Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Britain is a 'Christian Country', apparently

David Cameron has recently claimed that the UK is a 'Christian country' and has said that he will act as a 'giant Dyno-Rod' for Christian organisations here (implicitly equating secularists with sewage). This has attracted considerable criticism, for obvious reasons.

England is a Christian nation in a legal sense. The other constituent countries of the UK have a different set of rules about religion, but the Church of England is the established church of England with the Queen as its head, so in legal terms Cameron is nearly correct. In other respects, though, the UK isn't a Christian nation; some polls show that the population now has a non-Christian majority (made up of non-religious people and people of other religions), and nearly all of our laws and mores derive from secular reasoning, not Christian tradition.

This is apparently controversial in some quarters, but it shouldn't be: England was majority Christian for a thousand years by the time slavery was abolished, and it took even longer for the death penalty to be gotten rid of. Such moral leaps did not derive primarily from Christian tradition. We simply don't depend on the Bible in any way for our morals and precepts, and I'd say we're doing quite well without it.

Given that even self-proclaimed Christians in the UK rarely go to church and that non-Christians are in a majority, and that the mores of all groups come from reason and ethical discussion more than tradition and theological mumbo-jumbo, it hardly makes sense to refer to the UK as 'a Christian country'.

It is obviously wrong to have an established church (or a monarch, for that matter). How can a government take such a stand on metaphysics or decide for the population at large whether there is or is not a god? It's clearly a stupid idea, and clearly all of earth's nations should have secular governments by default. Saying that the UK is still a 'Christian country' only serves to highlight how impervious to obvious notions the English political establishment is. The sooner we ditch the church and monarchy the better off we'll be, and whether Britain is or is not currently a Christian country is moot; the point is that it shouldn't be.

Naturally, I'll be doing my best to vote Cameron out in the next election, but that effort has already been hampered by the failed referendum on reforming British elections a few years ago - another result of the glacial rate of political reform in the UK and the sheer impossibility of introducing new and better ideas into the country's archaic and calcified system.

7 comments:

  1. My first comment is that I'm wondering what his agenda is - he doesn't usually waste words, and may be expected to be preparing the ground for something.
    Second - this country (like most of the rest of the world) doesn't yet seem to be mature enough to have the confidence to rubbish religion and all its apologists.
    I'd like to see us get to the position where all religious claims, pronouncements, blessings, thanksgivings, etc., were so widely mocked that the residue of "believers" actually started to feel stupid instead of somehow superior.

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  2. Off topic, but I've just discovered your blog and am enjoying reading through it, since we share many interests (social and cultural anthropology, pre-history, the rise of civilizations, among others). I agree with you that a lot of the HBD'ers go overboard by ignoring the importance of cultures and ideas in shaping societies, which are my main focus. Still, I'm curious about your dismissive attitude toward Hbd chick's main thesis, that consanguineous marriage customs create clan loyalties that militate against values like the the rights of the individual, the rule of law, and the use of reason instead of custom in navigating the world (I'm saying this roughly). If you could perhaps address her first big post on Whatever Happened to European Tribes, I would like to hear what you have to say. thanks

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    1. I'm fine with the idea that certain types of marriage arrangements have an impact on other areas of social life, and that asymmetric marriage alliances serve primarily to create alliances (and are thereby anti-democratic and against the rule of law as we know it). But it's a social, cultural, ideological thing, not a genetic one. hbdchick's idea is that these marriage types have a genetic impact, one strong to make people who have prescriptive marriage rules more inherently - literally innately - nepotistic. People who marry their cousins become genetically programmed to favour their close relatives, according to her.

      That doesn't seem to work at all, and it completely misunderstands what nepotism is, how it functions, and what it's like to live in a society where people expect you to help family members over others. The default hypothesis should be that the genetic impact is minimal. I don't have time right now to go into detail, but I'm going to assume that the reasoning is obvious. There's no point in going into detail over something so obviously flawed.

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    2. Well, yes, you are right in that she believes that consanguineous marriage customs create a cultural environment that selects for genes that favor kin selection. I admit I've had trouble getting my mind around that particular possibility, and have told her so in my comments.

      However, quite apart from that particular possibility, there is no doubt (is there?) that kin selection is a real phenomenon in human societies (not just the social insects), which suggests that the human species may already have a number of genes that favor favoring our close relatives. If so, then it would make sense that have dense matrices of closely related people living in groups together (which is what you get with a lot of first cousin marriages) would have a stronger inbuilt propensity to favor their own, to think in terms of the group instead of the individual, to not recognize the equal "rights" of those who are not a member of the clan in a number of social contexts, etc..

