Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Religion can spur goodness, but it depends

While allegedly about religion in general, I get the impression that the data below in fact stem from studies of Judeo-Christian religions. Many non-Christian societies are however co-operative and orderly, Japan, for instance. But treating all religions as the same seems quite crass. I think the only really interesting question is which religions have what effects and why

Belief in God encourages people to be helpful, honest and generous -- but only when religious thoughts are fresh in their minds or when such behavior enhances reputation, researchers say.

Those are the conclusions of a study based on an analysis of research spanning the past three decades. The study, by Ara Norenzayan and Azim Shariff at the University of British Columbia in Canada, appears in the Oct. 3 issue of the research journal Science.

The paper first reviews data from anthropology, sociology, psychology and economics. The authors then explore how religion, by encouraging cooperation, contributed to the rise of large, stable societies of unrelated individuals. Among the findings:

Anthropological data suggests there is more cooperation among religious societies than others, especially when group survival is threatened.

Economic experiments indicate that religiosity increases trust among participants.

Psychology experiments show that thoughts of an omniscient, morally concerned God reduce levels of cheating and selfish behaviour. "Religiouslymotivated `virtuous' behaviour has likely played a vital social role throughout history," said Shariff, a doctoral student. "One reason we now have large, cooperative societies may be that some aspects of religion such as outsourcing costly social policing duties to allpowerful Gods made societies work more cooperatively in the past."

Across time, observe the authors, the notion of an allpowerful, morally concerned "big God" usually begat "big groups" large-scale, stable societies that successfully passed on their cultural beliefs.

Today, religion has no monopoly on kindness and generosity, the researchers noted: in many findings, non-believers acted as helpfully as believers. The last several centuries have seen the rise of non-religious mechanisms that include effective policing, courts and social surveillance. "Some of the most cooperative modern societies are also the most secular," said Norenzayan. "People have found other ways to be cooperative without God." [I think it remains to be seen how effective that is. Crime levels in socialist Britain are not encouraging, for instance]


Christianity growing in China

ZHAO XIAO, a former Communist Party official and convert to Christianity, smiles over a cup of tea and says he thinks there are up to 130m Christians in China. This is far larger than previous estimates. The government says there are 21m (16m Protestants, 5m Catholics). Unofficial figures, such as one given by the Centre for the Study of Global Christianity in Massachusetts, put the number at about 70m. But Mr Zhao is not alone in his reckoning. A study of China by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, an American think-tank, says indirect survey evidence suggests many unaffiliated Christians are not in the official figures. And according to China Aid Association (CAA), a Texas-based lobby group, the director of the government body which supervises all religions in China said privately that the figure was indeed as much as 130m in early 2008.

If so, it would mean China contains more Christians than Communists (party membership is 74m) and there may be more active Christians in China than in any other country. In 1949, when the Communists took power, less than 1% of the population had been baptised, most of them Catholics. Now the largest, fastest-growing number of Christians belong to Protestant "house churches".

In a suburb of Shanghai, off Haining Road, neighbours peer warily across the hallway as visitors file into a living room, bringing the number to 25, the maximum gathering allowed by law without official permission. Inside, young urban professionals sit on sofas and folding chairs. A young woman in a Che Guevara T-shirt blesses the group and a man projects material downloaded from the internet from his laptop onto the wall. Heads turn towards the display and sing along: "Glory, Glory Glory; Holy, Holy, Holy; God is near to each one of us." It is Sunday morning, and worship is beginning in one of thousands of house churches across China.

House churches are small congregations who meet privately-usually in apartments-to worship away from the gaze of the Communist Party. In the 1950s, the Catholic and main Protestant churches were turned into branches of the religious-affairs administration. House churches have an unclear status, neither banned nor fully approved of. As long as they avoid neighbourly confrontation and keep their congregations below a certain size (usually about 25), the Protestant ones are mostly tolerated, grudgingly. Catholic ones are kept under closer scrutiny, reflecting China's tense relationship with the Vatican.

Private meetings in the houses of the faithful were features of the early Christian church, then seeking to escape Roman imperial persecution. Paradoxically, the need to keep congregations small helped spread the faith. That happens in China now. The party, worried about the spread of a rival ideology, faces a difficult choice: by keeping house churches small, it ensures that no one church is large enough to threaten the local party chief. But the price is that the number of churches is increasing.

The church in Shanghai is barely two years old but already has two offspring, one for workers in a multinational company, the other for migrant labourers. As well as spreading the Word, the proliferation of churches provides a measure of defence against intimidation. One pastor told the Far Eastern Economic Review last year that if the head of one house church was arrested, "the congregation would just split up and might break into five, six or even ten new house churches."

