Saturday, February 11, 2006

Does God Play Favorites, Part II

The belief that God (or substitute any other supernatural being) does favor us over other groups has some valuable social functions. The idea supports groups especially when the groups are threatened by other groups. You should know by now that the belief is born and reinforced in groups, the same groups we may need to be part of.

That all leads to the subject of today's post: What are the social and personal consequences of belief that God plays favorites?

Anyone familiar with world history has already figured out the most important social consequence: War is sometimes the result of the belief that we are favored by God. "God wants us to have their land you know."

Internal social conflict may be almost as serious for cultures and for you and me too! How so?
Pursuit of some ill-conceived idea or policy can come from belief that God wants us to lead the fight against, for example, gay marriage. This can create a strong feeling in the "crusaders" that they are involved in a God-favored struggle. The feeling itself is not a problem, but it can lead to rigid faith in some idea that is at odds with facts, logic, or values.

The recent debate over intelligent design illustrates my point. Religious fundamentalists are trying to make us teach, learn, and respect their religious beliefs. Dressing these beliefs in lab coat does not make them scientific any more than I can make my cat a reindeer by putting plastic antlers on his head! Yet, the seemingly obvious waste of time and energy goes on.

Why? Because, I think, evangelical Christians see their worldview coming under increasing assault from science and modern, materialistic values. But the evangelicals, they assume, are closer in their views to what God intended America to be like. Thus they are the obvious to group to lead a revival in the United States.

So, for society we get lots of time, eenrgy, and money wasted on crusades that are not necessarily as ethical, logical, or scientifically sound as we think. The other side also has to waste resources fighting bad ideas, like intelligent design.

Societies can also be dragged down by bad laws and bad policies predicated on the idea that God is smiling on the nation (or culture, which is roughly the same as a society though there are many exceptions).

Islamic law offers one example of what I mean. A strict, "correct" interpretation" of Islamic law can produce a society that fosters systemactic abuse, especially of women, cruelty to certain deviant groups (homosexuals come to mind), and economic decline. People who constantly study the Quran and try not to violate religious laws are not trying to start businesses, invent useful things, or create new works of art. If credit does not exist it is even harder to start a business.

What about individuals who latch onto the God plays favorites idea? Everything I've already written applies. You get hooked into fighting a war. You spend time, energy, money, and credibility on promoting ideas that come from the dubious belief in being part of a favored group.


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