15 December 2015

A Letter to the General Assembly

Today's WaPo included a truly illogical defense of organized religion that — even for letters to the editor, let alone something on the editorial page — was far below acceptability for any news outlet, let alone a "paper" purportedly trying to become the "paper of record." Mr Wilcox proclaims:

On average, religion is a clear force for good when it comes to family unity and the welfare of children — the most important aspects of our day-to-day lives. Research, some of it my own, indicates that on average Americans who regularly attend services at a church, synagogue, temple or mosque are less likely to cheat on their partners; less likely to abuse them; more likely to enjoy happier marriages; and less likely to have been divorced.

which is, once one trims away the rest of the soaring rhetoric in his ignorant screed, his warrant for the proclamation that "religion is good."

Not so much, once one looks at the false implications inherent in his statement (even without the contextual dissonance):

  • That "family unity" and "welfare of children" are coordinate, even congruent, "aspects of our day-to-day lives"
  • That "less likely to cheat on their partners" is not a matter of choice and personal relationships, but inherently to be avoided... which, of course, leaves aside the question of what constitutes "cheating" (let's ask conservative, highly-and-publicly-religious people about that, or perhaps just consider the possibility of forming a deep attachment to more than one adult... or is even a member of a sect that encourages "marriages" or three or more people)
  • That a "happier marriage" is necessarily a direct result of and cause for approving of religion, instead of approving of regular social interaction among those sharing similar values... such as, say, faculty symposia in bloody Charlottesville
  • That divorce is inherently a bad thing, because nobody ever makes a mistake, nobody every changes... and nobody is ever in an abusive relationship

More to the point, though, there's a huge logical disjuncture in the middle of his piece, in which he glides between "religion is good in the US with its restrictions on religious insertion into temporal affairs" (a premise he never acknowledges) and "religion is good." Perhaps he needs to take a trip to Londonderry or Belfast or Marseilles or Jerusalem or Delhi or Mosul — not just for an academic conference or two, but to actually live in the community for at least six months and engage with multiple groupings in the community. His opinion might just change; many chaplains of my acquaintance while on active duty acknowledged doubts just in the English and German countryside, let alone obvious historical flashpoints.

Mr Wilcox's binary reasoning concerning matters of individual belief also presumes that all religion "follows" a specific Judeo-Christian model. The irony that only the actual separation of temporal and religious affairs in this country provides him with a platform for his divisive rhetoric seems to have escaped him. So, too, does the timing of his publication — during a period purportedly celebrating (for his own religion) private religious revolt against an entanglement of religion and temporal power. One of the things that one learns rather rapidly when actually, umm, embedded in a "foreign" community (and for someone from Los Angeles, Atlanta can be pretty damned foreign... and vice versa) is that preexisting ideology seldom survives first contact with the foreigner. If, that is, one is interested in learning in the first place. On the basis of Mr Wilcox's article, he's interested only in finding data to support his preexisting notions. I beseech him in the bowels of Christ to think it possible he may be mistaken, or at least that his purported imperatives have exceptions worth considering, worth honoring, worth even being treated as the less-harmful default position.