      I see this as a more optimistic scenario, not because it is not a genetic phenomenon, but because the cure does not require new genes or genetic profiles in the population we are talking about. Rather, it just requires out-breeding, an end of consanguineous marriages, and maybe a lot of churning such as you see when rural peasants move from small village communities to big cities and are thrust among strangers, like we see happening in China on a mammoth scale.

      You may favor an alternative explanation -- imprinting? -- for what appears to be kin selection, but surely you will admit that the alternative hypothesis cannot be ruled out? Or that it would have clear policy implications?

      I'm not saying this very well. Here are a couple of links to journalists who are a lot better at it:

      http://isteve.blogspot.com/2012/06/cousin-marriage-v-democracy.html

      Anyway, thanks for listening. I think there's a lot to be said for the idea of gene-culture co-evolution, and even more for the idea that ideas matter in shaping, if not traditional societies, then modern ones. E.g. I have a book coming out on Kindle soon, A Part-time Job in the Country:

      In this post-Christian utopia, Luke Lea explores a world of small country towns in which the people work part-time outside the home -- 4-to-6 hours a day, three or four days a week -- and in their free time build their own houses, cultivate gardens, cook and care for their children and grandchildren, and pursue other leisure-time activities. They live on small family homesteads grouped around neighborhood greens and get around town in glorified golf carts. So thoroughly are work and leisure integrated into the fabric of their everyday lives that people don't feel much need to retire, and they die at home in their beds as a rule, cared for by loved ones.

      For those who would like to move to this world he provides a map with some directions for how to get there from here.


      Now that's anthropology!

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    3. I think the whole idea of anything strongly genetic to differences in clannishness and corruption is silly. It's just not the way it works. I'd advise you to read a good ethnography of this kind of marriage arrangement to see what it's actually like and why a genetic component is rather unlikely (as are claims that cousin marriage is motivated by non-rational sentiment, which are basically similar to the genetic theory).

      You could also try to find Rodney Needham's Structure and Sentiment, if you're at all conversant with the literature, to see why such claims can't work, and why marriage arrangements like that are socio-cultural things dependant on rules and not the result of a genetic bias towards kin that is greater in some societies than others.

      I saw a tweet this morning from misdreavus. He claimed that countries are not corrupt, but rather that people are. Corruption is the result of corrupt people, he claims. But this is a similar misunderstanding of how nepotism and corruption actually work. My girlfriend is not a corrupt person and she hates the idea of it, and her family feel the same way. But she's from Delhi, and in order to get her driving license approved she had to rely on caste connections.

      My clients do not approve of corruption and don't think it's at all a good idea, but when they work in Uzbekistan they have to factor bribery into their budgets (unofficially, of course). Socio-cultural conditions impose bribery and corruption on people who don't want to be corrupt, and it is never as simple as merely standing up for the rule of law and the end of corruption. It doesn't work like that.

      This is why I say that HBDers have a simplistic and, frankly, stupid view of human societies and human history. I assume that their minds have been blinkered by prejudice to the extent that they're not willing to actually understand other societies and other cultures.

      As for kin selection - human eusociality is almost certainly the result of kin selection and people do indeed favour kin over others. But the category of 'kin' is defined by imprinting, not by some innate knowledge of mother and father, and the idea of favouring kin is universal, even if it is believed on a rational level to be wrong.

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  3. "We simply don't depend on the Bible in any way for our morals and precepts,"

    A good case can be made that Western ideals of freedom, justice, and human equality (both political and economic) have their origins in the Bible. The idea of individual rights, on the other hand, seems to be more indigenous to Anglo-Saxon (or perhaps more broadly Western European) secular historical developments (Magna Carta, etc.). At least that is my impression. Whether there is a God or not, there is little question that the Hebraic conception of God has had an enormous influence on Western conceptions of freedom and justice.

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    1. That does not invalidate the fact that we don't depend on the Bible for our morals and precepts. Its messages are brutal and wrong. As for the 'Hebraic conception of God', it is rather the Western Christian distortion of the image in the Bible that is proposed to be behind ideas of individualism and freedom. More importantly, real social progress was made on the basis of classical philosophy and reason, not on following Christian tradition.

      Anglo-Saxon law isn't much concerned with individual rights - at least, not more than other legal systems. There is a strong emphasis on obligations within the sib, which is hardly commensurate with individualism.

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