There is a facile enthusiasm about “believing” that is manifest every Christmas season and often enough in-between. Sentimental movies like “The Polar Express” and “The Miracle on 34th Street” chime in with their paeans to believing, and even works like “The Life of Pie” suggest that it is proper and even admirable to accept as true “the better story” even when it is the unlikeliest story imaginable.
At the front end, let me admit that there is a kernel of truth in these expressions. But there is also great danger is assuming that optimism can or should trump reason, and that belief in the truth of whatever appears good or lovely is itself necessarily good.
At least in questions where the relevant evidence is capable of being comprehensively considered, the proper formula is very simple: belief should be according to the evidence. Continue reading
In the months prefacing the election we proved our human predisposition towards worst-case scenario thinking. It caused a lot of people to draw parallels between Trump and Hitler—his rise to power, the populist movement, white supremacy, German exceptionalism, etc. Other more rigorous articles have claimed that his rise has more in common to Mussolini’s. But during the election process, it was only abstract political posturing. Now it’s real. Trump is elected. And people’s projections (both liberals and conservatives who opposed him) have become real anxieties and authentic fears.
One of my conservative friends reacted to Trump’s election with this heart-felt question: “Advice on how to face a class of beautiful, undocumented 6th graders??” People responded, some encouraging her panic and others with an attempt towards attenuation. I have other liberal friends who have woven a worst-case scenario narrative where any non-white-cis-gendered-Christian male is now in eminent danger of discrimination or deportation. They substantiate their narratives by citing The New York Times exit polls which demonstrate that Trump was principally favored by older, white, straight, Christian men as well as citing the many rude things Trump has done and even proposed. Continue reading
In short, I’m tired. For over a year, I have paid close attention to this political race. Last night, I stayed up, glued to the screen as my expectations were upturned. At the beginning of the race, I watched the debates with enthusiasm, but I eventually refused to watch them; I thought they were a mindless spectacle, ill-befitting the office of the president. I could not understand why people favored Trump in the Republican Primaries, and I was surprised when he won the nomination. I didn’t think he stood a chance in the general election, and I watched in shock as state after state voted for him. As it became ever more likely that Trump would win the election, my Facebook feed filled with messages of dismay, sadness, and fear. Some of my Latinx students, now sophomores in high school, posted things like, “I’m going to be deported” and “This is the end.” They are young and melodramatic, but I think their fears are real. Other dear friends wrote about their crushed hopes, their sense of rejection, and their growing concerns. No shattered glass ceiling. No continuation of Obama’s legacy. No validation for progressive values. And not just these unmet expectations, but a sense of danger for women, immigrants, Muslims, and other marginalized populations. There is real pain, fear, and sadness among Hillary Clinton supporters today. I feel for and with them. Continue reading
When the body perceives a sudden threat, not only is adrenalin released in our blood, but even on the surface of our skin there is a measurable reaction that takes place within 0.05 seconds. And if you can track that, you can get a pretty good idea about how scared someone is. And we can track that. As it turns out, conservatives are more scared than liberals.
Studies like this have becoming increasingly popular as political polarization increases in the US and across the world. In the US, people want to know what makes a Republican different than a Democrat. We’ve learned so much about it that, according to Jonathan Haidt, after a few tests we can not only estimate with reasonable accuracy where someone will come down on political issues, but also what places they want to travel, books they’d like to read, and restaurants they’d enjoy. So the real wonder is not what separates the two parties, but what makes people within those parties so similar—even across seemingly unrelated issues. Continue reading
In parts one and two (to summarize), I argued that until the last few hundred years, it was not practically possible, nor was it considered desirable, for any state or any people to refuse to establish a religion. Individual religious liberty has occasionally been tolerated, but it has always existed alongside an official religion. For the vast majority (roughly 99.85%) of human history, during most of which we lived as tribes, each people has considered it necessary to enjoy the “thick” belonging that comes from common beliefs, common rituals, and a common sense of the sacred, divine, or ultimate. Continue reading
Next year, on Halloween, we will be celebrating the 500th anniversary of the reformation. And there’s a chance we will be celebrating it with a new leader equally iconoclastic: Donald Trump.
St. Martin’s Cathedral is tall and gothic. The whole structure is made from dark red brick, massive windows, and pointed spires. Once it was the largest cathedral in the Netherlands. But much of it has collapsed. Today, only the most impressive structures remain including the large stone edifice known as the Dom Tower. Inside the building, above the altar, there’s this ornate relief sculpture of eight figures, the details still fresh as when it was first made. The figures converse around a throne and seem to be reading out of a large book. Above, as if looking down from heaven, another figure oversees the scene. It seems to be a depiction of God’s promise in Matthew: where two or more are gathered in my name, there I will be also. Continue reading