Abundant church-creation is a blessing and a curse for the house-church movement, too. The smiling Mr Zhao says finance is no problem. "We don't have salaries to pay or churches to build." But "management quality" is hard to maintain. Churches can get hold of Bibles or download hymn books from the internet. They cannot so easily find experienced pastors. "In China", says one, "the two-year-old Christian teaches the one-year-old."

Because most Protestant house churches are non-denominational (that is, not affiliated with Lutherans, Methodists and so on), they have no fixed liturgy or tradition. Their services are like Bible-study classes. This puts a heavy burden on the pastor. One of the Shanghai congregation who has visited a lot of house churches sighs with relief that "this pastor knows what he is talking about."

Still, the teething troubles of the church are minor compared with the vast rise in the number of Christians. After the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 many disenchanted democrats turned to Christianity: six of the 30 or so student leaders of the protests became Christians. China's new house churches have the zeal of converts: many members bring their families and co-workers. One Confucian Chinese says with a rueful smile that most of the pretty girls at university were Christians-and would date only other Christians.

Christianity also follows Chinese migration. Many Christians studied in America, converted there and brought their new faith home. Several of the congregation of the Shanghai house church studied abroad, as did Mr Zhao. In 2000, says one Beijing writer and convert, most believers were in the countryside. After 2000 they brought their faith into the cities, spreading Christianity among intellectuals.

All this amounts to something that Europeans, at least, may find surprising. In much of Christianity's former heartland, religion is associated with tradition and ritual. In China, it is associated with modernity, business and science. "We are first-generation Christians and first-generation businessmen," says one house-church pastor. In a widely debated article in 2006, Mr Zhao wrote that "the market economy discourages idleness. [But] it cannot discourage people from lying or causing harm. A strong faith discourages dishonesty and injury." Christianity and the market economy, in his view, go hand in hand.

So far, Christianity's spread has been largely a private matter for individual believers. The big question is whether it can remain private. The extent of its growth and the number of its adherents would suggest not. But at the moment, both Christians and Communists seem willing to let a certain ambiguity linger a while longer.

"Christians are willing to stay within the system," says Mr Zhao. "Christianity is also the basis for good citizenship in China." Most Christians say that theirs is not a political organisation and they are not seeking to challenge the party. But they also say clashes with public policy are inevitable: no Christian, one argues, should accept the one-child policy, for example.

Formally, the Communist Party forbids members to hold a religious belief, and the churches say they suffer official harassment. The president of the Beijing house-church alliance, Zhang Mingxuan, was thrown out of the capital before the Olympic games and told he was unwelcome when he returned. In early June, the state government of Henan arrested half a dozen house-church members on charges of illegally sending charitable donations to Sichuan earthquake victims. CAA claims harassment of house churches is rising.

In fact, the state's attitude seems ambivalent. In December 2007, President Hu Jintao held a meeting with religious leaders and told them that "the knowledge of religious people must be harnessed to build a prosperous society." The truth is that Christians and Communists are circling each other warily. But it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Christianity will have a political impact one day. "If you want to know what China will be like in the future," concludes Mr Zhao, "you have to consider the future of Christianity in China."


The Great Boomer Comeuppance

My cohort, the sainted Boomer generation, now rules this country and its institutions. The elite of this generation, graduates of the finest schools, cosmopolitan in taste and sensibility, and left-liberal in political and cultural allegiance -- have always been counted the smartest people in the room (just ask them).

Now these new Masters of the Universe have made a shambles of the US and world financial system. This is, to be sure, not the construction put upon things by the main stream media, but it is plainly the case. The current market turmoil is a product of every bad trait the Boomer Elite has long exhibited in other social and political contexts: unbridled greed and hubris, exorbitant self-regard, breathtaking recklessness, insatiable appetite for immediate gratification, and a rollicking sense of entitlement.

We are seeing in the Wall Street implosion the inevitable result of the Boomer Elite outlook and the behavior it spawned. Storied investment banks were being run on 40 to 1 leverage. Fancy new securities were designed and widely disseminated whose terms are opaque even to highly knowledgeable and experienced hands. Mortgage securitization techniques were developed which, our bettors assured us, would magically spread risk and thus stabilize the financial system. However, simultaneously with these brilliant innovations, lenders were being forced -- by Boomer Elite congressmen with an aching love of the poor and oppressed unique to themselves -- to loan to uncreditworthy borrowers at subprime rates and without adequate documentation. These loans, packaged into securities together with standard, performing loans, rendered unknowable the value of the securities, leading to mandatory write downs and drastic capital impairment or outright insolvency for many very large firms. Given the high degree of integration of the international financial system, critical destabilization was the real result of this confluence of Master of the Universe genius and Boomer Elite turpitude.

