
It’s not up to me to decide what knowledge is ‘atheist’ or ‘religious’ or ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’. I let reality do this arbitrating on the merit of likelihood and probability that can be demonstrated and form my opinions accordingly.
tildeb I agree with your methodology (as stated before) to let reality arbitrate – the few websites that gave me information (NASA was one of them) gave me to understand that your calculations of the cycle of lunar eclipses was oversimplified – in other words – conflicted with reality – I don’t suspect you of lying – but I did jump to the conclusion (perhaps too hastily) that you picked it off a website that has an axe to grind (those are the sort that aren’t so interested in reality) Tell us – where did you get the idea of the 2 year lunar eclipse cycle?
The fact that the higher the religiosity, the higher the rates of societal dysfunction does not mean that all religious practices lead to dysfunction. Any religious observance for abstinence of addictive practices will produce lower rates of addiction. I’m not trying to say otherwise. But it doesn’t change the facts of this robust correlation. Like Christian Science, Judaism has lower rates of addiction. So what? How does this mitigate the dysfunction of a paternalistic, misogynistic Jewish sub-culture directly linked to Jewish religious law and observance?
Your examples do not alter the fact of the robust correlation in rates of societal dysfunction. All is does is cherry pick certain practices that yield societal benefit while completely ignoring the robust correlation that still exists.
Like art appreciation generally, many religious folk attribute to religion basic human development and insightful expressions of it… keeping the development generic, of course… so generic that we find references like you make to religion input into understanding ‘human behaviour’. Again and again, you mistake the the religious affiliation of the artist or writer for being responsible for insight.
This is patently false.
The same ‘human behaviour’ insights you refer to as sourced from Jewish scripture can be found from vastly divergent cultural sources predating most of the tens of thousands of contrary, conflicting, and incompatible religious doctrines we find throughout human history. Mythology has been the prime ‘teacher’ in this regard… cross-cultural, cross-linguistic, cross-religious mythology spread by contact.
It is from this rich source of story-telling casting human traits into symbolic characters either with magical powers or having to face recast human issues and concerns into supernatural creatures in these stories that the Talmud writers ‘borrowed’ heavily (for example, Genesis, which is a typical but hardly unique Babylonian creation myth, Exodus, which never happened to the Jews but was used as a unifying literary tactic to unite different and scattered groups into a single ‘people’, Moses who is a purely fictional character amalgamation – utilizing the identical elements from other cultural founders – useful as a law-giving father figure to the newly formed ‘people’).
What you presume is unique and divinely inspired knowledge about ‘human behaviour’ created by religiously inspired revelation, authority, and scripture is a hollow claim whenever examined in detail. The link that you presume is there (because I suspect you respect these justifications BECAUSE they are religious) simply is not there… unless you first presume such a divine inspiration is real and active. This is putting the cart before the horse and presuming the conclusion you wish to reach.
Put another way, imagine if scripture really did offer knowledge unavailable to the writers of the time, knowledge of Pluto, for example, or the mathematical answer to an unsolvable question, or describing the double helix. I mean, really, it takes very little imagination to appreciate the opportunities for doing exactly this… opportunities lost because… well, isn’t it obvious? The ‘divinely inspired’ writers simply didn’t know any better. And that puts their inspiration exactly where it belongs: with them and not some dictating god.
What we have instead is a religion that divides people into Us and Them and then claims divine direction as the responsible agency! But in reality, this practice is exactly what we should find (and absolutely typical human behaviour ignorant of genetics and Enlightenment values of human equality and dignity of personhood) when archaic tribalism and the misguided importance for purity of blood lines are held in high cultural esteem.
You display your ignorance again – I wasn’t just speaking about low rates of addiction, I was speaking about low rates of addiction TOGETHER with low rates of crime, respect for family and elders, philanthropy towards each other AND towards people outside of the group – all of these documented by demographic studies – but this is not good enough for you because the society does not share your values?
Read your own article about culture versus life in which you argue that life is the more important right (and with which I agree with you more than you do) – which society values human life as does the Jewish Orthodox society? – In case you are thinking that I cannot back up what I said with hard facts (evidence) – just ask yourself this hard fact – which other society consistently creates their own volunteer ambulance services – which service all the people in the neighborhood, Jews and gentiles – and their arrival time is a fraction of the local system?
You want scientific knowledge from the physical sciences to be included in the books of divine revelation – maybe its there maybe its not (to remind you the Jews were closer than the Babylonians on the lunar cycle – and the lunar cycle is only mentioned in the Talmud for practical reasons – not as proof for anything) – but why do you ignore the values of the Jewish society? Why do you consider a society with a significantly lower crime rate, divorce rate, drug abuse rate, and higher rate of philanthropy and value for human life to be “dysfunctional” – look at our record throughout history – remember – I am not saying that this is proof of divine revelation – but it should get you to reconsider your unscientific way of lumping all religions together when you make the sweeping statements that you do.
