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AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE for 10/10/2005
Vol. 2, #179

Many months ago, I introduced in this space the word enantiodromia which means the tendency of things to turn into their opposite. I referred to the way the huanistic ideal of socialism enantiodromically shifted into the brutal and inhuman form of Soviet Communism under Stalin, for example. And in today's New York Times, I found a report on an interesting study of America's extreme Christian religiosity.

I have selected a few paragraphs from the rather long piece written by Leslie Scrivener:

"Can it be true that very religious countries like the United States have higher murder, syphilis, teen pregnancy and abortion rates than countries where belief in God is much lower?"

Gregory Paul, a paleontologist, found "a strong correlation between high religious belief and societal dysfunction ," reports Scrivener.

"I got tired of creationists and the claims of religious people in general that popular religion and belief in God is very important to have a well run society," he said in an interview from Baltimore, Md.

Scrivener continues, quoting Paul: "I had the sense that this was not true in Europe. They are more secular societies but they're not going around having sex in the streets."

"They seem to be doing pretty good and they're not going to church any more."

Scrivener tells us that "Paul gathered data on 18 prosperous, developed democracies from the International Social Survey Program, the UN Development Program, WHO and other sources, which explains that he plotted frequency of prayer, absolute belief in God, attendance at religious services, and literal acceptance of the Bible against homicide, child mortality, STD infection, teen pregnancy and abortion rates....He found that the U.S., the most religious of the countries surveyed, had the highest rates of homicide, abortion, STD infection and teen pregnancy."

The Times reporter then goes on to state that the researcher noted that "The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so, and almost always scores poorly.... These social problems are more disturbing because of the exceptional prosperity the U.S. enjoys, he wrote, adding--"there are higher rates of homicide, STD, and teen pregnancy in the" theistic, anti-evolution south and Midwest than in the northeast."

The Times report concludes by noting that Japan, Scandinavia and France were the most secular nations. These "least theistic" nations were usually the least dysfunctional, the researcher wrote, and defy the dictum "that society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator."

All the above is especially interesting as a significant example of enantiodromia. Certainly it is worth noting the way in which American religiosity gets expressed throughout its history, from slavery and lynching to the world's largest military budget and the most war-like expression of intention by the current Bush administration while, at the same time claiming to be defending religious values. Such a defense has even been carried over to the widely popular evangelist, Pat Robertson's suggestion that the US assassinate Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela for his non-conformity to US "values." And then, of course, how does "Love thine enemies" square with the continued use of the death penalty in American jurisprudence, the torture of prisoners, well, the litany of confusions in which a supposedly religious and Christian nation, its leadership deeply in thrall to the so-called "religious right" square with the Christian gospels in which another religion, the Muslim, becomes a special target. Because one facet of it has declared war on the US? And what does religious America think of the Johanine Gospel in which Jesus says to the woman of Samaria, "The time cometh and is here now when God shall be worshipped, not in this mountain and in this place but in spirit and in truth."

In other words, never in the name of a particular religion!

In closing, I would like to note that none of the great superheroes of the comics, especially Superman, ever expressed themselves in religious terms. But they acted them out. They served, they helped, they stood up for the very things that the religious right proclaims so loudly and denies so hypocritically in all its significant dealings among other nations, among the poor and dispossessed of its own country. The comics world normally doesn't take a stand on these matters. But its hands are clean. Perhaps it should become more outspoken. In any case, consider this column a start in that direction.

--Alvin

<< 09/26/2005 | 10/10/2005 | 11/21/2005 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.


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