A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘religion

[BRIEF NOTE] On how the irreligiosity of 24th century humans, and of others, is to be expected

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I originally posted this essay at r/daystrominstitute, drawing it from a post I made on Tumblr.

Lots of fans of Star Trek have expressed disbelief, or concern, at the suggest that religion is mostly a dead letter among humans (and perhaps other species) in the 24th century. Isn’t this just a presumption stemming ultimately from the doctrinaire atheism of Gene Roddenberry? Why, they ask fairly, would a type of belief system that has been enormously common throughout human history vanish in the space of a few centuries?

Roddenberry’s prejudices on the subject of religion did bias him. I’m not unconvinced that the future of religion in Star Trek is inaccurately depicted, despite this depiction’s origins. One influential recent study of religion in society, Norris and Inglehart’s 2004 sociology study Sacred and Secular, took a look at patterns of religious belief in developed Western societies. They made the compelling argument that religious belief is most popular in societies marked by insecurity, that the subjective psychological comforts of religion were most popular in insecure societies. They suggested that much of the gap in religiosity between the United States and western Europe, for instance, could be explained by the fact that the United States does not have a comprehensive welfare state. In a very real sense, religion focused as a coping tool for people faced with severe stresses, whether as a morale-booster or as some sort of institutional support via charity and the like. Nothing in the model suggests that this model would not work with other, non-Western societies.

We know that by the 22nd century, the Earth is stable, at peace and unified and verging on the utopian. What happens to religion when the entire world has a comprehensive welfare state, something more complete than what a given western European country has now? What about the future of this world? What role does religion play when no one has been terribly insecure for decades, generations, even centuries? Can religion attract anything but a niche audience in this sort of environment? I think there’s a real argument to be made that no sizable number of 24th century people on Earth or any other stable human world would feel particularly compelled by religious perspectives, not with materialism that has been so consistently successful for centuries.

For humans, there’s also the question of how religion ended up. Some of the most secularized societies nowadays are those which had the most thorough-going religious regimes beforehand, and which saw a counter-reaction against religious institutions. Sometimes, as in Québec in the 1960s, this was triggered by the simple incapacity of religious institutions to offer a way forward in an increasingly cosmopolitan world. Sometimes, this was triggered by the revelation of crimes committed by religious figures of note. Clerical sex abuse scandals come to mind as exactly the sorts of things which have led people to lose faith in established religions. Worse can happen than mere sexual assault, of course: genocide, say, or general dictatorship. What happens to a religion when the actions and values of its hierarchy conflict with what followers think is right? We know the answer: The best-case scenario from the perspective of the religion is that people stop paying attention to it, and the worst-case scenario is that people become actively hostile to it.

Is there any reason to think that, in the terrible 21st century of the Star Trek universe, religions would have acquitted themselves well, would have proven their value? Or is there reason to think, based on what we have seen in our own world, that religion might become another thing to be tossed out for the future’s sake?

Would other species have undergone similar experiences? Maybe, if their histories were at all similar to humanity’s, with religion as a belief system that served its purpose in its day before negative consequences became too unignorable. I wonder if Vulcan might have undergone this sort of secularization in the aftermath of the conflicts leading up to Surak, for instance. (Were the Romulans religious dissenters?)

It’s worth looking at the experience of the Bajorans, who are generally depicted as being religious and being fine with that. How are they different? Most notably, they have a religion that does demonstrably describes reality, complete with god-like entities whose existences have been confirmed by multiple external observers. Before the confirmation of the Prophets’ existence, Bajoran religion seems to have been helped by what may be a lack of religious oppression: Women seem to have just as many rights as men, for instance, as evidenced by the two female kais we see, Kira’s confusion in “Rejoined” over why Jadzia Dax cannot get back together with Lenara Kahn suggests to me that homophobia is not an issue on Bajor, and the ease with which the d’jarra caste system was dropped suggests it also was not an integral component of the religion. I suppose this is not a surprise: If anyone could design a workable religion for a culture that has been enormously stable and successful for tens of thousands of years, the Prophets who see beyond linear time could.

There almost certainly are minorities of humans who continue to cling to the old faiths, minorities in the main human worlds and perhaps relatively more substantial populations on different colony worlds. Other civilizations with their own histories may follow the path of humanity, or do otherwise. Perhaps if there’s a sufficiently convincing religion, one that seems true and that seems to offer convincing gains, it might actually gain converts. (The Bajorans may soon be making lots of new followers outside their species.) By and large, though, I would argue that the highly secularized future of Star Trek is a perfectly plausible future. How many people need a god to offer them comfort in a near-utopia?

Written by Randy McDonald

December 9, 2016 at 11:59 pm

[ISL] “Nuns not giving up on Summerside convent: priest”

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CBC News’ Shane Ross reports that some nuns hoping set up in Summerside are hoping to still continue on despite the rejection of their convent’s location by the city.

Nuns from Ontario still have faith they can establish a convent and daycare in Summerside, according to a local priest who has been helping them.

The nuns’ request to rezone a property on South Drive was rejected this week by Summerside city council.

“Obviously they’re disappointed in the decision but they’re still committed to coming to Summerside so would like to try something else,” said Father Chris Sherren of St. Paul’s Church in Summerside.