One more little fact for you – Secular people in Israel are recognizing the dysfunctionality of their own society and are sending their children in larger and larger numbers to religious schools – this with all of the anti-religious propaganda that floods the Israeli media
you say 5000 years, do you have a source for that?
of-course he doesn’t – he seems to think that atheistic propaganda is science and he is absolutely wrong about a two year cycle for lunar eclipses – just read the scientific articles that I posted
Sorry, lb. Just my notes from Astronomy class.
Tilde, you wrote: “Where religiosity is lowest, we find nothing but positive correlations with higher rates of all kinds of social function, meaning statistically significant lower rates of dysfunction.”
I find this hard to believe in light of the high rate of dysfunction in, for example, the irreligious Communist society of twentieth-century Russia. I have no problem with this statement if it is true—it is truth I am after, ultimately—but I would appreciate if you could provide evidence for this assertion, which you have made repeatedly. Until then, it remains just that: an assertion.
Make sure you understand what I’m saying: that rates of religiosity correlate with higher rates of social dysfunction. They are not necessarily causal. This is as good a place to start as any to address the main point for which I raised this correlation: the notion (what I called the tired old trope) that atheism is incompatible with morality. Reality tells us otherwise, meaning that societies that have significant populations that are religious rate higher in all kinds of various metrics of social dysfunction (from income inequality to teen pregnancy, from sexual crimes to legalized gender inequalities) than societies that do not.
Russia has just such a significant population that is religious (as well as state religion of Russian Orthodox). Just because a government might be secular does not mean that the population over which it exercises political power is therefore significantly made up of non believers.
Thanks, Tilde, I’ll have to take a look at that, but in the meantime, I will just say that not all religions are created equal. For example, in countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia where rates of religiosity are very high, rates of dysfunction are very high as well. The opposite is true of, say, Mormons and Jews. These groups have high rates of religiosity and low rates of dysfunction if you are using “from income inequality to teen pregnancy, from sexual crimes to legalized gender inequalities” as your standard. I would caution you against ignoring the evidence that doesn’t fit.
Thanks for the link – it is educational but it lumps all religions together – like I said – not scientific. The studies I provided focused on the Jewish religion – I would suggest that you look into the subject – the documented historical record
Tilde, I just read the link, and the shoddy research is unimpressive. This shows correlation–not causation. There is a big difference, as I’m sure you know. Furthermore, the author of this article admits the possibility that the poorer countries are more religious because belief in God gives them hope. This is different from saying that being religious makes them poor. (His comments about Republicans shows his bias and ignorance of Republican policy and makes the article less credible in my opinion, but that is a discussion for another time.)
In fact, the Hebrew Bible already noted this phenomenon–that when people get rich they forget about God. An observation about human nature.
By presenting this correlation and ignoring the evidence of highly functional religious societies, you have implied that religiosity causes social dysfunction and atheism causes social function. Do you stand by that implication? If so, can you provide hard evidence for it?
No, I don’t stand by that implication. There’s just as much evidence that social dysfunction may cause religiosity.
What’s shoddy is your reading comprehension skills where I clearly state the robust CORRELATION time and time again – yet you miss this repeated point entirely yet take the time in your comment to ‘correct’ me.
That is very annoying.
Go ahead and call PEW research ‘shoddy’. Call all data that correlates social dysfunction with religiosity ‘shoddy’. That’s fine. It’s not true and it doesn’t account for this compelling data, but it’s fine for you to have an opinion contrary to what is the case. After all, that’s exactly what religious belief in all its forms is and you are free and able to deceive yourself to whatever extent you wish. But this approach belongs to you and you should stop trying to shift responsibility for it to others as if we are somehow to blame for your poor interpretation and comprehension skills.
Do you think Pew is infallible, Tilde? Some of their research and surveys are excellent, others are awful. In studies of correlation, more research is required to discover why there is a correlation and in fact if the correlation is even relevant. Sometimes it is, and sometimes there are other factors that have been overlooked (I am making a general statement and not saying that is the case here).
You presented this correlation as a support for your contention that religion creates dysfunctionality, that atheism is morally superior, etc. Maybe you didn’t say so in so many words, but that is the implication–which you say you know longer stand by and I’m glad to hear it.
These types of studies provide a flimsy foundation for atheists to proclaim that no religion is always better than some religion, especially as they fail to take into account groups that don’t fit neatly in to the premise, something you have yet to address. I think you can do better than that, frankly. And if you can’t, then you ought to reconsider your perspective on religion causing dysfunctionality.
Tilde, I don’t meant to say this specifically about Pew. Pollsters and researches who churn out surveys on a regular basis sometimes turn out good work and sometimes not. I have found that studies and statistics that are counter intuitive or defy common sense observation of reality tend to be wrong. As you know, studies are often overturned when new evidence is uncovered or a biased researcher’s manipulation of data is revealed.
Rabbi Blumenthal, what does this prove aside from the fact that the jewish idea of God is racist, having wanted the best for a chosen ethnicity, while letting the rest of the world live in misery?
justc You missed the point – its not about an ethnicity – its about truth. the Jews are here to share it – but the world refuses to listen – either under the guise of religion or under the guise of defending the truth from religion – if you partake of it – and I don’t mean Judaism lock stock and barrel – I mean the moral code of humanity – you will enjoy it too