Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Odd Statistics

by Joe Miller

I came across a couple of different sets of statistics today, and I'm not really quite sure what to make of them.

The first is courtesy of the Pew Research Center (via Liberty Corner) which shows that Republicans are happier than Democrats (see the pretty chart here). According to Pew, 45% of Republicans report being very happy as compared to just 30% of Democrats and 29% of Independents. Even when one controls for other factors (i.e., that Republicans are more likely to be wealthy and--big surprise--people with high incomes are happier than people with low incomes), there still remains a large gap between Republicans and Democrats. Indeed, the survey has shown Republicans to be happier than Democrats every year since 1972.

Perhaps ignorance really is bliss?

The second bit of data comes from Andrew Sullivan who reports that:
Most disturbing to me are the high numbers of self-decribed Christians favoring torture: only 26 percent of Catholics oppose it in all circumstances, while only 31 percent of white Protestants rule it out entirely. If you combine those Christians who think torture is either never or only rarely acceptable, you have 42 percent of Catholics and 49 percent of white Protestants. The comparable statistic of those who are decribed as "secular," which I presume means agnostic or atheist, is 57 percent opposition. In other words, if you are an American Christian, you are more likely to support torture than if you are an atheist or agnostic.
I really have no idea what to say here. In my really cynical moments, I think that it was, after all, deeply religious, very devout Christians who managed to rationalize the Inquisition and the various periods of witch trials. OTOH, both of these rather embarrassing episodes were pre-Enlightenment, and I had thought that most Americans--Protestants in particular--were pretty well steeped in Enlightenment values. You know, the sorts of values that hold that individuals matter qua individuals and all that jazz.

I've argued before (I won't name names here, but I suspect that at least a few of you can guess with whom I've had this particular argument) that Christianity purged most of its hyper-violent tendencies after the rest of the West dragged Christians through the Enlightenment and that the same thing will likely happen with the hyper-violent strains of Islam just as soon as the Muslim world goes through its own version of the Enlightenment. My interlocutor disagreed. Perhaps he was right, though for the wrong reason. Maybe what these statistics show is that Christianity still hasn't actually purged itself of all that Old Testament-wrath-of-God crap.

Anyone who has anything more insightful, please leave your suggestions in the comments. Or, if you've nothing insightful, feel free to leave any particularly witty snark instead.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Mitch Ullman said...

I think that believing in some sort of homogeneity within a particular religion is a bit silly, to begin with. Yes, an Islamic Reformation followed by an Enlightenment would be super. However, there are plenty of folks, right here in primarily Protestant USoA, that just flat don't get either. Hell, most folks don't even know what determinism means, much less that Luther was a staunch supporter thereof. I guess what I'm getting at is that you are both right, for whatever reason.

9:21 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

My personal opinion:
Republicans are happy because they have the opportunity to make life as good as they can by their own hard work, and are free to pursue life however they wish within the confines of the law. Dems are sad because no matter how many entitlement programs, labor unions, and Neville Chamberlain ass-kissing foreign policies we implement, America is still not a socialist/communist tree-hugging, Kum-by-yah singing, kool-aid drinking country yet!
HAHAHAHA (maniacal laughter)

BTW Republicans are NOT more prone to be wealthier then Dems. (see link)
http://people-press.org/reports/display.php3?PageID+945

5:19 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Just kidding...mostly.
As far as torture goes...Do we really have to point out the fact that Christians are known throughout history for torturing other groups? Can we say...Spanish Inquisition, witch burnings, abortion clinic bombings, etc. etc.

5:24 PM  
Blogger Ocham said...

Hello, London calling, Ocham here. I got a link from Maverick Philosopher. Do drop round to my http://ocham.blogspot.com/ any time. There's a recent post ('Overheard in a bar') that may be of interest to you.

I was thinking of setting up a corner of my Logic Museum (http://uk.geocities.com/frege@btinternet.com) on the subject of hellfire and related subjects.

There's a small piece here
http://uk.geocities.com/frege@btinternet.com/cantor/PortraitoftheArtist-Hell.htm (a famous bit of James Joyce) but nothing much more yet. There are some bits of Aquinas Summa that are very good on the subject.

On the witchcraft stuff, a lot of this is myth. Most of it actually happened in the US in the late seventeenth century, which is close to the enlightenment as you can get. On the Inquisition, there's no denying that all happened. But see here (http://web.maths.unsw.edu.au/~jim/renaissance.html).

Gregory of Rimini was known as the 'Torturer of Infants' for his severe Augustinian interpretation of baptism & grace (i.e. foetuses get severe eternal punishment for original sin). Yet he was a brilliant & sublime philosopher of the infinite. Peter Geach also (apparently) had unpleasant views on eternal torture. Yet his wife, apparently, asked a student for his views on torture at an interview, and when he said that, on certain occasions (for example, someone is planning to set off a nuclear device and to find out where it is, you must torture them) it is OK, Anscombe just said fine thank you and walked out in disgust (so apparently she was against).

I like your 'blog' very much. Nice to see a sense of humour for a change.

8:15 AM  
Blogger Joe Miller said...

Ocham,
Thanks for the comments and welcome to the discussion.

I did realize that the witch trials were mostly 17th C in the U.S. (or at least that the famous ones were mostly then; I think that the Puritans brought that rather nasty habit with them from Europe). I submit that it's at least worth noting that burning witches was deemed okay pre- and early-Enlightenment, but that by the end, one is getting things like the Declaration of Independence, The Wealth of Nations, The Groundwork, and The Declaration of the Rights of Man.

Admittedly, even at the end of the Enlightenment, people weren't angels. Jefferson owned slaves, Smith's capitalism was used to justify the oppression of the poor and the exploitation of the non-white, Kant was a misogynist, and the whole French Revolution thing didn't really work out all that well. Still, the principles were there, and once Christianity was filtered through those principles, it lost at least some of its more violent tendencies.

Or maybe not, depending on how seriously we take this whole idea that Christians are more likely to support torture than atheists.

11:13 PM  
Blogger Ocham said...

Here as promised is the link to a new corner of the website.

http://uk.geocities.com/frege@btinternet.com/afterlife/afterlife.htm

Some quite scary stuff in there. But here's the question: naturally we would condemn a regime where extreme torture was widespread. We would also condemn those who supported the regime. What do we say about those who believe in the Inferno? If we do not believe in it, we do not believe in the torture. What do we say about those who believe in the torture, and who support it?

Why after all was Gregory of Rimini called "the torturer of children"? He didn't after all torture any real children. There is nonetheless the sense that those who speculated about these nasty things somehow wanted things that way.

11:28 AM  
Anonymous jamie mccall said...

This:

"Republicans are happy because they have the opportunity to make life as good as they can by their own hard work, and are free to pursue life however they wish within the confines of the law. Dems are sad because no matter how many entitlement programs, labor unions, and Neville Chamberlain ass-kissing foreign policies we implement, America is still not a socialist/communist tree-hugging, Kum-by-yah singing, kool-aid drinking country yet!
HAHAHAHA (maniacal laughter)"

Is brilliance. This is so going to be my graduate school mantra - before they burn me at the stake for it.

11:01 AM  

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