Some neighbours opposed the rezoning because they were concerned about traffic from the daycare.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 9, 2016 at 6:15 pm

[ISL] “A colony of Quakers tried to make a go of it in New London”

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The Guardian‘s Mitch MacDonald highlights a new book documenting the efforts of Quakers to set up a colony on the north shore of Prince Edward Island, in New London to the west of Cavendish.

“New London: The Lost Dream” details a Quaker colony’s ambitious beginnings in the late 1700s, leaving a question of how different the province would now look if the group had continued to flourish.

Author and historian John Cousins said the book’s research began as an interest of his own family connections to the settlement located at what is now the Cape Road in French River.

“I knew nothing about them but there were always vague references to Quakers,” said Cousins. “No one had written about this community in its early days.”

Quakerism was a branch of Christianity with many social differences from other Christian denominations. They didn’t have clergymen and preferred to worship in meeting houses rather than “steeple houses” their term for churches. They were also being early believers in gender equality.

The Quakers also had a new vision for their P.E.I settlement.

“The plan was not to start a farming community but an industrial village,” said Cousins.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 28, 2016 at 6:45 pm

[BLOG] Some Sunday links

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  • Crooked Timber looks at how evolutionary psychology can be used to justify monarchy.
  • Far Outliers shares an excerpt describing how methamphetamine is used as a secondary currency in North Korea.
  • The Frailest Thing shares quotes examining the link between seeing something and liking it.</li
  • Language Hat talks about ways of voicing surprise.
  • Language Log looks at a linguistically mixed language of China.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money argues the recounts are far more likely to help Trump than Clinton.
  • Marginal Revolution points to an interesting book on the Cuban economy.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy looks at the idea of a sanctuary city in the context of American federalism.
  • Window on Eurasia looks at the complex legalities surrounding religion and disbelief in Russia.

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

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  • blogTO shares some photos of Toronto in colour from the 1950s.
  • Centauri Dreams talks about SETI in the light of the Anthropocene era.
  • Dangerous Minds notes that there is now a hipster nativity scene available for purchase.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper suggesting that tidal heating could explain the difference between super-Earths and mini-Neptunes.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that protecting Trump in New York City costs that municipality a million dollars a day, and notes a parade of Spanish fascists in support of Trump.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes that politics is identity politics.
  • The LRB Blog notes the end of Sarkozy’s campaign and revisits Goldwater.
  • The Russian Demographics Blog reports on the latest about the population of Ukraine.
  • Towleroad notes the hateful mail received by an out mayor in Massachusetts.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy looks at Trump’s apparently anti-constitutional entanglement of business and politics.
  • Window on Eurasia reports on how Russia’s promotion of the Russian language in neighbouring countries is backfiring, and looks at the hard nationalist line of Patriarch Kirill against Ukrainian autocephaly and multiculturalism in Russia.

[ISL] “Buddhist nuns ‘learning to fit in’ on P.E.I.”

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CBC News’ Shane Ross describes the substantial and growing population of Buddhist nuns on Prince Edward Island. Clearly, things have changed since I have lived there.

Prince Edward Island is becoming home to a growing number of Buddhist nuns, who say the Island is a comfortable place for them to practise their spirituality.

Four years ago, 13 Buddhist nuns moved to the Island from Taiwan. Today, there are 134 at their home on the Uigg Road in eastern P.E.I.

In the next couple of years, they hope to attract about 100 more and move to a new building that will be modelled after a traditional Chinese temple.

“Canada has a great acceptance of different cultures and religions,” said Yvonne, one of the nuns at what is called the Great Wisdom Buddhist Institute.

“It is a very good environment to practise and study here, that’s why it will attract more nuns from other countries.”

The majority are from Taiwan, but some are from Singapore, New Zealand, United States and Canada. The average age is 25.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 21, 2016 at 10:59 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Defunct Chinese church in Toronto has ties to African-American history”

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John Lorinc’s article in the Friday edition of The Globe and Mail reports on how Toronto’s multicultural history can be intriguingly layered.

Growing up in the 1960s in Chinatown in a flat above her parents’ silk shop, Jennie Norman had no idea about the buried history beneath the Toronto Chinese United Church (TCUC), on Chestnut Street south of Dundas, where she and her friends spent their free time at youth groups and fundraising bazaars.

The TCUC congregation, which served older Cantonese-speaking immigrants as well as second- or third-generation Chinese Canadians such as Ms. Norman, operated out of the church between 1955 and 1988, when the building was sold and demolished to make way for a parking lot.

Last year, however, the TCUC’s well-preserved foundations resurfaced during a massive archeological dig on the site, which is slated to become a $500-million provincial courthouse developed by Infrastructure Ontario (IO).

As archeologists have since revealed, the church traces its origins to a tiny wood-frame chapel founded on the site in the 1840s by five African-American men, some refugees from slavery. Named the British Methodist Episcopal Church in 1856 and rebuilt twice, it became the leading place of worship for Toronto’s black community. When the BME’s membership dwindled in the 1950s, the property was sold to the United Church to establish the city’s first Chinese congregation.

The TCUC, recalls Ms. Norman, a 66-year-old retired IT consultant, “certainly was a very important cultural centre for the Chinese population.” But, she adds, “I doubt if anyone in the congregation knew enough about the history.”

Written by Randy McDonald

November 21, 2016 at 3:30 pm