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Health

On offense

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanOctober 30, 2009 3:51 PM

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Ruchira Paul has a post up, "Religious, superstitious, nonsense" and other harsh words. The point at issue is the fact that a teacher who expressed anti-Creationist views in harsh tones was sued. Ruchira asks somewhat rhetorically as to the sort of things parochial schools say about other religions and atheists. The bigger issue is one of public decorum, and decorum is very contextual. When my 7th grade teacher had us read Medea she explained a bit about the context of Greek society, including the nature of their religion. She spoke of "their gods" and "our God." Her reference to "our God" was absolutely ecumenical, and in the most general of tones, while her reference to "their gods" was clinical and disrespectful. Disrespectful because she perceived Greek paganism to be superstitious, if interesting, nonsense, and said so (I agreed with her, but my own sentiments were a bit more catholic). Ludicrous on the face of it was her stance, which she made plain. There were no Greek pagans to protest. The issue and dynamic are general. In the ancient world the Jews and Christians were considered atheistic because they denied the existence of all gods but their own.This was an offense to the pagan majority, who did not exhibit reciprocal disbelief. I have talked to Hindus who are hurt by the exclusive and atheistic stance by the Abrahamic religions about other gods (from the perspective of a non-Abrahamist much of the scriptures of those religions and the writings of their most respected divines are hate screeds). In any case, with the rise of Christianity to be called heathen or pagan was an offense, and the old gods became blasphemous demons (and naturally fundamentalist Christians are wont to identify Hindu deities such as Shiva with demonic figures in the Book of Revelation). When the Chinese encountered Christianity (again) in the 16th and 17th centuries, in particular its Catholic forms, the exact same accusations of cannibalism which were common in the ancient world reemerged. Outside of the proper cultural context, a plain explanation of transubstantiation seems more offensive than sacred. One can expand the point outside of religion. In much of pre-modern Europe a bare breast was reputedly less sexually charged than exposed shoulders or legs. Sexuality is not totally culture variant, even societies where nudity is common have norms (e.g., notice that Amazonian women in the older National Geographic specials never squat). But there's enough variation that software differs from society to society. The human mind operates on autopilot much of the time, and internalizes particular cues and contexts, and fires programs which come preloaded. When put into an exotic circumstance it takes some time to adjust, and when two individuals come together when there are cultural differences confusion can often ensue (immigrants may often never become totally acculturated). Back to religion. In the World Values Survey there's a question about how much you "Trust People Of Other Religions." There are 4 responses, trust complete, trust a little, not trust very much, and not trust at all. I created an index of trust, whereby the above response were coded as 0, 1, 2 and 3. So if 100% in a country did not trust at all, the value would be 3. Below are the responses for nations in WVS wave 5. I've ordered them. You might be surprised.

As Muslims go the people of Mail have a reputation of being atypically chilled out. These data would support that. At the bottom of the list are nations where religion, nationalism, and their intersection are rife. No surprise. But what about Vietnam and China? East Asian nations are arguably even more secular than the Nordic countries, and unlike Sweden they don't really have a recent history of religiosity which gave way to secularity. They think religion is weird, and Communism didn't help change that attitude at all (both China and Korea broke the power of the Buddhist orders nearly 1,000 years ago, while Oda Nobunaga was a great monk-slayer).

Index

Sweden0.976

New Zealand0.986

France1.009

Norway1.096

Great Britain1.131

Mali1.15

Finland1.152

United States1.189

Canada1.201

Australia1.255

Switzerland1.286

Andorra1.294

South Africa1.305

Rwanda1.329

Argentina1.372

Trinidad and Tobago1.402

Burkina Faso1.455

Uruguay1.484

Ghana1.502

Taiwan1.583

Serbia1.591

Poland1.601

Brazil1.601

Netherlands1.617

Spain1.629

India1.643

Ethiopia1.644

South Korea1.646

Bulgaria1.649

Indonesia1.675

Georgia1.689

Germany1.702

Ukraine1.732

Zambia1.74

Italy1.744

Malaysia1.763

Chile1.786

Egypt1.794

Thailand1.842

Colombia1.848

Russian Federation1.849

Viet Nam1.85

Slovenia1.891

Romania1.907

Jordan1.951

Mexico1.987

Turkey1.988

Cyprus1.998

Moldova2.02

Morocco2.085

Peru2.111

China2.112

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