The unwillingness of the rest of us to underwrite the moral excesses of the Boomer Elite perfectly enrages them. So, today, the rest of us are being screamed at. In fact, the barrel of a gun is being pressed to our temple. It is demanded that we play our accustomed role of sheep to the slaughter. We are told we must funnel the better part of a trillion dollars to the fantastically imprudent, self-dealing Wall Streeters that gave us the mess, and that we must also chip in the odd tens of billions more on pet lefty projects with which the Boomer Elite, with characteristic cynicism, lard up the package.

Our efforts to be responsible citizens in this crisis are ridiculed and shouted down: exclude from the bail-out the pork and the payoffs to interest groups? How dare we! Include measures that might actually spur badly needed growth in the tough times now surely coming, like cuts in capital gains and corporate taxes? Leave the room!

This is all merely typical of the smug, cocksure Boomer Elite. This is a group that breaks things. It has set the wrecking ball to institutions that are the essential glue of our society (marriage and the family), the basis of our political system (federalism and the separation of powers), the engine of our prosperity (the free market), the guarantor of our freedom (the military), and the glory of our history (the Constitution, participatory democracy).

Although our Masters of the Universe insist we credit them as moral paragons, they are among the most luxury loving, wealth flaunting population ever seen in the world. Whenever a Hollywood celebutard mouths some perfect imbecility in front of a camera, it is sure to be done from a five star resort hotel or on the red carpet of one of those absurdly frequent self-congratulation festivals. The silk tie, moussed hair crowd on Wall Street is no better. If the extent of the naked short selling, self dealing and market manipulation that has actually gone on these last few years were ever to become generally known, it would indict this crew all by itself. And it cannot be said enough: this crowd is heavily on the left and mostly in the Democratic Party. The cigar chomping, pin-striped caricature of a GOP money man has been false to the Wall Street facts for some time, though the left continues to furiously peddle that image.

The Boomer Elite's tired liberal nostrums are continually falsified by reality but, more and more embittered by the refusal of the world to conform to their dictates, they double down, trying to impose more lefty palliatives upon us, measures sure to be flatly unconstitutional, un-American, and disastrously counterproductive all at once. This is a blindly and viciously destructive cohort. They have degraded our common culture, warped our constitution to suit their purposes, and stand ready to subvert our very nationhood to the pipe dream of the Euro-left. Now they have brought our economy to the brink.

This crisis is, at bottom, about self government in two senses and the Boomer Elite is against both. On the macro level, they don't want the American people to govern themselves under the terms of the Constitution of 1789, preferring to rule over us by anti-democratic means wherever possible, and to the full extent possible. On the micro level, being Rousseau's children, they abjure governing their own appetites, and bid everyone act likewise. The Boomer Elite ideal is a sort of Directorate in the political system and economy, moral anarchy in personal conduct, and a quasi-totalitarian PC regime in societal relations. It is bad character as a manifesto, and tsarism as a mode of governance.

Some of the sane knew it all along, but for many others a stunning realization is only now dawning. Much of the vaunted wealth creation of the last 20 years was a mirage, and the ballyhooed processes of wealth creation were themselves largely a scam, no more than the discounted cash flow of the borrowed future.

We must shudder to think how little of our civilization may remain standing when the Boomer Elite finally, mercifully, passes from the scene.


Muslim lies retracted

Following his earlier apology to Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, Irfan Yusuf has a second time retracted his defamatory statement about Mr. Pipes.

On August 18, 2008, the New Zealand Herald, published Yusuf's "Karadzic trial gives chance to rein in Muslim hardliners." In it, Yusuf mentioned a speech Mr. Pipes delivered to a dinner hosted by Quadrant magazine earlier this year which was subsequently published as "Europe or Eurabia?" in the Australian newspaper. Yusuf incorrectly stated that in his speech, Mr. Pipes had

* predicted Europe's next Holocaust victims would be Muslim migrants.

* Frighteningly, Pipes suggested that Muslims thoroughly deserved such slaughter.

Upon receipt of Mr. Pipes's protest against this disgusting distortion, Irfan Yusuf and the New Zealand Herald agreed to issue a public correction, retraction, and apology, which appeared on p A3 of the newspaper's print edition and also in the online version, both as a stand-alone correction and accompanying the amended article by Yusuf:

* The author, Irfan Yusuf, and the Herald accept that Mr Pipes has never predicted nor has he ever endorsed a Holocaust of European Muslims and they unreservedly apologise to him for the errors.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, OBAMA WATCH (2), EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


No comments: