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Conversation with Tor Arne Jørgensen on the Western Europe, Russian Aggression, Putin, Zelensky, China, and India: 2019 Genius of the Year – Europe, World Genius Directory (8)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 30.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (24)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightpublishing.com

Individual Publication Date: May 22, 2022

Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2022

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 3,512

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract

Tor Arne Jørgensen is a member of 50+ high IQ societies, including World Genius Directory, NOUS High IQ Society, 6N High IQ Society just to name a few. He has several IQ scores above 160+ sd15 among high range tests like Gift/Gene Verbal, Gift/Gene Numerical of Iakovos Koukas and Lexiq of Soulios. Tor Arne was also in 2019, nominated for the World Genius Directory 2019 Genius of the Year – Europe. He is the only Norwegian to ever have achieved this honor. He has also been a contributor to the Genius Journal Logicon, in addition to being the creater of toriqtests.com, where he is the designer of now eleven HR-tests of both verbal/numerical variant. His further interests are related to intelligence, creativity, education developing regarding gifted students. Tor Arne has an bachelor`s degree in history and a degree in Practical education, he works as a teacher within the following subjects: History, Religion, and Social Studies. He discusses: European interpretation of the Russo-Ukrainian war; the major losses and wins for the Western countries in this war; Putin; Zelensky; the massive disagreement with the Russian Federation’s actions from the United Nations General Assembly; other major players on the world stage; China; African states; the post-colonial states with large economies; this conflict on 1 to 10; reactive commentary; nuclear weapons; the Nordic countries; the U.N. condemnation; the “neutral zone”; health; bold moves and a legacy; a bilateral conflict; a war in the economic sphere; cyberwarfare; democratic development; Sino-Russian relations; and any sympathetic statements by Western European leaders.

Keywords: China, India, NATO, Russia, Tor Arne Jørgensen, United Nations, Western Europe, Zelensky.

 Conversation with Tor Arne Jørgensen on the Western Europe, Russian Aggression, Putin, Zelensky, China, and India: 2019 Genius of the Year – Europe, World Genius Directory (8)

*Please see the references, footnotes, and citations, after the interview, respectively.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is the European interpretation of the Russo-Ukrainian war at the moment?

Tor Arne Jørgensen[1],[2]*: The general view that we in Europe have, and with that I mean the Nordic countries bordering Russia in particular, is that with this war and the possibility for aggression that Russia poses against us, especially against Sweden and Finland which are not included as per today into the NATO alliance are viewed as grave to say it mildly.

An imminent accession into NATO for these two Nordic countries will not be an easy decision by the two nations leaders to make, as the border with Russia and an ever-increasing narrowing of the “neutral zone” if one can call it that between NATO alliance and Russia. Thus, it is not an easy decision to make, as this neutral zone and its weathering can accelerate an all-out escalation of the conflict between the West and the East. Russia and the West do not benefit from such a direct neighborhood, a neutral zone must be established so that the war does not become global.

Here in the West and especially Europe, we must hold back, send the proper signals to the United States, not to push more than necessary, by that I mean, purposely to create stability and going forward to perhaps put an end through acts of diplomacy and dissolving warring between Russia and Ukraine. This sums up what we in Europe now hope for in my view.

Jacobsen: What have been the major losses and wins for the Western countries in this war?

Jørgensen: The losses are clear, with the intention of looking at oil and gas, but not nearly as bad as for Russia, as this has so far been a disaster for its economy. Western military victories are probably not something to be viewed, as any territories have not been taken or given over by eastern states. So the losses are seen only in economic terms so far, while the victories are noticed by increased support against dictatorial tyranny, and the advance of democratic values.

Jacobsen: What did Putin underestimate?

Jørgensen: The Ukrainian leadership and the will of the Ukrainian people to resist Russian aggression.

Jacobsen: What did Zelensky underestimate?

Jørgensen: He was probably not aware of the role he was to play during this war, in which the similarities with England’s greatest statesman of all time, Winston Churchill has been made openly. Furthermore, the West’s enormous support as to both humanitarian and military, and as well as an overall global compassion and support from all generations young and old.

Jacobsen: How has the massive disagreement with the Russian Federation’s actions from the United Nations General Assembly changed the international discourse on the war?

Jørgensen: The fact that the Russian Federation has a permanent seat at the Security Council and thus cannot be removed indefinitely by allowing the current government to continue to govern as they please. But the suspension from the UNHRC and the symbolic significance it has is possibly a sign of a shift in the balance of power, or the influential effect that the Russian Federation has in its executive mandate.

Whether this will then be what it takes to create a new or alternative direction through changed attitude towards the United Nations and its Security Council, or whether new guidelines should be considered of what a member state can allowed itself to do in accordance with human rights violations in wartime remains to be seen. That a change in membership conditions should be brought up for debate is clear.

The UN’s reputation as a peacekeeping organization during peacetime or not is being put to the test more now than ever before since the organization first began just after WWII and the foundation from which it was built on. Sees now a change of organizational absolutes as an inevitably necessity, viewed from the current situation regarding the Russian-Ukraine war and the powerlessness in which the United Nations finds itself in the same manner as during the time of the League of Nations.

Jacobsen: What about other major players on the world stage either by economy or population size, or both? How is India taking this wartime issue? 

Jørgensen: India’s economic implications resulting from the war between Russia and Ukraine have their clear effect as to the fall in the global market, prompt from the fall in the stock market, specifically with reference to India’s dependence on oil in various forms, including sunflower oil coming from both countries (Russia-Ukraine). Furthermore, technological implicit in the tech sector, not to forget the pharmaceutical sector.

India can certainly adjust towards a more independent policy line, where a rather marginalized strategy, result to a reducing of outsourcing, may in the long run prove to be beneficial not only for India, but for most countries whereas their independence or promos must be reconsidered as these the type of conflicts as we now see will probably not remain isolated in the future. The protection of one’s natural resources, and upscaling of and for one’s close bilateral relations across close neighbors, can break outstretched and more insecure imports of the most vulnerable of resources.

Jacobsen: What is China doing now in reaction if any?

Jørgensen: It seems to me that China keeps a low profile still and cleverly so, because one must keep in mind that China has here a unique opportunity to observe the West’s and its reaction with reference to the Russia -Ukraine ongoing conflict. How stable and structured is NATO today, where is the community’s trust, and to what extent is NATO’s military might view today. One must not look at today’s NATO in the same manner as to its military capabilities as the former League of Nations and to what it had in its arsenal nor its lack of a tight alliance. NATO is probably stronger today than ever before. But I must admit, that to what extent NATO’s role had to play after the fall of the Iron Curtain back in -89, when the need of such an alliance was no longer so pressing in what seemed to be peacetime and added in the Warsaw Pact’s dissolution during the summer of -91.

But back to China and the role of the Chinese government now, is I think, to sit tight, wait, stay calm, take notes regarding, strategically, materially, economically, and finally the key most important thing, honor, to keep their honor and not lose face, something that Russia has so solemnly now done perhaps irrepealably damage its own role as an historically important powerhouse. This is probably what will be mostly important for China to do now, furthermore, its role ahead in terms of the China -Taiwan controversy and adding NATO’s role in its support of Taiwan and thus resistance from the Chinese government of the probability of an extended formation of a NATO pacific alliance.

Jacobsen: How are African states, e.g., Nigeria, taking this into account in terms of impacts on their economy?

Jørgensen: What cannot be avoided in this context is the importance that Ukraine attaches to the world’s food supply, as Ukraine is the main grain stock for many of us. African northern states feel this even more, as many of these states are daily dependent on the supply of stable and secure grain delivery from Ukraine in particular, the same can be said with regards to food oils which then constitute an increased importance in the supplement in grain / food exported from Ukraine to the world.

For those countries that are completely dependent on the safe supply of grain to feed their compatriots, this is a very unfortunate situation to be in, far worse than many of the western countries that have alternative solutions to consider ensuring stability of a stable grain stock etc.

Jacobsen: What about the post-colonial states with large economies, e.g., the United States of America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Israel (and South Africa)?

Jørgensen: If one considers the United States, as they are not dependent on Russian oil to the same extent of what Europe is, with Germany as the most dependent state in Europe of Russian oil and gas. Nor when it comes to access to stable business routes to ensure food deliveries to its own population.

The same could be said at least to some extent regarding Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa as well, where one should take certain restrictions in the requirement for stable energy sources regarding fossil fuels, and to a certain extent again in the degree of self-sufficiency of food supply, and the availability of various grains and oils directed towards the food industry. It should probably also be added that Australia’s atomic political foundations, are self-supported through sufficiency by and for one’s own omittance of the import need prompt to the state’s existence, is thereby marked to be define as self-sufficient in accordance with the Australian statutes of sustainability.

Jacobsen: If we scale this conflict on 1 to 10 with 10 being WWI and WWII, and 1 being global peacetime, where does this conflict sit on this spectrum?

Jørgensen: From what you suggested as to what scale to use, I will probably lean towards 3 or 4 out of 10 as of current time, where a upscaled to a clear 4 out of 10 within the next 2 months, for then to be scaled down again to 2 out of 10 within the next 8-12 months.

Jacobsen: There was reactive commentary immediately on social media about WWIII. How much of this is simply hysterics rather than realistic appraisal about the situation in the earlier parts of the war and now?

Jørgensen: A changed state in and around the theme of World War III, is for me not from the state one sees as of today nor what was at the start a realistic picture to form or take in. Why do I say this, probably because Russia’s interests do not, even if Putin and his state may impromptu us to believe, that an end war is a possible comprehend rum? That a long-term planning as it is then described regards to the world media, one quickly sees that his plan (Putin) and his cabinet failed miserably.

For me, when one lays a plan A, then one lays plan B-C-D… In the early stages of the war, the long supply lines regarding the 6km long convoy that was to make Russia and its immense power for the “world to fear,” resulted in a complete ridicule for all of us to watch. After this rather embarrassing mockup by the dreaded Russian war machine, one thinks and sees that this cannot be well planned. If well planned, Russia would have had to be aware of which corner they would paint themselves into when they started their war campaign.

Now Russia is almost looked upon as a global outcast, the Russian leadership is detested completely by a united West. The Russian leader has destroyed the pride of his country and what trace of honor that must be left should now not remain permanently destroyed. A third world war seems to me to be impossible for Russia’s people, internal government, nor for Russia’s allies. Even the participation of Syrian mercenaries will probably not change the outcome of this war, nor will Sweden’s and Finland’s incorporation into NATO’s safe embrace.

Finally, I would like to point out that the West is a greater threat to a third world war with its constant tightening of the net around an ever increasingly pressured Russia, whereby their allies can counteract NATO’s patronage of Russia’s autonomy.

Jacobsen: Would Putin use nuclear weapons? Would NATO nations consider the use of their nuclear weapons if so? In either case, these seem insane, as this is “mutually assured destruction.” 

Jørgensen: We only have this one planet, we all play in the same sandbox, the world has too much to lose. Look at China and all the developments that they are now experiencing, they are one of the world’s strongest economies. They and India will not let Russia end the world in the quest to acquire lost lands. Everyone realizes that the Soviet Union and its heyday are over, and the President of Russia must realize this once and for all.

Jacobsen: Will this grave picture from the Nordic countries create a necessity for wartime participation from most of them on the side of Ukraine? If so, which nation-states?

Jørgensen: If one looks with regards to the application for NATO membership for both Sweden and Finland, thus marking a possible historic Nordic shift, then the Nordic alliance in addition to the alliance with NATO as an extra boost security against Russian aggression. By that said, will then Russia remain a lasting threat for the Nordic countries to deal with, do not think so. Separate we are small and maybe few, but united we are strong and somewhat plentiful.

Finland alone has previously shown the world that they can certainly hold their ground, for example during the Russo-Finnish war back in 1939 -40, where Russia invaded Finland, the Finnish forces not only held their stand, but also manage to push back the invading forces for quite some time. But at the same time, it should be duly pointed out that Russia’s in that sense increased cooperation in every sense with China, as well as North Korea, where Russia’s support in a military sense has been marked in China as well as North Korea’s military with reference buildup after the end of World War II.

One should further keep in mind that the Cold War was never really over, but forever-expanding regards to NATO expansion, the NATO alliance has been eating away more and more of territorially sovereignty on its way towards the Eastern Front, whereby the current tense situation now runs counter to everyone’s astonishment?!

It should also be said that the United States and its status as the world’s only superpower, can no longer be stated as factual.

Iran, Russia, North Korea, and USA, yes, all countries that have nuclear weapons capabilities for use in their arsenal are now to be considered a superpower as their nuclear armaments can reach all targets across the globe. The quintessential question to be asked now is, by what purpose is it to use these weapons, aren’t we all still live in the same sandbox?? If we were to start a third world war, then the outcome would be very possible, as Albert Einstein once said, If, this becomes a reality, that is, World War III, then “the next one will be fought with sticks and stones.” The idea of ​​being bombed back to the Stone Age, where all hope of restoration is to be regarded as utopian wishful thinking, think of a Mars-like scenario, and end of civilization as we know it, the reality hits you.

Jacobsen: Does the U.N. condemnation, overwhelming, of this situation, justify legal ramifications and an investigation into the crimes and human rights violations by Russia against civilians and Ukrainian sovereignty?

Jørgensen: Undoubtedly yes, although one can ask questions of a more investigative position, so yes, here there is no doubt about its legality nor one’s legitimacy.

Jacobsen: How has the “neutral zone” evolved over time?

Jørgensen: The expansion of the “neutral zone” between the West and the East, where a constant invasion, or rather a narrowing of territorial sovereignty based on one’s origins after World War II as it is hereby put forth, regards to the eastern part, and then the expansion of territorial sovereignty in pictorial sense, in a more recent historical perspective indisputably proven with reference to Western NATO alliance due presence.

Jacobsen: Putin is old. Is his health an issue?

Jørgensen: When it comes to age, one would say no, Putin’s age is not a decisive factor in this context.

Jacobsen: Is there a sense, by him, of wanting to make bold moves and a legacy through the invasion? Or is his concern more geostrategic, or both?

Jørgensen: Simply put, to speak of a person who was despairing of the weathering powerlessness that arose in the following days after the Cold War when the Iron Curtain fell. The dissolution of the Soviet Union, a disintegrating nation where total chaos reigned, no one would nor could respond when a desperate Putin asks for advice of his leaders; “what happens now?” A former KGB agent, who has his special field within spreading misinformation promoted for the desire to create fear and control by the few over the many.

A brilliant bureaucrat, where a rapid rise after the end of the Cold War, in which former President Boris Yeltsin at the very beginning of the 21st century, puts Putin as his appointed prime minister and further heir to the presidency at the very beginning of a new millennia. One now sees, at least in some way a clear comparison with the Nazi leader during World War II.

What can be speculated about now is, will we then see a similar demise likes the one we teach our children in schools regarding Hitlers last days in his private bunker or not, will history repeat itself or not once again…?

Jacobsen: What is the process, historically, of other nations being drawn into a wartime scenario, and then a bilateral conflict becoming regional if not global?

Jørgensen: Extensions of alliances, inaugurations of warlords, decisions by and for the incorporation of territorial sovereignty, where a “safe haven” of a supreme guardianship calls out to you. A confident big brother who takes care of the little man, whereby the suppressing duty for little brother is to do everything that big brother says he must do or else, similar to the whim of a madman.

This is a short, but all so true description of the Western alliance, and it does not improve in any way with reference to its eastern counterpart. This is what we (the people) must endure by our wants or not. So yes, the small ones are eaten up by the big ones, the powerful ones rule the impaled ones. Expansions have been made, are now being made, and will in the future be leading for world politics where give and take every day, controls the outcome for peacetime or not …

Jacobsen: Is this primarily a war in the economic sphere at this point?

Jørgensen: The economic implications that we all see and feel in our everyday lives are palpable. What leads in the future can quickly overshadow the financial consequences. As they are the first to emerge, and what is experienced the longest after the actual warfare is over in accordance with clean-up and all the humanitarian work in the aftermath.

Jacobsen: What about the current forms of war found online with digital technology, espionage, hacking, surveillance, and cyberwarfare in general? Have these been much of the conflict?

Jørgensen: Yes, based on Russia’s history of cyber warfare, manipulation, and attempts to gag neighboring states according of their rule of law, democracy, and freedom of speech regarding the general population both abroad and at home. So yes, this is a well-known tactic from the Russian government, historically as well as to current time conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

Jacobsen: How many countries, in varying degrees of democratic development, count as “democratic” globally compared to autocratic? I am aware of a march towards more democratic, secular, and Enlightenment views globally – unsure as to how much, though.

Jørgensen: The democratic index points in the direction of an expanded perspective, with a downward spiral for the autocratic forms of government. If you look at the index today, full democratically governed countries would be around 6.4% and countries with fully autocratic rule would then be around 37% but take these numbers with precaution as they can vary.

Jacobsen: How will, or are, Sino-Russian relations impacting the war? Has the Chinese Communist Party made any formal statements or motions regarding this war?

Jørgensen: The camaraderie between China and Russia is better than it has been for a long time, the border conflict that took place back in spring of -69, has today by no means no remnants of any lasting disputes between these two countries. So no, it does not mean that a consequence of that past tense historical conflict in any regards has been a major factor to calculate into the current wartime conflict between Russia and Ukraine. China and its position now have been all about keeping calm, looking at what is happening by observing the situation in anticipation of its outcome pro-con.

Jacobsen: Have there been any sympathetic statements by Western European leaders towards Putin, as in understanding the aggression against Ukrainian people and the annexation of Ukrainian territory?

Jørgensen: Believes and believes that most Western leaders dissociate themselves from what Putin has now messed up. A clear response in a statement of support for what is happening now, would be met with disgust by a united NATO alliance and a united European population led by the United States. My reply to the initial question is then clearly presented.

Footnotes

[1] Tor Arne Jørgensen is a member of 50+ high IQ societies.

[2] Individual Publication Date: May 22, 2022: http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/Jørgensen-8; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2022: https://in-sightpublishing.com/insight-issues/.

*High range testing (HRT) should be taken with honest skepticism grounded in the limited empirical development of the field at present, even in spite of honest and sincere efforts. If a higher general intelligence score, then the greater the variability in, and margin of error in, the general intelligence scores because of the greater rarity in the population.

Citations

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S.  Conversation with Tor Arne Jørgensen on the Western Europe, Russian Aggression, Putin, Zelensky, China, and India: 2019 Genius of the Year – Europe, World Genius Directory (8)[Online]. May 2022; 30(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/Jørgensen-8.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2022, May 22).  Conversation with Tor Arne Jørgensen on the Western Europe, Russian Aggression, Putin, Zelensky, China, and India: 2019 Genius of the Year – Europe, World Genius Directory (8). Retrieved from http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/Jørgensen-8.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S.  Conversation with Tor Arne Jørgensen on the Western Europe, Russian Aggression, Putin, Zelensky, China, and India: 2019 Genius of the Year – Europe, World Genius Directory (8). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 30.A, May. 2022. <http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/Jørgensen-8>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2022. “ Conversation with Tor Arne Jørgensen on the Western Europe, Russian Aggression, Putin, Zelensky, China, and India: 2019 Genius of the Year – Europe, World Genius Directory (8).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 30.A. http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/Jørgensen-8.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “ Conversation with Tor Arne Jørgensen on the Western Europe, Russian Aggression, Putin, Zelensky, China, and India: 2019 Genius of the Year – Europe, World Genius Directory (8).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 30.A (May 2022). http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/Jørgensen-8.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2022, ‘ Conversation with Tor Arne Jørgensen on the Western Europe, Russian Aggression, Putin, Zelensky, China, and India: 2019 Genius of the Year – Europe, World Genius Directory (8)’In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 30.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/Jørgensen-8>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2022, ‘ Conversation with Tor Arne Jørgensen on the Western Europe, Russian Aggression, Putin, Zelensky, China, and India: 2019 Genius of the Year – Europe, World Genius Directory (8)’In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 30.A., http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/Jørgensen-8.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “ Conversation with Tor Arne Jørgensen on the Western Europe, Russian Aggression, Putin, Zelensky, China, and India: 2019 Genius of the Year – Europe, World Genius Directory (8).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 30.A (2022): May. 2022. Web. <http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/Jørgensen-8>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S.  Conversation with Tor Arne Jørgensen on the Western Europe, Russian Aggression, Putin, Zelensky, China, and India: 2019 Genius of the Year – Europe, World Genius Directory (8)[Internet]. (2022, May 30(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/Jørgensen-8.

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Conversation with Tianxi Yu (余天曦) on His Life, Scores, and Views: Member, Chinese Genius Directory

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 30.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (24)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightpublishing.com

Individual Publication Date: May 22, 2022

Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2022

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 2,186

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract

Tianxi Yu (余天曦) is a Member of CatholIQ, Chinese Genius Directory, EsoterIQ Society, Nano Society, World Genius Directory. He discusses: growing up; family legacy; family background; experience with peers and schoolmates; certifications, qualifications, and trainings; purpose of intelligence tests; high intelligence; geniuses; greatest geniuses; a genius from a profoundly intelligent person; profound intelligence; work experiences and jobs; particular job path; myths; the God concept; science; the tests taken and scores earned; the range of the scores; ethical philosophy; social philosophy; economic philosophy; political philosophy; worldview-encompassing philosophical system; ethical philosophy; meaning in life; various disciplines of family member; a particular area of medicine; digital currency theory; the two SCI papers; Japanese; time spent on each test on average; achieve in life; high creativity; “God” the first in a certain field; religion; Mahir Wu; mainstream intelligence tests; money; a life with meaning; pursue “all areas in different subjects”; medicine; proposed immortality; oxidative stress; anime; Comiket; hardest test; easiest test; imagination; attitudes, personally, about religion; the “beauty of logic”; a meaningful life; focus on meaning; immortality; finiteness of human life; the “spirit immortal”; “spirit immortal” seem convincing; an atheist; alternative tests; exhibits at Comiket; Death Numbers; “Death Numbers”; solved all items on Numerus Classic in one week; the first place; Death Numbers; developing numerical alternative tests; find a meaning in life; some of the kings/bosses; great achievements in the world; particular thinkers or philosophers from the West; particular thinkers or philosophers from the East; American President Trump; CCP Leader Xi Jinping; world leader who impresses; and money.

Keywords: China, intelligence, I.Q., Tianxi Yu.

 Conversation with Tianxi Yu (余天曦) on His Life, Scores, and Views: Member, Chinese Genius Directory

*Please see the references, footnotes, and citations, after the interview, respectively.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: When you were growing up, what were some of the prominent family stories being told over time?

Tianxi Yu (余天曦)[1],[2]*: 1999/10/13. Nothing impressive.

Jacobsen: Have these stories helped provide a sense of an extended self or a sense of the family legacy?

Yu: No, all the experiences happened at the right time and place.

Jacobsen: What was the family background, e.g., geography, culture, language, and religion or lack thereof?

Yu: My family are all intellectuals, and they work in various fields. No other background.

Jacobsen: How was the experience with peers and schoolmates as a child and an adolescent?

Yu: Not very good, bad sometimes.

Jacobsen: What have been some professional certifications, qualifications, and trainings earned by you?

Yu: I don’t even have a college diploma hhh. I am a medical student, and studying electrowetting technology, digital currency theory and economics, biochemistry, physical medicine and so on. After I publish two SCI papers, I intend to study mathematics. I am also studying Japanese and intend to take the JLPT examination next year.

Jacobsen: What is the purpose of intelligence tests to you?

Yu: Having fun! I like to do intelligence tests when I’m resting. It’s relaxing for me. So I only do interesting tests.

Jacobsen: When was high intelligence discovered for you?

Yu: A year and a half ago.

Jacobsen: When you think of the ways in which the geniuses of the past have either been mocked, vilified, and condemned if not killed, or praised, flattered, platformed, and revered, what seems like the reason for the extreme reactions to and treatment of geniuses? Many alive today seem camera shy – many, not all.

Yu: Maybe they didn’t meet other people’s expectations or come to different conclusions. The second situation is the opposite. I don’t dare to tell others that I have high IQ now, because I haven’t made corresponding achievements.

Jacobsen: Who seem like the greatest geniuses in history to you?

Yu: I don’t know.

Jacobsen: What differentiates a genius from a profoundly intelligent person?

Yu: Genius has high creativity, profoundly intelligent person has high understanding.

Jacobsen: Is profound intelligence necessary for genius?

Yu: No.

Jacobsen: What have been some work experiences and jobs held by you?

Yu: What experience can an undergraduate have…Can working in the laboratory be an experience?hhh

Jacobsen: Why pursue this particular job path?

Yu: For postgraduate.

Jacobsen: What are some of the more important aspects of the idea of the gifted and geniuses? Those myths that pervade the cultures of the world. What are those myths? What truths dispel them?

Yu: Gifted. I don’t know much about myths, and I don’t believe in them.

Jacobsen: Any thoughts on the God concept or gods idea and philosophy, theology, and religion?

Yu: “God” for me is the first in a certain field, I am an atheist.

Jacobsen: How much does science play into the worldview for you?

Yu: 100%.

Jacobsen: What have been some of the tests taken and scores earned (with standard deviations) for you?

Yu: Death Numbers, Mahir Wu,28/30,IQ 200 SD15

NISA128, Mahir Wu,121.5/128, IQ191.5 SD15

N-World, Mahir Wu, 48/48, IQ190 SD15

Numerus, Ivan Ivec, 29/30, IQ190 SD15

Jacobsen: What is the range of the scores for you? The scores earned on alternative intelligence tests tend to produce a wide smattering of data points rather than clusters, typically.

Yu: IQ180~200.

Jacobsen: What ethical philosophy makes some sense, even the most workable sense to you?

Yu: Ethical philosophy that make me money.

Jacobsen: What social philosophy makes some sense, even the most workable sense to you?

Yu: Social philosophy that make me money

Jacobsen: What economic philosophy makes some sense, even the most workable sense to you?

Yu: Economic philosophy that make me money.

Jacobsen: What political philosophy makes some sense, even the most workable sense to you?

Yu: Political philosophy that make me money.

Jacobsen: What worldview-encompassing philosophical system makes some sense, even the most workable sense to you?

Yu: Well provided.

Jacobsen: What ethical philosophy makes some sense, even the most workable sense to you?

Yu: Ethical philosophy that make me money.

Jacobsen: What provides meaning in life for you?

Yu: Living.

Jacobsen: What are some of the various disciplines of family member? Those places of work and/or study. 

Yu: No family disciplines.

Jacobsen: Do you intend to specialize in a particular area of medicine?

Yu: I’m going to try all areas in different subjects.

Jacobsen: What areas of medicine most interest you?

Yu: Immortality.

Jacobsen: Why does digital currency theory interest you?

Yu: It’s the future.

Jacobsen: What will be the research in the two SCI papers? 

Yu: Oxidative stress and digital currency, maybe.

Jacobsen: Why choose to study Japanese? 

Yu: しゅみです, I like watching anime, going to Comiket.

Jacobsen: How much time do you spend on each test on average?

Yu: Depend on the authors and difficulties. Most tests take two or three days, and the most difficult tests may take about one year.

Jacobsen: What do you hope to achieve in life?

Yu: Have enough money.

Jacobsen: What factors make up the “high creativity” required for genius?

Yu: Imagination.

Jacobsen: How is “God” the first in a certain field?

Yu: Far exceed the second place.

Jacobsen: As an atheist, what reasons make the most sense of this?

Yu: Our country is not affected by religion.

Jacobsen: Why focus on Mahir Wu’s tests?

Yu: I think his test is the best in the world. He expressed the beauty of logic to a very high level. I didn’t find this in the tests of other well-known authors.

Jacobsen: Have you taken mainstream intelligence tests? For example, the WAIS, the Stanford-Binet, the RAPM, etc. 

Yu: No, our country doesn’t advocate IQ, so we haven’t tested it in hospital. And the thinking depth of those tests are quite low. They don’t have deep thinking like high-range tests.

Jacobsen: Why care mostly about money regarding ethics, social philosophy, economics, and politics?

Yu: Economic base decides the superstructure.

Jacobsen: How do you intend to live a life with meaning?

Yu: Happiness is the core of a meaningful life.

Jacobsen: Why pursue “all areas in different subjects” rather than specialize?

Yu: Because I haven’t found the area I’m interested in.

Jacobsen: Why “immortality” regarding medicine? 

Yu: Medical technology may make human body immortal

Jacobsen: What are some ways in which proposed immortality can be attained to you?

Yu: I can’t say this casually. As far as I know, many directions about immortality can’t be achieved at present. I understand “immortality” in three ways: the body immortal; do not need the body as a carrier, through physical means to achieve thought immortal; the spirit immortal.

Jacobsen: Why focus on oxidative stress?

Yu: I have no choice, I’m just an undergraduate. It’s not easy to find a tutor. I can only write whatever direction the tutor gives me.

Jacobsen: What anime do you like most?

Yu: 君の名は.

Jacobsen: What is Comiket?

Yu: Japan’s largest animate exhibition, コミケ.

Jacobsen: What was the hardest test taken to date?

Yu: Death Numbers by Mahir Wu, and it’s the best test I think.

Jacobsen: What was the easiest test taken to date?

Yu: Numerus Classic by Ivan Ivec. It took me one week to solve all items.

Jacobsen: Anything else other than “imagination”?

Yu: Yes, but it’s not worth mentioning under the imagination.

Jacobsen: Any attitudes, personally, about religion?

Yu: I agree, but I don’t accept. If I am the worshiped person of religioner, please forget my previous sentence hhh.

Jacobsen: Can you explain more the “beauty of logic”?

Yu: It’s hard to describe. Simply, it is the numbers beauty that reflected in the case of concise and rigorous logic. Take a simple example: 8127, 2187,1827,? (Mahir Wu’s question,got his permission).Many people’s first reaction is shift, but they can not get the correct answer. But through observation, we can find that: 81×27=2187,21×87=1827. From this we can get the answer. First, if you find this logic, you will be very sure of the answer, the logic is very rigorous and concise. Then, isn’t it beautiful that the numbers of product doesn’t change?

Jacobsen: What else is important for a meaningful life?

Yu: I don’t know. I haven’t found the meaning of life now.

Jacobsen: Why focus on meaning, as in a meaningful life?

Yu: I don’t know. It’s too difficult for me.

Jacobsen: What if medical technology fails in this immortality endeavour? Is it wasted time?

Yu: This process is enough for me to enjoy, even if I fail.

Jacobsen: Do you think the finiteness of human life gives it meaning?

Yu:  I’m not the creator. I don’t know the specific answer, but you can think about it: is the life of bacteria meaningful?

Jacobsen: What do you mean by the “spirit immortal”? 

Yu: Be remembered by the world.

Jacobsen: Does this “spirit immortal” seem convincing to you, or not?

Yu: Not.

Jacobsen: Doesn’t an atheist position, typically, mean only the first two options? The body immortality and not needing the body as a carrier. 

Yu: The atheists that I understand is not believe in Christian God or Catholic Jesus, the unexplained God of science. What I mean is to do it in a scientific way. For example, quantum computers can be used to connect neural networks to carry human thoughts.

Jacobsen: Are the alternative tests a way to exercise the mind when it’s “not easy to find a tutor”?

Yu: You can think so.

Jacobsen: What exhibits at Comiket most interest you?

Yu: Buy my favorite painters’ works and my favourite anime’s unique souvenir.

Jacobsen: How long did Mahir Wu take to develop Death Numbers?

Yu: If you mean propaganda, in my impression, he didn’t deliberately do it.

Jacobsen: Why is it called “Death Numbers”?

Yu: Because it’s very difficult.

Jacobsen: What was the response from the high-range testing community when you solved all items on Numerus Classic in one week?

Yu: No much response. Because I didn’t show it off.

Jacobsen: I asked, “Any thoughts on the God concept or gods idea and philosophy, theology, and religion?” You said. “God” for me is the first in a certain field, I am an atheist.” I asked, “How is “God” the first in a certain field?” You said, “Far exceed the second place.” I asked, “As an atheist, what reasons make the most sense of this?” You said, “Our country is not affected by religion.” I asked, “Any attitudes, personally, about religion?” You said, “I agree, but I don’t accept. If I am the worshiped person of religioner, please forget my previous sentence.” Can you expand on the responses and meanings in those responses, please? What ties them together as an atheist?

Yu: I mean atheists don’t believe in virtual gods. I use the concept of God to refer to the first place. Besides “God”, I can also use other expressions to address the first place, such as “king”, “boss” and so on. It’s a tribute to those who have made great achievements in the real world.

Jacobsen: Logic manifested in complex symmetries seems beautiful to me, too. How long did Mahir Wu take to create Death Numbers?

Yu: He said he didn’t remember. NIT is the predecessor of DN, maybe one year?

Jacobsen: When did Mahir Wu begin developing numerical alternative tests?

Yu: He said from 2014, when he was in junior high school. From then on, he began to set tests.

Jacobsen: Do you think that you have to find a meaning in life, fundamentally? Is it necessary?

Yu: Yes, very necessary, otherwise it’s boring.

Jacobsen: Who do you consider some of the kings/bosses? Those who have “made great achievements in the real world.” 

Yu: Chen-Ning Yang, Paul Seymour, etc.

Jacobsen: What great achievements in the world do you consider the greatest?  

Yu: Let the world think I’m the greatest.

Jacobsen: Do any particular thinkers or philosophers from the West influence you?

Yu: When I was a child, I read some people’s books, such as Russell, Freud, Descartes and so on, but later I didn’t read them. After one’s own thoughts are established, the thoughts of others are meaningless.

Jacobsen: Do any particular thinkers or philosophers from the East influence you?  

Yu: No, but I often do it in exams, such as Confucius, Lao-tzu, Zhuangzi and so on.To be honest, I was still interested in them at the beginning, but when I immersed in their tests, they made me disgusted.

Jacobsen: What do you think of American President Trump?

Yu: He is an undercover agent sent by the great People’s Republic of China. He has accomplished the task very well. I hope he will be re elected.doge

Jacobsen: What do you think of CCP Leader Xi Jinping?

Yu: He is a great president and will lead China’s Renaissance.

Jacobsen: What world leader impresses you?

Yu: Abraham Lincoln.

Jacobsen: How do you hope to make a lot of money?

Yu: Investment, stock speculation, writing papers to earn bonus, founding a company and so on, all of which I have been implementing.

Footnotes

[1] Member, CatholIQ; Member, Chinese Genius Directory; Member, EsoterIQ Society; Member, Nano Society; Member, World Genius Directory.

[2] Individual Publication Date: May 22, 2022: http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/yu-1; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2022: https://in-sightpublishing.com/insight-issues/.

*High range testing (HRT) should be taken with honest skepticism grounded in the limited empirical development of the field at present, even in spite of honest and sincere efforts. If a higher general intelligence score, then the greater the variability in, and margin of error in, the general intelligence scores because of the greater rarity in the population.

Citations

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. Conversation with Tianxi Yu (余天曦) on His Life, Scores, and Views: Member, Chinese Genius Directory[Online]. May 2022; 30(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/yu-1.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2022, May 22). Conversation with Tianxi Yu (余天曦) on His Life, Scores, and Views: Member, Chinese Genius Directory. Retrieved from http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/yu-1.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. Conversation with Tianxi Yu (余天曦) on His Life, Scores, and Views: Member, Chinese Genius Directory. In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 30.A, May. 2022. <http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/yu-1>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2022. “Conversation with Tianxi Yu (余天曦) on His Life, Scores, and Views: Member, Chinese Genius Directory.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 30.A. http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/yu-1.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “Conversation with Tianxi Yu (余天曦) on His Life, Scores, and Views: Member, Chinese Genius Directory.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 30.A (May 2022). http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/yu-1.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2022, ‘Conversation with Tianxi Yu (余天曦) on His Life, Scores, and Views: Member, Chinese Genius Directory’In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 30.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/yu-1>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2022, ‘Conversation with Tianxi Yu (余天曦) on His Life, Scores, and Views: Member, Chinese Genius Directory’In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 30.A., http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/yu-1.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “Conversation with Tianxi Yu (余天曦) on His Life, Scores, and Views: Member, Chinese Genius Directory.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 30.A (2022): May. 2022. Web. <http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/yu-1>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. Conversation with Tianxi Yu (余天曦) on His Life, Scores, and Views: Member, Chinese Genius Directory[Internet]. (2022, May 30(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/yu-1.

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Conversation with Richard May (“May-Tzu”/”MayTzu”/”Mayzi”) on : Co-Editor, “Noesis: The Journal of the Mega Society” (10)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 29.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (24)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightpublishing.com

Individual Publication Date: May 22, 2022

Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2022

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 1,477

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract

Richard May (“May-Tzu”/“MayTzu”/“Mayzi”) is a Member of the Mega Society based on a qualifying score on the Mega Test (before 1995) prior to the compromise of the Mega Test and Co-Editor of Noesis: The Journal of the Mega Society. In self-description, May states: “Not even forgotten in the cosmic microwave background (CMB), I’m an Amish yuppie, born near the rarified regions of Laputa, then and often, above suburban Boston. I’ve done occasional consulting and frequent Sisyphean shlepping. Kafka and Munch have been my therapists and allies. Occasionally I’ve strived to descend from the mists to attain the mythic orientation known as having one’s feet upon the Earth. An ailurophile and a cerebrotonic ectomorph, I write for beings which do not, and never will, exist — writings for no one. I’ve been awarded an M.A. degree, mirabile dictu, in the humanities/philosophy, and U.S. patent for a board game of possible interest to extraterrestrials. I’m a member of the Mega Society, the Omega Society and formerly of Mensa. I’m the founder of the Exa Society, the transfinite Aleph-3 Society and of the renowned Laputans Manqué. I’m a biographee in Who’s Who in the Brane World. My interests include the realization of the idea of humans as incomplete beings with the capacity to complete their own evolution by effecting a change in their being and consciousness. In a moment of presence to myself in inner silence, when I see Richard May’s non-being, ‘I’ am. You can meet me if you go to an empty room.” Some other resources include Stains Upon the Silence: something for no oneMcGinnis Genealogy of Crown Point, New York: Hiram Porter McGinnisSwines ListSolipsist SoliloquiesBoard GameLulu blogMemoir of a Non-Irish Non-Jew, and May-Tzu’s posterousHe discusses: “Fragments”; “Yaldabaoth is Dead”; “Don’t Take Your Life Personally. It’s Not About You!”; “Event Horizon”; and “Klein-bottle Clock.”

Keywords: C.G. Jung, G.I. Gurdjieff, God, May-Tzu, Nietzsche, P.D. Ouspensky, Richard May, Rupert Sheldrake, Seth Lloyd.

Conversation with Richard May (“May-Tzu”/”MayTzu”/”Mayzi”) on “Fragments,” “Yaldabaoth is Dead,” “Don’t Take Your Life Personally. It’s Not About You!”, “Event Horizon,” and “Klein-bottle Clock”: Co-Editor, “Noesis: The Journal of the Mega Society” (10)

*Please see the references, footnotes, and citations, after the interview, respectively.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Hi! Okay, we’re back-ish. “Fragments” is a complex piece, though brief. In “dances dreams of the dead,” I imagine the dead being nothing, with nothing to dance to or about, and so stillness and emptiness of the ‘howling’ void as the dreams danced about the dead. What are you really getting at there?

Richard May[1],[2]*: ROFL! This little writing epitomizes some of my misunderstandings of G.I. Gurdjieff’s cosmology.

Jacobsen: What is the “devouring moon”?

May: LOL! Gurdjieff said that we were “food for the moon.” Go figure.

Jacobsen: There was an old 20th century science fiction author who tried to speak to a universe with conscious suns and such. I forget the name off the top of my mind. However, the term “star mind” brings this to – ahem – light for me. Is this, in any way, an allusion to this author?

May: no  Read some of Rupert Sheldrake’s works for discussion of possible star minds and galactic minds. Some of Dr. Sheldrake’s material has been banned from TedTalks. He must have a dangerous mind, I suppose.

Jacobsen: Do you know those videos or images of the light from the Sun reflecting less off the Moon as the Moon becomes darker, as the line of light recedes from its surface? The star mind devouring the Orphean strains of the devouring moon with the soul-eyed shadows reminds me of these. The “Endless sun” cycles over billions of years off the surface of the moonscape, the ‘food.’ Throw me a bone because I’m howling at the Moon!

May: The “Endless sun” is a reference to ‘God’ at one of the levels physicality in the cosmos and levels of symbolism. The sun has symbolized God in virtually every culture, as psychologist C.G. Jung has noted. This surreal little writing is based up my misunderstanding of the cosmology of G. I. Gurdjieff. Gurdjieff taught that what he meant literally was taken as an allegory and what he taught as allegory was taken literally. It gets a bit confusing. Some of what he taught is preposterous, e.g., that the moon is going to become another sun. But maybe preposterous was sometimes the point. E.g., “Believe nothing not even yourself.” — G.I. Gurdjieff

Jacobsen: Why title this “Fragments”? 

May: The original title of P. D. Ouspensky’s book In Search for the Miraculous was Fragments of an Unknown Teaching. The publisher preferred the former. Ouspensky, Gurdjieff’s foremost pupil, thought that he did not posses the complete teaching and/or that it was not entirely extant and the teaching was at least to him partially unknown. I repeat, he was Gurdjieff’s foremost pupil.

Jacobsen: “Yaldabaoth is Dead” opens with the line of perpetual unknowability of our ‘inner’ and ‘outer.’ Any statements on the great unknown inner and outer worlds?

May: This little writing is my rendering of the Lord’s Prayer. It begins, perhaps somewhat unconventionally, with Nietzsche’s “God is dead,” using one of the Gnostic names for the God of the Bible, i.e., the Demiurge, a sort of unintelligent, blundering Cosmic Builder.

Jacobsen: Also, “Our Unknown” is not “our unknown,” which seems more accurate. It’s a subtle and important distinction on “Yaldabaoth is Dead.” What is the “Unnameable” set apart from here? (Where is “here,” Scott? I don’t know anymore; I know nothing.)

May: “Our Unknown” is ‘God.’ “The Unnameable” is ‘God’. I think “set apart” is the original meaning of “sacred” in Hebrew.

Jacobsen: “Presence” is, as the others, capitalized, while in the context of “here and now.” The now seems like an interesting one to me. You’re, obviously, a scientifically literate and intelligent person and utilize scientific know-how in the context of poetic statements, where space and time are space-time. “Presence” is “here and now,” in the here-now, ya dig? Are you consciously making these distinctions, or is this more automated based on the rich background in reading about modern physics?

May: Presence is capitalized at the beginning of an almost sentence. I’m not conscious of what is done by me consciously and what unconsciously. I’m rather ignorant of modern physics.

Jacobsen: “As above, so below” is a famous statement, and the “doing” in lower and higher reflects this for me. Do you see a relation between these ideas in “Yaldabaoth is Dead” and the phrase from Hermeticism?

May: Yes, sure, a relationship, but also a rendering of “on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

Jacobsen: What is “transubstantial food”? Is it the insubstantial Catholic form of “transubstantial”?

May: Oh, I don’t know, maybe impressions of something higher than my own illusory-ego identity. I don’t know enough about Catholic dogmas to answer.

Jacobsen: Forgiveness is important. What’s been an important moment of forgiveness in life for you?

May: I forgive you for asking these questions. I forgive entropy and gravitation, for existing. I forgive ‘God’ for sinning against me and my family. I forgive Mother and Father for being f*cked-up human beings, like everyone else. — But can I forgive myself for not forgiving?

Jacobsen: I love the last two lines, quoting you:

And led not into distraction,

but delivered from sleep.

Can you forgive me for being distractible and falling asleep before sending more questions to you, until the next morning, please?

May: Yes, certainly, I can. But you will probably burn in the Hell of the Loving Father for Eternity or at least for the duration of one commercial break.

Jacobsen: “Don’t Take Your Life Personally. It’s Not About You!” has a title almost as long as the content. Bravo! It speaks, to me, to the limits of self-knowledge from recollection, reflections, even contemplative practices. We’re a mystery to ourselves, ultimately. Why does one’s existence preclude publicity of knowledge to oneself and the conveyance of this to others?

May: I first wrote this as irony. What can you take personally, if not your life? Then I realized that it also perfectly embodied certain esoteric ideas; We are food in a cosmic food chain. We may have a purpose in the cosmos that transcends our illusory ego-identity. 

Jacobsen: “Event Horizon” plays with terms referencing past and present, and future, and the references to the past and the future. We hope for the future. Yet, the hopes are placed in the past in it. We have a present, “Now,” and it’s placed “too far in the future.” Time’s an illusion, a persistent one; I have it on good authority. Anyhow, is this your physics seeping into the poetry once more, my friend?

May: MIT physicist Seth Loyd thinks that retro-causality from the future to the present can occur and that the past can be changed, I think. But we are rarely present here and now. Now is an imagined future state, ironically. But there is also sarcasm. As ordinarily conceived, we cannot have hope for the past. So how can we have hope for the present? … So this combines ‘physics’, esotericism, and sarcasm. It’s very straight forward.

But actually Event Horizon is the brand name of a delicious high gravity beer!

Jacobsen: “Klein-bottle Clock” is surrealistic, certainly. How many cups of coffee can you make with these eternity-measuring coffee spoons in a tablespoon, even a teaspoon?

May: This writing was inspired by a certain illustrious member of the higher-IQ community who was among those interviewed by a certain well-known publication. When asked what he was doing, he said among other things that he was building an “inside-out clock.”

Doubtless because I have a warped, non-Euclidean mind, this struck me as ridiculous. So as not to be outdone I wrote “Klein-bottle Clock.” The outside of such a clock would be identical with its inside!

Jacobsen: You quote Arthur Schopenhauer in relation to time as one’s life-time and eternity as one’s immortality, which presumes an embedded identity in eternity living out ‘simultaneously’ in the time of one’s life. So, how many coffee cups can you get from this?

May: Not even one at Starbucks.

Jacobsen: How is identity embedded in eternality and terminality?

May: Beats me! Ordinary psychology explains at least to a degree the the origin of our illusory egoic identities. The psychology of Buddhist philosophy and that of G.I. Gurdjieff also deal with this. I doubt that what we regard as our identity is preserved eternally.

Jacobsen: What kind of infinity is eternity?

May: No kind. Eternity is not an infinity, it is not infinite time. Eternity is the condition of being outside of time, e.g., the present moment.

Jacobsen: What kind of finite is a lifetime?

May: The Buddha compare a human lifetime to the duration of a flash of lightening.

Jacobsen: Have you had any difficulties measuring out a mornings cup o’ joe in a lifetime measurement using an eternal coffee spoon? Or is the embedment making it easy to just, you know, reduce the quantification of the grounds in the eternal coffee spoon? 

May: Sorry, I don’t understand the question.

Footnotes

[1] Co-Editor, “Noesis: The Journal of the Mega Society.”

[2] Individual Publication Date: May 22, 2022: http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/may-10; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2022: https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/.

*High range testing (HRT) should be taken with honest skepticism grounded in the limited empirical development of the field at present, even in spite of honest and sincere efforts. If a higher general intelligence score, then the greater the variability in, and margin of error in, the general intelligence scores because of the greater rarity in the population.

Citations

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S.  Conversation with Richard May (“May-Tzu”/”MayTzu”/”Mayzi”) on “Fragments,” “Yaldabaoth is Dead,” “Don’t Take Your Life Personally. It’s Not About You!”, “Event Horizon,” and “Klein-bottle Clock”: Co-Editor, “Noesis: The Journal of the Mega Society” (10)[Online]. May 2022; 29(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/may-10.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2022, May 22).  Conversation with Richard May (“May-Tzu”/”MayTzu”/”Mayzi”) on “Fragments,” “Yaldabaoth is Dead,” “Don’t Take Your Life Personally. It’s Not About You!”, “Event Horizon,” and “Klein-bottle Clock”: Co-Editor, “Noesis: The Journal of the Mega Society” (10). Retrieved from http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/may-10.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S.  Conversation with Richard May (“May-Tzu”/”MayTzu”/”Mayzi”) on “Fragments,” “Yaldabaoth is Dead,” “Don’t Take Your Life Personally. It’s Not About You!”, “Event Horizon,” and “Klein-bottle Clock”: Co-Editor, “Noesis: The Journal of the Mega Society” (10). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 29.A, May. 2022. <http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/may-10>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2022. “ Conversation with Richard May (“May-Tzu”/”MayTzu”/”Mayzi”) on “Fragments,” “Yaldabaoth is Dead,” “Don’t Take Your Life Personally. It’s Not About You!”, “Event Horizon,” and “Klein-bottle Clock”: Co-Editor, “Noesis: The Journal of the Mega Society” (10).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 29.A. http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/may-10.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “ Conversation with Richard May (“May-Tzu”/”MayTzu”/”Mayzi”) on “Fragments,” “Yaldabaoth is Dead,” “Don’t Take Your Life Personally. It’s Not About You!”, “Event Horizon,” and “Klein-bottle Clock”: Co-Editor, “Noesis: The Journal of the Mega Society” (10).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 29.A (May 2022). http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/may-10.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2022, ‘ Conversation with Richard May (“May-Tzu”/”MayTzu”/”Mayzi”) on “Fragments,” “Yaldabaoth is Dead,” “Don’t Take Your Life Personally. It’s Not About You!”, “Event Horizon,” and “Klein-bottle Clock”: Co-Editor, “Noesis: The Journal of the Mega Society” (10)’In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 29.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/may-10>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2022, ‘ Conversation with Richard May (“May-Tzu”/”MayTzu”/”Mayzi”) on “Fragments,” “Yaldabaoth is Dead,” “Don’t Take Your Life Personally. It’s Not About You!”, “Event Horizon,” and “Klein-bottle Clock”: Co-Editor, “Noesis: The Journal of the Mega Society” (10)’In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 29.A., http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/may-10.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “ Conversation with Richard May (“May-Tzu”/”MayTzu”/”Mayzi”) on “Fragments,” “Yaldabaoth is Dead,” “Don’t Take Your Life Personally. It’s Not About You!”, “Event Horizon,” and “Klein-bottle Clock”: Co-Editor, “Noesis: The Journal of the Mega Society” (10).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 29.A (2022): May. 2022. Web. <http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/may-10>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S.  Conversation with Richard May (“May-Tzu”/”MayTzu”/”Mayzi”) on “Fragments,” “Yaldabaoth is Dead,” “Don’t Take Your Life Personally. It’s Not About You!”, “Event Horizon,” and “Klein-bottle Clock”: Co-Editor, “Noesis: The Journal of the Mega Society” (10)[Internet]. (2022, May 29(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/may-10.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012–2022. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and can disseminate for their independent purposes.

Debunking I.Q. Claims Discussion with Chris Cole, Richard May, and Rick Rosner: Member, Mega Society; Co-Editor, “Noesis: The Journal of the Mega Society”; Member, Mega Society (3)

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 30.D, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (24)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightpublishing.com

Individual Publication Date: May 15, 2022

Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2022

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 1,464

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract

Chris Cole is a longstanding member of the Mega Society. Richard May is a longstanding member of the Mega Society and Co-Editor of Noesis: The Journal of the Mega Society. Rick Rosner is a longstanding member of the Mega Society and a former editor of Noesis: The Journal of the Mega Society. They discuss: fraudulent activity; messianic posing; criminal behaviour; the three interpenetrating cubes problem; above 4 standard deviations above the norm; the hardest IQ test; and IQ.

Keywords: Chris Cole, IQ, Richard May, Richard Rosner, Mega Society, Mega Test, Titan Test.

Debunking I.Q. Claims Discussion with Chris Cole, Richard May, and Rick Rosner: Member, Mega Society; Co-Editor, “Noesis: The Journal of the Mega Society”; Member, Mega Society (3)

*Please see the references, footnotes, and citations, after the interview, respectively.*

*Rosner section transcribed from audio.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What would you define as fraudulent activity in a high-IQ community or an individual?

Rick Rosner[1]*: Making claims that you know aren’t supported by your performance on tests.

Chris Cole[2]*: Fraud takes many forms just as it does in common law. Because of the Internet, tests with fixed questions are particularly vulnerable to cheating.

Richard May[3],[4]*: I have nothing to add.

Jacobsen: What would you define as messianic posing in a similar regard?

Rosner: If you end up with a cult, that’s messianic posing.

Cole: The common language definition of messianic behavior will serve. 

May: I have nothing to add.

Jacobsen: Similarly, what about criminal behaviour?

Rosner: If you end up in jail for the rest of your life, if the FBI has a thick dossier on you because you are considered a potential threat in certain ways, that’s criminal behaviour. The FBI has dossiers on lots of people because, historically, the FBI has done good things and asshole things.

So, if they have a dossier on you, because you’re a legitimate psycho who has the potential to do bodily harm to people for some weird political reason, then there you go.

Cole: Again I have nothing to add here to the common language definition of criminal behavior. 

May: I have nothing to add.

Jacobsen: On the Mega Test, why was the three interpenetrating cubes problem seen as the most difficult?

Rosner: It is widely agreed that the three interpenetrating cubes problem was the hardest problem on the test. So, the problem that is agreed upon as likely being the correct answer has not, as far as I know, been proven to be the correct answer.

Interestingly, you can look it up. It depends on what shit is online. But at various times since the ‘90s, it has been agreed upon that the correct answer is floating out there. But you can’t be sure that you’ve found the consensus correct answer.

But the figure, the geometric figure, that corresponds to the consensus correct answer can be found in popular culture, but I won’t tell you where.

Cole: It’s the only problem on the test where the answer that Ron accepts has not been proven. There are a few of these on the Titan.

May: It was the certainly most difficult, but my spatial ability is not sufficiently high to understand why this is so.

Jacobsen: Above 4 standard deviations above the norm, why should there be more scrutiny more than any other cutoff?

Rosner: Isn’t there some claim that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”? You could argue that because claiming to have one of the world’s highest IQs gets you more than claiming to have a 120 IQ.

In practical terms, not so often, it can get you on a quiz show. It can get you on the cover of Esquire magazine. It can get you interviewed. It can get you on TV. It kind of got me laid once. I was going to get laid anyway. But it was part of that package that got me laid, I guess.

Cole: A credible high range score requires credible high range test questions, which are hard to formulate and norm.

May: I have nothing to add.

Jacobsen: What was the hardest IQ test you’ve ever taken in the high-range? What lesson can be learned for test-makers from this?

Rosner: I say that I’ve had a lot of success, but I’d say that I’ve had the most difficulty with Cooijmans’ tests. Because he brings in stuff from a lot of areas. I don’t want to say too much about his tests because he doesn’t want people talking about his tests and helping other people.

But by the time the Mega Test had been published in Omni, it had been through a number of revisions with hinky problems getting knocked out or revised until they were clear and bullet-proof. The answers were tight. I think Cooijmans talks about the pleasure of when an answer clicks into place. That click of satisfaction of when you know you found the answer.

I would say that on some of Cooijmans’ problems. The click is, maybe, not as loud as on some Hoeflin problems. On Cooijmans’ problems, you can find some really good answers that aren’t as good as the intended answer. That’s, maybe, the mark of one type of really good ultra-high-IQ test.

That there are stopping points. On multiple choice tests, those are called distractors. There are answers among the choices that seem right for various reasons if you’re taking desperate stabs at an answer.

On high-IQ tests, you can come up with answers that make a lot of sense. But do they make as much sense as the intended answer? No. But you’ve fallen for an inferior answer. On tough tests, a lot of problems on hard tests are finding the signal among the noise.

I’m writing a book in which somebody or the recipient of what he thinks is a coded message, thinks that it is a true message because it is based on the first letters of four consecutive sentences. That spell out a word.

The odds that this would happen by chance are 26 to the 6th power, which is 676 squared, which is 400,000 to 1. Then you have to knock that down because there are a zillion four-letter words. So, anyway, the odds are tens of thousands to one that it’s not a coded message, especially since it is specific to the character situation.

So, the character reasons that it is likely a true signal. And on a tough IQ problem, you’d like the numerical coincidences to have an unlikelihood of, at least, 1 in a 1,000. When you look at a number sequence, you see a pattern. Then you say, “What are the odds that this pattern would arise by chance?”

On some super-hard IQ problems, there are more than one pattern to be found. Again, you have to ask yourself, “Was this intentional or accidental?” A tough-ass IQ problem really pushes the limit in finding the signal among the noise.

Cole: The only high range test I took was the Mega. 

May: The Mega Test and the L.A.I.T. are the only high range tests I’ve ever taken.
I did not distinguish myself on the latter.

Jacobsen: Is IQ declining in importance now?

Rosner: IQ as IQ is declining in importance because it is a product of the middle of the 20th century when people really believed in it and used it to skip kids a grade, or not, to put them in gifted classes, get admission to magnet schools.

At some point, probably in the ‘50s, you might be able to get laid by your IQ. Since debunked, it has a greasy feeling about it, weirdo, creepazoid. The Cal. State schools, today, decided to get rid of the ACT and SAT altogether and the SAT is an IQ surrogate.

They decided it is not helpful, not worth the shit people go through to prepare for the tests. We can see enough about a student without some IQ surrogate in their admission packet. I’d say intelligence is increasing in importance because we are tiptoeing up to artificial intelligence.

That when we talk about AI – and AI is a misnomer right now; AI means “machine learning.” Eventually, AI will mean “Artificial Intelligence.” We will need ways to mathematicize and to come up with metrics of the power of thought in brains and in other stuff.

So, old school IQ declining; new school AI shit increasing.

Cole: IQ seems to be about as important now as it was when I was young. The SAT has some problems because it has become easy to improve a score via tutoring, but that is being addressed.

May: There is a theoretical possibility that Nature, specifically natural selection might not be entirely “politically correct.” Theoretically there could be differences among human groups that evolved under different conditions. E.g., If only females could bear children, then males would be the expendable ‘gender’. A small number of healthy males could impregnate a large number of females and the group would survive. A large number of males, if males did not bear children, and a small number of females would not allow the group to survive. Hence, there could be more variability among males, including cognitive variability, because males would be more expendable, than among females, i.e., there would be more male ‘geniuses’ and more male idiots.

Fortunately we now realize that there are no biological differences between males and females. Gender is a purely social construct. We now realize that men can menstruate and have babies too, if given a chance. The only important differences are among large numbers of pronouns, all referring to identical nouns.

Footnotes

[1] According to some semi-reputable sources gathered in a listing hereRick G. Rosner may have among America’s, North America’s, and the world’s highest measured IQs at or above 190 (S.D. 15)/196 (S.D. 16) based on several high range test performances created by Christopher HardingJason BettsPaul Cooijmans, and Ronald Hoeflin. He earned 12 years of college credit in less than a year and graduated with the equivalent of 8 majors. He has received 8 Writers Guild Awards and Emmy nominations, and was titled 2013 North American Genius of the Year by The World Genius Directory with the main “Genius” listing here.

He has written for Remote ControlCrank YankersThe Man ShowThe EmmysThe Grammys, and Jimmy Kimmel Live!. He worked as a bouncer, a nude art model, a roller-skating waiter, and a stripper. In a television commercialDomino’s Pizza named him the “World’s Smartest Man.” The commercial was taken off the air after Subway sandwiches issued a cease-and-desist. He was named “Best Bouncer” in the Denver Area, Colorado, by Westwood Magazine.

Rosner spent much of the late Disco Era as an undercover high school student. In addition, he spent 25 years as a bar bouncer and American fake ID-catcher, and 25+ years as a stripper, and nearly 30 years as a writer for more than 2,500 hours of network television. Errol Morris featured Rosner in the interview series entitled First Person, where some of this history was covered by Morris. He came in second, or lost, on Jeopardy!, sued Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? over a flawed question and lost the lawsuit. He won one game and lost one game on Are You Smarter Than a Drunk Person? (He was drunk). Finally, he spent 37+ years working on a time-invariant variation of the Big Bang Theory.

Currently, Rosner sits tweeting in a bathrobe (winter) or a towel (summer). He lives in Los AngelesCalifornia with his wife, dog, and goldfish. He and his wife have a daughter. You can send him money or questions at LanceVersusRick@Gmail.Com, or a direct message via Twitter, or find him on LinkedIn, or see him on YouTube.

[2] Chris Cole is a longstanding member of the Mega Society.

[3] Richard May (“May-Tzu”/“MayTzu”/“Mayzi”) is a Member of the Mega Society based on a qualifying score on the Mega Test (before 1995) prior to the compromise of the Mega Test and Co-Editor of Noesis: The Journal of the Mega Society. In self-description, May states: “Not even forgotten in the cosmic microwave background (CMB), I’m an Amish yuppie, born near the rarified regions of Laputa, then and often, above suburban Boston. I’ve done occasional consulting and frequent Sisyphean shlepping. Kafka and Munch have been my therapists and allies. Occasionally I’ve strived to descend from the mists to attain the mythic orientation known as having one’s feet upon the Earth. An ailurophile and a cerebrotonic ectomorph, I write for beings which do not, and never will, exist — writings for no one. I’ve been awarded an M.A. degree, mirabile dictu, in the humanities/philosophy, and U.S. patent for a board game of possible interest to extraterrestrials. I’m a member of the Mega Society, the Omega Society and formerly of Mensa. I’m the founder of the Exa Society, the transfinite Aleph-3 Society and of the renowned Laputans Manqué. I’m a biographee in Who’s Who in the Brane World. My interests include the realization of the idea of humans as incomplete beings with the capacity to complete their own evolution by effecting a change in their being and consciousness. In a moment of presence to myself in inner silence, when I see Richard May’s non-being, ‘I’ am. You can meet me if you go to an empty room.” Some other resources include Stains Upon the Silence: something for no oneMcGinnis Genealogy of Crown Point, New York: Hiram Porter McGinnisSwines ListSolipsist SoliloquiesBoard GameLulu blogMemoir of a Non-Irish Non-Jew, and May-Tzu’s posterous.

[4] Individual Publication Date: May 15, 2022: http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/debunking-3; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2022: https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/.

*High range testing (HRT) should be taken with honest skepticism grounded in the limited empirical development of the field at present, even in spite of honest and sincere efforts. If a higher general intelligence score, then the greater the variability in, and margin of error in, the general intelligence scores because of the greater rarity in the population.

Citations

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S.  Debunking I.Q. Claims Discussion with Chris Cole, Richard May, and Rick Rosner: Member, Mega Society; Co-Editor, “Noesis: The Journal of the Mega Society”; Member, Mega Society (3)[Online]. May 2022; 30(D). Available from: http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/debunking-3.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2022, May 15).  Debunking I.Q. Claims Discussion with Chris Cole, Richard May, and Rick Rosner: Member, Mega Society; Co-Editor, “Noesis: The Journal of the Mega Society”; Member, Mega Society (3). Retrieved from http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/debunking-3.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S.  Debunking I.Q. Claims Discussion with Chris Cole, Richard May, and Rick Rosner: Member, Mega Society; Co-Editor, “Noesis: The Journal of the Mega Society”; Member, Mega Society (3). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 30.D, May. 2022. <http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/debunking-3>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2022. “ Debunking I.Q. Claims Discussion with Chris Cole, Richard May, and Rick Rosner: Member, Mega Society; Co-Editor, “Noesis: The Journal of the Mega Society”; Member, Mega Society (3).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 30.D. http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/debunking-3.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “ Debunking I.Q. Claims Discussion with Chris Cole, Richard May, and Rick Rosner: Member, Mega Society; Co-Editor, “Noesis: The Journal of the Mega Society”; Member, Mega Society (3).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 30.D (May 2022). http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/debunking-3.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2022, ‘ Debunking I.Q. Claims Discussion with Chris Cole, Richard May, and Rick Rosner: Member, Mega Society; Co-Editor, “Noesis: The Journal of the Mega Society”; Member, Mega Society (3)’In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 30.D. Available from: <http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/debunking-3>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2022, ‘ Debunking I.Q. Claims Discussion with Chris Cole, Richard May, and Rick Rosner: Member, Mega Society; Co-Editor, “Noesis: The Journal of the Mega Society”; Member, Mega Society (3)’In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 30.D., http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/debunking-3.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “ Debunking I.Q. Claims Discussion with Chris Cole, Richard May, and Rick Rosner: Member, Mega Society; Co-Editor, “Noesis: The Journal of the Mega Society”; Member, Mega Society (3).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 30.D (2022): May. 2022. Web. <http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/debunking-3>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S.  Debunking I.Q. Claims Discussion with Chris Cole, Richard May, and Rick Rosner: Member, Mega Society; Co-Editor, “Noesis: The Journal of the Mega Society”; Member, Mega Society (3)[Internet]. (2022, May 30(D). Available from: http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/debunking-3.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012–Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and can disseminate for their independent purposes.

The American Medical System and Physicians 2: Professor Benoit Desjardins, MD, PhD, FAHA, FACR, FNASCI on the Poor Working Conditions for American Physicians

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 30.E, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (24)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightpublishing.com

Individual Publication Date: May 15, 2022

Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2022

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 3,056

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract

Professor Benoit Desjardins, MD, PhD, FAHA, FACR, FNASCI is an Ivy League academic physician and scientist at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a member of the Mega Society, the OlympIQ Society and past member of the Prometheus Society. He is the designer of the cryptic Mega Society logo. He is member of several scientific societies and a Fellow of the American College of Radiology and of the American Heart Association. He is the co-Founder of the Arrhythmia Imaging Research (AIR) lab at Penn. His research is funded by the National Institute of Health. He is an international leader in three different fields: cardiovascular imaging, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. He discusses: the poor working treatment of physicians in the United States; exposing the treatment of physicians; the biggest inroads in sheer viewership or consumption; productions; other proposals at every medical center hypothesized to help with the issue of overwork; the simple and obvious solution; working 36 hours in one period; working 90-100 hours in a week; the social life of the physicians; cruelty; patients kill their physicians; the level of burn out; some of the more egregious examples of (mis-)treatment of physicians; deceased or now-disabled colleagues; human rights violations; International Labour Organization; common statements from physicians; humane working conditions; and the future of the American healthcare system.

Keywords: American, Benoit Desjardins, death, Medicine, physicians, science, United States, working conditions.

The American Medical System and Physicians 2: Professor Benoit Desjardins, MD, PhD, FAHA, FACR, FNASCI on the Poor Working Conditions for American Physicians

*Please see the references, footnotes, and citations, after the interview, respectively.*

*This interview represents Dr. Desjardins’ opinion, combined to the current content of the published medical literature, and not necessarily the opinion of his employers.*

On the work conditions of U.S. physicians

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What was the earliest known, to you, exposure to the poor working treatment of physicians in the United States?

Dr. Benoit Desjardins[1],[2]*: I realized it as soon as I started my training in the U.S. when I was forced to work 68h without sleep. I had been on call at the hospital two nights in a row, had worked 58 consecutive hours without rest, and was driving back home. As I crashed into my bed, I received a phone call from my chief resident asking me why I was not at the hospital as I was on call again for a third night in a row. I was unaware of it and explained the situation. He ordered me to get back to work. I drove back exhausted to the hospital and could have easily been killed in a car accident. I worked ten additional consecutive hours until I crashed on the call room floor. They found me unconscious later that morning. It was my first exposure to the poor working conditions of U.S. physicians.

Jacobsen: Who have been the most vocal people about exposing the treatment of physicians from 50 years ago to 10 years ago?

Desjardins: In the U.S., it was common for post-MD medical trainees (called “residents”) to work 90-100 hours per week and up to 36 hours without rest. In March 1984, 18-yo Libby Zion died at a New York hospital from a prescription error by a resident doing a 36h shift. It led to an investigation on the effect of resident fatigue on patient safety. New regulations were passed in 1987 limiting residents in New York to work no more than 80h per week and no more than 24 consecutive hours. In 2003, the ACGME (the body regulating medical training in the U.S.) extended the rule to all residents. They also limited resident calls to once every third night and implemented one day off per week. For comparison, in Europe, residents cannot work more than 48h per week. Note that these new rules only apply to residents in training, not to the U.S. practicing physicians who regularly work up to 120h per week and up to 72 consecutive hours without sleep.

Jacobsen: Of various productions about the issue, what ones seem to have made the biggest inroads in sheer viewership or consumption?

Desjardins: Around ten years ago, some physicians started to expose the poor working conditions of U.S. physicians. Dr. Pamela Wible noticed an epidemic of suicide among physicians, and she began accumulating data. So far, she has documented 1620 suicides of physicians caused by their poor working conditions, a clear underestimate of the true incidence of the problem. She publicized her results in a TED talk (“Why doctors kill themselves,” March 23, 2016), maintains a blog, and wrote books on the poor treatment of U.S. physicians. Since then, many articles, blogs, books, medical conferences, and documentary movies have covered the poor treatment of U.S. physicians. As a result of these initiatives, physician wellness is now a topic addressed by every U.S. hospital and medical school.

Jacobsen: There will be variations on a theme with the presentation of the same legitimate complaint of overwork and poor working conditions for U.S. physicians. However, some will ‘get’ it more. In that, they’ll hit the message and the reality, correctly. Which productions have been the most incisive and factually accurate?

Desjardins: On April 8, 2019, the New York Times published the op-ed article “The Business of Health Care Depends on Exploiting Doctors and Nurses” by Dr. Danielle Ofri. The op-ed discussed how the U.S. exploits healthcare workers with poor working conditions that would be unacceptable in other fields and countries. In June 2019, Dr. Pamela Wible wrote a book entitled “Human Rights Violations in Medicine,” tabulating and illustrating with real examples 40 different ways in which the U.S. violates the fundamental human rights of its physicians. It includes sleep deprivation, food deprivation, water deprivation, overwork, exploitation, bullying, punishment when sick, violence, no mental health care, etc. In 2018, Robyn Symon produced a documentary movie on physician suicide and poor working conditions entitled “Do no harm” (donoharmfilm.com). It is available for rent on Amazon and Vimeo. In 2004, Dr. Kevin Pho created a blog (KevinMD.com) on physician issues. Several recent articles and interviews on his blog have focused on the poor working conditions of U.S. physicians.

Jacobsen: What are other proposals at every medical center hypothesized to help with the issue of overwork akin to yoga mats?

Desjardins: The U.S. lacks interest in identifying and solving real problems. It goes well beyond healthcare and applies to poverty, violence, corruption, gun control, climate change, etc. Band-Aid solutions are proposed, and the root causes of problems are rarely addressed. Physician working conditions are treated similarly. Every hospital and medical school is now addressing physician wellness, given the massive levels of physician burnout. They discuss yoga mats, meditation, eating healthy, exercising, and sleeping well. But they don’t address 120h work weeks, 72 consecutive hours call shifts without rest and lack of access to food and water, physicians dying on the job, getting strokes on the job, destroying their health.

Jacobsen: Have any tried the simple and obvious solution by taking issue with the prefix “over-” in “overwork” to deal with overwork of physicians? 

Desjardins: No. There is a lack of interest in identifying the real problems and offering needed solutions. There is only one solution to the overwork of U.S. physicians: getting more physicians (or physician equivalent healthcare workers). The U.S. has 2.6 physicians per 1000 people (WorldBank data). The European Union has 4.9, ranging from 3.7 in the Netherlands to 8.0 in Italy, with much healthier populations. Despite the smaller number of physicians in the U.S., the country has the highest healthcare costs globally: $11K per capita in the U.S., compared to $5K per capita in the European Union. If the U.S. increased its population of physicians, the costs would rise since U.S. medicine is a business with unlimited spending. Hospitals have started to explore substituting physicians with less qualified healthcare workers to decrease costs. The frightening consequences of this approach have been well documented in the 2020 book by Dr. Al-Agba and Dr. Bernard, “Patients at Risk: The Rise of the Nurse Practitioner and Physician Assistant in Healthcare.” The book provides examples of poorly trained N.P.s and P.A.s, allowed to perform physician-level decisions and actions, resulting in preventable patient deaths.

Jacobsen: If working 36 hours in one period, what are the impacts, known in medicine and psychology, on the human brain?

Desjardins: Lack of sleep for 24h is, according to the CDC, equivalent to having a blood alcohol content of 0.10, higher than the legal driving limit of 0.08. Among the many side effects, it creates drowsiness, impaired judgment, impaired memory, reduced coordination, increased stress level, and the brain shutting down neurons in some regions. Lack of sleep for 48h affects cognition. The brain enters brief periods of complete unconsciousness known as microsleep, lasting several seconds. Lack of sleep for 72h will have more profound effects on mood and cognition and can lead to paranoia. Chronic sleep deprivation has a lasting impact on general health and creates high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and depression.

Jacobsen: If working 90-100 hours in one week, what are the impacts, known in medicine and psychology, on the human body?

Desjardins: In a 2021 study by WHO and ILO, long working hours (> 55h/week) led to 398 000 deaths from stroke (35% risk increase) and 347 000 deaths from ischemic heart disease (17% risk increase). Dr. Maria Neira from WHO stated that “Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard“. Now imagine how much worst of a hazard for physicians forced to work more than 55 consecutive hours without rest. I cannot find any studies specifically looking at the health effects of 90-100 hours workweeks. Japan has the term “karoshi” to describe death by overwork, and employers are held criminally responsible for such deaths. No such laws exist in the U.S.

Jacobsen: Obviously, when everyone is stressed out and overworked in, sometimes, life-and-death circumstances, it is difficult to make an argument for consistent civility and reasonable social engagement. How do these working conditions – and work expectations – impact the social life of the physicians amongst one another, and the physician-to-patient interaction?

Desjardins: Overwork increases the divorce rate in female physicians, not in male physicians. Many physicians do not have much social life since they work constantly. They mainly interact with other physicians at work, not outside work. Sometimes burned-out overworked physicians have been rude to their patients, especially surgeons.

Jacobsen: Something easily wading beneath the surface here: Cruelty. People aren’t going to behave nicely, sometimes, in high-stress environments, where their life and livelihood are under question, including the health care worker. Although, it’s asymmetrical on oath alone.

Physicians take the Hippocratic Oath; the general public’s patients don’t. Also, a larger aspect is institutions. How were physician friends killed in the midst of maltreatment due to working conditions in medical institutions? How have physician friends been permanently disabled due to the work conditions?

Desjardins: Thousands of U.S. physicians have been killed or disabled because of poor working conditions. It has been extensively described in the literature. In my circle of colleagues, which extends beyond my current institution, three of my close radiology colleagues have been killed, all in their 30s, and many have been disabled for life. One was killed at work under circumstances that are still hidden. Two were killed in car accidents after driving back home in the middle of the night after their workday, completely exhausted. A colleague developed a stroke during his workday resulting in a permanent physical handicap. Another colleague was on his 97th hour of work on a week in which he was not allowed to sleep much or eat much. His body failed under these poor working conditions, and he became blind during work. He was rushed to the E.R., where they diagnosed a work-condition induced hypertensive urgency with bilateral optic nerve damage. They pumped him full of medication until part of his vision returned. But he remains physically disabled for life due to the poor working conditions.

Jacobsen: How many patients kill their physicians every year in the United States? How does this compare to other countries with metrics if any?

Desjardins: There are, unfortunately, no statistics on that. In my city, physicians are frequently assaulted by their patients. Some have been stabbed in the face, and some have been killed. The local news media almost always downplay it. Physicians are killed in other countries, too, notably in China. Physician suicides from the poor U.S. working conditions are also downplayed. When a physician jumps from the roof of their hospital, the local authorities simply throw a tarp over the body and don’t report it in the news media. Hospitals simply do not want the bad publicity from having a series of physicians jumping to their death from the roof of their hospital due to poor working conditions, like what recently happened in some N.Y. hospitals.

Jacobsen: What is the level of burn out in your field? What is the formal definition of “burn out” – whatever terms people want to use to describe physicians simply being taxed beyond reasonable limits and – not even requested – demanded to work more, as in your case?

Desjardins: The current level of burnout in my field is up to 70%. There has been a debate on whether physicians experience burnout, moral injury, or basic human rights violations. Burnout means physical and mental collapse from overwork. Moral injury indicates damage to one’s conscience when witnessing horrible conditions violating one’s moral beliefs or code of conduct. In 1948 the U.N. General Assembly adopted a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a standard for properly treating human beings. Human rights violations are violations of the rules in this declaration. Physicians experience all three categories of injuries: burnout, moral injury, and human rights violations. It is a symptom of a toxic healthcare system, with working conditions massively out of compliance with safe labor laws from all other industries.

Jacobsen: What are some of the more egregious examples of (mis-)treatment of physicians?

Desjardins: There are many examples in the literature. Some U.S. physicians are forced to work up to 72 consecutive hours without rest. In my circle of colleagues, which extends well beyond my current institution, many of my colleagues experienced mistreatment. A physician friend recently started a new job in breast imaging. At the end of her first workday, which included a half-day orientation, they put her on probation for not reading her daily quota of 100 studies. At the end of her second workday, she became more proficient with her new work tools and read 98 studies, two studies short of her daily quota. They fired her immediately. Another physician friend was starting a new radiology job and went to lunch at the hospital cafeteria on her first day. She was forcibly dragged back to her work cubicle before eating a single bite, yelled at by administrators, and told physicians in her practice are not allowed to eat during the workday. Many physicians are required to work non-stop with no breaks for eating and no bathroom breaks and finish their regular workday in the middle of the night. They sometimes must sleep on the floor of their office at the hospital as there is not enough time to return home before their next shift. Dr. Pamela Wible identified several extreme examples of mistreatment: physicians being forced to work during a miscarriage or a seizure, surgeons collapsing on their patients because of dehydration and hypoglycemia because of their lack of access to food and water during work, and physicians falling asleep on their patient during medical rounds due to massive exhaustion.

Jacobsen: When speaking of your deceased or now-disabled colleagues, what happens to a body as parts of it simply shut down, especially in, basically, peak health years, e.g., the 30s?

Desjardins: For deceased colleagues, their body gets cremated or eaten by worms. For disabled colleagues, their health remains affected by the damage to their bodies for the remaining of their lives and deteriorates faster as they get older. They develop chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, sooner than other workers, making their bodies deteriorate faster and increasing morbidity and mortality.

Jacobsen: For the UDHR, what human rights violations are discussed the most in the literature?

Desjardins: I would say violations of Article 23 (Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work), Article 24 (Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours), and Article 25 (Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food).

Jacobsen: Is the International Labour Organization, in any way, involved in rectifying these working conditions? Are there any countries anywhere with comparable working conditions, though, perhaps, lacking the advanced expertise and technological sophistication of the U.S.?

Desjardins: Among the risks for physicians identified by the ILO is “Physical and mental fatigue stemming from the specific conditions of this work” and “Danger of being violently attacked by unsatisfied patients.” So, the ILO has identified some of the risks and has proposed some solutions (Improving employment and working conditions in health services, 2017). In that paper, they discuss the European Union 2003 Working Time Directive, setting work limits to 48h per week, minimum daily rest periods of 11h, weekly rest of 35h, and allowing derogations for some doctors. They do not discuss the working conditions of U.S. physicians. Every country has different working conditions for physicians. India, China, and African Countries have difficult working conditions, given limited access to medical technology and the low physician to population ratios. But among the most industrialized countries (G-20), the U.S. and China have the worst working conditions for physicians.

Jacobsen: What are common statements from physicians about the working conditions? The emotional and psychological states rather than the facts and figures of the situation from colleagues who have survived, and continue survive, the insufferable work environment expectations.

Desjardins: The physician workforce has undergone a progressive zombification as it evolved within the current system. Physicians develop learned powerlessness to affect the system and deference to authority. They understand that working 72 consecutive hours without sleep is illegal and inhumane in every other profession except their own but are forced to do it by their hospital administration. They know that they will continue to become victims of crimes committed by corrupt prosecutors. They understand that the U.S. population is strongly anti-physicians and anti-science and will never be their ally. They know that the U.S. healthcare system is collapsing faster than anyone predicted. So, they bear the insufferable work environment and count the days until they can afford to abandon their medical careers or die on the job.

Jacobsen: Have American physicians simply left states to other states, even to other countries for humane working conditions?

Desjardins: Definitely. Physicians frequently move out of state because of working conditions. In some departments, large portions of several divisions leave en masse to practice elsewhere or abandon their medical career. Most would like to move out of the U.S. into countries with better working conditions for physicians, such as Canada, the U.K., or European Union countries, but immigration and licensure issues prevent them from moving abroad.

Jacobsen: What does this bode for the future of the American healthcare system?

Desjardins: The American healthcare system is collapsing. A massive shortage of healthcare workers is rapidly worsening, made even worse by the treatment of U.S. healthcare workers during the recent pandemic. The three-year probation time recently imposed by a judge on a massively overworked nurse for a fatal mistake will likely have a massive negative impact. These factors decrease the interest of foreign healthcare workers to move to the U.S., reduce the appeal of Americans to enter the medical field and make healthcare workers retire earlier. They have caused the development of healthcare deserts in 80% of the counties in the U.S., which lack access to the medical workforce, hospitals, or pharmacies. The present situation is bleak, but the future will be even more dismal.

Footnotes

[1] Academic Physician; Member, OlympIQ Society; Member, Mega Society.

[2] Individual Publication Date: May 15, 2022: http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/american-medicine-2; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2022: https://in-sightpublishing.com/insight-issues/.

*High range testing (HRT) should be taken with honest skepticism grounded in the limited empirical development of the field at present, even in spite of honest and sincere efforts. If a higher general intelligence score, then the greater the variability in, and margin of error in, the general intelligence scores because of the greater rarity in the population.

Citations

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. The American Medical System and Physicians 2: Professor Benoit Desjardins, MD, PhD, FAHA, FACR, FNASCI on the Poor Working Conditions for American Physicians[Online]. May 2022; 30(E). Available from: http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/american-medicine-2.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2022, May 15). The American Medical System and Physicians 2: Professor Benoit Desjardins, MD, PhD, FAHA, FACR, FNASCI on the Poor Working Conditions for American Physicians. Retrieved from http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/american-medicine-2.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. The American Medical System and Physicians 2: Professor Benoit Desjardins, MD, PhD, FAHA, FACR, FNASCI on the Poor Working Conditions for American Physicians. In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 30.E, May. 2022. <http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/american-medicine-2>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2022. “The American Medical System and Physicians 2: Professor Benoit Desjardins, MD, PhD, FAHA, FACR, FNASCI on the Poor Working Conditions for American Physicians.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 30.E. http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/american-medicine-2.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “The American Medical System and Physicians 2: Professor Benoit Desjardins, MD, PhD, FAHA, FACR, FNASCI on the Poor Working Conditions for American Physicians.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 30.E (May 2022). http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/american-medicine-2.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2022, ‘The American Medical System and Physicians 2: Professor Benoit Desjardins, MD, PhD, FAHA, FACR, FNASCI on the Poor Working Conditions for American Physicians’In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 30.E. Available from: <http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/american-medicine-2>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2022, ‘The American Medical System and Physicians 2: Professor Benoit Desjardins, MD, PhD, FAHA, FACR, FNASCI on the Poor Working Conditions for American Physicians’In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 30.E., http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/american-medicine-2.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “The American Medical System and Physicians 2: Professor Benoit Desjardins, MD, PhD, FAHA, FACR, FNASCI on the Poor Working Conditions for American Physicians.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 30.A (2022): May. 2022. Web. <http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/american-medicine-2>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. The American Medical System and Physicians 2: Professor Benoit Desjardins, MD, PhD, FAHA, FACR, FNASCI on the Poor Working Conditions for American Physicians[Internet]. (2022, May 30(E). Available from: http://www.in-sightpublishing.com/american-medicine-2.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012–2022. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and can disseminate for their independent purposes.

Joyce Arthur on New Reproductive Rights Updates in Canada

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2022/01/10

Joyce Arthur is the Founder and Executive Director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada. She has been an abortion rights and pro-choice activist since 1998. Arthur worked for 10 years running the Pro-Choice Action Network. In addition to these accomplishments, she founded FIRST or the first national feminist group advocating for the rights of sex workers and the decriminalization prostitution in Canada. Here we look into recent updates in Canada regarding reproductive rights.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen:  What are the current risks to reproductive rights in Canadian society at the moment? Primarily, I presume legal and social attitudes are the main ‘thumbs’ to keep tabs on the pulse of the cultural moment.

Joyce Arthur: The legal right to abortion is safe in Canada, at least for now. Even a future Conservative government would be unlikely to challenge that. But we see from the example of the U.S. and other increasingly autocratic countries around the world, that we can never take our rights for granted. Right-wing forces are ever-present and determined, and they don’t care about truth, evidence, rule of law, or human rights. Once those values are jettisoned, democracy is lost and we could easily find ourselves in the Handmaid’s Tale. Let’s hope that the global lurch to authoritarianism can be contained before it gets worse!

In our current reality, the main reproductive justice issues in Canada we still need to work on are improving access to abortion and sexual healthcare, especially for marginalized and rural populations, and destigmatizing abortion and reducing misinformation. Access is generally more difficult in smaller and more conservative provinces. New Brunswick is still in violation of the Canada Health Act by enforcing a regulation that denies funding for surgical abortions at Clinic 554. And the anti-choice movement is very active at reinforcing stigma and spreading false propaganda.

Jacobsen: What have been setbacks to reproductive rights activism?

Arthur: I think reproductive rights activism has been very strong in Canada, with no setbacks. Since 1988, it’s mostly been a string of victories – legal, social, political. The reproductive justice movement in Canada is vibrant, diverse, and determined. They have stood up strongly against past threats to reproductive rights, pretty much defeated them all, and I’m confident that will continue. A recent example happened in June 2021 – it was discovered that the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Medicine was sending medical students to a local anti-choice “crisis pregnancy centre” for practicums. Public outrage, grassroots activism, and pressure from the Gender Engagement Medical group at USask resulted in the College of Medicine ending their association with the CPC.

That’s not to say things are perfect or the anti-choice movement never wins, despite our advocacy. For example, I used to be able to say that the anti-choice movement has never won a court case in Canada in over 30 years, but that’s no longer the case. They recently prevailed in two cases in Alberta – a 2020 case allowing anti-choice events on University of Alberta campuses, and a 2021 case allowing inaccurate anti-choice advertising on buses in Lethbridge. But other similar bus advertising cases are pending (in Guelph and Hamilton) and we hope to prevail. 

Jacobsen: Politician Sam Oosterhoff is an interesting case. What have been the ‘highlights’ of the political career for the young man, regarding reproductive rights, so far?

Arthur: On a personal note, Sam Oosterhoff was raised in the same fundamentalist church as me (Canadian Reformed). While I left the church and became an atheist, he became more radicalized. Or maybe he’s just an example of a young privileged white man who’s never had to think about the realities of life for women and gender minorities.

I invite readers to check out my March 2021 article at Rabble.ca, which goes into detail on all the lowlights (not highlights!) of Oosterhoff’s career against human rights and women’s rights. As I wrote in the piece, he’s an example of how open misogyny is still acceptable in the Ontario Conservative party. In 2019, Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath reacted to Oosterhoff by saying: “We are horrified that Doug Ford continues to refuse to denounce his MPP’s dangerous, anti-choice and anti-women position.”

Jacobsen: Which politicians, without regard for party label, have made the greatest impression upon you? Those individuals who simply agree with and act out a political trail of equal rights.

Arthur: They have almost all been NDP politicians. Some Liberal politicians do the talk, but not the walk – or maybe just baby steps until being stopped at the next election call. Some past and current NDP politicians I respect and have worked with – people who really care about advancing human rights and equality – include Svend Robinson, Libby Davies, Lyndsay Mathyssen, Don Davies, and Niki Ashton. On the Liberal side, I admire Chrystia Freeland and would love to meet her someday. Even Justin despite his flaws! At least he speaks up for reproductive rights, which other leaders rarely do.

Jacobsen: What other social figures have been creating havoc for the women’s rights landscape?

Arthur: There’s many anti-choice groups and individuals out there, but three groups come to mind that are trying quite hard to attack and undermine human rights – the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (CCBR), the Association for Reformed Political Action Canada (ARPA), and Right Now.

The CCBR inflicts much harm and upset onto communities via their display and distribution of graphic images of aborted fetuses. ARPA Canada tries to influence government policy and law with Christian and Biblical values. Their legal work is mostly targeted at protecting right-wing interpretations of freedom of expression and religion. RightNow works to get anti-choice politicians elected with the hope they will pass laws against abortion. They’ve been successful at getting several politicians elected, including Erin O’Toole as Conservative Party leader.

Notably, Erin O’Toole claims to be pro-choice, but Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada has listed him as anti-choice since 2016 because he voted in favour of an anti-choice bill. During the Sept 2021 election campaign, I wrote about how O’Toole is still not pro-choice.

Another politician to highlight is Leslyn Lewis, who narrowly lost the federal Conservative Party leadership contest in 2020 despite her extremist anti-choice views. But she won a seat in the 2021 election as MP for Haldimand–Norfolk in Ontario. Her latest campaign is to stop the government from revoking the charitable status of anti-choice groups, even though the Liberal promise was only to decline new applications from anti-choice groups, not revoke existing ones. A few other anti-choice hardliners in the Conservative Party include Cathay Wagantall who has introduced two anti-choice private member bills since 2016, as well as Garnett Genuis, Rachael Harder, Cheryl Gallant, and Arnold Viersen.

Jacobsen: What have been the major inroads for equal reproductive rights in the last couple of years in Canada?

Arthur: The pandemic has brought challenges but also opportunities. The biggest has been a major switch to telemedicine abortion. Most people in Canada can now have a phone call or video call with a provider to get a prescription for abortion pills, which they can then fill at their local pharmacy for free. That has been a real game changer. Telemedicine care must continue to expand because Canada is a huge country and people in rural areas and the North have major barriers in accessing care otherwise. Of course, the pandemic has created many hardships too, primarily difficulties with travelling, including to the U.S. for later abortions.

You asked about the last couple of years, but ARCC produced lists of “Pro-choice Victories” that occurred in 2018 and 2019. We paused because of the pandemic but hope to publish another list for 2022!

Jacobsen: How did the 2016-2021 period in the United States change the discourse for Canadian reproductive rights law?

Arthur: It certainly created fear, in terms of what might happen in Canada. When Trump was first elected in 2016, ARCC’s website crashed because so many Americans were worried about abortion access and if they could come to Canada.

But the issue became especially relevant when Alabama passed its 6-week ban in May 2019 (that law was blocked and is still not in force) and when Texas started enforcing a similar ban in September 2021 – with the added feature of outsourcing enforcement to bounty hunters. In both cases, the global media coverage resulted in a huge public outcry with protests, including in Canada, and much alarm over whether our rights were at risk in Canada too. I believe they are not because the political dynamics and systems in the U.S. and Canada are so different.

For example, the U.S. is demographically much more religious and right-wing than Canada. Another aspect is that provinces don’t have the jurisdiction to pass laws to restrict abortions in the way that many U.S. states have, while our federal parties take a hands-off approach to legislating on abortion. But we must always remain vigilant.

Jacobsen: What options exist now for people who need to access abortion or sexual healthcare? What associations, societies, and organizations can give options to people who happen to scroll across this – for themselves, friends, or colleagues?

Arthur: There’s several good resources people can check:

Jacobsen: Are there any pieces of legislation or facilities coming in 2022 to help even the landscape more?

Arthur: I hope that provincial and municipal laws can be passed to limit the damage caused by the display or distribution of graphic images of aborted fetuses. The cities of Toronto and London are deciding whether to pass bylaws limiting graphic signage in public and prohibiting flyer delivery to homes (respectively). Ontario and BC may pass provincial laws that require graphic flyers to be placed in envelopes with identifying information on the outside, so the resident can choose not to open.

I also hope that the federal Canada Health Act can be strengthened to clarify that abortion care must be fully funded in all cases, regardless of where it’s done – hospitals, private clinics, or doctors offices. This was a Liberal promise in the fall 2021 election campaign. Besides New Brunswick not funding surgical abortions at Clinic 554, Ontario does not fully fund some abortion clinics.

A further Liberal promise was to amend the Income Tax Act to preclude anti-choice groups from becoming charities. Yet another Liberal promise – for which ARCC had been lobbying for years – is a new Health Canada website portal with accurate information on abortion. I’m excited about that, because a central repository of accurate and reliable info on abortion could really help to defuse anti-choice misinformation and reduce the influence of “crisis pregnancy centres”.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Joyce.

Arthur: My pleasure!

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Jon 42: Excelsior!

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2022/01/07

Jonathan Engel, J.D. is the former President of the Secular Humanist Society of New York and a still a board memberHere we talk about the positive impacts of assertive government interventions and social consciousness improving conditions for all, for a sense of normalcy – even blues music(!).

*Interview conducted October 11, 2021.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: We’re back with Ask Jon. We’ll be talking about the New York state situation with respect to COVID vaccinations and restrictions and public policy. On the other hand, we will be talking about the case in Texas as a comparison. Then we’ll look at the unified situation between a secular humanist point of view and a religious point of view vis-a-vis evidence-based public policy. So with New York State, you went out to an event. What was that event? What were the conditions under which you could attend in the current COVID situation in New York?

Jonathan Engel: Well, my wife and I on Saturday, this past Saturday night, went to a concert at the Beacon Theatre on the Upper West Side, which, as New York is a great place to see a concert. It’s got an occupancy of about 2,000 people, and you can see well from anywhere and the sound is really good. Anyway, we saw a band, the Tedeschi Trucks Band, led by Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks. If you don’t know them, again, a recommendation, to your readers, they are fantastic blues and soul, and that type of thing – really wonderful show. Whether it was the first time my wife and I had been to a big indoor venue like that, and I wouldn’t have gone at all, except for the fact that they had enforced the rules, which is that you had to show proof of vaccination to get in, so, we got to the front. The first thing they did was checked proof of vaccination, which, for me, is what New York state issues: the Excelsior Pass. But you can bring just your vaccination card, your Centers for Disease Control with that vaccination card. Then they checked my photo ID, my driver’s license against the name that was on my cell phone, or on my Excelsior Pass. So, that was the rule for everyone. They said: If you were under 12, then you had a note to bring a child under 12 to the show and that the child would have to wear a mask throughout the performance.

You didn’t have to wear a mask, otherwise, but you had to show – you had to prove – you were vaccinated to get it. That made me feel a lot more comfortable. I did wear a mask through most of the show. Some other people did. Most people didn’t. But it really made me feel better, and that’s the only way I would go. I’m not going to any venue that doesn’t insist and in New York City; it’s the law, anyway. So, this is the way it is these days here in the city, but it’s really helping us get back to normal. These mandates: You want to go to the show, then you got to show proof of vaccination. That’s saying that if they want to go to the show, they have to get vaccinated. That means a person like me feels comfortable going to a show knowing that I’m sitting around only other vaccinated people.

Of course, I, myself, am vaccinated. I couldn’t have done it, otherwise. So I think that’s really helping us. Right now, also, it’s helping just in general, the city. For example, there is no city mandate that all people work in health care and all people who work in education have to be vaccinated. In the week before that mandate went into effect, the vaccination rate of health care workers in New York City went from 82 percent to 90 percent. So, it is working. Those mandates are indeed working. But there is a cloud on the horizon because there is a lawsuit that has been filed to create a religious exemption and that is in the courts right now. I’m not sure exactly what the status is, but if that were to go through. If the courts were to agree and to say that health care facilities in New York and also schools in New York had to give a religious exemption, it really has the potential to set us back, which is the last thing we need right now.

So we’ll see where that case goes. But right now, you can go out to places. You can go to restaurants, et cetera, but concerts – like I went to Saturday night and for a fantastic show; but you have to prove that you’ve been vaccinated. There are no exceptions. So, we’re doing better. The city’s coming alive a little bit, which is great because that’s what this city is all about. But again, if religion is allowed to, like it does in some other places in this country, the United States, if religion is allowed to sort of take precedence and religious beliefs are going to Trump – pun intended –  the ability of us to get back to normal, then we could be in trouble again. So, we’re doing better. It’s looking better. But we have to keep it up, and we have to. Hopefully, again, we have this possibility that a religious exemption will set us back in our ability to go forward and back to some kind of normalcy.

Jacobsen: With regards to the Texas situation, there’s an issue with continual fundamentalist religious, typically Christian, efforts to restrict the rights of individuals on behalf of that larger theological framework. Particularly, these restrictions in the American context for the last half century or 50 years: Focus on women’s bodies. These can focus around autonomy rights. They can focus around individual choice rights. They can focus around freedom of conscience rights. How ever they are framed, the main idea is restriction of women in choice, about reproduction and about their bodies. So, about their long term well-being and their short term choices of well-being, with respect to either of those, how is this case in New York related in terms of Secular Humanism and religious views to the other one?

Engel: What’s going on in Texas is something that is very frightening for a lot of people, obviously, people in this country still remember if they’re old enough. I mean my age or older. A time when Roe v Wade, where in certain states abortion was illegal, certain states it was not. Again, mostly in the Bible Belt, what we call the Bible bBelt, the South through the lower Midwest of this country. So, the question, it’s very much a constitutional question because women in this country have the right to abortion. There are certain guidelines and rules forwithin a certain time. But clearly, this Texas law violates the constitution, as set forth in the case of Roe versus Wade. So, we have, in Texas, now, women fleeing to neighboring states to get abortions because they can’t get one in Texas. That’s endangering their health. That’s endangering their well being. The purpose behind a lot of this is to enshrine religious beliefs in this country. To enshrine religious belief at the detriment of all others, if a person believes that getting an abortion is against their religion, they don’t have to get an abortion. I mean, nobody’s forcing it, that on anyone. But the bottom line is that, the culture and the right wing politics have come together with religion in a way that is dangerous to the United States.

And you see that in New York, “I want a religious exemption to vaccine.” Not everybody who wants a religious exemption is really, really religious. I mean, they can’t go to their holy book and point that, ‘Well, here’s where it says this,’ or, ‘Here’s where it’s bad or something.’ A lot of this has been wound up in this cultural kind of fight that, that essentially it’s not only,, from religion, but also against any sense of the common good. So, you see in Texas religious freedom and religious beliefs have been used to restrict the women’s right to choose. here in New York, there are those who are trying to cripple our ability to come back from the COVID vaccine. Again using religion as an excuse.

But in my view, as an attorney, I see this as being unconstitutional because which religions are going to be prioritized, which religious beliefs? There are a lot of references the the Bible. Certainly, the Christian Bible says nothing about contraception or abortion, but has become a cultural sort of touchstone that that’s my entwined with religion. So that’s my religious beliefs. government can’t be in the business of deciding whose religious beliefs are to be accepted and whose aren’t. So you can have your religious beliefs and you can say, I’m not going to get an abortion because of my religious beliefs. But once you start saying they can’t get an abortion because of my religious beliefs, or I should be able to go work in a hospital even though I haven’t been vaccinated because of my religious beliefs.

Once you start accepting that kind of thing, which again, in my view, is against the Constitution, because what the Constitution permits the free exercise of religion, mandates of the provision of free exercise of religion, it also says that government cannot establish religion. So the idea is that government stays away from the religious business, including, when it comes to decisions about health, when it comes to decisions about health care and vaccinations, government stays out of it with regard to religion. But you can go ahead and practice religion, if you want to. If you really believe that your religion says that you shouldn’t get vaccinated, you don’t have to get vaccinated. Nobody is forcing people to get vaccinated, but you can’t work in a hospital and you can’t work in a school with kids who are under 12 and can’t get vaccinated. This is all reasonable to me, but religious beliefs are being used to chip away at these common sensical health and educational beliefs and systems. That, to me, is what is a tremendous danger here in this country. You see it with the vaccines. You’re seeing it in Texas. By the way, people who are against abortion or frequently against the types of things that lower abortion rates. Because I can tell you from research, because I’ve done research on it that making abortion illegal doesn’t lower abortion rates; it just makes it more dangerous.

Women still get abortions, but they do it, illegally. They do it, as we used to call “back alley abortions.” It becomes unsafe, but it doesn’t stop. It doesn’t stop them from abortion. So what happens is that there are a lot of people in this country who want abortion to be illegal. But, are not interested in doing the types of things that actually lower abortion rates, myself as a secular humanist, I want to look at the evidence. I want to look; because again, I once saw a study that looked at a couple of countries where abortion is absolutely illegal in all circumstances in South America and they compare that to a couple of countries in Europe, where abortion is legal and is paid for by government health insurance and the abortion rates are high in the countries where abortion was illegal more than where it’s legal.

So what I’m looking for is an evidence base and determining what’s best for the common good of the people, as a secularist and as a humanist. But we have a lot of religious people who are doing kind of the opposite; that it’s still my religious dogma that should determine what the law is not, not research based evidence. Again, we see that in Texas; and we see that here in New York with the lawsuit looking to create religious exemptions to a vaccine policy that is helping us to get better to get more healthy.

Jacobsen: Jon, as always, thanks so much for your time.

Engel: Well, it’s a pleasure, Scott, as always.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Jon 41: Altered Altars and Jones to Pick

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/11/14

Jonathan Engel, J.D. is the President of the Secular Humanist Society of New YorkHere we talk about Bob Jones University and uncovering historical moments in religious fundamentalism encroachments into political spheres, where things begin decades prior.

*Interview conducted September 13, 2021.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: The topic today is going to be about hidden parts of secular history in the United States. One of them being the ongoing war, more or less, between Evangelical Christians and much of the rest of the nation. A traditional idea is women’s bodies legal battles, where there is the start of a lot of these attempts to bring Evangelical protestant movements to political power. However, that’s not entirely true. Although, it’s partly true. What’s the more complete story there? What happened before Roe v. Wade?

Jonathan Engel: Well, the lies of the religious right politically in the United States — which is traced usually to about the early 70s — it came about for a number of different reasons. But, most people assume its origins was with the Roe v. Wade case on legalized abortion. It’s kind of reasonable that people would think that’s really where the origin was because it’s become such an overwhelming part of the Evangelical movement. If they’re smart, which I guess some of them are and some of them aren’t. They would know that ending legalized abortion will not end abortion. Ending legalized abortion has become such a huge rallying cry. It has been for many years of the religious right Evangelicals – that it is assumed; it was the Roe v. Wade decision that started it with the people who eventually led that movement, especially early on. People like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell Sr. and Phyllis Schlafly and Ralph Reid. and others as well.

Most historians — there’s been some interesting articles published recently in historical journals about this — look back at that era and say it was a different Supreme Court case that — actually I’m not sure if it was Supreme Court, it was a different court case — that actually led Evangelicals to start up a much more politicized kind of movement. And that was a case of Bob Jones University in South Carolina. Now, Bob Jones University had a policy: no black people allowed here. That was it. But they did have non-profit status under the federal internal revenue service. That’s very essential because that means people can give them money as a donation and deduct it from their income tax. If they weren’t formally recognized by the IRS, you could still give money, but you couldn’t deduct it from your income tax.

Not to mention the fact that they would be subject to things like real estate taxes, if they weren’t an official non-profit. The thing is though, the IRS also has rules that say that non-profits can not discriminate on the basis of race, so the IRS said to Bob Jones University, ‘We are cutting off your non-profit status because you do not comply with our rules against racial discrimination.’ It was upheld in the courts, and that sent white Evangelicals around the bend. They were crazy about this decision. And that’s what really started them in their quest for political power, or increased political power. Roe v. Wade was something that they really used and continue to use as a vehicle, as something that really gets the base of their Evangelicals all excited to go out and vote and everything else like that. It’s been a very important part of the Evangelical political movement in this country, but it started with Bob Jones University. It was not started to save unborn babies, as crazy as that all is; it was the Evangelical political movement in this country started in order to enforce segregation. And it was important to them beyond Bob Jones University, because what happened in the 60s and 70s. You started to get court rulings saying that discrimination in public schools was not going to be tolerated.

Of course, the schools would say, ‘Oh, we’re not discriminating, it just kind of worked out this way that all the black kids in our district go to this school and the white kids go to this school.’ It was in the late 60s and early 70s that courts started saying , ‘No, no, no, no, that’s not good enough. We’re going to integrate your schools.’ At which point, there were a lot of whites, primarily upper middle class and wealthy whites, who started their own schools, which were, once again, they never had any formal statements, ‘No black kids allowed,’ but they were all whites! It just happened to work out that way. They were afraid. They were very afraid from the Bob Jones case. I mean this was the whole point. They started these schools because they wanted their kids to go to all-white schools, just like they did when segregation was approved by southern states.

They wanted to continue that. And then all of a sudden, they were afraid that the ruling in Bob Jones University would mean they would lose their non-profit status and that parents who were shoveling money into them and deducting that money from their income taxes could no longer deduct the money, it was going to hurt them financially. And that was really the start. Again, the moral majority, Jerry Falwell, et cetera., all that political power that we see still today, from right wing Christian Evangelicals, the reason they started to get involved — again, Roe v. Wade was an accelerant and it pushed it forward — but the start of the fire was the desire to have their kids go to segregated schools.

Jacobsen: For these kinds of movements, do they evolve much over time, or do their essential drivers stay the same?

Engel: Well, they don’t believe in evolution, so [Laughing]…

Jacobsen: [Laughing] That was good.

Engel: But yeah, of course, they take up certain causes. You see this with COVID. One of their causes now is against any kind of mandate, mask mandate, vaccine mandate. Anything that they think will whip up the people that constitute their base. They are always on the lookout for a new issue to go crazy for. Now, especially if the Supreme Court really does overturn Roe v. Wade, it’s like the dog that catches the car. What’s he gonna do with it? Now what? And they will, obviously, go looking for something else. Some other way to preserve their political power, which is largely part of a racial type of thing. Something like 85% of CEOs in this country are white Christian males. They want to keep it that way. They will glom onto anything. Now, it’s mask mandates. It’s vaccine mandates that they’re really against. They do evolve in that sense. They find new issues, et cetera, but as for their actual thinking — if you could call it that, which is a stretch — their thinking is basically the same. And again, it’s all about maintaining white, Christian male power in this country.

Jacobsen: Do you think that some of the attitudes have changed in terms of the significance of race and racial politics within Evangelical movements?

Engel: It doesn’t look like it has. I don’t really think it’s changed all that much. I mean, every once in a while, there is a semi effort to bring in black or Hispanic Evangelicals who may be socially conservative too, but there’s too many things that give away the ghost. They can sort of talk about those sorts of things and make little efforts toward it, but this is a white movement. This is a white Christian movement. And that’s one thing that a lot of Liberals and Democrats have a difficult time with; as you would imagine, it pisses me off, but they have a difficult time with it. They have a difficult time saying the Christian part. When January 6th happened, you had a lot of Liberal commentators talking about the white nationalism of the people who are invading the Capitol. But it’s not just white nationalism. It’s white Christian nationalism. They just shy away from saying that. There are so many people who are afraid of criticizing religion.

That they will shy away from saying that. The truth of the matter, there it is: yes, it is white Christian nationalism. Other people on January 6th, you see these lunatics including the ‘QAnon Shaman’ or whatever this guy is who has now pleaded guilty to charges. What did they do as soon as they got inside the chambers? They said ‘w, ‘We are here to sanctify this chamber in the name of Jesus Christ.’ That’s what they said! And it’s on film. It’s on tape. There was a lot of Christian symbolism and imagery in the crowd as well. This is a white, Christian, male-dominated movement. Even though, there are Liberals who are nervous about saying anything negative about religion. The truth is still there and this is what it is.

Jacobsen: So, Bob Jones University is still in existence. What does this mean in terms of the continuing part Evangelical Christianity is playing within American politics and post secondary education, at least at the private level?

Engel: Well, it’s interesting because Bob Jones University has sort of fallen off of people’s radar. I bet if you ask the majority of Americans, “What do you think of Bob Jones University?” They’ll say, “What’s that? Never heard of it.” They’ve used it for their purposes, and then they’ve sort of tossed it away. There are other Christian colleges in this country that are hotbeds for right wing teaching, right wing think tanks. You look at Liberty College which is in Virginia. It was founded by Jerry Falwell, and then it was run by Jerry Falwell Jr. who got into — oh my god, you’re never going to believe this — a sex scandal, and he was tossed out. There’s an old saying that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, but I really think it’s religion. Religion is the last refuge of the scoundrel. And so, you have this guy who’s basically Jerry Falwell Jr.… I don’t care what he did, that’s between him and his wife, his shenanigans, as they’re sometimes called. I don’t care. I don’t think it makes him a good person. It’s still established law, though,. You can’t openly discriminate and have 501(c)(3) non-profit status. The Bob Jones case is still good law. It has been all the time, but even though nobody talks about Bob Jones anymore, you still see the effects of that bringing together of people to say, “We are going to…” — again they don’t say it explicitly — “…have a white power dynamic in this country to hold on to,” and it’s still there.

Jacobsen: What about the end game? What is the trajectory of this playing out in politics? Because the demographics for Evangelical Christians does not look good. In other words, they are declining. They have been declining for years and years, and the younger populations in the United States are much more secular. Whether by name or by content of belief, they are more secular humanist than any prior generation in the United States. So how does this change as things move forward?

Engel: That’s a very good question, and it’s a very frightening question, because the answer is frightening. We’re seeing how this plays out. They know the demographics are against them. They know the cultural shifts are against them. It’s so funny. You hear right wingers say, ‘Corporations… Hollywood is trying to influence the way we think about race.’ No, they’re not. They’re trying to make money. They want to stay ahead of the culture. They want to stay right where the culture is, or a little bit ahead. But that’s because they see if that’s where the culture is going, then that’s where the money is going to be. So, what’s frightening so much about your question is that all around this country right now — and this could be a topic for a long conversation but I’ll try to nutshell it — but all around this country right now you’re seeing attempts by state legislatures and states that are basically Republican, try and really defeat democracy.

Voter suppression, trying to have rules that will hurt people’s ability to vote, so there will be fewer voters. But also, and this is the scariest part, they really are looking to find ways to pass laws that say, essentially, ‘If the state legislature doesn’t like the way the people voted in, say a presidential election, that instead of the electors in that state going toward the person who won the most votes, the state legislature can decide where to send their electoral votes.’ So, there is an actual effort in this country to counter the demographic trends you were talking about. The demographics are there, this country is becoming less Christian, less white and the way they want to counter that — and again you would look to say, ‘Well shit, that must mean that they’re not going to do well in the elections going forward’ — and they say, ‘Well, yeah, we’re gonna fix that. And the way we’re going to fix that is we’re going to fix our elections.’ And that’s really a very frightening thing.

Democrats have a couple of bills that they would like to pass, certainly out of the House, or they have past out of the House, that protect voting rights and protect democracy, but the problem is that they can’t get it past in the Senate, and it’s not going to become law, and therefore there’s real dangers of losing democracy, and that’s where the end game is right now for the white Evangelical extreme right. They see that those demographics work against them. So, they’re trying to change the structure of our democracy to keep power, despite the fact that they know they are in the minority when it comes to what the overall view of the people is.

Jacobsen: Jon, as always, thank you very much for your time and the opportunity today.

Engel: My pleasure, Scott. Listen, take care.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Jon 40: Transcendentalist Ethics, or Moral Truncation in Practice

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/11/07

Jonathan Engel, J.D. is the President of the Secular Humanist Society of New YorkHere we talk about ongoing problems with religious ethics in practice in critical times.

*Interview conducted August 30, 2021.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, today we’re going to be focusing on mandates around COVID, and religious institutions and the State. With regards to COVID in America now, one: what are some of the numbers or general census around the country? Also, what’s the impact of exclusions for religion when it comes to mandates from the State? How does this play out in New York State along religious and non-religious lines? 

Jonathan Engel: Well, good question. Basically, in the United States as a whole right now, you’re seeing very high spikes and very difficult circumstances surrounding COVID in certain states. And not surprisingly, the states that are having the worst uptick of COVID tend to be those states that have the lowest vaccination rates. And they also happen to be states that — for the most part — are in the south and the middle of the country. You have Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, and Tennessee as well. Now, this is what we in this country call the ‘Bible Belt’, not surprisingly. It’s very conservative, very religious, and those are the areas that are seeing really bad COVID spikes. We’re talking about hospitals that are absolutely full. We’re talking about affecting younger and younger people.

Some young people who are in their 20s and 30s or whatever, are somewhat cavalier about COVID at first. But the Delta variant, it was thought that this affects old people, but the Delta variant is hitting young people, sometimes very young people. It’s also just absolutely overwhelming. We’re talking about one hospital in Mississippi, University of Mississippi Medical Centre, the biggest hospital in the state, turned their parking garage into an extra intensive care centre because they just didn’t have any space. They’re really being overwhelmed. Here in New York, things are not that bad. But again, New York is one of the more highly vaccinated states. We have managed to keep things fairly manageable, not saying people aren’t still getting COVID here, but also remember we’re kind of scared.

I know I am, because every day in this country, there are buses going from every city and small town in the country to New York City. ‘If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.’ We’re nervous. I’m nervous, about people coming from other states and not being vaccinated and spreading the Delta variant here. I think that’s a real fear. So, that’s really where things stand in the country right now.  Now, here in New York City, unfortunately — again, things are going not too badly — but there’s a lot of confusion about what you’re allowed to do, and not allowed to do, where you have to prove vaccination, and where you have to wear a mask. Fortunately in the schools — my wife is going back to teaching in a couple of weeks — they have mandates for all adults in the building must be vaccinated and everybody has to wear a mask. So, you feel a little bit better about that. But houses of worship are having an interesting time.

You have different religions and different denominations of religion. They seem to be dealing with the COVID crisis differently. For example, I read recently how reformed Jewish synagogues — which is, of course, the least religious — a lot of them are having vaccine mandates. You want to come to the High Holy Days, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are coming up. You want to go to the service. You have to show proof of your vaccination. I actually have an Excelsior pass. You go online and get the petition by the state. I keep one on my phone that shows that I’m vaccinated. On the other hand, the ultra orthodox, the Hasidic are fighting against any kind of mandates for vaccination. The city is sort of taking both sides.

The city government doesn’t want to offend the ultra religious and on the other hand doesn’t want a spike in COVID, so they’re sort of running into each other without knowing what the heck they’re doing. The Catholic Church is sort of leaving it up to individual perishes. The Pope is saying people should get vaccinated, but then you have some very conservative Catholics in this country and in the city who are emphasizing ‘it should be a matter of personal choice, there shouldn’t be any mandates.’ One of the interesting things that you’re seeing is that with some churches and houses of worship in general, they lost money when they had to shut down because of COVID. Because a lot of them rely on people coming every Sunday or Saturday, depending on what religion it is, and putting money into the collection plate.

On the one hand, they know that if there’s an outbreak centered on their community it’ll be devastating. On the other hand they know if they say they require vaccinations, people who are anti-vaccination-mandates won’t come, and they’ll lose money. They don’t really know what the heck to do with regard to the COVID situation. As an individual — well I don’t go to houses of worship, I guess, except for, maybe, a wedding or a bar mitzvah once in a while — I would not go if it wasn’t mandatory vaccine, any indoor event. Outdoors, I would be a little less wary of, but any indoor event, if they don’t require vaccines, I ain’t going. How this is all gonna play out? We’re not sure. This is some of what’s going on with the local churches and synagogues. The less religious they are, the more progressive they are politically, the more likely they are to have a vaccine mandate to come inside and participate in services or mass or whatever it is.

The more religious they are, the less likely they are to agree to those kinds of mandates, and it leaves everybody else, including me, nervous about a big outbreak. You can’t confine a big outbreak. If someone goes to an Orthodox synagogue, with no masks, no vaccine requirements, they’re gonna leave that neighborhood. They’re going to get on the subway. I ride the subway. Right now, everyone’s keeping their fingers crossed, and kind of nervous. Organized religion, again, the less religious among us seem to be doing their part, more or less. The more religious among us are not, and as we all know, when it comes to COVID, there’s no confining it to one place.

Jacobsen: How are the non-religious discussing some of these issues? Is this coming up at all? Or is it mainly coming through commentary in the New York Times and through leaders noticing this but not having a formal discussion in public about it?

Engel: I think that there’s such a taboo about saying something against religion in this country. You see in Bangladesh, from people who are vaccinated against people who aren’t vaccinated, people who refuse to get vaccinated. We’re getting pissed off that we could be so much better and safer than we are, if people would just roll up their sleeves, it’s free! Hell, in a lot of places, they’ll give you something to do it. Very few make the connection between that refusal to get vaccinated and religion, but the connection is there. Obviously, it’s not 100%. There are a lot of people who refuse to get vaccinated where it doesn’t have anything to do with religious beliefs, but it is a very strong indicator, like we were just talking about.

If you meet a person who refuses to get vaccinated, there is a very good chance that they belong to a religion or a sect that is more fundamentalist and more extreme in their religious beliefs. People don’t want to say it — hell, I’ll say it — a lot of people don’t want to say it and they don’t want to admit it. There is backlash against the unvaccinated in a lot of places and some anger brewing, but the connection to the religious beliefs has been a lot of people don’t want to make it. They can see the connection is there, the correlation is there. There are a lot of ministers out there saying, ‘We will not wear their masks. It’s the sign of the devil.’ I don’t understand a lot of this stuff. ‘The vaccine is a sign of the antichrist,’ or something, I don’t even understand any of that. People are not making that connection, and they really should, at least not in public. I would like to think that in our movement away from heavy duty religiosity in this country, which is being spearheaded by young people — young people tend to be much less religious than their parents — that they are saying, ‘We want to go back to normal. We want to solve this COVID crisis.’ We can see that organized religion, especially extremist organized religion is something that’s getting in the way in our fight against COVID.

Jacobsen: How do you think this is changing demographic attitudes about supernatural ideas, not just religion in general?

Engel: Well, let’s put it this way. From a theoretical point of view, I think it is changing attitudes. It would make sense that we change attitudes. That people would see how many religious people who prayed, et cetera, got COVID and died from it. Not just that, but also at a time when it seems like it’s a public good or a common good for everybody to get vaccinated, I think that they can see that extremist religion is a force against that. Not just a force against that, but also, it’s not helping anybody. There are religious people all over the place who are falling dead from COVID. I would think, at least theoretically, that you’d make that connection, especially a young person who might be open to new ideas, and say, ‘If that doesn’t work, if praying has not saved people from dying from COVID, maybe, we should rethink this whole prayer thing in general,’ and make that sort of connection. In many places, there is obviously a very big reluctance to look at things in that logical sense.

Remember, this is something I always ask, “Where do kids learn that believing in something for which there is no evidence is not only okay, but a great virtue?” And that’s in church. And it’s breaking that area of beliefs that, I think, can help advance the concept of secularism and rejection of the supernatural, which is there. With young people especially, if they can escape that belief that somehow believing in something for which there is no evidence is a sign that you’re a good person, and if you don’t believe that, you’re a bad person. I think that’s a poor concept of how we break the stranglehold of religion and anti-science in this country, which is destroying that concept that we should always believe that if someone has faith; they believe in something for which they have no evidence; that’s a sign of them being a good person, as opposed to it being a sign that they’re a delusional person, a non-scientific person. A person who has some sort of mental illness, perhaps. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t do you good, or anybody any good, to believe in something for which there is no evidence.

Jacobsen: Many of these ideas are coming out of the idea of an interventionist God to save them from the Coronavirus. Fundamentally, this is around how we behave with ourselves and towards others. That’s ethics. So, this ethic is grounded in divine intervention. By definition, that’s an ethic of transcendentalism, or supernaturalist ethics. 

Engel: That’s a fascinating concept.

Jacobsen: With a majority concept to the world around ethics probably 84% of the world is religious, something like this so, what is this saying about supernatural ethics? It doesn’t do anything. Yet, most of the world has a moral map built on that. Is this saying that most Americans, for instance, most of the population, is not grounding their ethical decision making, their ethical decision tree, in the real world?

Engel: Yeah, and you see what happens when that is the case, but absolutely, that’s a very strong point. You do not get a vaccine because you think God is going to protect you. What is that saying to the rest of your community? You are not acting as an ethical person in that case because you are putting other people’s lives at risk. It’s interesting how many people say, ‘Well, people just don’t want the government telling them what to do.’ They want anarchy? I don’t think they want anarchy. The government in this country tells us that we have to drive on the right hand side of the road. So, we’re going to have someone say, ‘I don’t want the government telling me what to do. I’m going to drive on the left-hand side of the road.’ This is the nature of not just an ethical society, but of any society. We have rules. How did we come to those rules? Well, by common consensus.

The rules are necessary for us in order to live our lives in any kind of safety. To have any kind of decency and common good in a county, we need to have certain rules. There’s no problem questioning the rules. You can ask a question, but that doesn’t mean that the rules shouldn’t apply to you or shouldn’t exist. When you put yourself in God’s hands… I remember a few years ago, reading a story about a very religious woman in Florida who was driving in her car, and she lost control of the car. Fortunately, she was not hurt and nobody else was hurt, but boy did she demolish a house. And afterward, she said, ‘I sort of lost control, and then just I closed my eyes and put my faith in Jesus, and that’s what I did.’ I think it’s a strong point that you’re making that not only is that deluded and crazy, but it’s also unethical. When she did that, what she said was ‘You are putting your beliefs which are not supported by any evidence, and not only risking your own life but risking the lives of other people.’ That is unethical.

To not get vaccinated is unethical, because it’s putting at risk other people in your community, especially children, who can’t get vaccinated, it’s funny; there used to be a saying that people talk about that your right to swing your fist ends at my nose. You have your rights, but you can’t hurt me. And now, today, it seems like there are people in this country whose idea is more like your getting punched in the nose is the price we pay for the right to swing my fist. That is not ethical. I don’t care if you base that on religion or on anything else. That is simply not ethical. And that is something that is worrisome and frightening and hopefully something that at least most Americans would be against. The idea that I can do whatever I want and it doesn’t matter if it hurts. Individual freedom is great, but I go back to the old one. You have your right to swing your fist around, but that right ends at my nose. You have the right to be a little crazy, but if it puts other people in danger… including being religious, you have the right to believe in the great sky deity, and all the rest of that stuff, but you do not have the right to act in an unethical way that puts other people in danger. I think that’s another important point.

Jacobsen: Good sir, thank you as always, I have to run off to another meeting.

Engel: You take care, now.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Jon 39: “That person’s religious beliefs are hurting him and his community.”

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/10/21

Jonathan Engel, J.D. is the President of the Secular Humanist Society of New YorkHere we talk about changes in the secular New York community with COVID.

*Interview conducted July 25, 2021.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Okay, we are back after an approximately three month and three week hiatus with Ask Jon. So, the Biden/Harris administration has been in for about six months or so, since inauguration. With that transition — and six months seems like a reasonable time to begin asking some of these questions — what has been the feeling in New York state over time? What has been the change in the conversation within the secular community there?

Jonathan Engel: Well, a lot of it is just ‘wait and see.’ Although, yes, it has been six months and the Biden administration started off kind of like gangbusters, because one of the first things they did — it was a real emergency they were responding to — was a big package of relief. Economic relief for small businesses and for individuals who had all taken big economic hits due to COVID. So, that started off really well. They did it without any Republican votes. They did it by a process in the Senate that’s called Reconciliation. The United States Senate has a lot of really weird rules. Included in those rules is the filibusters. Which means, if a bill is proposed, essentially, if 40 members of the Senate were opposed to the bill, vote to cut off the bait on the bill, the bill just goes away. It gives the minority a tremendous amount of power. Since they passed that through a budget process called Reconciliation, which means a straight 50 or 51 votes is good enough. Only budget matters can be passed that way. Right now, one of the things we’re sitting on here; we’re sitting on a lot of different things. There’s two different voting rights acts that Democrats want to pass. There’s immigration reform. There’s this whole infrastructure package. The bottom line is: things seem stalled right now. It got off to a fast start. Part of the issue has been that Biden and some other top democrats — for some reason I can’t quite figure — they’re looking for what they call bipartisanship. “Oh, we want to get some Republican votes.” This is essentially Charlie Brown, Lucy and the football.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Engel: It’s what it is. It happens all the time. The Democrats are Charlie Brown. They probably keep saying, “Yeah, if you just talk to us, and give us some of the things we want, we’ll vote for this bill and we’ll have this bill that’s bipartisan.” And then they negotiate and they negotiate, and the negotiations drag on, because Republicans are just trying to run out the clock anyway, and then when it comes time to actually vote on the bill, it’s time to pick up the football, and leave the Democrats flat on their backs, just like Charlie Brown. There’s also some question here. I know as a democrat and a liberal in New York. I’m wondering: What the heck is going on? Why is it that only Democrats have to be bipartisan? When Trump won in 2016, the Republicans had the House and the Senate, and Mitch McConnell didn’t say, ‘Oh, we wanna get bipartisanship,’ on anything. What he said was, “Elections have consequences.” Which was his way of saying, “We won, so we’re going to do whatever we want.” And then Democrats get in and it’s like, “Oh, we need to have some Republican support,” et cetera. So, right now, there’s a lot of frustration among people like me, on a number of fronts. In terms of the Biden administration, a lot of people like me are kind of frustrated. I understand how tough his situation is, but I’m tired of him thinking that Lucy is going to hold that football this time. This time she’s gonna really hold it. And it never happens that way, and it’s time to stop trying to make it happen that way. It’s time to take the Mitch McConell attitude, “We won, we’re going to do whatever we want.” As time passes, it gets a little bit and a little bit more frustrating. I think they got off to a good start and he’s done a number of really positive things, but he’s hung up on this “Oh let’s try and get some Republican votes” thing. And again, it’s like Charlie Brown, “I’m hung up on: I’m gonna kick that football, one of these days she’s gonna hold it and I’m gonna kick it,” and to the best of my knowledge that’s never happened. And since Charles Schultz has been dead for the last ten years or so, I don’t think it’s going to.

Jacobsen: What have you been impressed with by Biden? Those particular things that he’s done in policy, or in actions or in statements beneficial to the equality of the Secular community. I want to emphasize the idea is never superiority of any Secular group. It’s about equality, because there are so many areas in which Secular Americans, either by the attitude of the public or policy that is explicit, are discriminatory against the Secular community in the United States.

Engel: I haven’t seen very much to be honest. For people like me for whom secularism is really important, where separation of church and state is really important, I think some of us are just caught on the really huge issues. I mean, we’ve got life and death issues here. In case anybody hasn’t noticed, the world is on fire. Half of it. Half of it is flooded, half of it is on fire. Which is amazing to me, I’m always saying this to my wife, we’re always talking about how 15 years ago we saw the movie An Inconvenient Truth. Everything they said is happening. Everything. The extremes of heat. We’re focused on that. That’s life and death. We’re focused on the COVID situation, which is not on a good path right now. It is not getting better, it is getting worse. Focusing on that, and voting rights. There are so many hair-on-fire things going on that I think we are reluctant to come to Biden and say, “Look, it would be nice if you mention the phrase ‘separation of church and state’ a couple of times.” Everybody in the country right now knows what a devout guy Joe Biden is. He’s a devout Catholic, he’s a devout Catholic! They use that as a shield, when Republicans call us ‘Godless,’ which is something that we should be proud of, but that’s not the way it works here. And they use that as a shield, “Oh look at Joe, he’s so devout, he’s so devout!” And I don’t really give a damn, but he has not been good on secular issues so far, but I’ve been crowded out by all the hair-on-fire emergencies we’ve got going now. So that conversation really isn’t happening all that much, unfortunately. It’s an important issue to me. I know it’s an important issue to a lot of the people I know, but it’s just been crowded out. A lot of us are on the horns of a dilemma because on one hand, we think, “Yeah, it’s important to us, it’s an important issue, and we’re an important constituency to Biden and to the Democratic party, I’m talking about secular people. But a lot of us are like, “Well, you know, I’ve got to give the guy another grape now,” because he has all this other insanity to deal with. So, that’s really where it is, and it’s a little bit frustrating and a little bit disappointing, but I also find it a little bit understandable, considering again, the huge crises in climate and COVID that are happening right now in the country.

Jacobsen: What is John Rafferty saying about all this?

Engel: Oh, that’s an interesting question. In the Secular Humanist Society, we’re just trying to keep our heads over water. We lost membership over the course of the COVID lockdown. A lot of people kept touch with us by our live events, and I’ve been conducting a Zoom happy hour every Sunday at 5:00 for a while now to try and keep base with people. And of course, I’m in touch with John. I talk to him a lot, and right now as an organization we’re just trying to keep ourselves together and keep ourselves viable. And at the same time, we’re dealing with something a lot of people are dealing with right now, we’re going back tentatively, gingerly, to live events, et cetera, and we’re sitting here trying to plan for the next number of months. My feeling is that we should plan, we have to, but have to do so with the understanding that “the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, gang aft agley.” We really don’t know. I mean, my wife is a schoolteacher. What’s going to happen in September? Well, right now, the plan is all schools open, all schools in-person. This is all dependent on where the disease goes, and right now I don’t know where the disease is going, and nobody does. For me, it’s a feeling of very great uncertainty. I’ll give you an example. I love music, I love live music. One of the things I miss the most during the lockdowns was going to concerts. I usually go to ten or twelve live concerts a year, plus club dates and stuff like that, and I have to tell you. I’m buying tickets to shows, but I’m saying to myself, “I’m honestly not sure I’m going to be going to them.” Fortunately, most of the venues I’m buying at are very clear that you must show proof of vaccination to get in, but even so I’m saying to myself, “Am I actually going to be going to the show in October that I have tickets for?” And the answer is, “I don’t know.”

Jacobsen: Have you had any correspondence with any of the other leadership of the other secular organizations in New York? What have been the other concerns for them?

Engel: Not that much. I mean, it’s funny because John Rafferty suggested we do a panel with some of the other secular organizations in New York. I’ve gotten in touch with Gotham Atheists quite a bit. We’re all just trying to feel our way back into our live events. We always used to do, once a month, a Sunday brunch and conversation at a local restaurant. Last Sunday, a week ago, we had our first one that we’ve had in a year and a half. We had pretty decent attendance, we had somewhere between 20 and 25 people, so that went pretty well. We’re planning to do it again in August, we just hope that we’ll be able to. That’s basically what’s going on. Everyone’s taking tentative baby steps toward beginning to open up, looking and seeing what’s happening. Of course, the issues are still there, the issues are for us: separation of church and state, being one of the most important, recognizing the right to be secular, and also believing in science and not in dogma. This is really tough in this country and it’s come out a lot in the COVID issues. Here we are, the richest country in the world, vaccines are available for every single person in this country, not a problem, you can get it easily. Yet, we’re only at maybe 15% vaccinated, which is absolutely frightening, and a lot of it has to do with religion and religious beliefs. I read an article in The Times yesterday — and by the way, one of these days we’ll talk about Staten Island, Staten Island is the weirdest of the New York City boroughs by a large margin — there’s a story, and because it’s also a mostly politically conservative borough, whereas all the rest of boroughs in Manhattan are very politically liberal. I mean Trump only got 30% of New York City vote in 2020, but almost all of that came from Staten Island. Here’s a guy who actually works swabbing people at a testing site, who has not been vaccinated in Staten Island, he’s not vaccinated, he said, “I need more results. If the FDA is still studying it, that means it’s a conversation. Until it’s 100%, you don’t have my vote. I believe in Jesus, I pray a lot. I’m going with that.” This is still New York City. I know it’s Staten Island, but it’s still New York City. If that’s what it’s like here, what do you think it’s like in the Bible Belt, in Arkansas and Tennessee where their infections are exploding? We live in this society where it’s taboo to say, “That person’s religious beliefs are hurting him and his community.” It’s absolutely taboo… I’ll say it, I don’t care. For any person who is a person of influence, an elected official or whatever, that type of talk, although it is patently true, is still taboo. Again, that’s the religiosity of the United States and the American people is another thing holding us back from our recovery from COVID.

Jacobsen: Jon, as always, thank you so much.

Engel: Oh, it’s a pleasure, stay cool!

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Dr. P.B. 5: Permissive Tax Exemptions

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/08/04

Dr. Teale Phelps Bondaroff has been a community organizer for more than 15 years. He has been active in Saanich municipal politics. He earned a PhD in Politics and International Studies from the University of Cambridge and two BAs from the University of Calgary in Political Science and International Relations, respectively. He is a Board Member of the Greater Victoria Placemaking Network. He owns and operates a research consultancy called The Idea Tree. He is a New Democrat, politically, and is the President of the Saanich-Gulf Islands NDP riding association. He founded OceansAsia as a marine conservation organization devoted to combating illegal fishing and wildlife crime. Here we talk about taxation and its context around places of worship and permissive tax exemptions.

— 

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: The first issue: Why do people need to care about taxes more than they are at the moment?

Dr. Teale Phelps Bondaroff: That’s an interesting question. I think the theme that underlies our entire report [A Public Good? Property Tax Exemptions for Places of Worship in British Columbia] is that it is important that government be responsible with our taxes. So, we always care about governments having equitable, fair, reasonable, and responsible policies that pertain to our taxes.

This is one of the issues that exists around the topic covered in the report – specifically tax exemptions being granted to places of worship.  For every penny that’s not collected by the government as a result of such exemptions, represents money that the government needs to find elsewhere, and that vey often falls on the taxpayers. So, if you have municipalities giving out hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax exemptions, they need money to balance their books. It needs to come from somewhere else, and that somewhere else tends to be the pockets of taxpayers.

Jacobsen: Yet, I can hear commentary now. So, what’s the big deal with taxing churches or places of worship? Why should this be a thing? Is it that big of a deal? What’s the dollar value we’re looking at here?

Phelps Bondaroff: A couple of summers ago, our research teams started looking into tax exemptions for places of worship in BC. It is a good idea to start with some explanation about what we are talking about here. First, there are two kinds of tax exemptions that are offered to places of worship in British Columbia:

1) Statutory tax exceptions are exemptions that are automatically granted to places of worship. These are granted exclusively to the place of worship itself – to the building itself.

2) Permissive tax exemptions are tax exemptions that can be granted to a place of worship by a municipality. These cover all of the property around the specific place of worship, and any improvements. For example a parking lot, out buildings, that kind of thing.

While a place of worship received a statutory tax exemption automatically, permissive tax exemptions can be granted by a municipality, and municipalities have a diversity of policies across the province. Some municipalities will grant permissive tax exemptions [PTEs] automatically. Some municipalities will grant them with benefits tests or on the basis of some set of criteria or requirements.

When we ran the numbers, we determined that municipalities gave out $12.2 million in permissive tax exemption in 2019. When it comes to statutory tax exemptions [STEs], we used a different set of numbers as reported by the CRA. We determined that the value of statutory exemptions in 2019 amounted to $45.9 million for places of worship.

I’m always trying to be careful with my language here because these exemptions are granted as a cash grant. They’re a grant, basically. But no money is being given, however, the state is declining to collect a potential debt it would otherwise be owed. The language used when discussing this can be challenging and we try to be very clear about what we are talking about.  We are in essence talking about values of money the state is not collecting.

Let me briefly outline how we calculated these numbers.

For permissive tax exemptions, our research team went through the annual reports of every single municipality in BC, all 162 of them. Most municipalities report on whether they have tax exemptions and the value of exemptions they grant. Some provide a total number, while others will disaggregate the data by recipient.

With respect to statutory tax exemptions, we had to go through a slightly more complicated process. The full process is outlined on page seven of the report. Basically, we got data from CRA, data on aggregate property values, for all properties classified as churches and Bible schools under Code 652. Then we ran some math, determine the value of those properties and how much taxes those properties were anticipated to pay, if there were to pay taxes.

Jacobsen: What does that translate into in a township with an equivalent project or thing they could do with that kind of money?

Phelps Bondaroff: It depends from municipality to municipality. In our report, we break it down by municipality. But if you average out the value out the value of both tax exemptions [in 2019], it works out to twelve dollars per British Columbian. So, twelve dollars of taxes are going to support places of worship in your community. But it does vary considerably.

For example, the municipality with the highest estimated value of statutory tax exemptions is the City of Vancouver. They are not collecting, an estimated $8.8 million dollars. That is quite high.

When you break it down on a per capita basis, the highest per capita tax exemptions to places of worship was the city of Powell River, with thirty-three dollars per capita allocated to statutory tax exemptions.

Jacobsen: Was it $45.9 million?

Phelps Bondaroff: Yes, that is the total value that we calculate for STEs.

The numbers are quite high in some municipalities. For example, the city of Delta allocated $1.3 million in PTE’s in 2019. The highest, on a per capita basis, was the village of Grand Isle, which granted twenty dollars per capita in PTEs.

You can see how these become significant percentages of municipality budgets. Some municipalities recognize this and have passed bylaws limiting size of permissive tax exemptions to a specific percentage of their budget. This was necessary, because the size of PTEs in some instances was creeping up to over one or two percent of municipal budgets. And that means that a significant amount of that municipality’s budget is going to permissive tax exemptions for places of worship. I should note that we’re not talking about other places, other recipients of tax exemptions, which can include things like hospitals, schools, charities, and so on.

Jacobsen: Let’s go with the definition of a place of worship within British Columbia or even within Canada as a whole. What is the definition there? How are nonreligious groups not necessarily getting the same break?

Phelps Bondaroff: That’s a good question. Canada doesn’t have a definition of what constitutes a religion. There isn’t a firm definition, and there is good reason for this. Quite simply, it is very difficult to pin down what religion is and often a lot of biases come into effect.

Religion is often seen as having a holy book, or having a god or gods, or it is some kind of organized faith tradition. Any kind of definition that could be come up with, we could likely imagine a group that we might consider a religion that would be excluded by from that definition. For example, there was a case recently [The Church of Atheism of Central Canada vs. CRA]. In this case, the judge ruled against the person who was challenging CRA regulations around tax exemptions for churches/places of worship. While I won’t get into the specifics, one thing that was salient was that the judge did note that under the definition they were using, the definition of CRA at that time, Buddhism wouldn’t be considered a religion.

Definitions tend to be based on ‘conventional’ Judeo-Christian interpretations – for lack of a better term – of what constitutes religion. However, this does mean that a lot of new religious movements, or less mainstream religious groups, may be excluded from such a definition.

So to return to your question, what we find is that places of worship are being treated differently than non-places of worship. I’ll give an example: The way that the tax exemptions work in British Columbia, the Community Charter says that places of worship will be granted a permissive tax exemption in perpetuity, whereas other recipients receive a PTE for 10 years. So in this sense, places of worship are being treated differently than other applicants.

Here’s another way in which different tax exemption recipients are treated differently. The reason we give out permissive tax exemptions is to support organizations that are providing a public benefit. This makes sense. Take an organization like the Boys and Girls Club, or a local service club – if they needed to pay $20,000 in property taxes a year, a significant percentage of their income, budget, and time might be used to raise money to pay for these taxes, rather than supporting the services that the club provides to the public. If one of these service organizations can demonstrate they are providing a benefit to the community as a whole, then it makes sense that a municipality would waive these taxes, as doing so would support that organization’s efforts to provide a benefit to community members.

But with the places of worship, with the way the laws are written, there’s an assumption that they’re providing a benefit, but this may not necessarily be the case.  

We can see this reflected in elements of bylaws and the law as they relate to duration. As I mentioned, places of worship are granted the permissive tax exemption in perpetuity, as opposed to others, who receive them for a limited time.

This is a problem, because without the need to re-apply, it’s possible that an organization could change its practices and no longer engage in practices that are in line with the goals of the municipality. Asking recipients of permissive tax exemptions to regularly re-apply and to pass a benefits test is another check and balance on how tax dollars are being spent, and one that is very reasonable.

Without a regular application process, there’s no way of knowing that the recipient will continue to provide a benefit to the community.

Now, I’m not saying that there should be an application every year, but it is not unreasonable to ask that a recipient of generous tax exemptions demonstrate their ongoing benefit to the community at large on a regular basis.

All of this differential treatment is a problem. It certainly violates the state’s duty of religious neutrality. To assume that one recipient benefits the community, while another must apply and demonstrate a benefit, is not fair treatment.

I wanted to talk briefly as to why checks like benefits tests are necessary. The reason why you need checks benefits tests, is that the assumption that places of worship necessarily provide a public benefit is not always the case.

When we look through different tax exemption recipients, and in particular places of worship, we found that some of them are operating as private clubs. What that means is that they are only catering to their parishioners or co-religionists – they are not inviting members of the public to participate. If this is the case, then they aren’t benefiting the public. They’re only benefiting their members.

Permissive tax exemptions are designed to support organizations that provide a benefit to the public. If you are operating a private club, then you should not be receiving a permissive tax exemption.

We also found that recipients were delivering ‘contingent services,’ by which I mean that you only get the service they provide – like a soup kitchen or shelter for the night – if you participate in their religious practices.

Here’s an example: We found an Anglican Church [in Parksville] that for a while was running a ‘Pray and Stay’ program, where people who were experiencing homelessness could spend the night in their church, after the city declined to build the shelter. However, people would have to participate in a religious service before they were able to get shelter. So the Church is offering help, but there are strings attached.

We need to ask the question, should the state be subsidizing a private organization that is engaging in an activity that is advertising and proselytizing and promoting the organization? This again violates the state’s duty religious neutrality. It is also not benefiting members of the public, because not all members of the public benefit from the service, because not all of them can participate in the religious service for a host of reasons. Maybe they’re non-believers, maybe they have a different religion. A service is not available to the public if accessing that service is contingent upon the participation in a religious practice.

Some religious groups, and the services they provide, are not accessible to the public for other reasons, notably because they are insular. For example, if you want to be a member of the Exclusive Brethren (and the exclusivity is in the name), that’s fine. That’s your own personal choice. However, this is an organization that practices of ‘doctrine of separation,’ a doctrine that makes it necessary for members to insulate and isolate themselves from society at large as much as possible.

So, again, if a permissive tax exemption is designed to support the work of an organization that provides a benefit to the public, but the public can’t participate in these religious services or practices because they are exclusive to members, then it does not make sense for that organization to receive a tax exemption.

The Exclusive Brethren is a good example of an insular organization that is still receiving permissive tax exemptions but does not provide a benefit to the community at large. They don’t want to be a part of the public, part of the community, and, therefore, giving them tax exemptions that are intended to support an organization that provides benefit to public seems problematic, to say the least.

And numerous Exclusive Brethren places of worship receive permissive tax exemptions. For example, the Abbotsford Park View Gospel Hall received $4,400 in permissive tax exemptions and the West Richmond Gospel Hall in Richmond received $8,869 in tax exemptions in 2019. This is a significant amount of money going to an organization that doesn’t want to benefit the public.

There’s a side point that I thought I’d mention relating to religious participation, which is on the decline. As a result, municipalities may want to allocate tax dollars somewhere else. So, even assuming that some places of worship do benefit the public, and many do, it might be the case that the municipality has a limited amount of money that they’re able to allocate for tax exemptions, and they may want to allocate it in another way in order to maximize the benefit to the public.

Not only are some that these recipients acting as private clubs or are insular, but some are actively discriminating and excluding people. Some religious groups continue to discriminate against people on a number of bases. The [Canadian] Charter says that the government can’t discriminate on the basis of race, national origin, color, religion, sex, age, or physical ability. Consistent with this is the fact that the government can’t subsidize organizations that discriminate on these grounds either.

We know this because there are examples of the federal government stepping up not funding organizations that violate certain human rights. For example, with the Canada Summer Jobs Grant, the government said “We won’t fund organizations that oppose a woman’s right to choose. Why? Because that’s a fundamental right, and we as a government can’t oppose such a fundamental right because of the Charter.”

If you extend that logic to places of worship that discriminate, then if a place of worship discriminates, they should not receive a permissive tax exemption, or statutory tax exemption, for that matter. They should not be receiving a subsidy from the state.

There are, unfortunately, examples of a place of worship that discriminate. For example, and we explore this in more detail in the report, there was a gay couple that tried to book the Knights of Columbus Hall in the City of Coquitlam. The Knights of Columbus didn’t realize that they were a lesbian couple, and the two women didn’t realize the Knights of Columbus were a Catholic organization.

When the Knights found out that the couple were both women, they cancel the booking and refunded them their booking fee or deposit. The couple took the Knights to court and the case went back and forth. Eventually, the court ruled that the Knights had the right to discriminate against these two women, but also required the Knights to pay compensation because the couple had incurred a significant cost having to reprint of their wedding invitation.

One thing that was interesting about this case was that the Archdiocese of Vancouver, which operated the Hall, and is a Catholic organization, didn’t argue that they did not discriminate. Rather, they argued they had a right to discriminate, in essence declaring, “Yes, we discriminate.” So they are fully committed to discriminating, and as a private entity, they have the right to discriminate in this way.

But then we have a City money to the Archdiocese of Vancouver, which has five properties in Coquitlam. At the time, those five properties, received around $72,000 in permissive tax exemptions in 2004, and in 2005, they received about $75,000 in permissive tax exemptions. What we then have is, in essence, the City of Coquitlam subsidizing places of worship that are overtly discriminatory. That’s a problem.

This is another issue that we wanted to raise with our report, which is the state should not be subsidizing discriminatory activities, either directly or indirectly, through state tax exemptions.

And then there are places of worship that are overtly violating COVID health regulations. There were recently a bunch of places of worship challenging the provincial health regulations in court, and a number of these places of worship have received tax exemptions. What this is then, is the state subsidizing organizations that are endangering lives during a pandemic.

Large religious gatherings in places of worship have been identified as potential super spreaders during the pandemic. There was one church in Korea that was responsible for 36% of all the cases in that country!

Places of worship are particularly susceptible as potential super spreaders because they’re enclosed spaces, with large groups of people in close proximity, meeting for a long duration time. During a religious service, people are talking, singing, and using masks inconsistently. Critically, you also have a large percentage of older folks, who are already at risk of COVID, participating in services.

And yet, there were a number of places of worship arguing for their right to endanger the lives of their congregations in court, all the while they were receiving tax exemptions. For example, in 2019, the Riverside Calvary Chapel received an $11,997 in permissive tax exemptions. They were twice fined for violating COVID regulations. Similarly, the Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church in Abbotsford, received $5,463 in permissive tax exemptions in 2019. The list of recipients who have also violated COVID regulations include the Oaklands Bible Chapel in Victoria.

If the goal of permissive tax exemptions is to support the work of organizations that provide a benefit to the public, it is not in the public’s interest (or benefit) to support private clubs, or organizations that are discriminatory, or to support organizations that overtly undermine public health by violating health orders during a pandemic.

There is a good solution to the issues of permissive tax exemptions that I’ve mentioned.  The BCHA is encouraging municipalities to adopt public benefits tests, such that only grant tax exemptions to recipients who provide a benefit to the public. A good benefits test would, among other things, include questions about whether the recipient operates as a private club, or discriminates, or violates health orders and other laws.

We want to make sure that municipalities have been responsible with tax dollars. Statutory tax exemptions are applied automatically, which means that municipalities don’t have a say in them. That’s significant, as these taxes encroach on a municipalities ability to make choices about their community – to have a say in how they raise funds, and even the size of tax exemptions, that is the percentage of the overall budget that is allocated to tax exemptions,

Many municipalities will, when given the choice with PTEs, cap the size of tax exemptions that they grant. For example, the City of Victoria, property tax exemptions can be no more than 1.6% of their budget. That’s the cap. That’s a lot of money. In 2019, PTEs amounted to $640,554 in Victoria.

This is ultimately a question of government autonomy. The automatic nature of STEs strips municipalities of autonomy, of the ability to make choices about how they collect and allocate taxes. Municipalities are in the best position to make decisions about how to best benefit their communities, but automatically applied STEs do not give municipalities the opportunity to decide how best to levy and spend taxes.   

I would be remiss if I did not mention commercial operations. When we were doing the research for this report, we found a couple of examples of places of worship that were operating commercial operations. These tended to be things like for-profit parking garages. In these situations, you have a place of worship that’s receiving a tax exemption, but they’re running a business and shouldn’t be receiving such an exemption. After all, the exemptions are designed to support not for profit organizations, not commercial operations.

That’s another example where a good benefits test will serve as a way of catching potential recipients who are operating. We always recommend a benefits test would, including a question that asks something like “are you running a commercial operation? Show us your books or, at least, outline some of your budget, so we know how you operate.”

If folks are interested in learning more, or seeing the scale of permissive and statutory tax exemptions in their municipalities, I would encourage them to read the full ‘A Public Good?’ report. Thanks for chatting.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Dr. Phelps Bondaroff.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Takudzwa 33: 2020/2021, Bala, and Zimbabwean Humanists

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/09/08

Takudzwa Mazwienduna is the informal leader of Zimbabwean Secular Alliance and a member of the Humanist Society of Zimbabwe. This educational series will explore secularism in Zimbabwe from an organizational perspectiveand more.

Here we talk about developments for secularism in Zimbabwe in 2020/2021, Mubarak Bala, and Zimbabwean humanists.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What have been the developments in 2020/2021 for secularism in Zimbabwe?

Takudzwa Mazwienduna: 2020 and 2021 have been difficult years for secularism in Zimbabwe. The African Apostolic Church is a denomination of fundamentalist Christianity that has the majority of rural Zimbabweans who are 70% of the population. They forbid members to get medical help and discourage scientific medicine in favor of prayers from their leaders. They also conduct child marriages with 11 to 14 year old brides getting married into polygamous marriages every year. The worst part is that they are the ruling party ZANU PF’s biggest support base and so they get endorsed by the government, especially during election time and that’s the biggest threat to Zimbabwean secularism.

Jacobsen: What is the growth of the Nones — the atheists, agnostics, and nothing in particulars — in Zimbabwe in 2020/2021?

Mazwienduna: The Zimbabwean secular community continues to grow steadily, with more people joining our online forums every year.

Jacobsen: How are Zimbabwean humanists viewing the case of Mubarak Bala?

Mazwienduna: Zimbabwean Humanists and Atheists are enraged by his arbitrary arrests. They also feel the frustration and helplessness of not being able to do something about it.

Jacobsen: What are some similar cases — less prominent — happening with Zimbabwean humanists as we speak?

Mazwienduna: Fortunately, there are no cases of Humanists getting persecuted or censored in Zimbabwe thanks to our country’s secular law. The only case that poses a threat to secularism is the government’s support for and association with the fundamentalist African Apostolic Church.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Takudzwa.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Mandisa 70: Celebration and a Growth Mindset

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/08/25

Mandisa Thomas, a native of New York City, is the founder and President of Black Nonbelievers, Inc. Although never formally indoctrinated into belief, Mandisa was heavily exposed to Christianity, Black Nationalism, and Islam. As a child she loved reading, and enjoyed various tales of Gods from different cultures, including Greek and Ghanaian. “Through reading these stories and being taught about other cultures at an early age, I quickly noticed that there were similarities and differences between those deities and the God of the Christian Bible. I couldn’t help but wonder what made this God so special that he warrants such prevalence today,” she recalls.

Here we talk about a growth mindset, in 2020.

*This was conducted December 14, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, this is an Nth to the Nth Power interview with Mandisa Thomas. So, when are we talking about just ordinary facts of organizational life, people come and go. You run out of supplies, certain things. People need to maintain their talents and skills. Organizations go through fluctuations, in other words. So, what are some things that you’ve learned? Coming up on your tenth anniversary, what are some of the things that you’ve noticed both in the negative, in terms of upkeep of an organization, and in terms of the positive, in terms of seeing that growth trajectory, regardless?

Mandisa Thomas: Yes. So, BN is approaching 10 years as an organization. And wow – it is exhilarating, but also exhausting, because there is a lot of work that goes into running an organization that centers around practical engagement. And when dealing with a community that prides itself on being so intellectual, the organizing and support aspects tend to be overlooked, and even outright ignored. However, a really good part of being in this community, is the people. It’s has also been a great learning journey with fine tuning my people skills. I already have extensive customer service experience, and when I realized that the same principles apply, it wasn’t too hard.

Now, from a nonprofit standpoint, it was definitely a learning lesson for me. Having worked at the CDC (which is a government agency) in addition to my customer service background, I was able to parlay both of those experiences into developing the organization. The challenge after that is maintaining it, and trying to retain dedicated organizers and members. We have people who are initially excited, and are ready to jump in and get involved. But once that excitement wears off which has been the case for quite a few people, then who is left to keep it going? So it can be a challenge at times; for those of us who are bit seasoned as organizers, and who are used to dealing with both the general public and also working on the back end. It can be a challenge for us in dealing with people who don’t have that experience, as well as training them on how to work with us. But overall it really shows, as you said before in our chat; endurance, and long-term commitment.

Jacobsen: Do you think part of that is a growth mindset in the idea that who you are, and what is, are always provisional and, therefore, can be changed, improved, according to context?

Mandisa: Oh, absolutely. Because we’re in a community where change is inevitable, and should be embraced. And in order for our community to grow, we have to know how to engage with people on certain issues, and also just on a basic human level. And there should always room for us to grow as individuals with our connections, however it also teaches you how to set boundaries. You learn who is in it for good reasons and who is not. community-minded reasons. And staying strong and healthy is important for running the organization, where much of the work is on a volunteer basis. And you have to love it in order to do it. I didn’t realize how life-changing my involvement would become. However, I’ve embraced it, and I’m glad I did, because it has helped so many other people.

Jacobsen: What are some other qualities that you keep in mind of a person?

Thomas: Charisma is an important quality to me. I do think that people, especially potential organizers, should be personable in order to engage in this movement. You also have to know how to work with people, and work with them as a team. I am also a person who likes to be exact and punctual, and prefer to work with people who will meet me at least halfway. Those are also qualities/characteristics that I think make a good leader.

Also, I look for reciprocity. I like people who aren’t all about themselves, that they’re doing this work and helping people because it’s the right thing to do. Not because they’re not looking to gain anything significantly over anyone else. Their actions usually match their words, and they tend to go above and beyond as well.

Jacobsen: Mandisa, thank you so much for your time, as usual.

Mandisa: Thank you.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Mandisa 69: No Higher-Order Reliance

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/08/22

Mandisa Thomas, a native of New York City, is the founder and President of Black Nonbelievers, Inc. Although never formally indoctrinated into belief, Mandisa was heavily exposed to Christianity, Black Nationalism, and Islam. As a child she loved reading, and enjoyed various tales of Gods from different cultures, including Greek and Ghanaian. “Through reading these stories and being taught about other cultures at an early age, I quickly noticed that there were similarities and differences between those deities and the God of the Christian Bible. I couldn’t help but wonder what made this God so special that he warrants such prevalence today,” she recalls.

Here we talk about personal issues and realistic dealing with them, in 2020.

*This was conducted November 16, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, you took a trip to New York. You went to kind of deal with some personal issues. And one of the things that are important about the way you are living your new life is one in which you’re just taking the moments as they are, owning them, and then dealing with them head on, as opposed to kind of a lot of North Americans, which is referring to some higher order power to just offset any of their troubles, to keep it off their mind. In other words, they don’t deal with it. So, what are the things you were dealing with in New York in more general terms? How are you dealing with those head on?

Mandisa Thomas: Yes, I was asked by one of my aunts to accompany her for a visit with my mother (her sister), after one of their brothers recently passed away. Apparently at the funeral, my mother approached my aunt, gave her a hug, said she was sorry and finally invited my aunt over to her house. Now, this is significant because there has been a 30-year “feud” between them, mostly on behalf of my mother to work. And so while my aunt was pleasantly surprised by this, she wanted said invitation to be a sit down so that she could ask my mother some questions, and possibly iron out their differences. The main questions being, what exactly is she sorry for, and why did she feel all of this hatred towards her sister for all these years? Since this aunt and I are very close and remained so against my mother’s wishes, She reminded me that I promised to accompany her if that moment of reckoning ever came.

When she brought that up, I asked myself, did I REALLY agreed to this??? But I decide to go through with it. We scheduled this past weekend because that was my best availability. In addition to supporting my aunt, this trip gave me an opportunity to see how I would interact with my mother after all of the work that I have done for myself to overcome the trauma that I endured growing up. Finally, I wanted to see, along with my aunt, if my mother would take responsibility for the mistreatment. Because for years, she has blamed my aunt for the bad relationship between her and I, and we wanted to se if she would own up to any of it.

So, this was a good way to help my aunt get closure. And if there was also an opportunity for them to rebound as sisters, that was even better. I also had a chance hone my leadership skills, and be there as somewhat a neutral party as a mediator. I wasn’t there to bringing my issues with my mother to the forefront, because I wasn’t there for me; I was there for my aunt. So, it was a good opportunity to see if there was truly some change on all of our parts, demonstrate how I’ve been able to move forward in my life, and also how I can help my aunt and other family members.

Jacobsen: And nowhere in the explanation there did you point to a higher order power. You didn’t pray, you didn’t reference some God concept to kind of get you out of it. How do you notice this in the membership, Black Nonbelievers? And we’ve talked about issues of people bringing patriarchal ideas from the religious traditions as attitudes and expectations into Black Nonbelievers. What about the more subtle and soft areas of emotional life that can be tender, hard to get through as you’re going through right now? What do you notice and others who are going through similar circumstances, when they’re still bringing those kind of religious sensibilities into community?

Thomas: What’s happening is there are simply too many people refusing to do that work and take accountability for their actions. Even among many nonbelievers, somehow all of their problems are someone else’s fault. This tends to go hand in hand with religious indoctrination, where there is little to no resolution for that sort of trauma. One of the reasons why I organize around the support aspect and what people go through personally is because, these institutions shape our outlook. They shape our actions. And trying to recover from them is a LOT of work.

So, it can be a challenge for people to recognize when they are projecting and avoiding accountability. And it is hard for many to say, “I was wrong. I acknowledge that I played a part in this,” because it can be seen as a sign of weakness. But I was actually learned at an early age that this was something that I needed to change; that I had to be the one to do it (with the help of me peers and licensed professionals). But this not an example that was set by my mother. She was quick to tell me and my brothers to take responsibility for our actions, but didn’t do it herself.  So as an adult with a family, and still overcoming childhood trauma while taking responsibility, I strongly advocate for all parties in any disagreements to do the same. I don’t sit on a pedestal trying to preach to someone about what they should do. I try to help because I’ve been through it. And I’m still going through it, so that peer to peer experience does help.

And again, we don’t encourage looking to divine intervention, because it’s never that simple. Constantly looking to a god, and projecting and placing the blame onto someone else leads to a vicious cycle, and nothing gets better. But when you actually confront the issues head on, get help through other people and other clinical means, it is much more meaningful and rewarding. 

And that once you accomplish that, it it hard to go back to accepting the harmful actions of others. I know that my own patience with people like that is now extremely short. You are allowed to remove people from your life who will not do that work, and are not trying to make things better. And sometimes, that can be very difficult. But once you discard the notion that god will heal and put the people in place to do that work, you can actually make sufficient changes to improve your life, and also the lives of people around you.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Mandisa 68: Religious Carryover Into Secular Community

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/08/20

Mandisa Thomas, a native of New York City, is the founder and President of Black Nonbelievers, Inc. Although never formally indoctrinated into belief, Mandisa was heavily exposed to Christianity, Black Nationalism, and Islam. As a child she loved reading, and enjoyed various tales of Gods from different cultures, including Greek and Ghanaian. “Through reading these stories and being taught about other cultures at an early age, I quickly noticed that there were similarities and differences between those deities and the God of the Christian Bible. I couldn’t help but wonder what made this God so special that he warrants such prevalence today,” she recalls.

Here we talk about religious identities and privileges brought into the secular communities from those who have left religion in 2020.

*This was conducted October 19, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Ok, so, let’s focus today on difficulties, personal and professional, individuals or organizations, who have not invested in you or your own organization hoping to get some kind of support, financial, media, volunteer, expertise, you name it. Yet, they have had no history prior to that of helping you in any way. I think that’s a really powerful topic. So, you can relate personal experiences if you want, or you can simply speak in general terms. What are the feelings that come up? What do you do? How do you sort boundaries if you need them?

Mandisa Thomas: There is a certain expectation for people to ask for help when establishing a community-based organization. And even though BN provides mostly networking and peer support, because we are a nonprofit, there are opportunities for people to get involved and volunteer. And it’s definitely important to donate so that we can expand our resources. However, because we are an organization that focuses on black people, we get a lot of folks coming from religious backgrounds, still maintaining a religious mindset and a patriarchal mindset, which leaves us at an imbalance of working harder to sustain ourselves.

Recently, I had an experience with someone who is coming out of religious leadership as a pastor. They are still trying to keep their pastor’s status, but now in the secular community. They have never financially contributed to us (though they do have their own source of income), yet they’re looking to the organization – me in particular – to boost their profile for their own personal gain. And this has always been very difficult and exhausting, because we often have to do deal with people who ask for more than what we can provide and definitely more than what they’ve invested in us. And I completely understand that everyone isn’t able to contribute financially. But what needs to known is that in order for us to provide these resources and support, we also need it in return. And even the smallest financial donations help a lot. Also, we often ask for our members who have benefitted from us to give back so that we can continue to help others in the same way. In fact, that’s how many organizations frame their fundraising efforts. It can be a tough because again, we want to provide that support. But we must also consider some individuals’ motivations and their intentions carefully.

Jacobsen: What about if it’s hard to discern that motivation?

Thomas: Sometimes, it can be difficult because the approaches are very subtle. It starts with those individuals asking how can they help, and say what they think are the right things. But I discern by actions, or lack thereof. If people are constantly asking this question with no follow up, that is a red flag. Also, when people lead with the “how can I be ‘put on'” questions, and requiring all of the labor from you, that is suspicious as well.

And, I feel bad at times, because again, we want to help as many people as possible. However, it is necessary, but as someone in leadership full time, we have to eliminate those who don’t have the best intentions. There are a lot of things that we can take from the religious community when it comes to engagement, but something that we can do differently is set important boundaries and limits. We can be as welcoming as possible, but if people are not reciprocating, and adding more to your workload than absolutely necessary, then letting them go is the right decision.

Jacobsen: When people give up the God concept, especially as traditionally defined, they’re giving up a supernatural helper that leaves them vulnerable to other influences. But it also can empower them if they take that responsibility on board. But by taking on the responsibility, they have all that extra uncertainty too. Do you think that might be both a loss and a strength of the secular communities when that happens? So, they give up the magical thinking, the childish thinking, and the ‘support’ that didn’t really support while having to take on that extra responsibility individually to gain that experience, and trust their kinds of observation and critical thinking skills, for people to discern those who have good motivations. Those who don’t, and where mutual benefit might lie in the one that’s reaching out for some kind of support.

Thomas: Indeed, there are many people who leave religion, yet still carry that with notion of divine intervention with them. And as a result, they still look for others to solve their problems, instead of either doing it for themselves, or even meeting people halfway. On the flip side, compels some to feel as if they have to be one leading people to that “promised land” and therefore, being a god themselves. It’s unfortunate, because it is a byproduct of the conditioning, and there are certainly those who don’t want to let that go. And I think the secular community sometimes models this unintentionally; when it comes to having “holy” figures who are incapable of being and doing any wrong. Or there’s still very little accountability for these individuals. We have indeed come a long way with correcting that, but we still have a long way to go. Also, it’s an learning/unlearning and healing process for people overcoming religious trauma. Which can be hard, but carrying that baggage can actually be harmful to others.

So, it’s important that we offer a caring and nurturing environment, while also holding people accountable to work on themselves. There are no magic solutions; it takes work. The most important thing is to let those people know that they have support, and that they don’t need to go at it alone. 

Jacobsen: Mandisa, thank you so much for your time today.

Thomas: Thank you.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Mandisa 67: Symbols and Systems

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/08/18

Mandisa Thomas, a native of New York City, is the founder and President of Black Nonbelievers, Inc. Although never formally indoctrinated into belief, Mandisa was heavily exposed to Christianity, Black Nationalism, and Islam. As a child she loved reading, and enjoyed various tales of Gods from different cultures, including Greek and Ghanaian. “Through reading these stories and being taught about other cultures at an early age, I quickly noticed that there were similarities and differences between those deities and the God of the Christian Bible. I couldn’t help but wonder what made this God so special that he warrants such prevalence today,” she recalls.

Here we talk about symbols, systems, and controversy in 2020.

*This was conducted July 6, 2020.*

Scott Jacobsen: So, you came across a quote. So, I will give a colloquial backing of that. I will let you do the proper quoting of it. So, I mean, the issue in America is landmarks are being defaced, taken down. But there are different issues, more substantive, fundamental issues rather than symbolic to be addressed. So, what was the quote? What’s the context? And why is that distinction between the symbolism as opposed to the socioeconomics infrastructure important?

Mandisa Thomas: Yes, I’m looking at it on Twitter now. It says, “We are moving racist symbols, but we aren’t asking to remove a racist system. We are not having the conversation right now.” This is significant because there are now a number of companies that are signing on to the Black Lives Matter campaign. They’re looking to make changes that shows that they care about the black community, and show that they are listening to the demands that are being made – all across the country, and around the world. We are witnessing symbols and monuments to racism being removed; for example, the University of Pennsylvania has taken steps to remove the statue of George Whitfield, an evangelical, pro slavery minister. So, there is now a lot of reconsideration about these symbols, especially in the United States, that are reflective of oppression the black community.

Now, while this is a start, it also doesn’t address the fact that the racist institutions that those people are responsible for are still in place. There is still a severe imbalance of power in place against the black community, and it is going to take time to rectify that. It seems like removing symbols is a quick fix; putting a band-aid on a problem that has been long-standing and the solution has not provided in full.

Jacobsen: Now, if we dig a bit deeper, especially within the American context, where Black Lives Matter was started by three black women and where the majority of the protests are ongoing. There are issues of people simply taking a symbolic approach. On the one hand, you have people who are socio-politically left. They’re tearing down or questioning tearing down or defacing statues of Teddy Roosevelt or something like this, then that gives an excuse to not always, but typically, more regressive forces on the sociopolitical right who then will say, “Okay, if you can do that to someone we revere, we will do that to someone you revere.” Then there’s a tearing down of, recently, a statue of the abolitionist and women’s rights activist, former slave, the late Frederick Douglass. So, if we’re digging deeper into this issue, taking a bigger bite out of it, what’s the importance of making sure everyone is clear that we’re focusing on these less visible, non-landmark structural issues?

Thomas: Of course, whenever there’s an action, there’s a reaction. Many people, mostly Americans who are not as well informed about the history, will take offense and look to retaliate. So they start thinking, “Well, maybe WE can take down black statues!” So, the fear kicks in, and unfortunately we’re still dealing with people who are reactive when it comes to history and heritage. And the example of Frederick Douglass, who was an abolitionist as you said, is hardly the in the same category, because worked with a number of anti-slavery organizations.So, monuments to Douglass don’t deserve to be torn down, because he was not responsible for any oppressive regimes. But what I think those people are really scared of is the fact that they need to be honest with themselves about the issues at hand, which are correcting racist policies, and socio-economic conditions. There were a lot of black folks, who lost their lives and livelihoods at the hands of the American system. So, on the surface, while people are looking at things like the current administration, we see those particular statements made on Twitter, and we take those into account. Whether we laugh or get outraged, it is important that we are not completely distracted by said administration. These things can be worked on simultaneously. Digging deeper at the roots and attacking them will be a lot for work, but it is necessary.

Jacobsen: Mandisa for our millionth conversation, thank you so, so much.

Thomas: Thank you.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask HRW (Israel and Palestine) 10: The Human Rights Skyfall

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/08/17

Omar Shakir, J.D., M.A. works as the Israel and Palestine Director for Human Rights Watch. He investigates a variety of human rights abuses within the occupied Palestinian territories/Occupied Palestinian Territories or oPt/OPT (Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem) and Israel. He earned a B.A. in International Relations from Stanford University, an M.A. in Arab Studies from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Affairs, and a J.D. from Stanford Law School. He is bilingual in Arabic and English. Previously, he was a Bertha Fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights with a focus on U.S. counterterrorism policies, which included legal representation of Guantanamo detainees. He was the Arthur R. and Barbara D. Finberg Fellow (2013-2014) for Human Rights Watch with investigations, during this time, into the human rights violations in Egypt, e.g., the Rab’a massacre, which is one of the largest killings of protestors in a single day ever. Also, he was a Fulbright Scholar in Syria.

Language of the oPt/OPT is recognized in the work of the OHCHRAmnesty InternationalOxfam InternationalUnited NationsWorld Health OrganizationInternational Labor OrganizationUNRWAUNCTAD, and so on. Some see the Israeli-Palestinian issue as purely about religion. Thus, this matters to freethought. These ongoing interviews explore this issue in more depth.

Here we continue with the 10th part in our series of conversations with coverage in the middle of middle of July, 2020, to the middle of September, 2020, for the Israeli-Palestinian issue. With the deportation of Shakir, this follows in line with state actions against others, including Amnesty International staff member Laith Abu Zeyad when attempting to see his mother dying from cancer (Amnesty International, 2019; Zeyad, 2019; Amnesty International, 2020), United States Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and United States Congresswoman Ilhan Omar who were subject to being barred from entry (Romo, 2019), Professor Noam Chomsky who was denied entry (Hass, 2010), and Dr. Norman Finkelstein who was deported in the past (Silverstein, 2008). Shakir commented in an opinion piece:

Over the past decade, authorities have barred from entry MIT professor Noam Chomsky, U.N. special rapporteurs Richard Falk and Michael Lynk, Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire, U.S. human rights lawyers Vincent Warren and Katherine Franke, a delegation of European Parliament members, and leaders of 20 advocacy groups, among others, all over their advocacy around Israeli rights abuses. Israeli and Palestinian rights defenders have not been spared. Israeli officials have smearedobstructed and sometimes even brought criminal charges against them. (Shakir, 2019)

Now, based on the decision of the Israeli Supreme Court and the actions of the Member State of the United Nations, Israel, he, for this session and some prior sessions, works from Amman, Jordan. Originally, he worked from Tel Aviv, Israel.

*Interview conducted on September 25, 2020. The previous interview conducted on July 23, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: With regard to some of the activists, there were some issues regarding arbitrary arrests by the Hamas Authority in the use of the freedom of expression rights (Rasgon, 2020). What is the current status of the case? How did it escalate over time?

Omar Shakir: In early April, a group of Gaza activists engaged in a Zoom chat with Israeli citizens (United Nations Human Rights Council, 2020).[1] They were speaking about the situation in Gaza and some of the challenges they face. A few days after when news of this event became public in Gaza, there was some pushback on social media. Hamas authorities detained seven of the activists, who participated in that Zoom chat (Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, 2020). Several of the activists were released in a matter of days. Two have remained detained for over five months, as of this recording. The men were being held largely in this period in pre-trial detention facing interrogations. Last week, in around mid-September, Hamas authorities charged the two activists who were detained, as well as one who was released on bail, with a charge under the PLO’s revolution code, military law, for weakening the revolutionary spirit. This is a charge that Hamas authorities have used before as a way of detaining critics and opponents over their peaceful expression. The arrests of these activists and the ongoing detention of two of them is a part of Hamas’ practice of systematic detaining of individuals based on their peaceful free expression (Human Rights Watch, 2016; Human Rights Watch, 2018a; Harkov, 2011).

Jacobsen: Other larger news had to do with the Israel-United Arab Emirates normalization agreement (Keleman, 2020) or the Abraham Accords (Goldberg, 2020) peace agreement. How did this come about? How is this being discussed in some of the areas you’re covering?

Shakir: Israel has long had long relations with a number of Arab states, particularly in the Gulf. This agreement with the UAE makes the more secretive relationship public. It was marketed as a step in normalized relations in return for freezing annexation (U.S. Department of State: Bureau of Near East Affairs; Bowen, 2020; Fishere, 2020; Al-Jazeera, 2020a; Al-Jazeera, 2020b; Holland, & Spetalnick, 2020). Prime Minister Netanyahu immediately made clear that the deal is only a temporary pause on plans for annexing additional parts of the West Bank (Krauss, 2020). Of course, the UAE as well as Bahrain, who signed their own agreement with Israel, have had de facto relations with Israel, but, of course, much of their region – with the exception of Jordan and Egypt – had been part of a consensus to hold off on formally normalizing relations with Israel until there was an end to the occupation and a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Obviously, this agreement broke that consensus. Of course, there are reports of additional agreements. On the ground, the impact has been limited. Annexation has been frequently raised by the Israeli government, but we have a reality where the Israeli government has been in control for over 50 years across the oPt, de facto annexing these areas, and exerting control (Human Rights Watch, 2017). Formal annexation would likely have meant little change on the ground, at least in the short-run. But for the Israeli government, it is a diplomatic achievement; in the sense, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his supporters can say, as opposed to previous agreements, that we were able to reach an agreement with an Arab state in the absence of having made any sorts of concessions or changes to their practices with regards to Palestinians on the ground.

Jacobsen: There is a Palestinian doctoral student in engineering who needs to leave from the Gaza Strip to Tel Aviv to receive a visa for a European state where he is meant to conduct research (Hass, 2020). The research would begin on October 1st. What are some of the difficulties around the case?

Shakir: Israel, for decades now, have kept sharp restrictions for travel on Palestinians in Gaza (Human Rights Watch, 2020a). For 13 years now, the Israeli government has maintained a closure on the Gaza Strip (Ibid.). The closure entails a generalized travel ban, which means, presumptively, Palestinians cannot leave Gaza through the Erez Crossing, their main crossing to the other point of the oPt, the West Bank, and abroad, unless they fall with a list of narrow humanitarian exceptions (Ibid.). Egypt has contributed to the closure with its own restrictions on its border crossing with Gaza. There is no formal exemption for students that are seeking to travel abroad. Sometimes, students manage with, say interventions of European embassies, to secure rarely issued permits. Sometimes, Palestinians leave by Egypt, who sometimes opens its crossing with Gaza (Human Rights Watch, 2017). But there are many instances where Palestinians are unable to leave and are delayed in starting semesters or missing it altogether. Human Rights Watch has documented cases of this sort. Israeli authorities bar Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank from using Ben Gurion Airport without a rarely issued permit from the Israeli army. The primary outlet for Palestinians to travel abroad is via Jordan. But to get there from Gaza, you need a permit to exit, as well as a Jordanian “No Objection” letter, which states that Jordan does not object to using their territory for transit. Of course, the closure has become even more restrictive with the pandemic. Whereas in 2019, travel via Erez was a small fraction, 1% to 3%, of what it was before the June 2007 tightening of the closure, we’ve seen, since March 2020, that fraction of a number reduced to a further fraction, 1% or 2% of before March 2020, which itself was 1% or 2% of 2000 (Gisha 2021a; Human Rights Watch, 2018b; Gisha, 2021b). The few that are being permitted to exit are those in need of urgent medical care and their companions, largely to go to East Jerusalem or to Ramallah, but almost none outside of that. This case is part of these larger restrictions on movement.

Jacobsen: What is the progress on the annexations as well as the building of further illegal settlements?

Shakir: In terms of annexation, as part of an agreement with the UAE, the Israeli government has put plans to formally annex additional parts of the West Bank on hold (al-Mughrabi & Williams, 2020; Miller, 2020). There have been media reports as to how long that hold will take place that vary from a few months to a few years (Landau & Reuters, 2020; Kaplan, 2020). But as of now, annexation doesn’t appear imminent. Certainly, we will wait until U.S. elections and potentially another round of Israeli elections. In terms of settlement expansion, that is, of course, a trend that has continued in 2020 (Shapiro, 2020). We saw in early 2020, in January and February, the government issue plans, issue tenders, as well as announce plans for a range of different settlements (ACAPS, 2020). The figures from the first two months of 2020 almost reached – in fact, exceeded in publishing tenders and advancing plans – all of the plans of 2019, according to the NGO Peace Now (Ibid.).[2] Israel continues to entrench its illegal settlement enterprise. Those plans have not stopped during the pandemic.

Jacobsen: There was or is an academic who specializes in human rights named Dr. Valentina Azarova (Bard College Dublin, 2021). This is more close to home for me in terms of the University of Toronto or in Canada. One of the leading institutions of higher learning and research. There are some reports that she was denied a job. There are other reports that the job was there and then it was an offer that was rescinded. Those have different implications in terms of how they’re framed (CAUT, 2020; MEE Staff, 2020; B’nai Brith Canada, 2020). The controversy appears to centre around the fact that Azarova was documenting human rights abuses by Israel as a state (Deif, 2020; Page, 2020). As well, apparently, she has a strong human rights law background and reputation. What is the status of this particular case? What seems to be the fact of the matter?

Shakir: For full disclosure, one of my colleagues at Human Rights Watch is a partner of the person in question. What the press reports appear to indicate, the University of Toronto withdrew, rescinded, an offer that was made to a scholar to take over the position of heading their international human rights clinic. They apparently did so at the behest of a donor who objected to the candidate’s scholarship, which included work on the Israeli government’s violations of international law (Gessen, 2021). If this is true, it, certainly, goes to the heart of the university’s integrity and the space for academic freedom. Human Rights Watch has worked with this program before (Ibid.). We’ve had a number of interns that were, in fact, coming from the university. We have partnered together with them on a number of projects. Certainly, this is something of significant concern to all of us who care about academic freedom, including those of us at Human Rights Watch. There have been significant letters of support on behalf of this scholar, including a letter with 1,200 signatures including current and former special rapporteurs. It is concerning to all of us. It is important to see that this is handled transparently, that there is accountability and that the university conduct an independent external review and make its findings public. Universities should stand guard against attacks on academic freedom and should not take part in silencing scholars. No one should pay a price for exposing human rights violations by any country, including Israel.

Jacobsen: Ahmad Erekat was killed at a checkpoint (Najah, 2020; Human Rights Watch, 2020b; Masri, 2020; Adalah, 2020). What happened at the checkpoint? Why is the family not able to bury him?

Shakir: Israel has a long track record of using excessive force in policing situations (Human Rights Watch, 2019a). Human Rights Watch investigated a particular instance that took place in late June of this year in which a Palestinian vehicle at a checkpoint in the West Bank, as it approached, sharply swerved into a booth, where several Israeli soldiers stood (Human Rights Watch, 2020b). An individual emerged from the car, unarmed and, as soon as he did and apparently not approaching the officers, he was fatally shot and killed (Ibid.). The Israeli government has characterized this as a car ramming attack (Patel, 2020). The family has denied that account and said that it was likely caused by a malfunction of the car or an accident (Ibid.). Human Rights Watch investigated the killing (Human Rights Watch, 2020b). We determined that, when he emerged from the vehicle, he did not pose a significant threat to the life of the officers, making the killing apparently unlawful. The Israeli government has not indicated that it is investigating the case. In fact, now, since the killing for a period of three months, the Israeli government has held the body (Ibid.). The Israeli government has held the bodies of Palestinians killed in what they consider security incidents. There was a lawsuit filed on behalf of the family requesting the body be returned for burial. The Israeli government in return announced a decision that they will be withholding the bodies of all Palestinians killed in security incidents, as a form of leverage to secure the bodies of two Israeli soldiers who, apparently, have been held by the Hamas authorities in Gaza, since they were presumed to be killed in the 2014 hostilities (AFP, 2020). A Palestinian human rights group says that about 67 bodies of Palestinians are being held by the Israeli government (B’tselem, 2019). Of course, withholding bodies marks a serious violation of international law, both the bodies of Israeli soldiers held by Hamas and those held by the Israeli government of Palestinians, including those who had involvement in any armed group (Al-Haq, 2018).

Jacobsen: What is the status of lockdowns with regards to Covid within Israel?

Shakir: The Israeli government had an initial lockdown that took place from about late March until May (Ayyub, 2020). The government, for most of the summer, largely opened up things inside Israel. They maintained, of course, restrictions on travel into the country, but the number of cases within Israel has been on the rise (Goldenberg & Heller, 2020). So, over the last week and going forward, the Israeli government, in the context of a number of Jewish holidays, they have instituted a lockdown, which includes a variety of restrictions in terms of venues that are open (BBC News, 2020a). Obviously, there are exceptions to those restrictions, but a number of businesses are closed (BBC News, 2020b). There are some restrictions, as well, in terms of activities that can place (Heller, 2020). There are now also cases of community transmission of the coronavirus in the Gaza Strip with the first cases of community transmission emerging in August (MacLeod, 2020). We have seen Hamas authorities institute a lockdown as well—broad-based at first, but more targeted of late (Akram, 2020). In the West Bank, Palestinians have been dealing with the community transmission of the coronavirus (Al-Jazeera, 2020c). The PA has taken a series of measures focused on more localized restrictions and lockdowns (OCHA, 2020).

Jacobsen: The United High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, made a statement about the lifting of the blockade of Gaza imposed by Israel, “The blockade, which contravenes international law, has conclusively failed to deliver security or peace for Israelis and Palestinians, and should urgently be lifted” (OHCHR, 2020).[3] Although, this is helpful and noteworthy and adds to the many, many years of speaking out against the blockade. Does this form of public statement, by even the U.N. High Commissioner, make any inroads or impact on how the discussion proceeds?

Shakir: Absolutely, I think statements are quite important. I think it is easy for folks to forget that Israel has, essentially, reduced Gaza to an open-air prison exacerbated by Egyptian restrictions (Amnesty International, n.d.). It is easy, years later, to accept that as normal. Every time there are armed hostilities, people forget about the context of closure, in which the majority of the population are barred from traveling unless they fit within a range of narrow exemptions, for example, if they manage to get a permit for urgent medical treatment. I think statements are important, because it is easy to forget in the day-to-day, with the annexation or escalation of particular hostilities, about the context of closure, which is really at the heart of the violations of the rights of Palestinians, not just to freedom of movement, but also to access to health (Human Rights Watch, 2019b; Human Rights Watch, 2021). Also when it comes to restrictions in terms of goods entering the country, they underly the economic woes of the population, where 80% of Gaza’s two million residents rely on humanitarian aid (UNRWA, n.d.). At the end of the day, the keys are in Israel’s hands. Egypt has some ability to help alleviate the situation with its crossing, but Israel, as the one that controls the movement of people and goods, the airspace, and access to the territorial waters, blocks the building of an airport and seaport for those in Gaza, continues to manage the population registry responsible for issuing I.D. cards, controls even the VAT, controls the no-go zone between Gaza and Israel, has effective control (Middle East Policy Council, n.d.; Al-Jazeera, 2021; The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2021). It is important that statements continue to be issued and that countries prioritize this in their bilateral relations with Israel and push for ending the closure. Because until these unlawful and sweeping restrictions are lifted, we are going to continue to see tensions and hostilities there. The closure is really the central fact that accounts for the core of the misery of people in Gaza, effectively caged in an open-air prison.

Jacobsen: How has Israel, recently, in September halted some projects for Palestinians (Agence-France Presse, 2020)?

Shakir: Israel controls the entry and exit of people and goods to Gaza. Israel is able to control everything from how much fuel enters to how power plants run and how far fishermen can fish in the sea. Israel, for example, restricts entry of what it calls “dual-entry goods,” which are goods that, essentially, could be used for military purpose (International Trade Administration, 2020). But, under the Israeli definition, that includes x-ray technology, communications technology, gas tanks, construction material, which are essential for the everyday functioning of society. Israel sometimes decides to accelerate those restrictions (Gisha, 2020). For example, in August after some Palestinians launching incendiary balloons into Israel, Israel punitively restricted access for fishermen off the sea and reduced the entry of many goods, food and medicines (Shehada & Mahmoud, 2020). They have long been limiting the exports of those, including fuel important for the operation of Gaza’s one power plant, whose capacity has been significantly reduced by Israeli bombardment (Khoury & Zikri, 2020). The already limited quantity of electricity was further reduced amid these measures that were taken for a period of several weeks in August (Ibid.). As such, international projects all effectively require Israel’s approval. Egypt also plays a role, particularly on movement, but, even there, Israel plays the central role, for example controlling movement between Gaza and the West Bank, which are part of a single territory, as even the Israeli government has recognized.

Jacobsen: If we take a step back on Israel and Palestine, what are some of the more positive progressions since July towards resolution of parts of the conflict?

Shakir: It is difficult, in the circumstances we’re facing–not only the closure of Gaza, but the daily reality of entrenching a separate and unequal reality for Palestinians, a system of discrimination across the entire area Israel controls–it is difficult on the ground to see much, in terms of the situation and in the midst of the pandemic, to see signs of the situation improving. Certainly, one recent development that bears importance is Hamas and the Fatah-led PA have been in negotiations around some sort of reconciliation, but, again, those of us have seen these reports periodically (Al-Jazeera, 2020d). They have not led to changes on the ground. But certainly, any agreement between the two rival leading Palestinian factions could spell a significant step in reducing separation between the West Bank and Gaza. They also underlying tensions and arbitrary arrests between both authorities (Human Rights Watch, 2019c). While formal annexation would not likely have changed things on the ground, at least, initially, the fact that that is, at least, temporarily off the table helps protect against some of what that move could have meant. But I don’t see these as necessarily signs of hope. I think the hope that one might take is more looking at the ways in which human rights activists on the ground continue to do documentation and the way everyday people continue to challenge the deep oppression, especially by the Israeli government of Palestinians. But those are processes not likely to lead to changes in the short-term, but, one would hope, maybe in the medium to long run.

Jacobsen: From the U.S., there were sanctions against the International Criminal Court. How does this make the context of prosecuting international crimes more difficult and reduces capacity in which to call out violations and prosecute them properly, to enact justice in other words?

Shakir: I think the International Criminal Court, since its creation and establishment in 2002, has played a critical role as a court of last resort. It’s there particularly for situations where there are longstanding, serious abuses taking place and where the outlets for justice in-country have been blocked. Certainly, that’s the case with Israel and Palestine. There has been serial impunity for serious crimes by both Israeli and Palestinian authorities. When you look at the expansion of illegal settlements, when you look at use of force, excessive force, indiscriminate force at times by both Israelis and Palestinians, particularly in Gaza, when you look at policies in the West Bank, e.g., home demolitions, or the discrimination that underlies everyday life for Palestinians, it is quite clear that there are very serious crimes. The Israeli government has, at the highest level, sanctioned these policies. There is a whitewash machinery when it comes to investigating these crimes in Israel. It is the exact situation the International Criminal Court was created to combat. Of course, in response to the Court’s initial steps towards investigations in Palestine, by both Israelis and Palestinians, and in Afghanistan by the U.S., the U.S. has taken steps to attack and even sanction the prosecutor herself, as well as other members of the team of the International Criminal Court (United Nations, 2020). These are very dangerous moves. It highlights the contempt for the rule of law by the Trump Administration. We have seen many statements of support by other countries for the Court, highlighting the importance of the independence of the prosecutor and the ICC’s role as a court of last resort. With cases like this, involving abuses by strong states, they go to the heart of the credibility of an institution like the court. If the ICC can’t pursue these cases, every country that doesn’t want to face accountability at the International Criminal Court or bodies, will have a good argument. They can say, “If you’re making a special rule for powerful states, why should I have to play along with this institution?” I think it is important the Court continues to do its job and states concerned about the rule of law internationally should support the Court.

Jacobsen: Omar, as always, thank you so much.

Shakir: Take care, Scott, talk soon.

Previous Sessions (Chronological Order)

Interview with Omar Shakir – Israel and Palestine Director, Human Rights Watch (Middle East and North Africa Division)

HRW Israel and Palestine (MENA) Director on Systematic Methodology and Universal Vision

Human Rights Watch (Israel and Palestine) on Common Rights and Law Violations

Ask HRW (Israel and Palestine) 1 – Recent Events

Ask HRW (Israel and Palestine) 2 – Demolitions

Ask HRW (Israel and Palestine) 3 – November-December: Deportation from Tel Aviv, Israel for Human Rights Watch Israel and Palestine Director

Ask HRW (Israel and Palestine) 4 – Uninhabitable: The Viability of Gaza Strip’s 2020 Unlivability

Ask HRW (Israel and Palestine) 5 – The Trump Peace Plan: Is This the “The Deal of the Century,” or Not?

Ask HRW (Israel and Palestine) 6 – Tripartite Partition: The Israeli Elections, the International Criminal Court (ICC), and SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19

Ask HRW (Israel and Palestine) 7 – New Heights to the Plight and the Fight: Covid-19, Hegemony, Restrictions, and Rights

Ask HRW (Israel and Palestine) 8 (w/ Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967) – Annexation, International Law, Occupation, Rights, and Settlements

Ask HRW (Israel and Palestine) 9 – When Rain is Law and Justice is Dry Land

Addenda

Ask HRW (Israel and Palestine) Addendum: Some History and Contextualization of Rights

Other Resources Internal to Canadian Atheist

Interview with Dr. Norman Finkelstein on Gaza Now

Extensive Interview with Gideon Levy

Interview with Musa Abu Hashash – Field Researcher (Hebron District), B’Tselem

Interview with Gideon Levy – Columnist, Haaretz

Interview with Dr. Usama Antar – Independent Political Analyst (Gaza Strip, Palestine)

Interview with Wesam Ahmad – Representative, Al-Haq (Independent Palestinian Human Rights Organization)

Extensive Interview with Professor Richard Falk – Fmr. (5th) United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967

Extensive Interview with Professor John Dugard – Fmr. (4th) United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967

Extensive Interview with S. Michael Lynk – (7th) United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967

Conversation with John Dugard, Richard Falk, and S. Michael Lynk on the Role of the Special Rapporteur, and the International Criminal Court & Jurisdiction

To resolve the Palestinian question we need to end colonialism

Trump’s Colonial Solution to the Question of Palestine Threatens the Foundations of International Law

Dr. Norman Finkelstein on the International Criminal Court

References

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Human Rights Watch. (2018a, October 23). Two Authorities, One Way, Zero Dissent. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/10/23/two-authorities-one-way-zero-dissent/arbitrary-arrest-and-torture-under.

Human Rights Watch. (2017, April 2). Unwilling or Unable: Israeli Restrictions on Access to and from Gaza for Human Rights Workers. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/04/02/unwilling-or-unable/israeli-restrictions-access-and-gaza-human-rights-workers.

International Trade Administration. (2020, September 14). Israel – Country Commercial Guide. Retrieved from https://www.trade.gov/knowledge-product/israel-us-export-controls.

Kaplan, F. (2020, September 15). A Big Deal but Not a Peace Deal. Retrieved from https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/09/trump-israel-uae-bahrain-deal.html.

Keleman, M. (2020, September 15). Abraham Accords Fall Short Of Becoming ‘The Deal Of The Century’. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2020/09/15/913246520/abraham-accords-fall-short-of-becoming-the-deal-of-the-century.

Khoury, J. & Zikri, A.B. (2020, August 18). Gaza’s Only Power Plant Shuts Down After Israel Cuts Fuel Imports. Retrieved from https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-gaza-s-only-power-plant-shuts-down-after-israel-cuts-fuel-imports-1.9082294.

Krauss, J. (2020, August 14). Netanyahu insists Israeli annexation halt under diplomatic deal with UAE is only temporary. Retrieved from https://www.adn.com/nation-world/2020/08/14/netanyahu-insists-israeli-annexation-halt-under-diplomatic-deal-with-uae-is-only-temporary/.

Landau, N. & Reuters. (2020, August 13). Israel Suspends West Bank Annexation in Deal to Normalize Relations With the UAE. Retrieved from https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/with-trump-s-help-israel-and-the-uae-reach-historic-deal-to-normalize-relations-1.9070687.

MacLeod, M. (2020, August 13). Massive outbreaks in Israeli schools a ‘cautionary tale’ for Canada. Retrieved from https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/massive-outbreaks-in-israeli-schools-a-cautionary-tale-for-canada-1.5062834.

Masri, D.A. (2020, August 3). Ahmad Erekat, Eyad al-Hallaq: The Latest Victims of Israel’s Shoot-to-Kill Policy. Retrieved from https://www.palestine-studies.org/en/node/1650427.

MEE Staff. (2020, September 17). University of Toronto rescinds job offer to academic over Israel criticism. Retrieved from https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/university-toronto–job-offer-academic-Israel-criticism.

Middle East Policy Council. (n.d.). Egypt Criticized for Gaza Blockade. Retrieved from https://mepc.org/commentary/egypt-criticized-gaza-blockade.

Miller, A.D. (2020, August 19). Opinion: Israel And UAE’s Accord Is A Big Win, But Don’t Overplay It. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2020/08/19/903887415/opinion-israel-and-uaes-accord-is-a-big-win-but-don-t-overplay-it.

Najah, E. (2020, August 14). I Lost My Son in a Hail of Bullets at an Israeli Checkpoint. Retrieved from https://www.thenation.com/article/world/ahmad-erekat/.

OCHA. (2020, September 22). Occupied Palestinian Territory (oPt): COVID-19 Emergency Situation Report No. 18. Retrieved from https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/sitrep_18_covid_19.pdf.

OHCHR. (2020, September 14). In her global human rights update, Bachelet calls for urgent action to heighten resilience and protect people’s rights. Retrieved from https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26226.

Page, M. (2021, April 28). University of Toronto’s Leadership Draws Fire Over Academic Freedom. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/04/28/university-torontos-leadership-draws-fire-over-academic-freedom.

Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. (2020, September 24). PCHR Demands Immediate Release of Persons Detained for Peace Activities in the Gaza Strip. Retrieved from https://www.pchrgaza.org/en/pchr-demands-immediate-release-of-persons-detained-for-peace-activities-in-the-gaza-strip/.

Patel, Y. (2020, July 30). Ahmad Erekat’s family is still trying to get his body returned. Retrieved from https://mondoweiss.net/2020/07/ahmad-erekats-family-is-still-trying-to-get-his-body-returned/.

Rasgon, A. (2020, September 24). Gaza Peace Activists Face Prison for Holding Video Call With Israelis. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/24/world/middleeast/gaza-zoom-activists-palestinian.html.

RefWorld. (2017, November 1). Freedom of the Press 2017 – West Bank and Gaza Strip. Retrieved from https://www.refworld.org/docid/59fc67afa.html.

Romo, V. (2019, August 15). Reps. Omar And Tlaib Barred From Visiting Israel After Trump Supports A Ban. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2019/08/15/751430877/reps-omar-and-tlaib-barred-from-visiting-israel-after-trump-insists-on-ban/.

Shakir, O. (2019, April 18). Israel wants to deport me for my human rights work. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/04/18/israel-wants-deport-me-my-human-rights-work/.

Shapiro, D.B. (2020, August 11). Annexation Isn’t Dead. A Desperate Trump Could Bring It Back to Life.. Retrieved from https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/08/11/annexation-israel-palestinians-trump-netanyahu/.

Shehada, M. & Mahmoud, W. (2020, August 21). Gaza incendiary balloons are ‘distress signals’. Retrieved from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/8/21/gaza-incendiary-balloons-are-distress-signals.

Silverstein, R. (2008, May 27). Shut out of the homeland. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2008/may/27/shutoutofthehomeland.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2021). Gaza Strip. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/place/Gaza-Strip/.

U.S. Department of State: Bureau of Near East Affairs. (2020). The Abraham Accords. Retrieved from https://www.state.gov/the-abraham-accords/.

United Nations. (2020, September 2). UN dismayed over US sanctions on top International Criminal Court officials. Retrieved from https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/09/1071572.

United Nations Human Rights Council. (2020, July 15). Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967* (A/HRC/44/60). Retrieved from https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session44/Do

UNRWA. (n.d.). Where We Work. Retrieved from https://www.unrwa.org/where-we-work/gaza-strip.

Zeyad, L.A. (2019, December 16). Why is Israel preventing me from accompanying my mother to chemotherapy?. Retrieved from https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/12/why-is-israel-preventing-me-from-accompanying-my-mother-to-chemotherapy/.

Footnotes

[1] “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967*” or A/HRC/44/60 stated:

21. Cases of arbitrary arrest and detention by the de-facto authorities in Gaza continued to be reported, particularly of journalist, human rights and political activists. On 9 April, a number of Palestinian activists were arrested and detained by the de-facto authorities after being accused of engaging in “normalization activities with Israel”. A small group of activists had organized a zoom call with young Israeli activists to discuss living conditions in Gaza.30 Many continue to be arrested because of their political affiliation and perceived opposition to the Hamas authorities. Serious restrictions on freedom of expression continue to be in place particularly in the context of reporting on the socio-economic impact of the COVID19 pandemic.31 In June, a number of persons were arrested by the de-facto authorities in Gaza, as they expressed opposing political views and attempted to organize events that were banned by security forces.

22. A number of arrests by Palestinian Security Forces continued to be reported in the West Bank. Many of those arrested were accused of using social media platforms to criticize the Palestinian authority or expressing opposing political views.32 Limitations on freedom of expression remain a concern for journalists. A number of allegations of ill-treatment of those arrested also continue to be received.

United Nations Human Rights Council. (2020).

[2] “State of Palestine: Annexation Plan of the West Bank” (2020) states:

According to OCHA (2020), around 250 Israeli settlements have been established in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) with some 633,000 Israeli settlers; over 400,000 reside in the West Bank and around 200,000 in East Jerusalem. According to the latest figures by NGO Peace Now, there are 132 settlements officially recognised by the Israeli Military of Interior (excluding East Jerusalem), and about 124 built by Israeli settlers without official authorisation — but with governmental support and assistance — known as “illegal outposts”. These settlements cover almost 10% of the West Bank.

ACAPS (2020).

[3] “In her global human rights update, Bachelet calls for urgent action to heighten resilience and protect people’s rights” (2020) states:

In the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the escalating tragedy in Gaza is of particular concern. Although temporary truces are welcome — including the latest agreement to end hostilities between armed groups in Gaza and Israel — Gaza’s two million people desperately need long-term and sustainable solutions. The blockade by sea and land, which Israel has imposed for 13 years, has brought Gaza’s main economic and commercial activities to a complete halt. As a direct result, more than 38% of Gazans live in poverty; 50% are unemployed; and more than 90% of the water from aquifers is undrinkable. Last month’s decision to ban the entry of fuel into Gaza creates even deeper suffering and humanitarian burdens. With sharply rising COVID-19 cases in Gaza, the health sector now faces total collapse, unless aspects of the blockade are lifted. The blockade, which contravenes international law, has conclusively failed to deliver security or peace for Israelis and Palestinians, and should urgently be lifted.

OHCHR (2020).

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Mandisa 66: Performative and Substantive Activism

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/08/17

Mandisa Thomas, a native of New York City, is the founder and President of Black Nonbelievers, Inc. Although never formally indoctrinated into belief, Mandisa was heavily exposed to Christianity, Black Nationalism, and Islam. As a child she loved reading, and enjoyed various tales of Gods from different cultures, including Greek and Ghanaian. “Through reading these stories and being taught about other cultures at an early age, I quickly noticed that there were similarities and differences between those deities and the God of the Christian Bible. I couldn’t help but wonder what made this God so special that he warrants such prevalence today,” she recalls.

Here we talk about performative and substantive activism in 2020.

*This was conducted July 13, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Okay, so, Mandisa, there are two types of activism. One is substantive. The other is performative. What irritates you? What bugs you about performative activism?

Mandisa Thomas: Performative activism is when people have a tendency aggrandize, and to appear to be doing more than they really are. Because activism is often perceived as public protesting and speaking, it is way too easy for others mimic via their personal platforms. Which irritates me greatly. The people who are behind the scenes are doing much of the hard work, and when you have some who come on the scene talking big, yet doing little to nothing else, it takes away from away from those who are truly dedicated the cause(s).

Jacobsen: Now, the people who tend to work behind the scenes, who tend not get as much play. We see this in the secular communities. We see this in every other community, typically, as a rule of thumb. We see more women doing the groundwork. I mean, we see this in the black church. It is the black church, as has been said, which was built on the backs of women, black women in particular. So, how does this diminish the legacy efforts, the intergenerational efforts? Because these things take time of a lot of the women and some of the men who are behind the scenes doing the hard work and making the emotional, financial, and physical sacrifices to make things move forward.

Thomas: There are a couple of factors that we need to consider here. The first is that we are still in a patriarchal society where women are still fighting to get proper compensation and credit for our work. Secondly, there is a gross assumption and expectation that changes happen overnight – which has never been the case, and never will be. I am well aware of the hardships that those who came before me faced, and give the utmost respect. It is easy for activists now to offer critiques about what used to happen back in the day, or what people may have endured. Not that it should be exempt from critique, but I can acknowledge that I may have been unable to deal with it as they did.

For many others, there’s a disconnect to the history. So, while the future generations shouldn’t be required to be mired in it, the struggles that our ancestors faced had tended to be lost on them. When people look to what happened in the past, they tend to generally think that it was so long ago. Because they’re not dealing with those issues so much now, so, it gives the perception that things are over. However, on the other side of that disconnect, there’s still a lot of the same rhetoric being spewed today from back then.

And while we understand that there’s still a long way to go, there HAS been progress. But there does need to be a more education and information available, so that more young people truly understand what it took to get here, and how it also needs to be maintained for future generations. This, along with showing humility and respect, can make a huge difference.

Jacobsen: What do you note as some of the issues of the younger generations when going out and attempting to move the dial a little bit more towards a just and fair society? And I should note to those who are potentially tuning into this series for the first time, the community organizing and the hospitality industry work for you. So, you’ve had to deal with people and people’s problems for a long time. What are some of the issues that you’re noting from younger generations of activists when they’re having to come across people and people problems in intense situations for the first time in their lives, potentially?

Thomas: Yes. So, I see that there are some good things happening, and some other things that need improvement. With the technology being more advanced now, it is easier for people, younger folks in particular, to communicate. What tends to get lost is formality, and people understanding that they must still maintain common courtesy and respect for others, whether online or in person, but especially in person. There are some people who think that the more education they have, that they may not necessarily have to exhibit those people skills as they should. That’s definitely something that I see is lost on the younger generations.

But the good thing is, they’re not falling for the old “fire and brimstone” tactics. There’s a lot of younger folks that are doing away with religious beliefs, and they are not going to be forced into silence or complicity. Which has always been the case for younger people in movements historically.  Also, if we can strike that balance between understanding the older generations and vice versa, then it will create a better team-building opportunities, and remain objective and balanced while working towards the future.

Jacobsen: Mandisa, thank you so much. It is always lovely.

Thomas: Thank you.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Mandisa 65: Billboard Ads

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/08/16

Mandisa Thomas, a native of New York City, is the founder and President of Black Nonbelievers, Inc. Although never formally indoctrinated into belief, Mandisa was heavily exposed to Christianity, Black Nationalism, and Islam. As a child she loved reading, and enjoyed various tales of Gods from different cultures, including Greek and Ghanaian. “Through reading these stories and being taught about other cultures at an early age, I quickly noticed that there were similarities and differences between those deities and the God of the Christian Bible. I couldn’t help but wonder what made this God so special that he warrants such prevalence today,” she recalls.

Here we talk about some posters in 2020.

*This was conducted August 10, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: We’re going to be talking about posters. That’s going to tie into, I think, the “black family.” That is, technically, a broader term and more general than the term the African-American family, because, though, some could come could be recent immigrants to the United States of African heritage, but are not African-American in the sense of a long term, here’s the most people who would be understanding. So, what’s going on with the posters? What’s the larger context?

Mandisa Thomas: Following the Black Family Discussion, we decided to erect some billboard ads that encouraged people to consider their beliefs as being a factor in white supremacy and preventing people from having true liberation. As we are experiencing both the pandemic as well as a rise in actions against racial injustice, there has been a call for monuments that upholds these ideals and institutions to be removed. But the one institution that is overlooked is Christianity and its roots in particular, because it has been a huge culprit in the enforcement in racism – ideals and all.

So, the purpose is to get the black community to reassess their relationship with religion, especially Christianity. Because as we call for justice, they’re going to need to take a hard look to this belief system and how it hinders those efforts. As more people shed those beliefs, they start understanding how problematic they are. We want to let people know that it is okay for them to let it go, if justice is truly to be served.

Jacobsen: So, let’s say, I’m an individual believer. I’m a Christian. I label myself a religious person. I consider myself a moral person. I walk ‘bearing the Cross,’ to use the language, in my life. Then someone comes along and critiques it, in that language used by you, they might be thinking or asking, “What do you mean by Christianity in relation to black Americans? What do you mean by its role in oppression?”

Thomas: There is documentation proving Christianity to have been instrumental in establishing the laws that instituted systems of oppression of black people and other marginalized groups in the country. So, in talking to believers, when they ask the question, “What do you mean by that?”, we in turn ask them about their religion and its language of servitude, of subjugation, and ‘obey your masters,’ and how that was historically a catalyst for the enslavement of our ancestors. We’re asking them to reconsider that, especially given this history – all while not discounting the role of the church at that time. It has been thoroughly documented whether people have researched it or not.

We are challenging people to think beyond those beliefs, because they have hindered the state of our communities physically, economically, and psychologically. And some may have actually thought about it. They may have questioned those beliefs previously, but afraid to openly do so due to potential consequences. That is unfortunately, a byproduct of believing in a religion that “curses” you for having the courage to think for yourself. So, what we are encouraging people to do is confront those fears, and even let them go.  

They may still choose to believe at the end of the day. And we’re not going to tell them that they should stop. But those who might be on their way out need to know that there are more out here. And there are going to be more in the future. Whether believers like it or not, at some point, they’re going to be confronted with more people who are challenging their beliefs – and either they need to be prepared to either properly defend them or fully assess, and/or let them go.

Jacobsen: Mandisa, thank you, as always.

Thomas: Thank you.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Mandisa 64: Juneteenth and Jim Crow

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/08/12

Mandisa Thomas, a native of New York City, is the founder and President of Black Nonbelievers, Inc. Although never formally indoctrinated into belief, Mandisa was heavily exposed to Christianity, Black Nationalism, and Islam. As a child she loved reading, and enjoyed various tales of Gods from different cultures, including Greek and Ghanaian. “Through reading these stories and being taught about other cultures at an early age, I quickly noticed that there were similarities and differences between those deities and the God of the Christian Bible. I couldn’t help but wonder what made this God so special that he warrants such prevalence today,” she recalls.

Here we talk about Juneteenth and Jim Crow in 2020.

*This was conducted June 22, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: We are back with another “Ask Mandisa.” Now, you grew up on a steady historical diet, in terms of knowing history. So, one of those mentioned to me was a knowledge of and recognition of Juneteenth. This was recently celebrated over the weekend. What is the importance of this particular historical moment in the context of the United States? How does this have larger implications about recognizing history for much of the population in the United States who can have historical amnesia?

Mandisa Thomas: So, in this current climate of recognizing that Black Lives Matter and having a better understanding of racism and injustice, the holiday of Juneteenth takes on a new significance. More people are learning that in this country, black folks have never been truly free, and that there is still a systemic effort to oppress black folks and other people of colour. Juneteenth is a celebration of what was ultimately bad communication on behalf of the state of Texas. Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring slavery illegal in 1863. But it wasn’t until June 19th of 1865 that the slaves in Texas and other Southern states were informed that this was the case. And so, this is an acknowledgement of a celebration that the slaves were freed, but also the significance of the disregard for black people in this country. And as we see more resistance and protests not only around the country, but around the world, being so close to the Juneteenth holiday makes it more significant. Hopefully, there will be more concerted efforts to make Juneteenth a national holiday or part of national recognition in the wake of it being ignored for so long.

Jacobsen: What are some of the fallout even after the end of slavery and Jim Crow laws and, basically, that, at least, the 60s version of the Civil Rights movement? And what are some of the fallouts that we’re seeing in some of the current moments of that? I mean, in terms of its explicit, dramatic moments of activism or protest.

Thomas: Of course, we’re seeing a response in the form of “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter”, with a lot of white people asking, “What about OUR ancestral struggles?” On social media, we are seeing a rise in white people openly using racial slurs against black folks and becoming irate about the resistance movements. Someone put a noose in Bubba Wallace, a Black NASCAR driver’s vehicle, in response to the commemoration of the Black Lives Matter movement. NASCAR also banned the Confederate flag in 2020, which most likely fueled the flames of anger for many fans. However, we’ve seen quite a few white people who want to help, and try to do better. But even their privilege and upbringings are racist in nature, which is compelling them to try to get more black folks to educate them and do more work at our expense – which isn’t helpful at all.

So every time something like this occurs and there is a push for policy changes, whether in the private or public sector, there will be pushback, and people feeling like their rights are being infringed upon. But I think it’s because they’ve been used to things being a certain way for so long, that they are scared. Change is hard, but it is necessary. 

Jacobsen: Mandisa, thank you so much for your time.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Mandisa 63: African Americans for Humanism

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/08/10

Mandisa Thomas, a native of New York City, is the founder and President of Black Nonbelievers, Inc. Although never formally indoctrinated into belief, Mandisa was heavily exposed to Christianity, Black Nationalism, and Islam. As a child she loved reading, and enjoyed various tales of Gods from different cultures, including Greek and Ghanaian. “Through reading these stories and being taught about other cultures at an early age, I quickly noticed that there were similarities and differences between those deities and the God of the Christian Bible. I couldn’t help but wonder what made this God so special that he warrants such prevalence today,” she recalls.

Here we talk about secular communities and current issues (2020).

*This was conducted June 29, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, we’ve got some fantastic news. It has to do with mainly finance, but also, maybe, a change in some of the winds in terms of support for – let’s call it – African-American Humanism, if it is American based or black humanism. What happened?

Mandisa Thomas: Yes. So, in the month of June, BN and other black organizations have seen a surge in support, which I’m sure is in light of the tension that culminated with the tragic murder of George Floyd. We’ve attracted new donors, and people inquiring about supporting our work. Also, a couple  – fellow atheists – contacted us at our website looking to directly support one of our members financially. After careful consideration, including a potential suggestion for them to route this through BN, I put them in touch with one of our members, who is a struggling single mom. I wasn’t sure significant their support would be, but I learned later that it will benefit her and her family tremendously. In addition, my virtual speaking schedule has increased. So, I appreciate the enhanced support; hopefully, it maintains its momentum.

Jacobsen: When you get this support, I think we can all understand the overwhelming emotion that can wash over someone, especially in the midst of a pandemic. When an organization is running through some tough financial times, when you get that money, and you get the guarantee or have the promise of such finance, what do you do in terms of start running through your mind, plans? How many steps do you start looking ahead and then start filling in the details of what you can do?

Thomas: Oh, my gosh, I know my mind goes all over the place! Thanks to a generous grant from the Stiefel Freethought Foundation, BN will go host an online event in July, which will have some prominent names attached, as we discuss religion in the black community. I always look to see how we can improve operations as well as our supplies. I think of new collaboration opportunities for the organization, and ways to better utilize and combine the resources that we already have. Overall, it is a matter of ensuring that we have enough that we’re not struggling, from year to year or month to month. Making sure that we are in a position where even when we fundraise, it doesn’t feel like a matter of life or death. We’ve also seen an increase in our online store sales, which has been great as well. So, all across the board, this gives us a boost.

Jacobsen: Now, you have a significant amount of experience and expertise in the hospitality industry. The hospitality industry is notoriously stressful and at times chaotic. So, you have the experience to know to buttress excitement here when it comes to the long-term planning of some of these financial contributions. So, when you’re looking at that plan forward: How are you making certain, as the founder and president of Black Nonbelievers Inc., to make sure the finances last a long time, are used with prudence and on projects that will have benefit to the community, and as outreach to a wider secular community?

Thomas: Yes. My background in hospitality and as well as management and administrative work, we save on overhead. So, in addition to representing the organization, I also do many things on the backend. While I know that I will want to eventually delegate and hire for some of those responsibilities, as long as I have the ability, then I will manage all of the things that are within my purview. This may be a little self-congratulatory here, but I am proud of my ability to communicate and work as hard as I do. I also pride myself on my ability to explore different various development avenues with the organization. And that’s the way I’ve always worked, even when I was employed by other companies. I am able to work independently, and also as a team, learning from what other people do. So, if I need to step in for someone, then I can. With BN still being so small, we’re able to keep things fairly manageable. It takes skill, time, and determination, but it is worth it.

Jacobsen: Mandisa congratulations, thank you so much for your time.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Jon 38: Dichotomous Dialogues and Decorum

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/07/24

Jonathan Engel, J.D. is the President of the Secular Humanist Society of New YorkHere we talk about a recent dialogue between Jon and a Christian pastor in New York.

*Interview conducted April 5, 2021.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, here’s the ‘Cliff’s Notes’ of the story before getting into it, I got an email from a pastor in New York State. They wanted to do an interview with me. They had seen; I had been doing interviews with pastors in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia and elsewhere as an educational effort, as an interbelief and dialogue effort[1]. They liked it. Presumably, they approved of the effort. They reached out to me to get an interview with me. However, they were from another country. They’re from another side of the continent. They were from New York State. So, with very different cultures, countries, and sides of a continent, it seemed more apt to reach out to someone I know in New York State. That happens to be the wonderful Jon. So, I offered to get you two in touch. You proved it. You actually got together. I was on the emails to make sure things were respectful, and so on. The interview went forward. So, what happened?

Jonathan Engel: Well, it was very interesting. He was a very nice man. Our conversation was very cordial, so that was good. He had said to me in the emails that we went back and forth. He wasn’t really interested in anything confrontational or debate, the formal debate. Although, he did mention when we talked; he might be interested in the future in a debate. I’m not sure if I would be or not, but we’ll see. But in any event, this was not that. This was just a conversation. Again, it was very cordial. He was true to his word. It was not in any way confrontational. We did disagree on a few things. At one point, he talked about the Constitution of the United States being based on Judeo-Christian values. I disagreed.

I said at the heart of the Constitution of the United States is democracy. Democracy is not a Judeo-Christian value. Democracy is an enlightened value. Again, I was, at the time, when I said that, I thought to myself, “I don’t remember anything in the Bible about Jesus saying to the apostles, ‘OK guys, now we’re going to take a vote on what we do next.’” So, we had a few things. Obviously, we don’t exactly agree on the nature of how human beings came to be on this planet. We also disagree on the age of the planet, which I pegged at about 4.6 billion years, give or take a year or two. He believed that it was significantly less old than that, which is not all that surprising.

But there was something I have to tell you, Scott. It was something I found very interesting and surprising about our conversation. Which afterwards, I talked about it with my wife. She said: Maybe, the reason that I counted this thing – I came to this in a second, surprisingly, which is that I’ve never really spent a lot of time around a true fundamentalist religious person, which is basically true. But here’s what surprised me, it seemed to me that my worldview was a secular humanist, was much more positive, optimistic, and life-affirming than was his. That surprised me. Maybe, it may have been because I was a little around a fundamentalist believer.

But I thought that they were more in terms of God’s Gospel and Jesus Christ superstar when I was a kid or something. Because I thought Jesus was peace and love and all the rest of that stuff. But there seemed to be a very underlying worldview with belief in things like punishment and obedience to authority. I said, “You’ve got to question authority.” I wouldn’t say, “If a cop says, ‘It’s dangerous to go this way,’ go that way.” I’m not going to stand there and argue with him. But when it comes to things that don’t involve the immediate need to make a decision or something, I was talking about questioning authority. He was talking, “Well, it depends on the authorities.”

So, he was very big on obedience. He talked about Adam and Eve. Adam could have been perfect. Adam could have had this great life forever and ever and ever. But he took that apple. He disobeyed. In a lot of ways, I was talking about how he was asking me about what I think and what I believe in my worldview, etc., and what’s my purpose in life. I said, “Well, essentially, my purpose in life is to make myself in whatever small ways I can a better person.” Again, in whatever small ways I can to make the world a better place, I said, “We can do so much better than we do now if we care about each other more, if we love each other more, if we value each person like a secular humanist and are committed to each person reaching their potential.”

I said, “These are the things that bring you joy in life. That brings you to make the world a little bit better to help another person. These are wonderful things that bring joy to life.” I talked about how sometimes people who think that someone who’s an atheist like me, “Well, how do you feel wonder around and awe?” And I said, “I feel wonder all the time. I feel wonder just that there are people who are different than me and they’re interesting. The fact that we’re all here. I find it to be an amazing thing.” I think it was Richard Feynman, the physicist, who said, ‘Just because you know what makes a rainbow doesn’t make it any less beautiful.’ But I think one of the biggest things to take away from this is that; from my world view, human beings have to make the world a better place.

We have the ability to do it. This is something that needs to be our goal going forward. Being secular humanists, every chance we get to make the world a little better; that’s what we have to do. His world view on that kind of issue was more like, “We, as human beings… I’m not God and, therefore, I don’t have the power to do that. Instead, I know that Jesus will come back and he will make the world perfect.” So, he seemed more okay with just letting things be as they are. I pointed out to him. Robert Kennedy once said, “Some people look at things as they are and say, ‘Why?’ I look at things as they could be and say, ‘Why not?’” I think that’s more of a secular humanist point of view.

But his point of view was more like, “Jesus is going to come and then everything will be perfect. So, it’s foolish for human beings to try and make the world better because they’ll never succeed. That’s not the way it works. Human beings don’t have the power to do that. Only Jesus does. When He’s ready, He will come back and make the world perfect,” which to me was fatalism of the way the world is today. That, for me, as a secular humanist is absolutely unacceptable. I just find that completely unacceptable. I don’t mean that he’s not allowed to think what he thinks. Of course, people have to believe what he believes. But for me, I find that unacceptable. That we just sit around and wait for somebody. That, in my view, is never is going to come to make the world perfect.

Forget about “perfect,” there’s an old saying in politics, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of good.” We can do better. To me, I have an obligation to every other human being to try to make it better and they’re more like, “No, it’s just a matter of what we must believe. We must obey. We must be obedient to authorities and our religious authorities and to what they believe, which is being obedient to God. Then when we’re really good and obedient, God will make things perfect.” I’m like, “Man, you guys are sitting around waiting for something that ain’t going to happen.” I’m not willing to wait for that. I’m going to try to make the world better right now as it is; and that’s part, again, of the secular humanist viewpoint that we have to work. That we can’t wait for somebody else to make this world better and that burden is on us right here and right now and what you do each day to make the world a better place.

Jacobsen: What were the parts that you agreed on fundamentally?

Engel: There wasn’t a lot. I got the sense that I certainly believe that he has the right to his beliefs. He believes that I have the right to my beliefs. So, I think that was a good thing. I mentioned to him. It’s the case. I’m a big believer in the Constitution‘s First Amendment, which includes both the establishment clause and the free exercise clause. Listen, for me, it would be: I would demonstrate. I might talk to somebody just like I asked him if he was an evangelical. But then he laughed and said, “But I don’t expect that you’re going to join my congregation.” I said, “Well, listen, I also would like to persuade people to give up religion. But I would never force and never expect him to join the secular humanist society when the call was over either.”

But I would like to persuade people to give up religion. I said, “I would never coerce somebody to do so for two reasons. Number one, it’s unethical and simply wrong. Number two, it doesn’t work anywhere. You try to tell people not to do something, then they’re going to do it. If you said, “You can’t do this anymore,” then that’s the first thing they want to do. So, it’s ineffective and it’s wrong. We both agreed on that that people should not be coerced in religious beliefs in any way. We really didn’t get into what he felt was the role of religion in public life in government or politics. But I didn’t get the sense that he thought that that was where he was in terms of what he sees as God.

I respect that he wasn’t thinking that he was going to convert me; any more that I was thinking that I was going to convert him. So, I think that was one of the things we agreed on in terms of the ground rules. That we both have the right to our own beliefs and neither one of us would try to coerce the other one into changing what their belief system is.

Jacobsen: Do you have any recommendations for individuals who are going to have a conversation themselves in the future?

Engel: For a part of me, the second humanists are going to speak to someone who is a fundamentalist religious person. Personally, I would say to them, “One of the things I tried to do in this call, and I think that it’s important for us to do, is that I establish a personal thing.” We talked for about 20 minutes about stuff. I asked him exactly, “Where is your place located? Where do you live, your town?” I know a little bit because I went to college in Buffalo. I used to drive up through upstate New York and western New York to get there. my son went to college in Binghamton, which is not too far from where he is. So, we talked about that. He said he was going to some homeschooling, I think, conference or something like that in Buffalo.

I told them where to get the best wings in Buffalo. I think that would be one thing I would tell people. Establish just a little humanity and human communication that you would talk to any person that you didn’t really know and then would talk with, “Well, what’s life like in your town? I’ll tell you what life is like where I live.” He mentioned how he’s been to the city. He said that one of the things that he really liked about the city was all the different kinds of food. He said, “Up here, it’s like basic American food or Italian pizza places are Italian. But anything else, it’s really not too much.” I said, “Yeah, well, one of my favourite restaurants, which was unfortunately closed by Covid down here, was a Tibetan restaurant that I really liked.”

So, we established that. The other thing I would say is a given; that you want to establish a personal relationship and you want to be polite, as much as possible. I would also say, “Don’t roll over, frankly.” when he said something about, “Well, of course, you understand that the Constitution was based on Judeo-Christian values. I said, “No.” I didn’t say it nastily or anything. Never call them names or something because of a disagreement. But I also didn’t just let it slide. I say, “It’s okay when someone says something that’s fundamentally at odds with what you believe, to point that out.” That’s what I would recommend to somebody to establish a personal connection, be unfailingly polite. But by the same token, if you hear something that you just think is wrong, it’s OK to say, “Hey, no, I don’t believe that. I believe something different.”

Jacobsen: Jon, thank you so much.

Engel: It’s my pleasure, Scott, as always. Thank you for setting me up with this guy. Actually, it was interesting and illuminating for me.

Jacobsen: Yes, I thought it more appropriate with two New Yorkers rather than a Vancouverite and a New Yorker.

Engel: Yes, so, I appreciate it. It was interesting. I think, I learned something from it.

Jacobsen: Excellent, to me, that’s the end goal, was the ultimate goal.

Footnotes

[1] See Jacobsen (2018a), Jacobsen (2018b), Jacobsen (2018c), Jacobsen (2018d), Jacobsen (2019a), Jacobsen (2019b), Jacobsen (2019c), and Jacobsen (2020a).

References

Jacobsen, S.D. (2019a, December 26). Canada: Interview with Pastor Josh Loeve – Lead Pastor, Centre Church. Retrieved from https://www.newsintervention.com/loeve-jacobsen/.

Jacobsen, S.D. (2018a, October 9). Conversation with Pastor Brad Strelau – Pastor, CA Church: Town Center. Retrieved from https://www.canadianatheist.com/2018/10/strelau-jacobsen/.

Jacobsen, S.D. (2018c, July 26). Interview with Andy Steiger – Pastor, Young Adult Ministries, Northview Community Church & Director, Apologetics Canada. Retrieved from https://www.canadianatheist.com/2018/07/steiger-jacobsen/.

Jacobsen, S.D. (2019b, September 28). Interview with Pastor Clint Nelson – Lead Pastor, Parkside Church. Retrieved from https://www.canadianatheist.com/2019/09/nelson-jacobsen/.

Jacobsen, S.D. (2018b, September 22). Interview with Pastor Dave Solmes – Lead Pastor, Living Waters Church. Retrieved from https://www.canadianatheist.com/2018/09/solmes-jacobsen/.

Jacobsen, S.D. (2019c, June 26). Interview with Rev. Helen Tervo – Vicar, St. Andrew’s Anglican Church. Retrieved from https://www.canadianatheist.com/2019/06/tervo-jacobsen/.

Jacobsen, S.D. (2020a, September 1). Pastor Bob Cottrill on Christianity, Faith, and Intuition. Retrieved from https://www.newsintervention.com/pastor-bob-cottrill-on-christian-faith-and-intuition/.

Jacobsen, S.D. (2018d, May 2). Pastor Paul VanderKlay on the Christian Reformed Church. Retrieved from https://www.canadianatheist.com/2018/05/vanderklay/.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Jon 37: Universal Vaccination and Rugged Individualism

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/07/23

Jonathan Engel, J.D. is the President of the Secular Humanist Society of New YorkHere we talk about the collision between the value of rugged individualism and the need for universal vaccination in the moment of a pandemic.  

*Interview conducted March 22, 2021.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Vaccines really touch on or show by population experiments, natural experiments, the outcomes of American values. When I look at them, I am seeing distinct lines drawn between humanistic values and American values. American values around a lot longer within American discourse; humanist values in the American form grew out of that American context. So, the hemisphere is “be an individual person plus social responsibility.” So, there’s a sense that the interpersonal is secondary, the collective is tertiary, but the individual is primary. But those are all connected, and you can’t make them separate in any way. In American values, the exceptional American individual can be separated in that ideology.

And it has certain outcomes in terms of how some political or social philosophies play out. I think this is playing out in real-time in the vaccine context throughout the country in different ways to different degrees in different states. In New York, what’s your experience with regards to this value dichotomy? How is it worsening the situation or the well-being of Americans?

Jonathan Engel: It seems to me that we’re going to reach an interesting tipping point probably in a couple of months. Because right now the United States is doing a lot of vaccinations. Over the weekend, I think it was nearly three million a day. I myself have gotten my first vaccination and I need to go back to get my second. I’ve got the Pfizer at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York, which is this huge building. They’ve been doing about 10,000 shots a day there. They say that they’re ready to ramp up as more vaccines become available for 20,000 shots a day. We’re still in the stage right now where not everybody can get it. There are still eligibility requirements in the state of New York. You have to be over 60 or have a specific pre-existing condition or have a specific job that you do, like a medical worker or teacher that puts you at the front of the line.

So, I still know people who are trying to get vaccinated who haven’t been able to yet. Then, of course, there are people like my sons, who are 32 and 28, and who have no particular condition and they’re not even eligible yet. But eventually, of course, they’re doing lots of shots. Eventually, you’re going to get to a situation where everybody who agrees to be vaccinated and wants to be vaccinated has it, then comes the question, “What do you do with everybody else?” Because we have to get to about 80% to 90% vaccinated to get herd immunity. What happens with the people who don’t?

And you’re right, this country does not have a great history of collective action. It’s something that is really more “every man for himself.” Although, here in the United States, we like to refer to that as Rugged Individualism. It doesn’t sound quite so selfish, but it is. In my view, that viewpoint has been escalating. It’s almost been on steroids for several decades at least, or maybe as long as I’ve been alive. I think, maybe, I’m just viewing this nostalgically. But I think that there used to be a little bit more of a concept of the common good in this country. But that’s gone. It seems to have gotten lost. This individual thing has become more like, “I can do whatever I want. Who are you to tell me what to do? Who are you to tell me to wear a mask? Who are you to tell me to get vaccinated?”

There are people in this country who don’t want to get vaccinated, not even that so much as a medical thing; although, I don’t even know what the medical excuse would be to not get vaccinated. But just to say, “Hey, if you’re telling me to get vaccinated, I won’t get vaccinated because I don’t like people telling me what to do.” The problem, of course, is that that kind of selfishness is hard to counter. That kind of belief that “I can do what I want” is hard to counter. You try countering it with logic as a humanist. That’s what I would try to do. But it’s not easy. You can say to people, “Hey, you’ve been in resort towns in the summertime. That sign that says, ‘No shirt, no shoes and no service.’ Well, you obey, right? You accept it. So, if it says, ‘No mask,’ why not the same acceptance?”

Of course, there’s the possibility that certain public institutions or certain things are open to the public. If you think about flights or airlines, they are going to say, “You have to get vaccinated in order to get on our plane and show proof of vaccination.” I hope they will. But there’s a strong attitude against that kind of thing, so from a humanist perspective. Where we look at that, we have to consider the needs and well-being of the people we share this planet with. That is a very frightening thing. It’s a real challenge to us to try to get people to understand that we need to all get vaccinated for this to work or a large proportion of us to get vaccinated in order for this to work.

And again, you try to use logic and say, “Hey, you say you don’t want to wear a mask. You say you want to get together with your buddies. You say that you want to go to bars and restaurants and movies and all the rest of that stuff. Well… this is the way we can achieve it if we all get vaccinated.” So, that’s the interesting counter. On the one hand, these people say, “Well, I don’t want to, so, why should I have to?” And the answer is: Because if you want to get back to that, this is what it requires and it’s going to take a huge public relations push. I honestly don’t know how, in the end, it’s going to work. I don’t know if it’s going to, if we’re going to be able to do it or not. It’s very frustrating to think that we have the technology, we have the science, and we are producing huge amounts of vaccines.

We’re getting it out there. We will have the ability to get everybody vaccinated before the fall comes. We could do that in the United States. But whether people will agree to it or not is something that’s kind of up in the air, again, it really is; I don’t know how things are going to go. I wish I had a crystal ball, but I don’t. I don’t know if we’re going to get this really under control, so that we can have a semblance of normalcy or we’re going to slide back. There’s always the possibility of sliding back to things like forced closures, etc., if we don’t take care of it when we can.

Jacobsen: Jon, thank you as always.

Engel: Ok, thank you, Scott. Listen, take care of yourself.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Jon 36: The ‘Truth’ and Abuse of Stature

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/07/22

Jonathan Engel, J.D. is the President of the Secular Humanist Society of New YorkHere we talk about religion as a political tool in the United States.

*Interview conducted March 8, 2021.*

Jacobsen: So, for New York State and some of its political contexts, insofar as religious pluralism and non-religion are concerned, how do individual people in politics, in the United States, in New York, try to violate that by calling for the “truth,” by quoting the Bible? Or how do they attempt to make a point using religious scripture where the context in a political situation should be a-religious – in that it’s politics, not religion?

Engel: Well, it’s used quite a bit. This is a very religious country. I wish it wasn’t the case, but that’s the way it is. So, frequently, we’re talking about elected representatives who will go onto the floor of whatever their legislature is, whether it’s the state legislature in Albany or the federal Congress and say, “This is the way this should be,” or, “We should vote against this bill,” or, “We should vote for this bill because…,” and then pull out some quote from a passage of the Christian Bible. Say, “Well, therefore… and therefore, since this is what God’s Word is,” which is just absolutely dumbfounding to me. But what happens is, you get a lot of quiet in response to that, where you frequently get counterarguments made biblically.

In other words, you are responding, “Well, wait a second, I know that that passage said that. But what about this passage from the Bible?” Of course, they’re always talking about the Christian Bible. This is still the United States; and then Muslims, we’re talking about what the Quran says, or didn’t say, or anything else like that. So, it’s about, “Look at this passage from the Bible that contradicts it.” They’re saying that they are having this theological argument, which is absolutely ridiculous and, more importantly, has no place in deliberations by a public body that represents all the people of all religions and no religion. So, what happened recently, there was a debate going on in the United States House of Representatives on the Equality Act, which would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

And the representative, Republican, from Florida, Steube, I don’t know how to pronounce the name. They got up and read a passage from the Bible saying, ‘A man must not wear women’s clothing. No man wears women’s clothing for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this.’ Anyway, he went on to say, ‘Therefore, you’re not supposed to, if God assigned you. It is wisdom to be in particular sex or gender. That’s all you can ever be, because that’s what God intended.’ Again, there were reactions. Some people stood up and defended this as an assault on transgender people. ‘They have as much right as anybody to happiness.’

Absolutely, I agree with that. It’s nice someone said it. But somebody said something else, and that was Representative Jerry Nadler, who is a member of the United States House of Representatives from New York City. He’s chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. What he said was, ‘What any religious tradition describes as God’s will is no concern of this Congress.’ And, boy, I have to tell you, Scott; I’ve been waiting years to hear somebody respond to one of these so-called biblical arguments with something along those lines, ‘Hey, look, we’re not going to argue with you about what the Bible says and what the Bible means. And, of course, when you say the Bible, we’re only talking about your Bible, I understand, but I don’t care what it says. We’re not going to have that argument because what it says and what you think that dictates has no place in this Congress. It’s not a concern of this Congress. What you think your particular God’s will is?’ I thought that was fantastic and unusual, unfortunately, but I think it was just so great that he said it.

Jacobsen: How did the public react when this came out?

Engel: It was kind of buried a little bit. I found it online. I verified that’s what he said. But it really is in New York City where he’s from, especially on the west side, which is even thought to be more liberal than East sides. I live on the East side. But anyway, he’s not going to get blowback on that in New York City. People in New York City expect this to be the case. We’re not as religious as other places. There are plenty of religious people and small enclaves. There are enclaves of ultra-orthodox Jews in New York City. But for the most part, he’s not going to get any pushback here in the city for saying this. This is something that most people in New York City just accept as being a matter of course.

We have no choice in some ways, but to reflect on New York City. Because we’re the most diverse city in the world. We have lots of Protestants and Catholics and Jews and Hindus and Muslims and Buddhists and people of no religion at all – thank you very much, including me. So, in New York, you can’t really get away with it in New York City. I’m not talking about the rest of New York State. But New York City, you really can’t get away with that kind of thing very much. So, the only mention, I haven’t seen a lot of mentions of what Nadler said, but the only mentions I’ve seen of it were part of people being very appreciative of it, especially in the secular community.

But other people as well, being appreciative that he would say, “Listen, your Christian Bible has no place here.” Not that people can’t read it and follow it and do whatever they want with it in their private lives. But on the floor of the House of Representatives, “When we’re sitting here making law and making policy, what you think your God’s will is, is unimportant to what we’re doing. It is irrelevant to what we’re doing right now,” which was a fantastic thing.

Jacobsen: Jon, thank you so much for your time and we’ll talk to you next week.

Engel: Ok, Scott. Listen, take care of yourself.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Dr. P.B. 4: “The Arbiters of Faith”

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/07/18

Dr. Teale Phelps Bondaroff has been a community organizer for more than 15 years. He has been active in Saanich municipal politics. He earned a PhD in Politics and International Studies from the University of Cambridge and two BAs from the University of Calgary in Political Science and International Relations, respectively. He is a Board Member of the Greater Victoria Placemaking Network. He owns and operates a research consultancy called The Idea Tree. He is a New Democrat, politically, and is the President of the Saanich-Gulf Islands NDP riding association. He founded OceansAsia as a marine conservation organization devoted to combating illegal fishing and wildlife crime. Here we talk about “The Arbiters of Faith: Legislative Assembly of BC Entanglement with Religious Dogma Resulting from Legislative Prayer” and recent research work of the BCHA.

— 

*Note, this interview occurred before the ‘Arbiters of Faith’ article was published and before the Clerk of the BC Legislature completed their review of prayer in the BC Legislature. The article discussed in this interview has subsequently been published in the journal of Secularism & Nonreligion.*

Scott Jacobsen: So, you submitted a report entitled, “The Arbiters of Faith: Legislative Assembly of BC Entanglement with Religious Dogma Resulting from Legislative Prayer.” What was the purpose of this paper and what are some of the general overview points of this paper report?

Dr. Teale Phelps Bondaroff: A lot of people are not familiar with the fact that each daily sitting at the B.C. legislature starts with a prayer and it is delivered by a member of the Legislative Assembly, or on days there’s a speech from the throne, by a guest from the public. So, the BCHA did a comprehensive analysis of these prayers. People can read about our interview and the content of that report in the House of Prayers Report.

One of the things that’s interesting is that in BC, MLAs are asked to deliver a prayer. They have the option of either delivering a prayer of their own devising or reading a prayer from a list of sample prayers that is provided by legislative staff. When we did the analysis in the House of Prayer study, we found that the MLAs were selecting a prayer from the list of sample prayers 50 percent, half, of the time,

So, this got us wondering about the list of sample prayers. When you look at the list of sample prayers, you see three that are ‘nonsectarian’ and two that are ‘secular.’ By this I mean that three of them are overtly religious — they mention “God,” and other religious language. And the two secular ones seem religiously affiliated, but they do not mention gods and they’re more of a thanksgiving thing.

The background in this article is … at the end of 2019, the Office of the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly in British Columbia was conducting a review of the process and procedures around prayers in the legislature. We submitted a comprehensive 138-page report, the House of Prayers Report. In it, we suggested that a starting each session of the BC Legislature with a prayer is not a good idea. The report outlines a lot of reasons why we shouldn’t be doing this: It is unconstitutional, potentially. It excludes people. It diminishes and otherwise trivializes the sacred act, and other arguments along these lines. We submitted the report as our input to the Clerk’s review process.
 
 We are aware that the sample prayers were part of the review process conducted by the office of the clerk. The Clerk was reviewing the sample list likely because these five prayers were not representative of the views of British Columbians, or reflected the views of only a narrow band of British Columbians. And so part of the process that the Office of the Clerk is currently undertaking is a revision of this list.

After we submit our report, we got to thinking: Is it possible for the Office of the Clerk to create a list of sample prayers, both practically and constitutionally? So, the Arbiters of Faith article seeks to answer this question. 
 
 I suppose that this is a really long preamble to a shorter answer, which is we wanted to know whether it is possible, both practically and constitutionally, for the Office of the Clerk to create a list of sample prayers that they provide to MLAs to deliver at the beginning of each sitting of legislature. 
 
 In the article, we identified practical and constitutional hurdles that we do not think could be overcome, which suggests that A) you shouldn’t have a sample list of prayers because it would violate the state’s duty of religious neutrality, and B) making that list is an incredibly complicated and complex process.

Each decision throughout the process has both constitutional and practical hurdles to overcome. That’s why I thought I might walk you through some of those challenges so that people will get an idea of how difficult it is for the state to amend practices around legislative prayer, rather than simply abolishing the practice.

So here’s a summary of the concerns we raise in the article. The Clerk faces challenges and decisions at every stage of the process. There are challenges of identifying religions and religious groups in British Columbia and challenges with selecting a reasonable number of religious groups to ask to add a prayer to the list. Then, even at that point, it is incredibly difficult and problematic to identify which prayer should be included on the list. And even who in particular to ask to submit a prayer. Ultimately there are practical and constitutional problems at every stage of the review process. 
 
 To begin with, there is the question of what constitutes a religion. This is a question that is debated heavily in academia, anthropology, and religious studies. There’s no real answer to this question. What you often see in legal jurisprudence is the “I know it when I see it” approach. Unfortunately, this is prone to bias.

When people say ‘they know it when they see it,’ they tend to be biased towards religions with which they are familiar. This makes sense, but there is a lot of potential bias there and some religion will be oversampled. In doing this, on relying on this possible approach, you’re validating one religion at the possible expense of others.

It puts the government, and individual bureaucrats making decisions about what is or is not a religion, saying something like “Okay, Baptist, that’s a religion. Protestantism, that’s a religion. But Eckankar, Scientology, those aren’t religions.” So, some are validated over others.

That’s a problem, because the state has a duty of religious neutrality, as established in 2015 [in the Saguenay descision]. You’re not being neutral when you’re saying this belief system is a religion, and this one isn’t.

And there are also really no grounds for this basis, or any laws in Canada, that establish a clear definition of what religion is. We explore some complicated aspects of this in the article. A lot of people aren’t aware of this: Canada doesn’t have a definition of what a religion is.

As a result, you get this weird situation where, for example, CRA [Canadian Revenue Agency] says that it has a rough definition of what religions are: It is quite circular, and it excludes non-theistic religion.

For example, there was a court case a little while ago [the Church of Atheism of Central Canada v. MNR], where the judge admitted that the current usage and practices around definitions of religion in Canada exclude the non-theistic religions like Buddhism or other religions that do not have a defined ‘god.’ That’s a bit of a problem if you’re trying to say, “We’re neutral,” but you’re not being neutral when you do that. You’re saying, “We’re neutral, but only for only a narrow band of faith traditions,” which is not neutrality.

So, you have a situation where the state is put in the position of having to try to arbitrate religious dogma. In a 2004 decision, a court decision around some of these issues [Syndicat Northcrest v. Amselem], the judge decided that it is not the role of the state, nor should it be the role of the state, to arbitrate on religious dogma. Otherwise the state becomes overly entangled in these religious issues, to the point where they could be put in the position of arbitrating matters relating to religious practices or theology.

Imagine a situation where parishioners at one church might take other parishioners from that same church to court because the practice of delivering communion was changed. One group might want to be kneeling when they receive communion, the other group might want to be standing when they receive communion. It is not the role of courts to be adjudicating this kind of matter. People can probably see how this unnecessarily entangles the government with religion.

So, the first problem is that we do not know what religion is. It’s unclear in law, and there are a lot of examples of this in jurisprudence. Again, there’s no legislation defining what religion is in Canada.

Let’s say we could overcome that first hurdle, the next question comes down to which religions make the cut for inclusion in the consultation process and in the final list of sample prayers. Because there is a vast number of religions and some people would say, quite accurately, that given the diversity of beliefs out there, every single person has a slightly different religious belief. Two people sitting in the pews of the same church, for example, likely don’t agree entirely on every aspect of that religion, and their views may differ in minor or significant ways. Ultimately, we have a situation where every single person’s religion is unique.

But this aside, you also have other complicating factors. Let’s pretend we’re going to try to pick which religions to ask to submit prayers for the sample prayer list. How does the state go about picking which religions/religious groups to approach?

The government could try reaching out to the religious groups with which they are most familiar. The state knows a couple of religions are common, and members of the bureaucracy are likely familiar with a decent number of religions. So they could call representatives of the religions that they are familiar with, and ask to get their input.
 
 The first issue here is, are they asking non-religious groups? Now in this case, the office of the Clerk asked the BCHA to submit sample prayers and to participate in the review process, and this is not a common practice. It’s very often the case that when there’s a consultation with faith leaders, that leaders of nonreligious groups are not consulted. This may make sense on first blush, if the consultation is with members of various faith traditions it could seem strange to include the nonreligious, but then a huge swath of the population is excluded and the results would be biased in favour of religious believers. This is particularly relevant here, as the risk would be that there would be no non-religious or secular invocations on the list. There is an inherent faith bias.

The approach of just reaching out to faith traditions with which the government is familiar is very subjective. Here is an interesting fact that a lot of people may not be aware of. The federal government, and provincial government, has an ‘order of precedence’ list, which is basically a list of how do you introduce people at a banquet or a state funeral. For example, it starts with the Queen and it works its way down through other heads of state. Strangely, this list puts representatives of faith communities above judges, senators, and members of parliament. This is in and of itself an interesting bias in favor of religious groups. This list also doesn’t include details on which religions make the cut and which religious figures would be introduced before judges, senators and MPs, so it doesn’t offer much guidance as to helping the government decide which religions make the cut.

Instead of using ‘familiarity’ the government could instead use demographics, but this approach is also fraught with challenges. There has to be some cutoff, so the government ultimately has to decide how many believers are needed for a religion to make the cut. Could the government set a threshold of 0.5% of the population? So in other words, if 0.5% of the population follow a religion we include them as one of our sample prayer list.

But there are problems with this approach. There’s the issue of how we go about asking questions about religion and religious affiliation in the census. So, for example, in the census, they will ask people, “Which religion are you affiliated with?” But that doesn’t necessarily track with beliefs — with people’s actual beliefs. It just identifies their affiliation.

A while ago there was a survey of Quebecers, for example, which is cited in the paper: 75% of Quebecers were identified as Catholic and only 28% said they strongly believe in a God. So, this is a bit of a problem. People can culturally affiliate with a religion, even if their beliefs don’t track with all the beliefs of that religio. Secular Jews are a good example of this.

But there are other complications and problems with the Census as well. There are 70 sects of Christianity included in the census, and some estimates suggest there are 33,000 Protestant denominations. However, in the census there are no subcategories for Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam. But, for example, there’s a huge difference between Orthodox Judaism and Reformed Judaism. And this is also the case with different sects in Islam or Buddhism. So there are different levels of granularity; is the Clerk going to include one prayer from every Protestant sect and one Jewish prayer? You can start seeing how this really breaks down both practically and constitutionally.

Because the government is also making a lot of problematic choices: “This is a valid religion and this isn’t a valid religion,” or, “This is a group worthy of recognition. This is a group that is not worthy of recognition.” “This sect difference should be considered. This sect difference should not be considered.” And the government lacks a basis for making any of these choices.

So instead of familiarly or demographics, the Clerk could look at the demographics of the legislature. So, for example, the Clerk could say, “Okay, 12% of the legislature identify as Christian. We’re going to have 12% of the sample prayers being Christian prayers,” and so on, and so forth.

The problem there, of course, is that this is incredibly invasive and an issue with privacy, as the Clerk would have to ask personal questions of MLAs about their religious beliefs. And second of all, the Clerk would have to ask MLAs constantly, because people’s religious views change over time. It is not like someone is born a Christian and remains a Christian, or is born of reformed Jew and stays a reformed Jew their whole life. People’s views change over time. So the Clerk would have to be constantly asking MLAs, or at the very least do so after every election or by-election.

So these are some of the challenges associated with selecting which religions you solicit prayers from, but there are further complications. The next question that needs to be tackled it “Who do we ask to submit prayers?” Now, it is somewhat easy, for example, with religions like Catholicism, because you could ask a archbishop for prayer, but for less centralized and hierarchical religions, the situation is more complicated.

If you have religions that do not have a hierarchy, then the question of who you ask to submit a prayer is a challenge. If multiple members of a religious tradition submit prayers, the government/Clerk have no ability to decide between them, because, as we’ve discussed, the state has no ability to arbitrate matters of dogma and it can’t pick one subset over another without violating its duty of religious neutrality.

Consider, for example, a Reform Jewish Congregation from Victoria submits a prayer and then the Reform Synagogue in Vancouver also submits a prayer. The state would have no ability to arbitrate between those two prayers. How could it? The BC Government is in no position to say which sample prayer best captures the beliefs of Reform Judaism, and short of issues relating to punctuation and grammar has no basis for electing one prayer over the other, and if it did so, it would violate its duty of religious neutrality.

Moving beyond differentiating between congregations, you have other problems relating to who you actually ask to provide a sample prayer — do you ask people in positions of leadership within a congregation or members? A prayer selected by a priest, for example, may not be the same prayer selected by a lay person of the same faith. For many faith traditions, asking people in positions of leadership means asking men, as many faith traditions restrict or prohibit women from holding certain forms of priesthood or positions of their clergy. This excludes a wide range of perspectives, to say the least, and is strongly biased in favour of prayers favoured by men in positions of leadership within a faith tradition.

Assuming that all of these problems can be addressed, both practically and constitutionally, there is the outstanding matter of deciding who to ask to submit non-religious invocations.

A 2016 Insights West survey found that 69% of British Columbians claimed to not practice or participate in a particular religion or faith. Of those, 44% believed in a higher power or said they believed in a higher power. How do we possibly survey this group to ensure that their views are reflected in the sample list of prayers that are being offered by MLAs and delivered in front of the B.C. legislature? You have atheists, you have humanists, you have agnostics, but you also have people who have ‘spiritual beliefs’ or religious practices. It is a Herculean task.

As we argue in the paper, it is virtually impossible for the Office of the Clerk to derive a list a prayer for nonbelievers. First, because some of them probably won’t contribute it; second, because this is such a diverse group and the government would struggle to identify organizations that capture all of this diversity of views.

Due to the myriad of different religious sects and the diversity of beliefs among the nonreligious, the government could revert to soliciting prayers from the general public. This is one possible solution to some of the issues we outline in the paper, but it still comes with the problem of how the government could possibly pick which prayers to use from any submissions it receives, as doing so would again violate the state’s duty of religious neutrality and its prohibition on arbitrating matters of dogma.

The sheer volume of sample prayers that would likely be submitted would further complicate the ‘public submission’ approach. When the Ontario Legislative Assembly explored the issue of no longer starting their daily sessions with the Lord’s Prayer, they received 11,000 responses from the public and it basically broke their internet and their email system.

Handling any volume of public submissions would be a challenge for the Office of the Clerk, which only has a few staff and has other responsibilities to the BC Legislature. With this approach, we would basically be asking them to first sift through thousands of emails submissions while they lack the ability to choose between any of them.

Ultimately, as we argue in the paper, the Office of the Clerk faces practical challenges to selecting and drafting a list of sample prayers.

In addition to these practical issues, you have a huge constitutional challenge at every single step. Every time a bureaucrat tries to make a decision about who to ask, what to ask, what to include, they’re making choices that violate their duty of religious neutrality. This is a huge problem.

In the paper, we strongly advocated that legislative prayer be abolished for a wide range of reasons, but if is to continue, the idea of having a sample prayer sheet is problematic and should be abolished.

The BC Legislature should not have a sample sheet of prayers because that violates the state’s duty for religious neutrality.

Jacobsen: How do you define a religion?

Phelps Bondaroff: I do not think I would. I tend to define it more broadly, but any time you set up a barrier or criteria, you can find a counterexample of a religion that does not meet that criteria. If you say that a religion need a god or gods, for example, one need only point to a non-theistic religion that challenges this criteria.

I do not think it is worth noting is there are some states that have set definitions of religion. Obviously, there are problems with this approach as well. Having a set definition does allow you to hold up a belief system to it and ask “does this meet the definition,” however there are still problems. Presuming that your definition is not biased, which I think would be quite impossible to do, a set definition would allow you to at least overcome some of the hurdles that we present in the paper. But you would end up excluding many faith traditions that do not meet the definition, and I could foresee the situation arising whereby the definition would be either so broad as to render it useless, or too narrow such that it excludes too many belief systems. There are many hurdles and challenges when it comes to defining what constitutes a religion.

Jacobsen: Will there be some criteria at a minimum for inclusion as a religion without a formal set, complete comprehensive definition of religion?

Phelps Bondaroff: I can tell you with some of the legal cases I’ve talked about. But I think that the problem is that you can always find it outliers, and too many of the definitions I’ve seen become circular.

Jacobsen: And that’s why we have typing and editing.

Phelps Bondaroff: So, for example, the Canada Revenue Agency’s definition can be found in some of their policies on charities. They say that to ‘advance religion in a charitable sense,’ means to promote the spiritual teachings of a religious body and maintain doctrines and spiritual observances on which those teachings are based. There must be an element of theistic worship, which means the worship of a deity or deities in the spiritual sense.

Okay, so, let’s explore the problems of that definition. First of all, ‘the spiritual teachings of a religious body,’ that implies that there must be some organization or entity that organizes the religious teachings. This would exclude a lot of different faith traditions that don’t have central organized structures and that just follow teachings. Or the term body refers to an informal group, in which case determining the limits of that group could be a challenge.

This brings up the question of belief versus practice. We can’t see inside people’s heads. We can look at how they practice religion and then use this as an example of their beliefs, but people practice religions in different ways.

There’s been some really interesting American court cases on this front. There was a case concerning the wearing of religious symbols in prisons and the idea of folk religion. The court case was about prisoners who wanted the right to wear a cross. There were lots of concerns by the prison officials about whether this should be allowed, as they saw the wearing of religious symbols as potentially leading to violence and potentially serving as a gang sign.

there is no provision within the Bible that says, “You have to wear cross around your neck.” But a lot of people do. It is an important part of their faith tradition. Thus, wearing a cross around your neck isn’t a religious requirement written down in a book — like dietary or clothing requirements — but it is part of what is often referred to as ‘folk religion.’

So, if you were simply interpreting the Canada Revenue Agency’s policy, it is unclear what is meant by “the spiritual teachings of the religious body” and where we might find these. Do we only look at things that are written down in religious books? There’s no requirement, for example, Christians wear a cross around their neck. But that’s a common practice.

There are other questions that flow from this, like how does one interpret what is actually written down in a religious book? And who gets to make this interpretation? Which books should be consulted? Which text do you pick?

And then, of course, why rely on texts at all. Relying on rules written in religious books is necessarily biased in favour of text based religions at the exclusion of ones that might rely on oral traditions.

There are other problems with the CRA definition as well — it emphasized theistic worship. Whether this refers to a deity or deities is beside the point that it is biased in favour of theistic religions over non-theistic religions or religious practices and faith traditions.

Another problematic aspect is that there must be an element of ‘theistic worship,’ which means that worship of a deity or deities in a spiritual sense. What does that even mean? This is basically creating a more complex definition by introducing terms that are even less well-defined. I think most people would agree that defining what is ‘spiritual’ is even more complicated than defining ‘religion.’

I think there are many more papers to be written about definitions of religion, so not to go on for too long, but the idea is that any time you try to establish these kinds of criteria, to define what constitutes a religion, you can find an outlier and at a certain point a definition either includes everything or includes too narrow a range of things.

So I do not know if I would hazard a definition of what constitutes religion, because I think anything I would offer would have limitations and it would necessarily be based on my own personal biases and interests. I have looked at various religions around the world, but I’m sure I’ve missed many and have not had a chance to study others in any depth. As a result, any definition of religion I could come up with would be incomplete. I should add that it’s okay for an academic to toy with different definitions while trying to explore an issue, or to explore and establish parameters in order to present a coherent argument in a paper, but it is not okay for the state to do this because there are constitutional prohibitions on the state doing so.

Jacobsen: And so, what are some of the next steps from Arbiters of Faith paper at this point?

Phelps Bondaroff: From a practical perspective, we’re finishing up the peer review. I wanted to underscore how important peer review can be. Peer review is an amazing way of producing more rigorous research and strengthen existing work and really engaging other scholars.

When it is done, it will be published in the journal of Secularism & Nonreligion. I also hope that we have made a sufficiently strong case such that we are able to convince the Office of the Clerk to abandon their practice of creating and offering a list of sample prayers to MLAs. I hope that the B.C. legislature to completely abandons the use of sample prayers in the first place.

I would prefer, obviously, that the practice of opening sessions of the BC Legislature with prayer would be ended, but if it must continue there shouldn’t be a sample list, because any use of a sample is a further violation of the state’s duty of religious neutrality.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Dr. Phelps Bondaroff.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Jon 35: The ‘Fuck You’ Stance

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/07/17

Jonathan Engel, J.D. is the President of the Secular Humanist Society of New YorkHere we talk about cult-infused politics.

*Interview conducted March 1, 2021.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, Trump came out. He’s given his first speech since his second impeachment, failing to win at the election, and the inauguration of the Biden-Harris administration. What are some thoughts on that speech? And how does this impact the secular community, especially around New York, where he’s a native?

Jonathan Engel: He’s a native of New York, but he’s really not one of our own. New York City voted overwhelmingly twice against him. So, we don’t really like him. He moved out of New York State. Technically, now, he’s a resident of Florida, which, of course, they can have him. But the nature of the speech is very interesting. It’s putting the Republican Party in an interesting position, which they all deserve, by the way. But this has become a Trump party. It is more of a cult at this point than it is a political party. You can see that at CPAC. You can see the cold nature of it. I’m not even getting into the golden statue, which is a little bit frightening, actually. But there’s not a single person who could get up on that stage without risking their life potentially and say, “Look, Joe Biden won this election, the 2020 election.”

He just did. Now, the dogma that was required to seemingly to stay in the Republican Party is that Trump really won. They have lots of people going, “Well, Trump wasn’t the only one who got up there and said, “I won.” When he lost, and lost quite decisively, one of the interesting things about the Republican Party is that they did something highly unusual this year that got some attention, but not as much as I think it should have, which is that they never bothered to put out a party platform. They never bother, which is something that political parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, do every year at their conventions. They put out a platform. This is sort of like, “Well, this is, basically, what we believe.” There are different segments of a party that some would want this and some would want that.

And there’s usually some fighting over the platform. Of course, it’s not a binding document or anything. It’s more of a statement of principles. But this year, the Republican Party did not put out a platform. They just had, basically, Donald Trump, and that is a cult. That is what we’re talking about here. People who are simply away from any kind of reality and the entire party is about worshipping one person. Like all cults, people are immune who are in a cult, or frequently immune, from any kind of rational discussion about issues or truth or anything like that. That is very frightening. But as for what it means for not just people in New York, but for this country, etc., and for what it means for, especially for a secular humanist like, me, it is very disconcerting because as a secular humanist: I believe in facts.

I believe in using the scientific method to come to our beliefs. If you’re in a cult, if whatever the great leader says, “We love him, and will bow down to him,” thenou’re going to be immune from that type of thing. So, I think it’s the eve of Trump’s speech. Again, it’s interesting he attacked more Republicans than he did Democrats in that speech because it’s all about following him. There’s no independent thought allowed and independent thought is the heartbeat of Secular Humanism of deciding for yourself, but not following the dogma, not following any particular set of beliefs. But rather thinking for yourself, using science, using evidence and coming to your own conclusions, that’s so much at the heart of Secular Humanism, what we saw at CPAC was a repudiation of that.

We saw the idea of “facts and evidence don’t matter.” The big lies are coming faster and faster. We saw the big lie. Of course, the big, big lie is that Trump actually won the election. But there are other lies that are coming to the fore as well. That are pushed at a place like CPAC and the requirement is that you believe it, whether it’s true or not; it doesn’t matter. You were required to believe it. I think that does not bode well for the country going forward.

Jacobsen: Is the individual Freethought stance more or less the New York stance, the ‘fuck you’ stance?

Engel: It’s an interesting question. Yes, I think so. I think New Yorkers are known for being brash and opinionated and feel we can say what we want. I think that is a kind of very much a New York City thing. I don’t know about New York State, but that’s a New York City thing. There are religious fanatics in New York City, but not a lot of them. That is a New York City attitude that, “I’m going to say whatever the hell I want.” There are very few sacred cows to people in New York City. It’s like if you want to call the president a jerk, call him a jerk. That’s sort of our ethos here. So, I think what went on at CPAC, which is basically the Republican Party at this point; if there’s anybody in the Republican Party who opposes these people, they’re few and far between.

And they see what happens to people who oppose Trump and his cult. So, I think that what we’re seeing here, again, from people in a New York City standpoint and a Freethought standpoint, which are, as you mentioned, similar with free speech and saying whatever the hell we want. That’s just part of it. We’re very opinionated. We tend to be a little bit on the brash side and a little bit on the brisk side. But you say what you feel and you say what you want. that we have a party that is opposed not only to get a free inquiry and where it will go, but it’s opposed to science, is opposed to facts in general, that it certainly is an anti-Freethought attitude. I would want to consider it an anti-New York City attitude. That facts don’t matter; this is all we have. It’s like, “Facts do matter. They matter and when they stop mattering”; that’s when you really get into a totalitarian mindset. It’s not the type of thing that people in New York City are going to accept.

Jacobsen: Thank you for your time today, Jon.

Engel: Speak to you next week, Scott.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Professor Burge 24: Hispanic Evangelicals, White Atheists, and White Evangelicals

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/07/16

Professor Ryan Burge‘s website states: “I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science as well as the Graduate Coordinator at Eastern Illinois University. I teach in a variety of areas, including American institutions, political behavior, and research methods. My research focuses largely on the intersection between religiosity and political behavior (especially in the American context). Previously, I have completed an appointment as a post doctoral research fellow at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute in Carbondale, Illinois. While there I was an adviser on issues of survey methodology and polling, as well as providing data collection and analysis.

I have published over a dozen articles in a number of well regarded peer reviewed journals including Politics & Religion, the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, the Review of Religious Research, the Journal of Religious Leadership, RepresentationPoliticsGroupsand Identities, the Journal of Communication and Religion, the Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture and the Social Science Computer Review. 

In addition, my research has been covered in a variety of media outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, NBC, Vox, 538, BuzzFeed News, Al-Jazeera, Christianity Today, Religion News Service, The Daily Mail, Deseret News, World Magazine, Relevant, and C-SPAN. I am the co-founder and frequent contributor to Religion in Public, a forum for scholars of religion and politics to make their work accessible to a more general audience.

Finally, I am a pastor in the American Baptist Church, having served my current church for over thirteen years.”

Here we talk about the religious self-identification, age period cohort analysis, Hispanic Evangelicals, and white atheists versus white Evangelicals.  

*Interview conducted October 12, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, as I noted, the obvious trend of an increase in self-identified Nones in surveys, also that’s the less interesting part. That’s the obvious answer to a lot of questions. Another non-obvious idea was differences in the gaps between generations who identify as Nones. Yet, another aspect that is interesting is if you stretch the timelines of generations over time, so you take cross-sections of those slices. So, when you look at these different generations, Gen X, Millennials, what’s the gap there between, 12 years ago and one year ago in terms of self-identification? Some of the days that I was noting: Gen X is 25% 2008, then 36% in 2019; Millennials 33% in 2008, then 43% in 2019. How is this slicing up as well in terms of a differentiation of self-identification in regards to religious identity?

Professor Ryan Burge: So, there’s this thing called age period, cohort analysis. It is like a whole way to think about the way we move through life because we all turn 18, but we all don’t turn 18 at the same time. And that doesn’t mean the same thing to each of us when we turn 18. So, I turn 18 in 2000. That’s a lot different from a kid turning 18 in 2020. So, what we need to do is compare 18 -year-olds from 2000 or 18-year-olds to see what the difference is that those are called birth cohorts. So, what we do is we break people into groups of five years of birth. So, like 1980-1985, 1986-1990. And we tracked those cohorts and how their religiosity changes as they age through the life cycle, and what we find is that people do become more unaffiliated as they age through. But it is not as much as you would think it is. It doesn’t go up dramatically as they age, at least until the last couple of birth cohorts with any increase as they age through. But what we see instead is where they start when they’re 18, keeps going up and up and up when it comes to religious disaffiliation.

So, every birth cohort is like two or three points more None by the birth cohort before them. And that number just keeps going up and up and up and up. And it rises slightly as they age, too. So, what’s happening is people are not disaffiliating as they age as much as they are. Every successive birth cohort is becoming less religiously unaffiliated as the prior birth cohort. And that’s just moving through, moving through, moving through. So, what we’re going to see is, not a lot of new conversions as adults, but you’re seeing the shift. Their kids are going to be more religiously unaffiliated than the next generation kids, the next generation kids, and on and on and on, until, as we just talked about, there will be a plateau where there’s going to just be a level where it hits and stops and stays there for a long time. I don’t know where that number is, but it seems like we’re coming up on it, at some point.

Jacobsen: So, Hispanic Evangelicals in this group. Why are Hispanic Evangelicals so much more Republican than non-Evangelical Hispanics?

Burge: The reality is on social issues, Hispanic Evangelicals are more conservative on social issues than white Evangelicals are. For instance, 45% of Hispanic Evangelicals think abortion should be illegal for any reason. It is only 32% for white Evangelicals and gay marriage are just as likely to oppose gay marriage. Hispanic Evangelical versus white Evangelical, however, what’s interesting about Hispanic Evangelicals is they are more conservative than Hispanics as a whole. But they’re more liberal than white Evangelicals are. They live between two identities, let’s say, of the Evangelical piece and racial piece. Immigration, they’re actually pretty moderate. And, in terms of things like the Dream Act, they’re much more moderate than your white Evangelicals are. So, they’re stuck between two worlds. What identity pulls them to the right and what identity pulls them to the left, they stay in the middle. And they could be an important voting bloc in 2020 because they’re located in some key states. It might matter. States like Ohio, states like Texas, states like Florida, states like Arizona, all these states could matter in 2020 and they could sway the election depending on how they do change their vote dramatically in 2016.

Jacobsen: What is the most conservative cross-section of America, religiously and ethnically? So, for instance, you had white Evangelicals that are conservative, who have many issues. Hispanic Evangelicals are more conservative than them. And even though Evangelicals as a category are conservative, what other variables can one add into a sociological category or set of them to make like the most conservative group in the United States?

Burge: Yes, so, the most conservative group in America, is easily white Evangelicals across the board. They’re not as concerned on social issues. They’re more concerned with things like racial issues or even economic issues, things like taxation, government programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, things like that. But the most liberal group would be atheists. And I think it would be white atheists who have looked at that recently. But I would think that white atheists tend to be even more to the left of all of these, which aren’t large groups we’re talking about. Atheists are only 6% of the population and they’re predominantly white. So, you’re talking about non-white atheists, probably 2% of the population in total. But I would think that I know that atheists are most likely to identify as liberal on a spectrum from liberal to conservative more than any other group. For instance, black Protestants are primarily Democratic. Like 88% of black Protestants vote for Democrats, but they don’t identify as liberals as much. Atheists identify as Democrats, but also identify as liberal. So, it makes them more liberal than your black Protestants because black Protestants are somewhat conservative on things like views of the Bible, abortion, gay marriage, things like this. And while atheists are obviously way farther to the left on those issues. So, I think the two polar opposites are atheists. White atheists on one side and your white Evangelicals on the other side.

Jacobsen: Thank you so much for your time, as always, informative.

Burge: Always a pleasure, Scott.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Jon 34: Vetting Process for Secularist Interviews

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/07/15

Jonathan Engel, J.D. is the President of the Secular Humanist Society of New YorkHere we talk about conspiracy theories and the substantial denial of the scientific method in American society.

*Interview conducted February 22, 2021.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: This is ‘Ask John 726.’ So, when you’re getting invitations for interviews, as I sometimes do, how would you approach vetting those? In particular, how would you approach vetting invitations to various religious groups, conservative, liberal, moderates, etc., for your community that you’re a leader of – in New York for the secular humanists?

Jonathan Engel: Well, my default going in is that, generally speaking; I’m willing to talk to anybody. I like the idea of discussions. But I also get the sense – because I can hopefully, I think, have a certain amount of charm – that it’s good for people who are religious to talk to somebody like me. Because afterwards, maybe, they come away with saying, “Hey, I now know an atheist who is not a really bad guy. He seems like he’s OK.” So, generally speaking, that’s just general. Generally speaking, I am open to conversation. But, of course, I want to make sure that the people I’m talking to have some sort of positive agenda in mind. I mean in this day and age, I think and say these words, but in this day and age; you’ve got to worry about your own actual physical safety.

But barring that someone’s going to get so mad at me and now they know who I am and they’re going to come after me, which is a concern, I think the other point that you want to look at is: Are you really looking to have a conversation with me, or is this like I’m going to be the featured event in a stoning? If you want to talk to me, great. If you want to yell at me, well, I have a fairly large family. I don’t need to speak to you to get yelled at. My brothers and sisters do it all the time. So, that’s the way I approach it from a general viewpoint. Generally, I’m positive about such things. I welcome speaking to anybody. But yes, I do try to be a little bit wary, just to make sure of safety concerns.

And again, what are your intentions? Do you really want to just have a nice talk and dialogue, where we can discuss our differences and, maybe, even hopefully, some similarities? Or are you looking for a bogeyman so that your parishioners can play pop the bear or something? If that’s what you’re after, then I’m not interested. But I also reserve the rivals; sometimes, you go into it and you don’t know. So, I reserve the right, if I go into it, and if that’s what it seems like it’s turning into, then I can say, “You know what folks, I don’t think this is productive. Good night,” just turn them off.

Jacobsen: Where would you draw the line on having a conversation? What groups would you not have a conversation with?

Engel: Well, any group that is in any way involved in violence, promotes violence in any way, shape, or form. I can’t see where I could find common ground with a group like that. It’s hard to say. There was a group called the Westboro Baptist Church. These people were as wild as you can get. they would go to funerals during the AIDS crisis. They would go to funerals for people who are homosexual and with signs up that say, “God hates fags.” I can’t imagine having a conversation with anybody like that, even if they’re not directly violent; it’s just there’s just no way that we can even say two words to each other without it becoming a brawl.

So, I think there are some limits. However, I don’t necessarily know that those limits involve just how religious you are. I guess even if you were really fundamentalist religious; I think that we could still potentially have a conversation. So, I wouldn’t cut that off automatically, but I would be wary about it.

Jacobsen: Where have you been in a situation in which you have had to actually do that?

Engel: I do know that I have. I’ve been in some interesting situations. I was at a high school, a little over a year ago. I was invited to a high school where they had all sorts of people from different religions, and they wanted a secular person to engage with students and things like that. Everyone, my comfort level there was medium. But the kids were great. That was the best part of it. Some of the religious leaders looked at me slightly askance. But it didn’t really bother me. They were, again, basically polite. So, that was an interesting day. But I don’t think that I’ve ever been in one before where I had to say, “Okay, I’m cutting this off because it’s gotten so far out of hand.” I think if anybody has got questions; I think I can handle them/

As I have mentioned before, I’m a lawyer. I’ve gone into court and had judges asking me questions that were completely out of left field. That hadn’t been briefed and whatever. So, I can think pretty quickly on my feet. I believe what I believe. Part of it is the confidence that comes from that, too. My position, to be honest with you, I think it’s a correct one. So, I don’t think I’m likely to be too much thrown by questions. I’ve kind of heard them all by now. A lot of them come down to the “no atheists in foxholes” thing. “What are you going to do when you’re in the final hour of life?”, “What do you think when you’re just about to die, when you’re on the death bed?”, “What are you going to say? What are you going to do?” I think I’ve handled that kind of stuff enough to go into something like that and be reasonably confident that it’ll come out okay.

Jacobsen: Yes, I’ve gotten some interview requests. Ironically, the one that I permitted was when I was writing for some fashion organizations. This is true, Jon. I was writing for them. An Icelandic fashion designer who’s now got involved with fashion design with artificial intelligence – really fascinating stuff. They asked, “Can I interview you?” I said, “Sure.” So, somewhere in Iceland, this fashion company, there’s an interview with Scott Jacobsen for her publication there now. But it seems more appropriate to send a recommendation to someone else who’s appropriate. So, for instance, what I received recently was from New York, that’s another country and on the other side of the continent. So, for me, I figured I can email someone like yourself and say, “Here’s someone appropriate. Would you be interested?” I think, maybe, that might be a reasonable policy because someone who lives in that area in New York City, the greater New York area, New York State, they can speak to those cultural concerns within an American secular New York context better than a Canadian, in a small village, in British Columbia. It’s just different, but they’re similar.

Engel: I could definitely see that. I’ll tell you. I think I told you this story before about a couple of years ago at a small dinner party with my wife and invited by people who live in my building. A couple in my building and the other people, some of whom also live in my building, but nobody I really knew. When someone asked, “Well, I think these people all kind of knew each other. We were sort of the new people who had been invited.” Someone asked me what I do. And I throw out the usual. Then I said I’m also the president of the Secular Humanist Society of New York. A woman who was there said like sort of half out of her breath, but I certainly heard it.

“I hope you’re not one of those God-haters.”

 I played it right.

I said, “Well, to be honest with you,” I said, “I don’t hate anybody.”

I certainly try not to hate anybody. I don’t think hates a good thing to carry around with you, for a person to have. The rest of that evening, the issues of secularism or religion did not come up. But I chatted with this woman. After that, every time she goes through the building, she’s like, “Oh, hi, how are you?” So, I hope that I accomplished with that. Something that I would want to accomplish with an upstate church or something, which is just show, “Here, you’ve just met an atheist. A nice guy, likable,” maybe you even like him. So, in a way that sort of normalizes our viewpoint, that’s just a different viewpoint. You have your people who believe in the Holy Trinity. You have your people who believe in Allah. You have people who believe in Buddha. You have your people who do not believe in any of those particular things.

And to be considered just another one of those groups, and that you don’t really know a person, I think any reasonable person would say, “This person may be a Buddhist. This person may be a Hindu, but I don’t know them until I get to know them. I can’t place a judgment on whether or not I like them and think they’re a good person.” It’s the same thing all along trying to get people to feel the same way about an atheist. That “he’s an atheist, but I don’t know him. Could it be that I would like him if he’s a good person?” If you can get just a few people to alter that way of thinking, I think that’s accomplishing something.

Jacobsen: John, thank you so much for your time.

Engel: It’s always my pleasure, Scott. you take care now.

Jacobsen: Take care.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Professor Burge 23: Born-Again Catholic

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/07/14

Professor Ryan Burge‘s website states: “I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science as well as the Graduate Coordinator at Eastern Illinois University. I teach in a variety of areas, including American institutions, political behavior, and research methods. My research focuses largely on the intersection between religiosity and political behavior (especially in the American context). Previously, I have completed an appointment as a post doctoral research fellow at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute in Carbondale, Illinois. While there I was an adviser on issues of survey methodology and polling, as well as providing data collection and analysis.

I have published over a dozen articles in a number of well regarded peer reviewed journals including Politics & Religion, the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, the Review of Religious Research, the Journal of Religious Leadership, RepresentationPoliticsGroupsand Identities, the Journal of Communication and Religion, the Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture and the Social Science Computer Review. 

In addition, my research has been covered in a variety of media outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, NBC, Vox, 538, BuzzFeed News, Al-Jazeera, Christianity Today, Religion News Service, The Daily Mail, Deseret News, World Magazine, Relevant, and C-SPAN. I am the co-founder and frequent contributor to Religion in Public, a forum for scholars of religion and politics to make their work accessible to a more general audience.

Finally, I am a pastor in the American Baptist Church, having served my current church for over thirteen years.”

Here we talk about the Born-Again Catholics and the rest.

*Interview conducted October 12, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Something interesting is a 2019 CCS report looking at the number of Nones – atheists, agnostics, and nothing in particulars. The Silents were sitting at 15% Boomers at 25%, Gen X 38%, Millennials are 43%, Gen Z are 47%, identifying as Nones. Now, I’m less interested in the obvious trend. I’m more interested in the gap between the Silents and the Boomers, Boomers and Gen X, because those gaps are much bigger than between Gen X and Millennials, and Millennials and Gen Z identifying as Nones. Why those big gaps of 10% and 13% compared to 5% and 4%?

Professor Ryan Burge: Yes, I think there is a plateau happening. You can see a shadow of it in the data. There’s a hard cap on how big the Nones can get in America. But I think it is right about 40%, maybe a little bit higher, 45%. But I just think there’s a strong contingent in America that is not going to give up. But the other part of this, too, we have a lot of immigrants, the younger generations who are Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and those groups too. So, if you add those groups together, then you get close to 50%. So, what’s going to happen is your Nones can never go above that; unless you get a lot of hardcore religious people to give up their faith and become Nones. I think what you’re getting right now is the low-hanging fruit. That’s what the younger Boomers and Gen X are doing. You get a lot of those people becoming Nones. But once you get to that 40, 45% threshold, I think you get a lot of resistance.

And I don’t think those numbers are going to continue to climb into the ether. They’re not going to go like 55%. I just don’t see any future in America where, at least in my lifetime, 55% of Americans are Nones because there’s just this large and strong bloc of Americans who are going to be faithful people no matter what. About half of Americans have not just a little bit more. So, I think that’s why you’re seeing that increase is slow and the generations get younger because you’re bumping up against that ceiling that’s going to be there for a long, long time.

Jacobsen: Within Catholic news or Catholic circles, there’s been a literal crisis of faith for many. Not in traditional terms, it is in real terms based on what they sincerely believe, the idea of the particular incantations during baptism being wrong for prior generations, for decades, even using the wrong words and, therefore, their baptisms becoming illegitimate in the eyes of the Catholic Church. In other words, they’re going to hell, not heaven, in their theology. Mike Pence had another situation, in which October 7th, was talking about himself as self-describing as a Born-Again Catholic. As Jerry Seinfeld would say, “What’s the deal with that?” Why is that so problematic when there is an increasing sentiment among conservative Catholics of being “devout”?

Burge: Yes, so, the Catholics, I call it the Evangelicalization of all of Christianity. The whole born again idea was an Evangelical idea rooted in Evangelical culture, Evangelical theology, Evangelical history. But I think other groups have begun to – I don’t want you to co-opt it – borrow that language. When they talk about their own faith tradition. I think for some Catholics, I don’t even look at Evangelicals and say Evangelicals are devout. They’re serious about their faith. And I’m a Catholic. I’m serious about my faith too, where a lot of people are just cultural Catholics. They’re Catholic by default. They want to say to people, “I’m Catholic. I go to Mass. I believe in the doctrines. I practice a certain lifestyle.” So, they take on that Evangelical moniker because it is a way to differentiate themselves from just the casual Catholics they see around. So, what we’re seeing is more and more people now, almost 40% of Catholics are saying they’re born again, which is crazy in some surveys.

It just doesn’t make any theological sense. And even here is the one that I look at, I saw that almost 20% of Catholics said they were born again or Evangelical in 2016. So, the numbers are increasing when it comes to these “Born-Again Catholics.” I think for Mike Pence as a way for him to say, “I like you. I know I’m Catholic, but I’m one of you. So, you don’t see me as being different or other. We’re fighting for the same causes and playing on the same team.” And I think we’re seeing more and more of that in Catholicism, this divergence between the Evangelical Catholics and the non-Evangelical Catholics. I think it poses a real problem for a church because they can’t split like many churches do. They have to fight out their differences and try to keep it all together.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Jon 33: Scientific Method Rejection and Conspiratorialism

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/07/13

Jonathan Engel, J.D. is the President of the Secular Humanist Society of New YorkHere we talk about conspiracy theories and the substantial denial of the scientific method in American society.

*Interview conducted February 1, 2021.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, Canada has its own share of conspiracy theories, its own sources of spreading it. A lot of them have a lot of overlap with the United States. I’m not just talking about Bigfoot or Yeti. For the United States, those that were on the fringe entered a bit of the mainstream, got a bit of steam, impacted politics, even ended up in the deaths and murders of people. So, conspiracy theories, irrationalism, have real consequences on people’s lives. The United States, there is more freedom of thought than anywhere else in the world, by far.

So, there’s going to be a lot fewer boundaries in terms of a lot of positive things about free thought, but also a lot of the bad things about free thought in terms of the following: you can piece together any hodgepodge of materials cognitively and come up with weird theories and, hence, can become conspiracy theories. So, what are the origins of QAnon? How is this related to standard religions, as you define them in the United States, as people are taught in church and mosque and synagogue?

Engel: Well, I was curious when we watched a film, which, of course, I’ve watched so much of what happens at the Capitol on January 6. We see that there were, of course, people out there with their Trump flags, etc., and all sorts of different flags. But included, you had people, a lot of people wearing QAnon symbols and carrying QAnon banners. You also had people with banners, etc., talking about Christianity. We’re hearing the name of Jesus. I saw a film of the guy who has become known as the QAnon Shaman. Anyway, the guy with the horns and then with the fur pelts.

And the thing is he and a bunch of others of these mob mobsters, these thugs went into the Senate chamber and immediately started off with a prayer that ‘we are here in the name of Jesus Christ.’ But it’s interesting, you don’t see too many people making that connection. Because you look at QAnon which started, maybe, five years ago. It started with this idea that there was a pizza parlour in Washington D.C., where in the basement, Democrats and liberals and a worldwide conspiracy of globalists were abusing, sexually abusing, and murdering children, eating them, cannibalism, drinking their blood. Hillary Clinton, how could anybody in the world possibly believe that?

But people did. By the way, that particular pizza parlour is just a little offside the building it’s located in doesn’t have a basement. But of course, it’s in the basement where all this stuff is happening. Some died right after, in 2016, I think about the height of that insanity. Some guy drove to North Carolina to this pizza parlour with a rifle and shot into the ceiling and said, “Show me where the kids are being held.” Of course, he’s in prison now. You can almost feel bad for him because he was brainwashed. Obviously, he was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, to begin with. But you think about it, they said, “Well, how can people possibly be susceptible to believing something so out there, so insane?”

And of course, it goes without saying, so evidence-free. What I think part of the answer is, “Well, where do people learn to believe in something that they have no evidence for?” My answer to that is in church, in the synagogue, in the temple, in the mosque, because that’s where they’re taught that it is not only okay to believe in something with no evidence, but it’s a sign of virtue.

“Yes, you’re a great believer. You have faith.”

You hear a choir and go, “Oh, that’s right.”  

“So, you are. Aren’t you a good person? You’re a God-fearing person. That’s a good thing, right?”

Although, I always thought if God is as merciful and just as they say: Why should anybody be afraid?

But in any event, that’s where they learn the idea. I don’t see this outside of real secular circles in this country. I don’t see that being acknowledged that the problem starts there. That if anybody’s going to believe this craziness; that they become susceptible to believing things that are evidence-free, things that are really fantastical and evidence-free. They believe it. They’re taught from a very young age by religion that that’s a virtue. That it’s not only OK, but it’s a virtue to believe in such things. So, we shouldn’t be surprised that when they get older that they’re susceptible to believing things that are evidence-free, like ‘Donald Trump really won this election’ and ‘there’s widespread voter fraud.’

“Show me the evidence,” but that’s what I say; of course, they don’t have any. It doesn’t make any sense. Rudy Giuliani can go ahead and say, “I’ve got boxes full of evidence. But if he had them, why didn’t he show them to the courts that throw them out of court for the fact that he wasn’t producing any evidence? So, that connection in this country, that religious connection, of believing in things for which you have no evidence. As I said, it is not only okay, but a virtue. I think to me this needs a sociological standpoint. We should be investigating and thinking about, “Why are we susceptible to that?”

And I think that answer points to religion, but a religion in this country is so sacrosanct that very few people, not even liberal commentators, are willing to even broach that subject and talk about it. But I think, until we do, we’re in trouble because we’ve seen how these conspiracy theories do not lead anywhere good.

Jacobsen: What’s the percent of people in the United States who are, more or less, detached from a lot of the real world, detached from real information, so they can make valid judgments? If they don’t have accurate information, they can’t make valid judgments. I’m assuming an ability to make a rational discourse, even with the evidence. But just assuming that ability to rational discourse for them, individually, why is there so much disinformation around sufficing to make a large cohort of people believe en masse online?

Engel: Well, it’s interesting. When Trump was impeached for the first time, a lot of people were talking, making comparisons, and thinking about how this was similar to or different from the Nixon situation where he was actually impeached. But he resigned. He was headed toward impeachment. It’s pretty clear history believes they send him into impeachment, then quite possibly, or even probably, removal. I took offence to one of the things. That’s different today than back then; back then, if you got your news from TV, it was essentially ABC, CBS, and NBC News. They all played it pretty straight. They were not ideologically inclined to watch people, trusted Walter Cronkite with the news.

They did play it pretty straight. But today, of course, as we all know, there are many people who live within Fox News, Breitbart, Newsmax, etc., which is their bubble. That’s all they hear when they turn on their news at night. They’re looking at Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham. That’s a lot different than Walter Cronkite. So, if you want to believe in these types of things, and if you are susceptible to it, it is not that hard to live within a bubble. You don’t go anywhere else. That’s where you get your news from, “I watch Sean Hannity. I go online to Breitbart. That’s where I get my news.”

So, we’re in that situation, which is very perilous for us. I do believe because people who are, again, susceptible to magical thinking almost from birth with their indoctrination into religion, then they’re susceptible to magical thinking. Then they go into an information bubble that feeds them only extreme rightwing talking points. They’re already susceptible to believing in things that have no evidence or etc. This is what you wind up with. You wind up with a whole bunch of QAnon believers. Although, I do think one thing that’s a little help is how these people really believed that Trump had some sort of magical power and that there’s no way that Biden was going to be inaugurated.

I read a few people. QAnon believers saying things like, “I was duped, wrong the whole time.” Here’s a hint. You were. But they were wrong the whole time. “I believe,” but Joe Biden gets inaugurated and right up until the moment he said “so help me God,” which, by the way, he doesn’t have to say to be inaugurated. But that’s another issue. But right up until the point, you said it, “I believe that something was going to happen, literally believe that police are going to swoop down and arrest them before he can take the oath of office and carry them away.” When it didn’t happen, some of them actually were like, “Did I?,” a little self-reflection. But it’s the type of thing that happens with the end of the world cults.

The world will end on this day. The day comes and goes, it doesn’t end. There are some people in the cults who say, “I was wrong. How did I believe this?” But there are others who will continue to press even further on, “Oh, what happened was…”, as if they have an explanation. “It didn’t end that day because we got a calculation wrong. But now, we know what the real calculation is and people who will hold on to it.” I think that’s what we’re seeing now in this country. We’re seeing some former QAnon believers realizing that; maybe, this was wrong all along. But we have a lot of others who were simply, as they say, “doubling down” this, that they’re not open to the cognitive dissonance of finding out that something they believed in so strongly was a bunch of bull is too much for them.

And so instead of acknowledging that and dealing with that dissonance, they’re just saying, “No, no, no, no, no, this is still right. It didn’t happen this way because…” and they just go further into it. But again, to circle back a little bit, I think that the religious, the extremely religious, practices in this country make people susceptible to believing in things that are fantastical and have no evidence. Until we can fight us – humanity, not just this country, but the whole world can fight its – way out of that, we’re going to have these types of outbreaks of completely irrational thinking.

Jacobsen: How have you been combating this in your tenure as the president of the Secular Society of New York? There are the skeptic communities, the humanist communities, the secular humanist communities, and the religious humanist communities. But how are you combating this in New York, which is a skeptic Golden State within a secular humanist framework in particular?

Engel: It’s interesting. Politically speaking, secularists don’t have a lot of power. There’s a lot of talk among us. I was just at an event with a bunch of other humanists in the New York area, some from New Jersey, some from Connecticut, etc. There’s a lot of talk about “How do we combat this?”, and also about the idea of us as a political bloc. There’s an old, old joke that organizing atheists is like herding cats. We’re free thinkers and, therefore, we’re not likely to be in some pigeonhole and march in lockstep together, which is what you need for political power in some ways. So, there’s a lot of talk about that.

One of the things we’re doing is we’re supporting the Congressional Freethought Caucus with donations to their members, etc. It’s only 13 members so far, but we’re hoping there’ll be more. Because one of the things, one of the tenets, is just the various types. One of their tenets is that government action should be based on evidence, evidence-based and not on dogma. I think if we can get that; the scientific method is so important. I wrote an essay on this last week or something about how we talk about science denial in this country. We largely talk about the denial of hard science like climate change.

But I think one of the real problems is not just the denial of hard science, but the denial of the scientific method. The scientific method, which says, “You have a hypothesis. You’re testing. You actually try to prove it wrong, because the only way you can know if it’s right, is that you’ve tried to prove it wrong and you couldn’t. We don’t believe things without proof and evidence.” So, I think one of the ways we try to fight with that is for people to let them know “we’re here”; “we’re a bloc looking to get our votes,” but also talking about one of our primary beliefs in our belief system: The scientific method.

Then saying, “Listen, government decisions should be based on good science, and that’s it.” So, you test. You may have a hypothesis. You try it out somewhere. You see if it works, even as much as you might believe that this is the thing, “I’m sure of it. I feel it in my gut.” If the evidence shows you that it doesn’t work, then you say, “I was wrong. It didn’t work. We have to try something different.” So, what we try to do is make that idea more widely known and talk about it, and also put it on newsletters, also in our letters to our elected representatives, “We as a bloc expect you, no matter what your personal religious beliefs are, when it comes to acting on behalf of the community in your governmental jobs, we expect you to abide by science and the scientific method, and to have policies that reflect good evidence and not preconceived beliefs.”

So, that’s one of the ways we do that. Another thing is just trying to be open about who you are. So, people can understand that it’s acceptable to not have supernatural beliefs. That the person next door could be me. He’s a nice guy who will help you with this or help you carry your packages and whatever, but has no supernatural beliefs. Hopefully, that could lead a few people to start questioning their own; I can only hope. But that’s how we roll about. We try to live a life based on reason and evidence and try to do that publicly, so that people, other people, can, hopefully, understand that that’s possible. You can live a very good life without believing in things for which you have no evidence and that really aren’t there.

Jacobsen: Jon, as always, thank you so much.

Engel: It’s my pleasure, as always Scott. Listen, you take care of yourself.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Professor Burge 22: Skin Tone, Racialism, and ‘Bible Banning’

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/07/12

Professor Ryan Burge‘s website states: “I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science as well as the Graduate Coordinator at Eastern Illinois University. I teach in a variety of areas, including American institutions, political behavior, and research methods. My research focuses largely on the intersection between religiosity and political behavior (especially in the American context). Previously, I have completed an appointment as a post doctoral research fellow at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute in Carbondale, Illinois. While there I was an adviser on issues of survey methodology and polling, as well as providing data collection and analysis.

I have published over a dozen articles in a number of well regarded peer reviewed journals including Politics & Religion, the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, the Review of Religious Research, the Journal of Religious Leadership, RepresentationPoliticsGroupsand Identities, the Journal of Communication and Religion, the Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture and the Social Science Computer Review. 

In addition, my research has been covered in a variety of media outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, NBC, Vox, 538, BuzzFeed News, Al-Jazeera, Christianity Today, Religion News Service, The Daily Mail, Deseret News, World Magazine, Relevant, and C-SPAN. I am the co-founder and frequent contributor to Religion in Public, a forum for scholars of religion and politics to make their work accessible to a more general audience.

Finally, I am a pastor in the American Baptist Church, having served my current church for over thirteen years.”

Here we talk about the skin tone, racialism, and religious freedom issues in a religiously diversifying country.

*Interview conducted October 12, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: When talking to biologists or reading of them, they’ll talk about species. They will not talk about race. But if you look at sociological conversations, they’ll talk about ethnicities. So, this is a folk, psychological, sociological reasoning coming out to the public in terms of how they’re identifying white, black, Hispanic, etc. So, when individuals in America are thinking of the category “white,” category “black,” etc., how are they identifying this? Is it just skin tone, then the assumption follows? How is this being reasoned through for most Americans?

Professor Ryan Burge: I would think it is the skin tone. I think Americans are blunt instruments. So, when they see someone, we go, “They look like me.” But also, I think, unfortunately, it goes down to like how they dress, how they talk, how they carry themselves. All those things tie into identifying racial identity. But I also think it is just, there’s this thing in American politics, especially Republicans. There’s a lot they talk about a real America, fake America, and rural America. But rural America, like small towns and villages across the middle part of the country, that don’t get a lot of play on the media, and fake America is like New York City and Philadelphia and Chicago and Los Angeles, California. There is a special divide in America.

And I think when you think of white, what they mean by “white” is “real America,” which means small-town values, Second Amendment rights, religion. It is about racial identity. It is about how they see the world. A lot of Americans just want to be around people who share their world, which makes sense to me. I believe that has to do, by the way, with how you see a lot of people who are comfortable with a more diverse climate moving to a more and more diverse climate, moving to a big city with racial diversity. People who are just comfortable and what they’re comfortable with, staying in small towns across America. And that’s what they’re comfortable with, right or wrong. So, I think it is more about “people like me.” People are good at figuring out who “people like me” are, who “share my values.” So, they just want to be around people who share their own values.

Jacobsen: So, 22% of Americans believe that a Democrat, presumably president, would ban the Bible. And 3, approximately, out of 10 Christians in America or 3 out of 10 believe that Christians’ religious freedoms are under a similar or the same circumstance. Why is this showing up in the data?

Burge: I think it is a totem pole more than anything else. It represents something. In that, I think it represents something that is not actual. I don’t think that many Republicans believe that Democrats are going to come in their House and scoop up their Bibles or put barricades on the church door. I think what they mean is that if a Democrat gets elected, they feel like they’re going to have less religious freedom and they’re going to be able to not do everything they’re used to doing. Okay, I think that’s what it is about. It is about a battle over ideas for the actuality and the idea that the Republican Party is the party of white Christians and the Democratic Party is the party of the Nones, the others, and, oftentimes, the non-white Christians.

And so, Republican politicians have been good about saying, “If you elect a Democrat, you’re going to have less religious freedom. You’re not going to read a Bible in public school, for instance, or have prayer in public school all the time. I think it is more about a symbol than it is about reality. I don’t think many Christians believe that Democrats are going to lock them up or whatever. I think what they believe is they’re going to have less freedom to practice their religion. And religious freedom is a big, big area of conflict in American politics today, things like in a Catholic school via a teacher coming out as LGBT or “do I have to make a cake for an LGBT couple if I don’t approve of that lifestyle?” These actually are really, difficult things to pass through. A difficult debate to have in a country with a lot of religious diversity.

And so, I think that the Bible thing is part of that bigger constellation of issues around religious liberty, where white Christians would have a lot of religious liberty to basically discriminate against whoever they want discriminated against. While most Americans are saying, “Yes, we believe in religious freedom, but you can’t treat other people poorly because of that.” And where those two things rub up against each other is where the conflict exists, I think those questions just happen at this larger idea about religious freedom versus pluralism and diversity.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Jon 32: To be Witnessed to Witness Change

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/07/09

Jonathan Engel, J.D. is the President of the Secular Humanist Society of New YorkHere we talk about the need for the secular to stand up (and out).

*Interview conducted January 25, 2021.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, we had the inauguration with newly elected and appointed, or newly elected and put into a formal place, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Now, the language is different than the language of former President Trump. Yet the current language, especially the inauguration, has more reference still to a God in a proposed secular state or country, the United States. What are some of your concerns, even still with the inauguration of Joe Biden as a devout Catholic, making references to God in his speeches now?

Jonathan Engel: Well, it is concerning. First of all, let’s start with the fact, it’s a great sigh of relief when Joe Biden was inaugurated, he, I think, is a decent person. I think he’s reasonably smart. He’s surrounded himself with good people and considering where we were; I do think that if Donald Trump had somehow managed to stay president for another four years, then it could have been, seriously, the end of American democracy. So, I’m thrilled with Joe Biden like many Americans. But, yes, the references to God all over the place at the inauguration. It made me feel uncomfortable. I wish there would be some sort of reference, at least to the separation of church and state, and the right of secular people to be free from religious influence.

I know that he is a very religious person. But secular people in this country have rights, too. It’s not right that people like me should watch the inauguration with great pride in so many ways that we’ve overcome somehow, at least, for now, four years of horror. But I shouldn’t be meant to feel in any way unwelcome. Nobody should be meant to feel unwelcome at our country’s inauguration. This is an inauguration that’s supposed to be for everybody and the constant mentions of God. I don’t think from Biden’s part that he was intentionally trying to be exclusive or anything like that. I just think he probably didn’t think of it, which is an issue for secular people. There are a lot of secular people in this country.

There’s almost certainly more secular people in the United States than there are Jews, Muslims and Hindus put together. But I know that Biden would be careful to fight for the rights of Jews and Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists. Many members of the Democratic coalition are sure he would stand up for black people and Asian people and LGBTQ people and First Nations people. But what about us? And I think part of the answer to that is something I’ve been talking about with a lot of my secular friends, which is our need to be more open and forthright and to be more visible. I liken that in some ways to the gay rights movement where gay people, in council, they’d became visible. They were never going to get their rights without visibility.

In the Civil Rights era with black people advocating for rights and for the gay rights era, where gay people were advocating for rights, there were always others who probably meant well. But who said to them, “Go slowly, you don’t want to rock the boat too much. There are allies that we have in the white community or the straight community, depending on what we’re talking about, who are uncomfortable with militant agitation,” and stuff like that. The truth of the matter is until you stand up and come out, say who you are, and demand your rights; you’re just not going to get them. So, while many of us are very reluctant to press Biden at this point to make statements in favor of the rights of secular people, we should do it. Because he’s got so much stuff to do to try to save this country from ruin. On the other hand, I think that’s when we’re going to get that acknowledgement or our seat at the table – if we stand up for who we are and what we believe.

Jacobsen: Do you think that there’s a certain amplification effect based on the sounds of many secular people? So, maybe, one out of five secular people speak out and every one of three religious people speak out, as a hypothetical. Then, even though, there’s a growing number of secular people in the United States. The number of Christians who speak out and demand the rights more forcefully with more finances have much more of an amplification per capita because more people are active and more people are speaking for their particular religious freedoms than secular people in the United States.

Engel: Yes, absolutely, one of the things that I’ve been talking about, again, with my secular friends here in New York is that we’ve probably had a discussion with a bunch of people, recently, of Islam. We were talking about how someone brought up as anybody ever in a social situation felt uncomfortable, either because somebody said something about your secularism or somebody, or you were put into a position, “Okay, everybody, let’s pray.” Pretty much everybody in the group said, “Yes, that’s happened to me, at least once.” One guy that I know, a secular friend who has a hobby of cars, like vintage cars and stuff, he belongs to the Vintage Car Association and went to a meeting with like a national meeting of vintage car lovers.

When they started, the leader of the group said, “Okay, we’ll let start with a prayer.” He felt very uncomfortable about it. He said something to somebody. It was an uncomfortable situation. I understand that. I’ve had that happen to me, too, where I mentioned that I was a secular humanist.

“You’re an atheist…”

“…Oh my, you’re an atheist…”

“…You’re what?”

This assumption that I’m a horrible person. So, it’s difficult to speak out. I don’t know why the word “atheism” or “atheist” is so frightening and negatively weighted for so many people. To many, it means “bad person.” Logically, why should that be a bad person? Well, Of course, it shouldn’t happen in mind, logically; it makes no sense. But yes, it does inhibit us. So, since we are inhibited from speaking out for our mates, I think that it does hurt us from achieving the things that we want to achieve from a secular standpoint.

There are a lot of things I would like to achieve in our society, which have nothing to do with secularism or religion. But other things, I’d like to be in a country in which they observe the separation of church and state, especially in the government, very strictly; in which there’s an understanding that not everybody is religious, therefore, when we have rituals like an inauguration, it should be inclusive of people like me. I got to tell you. As much as I felt a lot of good feelings about this inauguration, I also felt a little bit like the outsider looking in because of all the mentions of God. Which every day, anything we’re talking about, when anybody mentions God, they’re always talking about their own. But it’s not right. It shows that we’ve got work to do.

Jacobsen: John, thanks so much for your time, as always.

Engel: Ok, Scott, listen take care, make sure you keep getting some sleep. [Ed. This is a common comment from friends – ‘get some sleep and stop working so much.’ To all of them, I love you – much, and noted.]

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Professor Burge 21: The Death Penalty and the Decline of a Majority

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/07/08

Professor Ryan Burge‘s website states: “I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science as well as the Graduate Coordinator at Eastern Illinois University. I teach in a variety of areas, including American institutions, political behavior, and research methods. My research focuses largely on the intersection between religiosity and political behavior (especially in the American context). Previously, I have completed an appointment as a post doctoral research fellow at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute in Carbondale, Illinois. While there I was an adviser on issues of survey methodology and polling, as well as providing data collection and analysis.

I have published over a dozen articles in a number of well regarded peer reviewed journals including Politics & Religion, the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, the Review of Religious Research, the Journal of Religious Leadership, RepresentationPoliticsGroupsand Identities, the Journal of Communication and Religion, the Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture and the Social Science Computer Review. 

In addition, my research has been covered in a variety of media outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, NBC, Vox, 538, BuzzFeed News, Al-Jazeera, Christianity Today, Religion News Service, The Daily Mail, Deseret News, World Magazine, Relevant, and C-SPAN. I am the co-founder and frequent contributor to Religion in Public, a forum for scholars of religion and politics to make their work accessible to a more general audience.

Finally, I am a pastor in the American Baptist Church, having served my current church for over thirteen years.”

Here we talk about the death penalty, declining numbers, immigration, and identity.

*Interview conducted October 12, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, 40% of Catholics oppose the death penalty since the late 80s, 90s. That’s up 25%. Is the 25% up out of a total or 25% higher than the prior number?

Professor Ryan Burge: So in the end, around a quarter of Catholic supporters were opposed to the death penalty in 1990. So, that means 75% were in favor. And now by 2018, it is 40% oppose and 60% favor of the death penalty. That’s actually a pretty significant shift because they’re getting close to like 50/50. I think the death penalty is one of the most interesting aspects of American religion or politics, because it used to be an issue where if you’re a conservative, you were opposed to the death penalty. But now I think with the advent of DNA evidence, it is the things like the Innocence Project, where if you were wrongly accused of crimes and put in prison for a long time, I think you are realizing a lot of people in America are wrongly accused and wrongly jailed. And that’s giving people a lot more hesitation when it comes to the death penalty, realizing they have probably killed innocent people before.

Now, it is still an issue where most Americans do favour the death penalty. But it is an issue that’s changed, which I think it’ll be interesting to monitor that in 10, 15, 20 years as we hear more stories about this. If people of faith especially, and I think Catholics, are interested because they believe in what’s called a Consistent Ethic of Life, which means that life should be protected at the beginning, the middle, and the end; which means they’re opposed to abortion, but, they’re also opposed to the death penalty. So, if they believe the teachings of the church, they should be opposed to the death penalty as much as, if not more than, they’re opposed to abortion, which we actually don’t see. So, if you see the Catholic teachings, they are amongst Catholics going forward.

Jacobsen: Why do 55% of white Evangelicals in November of 2019 think there should be a reduction in legal immigration by 50%, with half of white Catholics agreeing with the same proposal? And atheists only sitting at 13%, agnostics at 18%, and Jewish peoples and Buddhist people sitting at 23% and 24%, respectively. What’s the reasoning there? How do ethnic and religious identities coincide there?

Burge: OK, so, there are two ways to look at this. One is that it is about conservative politics and conservative politics or anti-democratic across the board, both legal and illegal. There’s been a lot of discussion in America that immigrants are taking jobs away from Americans, are driving down wages for Americans, especially unskilled labour, things like factories. But I think it is pretty hard to ignore the fact that a lot of white Christians are xenophobic and potentially racist. They just don’t like America becoming less white. I think one of the important narratives in American politics is that America is becoming less and less white every year and less and less Christian every year. We’re up to the point now where in probably the next two or three years, less than half of Americans are going to be white Christians when we used to be a country of 75% or 80% white Christian.

So I think the reality is a lot of white Christians are scared about that future and they think if they stop immigration, it will slow that decline of white Christians and will allow white Christians to keep the majority in America, keep the power in America. So, that’s what Trump was about. Make America great again is what harkening back to a time of white Christians, held a lot of sway in American politics. And they don’t as much anymore. They’re losing power every year. So, I think a lot of this is tied up with power politics and realizing at some point they’re not getting a majority. They’re not going to run the country as they used to. And they want to keep it as long as they can. So, yes, that’s the reality, which is that white Christians did not want to see brown faces in their country.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Jon 31: Capitol Jacquerie

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/07/08

Jonathan Engel, J.D. is the President of the Secular Humanist Society of New YorkHere we talk about the attack on Capitol Hill.  

*Interview conducted January 11, 2021.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: It has been a few weeks since our last session. There have been some drastic events, some expected events. Most drastic was January 6th. There was more or less an insurrection or a rampage against and in Capitol Hill by members of a Trump supporting group, squad. So, what seems to be the case around the instigation for all of this? Why didn’t Trump join them, even though he said he would join them?

Jonathan Engel: A couple of things. I’ll answer the second question first. Why didn’t Trump join them when he said he was going to join them? He is a coward. I think he’s a very, disturbed human being. And he is someone who is a malignant narcissist. And I worked for years at the New York State Office of Mental Health. And I’m not a mental health professional, but I learned enough to know that personality disorders are extremely difficult to treat. And he is one of the most severe and malignant people, (malignant) narcissistic personality disorder. So, not only is he a narcissist; he is also a sadist. He likes seeing violence. He likes his people beating them up. And if you don’t believe me, all you have to do is hear a set of clips from his rallies talking about “beating this guy up” and “throw them out” and “don’t be too nice” and all the rest of that thing. So, you have that personality disorder. And again, he likes the violence, but he’s a coward. He would never personally, actually, talks a big game, but he would never actually lead them in that march. That was never going to happen.

But as to the lead up to this, it is something that is absolutely astonishing to me as well as makes me nauseous. Is that the entire objection that is now being voiced by millions of Americans, by hundreds of members of the United States Congress, are all based on his disturbed personality? There’s never been any evidence or proof that there was any problem with this election. Not a single iota that’s mentioned. But Trump says that, they believe it; and that’s it. It is one of the things that as a secular humanist that bothers me so much about this. And there’s so many. But one of them is the idea that we should be living in some evidence free world where “I believe” and “I think” and “I feel,” “in my opinion,” substitutes for actually gathering evidence and presenting that evidence in a reasoned way. So, you had that Trump, remember this too; Trump has never lost at anything that he didn’t say was fixed against him. In 2016, the Iowa caucus was the first Republican primary. He lost to Ted Cruz. And immediately after, Ted Cruz ‘stole’ it. ‘You stole it from me.’ When? Before the election against Hillary Clinton in 2016, Trump said if it is rigged, it is rigged against me. He was hedging his bets so if he lost; he just said, ‘That’s why I lost.’ This is a sick man. You can’t just say, “I lost, it happens.”

And then, of course, even after the 2016 election, he was saying, “We lost the popular vote.” ‘The only reason I lost, the vote was rigged. And then before this election, same thing happened. The only way I can lose, if it is fixed and rigged against me. So, we’re talking about an evidence free person with a personality disorder, but his followers have become conditioned to living in an evidence free conspiracy theory world. And some people bought it. But that Trump has a damaged personality, I know. And he has followers. Yes, it is depressing.

But one of the worst is that; you have people in Congress saying, “Yes, I’m going to vote against certifying this election.” People like Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz and Kevin McCarthy: Don’t tell me that they don’t know that this was all a joke. It is the cynicism of voting to not certify this election. Because you think it can somehow benefit you down the road politically, or maybe, ‘Trump supporters will support me for president in 2024,’ when there’s no evidence supporting this, is detestable. Certainly, there’s a lot of talk now. What’s going to be done? I mean about the people who voted to contest the election without having any evidence or proof, etc. What is going to be done with these people? Remember this thing about counting the electoral votes on January 6th? I saw Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who has been in the Senate for quite some time now. She was saying someone asked her in previous years, when you every four years we’ve experienced this, the counting of electoral votes. What was that like? And Klobuchar replied, ‘I don’t know. I don’t even remember.’ It took 20 minutes. It was nothing – it seems – at the ministerial level, clerical. It is counting the electoral votes, and just confirming nothing. It is supposed to happen here, but it didn’t. So, this is where we are in uncharted territory right now, and whether pieces should be going to be put back together again does remain to be seen.

Jacobsen: Do you think there’s going to be another violent act, large scale event, similar to what we saw on Capitol Hill, whether on Capitol Hill or off in another part of the country? Or do you think this will merely be a manner of online virulent conversation and ranting? So, more of an online thing rather than offline thing.

Engel: Boy, that’s right. I don’t know which is an easy answer, but I think part of me said that I’m just questioning myself. Because my initial reaction when you ask the question will be to say, “I don’t think this is going to happen again.” For a number of reasons, I think people are repulsed by this. I think there are some repercussions that are already happening. I think something like close to 100 people have already been arrested. Again, these geniuses not wearing masks. Not only are they spreading Covid, they’re also saying, “Hi, FBI, here I am, come and get me.” So, I’m hoping; that’s the hopeful part of me.

But then I look and say, “Man, I never would have guessed that this would happen in the first place. And then, every state is going to have a heightened security for the next couple of weeks around important state buildings, around all federal buildings, so you’d better be prepared. There was not an excuse for the lack of preparation on January 6th. There’s certainly no excuse for any lack of preparation over the next week or so. And it all culminates, of course, in the inauguration of Biden. And think about it, who’s going to be there? Because Pence saying he’s going to be there. Now, of course, Trump is not going to be there. He will be wobbling around the golf course somewhere, I assume. But you’re going to have Biden and Harris, the incoming president, the vice president. You’re going to have Pence. McConnell will be there. McCarthy will probably show his ugly face [Laughing], is going to be there. Chuck Schumer is going to be there. President Clinton is going to be there. President Bush is going to be there. President Obama is going to be there. I don’t know if President Carter is well enough to travel there, but, this is essentially like a real test of where we’re going forward and if this inauguration is going to go off the way it is supposed to. If I had to guess, I would say that it is because I think that the people who are organizing, and certainly those from the incoming Biden administration, know the importance of this. This isn’t just a regular inauguration. This is showing the world that we’re going to reckon with this and move forward as the United States of America, as a democracy, as a constitutional republic. That is so essential. And I think that people understand that. I’d have to think the Secret Service understands that. And so, they’re going to do what it takes to make sure that this goes off, and it goes off safely.

Because if it doesn’t. Boy, oh, boy, I don’t want to think about the ramifications of if it doesn’t, the future of this country. So, I’m going forward saying, “Yes, this is going to go off and it is going to happen and it is going to be what it should be.” I think that that’s going to be the case again, because the ramifications of not being the case are frightening to contemplate. And by the way, if for some reason these lunatics were able to – at noon on January 20th – disrupt the inauguration, so that Biden couldn’t be inaugurated: Who is the president? Nancy Pelosi. It is a terrible thing, right? But that’s all it is, because Trump will not be president at noon on January 20th, no matter what happens. Pence will no longer be vice president. If he doesn’t inaugurate a new one, then you go down the chain and the third person in line for the presidency is the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. I don’t think that’s what the Trump aides particularly want. But these people are not famous for their deep thinking. But I would say, “Yes, I think it is going to go on as it should.” And then hopefully, we will slowly but surely start to get our way back to some sanity.”

Jacobsen: John, thank you as always.

Engel: Ok, Scott, thank you much. And I’ll speak to you in a week and see what I’m saying then.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Jon 30: Secular Humanism, Accountability, and the Scientific Method

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/07/07

Jonathan Engel, J.D. is the President of the Secular Humanist Society of New YorkHere we talk about the cusp between administrations.

*Interview conducted January 18, 2021.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Ok. Let’s consider this a cusp interview between one administration and another. What would you have to say about the country coming together in the midst of its massive levels of separation on pretty much every metric?

Jonathan Engel: Well, it’s interesting. There are a number of people who are pointing out that you can’t have unity without, first, accountability, and that’s important. But I also think as a humanist, and this is something that’s important to me. I also think that there has to be some concept of the common good. One of the things that I have seen that has been most distressing, again, is this whole idea that we’re all in this for ourselves, every person for themselves. And I understand that there’s sort of a cultural history of that in this country, in the United States, with the ironic concepts of rugged individualism, etc. But there are certain things that just require community involvement and require looking at the good of everybody. I am sure that there are other countries where wearing a mask to prevent the spread of Covid has been at times contentious.

But this country has been saying it’s been really contentious, etc. And why would that be? And it’s one of the things as a humanist that’s frustrating to me, which is: Listen, if I knew you can do a blood test to tell me tomorrow that I knew that I was immune to Covid, but that I could still pass it. I would like to think that I would still wear a mask, even though I couldn’t get it. But I would, “But I’m going to wear a mask because I have to protect the people around me.” And just too many Americans don’t think this way. By the way, here in New York City, which has done better with the virus, probably than many other places in the United States. When I go outside, I wear a mask and pretty much everybody’s wearing a mask. But there are lots of parts of this country where that’s not the case, where people say, “I don’t want to,” and that’s it.

And for those people in that situation, one of the things as a humanist that distresses me the most is that lack of the feeling of the common good. Lack of saying, “Well, I don’t want to wear a mask. I don’t really think I need it, but I don’t want to potentially hurt somebody else. Because we’re all in this together. I don’t want to hurt anyone. I just don’t want my actions to hurt anybody else,” as opposed to, “Well, I like my actions. I’m going to take them. And if they hurt you, too bad.” That is something I find very distressing. Again, as a humanist.

Jacobsen: What do you make of the amount of security, militarized security required for this upcoming inauguration? And what do you make of the effective seeing of this as a stolen election? Therefore, this inauguration is fundamentally ‘illegitimate.’ On the other hand, individuals who see this as a struggle since the November election coming to a head on January 20th with an inauguration that was punctuated on January 6th with what some have termed a “riot” or a “protest, while others have deemed it an attempted “insurrection”, which, I may add, came with open prayers right in the center of the Capitol building.

Engel: I want to address these things. Yes, that was what we saw there, which was white Christian nationalism. That’s what we saw. A belief that the United States is for white Christian straight men and white Christian straight women who are willing to be subservient to those men. And so, we’ve been seeing a lot more video coming out of them, “We do this in the name of Jesus Christ,” and things like that. So, I think that’s an important element of it. In terms of militarization, it is distressing. Yet I am in favour of it. For one thing, I think it’s critically important that we have an inauguration, as usual, that goes safely and proceeds the way it has always proceeded on January 20th. And if it takes this many troops to make sure that everything goes peacefully and smoothly, then I think that that’s what we need to do.

It’s very distressing. I mean this is not a country that’s used to do that kind of thing. We’ve seen it in other countries, of course. But we’re not used to it. But I would say if that’s what it’s going to take, then we should go ahead and do it. Just a touch, on one more thing we talk about, one of the things that I see as a long-term problem in this country is science denial. And I see that in a couple of different ways. But you look at one of the things about science denialism is a denial of the hard science like climate change. But another thing that I think is even more insidious in some ways is the denial of the scientific method, which is to say you have a hypothesis, you gather evidence to test the hypothesis. You try to see if it’s right or wrong.

And so, when you’re talking about the election and all those people in this country who are still saying the election is stolen, it in some ways as a humanist; I see that as a denial of the scientific method because of their beliefs and accusations are evidence-free. So, if you believe in science, when someone says this election was stolen, you’re going to say, “Well, what evidence do you have of that? What proof do you have of that? Why should I believe that? Have you really tested it?” And of course, the answers you get are, “Well, that’s where I think,” “That’s what I believe.” And to paraphrase the late great writer Isaac Asimov, ‘Democracy doesn’t mean that your ignorance is as good as my knowledge.’ If you want me to believe that, then you have to come forward with proof.

Trump wants all sorts of lawsuits. 60 lawsuits he filed to overturn this. And they were all thrown out of court. Why they were thrown out of court? Not on procedural matters. [Ed. Engel is a professionally trained lawyer.] They were thrown out of court because the court said, “Well, if you want me to entertain this, you have to give me some reason to think that this might be true.” And they didn’t give anything because they didn’t have anything. So, if there’s no evidence for it, a secular humanist will say, “Well, then I don’t believe it.” But there are so many people in this country who deny the scientific method for many of them, for religious reasons. Not all, but many of them for religious reasons. And for them, if whatever it is someone tells them or they hear or whatever, then it is ‘as good as my knowledge.’

And truth be told, it really isn’t that I see this as a great challenge for this country or society going forward. The two ideas are key, one that I mentioned before, the need for the common good; and the other, the need for the scientific method and not believing things, because they support your underlying beliefs or they support your dogma or whatever. But believe in things because there’s evidence for that. And that’s what I believe. And if there’s no evidence for it, then I’m not going to believe it.

Jacobsen: John, thank you very much for your time.

Engel: It’s always a pleasure, Scott. Listen, you take care now.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Professor Burge 20: Education and Religiosity, LDS and Women, and Romney

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/07/06

Professor Ryan Burge‘s website states: “I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science as well as the Graduate Coordinator at Eastern Illinois University. I teach in a variety of areas, including American institutions, political behavior, and research methods. My research focuses largely on the intersection between religiosity and political behavior (especially in the American context). Previously, I have completed an appointment as a post doctoral research fellow at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute in Carbondale, Illinois. While there I was an adviser on issues of survey methodology and polling, as well as providing data collection and analysis.

I have published over a dozen articles in a number of well regarded peer reviewed journals including Politics & Religion, the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, the Review of Religious Research, the Journal of Religious Leadership, RepresentationPoliticsGroupsand Identities, the Journal of Communication and Religion, the Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture and the Social Science Computer Review. 

In addition, my research has been covered in a variety of media outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, NBC, Vox, 538, BuzzFeed News, Al-Jazeera, Christianity Today, Religion News Service, The Daily Mail, Deseret News, World Magazine, Relevant, and C-SPAN. I am the co-founder and frequent contributor to Religion in Public, a forum for scholars of religion and politics to make their work accessible to a more general audience.

Finally, I am a pastor in the American Baptist Church, having served my current church for over thirteen years.”

Here we talk about college, the LDS, and Mitt Romney.

*Interview conducted October 12, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Now there is a myth, semi-myth, in the secular communities, the idea of entrance and completion of college-level education leading to fewer people identifying with a religious belief system. This isn’t entirely true. Individuals who go into college are more likely to both become atheist/agnostic and/or Protestant/Catholic. The main difference is that those who do not have college are more likely to be nothing in particular. Is there a phenomenon of more crystallization of the belief structures more than anything there?

Professor Ryan Burge: I think the things that are making people atheists, agnostics are not the college experienced. I think for a lot of these people who are already believing that way before they go to college and then they go to college. They find themselves because they break from the structures that they were raised in the church, their family and their community and their parents and all these things. So, I think that being more likely to go to college also means you’re more likely to be exploring your faith, exploring your values, exploring your sexuality, exploring your gender identity, exploring all of these things. So, I don’t think it is college necessarily. And by the way, I had other scholars, coming by that I published on this, and they showed the same thing, that it does not make people more religiously liberal or more likely to be unaffiliated. In fact, it is not the college. We’re starting to believe that it is not that going to college that causes people to become more liberal. It is because people are already liberal. They want to go to college.

So, it is something before all this. Some deep held belief or values that you have are more likely make people go to college, but also more likely to be politically liberal and more likely religiously unaffiliated. It is not that college accelerates any of that. If it does, it doesn’t do it by a lot. Instead, it just reinforces this journey that you’re already on by putting you in rooms with people who are diverse from you politically, religiously, racially, all of these things. I think that helps you on that journey. But you are going to get there anyway. They’re being turned into atheist long before they go to college and going to that philosophy class, gives them ammunition. But they already were trending that way anyway. You can’t blame college for any of that stuff.

Jacobsen: What is the gender gap among the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints members?

Burge: Yes, so, the gender gap is really important in this election because there’s been some polling that shows the gender gap is larger now than at any point in which we have polling data for, which means that, typically, women are more likely to vote for Democrats and men are more likely to vote for Republicans. But now, it is larger and larger. And I think data said the gender gap now is 20 points, which means that women are more likely to vote for Democrats and men for Republicans. But if you look at LDS, there’s this discussion of female LDS. What are they? Are they different than their male counterparts? And the reality is, it does look like there is a gender gap there that men are stronger for the president, President Trump, than are women. Female Mormons are about 10 or 15 points less supportive of President Trump. And if you believe the data for June, which is the latest data we have, only half of female Mormons said they were going to vote for Trump or approved of Donald Trump in June of 2020, which is bad.

You would expect it to be a lot higher from LDS, typically Republican, conservative. So, to see those declining numbers means that Trump is losing with LDS. And he’s also had a problem with LDS, by the way, only got 55% of the LDS vote in 2016, a lot of which has been polling to Hillary Clinton. But, 80% voted for Romney and only 55% voted for Trump in 2016. So, he’s got a weakness there and it can hurt in places like Arizona. So, he needs to do better, especially with Mormon women.

Jacobsen: During the impeachment process, Mitt Romney voted against him.

Burge: Yes, that is correct. Mitt Romney has been one of the few voices of judicial independence or partisan independence in American politics, which means that sometimes he went to a Black Lives Matter rally, which I thought was interesting. And when someone asked, a reporter asking, why he goes, because the “black lives matter.” And like – whoa, most Republicans wouldn’t even say that, let alone go to a rally. So, he is somewhat independent. But when it comes to the Supreme Court, he has decided he wants to go vote with their person for the Supreme Court. So, he’s not completely independent on the Republican Party, but he’s definitely bought the old style like maverick Republican that would break with party ranks on certain issues. But he’s still pretty far to the right on a lot of issues as well.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Interview with Dr. Michael Friedman on Hardcore Humanism

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/07/05

Dr. Michael Friedman is a Co-Founder of Hardcore Humanism. Here we talk about his personal story, ideas, and development of Hardcore Humanism.

*Interview conducted June 6, 2020.*

Scott Jacobsen: So, what’s in the family’s personal story to set a ground framework for some of the discussion today?

Dr. Michael Friedman: Yes. So, I think that there are two strands of the story that are relevant to developing Hardcore Humanism as a concept. For me, one was as a trained clinical psychologist. I was struck by the times, frustrated by how almost every approach to understanding and treating people started with the same fundamental premise that: if you come into our office, there’s something wrong with you and we have to figure out what it is and we’re the only ones who can do it. So, maybe it was a psychodynamic approach and you have this deep, dark, unconscious conflict that happened, maybe, before you were in cognitive therapy where you have these cognitive distortions or irrational flaws that was a lot of a language. Or maybe, it is a behavioral approach where your reinforcement systems were done incorrectly or whatever it was.

It all was some fundamental way of saying that you’re crazy for lack of a better way of saying it, except for humanistic psychology. Humanistic psychology, a quarrel with this notion that people have fundamental value. The approach to treatment which depending on who you look to as the philosopher or therapist for unconditional, positive regard, which is acknowledging the working people and helping them actualize. They could become the person that they wanted to be. I think that one of the things that happened as I was training, humanistic psychology had fallen out of favour in terms of research and things like that, because they fundamentally disagreed with the concept of any scientific approach. They didn’t think it captured the human experience. So, they rejected that.

And so, I think that in terms of studies or grants, or anything like that. It didn’t lend itself to that world. So, it became marginalized as far as more of the more popular theories at the time, e.g., cognitive behavioural therapy and interpersonal therapy, which became more popular because they took an empirical approach. So, I was working with people. I started to notice that those models didn’t seem to work for me, personally. I didn’t like applying them. I didn’t like sitting, having someone lay down on a couch, and sitting behind them or being a blank slate, where I was only nodding and withholding any reaction, I didn’t enjoy pointing out their logical errors. It didn’t feel right to me.

And so, what I noticed, there was this rhythm that started to happen where it was basically, “How do I pull away the things that interfered with people’s development? How do I help them understand and find their purpose? And how to help them really work hard to get it?” Those seem to be like the three ingredients that needed to happen for somebody to get better. What happened on the separate side was that on a personal level, I started in my 30s. I started playing music for the first time. I never had done that before. I had always seen a band that was a cover band. I thought it was like the greatest thing in the world because I have never seen that. So, I said to my friend, “I want to sing a song in a bar band, like once. That’s like a goal of mine.”

So, I tried out before a band that was like an alternative rock band. I can’t sing. So, what happened, I went into the audition. I thought they are all going to be people like me who didn’t have experience. But they sounded like professional musicians. They asked me to jam with them and sing based on what they were doing. I was like, “I do not even know how to sing, like I can’t.” I thought I might be able to sing like a track with a couple of songs and then I will excuse myself. So, it was so upsetting. I was sitting there for like a half-hour. He didn’t say anything. The audition was only a half-hour, so I read it to the end. I got so upset that I started screaming into the microphone and then the audition was over.

And so the guy called me back, he said, “We’re going to do an alternative rock band. But I think with your voice, I was thinking, maybe, we could do more of a thrash or a hardcore band.” I remember saying to him, “This is awkward. I do not know what those words mean. I feel bad because I appreciate what you’re saying, but I do not know what you’re talking about.” So, eventually, I learned about the genre. I learned that my style was a little bit more appropriate for that. I’d never listened to that music growing up. But then we wound up playing together for about ten years in a band that was called out Zero, which was basically a local band. But we played together for about ten years and we did three records. We would like to play.

And we had these little moments, where we got to Boston; we went to Chicago. It changed my whole way of looking at things for a couple of reasons. One was that I hadn’t been so excited about something in a long time. I have always grown up loving music and listening to music over and over and over again. But I do not have any talent for it. So, the idea of playing music was not something that ever occurred to me. But all of a sudden my playing shows at these places that others have been playing at like Continental or going up to Boston and then playing with these bands that I had heard of before that were on the radio – opening for them. It was really special.

What I noticed happened when I did that, the world split into two parts. There were the people who were either super psyched for me or, at least, supportive, even if they didn’t get it or dig it. Then people who were like, “Huh?” I had people who I had been friends with for decades. It is like people who came and asked, “Are you that disturbed? I do not get what you’re doing.” I got all the screaming and the thrashing and the jumping around, and you’re on the floor and all this stuff. It was powerful for me because what I realized was that there was something happening in my life that was similar to what was happening with my patients, which was I had this thing in India. It was like a little bit different from how I came into the world. it was like I did grew up in the world with hardcore punk and thrash metal. I grew up in a world with I listen to rock and I listen to hip hop.

But it was much more mainstream to a certain degree. it was interesting how upsetting it was, like the way different people treated me. Those things and sifting through that and being like, “I want to play this music.” Then all the things that went into being an independent band, like writing songs, recording them, playing shows, and promoting, and contacting labels and contacting radio stations. It was an exhilarating experience. But I realized that I was starting to play out a lot of what I was doing clinically. I didn’t even realize I was doing that clinically. I didn’t know. When I started seeing at myself, I said, “Oh, maybe, that’s what I should do even more,” and fast forward a little bit, I’d always done more academic work.

And so, I do grants. I’d study depression, treatments for depression, and people with chronic disease, doing anything in the pop world was a, “No, you never do it. You do not write pop books. You write articles for science, peer-reviewed scientific articles.” When I got out of academics, which coincided with when I was playing music, I worked with this company that, basically, was a preventative health care company. They basically said, “Listen, it is our 100-year anniversary as a publicist, go out there and write as many articles as you can, put our name under it on topics having to do with health.” So, I did that for a while. Then I was writing an article on the LGBT community. What happened was the guy who produced our second album, the guy, Joey Z., from the band called Life of Agony, which was like a New York metal hardcore band.

Their singer was the first heavy metal transgender singer and had come out as transgender. So, instead of me talking about the LGBT community, I’d written a couple of articles on that topic. I was like, “Maybe, I should talk to her.” When I talked to her, and I got her perspective, I was like, “This is a lot more fun than what I was doing before.” So then, I started calling up anybody who I knew, who was a hero of mine. So, I would look up online. I’d be like, “Here’s Barry Beck,” who was a hockey hero. I grew up with Barry. I was a Rangers fan of Barry Beck, who was a famous Ranger hockey player; or Theo Fleury and others, then I would contact different musicians.

So all of a sudden, I started doing it a lot. Then I noticed that almost all of those people who were successful went through that same process. They had a point in their life where people thought they were weird people, thought they were different people, thought that their ideas were unconventional. They had that choice point, “Do I succumb to this pressure, or do I move forward?” And they would move forward and then they would figure out, “What is it that I want to do in my life? What’s my purpose?” And then they would work intensely for it. So, all of that came together. So, now, what was happening in my clinical world and my personal life and then in my writing was all lining up, that’s where we came up with the idea of Hardcore Humanism. Because there was originally this thing called Hardcore Punk, and there was Punk.

We’re going to be more intense. We’re going to be more revolutionary. We’re going to be more aggressive, more confrontational. So, “We’re not Pop. We’re Hardcore Pop.” So, the idea was like, “We’re not going to be humanists. We are going to be Hardcore Humanism.” So, old school Humanism, I think it did a great job in helping people feel like unconditional, positive regard and the freedom to go and do what they wanted. But I have learned a lot doing behavioural medicine where there’s a lot of stuff that you could do that still helps you along the way, which I do not think robs you of your sense of who you are as a human being.

And I think that from most of the things that I worked with, whether it was sleeping better, eating healthier, exercising, any of those things, it was a lot of work. So, we developed the Hardcore Humanism philosophy, which is, basically, three things. It was not so nuts, which is the idea that people might tell you you’re weird. You might think you’re weird. You might think you’re off crazy. You do not fit in. But our view is like, “No, that’s you. That’s your uniqueness. That’s something special about you. What is that purpose-driven health, which is the idea, you want to organize your life in the context of your purpose, which helps a lot. We can talk about that more later, which helps a lot in terms of how to move forward and understand the choices that you make.

And then what we call “heavy fundamentals,” which is most of the things that you have to do in life are simple, but difficult. There’s nothing that I’m going to be able to tell you about your relationship with your mother that’s going to change the fact that the donut is better than the carrot. like, it is nothing that we’re going to do in therapy that’s going to help that. It is hard, until it is not at some point. You getting healthy eventually feels better. But in the beginning, going to the gym hurts, stopping smoking hurts, giving up drinking hurts, finding yourself in unhealthy relationships hurts because they’re usually gratifying at the beginning.

There are all kinds of things like that. So, the idea is: How can you put those elements together? And that’s the same with Hardcore Humanism. So, what we have is this philosophy and treatment program, but then we’re also going to do weekly interviews with an artist. We’re going to talk about having a podcast. We’re going to have them write articles about them. We do a video about them, so we can learn their process and particularly those three concepts, because, again, they almost always go through that cadence. It is a bit of a long story, but there it is.

Jacobsen: How does pushing the boundaries of the inherent goodness of people in a therapeutic context bring about a wider range of possibilities in which people can actualize their goodness?

Friedman: I do not know why we do this to ourselves, because nobody likes it. It is like bullying or like talking about people behind their backs or gossip in general. Like, we do not like any of these things. Nobody likes to be made to feel weird. Nobody likes to be made to feel that they’re bad. But somehow, there’s this process that we go through, where we always seem to be looking for the way that other people are caught. There’s this lingo for it, like “off” or “odd.” What it does is interrupts that fundamental sense of music, as in, you do not write the songs. You discover the song. It is like people can’t discover their song because there are all of these barriers that are put up.

And so, if you see, it is not about the inherent goodness of people, but that’s a big part of it. It is celebrating the uniqueness of people. The idea that differences can be special, that opens up a whole new approach to life. So, for example, in my life, if I had listened to a lot of the people who were looking at me, “God, why are you like that?” There are all these people growing up who are called the “Wallers” in my high school. There are all these people who they dressed all in black, their earrings and their tattoos. They listen to the music that, at that point, I thought was weird. I stayed away from them for the most part. In doing so, I probably made them feel bad about who they were; I got that done to me later on.

And if I had listened to those people, I wouldn’t have discovered this world, where, now, it drives my wife crazy. If I see somebody who’s dressed all in black, or if I see somebody who’s wearing a metal shirt or a hardcore shirt, my wife says, “Do you want to go talk to them?” I’m like, “Yes, I do.” I would have lost this thing that was so important to me. I would have lost this culture that’s important to me. I would have lost this world that gets me excited. I would have felt much like a drone. I would have felt like the dead in The Walking Dead. I wouldn’t have even noticed. Because looking back, I think about all the weekends that I didn’t have as much to do. Because when I started playing music, I, all of a sudden, always had something to do.

Because you always could be working on starting. You could always be going and seeing shows. You could always be passing out flyers. You’d always be in a query. You could always be working. You could always hang out with your friends, too. But this was something that was abstract. So, I think that if you allow that for people; they can figure out what’s organically the best thing for them to actualize. Because you do not know what actualization looks like for an individual. You may think, “I think you should be a doctor,” “I think should be a lawyer,” “I think you should marry this person,” “I think you should play this music,” “I think you should follow this religion,” but you do not know necessarily that’s the right path for that person. So, I think that the idea for us is to create that space. We’re not coming in with “this is who you are.” We’re coming in and asking, “Who are you?” If you do not know yet, then we can figure out how to peel away some of the layers that have gotten in the way, so that you can figure that out.

Jacobsen: Who’ve been some important precursors to some of this philosophy?

Friedman: I think Carl Rogers was probably for me in terms of a psychological standpoint. Victor Frankl with a lot of it. We call it Hardcore Humanism, but I think it has a strong central element to it. Sometimes, I struggle with the distinction between meaning and purpose. For me, meaning is often, “Let me look around at what I’m doing and give it a name, or give it a reason.” A purpose is something that drives behaviour more. I do not know if that’s a relevant distinction. But those are probably two; Maslow’s hierarchy for sure. I think that there’s a lot of people who influenced me later, like Martin Seligman was my advisor as an undergraduate, who founded Positive Psychology.

It is different how we do things. I think the orientation towards striving rather than surviving. Kelly Brownell, who was my advisor in graduate school, a lot of the things that behavioural medicine and integrating different theories came from him. Also, Howard Leventhal, I think he was a colleague of mine when I was doing academics, who made me think a lot about the concept of purpose in people’s lives. Quite frankly, if I were saying it, I think my parents were influential in the sense that they, in retrospect, had some things. The hard-working part, I think in retrospect that came from them because I saw them.

Day-in and day-out, they were focused on what they wanted. They were focused. They came from Brooklyn and didn’t necessarily have a lot of money in their pocket. We moved to a suburb right outside of New York City. They were about work hard, “Let’s make money, let’s save money.” We had a lot, but that was part of the point, and “let’s get money so that the kids can go to college.” Those are things that, I think, in retrospect would have resonated with me because I saw how diligent they had to be over the years to make that dream come true. They were very, very, direct about they didn’t have to have that. They could have been like, “Listen, we got out of the suburbs. We got out of the city. You’re in the suburbs now. You’re on your own.”

Their dream might have been, “We want to relax now,” which is totally fine if that’s who you are. So, I think that those have been some of the different influences over the years. Actually, probably, one thing I should say. So, this is the story. My wife without realizing it. I think this was set in motion. Because when I was transitioning out of academic work, we had started dating. I was telling her. I’m trying to figure out, “What am I going to do professionally?” I eventually wanted to practice. But she had come to our first shows. I started dating her a week before our first show. So, she came to one of our second or third shows, I think.

She sat down and was like, “Okay, so, let’s read it all out. What are your options?” She was like, “You can go into another academic psychology job. You can go to a medical and academic medical center,” which is where I was originally doing research. “You could go into a private practice, or you can become a professional musician.” I was like, “I’m sorry. What was the last one? Why don’t I become a professional musician?” I’m like, “Why are you saying that?” She said, “No, I saw you perform. I think that if you put in the time and the effort, then you could do that.”

I was like, “Oh, man. She must love me to think that.” What she saw was worthy of that praise. So, what I find, here’s a person in whose mind, it was like, “Oh, I’m supporting you.  I could imagine that.” Now, I do not think that was justified on her part. Probably, now, she’d look back and say, “I think I was wrong.” But the point for me, in my marriage, she’s left me to pursue a lot of different things. Quite frankly, I’m not sure that a lot of other spouses would put up with it. She let me pursue doing Brazilian jujitsu.

She let me pursue being in a band. She let me like pursue this thing called Hardcore Humanism. She’s open-minded to Hardcore Humanism. We’re doing together. We co-founded, which is part of the reason why. We co-founded it together because she got a lot of the content and also the business stuff, which is more of the practical merging. But I think that she had that philosophy in a way that was different for me. It was different for me from other people I have known in my life. So, yes, those are all my influences.

Jacobsen: And that’s interesting, too. Because one of the main tropes in North American culture is the band dream of a guy, which is the opposite of the way that she saw it for you. So, the dream of pursuing a band in our popular culture is seen as a highly negative and immature thing. Whereas in your own marriage, it was seen as something to grow and explore and, therefore, was supported in a proactive and constructive manner rather than the opposite.

Friedman: Yes. I think that what was interesting was that the hardcore punk community. One of the things that’s interesting now. We have rock stars who are 70 or 80, but those are people who have been rock stars forever. But what you had in that community, in the hardcore punk community and to a certain extent, the metal community, especially in New York City, there are so many people here who come to be creative, and so few people can make a living on it. So, it is not a hobby. It is not a job, but it is a passion. You take it seriously. You do serious things with it. Even though, it is not like a big moneymaker, which had come from Hardcore Punk. That was a world that I didn’t know about, that DIY – put on your own shows. So, I was getting that experience and philosophy and reading about that in books like American Hardcore – all of that stuff. Then, yes, you’re right. When I was talking to her about it, she could see. It wasn’t about, “You have to do this for three months. If you’re not making a million dollars and a young star…” It was, as you said, “This can be part of a subtle way.” We read in a fairly conventional way. We’re married. We have kids. We have a house. I have a practice,

But there’s this other piece, or pieces in a way. I still have a new band, which I’m working with now. As I said, I am training in different martial arts. I do this thing. It is like the fact that she has been known to accept that, and in many cases, directly support it. Yes, it would have been a horror. I wouldn’t even have known it, but it would have been a horrible life for me if I didn’t have a wife who did that. I do not know. Again, I wouldn’t even have known what was wrong because I wouldn’t have been able to explore that stuff.

Jacobsen: If I look at some of the history reflecting on it, of Humanism, a lot of it is quasi-liturgical, almost like someone’s in academia or reading a homily. It is dry and academic, in white collars, often. This Humanism, along with a few others that I could think of off the top, they’re more grounded. They’re more blue-collar. They require more, your body is involved in embodying that Humanism. A lot of the Humanism – that I have seen through – is bookish. It is of the head. So, it is a different flavour of Humanism that I think should get a lot more attention.

Friedman: I appreciate that. Yes, I do not think I ever explored other than reading that. That might be the parallel of what you’re saying, and why it didn’t resonate with me fully. Yes, I always felt as if I was reading it. As you said, it is academic. Also, it comes from me, personally. I do not particularly find happiness. I feel like there’s a lot of things in society that are about reducing anxiety and being happy. Those seem like the priorities. For me, I do not know. It never resonated with me. I remember seeing Billy Corgan from the Smashing Pumpkins, who were saying in an interview: It didn’t seem like you guys were having fun as a band.

He was always like, “The fun for us was making that album. The fun was playing a good show.” He was like, “A lot of other bands had a lot more fun than we did.” But, of course, they all sucked. I think that that was because I remember seeing sex, drugs, and rock & roll bands. I do not have anything against that. But that’s who you are, and that’s authentically who you are. But I remember, I do not know if you have ever seen Bruce Springsteen in concert. I have never been a huge Bruce Springsteen fan, but I saw him on the “Rising” tour about 20 years ago. He was probably like in his 40s, 50s. But he got on stage. He’s got millions of dollars. He has top records. He’s already in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

And this guy was playing shows like he was 17. If he didn’t get it right, he was never going to get out of Jersey. So, when people would ask me in the future, “What music do you like?” I was like, “I like jazz music.” I like the music where the person understands the power of that moment. It is how important it is. For me, how important my rock stars have been for me, it wasn’t even one of them at that point, quite frankly. The shows were important for me, the pulsating energy. If you do not get down, and if you do not appreciate that, I do not know what you’re doing.

And it was interesting because I interviewed someone from The Lumineers, which I do not know how they are in Canada, but they’re a big band here. They’re on the radio. I do not know if he heard directly or there was a story where Bruce Springsteen would say to his band, “For every show, you didn’t earn this.” I was like, “Yes, this is not about reducing anxiety. It is not about happiness. It is about the power of purpose.” That’s about touching in. So, for me, getting back to your question, it is that heat.

It is like when you have therapies. It is clinically interesting. You want to go with the passion, and where the heat is. I feel like, “What’s the point of all this if that’s not where you’re at?” Look, another person’s passion may be being completely chill. But if that’s you, and if that’s your passion, that’s the thing that you crave, fantastic. If your vision is being on a beach, and sitting and, basically, doing nothing and watching the waves, then that is you. You feel like that’s fantastic. I love that. It is not for me. But I want it for what you’re saying about that heat, that intensity. I do not know for me is what makes it particularly human. To me, it’s what we’re here for. That’s the same thing, “What’s ultimately good in people? What’s special about people? What makes us human?” We have that capacity. So, to me, if it is not focusing on that, “What’s the point?”

Jacobsen: One band that stands out, in that regard, without any formal identification with that humanistic philosophy would be the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Their way of approaching, the way they play the music, what they sing about, and the way they seem much more in the heat, they seem much their authentic selves rather than some false self.

Friedman: Yes. It is always one of the things. When there’s someone who’s in a band that I find has that a lot of times, not all the times, but someone in the band or multiple people came out of that hardcore punk scene. We definitely did come out of that. He has that intensity when he plays. You can’t imagine him playing a show without sweating profusely. There’s no way. Usually, the Red Hot Chili Peppers with that funk, rock, and punk.

But I appreciate their more mellow side, because I think you’ve got another thing, as an example. I always found it odd, which is not particularly humanistic. When we have this abusive relationship with the rock stars, we want them to go out on limbs for us, so we want them to take all the risk. We want them to put in all the effort or whatever, when we find something that they do right, which is: We grab onto it. We freeze-dry it. We repeat it. What I do, I listen to the same songs over and over again. I love it.

And then if they go off, and if they do something that’s different, “What the hell? They do not care about their audience.” We didn’t understand. The way that we got that special thing was not because they dressed, basically, as if we’re walking in line. They were creative. They were going to love it. Sometimes, they find something, that formula, which they love. And it works. There are bands like Rage Against the Machine and Foo Fighters. So, I think it covers it a little bit with some of the stuff. But it is always striking to me how that chance will like “turn”. Where the media will turn on a band, that’s the reasons why I like doing interviews.

Because I want people to see the process. Why on earth would you want your musicians to walk in a straight line? Go to the factory and do the same thing every day, so, it has always been striking to me. If someone’s experimental, or if their heart changes, the Chili Peppers 30 years ago, may be different than the Chili Peppers now, what’s authentic to them now may be different. If people do not let them do that, or if they do not appreciate that, I feel like you lose all the richness of the artist. You lose all the lessons that you can learn about the artist. It can apply to your own life.

Jacobsen: Where can people learn more about Hardcore Humanism?

Friedman: I got a http://www.HardcoreHumanism.com. We’ve got all the stuff up there. The podcast and videos are not; we’re recording them right now, so they’re going to be live in about six weeks. But the articles that we’ve done in the past are different topics that we talked about. There’s a philosophy that people want to get in touch and they want to do coaching or therapy or whatever it is, depending on the situation. They can get in touch with us there, but it is pretty much all there.

Jacobsen: Any final feelings or thoughts and conclusion based on the conversation today?

Friedman: No. Honestly, I appreciate you reaching out. It is always great. I always enjoy talking about the stuff. I love it when people share whatever it is that they’re doing with me. So, I would say that everybody is thinking about those three principles. If you’re sitting there, and if there are people calling you weird or calling you off, obviously, people are pointing out that there might be something that’s a little bit different if it is harmful. But a lot of times it is something that other people do not like. It is the type of music or the way you dress or the way that you approach religion or the way that you approach your work or what field you want to go into and think to yourself, “Watch out for that.” Listen, it is, “Is this helping me grow?”, or, “Is this harmful for me?” “Someone is helping me figure out who I am,” or, “Is this something imposing on me what I should be onto you.?”

And so, similarly, think, “Who am I, and what am I trying to do in this world?” Know that as you figure that out, you’re going to have to work hard for it – do not be concerned. If you come upon your purpose, you can’t find your dreams. It is not easy because everyone is in a league of their own. If it was easy, everybody would do it, but keep at it. Because, if who you are, and if what you’re trying to do, and if you’re working hard for it, you’re either winning or you’re learning. You’re getting closer, or you’re learning the ways that are not getting closer. Over time, it is difficult for that not to work.

Jacobsen: Sir, thanks so much.

Friedman: Ok, great. Thanks again.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Professor Burge 19: White Evangelical Christian Voting Bloc

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/07/04

Professor Ryan Burge‘s website states: “I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science as well as the Graduate Coordinator at Eastern Illinois University. I teach in a variety of areas, including American institutions, political behavior, and research methods. My research focuses largely on the intersection between religiosity and political behavior (especially in the American context). Previously, I have completed an appointment as a post doctoral research fellow at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute in Carbondale, Illinois. While there I was an adviser on issues of survey methodology and polling, as well as providing data collection and analysis.

I have published over a dozen articles in a number of well regarded peer reviewed journals including Politics & Religion, the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, the Review of Religious Research, the Journal of Religious Leadership, RepresentationPoliticsGroupsand Identities, the Journal of Communication and Religion, the Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture and the Social Science Computer Review. 

In addition, my research has been covered in a variety of media outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, NBC, Vox, 538, BuzzFeed News, Al-Jazeera, Christianity Today, Religion News Service, The Daily Mail, Deseret News, World Magazine, Relevant, and C-SPAN. I am the co-founder and frequent contributor to Religion in Public, a forum for scholars of religion and politics to make their work accessible to a more general audience.

Finally, I am a pastor in the American Baptist Church, having served my current church for over thirteen years.”

Here we talk about white Evangelical Republicans as a voting bloc.

*Interview conducted October 12, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, some of the more recent research over the last two weeks. You notice that the largest religious voting bloc in the United States are the Evangelical white Republicans or white Evangelical Republicans. Why are they the largest voting bloc? Is it because they are larger demographically or is it because they simply vote more? They take the democratic process for themselves. More importantly, what’s the reason?

Professor Ryan Burge: There is a combination of things. The white Evangelicals are pretty large anyway. They are about 17% of the population. So, they’re already pretty large. But what makes them a large voting bloc is that 75% of them are Republicans. So, you take 17%, you get 75% to 17%. You get 13% of all Americans are white Evangelical Republicans, 13%. Which is the largest religious voting bloc, the next closest is nothing in particular Democrats, which are 9% of the population. But I don’t think you can count on nothing in particular, because they have low levels of education. They are low on the participation scale in terms of going to a board meeting, putting yard signs up, and doing all those things. They can’t bank on this doing a lot. You can bank on Evangelicals. So, there’s actually been data, recently; that says that even though they were becoming a smaller and smaller portion of the population, that they are still turning out at relatively high rates. And will continue to do that until they die off, which is probably in your next 20 years or so, they’re going to be in decline.

So, I talk about this all the time because I get so many people like me. All this talks about white Evangelical Republicans, because they’re the largest voting group in America., there’s no other group that’s the same size. For instance, 6% of Americans are white Catholic Republicans. That’s half the size of white Evangelical Republicans. So, we should talk about white Evangelicals twice as much. And even atheists, even Democratic atheists, are only four and a half percent of the population. So, really, that’s much smaller than your white Evangelical Republicans. So, there’s a reason why I talk about white Evangelicals all the time because they’re large and are super important to American politics. So, that’s the key to understand the Republican Party, too by the way, if that’s their base. Like that’s the biggest chunk of their voters are white Christians, especially white Evangelicals. And they got to play to that base, continue to play to that base as well as they can.

Jacobsen: Now, the only religious group with diversity in friends is Biden supporting white Evangelicals. Why?

Burge: Yes, so, that comes from a poll I didn’t have access to, but Pew Research Center asks an interesting question, which is, “What do you think your friends are? Are they a majority Republican, majority Democrat, mix, or whatever?” It was 81% of Nones have friends who are also for Biden. So, 81% of Nones have friends who are for Biden too. So, basically, you have no political diversity there. 87% of Nones who are going to vote for Trump, also say that their friends are going to vote for Trump too. So, even there, you don’t have diversity. Look at Evangelicals with a lot of diversity, the only religious group that has any diversity are white Evangelicals for Biden. And the reason that is, is because there’s not a lot of white Evangelicals for Biden. So, if you’re going to have friends who are white Evangelicals and you’re for Biden, you’re going to have to have friends who are more Trump and for Biden. If you have white Evangelicals for Trump, you can literally have 50 friends tomorrow that are all believing the same way you do religiously and politically.

So really, the only group that’s out of step with their partisanship are white Evangelicals who vote for Biden because it is so hard to find a white Evangelical that’s for Biden in America. You’re going to find more diversity of opinion in there, which shows you how religion sorts itself out, e.g., your Nones or your Democrats or your Christians or your Republicans. And those people hang out with people who are like them politically and religiously. And you don’t get a lot of diversity anymore in the pews or in friendships or even on social media. I think that’s part of why the polarization in America is so bad, is because people don’t hear the other side, the people they trust much. They only hear the same side echoed over and over and over again. So, I think that’s a bad sign for the future of American politics and religion. Is there an echo chamber for everybody now?

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Jon 29: “If I prayed…”

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/07/04

Jonathan Engel, J.D. is the President of the Secular Humanist Society of New YorkHere we talk about the Biden-Harris presidency.  

*Interview conducted November 16, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, you had an election in the United States. So, basically, statistically, it is ultimately going to be a Biden presidency and Kamala Harris vice presidency. So, you talked to your mother. As the first question, what happened in the New York streets? What was her comparison for that uproar? How has that played over or played out over the last week?

Jonathan Engel: I’ll tell you, when the election was more or less called for Biden by my news services, etc. They call results that they get from each individual state that runs its own election. For days, there was nothing worth watching in the news, simply hoping we’d get a call and finally go forward from Saturday morning. And I was busy doing other things. And we started to hear it out on the street. From my apartment, on the 18th floor, I started to hear people cheering and honking and people ringing bells and things like that. And I’m like, “What’s that all about?” And then we said, “Maybe, they called it for Biden.” So, we turned on the TV and sure enough. I found out it had been a call for Biden.

And in cities all over the country, I know that from keeping the TV on, but also in New York City, which I knew from both had seen on TV and just walking around outside. There were these huge spontaneous, not demonstrations, but they were celebrations. People just so happy. I think it was a combination of things. People taking a lot of news stories in the United States over the past number of years about how much people call Trump supporters love, and they go to rallies and so on. But you haven’t seen quite as much as we saw happened in the news about the people that don’t like Trump, hate him. And that’s especially in New York City, we hate Trump. I think it is because we know him better than anybody else. He is from here. And we never liked this guy.

And so there was that fear about, “Oh my God, he might win again.” And it was such a big relief when it was actually called, “Okay, no, Biden’s going to win.” So, you had that. I think it was people also partially had just a beautiful day and people hadn’t been outside in so long. And, yes, when you saw the pictures, I saw myself. I went to Union Square in New York. That’s like a place where there’s a lot of history of protest. So, it is going to be something going on probably in the Square. But also, I saw pictures. I knew it was happening in Washington Square and in Times Square, too.

But, we hadn’t been outside and people did wear masks. Something, I have not stepped foot outside my apartment door since March without a mask on, even when I’m walking down the hallway. I’m just staying in the hallway in my building to go to the room where we could throw out the garbage. Even that I have not, I always put a mask on. As I said, I haven’t stepped outside the front door of my apartment since March without a mask on. And there were people. People who were celebrating, where only 90%, at least, had their masks on. So, that was a good thing. But everybody had been so caught up, being nervous about this election and terrified that if Trump won another term, it would be the end of our democracy. And I don’t think that’s hyperbole. I think that people felt this way. I felt this way. I thought it was potentially true. So, it was just this outpouring of emotion.

Now, my mother, you mentioned, my mother’s 96-years-old. She was born in 1924. She lives in a retirement home on Long Island, but she said as far as she could tell – and I asked her about it and she said – there has been nothing like this in the United States since the end of World War Two, especially the D Day. It was a little different, I think, because people were coming out because of the use of atomic weapons, which I think creeps people out. Even if they were glad the war is over, when the war ended in Europe a few months earlier in Europe with D-Day, people just ran out to the streets to celebrate. This iconic picture of this sailor kissing a woman in Times Square. Just because everybody was just celebrating the end of the war, also, there has not been anything like that spontaneous celebration, not just in New York, but all over the country since the D Day, since the war in Europe ended in 1945.

Jacobsen: Now, I heard some of the clips. You aren’t kidding. There is uproar and honking of horns throughout the day in New York on that day. Yes, that’s amazing. It was quite startling. How has the opposite side of the political aisle, the Republican aisle, in the United States reacted to the current well-substantiated projections of a Biden presidency and Kamala Harris vice presidency? The overwhelming projection or extrapolation from the current vote count.

Engel: How Trump has reacted not surprisingly, this is not a guy who would ever say he lost fairly. In fact, if you go back in history, not only has he never admitted that he lost anything fair and square, but he also tends to sow that idea before the thing actually happens. Remember, before the 2016 election, when most people thought he would lose, including probably him, he was complaining about the election being rigged against him, so that if he lost, he would have his, “Oh, I told you it was rigged against me. “And this year’s election was no different. And of course, Trump has refused to concede and refused to acknowledge defeat. And he’s got a bunch of lawyers who are making some money. Although, some of them have decided to get it. And we’re not doing this anymore. Drop them on the plane and drop his re-election campaign as claimed, but going into court and losing and losing and losing and losing, trying, you can’t just go into court and say, “There was a fraud.” You can see that on the news. You can see that on Twitter. But when you go to court, they want to have evidence. I have been on the wrong end of that judge’s time, where I really didn’t have much going on. The judges don’t like that. They don’t like you to come in and just make conclusory claims. To just say in a conclusory way, “It is this, your honour. And they did this so well.” Where’s the proof? Where’s the evidence? And so, that’s when the case from Trump, Trump supporters, have been largely following Trump’s lead, and grassroots supporters following Trump’s lead, and saying, “Oh, it must have been rigged, it must have been, etc.” Meanwhile, Trump’s own head – this is the head of cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security, said, “This is a most secure election the United States has ever had.”

But the interesting thing comes from Republican officeholders, the Republicans in the Senate and the House, not so much on a state level, but on a federal level – the members of Congress. They have largely said nothing. Out of four senators, Republican senators, out of whatever it is, the total number is right now 50 or something like that. And there are two reasons that are going to be runoffs. But of the 50 and several hundred in the House of Representatives, only four members of the Senate, have said, “Congratulations to Biden, and said, “Okay, Biden is going to be the next president.”

And this week, I was watching Meet the Press and Chuck Todd. The Sunday talk shows where usually members of Congress always want to get on there. It is great publicity. But he invited all 50 Republican members of the Senate to come on today to talk about the election and not one of them agreed to. And in fact, there was little Republican presence on the shows, on these shows, because they knew that if they went on the show, they had, basically, a choice of two things. They could either back up Trump and say, “Oh, it was rigged, was fraudulent,” etc., in which case they look ridiculous. And nobody likes that. Or they could say, “Trump lost,” in which case they’ll have the fury of Trump and his supporters again.

So basically, John Kennedy, President John Kennedy, once – not to be confused with the Republican senator from Louisiana, John Kennedy, but President John Kennedy – wrote a book called Profiles in Courage about times when people were put against their own interests, put themselves on the line to do what was right. And what we’re seeing here are profiles in cowardice of these people, it is funny because I see it routinely on television where we have a reporter. NBC or MSNBC will have a reporter outside Congress. They’re in a place where Republicans are going to lunch or something, and then ask them to comment, “Do you think Biden won?”, etc. They just all walk by without saying a word because they’re afraid to either tell the truth, which is Trump lost; in which case, they’ll be hurt politically. Or, they don’t want to look ridiculous by telling lies, by saying, “Yes, Trump won.” They don’t want to make them look ridiculous. So, they, basically, say nothing.

And that’s what we’re getting out of Republican elected officials. I saw Mitch McConnell the other day saying, “I don’t know. But I certainly know the president has the right to challenge this election in court,” which is not exactly true. As a lawyer, I can tell you that is not exactly true. Because anytime you go into court to start a lawsuit for the plaintiffs, the plaintiff’s lawyer has to certify that they have a belief that they have a legitimate claim. Yet, they’re getting all the cases thrown out of court. You can go into court. You can file a lawsuit and the judge looks at you, and says, “What’s your basis for your belief that this is a legitimate claim?” And right now, the lawyers who are going in there are basically saying the judge is giving him the old Ralph Kramden – because they don’t have any evidence. And at some point, judges will, I believe, start to sanction this, fine lawyers and will fine Trump’s election committee, which is bringing these cases. Because unlike what Mitch McConnell says, you can’t just walk into court and say, “This is a fraud, your honour. I want to stop this vote.” The judge will say, “Where’s the proof?” And if you don’t have any, you get thrown out of court. And again, you can get fined by the judge for bringing this claim.

So, that’s what we’re seeing right now. The followers are basically either bewildered, “I can’t believe he lost,” or believing that nonsense they were told that if he lost that must mean that there was some chicanery. But the Republicans, federal elected United States representatives in the Senate and in the House of Representatives, they’re basically just hiding in a hole because they’re, again, a profile in cowardice.

Jacobsen: So, what will happen on January 20th? What will happen in the United States based on the premise of a transition of powers, peacefully?

Engel: I think basically what’s going to happen – I think most people think of this – is that Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States. I guess that’s what’s going to essentially happen. But the damage is still being done in terms of sowing discord, sowing disbelief in our electoral system. And also, a big problem that’s happening is that the transition is not happening in terms of Biden getting funds to help him get his transition up and running. Those funds are not flowing because the Trump administration refuses to provide them. And also, he’s supposed to be getting security briefings. He’s supposed to be getting what they call the President’s Daily Brief (PDB). He’s supposed to be getting that by now. But Trump is refusing to cooperate. We see video of the day after the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton conceded; she gave a speech in which she conceded and said, “Let’s all help President Trump to do the best he can, which is the type of thing that happens, supposed to happen, on a regular basis.”

When President Obama invited Trump into the White House, they started giving him security briefings, which, by the way, he didn’t read. He didn’t want to transition in 2016. If he had learned anything or knew anything, he just wanted to go out to more rallies to stroke his ego. But they were there, and they were awesome. Now, Biden is getting those reasons; and there are people, serious conservative Republicans in the intelligence establishment, like John Bolton who was for a while national security adviser under Trump, but who also is a long time, hawkish rightwing guy and Republican guy. And he’s out there saying Biden has to get these briefings. They can’t come in not knowing what’s going on. But this is exactly what is right now happening. But on January 20th, I can tell you; I think most people think that what’s going to happen on January 20th is that Joe Biden is going to be inaugurated as president. There’s a deadline that all states have to give their certified results to the American Electoral College. And then sometime in mid-December, the Electoral College certifies that the winner is Joe Biden. So, that’s the next step that’ll happen, which I do believe also will happen. And then on January 20th, simply, Biden will be inaugurated.

Now, I saw Michael Cohen. The famous Trump lawyer/fixer who has turned on Trump and served time in prison for committing crimes on behalf of Trump. He said what he thinks is going to happen. What he thinks is going to happen is that sometime around Christmas or New Year, Trump will go to a resort in Florida and just simply not come back. I hope that will be the case. And I see why he thinks so. But regardless, I do believe that on January 20th, Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the next president. He will be operating, stepping in, on a handicap, because unlike every other transition before this, in which the new incoming president was given briefings and knowledge and said about what’s happening, “Looks like he’s not going to be getting there.” But he will be inaugurated on January 20th. If I prayed, I would say, “I’ll pray.”

Jacobsen: Jon, thank you for your analysis as always.

Engel: Pleasure, Scott, as always, to think about that. Take care.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Jon 28: American Democracy and Historical Cycles, and Breakthroughs

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/07/03

Jonathan Engel, J.D. is the President of the Secular Humanist Society of New YorkHere we talk about Election Day and American democracy.

*Interview conducted November 2, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: This will be published after the election, so consider this something like an in-the-moment interview with a retrospective publication date. So, we are on the cusp of closing elections in the United States. It is an exciting time for some and a terrifying time for others. It is a time of potential celebration, depends on your political orientation and social views. In New York, in the secular community, how are the conversations happening around President Trump, around presidential candidate Joe Biden, and around the election at this time?

Jonathan Engel: In terms of the secular community, say yesterday, I had a meet-up with a bunch of secularists here in New York. And in fact, the week before, I had a Zoom meeting with a bunch of people from the secular network of New Jersey. And clearly, people who are secular tend to favour Joe Biden, even Joe Biden is religious himself. And Democrats pay lip service to a lot of religious malarkey, as I would say. By the same token, they are not the extreme religious fanatics, generally speaking, that you find on the right that you find among Republicans. And Trump, of course, has no religion whatsoever. But he said, there is religious right in this country who have supported him. So, he’ll give them anything he wants, including Justice Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court, who is a real religious fanatic. You look at Trump, the Trump administration, serious religious fanatics, the attorney general, the vice president, the secretary of state. You’re not going to get anything like that under a Democratic presidency.

So I’m sure, almost all secularists that I know are supporting Biden. But as for our apprehensions, we have the same apprehensions that every other person who’s not on the Trump team has, as well as the Trump Kool-Aid has, in this country. If I could know that this was going to be your relatively free and fair election tomorrow and that every vote would be counted as in a normal election, I’d be feeling pretty confident right now that Biden would win. And I feel that way. But I just don’t know what you can call it – mischief, except mischief is what my five-year-old kids get into. I don’t know what criminality would be more like it that could happen with Trump. Again, there’s one thing about Trump. There is absolutely nothing you can say about him in which a rational reply would be, “Oh, no, he wouldn’t do that.” So, people here are apprehensive, even those who feel that Biden is going to win and then feel fairly confident about that, there’s still a lot of apprehension because of what Trump might do in order to win the election. Also, a lot of people are still traumatized from four years ago going into the elections thinking, “Wow, I’m going to watch it here, the first female president of the United States,” and wound up, shell shocked. So, that feeling doesn’t go away in four years. In fact, you get flashbacks of it because then you’re reminded of it. So, there is a lot of fear and apprehension in many ways here in the secular community.

We know that separation of church and state is in many ways on the line. Again, it is so ironic because it is unlike Trump himself, religious – he doesn’t care. I can’t imagine him worshipping God; he would think that God should be worshipping him. So, he doesn’t care. But he has thrown the keys to the kingdom, so to speak, to the religious fanatics in this country. And what they will do with it, if he gets four more years, then it is very frightening.

Jacobsen: Even though Joe Biden is a Catholic, what is the form of his Catholicism making secular people more comfortable with him than another candidate who would not have been Trump while still religious in a way less appealing to them? Because I’m aware that differences exist between, on the one hand, hierarchs and laity in the Roman Catholic Church, as well as between the laity in the Catholic Church; something like ordinary believers on the one hand, versus more hardcore adherence to the faith, on the other, which comes with different social and political consequences because the faith is so marginalized even in such a long and large history in the United States as a whole.

Engel: As a secularist myself, I feel fairly comfortable with Biden. My understanding is that he’s a pretty religious guy. Does he go to church every Sunday? I don’t know. Which is in a way reassuring, he’s not throwing that in anybody’s face or anything else like that. I go back to thinking about this country when Jon Kennedy was running for president in 1960. He became the first then, as far as I could think of, still the only, Catholic; the only non-Protestant to be president of the United States. When he was running, one of the things that was being used much against him at the time was, “Oh, he’s a Catholic. He’ll be a tool of the Pope.” There weren’t so many secularists worried about him being a tool of the pope, and turning this into a theocracy or something. It was more like Protestants who were anti-Catholic and anti-papacy at the time. And they were worried about it. It is interesting, just as a quick aside, because in modern America right now, extreme right-wing Catholics and extreme right ing Protestants make common cause for the most part. But that wasn’t so much the case back then. But in any event, Kennedy gave a famous speech in which he said, ‘I’m Catholic, but I’m not taking orders from the pope. I take orders from the American people.’ And he very much strongly affirmed the separation of church and state in that speech.

So as for Joe Biden, my understanding is he’s somewhat religious. But I also know that, for example, he favours legalized abortion rights. So, that is a big litmus test for a religious person, especially a Catholic; he is in favour of legalized abortion rights. And I don’t think he’s in favour of forcing religion on anybody. I think he understands the separation of church and state. It is interesting. I would have looked at any one of those debates if someone had asked the question about the separation of church and state, but they didn’t. And generally speaking, I’m more comfortable even with some of the more religious members of the Democratic Party. I think they understand that this is a wide-ranging party. Not only, but there are also a lot more non-Christians, either Catholics or Protestants, in the Democratic Party than in the Republican Party. The Democratic Party has Muslim members of Congress and many more Jewish members of the House and the Senate. There are a few Republicans in the House or the Senate who are not Protestant or Catholic. But as for Democrats, there are lots of them. So, it is a more diverse base of support. And I think Biden understands that.

There is a, for example, just giving people; there is a Freethought Caucus in the United States Congress, which has 13 members. All of them are Democrats. And only one of them, the guy who started it, Jared Huffman from California, is an outright non-theist. The rest of them, either they don’t talk about it or whatever, and I was pleased. A woman who I don’t always agree with, a Muslim woman who in Congress from Michigan, her name is Rashida Farid, she joined the Freethought Caucus, which I thought was fantastic. And she said, ‘Listen, I’m a Muslim. I’m still a practicing Muslim. But I believe in the separation of church and state. I believe in using science and research and evidence in order to for us to devise solutions to our challenges.’

So as long as a person believes that: separating church and state, belief in science, if they’re religious themselves, I can live with that. I’m going to have to live with that topic. I don’t have much choice. So, I don’t even know what religion Kamala Harris is. I know that her mother was Hindu and her father, I believe, was Protestant. He was from Jamaica. And I know she’s married to a Jewish man, so I don’t even know if she practices or what she practices. I don’t know. And to me, that’s a wonderful thing. I don’t want to know, that’s a your-own-time thing. When you’re in the government representing me, your religion, I don’t want to hear about.

Even though, yes, Joe Biden is a practicing Catholic, etc., but me, as a secular person, I am comfortable with him. I am comfortable with the Democratic Party. Yes, they could do better, but I’m fairly comfortable with them. But then you look at the other side, you realize there’s no choice at all. And again, the irony there is they are led by a totally non-religious person. But it doesn’t matter because, Trump, anybody who likes Trump, Trump will do anything for them. All they have to do is say nice things about him and that’s it, even during the Election in 2016. He was asked, ‘Why are you saying such amazing things about Putin? The guy’s a KGB thug, who’s a dictator. Why are you saying such nice things about him?’ And Trump’s reply, basically, ‘He says good things about me.’ So, that’s it. If Trump has the support of the extreme religious people in this country, which includes Jews too, he extreme religious Jews in New York City, then they tend to support Trump. So, Biden is a religious person. But I am comfortable with him being president, that he will observe and defend the separation of church and state.

Jacobsen: After the election, we have another issue. The issue being, or the deal is, a significant chunk of the American population 10 fingers, 10 toes supported policies, behaviours, and speeches of current President Donald Trump. Those often were against many of the standards, attitudes, and standards of evidence of the secular community – human rights activists, of humanists across the country. Yet this has been whipped up over four years. The kettle will not turn to ice right away. It is still at a boil. So, the question, after election, what now?

Engel: Boy, nervous about that. I was watching – I wish I could remember her name – a reporter. I think she’s with Showtime. Jon Heileman is the guy who produces it; he’s one of the reporters there. But in any event, she was talking to some guy who was in a militia in Georgia, a rightwing militia. And basically, what he said, he was expecting and prepared for violence no matter who wins, because he said: If Trump wins over the left – who are so violent, which they’re not, but they’ll probably start something. And if Biden wins, then it is illegitimate. Biden can’t win and this is what Trump has been telling these people and some of them believe him and that he cannot lose by any legitimate means. If he loses, it means it was stolen. And this guy, standing there with this assault rifle, because this is the glorious United States of America where everybody has an assault rifle, not me, by the way, but in New York City in that year. In lots of other places, they’re saying, “We’re ready to march.”

Now that we’ve got a lot of tough talk from guys like that, it was one of these guys at the end who said, ‘I was a free man yesterday. I’ll be a free man tomorrow.’ But when they actually come up against armed cops who are trained and who are serious, it does tend to peter out, but there is reason to be concerned about the immediate aftermath of there being violence. And then there’s the long-term answer of this, that we still haven’t confronted. Some people say, “Oh, the problem is Trump. And when he’s gone, we can go back to normal.” But I think a lot of people, including me, are apprehensive about that, because the problem isn’t just Trump. I’ll tell you one thing. I have been shocked. And again, there are so many things that have shocked, but not surprised, me about the last four years. And one of those things is that, right now, I am shocked that there has been not a single Republican leader who has stood up and said, “OK, look, folks, we’re going to have a free and fair election because that’s what we do here. And then the winner will be the winner. And that’ll be that.” They’re not saying this.

And so, the long-term prospects for this country are uncertain, even if Biden wins, because there are 40%  of the people who have been drinking the Kool-Aid for the last four years. People who believe either he’s done a great job or that this is a hoax, not real. I honestly don’t know. But the fact that those people will still be here, even if the state of New York manages to put Trump into an orange jumpsuit, those people will still be here in this country. And that’s a long-term problem that I don’t know the solution to. And in some ways, I’m not even thinking about that much because I’m like, “Let’s get through the next couple of days, let’s get through it.” Because, Trump could just even some way legitimately win re-election, in which case, give me a bit of liberty under the doormat because I’m going to be sleeping in your bathroom pretty soon (in Canada).

Jacobsen: How are you feeling personally about it?

Engel: Nervous, I pay something for last time, because every day is felt like it has taken a year, to get to this point. It has been such a slow drag. I am nervous about it. On the one hand, it is easy to fall into, “Oh, that can’t happen here.” I’ll tell you a little story. I’m a big jazz fan. I have been going to concerts. I have had a subscription to the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra for over 20 years. And right after the 2016 election, I was at one of the concerts. I was sitting next to a gentleman from Germany. We were chatting before the show and at intermission. And this is not that long, maybe a few months after the 2016 election. First of all, I was like apologizing, “I’m so sorry that we’re flipping this person on the world, including you.” And he said, “Oh, it’ll be OK. It is America. America always comes through, it’ll be OK.” And then he said, “Hey, listen, any country that could produce music like this, is always going to be OK. And I just said, “Thank you. I appreciate your good wishes.” But in my mind, I thought back to 1935 or so. It is like, “Hey, there are a lot of people in Germany,” but then we’re like, “OK, this is the land of Beethoven. We’re civilized people. We’re not going to fall into barbarity.” And to the best of my recollection, they did.

So, personally, I do feel nervous. I’m wondering, where the people are going to wind up taking a stand here. We’ll find out within the next couple of days, even wind up speaking to you next week from today. And there won’t be a world anymore, in which case, that’ll be that. I don’t think anything like that quite yet, but I do think so much is on the line. In 4 years, you can do a lot of damage, which he has. In four more years where he feels unrestrained, the damage would only multiply.

Jacobsen: Jon, thank you so much for your time today.

Engel: Thank you, Scott. Listen, you take care of yourself and hopefully we will right the world at least a little bit in the next couple of days. Take care, Scott.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Professor Burge 18: Electorate Political Party Space

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/07/02

Professor Ryan Burge‘s website states: “I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science as well as the Graduate Coordinator at Eastern Illinois University. I teach in a variety of areas, including American institutions, political behavior, and research methods. My research focuses largely on the intersection between religiosity and political behavior (especially in the American context). Previously, I have completed an appointment as a post doctoral research fellow at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute in Carbondale, Illinois. While there I was an adviser on issues of survey methodology and polling, as well as providing data collection and analysis.

I have published over a dozen articles in a number of well regarded peer reviewed journals including Politics & Religion, the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, the Review of Religious Research, the Journal of Religious Leadership, RepresentationPoliticsGroupsand Identities, the Journal of Communication and Religion, the Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture and the Social Science Computer Review. 

In addition, my research has been covered in a variety of media outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, NBC, Vox, 538, BuzzFeed News, Al-Jazeera, Christianity Today, Religion News Service, The Daily Mail, Deseret News, World Magazine, Relevant, and C-SPAN. I am the co-founder and frequent contributor to Religion in Public, a forum for scholars of religion and politics to make their work accessible to a more general audience.

Finally, I am a pastor in the American Baptist Church, having served my current church for over thirteen years.”

Here we talk about Nones, politics, and electorate political space.

*Interview conducted on November 23, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: In a previous session with a previous question, I remember or recall a review of atheists or the Nones in general having an increasing share of the voting base for Republicans and therefore, by implication, Trump, in the last two elections. However, in the 2020 election, compared to the 2016 election, there has been a decline for atheists, agnostics, and nothing in particular. So, the Nones in general, do you think that’s just a blip, a regression of that trend in terms of a reduction of those who support Republican Party policies and politicians? Or do you think that that is more of a trend? This is more a sign of a decline or long term erosion of support among the Nones for Republicans.

Professor Ryan Burge: I think that Trump was good at driving away that less than a million, like insanely good at it because of his pandering to Evangelicals and some of his policies were focused on shoring up the base of white Evangelicals, which he did. They got that. You got to think that white Evangelicals. So, he succeeded in that effort. But I do wonder if he gave away a lot of religious folks that he could have won, if he would have reached out in any way at all instead of pandering to the Christian Nationalists. So, I did a presentation for the American Atheists organization where I, basically, walked everyone through the data they have for 2020, so far. And it does look like that the Nones abandoned Trump even more, this time. Atheists were 15% for 2016, then it was 10%. Agnostics are right about the same. In particular, an even bigger number, 6% or 7% of adults together, you get about 2% of the vote that switched from Trump in 2016 to Biden in 2020. That, by itself, is enough to get the win for Joe Biden in 2020. But I think you make a good point. I think this election would be what we talked about. It is a sorting election, clean the electorate and in a severe way. I don’t know. Other Republicans are going to be less controversial than Donald Trump. I do wonder if those Republicans can get back to 15%. Then it becomes a lot more competitive for Republicans, which is Trump was unable to play the base in 2020. And that’s, I think, one of the reasons he lost what he was able to make become any bigger than everybody got in 2016, again. And he just wasn’t able to do that. So, that’s enough for him to lose.

Jacobsen: Democrats, the white Evangelicals are not budging aggregately. Republicans have this in their favour. Why is this so? And what is an extended commentary for Democrats? What is an extended commentary for Republicans?

Burge: Yes, so, for years, like clockwork, there is this thing, which is an industrial complex that the Democrats are going to win back some white Evangelicals. They’re going to raise a bunch of money and put up these organizations and try to win over enough white Evangelicals to show, “Oh, we can win back the religious vote every year or every presidential election cycle.” It is the same thing: white Evangelicals, 78% of Republicans. That goes back to John McCain four years ago. There’s no reason to believe the white Evangelicals are going to move. They are committed to Republicans as black pastors are to Democrats. There is no switching there. There’s no movement there. There’s no daylight there. So, all these things that the Democrats have been trying to do to win over these white Evangelicals has, basically, been a waste of time and resources. At the same time, though, I would argue that one of Trump’s major flaws was he pandered to white Evangelicals the whole time. Which was why Evangelicals vote 78%, whether moving the capital to Jerusalem or whatever else he did because they love Donald Trump, so, I think for Trump, the Democrats should focus their attention somewhere else. The Republicans should also focus their attention somewhere else to try to win groups like white Catholics and Hispanic Catholics and Evangelicals, other groups that actually can swing and they’ve shown a propensity to swing a little bit from election to election and that’s where the election is decided. Not the blocs, the concrete blocks on both sides, it is the middle of the electorate where all this stuff work outs. It seems like, especially most Republicans, that they ignored that fact this time. And just luckily for Joe Biden, he was likable enough to win them over at this time.

Jacobsen: How do people view the electorate in a political party space?

Burge: So, it is fascinating, I think, where you get to see how people view the electorate. They like how they view the anchors in political space. And what I think is fascinating are atheists, atheists from 2012 to 2016 for themselves are in lockstep with the Democratic Party. They place themselves right in the same spot, which they place the Democrats. But for 2016, obviously, before the interesting happened, atheists saw themselves drifting further and further to the left of the ideological spectrum, but then they saw the Democratic Party basically moving further and further to the right of the ideological spectrum. And now atheists see themselves as being more liberal than the Democrats, which is the only religious group in America today to see themselves as being more liberal than the Democrats. And there’s not a single religious organization that sees himself as being more conservative than the Republicans. So, atheists see themselves as a way out for the left. Even past the Democratic Party now, which I think tells you a lot about how the Democrat Party is becoming moderate when everyone else is becoming more liberal.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Jon 27: “Superstition ain’t the way”

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/07/02

Jonathan Engel, J.D. is the President of the Secular Humanist Society of New YorkHere we talk about the superstition, Covid, and the American problems when they come together at the same time.

*Interview conducted October 12, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, I want to frame this particular session around paranormal beliefs. There are the supernatural beliefs, paranormal beliefs. Maybe, they can be categorized largely as extra-normal beliefs or some larger set of nonsense beliefs and non-empirical beliefs, generally. So, in a 2017 survey by Chapman University in Orange, California, they looked at seven, at least, paranormal beliefs. I want to list those quickly to frame this conversation today. 55% of Americans believe ancient advanced civilizations such as Atlantis once existed. 52% believe places can be haunted by spirits. 35% believe aliens have visited Earth in our ancient past. 26% believe aliens have come to Earth in modern times. 25% believe some people can move objects with their minds. 19% believe fortune tellers and psychics can foresee the future. 16% believe Bigfoot is a real creature. The punchline to all of this, 5% of Americans hold all seven of those beliefs and only 25.3% hold none of those. Again, this is from Chapman University in 2017 on paranormal beliefs. So, let’s talk about untouchability as one of the reasons for the prevalence or the ubiquity of these beliefs, why, and also how, does this tie into a New York Times article that you read?

Jonathan Engel: It is clear. That’s frightening to think that that many people believe these things. Although, I would say that one of the things that’s interesting is that a lot of everyday Americans would look at something like that, at least the ones who don’t believe those kinds of things. And I know it is only 25% who don’t believe any of them, but many of that 25% would look at those things and say – and laugh and chuckle, “Oh, boy, I can’t believe the things people believe. But how different is any of that then to believing in literal religious beliefs, mainline religious beliefs.” But taking them literally, as fundamentalist Christians do, as ultra-Orthodox Jews do, it is not that there’s no difference, but simply believing in something for which there was no evidence and that absolutely defies the laws of nature. And recently, we’ve seen the harm that can be done. I’m thinking about the situation with Covid in this country. And it is pretty clear by now that the United States has had the worst response and continues to have the worst response to Covid of any Western nation. And there’s any number of reasons for this.

But I think one of the reasons that people are afraid to say it, hesitant to say it, is because religion is so sacrosanct in this country, by which I mean fundamentalist religious beliefs. And we’re seeing that just this past Saturday, there have been several articles in The New York Times and there have been articles going for the last few days about an outbreak of Covid in Orthodox Jewish areas. Both in Brooklyn and in New York City and in some small communities that are just a little bit north of New York City. And in response to those outbreaks, Governor Cuomo, for the state, and Mayor de Blasio, for New York City, have imposed some new restrictions. Like many places, when you get an outbreak, there are restrictions, then we slowly come out of those restrictions. But then when you get an outbreak, you have to re-impose them. So, almost reimposing restrictions on areas, many of which are home to large ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities. They have gone crazy. They sued Cuomo. They’re yelling, “It is anti-Semitism.” And believe me, I’m sensitive to anti-Semitism [Ed. Engel is Jewish.], but I know it when I see it. And this isn’t it.

Anti-Semitism certainly exists. It is a terrible problem still in this world and this country and this city. But like I said, I know when I see it and this isn’t it. They’re not being targeted because they’re Jewish, no matter how much they want to say they are. They are being targeted because they’re not following the basic guidelines and, therefore, they’re having an outbreak. And that outbreak affects, endangers, everybody, everybody in the USA, every single person. My wife, kids, and I, my 96-year-old mother and everybody in New York City. Everybody in the state is endangered when people don’t follow these rules. And the thing that’s interesting is, I find, mainstream news sources like The Times don’t want to come right out and say this. They’re saying, “We need to follow the science. We need to follow the science,” but they don’t take it to the next step and say, “Why aren’t some people following the science?” And the answer is: Some people don’t believe in it. People believe that there’s this sky deity that protects them, which will protect them from Covid or doesn’t reward them. For being, I don’t know, selfish assholes. They were down here on Earth in the next life.

We’ve seen these super spreader events. In fact, one of the first outbreaks in the United States, in North America, was around the Orthodox community just a little bit north of New York. And of course, we’ve seen many fundamentalist preachers saying, “We will not shut down our churches. We will have our church meetings,” etc. In defiance not only of laws and of regulations put out by their governors, but in defiance of any common sense, and clearly, in my view, I have seen that fundamentalist religion is contrary to science. And I don’t understand that there are people who are going to church or synagogue or mosque, but they still believe in science. They compartmentalize. That’s fine for them. It is absolutely their way. When it comes to fundamentalist religion, it is simply not compatible with science. So, the response in some of these communities has been anti-science. I think it is one of the things that has caused us to have this response to Covid that has been the worst in the Western world.

Jacobsen: Now, is it Tom Friedman?

Engel: Yes.

Jacobsen: Yes. He’s the writer for The New York Times. And if he’s writing some articles and he can’t even touch his ‘sacrosanct’ beliefs in the United States, in The New York Times of all publications, where does this leave even mainstream discussion on religious issues? If you can’t openly, even gently, critique some of the fundamentalist religious ideas pervasive in the United States, especially based on the Chapman University survey, why aren’t even fringe paranormal beliefs able to be critiqued? This, by implication, only leaves neutral or positive commentary on fundamentalist religious beliefs or personal beliefs? I think that’s a natural implication of that conclusion of those two premises in the argument. If you have a pervasive set of fundamentalist religious beliefs and personal religious beliefs in the United States, and if you can’t speak opposingly to them in public fora, then you can only speak neutrally or positively about them. So, this becomes a self-reinforcing cycle, which is a problem. It emboldens an anti-intellectualism in a negatively ignorant culture.

Engel: Yes, I think that that’s absolutely true. And it is a big problem. Talking about Tom Friedman, who, by the way, is a smart guy, it is not like I don’t think he knows. Last Wednesday, they are talking about Covid. So, it is like speaking of “Mother Nature.” So, it is one of the things for the questions you have. The answer is: It is your adaptive response to the virus. Grounded in chemistry, biology and physics, because that is all I am, if it is grounded instead in politics, ideology, markets and an election calendar, you will fail and your community will equally pay. Now, what’s interesting, in his response, you’re going to have to pay a price for your response to Covid if it is grounded in politics or ideology or markets or an election calendar, but he doesn’t mention religion.

And I think he knows that if your Covid response is grounded in – I think it is like Stevie Wonder – profound superstition, if you believe in things you don’t understand, you’re going to suffer. This is the same thing with this country again. It is religious beliefs that are so sacrosanct that they wouldn’t touch them. Now, listen, if you want to believe certain aspects of nonsense things, and if they don’t hurt anybody else, then go right ahead. I’m a big believer in the First Amendment, but like all the rights that are enumerated in the Constitution.

It is not absolute freedom of religion. Freedom to practice is not absolute free exercise of religion and not an absolute. Things can go right to swinging your fist at my nose, when you start hurting people. And this whole thing is the perfect proving grounds for that because nobody gets Covid in isolation. You have Covid. You have the disease. You are a danger to everybody else. And there’s the danger. Everything comes close to them. I actually see these Trump rallies with thousands of lunatics without masks, which I think, by the way, we’re going to get another glimpse of today. It is one thing to say, “What? They want to go there and endanger their lives. Go right ahead.” The problem is that the same guy who goes to a Trump rally on the way home when he stops at the 7-Eleven to buy himself a soda. He’s endangering the folks and anybody else within that 7-Eleven. So, this is not the type of thing that’s restricted to you. So, your religious beliefs. You can go ahead and have all in your life.

If you want to think that God will protect you from Covid, you can go ahead and take the job of protecting people. But if you don’t wear a mask, you’re endangering me. And I don’t think God will protect me from Covid. So, you have your right to your religious beliefs, but you don’t have the right to put me into danger. And you’re putting me in danger. You can’t, or at least you shouldn’t, be able to hide behind, “This is my religious belief,” in order to just go ahead to leave dangerous practices that endanger me. But again, we talk about the importance of following the science. You see so many people talk about following the science, but in this country, only few of them. I’m talking to people that you see on TV, the politicians and pundits or whatever, few of them are willing publicly to make that connection that we have to follow the science. And if you’re not following the science, whether it is because you think Trump is Superman, or whether it is because you think your religion is going to stamp out Covid. You’re not following the science. That’s a danger. But they won’t be connected to the religion. And I think that, in and of itself, is a real danger and a real problem.

Jacobsen: There is some research by people who are serious and sober into the subject matter of critical thinking and working to combat these beliefs openly in public. Apparently, a more aggressive and assertive and firm approach to individuals who harbor these beliefs does the opposite. They go home. They simmer, maybe. They become more entrenched in non-reality-based beliefs. If not the overarching non-reality-based belief structures, in fact, if they become more entrenched in individual beliefs, they become more entrenched in the overarching structure that holds the individual beliefs. So, the gentle, slow approach is the most effective. However, it is difficult to maintain when there’s so much nonsense around in the United States. What is it you find that works?

Engel: Yes, I hear you. And I believe in research and evidence. And if that’s what the research evidence shows, and I can make some common sense, then I think that’s the way we have to go; it brings up two problems. One is what is just in my head. My head may want to explode. I want to scream at these people, but I won’t outside of our conversation, because I understand what you’re saying. But the problem with Covid is that that’s a slow process and Covid kills people quickly. So, yes, and listen, I give a lot of props, because they are taking a firm stand now with the ultra-Orthodox Jews. The fact that they are taking a firm stand now. And that’s not going to help them politically. I understand what you’re saying, but the problem that they are facing again is the immediacy of this. And I can see we are taking the gentle, slower approach just saying, “Hey, let’s talk about what you think.” The idea is to get people thinking. You can’t yell at people, “You have to change. You’re an idiot. You can’t do that,” but I can understand that. But they don’t effectuate change. But again, the difficulty that we’re seeing here is that that’s a wonderful long term project, but Covid is with us in the short term and it kills quickly. So, whereas I see the point that we are trying to change the minds of people who are in fundamentalist religion, it is going to be a slow and gentle process and one that has the best chance of working. I also say that right now; someone like Governor Cuomo doesn’t have the luxury of doing this slow process directly, not necessarily in terms of beliefs, but in terms of practices he had to confront this directly and quickly. He had no choice; because, otherwise, we could be back in a second wave seeing thousands of people dying again.

Jacobsen: Jon, as always, thanks so much for your time.

Engel: My pleasure, Scott.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Professor Burge 17: Interethnic Marriage, Racism, Exit Polls, and QAnon

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/07/01

Professor Ryan Burge‘s website states: “I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science as well as the Graduate Coordinator at Eastern Illinois University. I teach in a variety of areas, including American institutions, political behavior, and research methods. My research focuses largely on the intersection between religiosity and political behavior (especially in the American context). Previously, I have completed an appointment as a post doctoral research fellow at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute in Carbondale, Illinois. While there I was an adviser on issues of survey methodology and polling, as well as providing data collection and analysis.

I have published over a dozen articles in a number of well regarded peer reviewed journals including Politics & Religion, the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, the Review of Religious Research, the Journal of Religious Leadership, RepresentationPoliticsGroupsand Identities, the Journal of Communication and Religion, the Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture and the Social Science Computer Review. 

In addition, my research has been covered in a variety of media outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, NBC, Vox, 538, BuzzFeed News, Al-Jazeera, Christianity Today, Religion News Service, The Daily Mail, Deseret News, World Magazine, Relevant, and C-SPAN. I am the co-founder and frequent contributor to Religion in Public, a forum for scholars of religion and politics to make their work accessible to a more general audience.

Finally, I am a pastor in the American Baptist Church, having served my current church for over thirteen years.”

Here we talk about interracial marriage, religion, vote switching, exit polls, and conspiracy theories.

*Interview conducted on November 23, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Now, on the subject matter of interracial marriage or interethnic marriage, white Evangelicals and Muslims and to some extent Jewish people agree with the statement, ‘I prefer that my closer relatives and my spouses are from the same race.’ Atheists are down at 6%, nothing in particular at 7.5%. So, it’s a pretty big chasm in terms of attaching one’s religious identity to an ethnic identity to some degree.

Professor Ryan Burge: Yes, that’s a good question. So, I think atheists are just more pluralist overall, but I also think it is a matter of scarcity, too. When you consider the fact that 6% of Americans are Atheist, 6% of Americans are Agnostic, they’re a small group anyway, bring race and the picture becomes even smaller. So, let’s say you are a black atheist, or a Hispanic atheist, if you want to marry a spouse from another race, you also probably want your religion to match; your partisanship to match. There’s other data out there that people are becoming less and less willing for their kids to marry someone from a different political party. And we know how well that leads to religion, with partisanship. So, we put all those three things together with people. What happened is they want their family unit to be cohesive politically, so, what you just want to do: You want to marry someone who’s got the same race and the same affiliation to the party. I think race is tied up with partisanship, too. So, we talk about atheists, agnostics. We know they’re much more pluralistic when it comes to things like multiculturalism, multiracialism, also different places are much more urban. There’s a much higher likelihood they could find someone of another race in America.

It is like white Evangelicals. A lot of them are from rural areas or suburban areas, where it is predominantly white. So, it is easier to marry someone who’s white. I do think it is obvious there’s a racial component of this – straight up racism. That’s why you don’t want to fix the racism issues and things like that. But I also think, and this is an important part, this is tied up with age, too, because we know that atheists are younger. Average atheist Americans are only 41-years-old. The average mainline Protestants, 58-years-old. So, when you bring it into the equation, you see that younger generations are much more multiracial, much more open to other races. Older people aren’t. So, it is combining a bunch of stuff together on this question. I think it bears in an interesting way.

Jacobsen: Now, a white Evangelical is twice as likely to switch their vote from Clinton to Trump rather than Trump to Biden. What’s going on, man?

Burge: I like where we are going there right now. Look, the exit polls are still trying to figure out what the heck happened with the white Evangelical vote. I am convinced that religious sorting, religious/political sorting, has hit its absolute peak in the 2020 election. What you’re seeing is, people who have aligned with their political ambitions as much with their religious ambitions as humanly possible now. And what we’re seeing more and more, I think, people don’t want to live lives of incongruence. They want everything in their life to match up to this scheme. To religion, politics, race, even things like suburban, urban, rural, that geography is part of it, too. So, they’re just realigning themselves in a specific way to match up with this consistency. So, politics is another one of those things where we’re seeing sorting. I don’t know if we can get any further sorting. It seems like, there’s not much left to sort now. When you see a group like 80%, 20%, that’s almost as much sorting as you could possibly see in nature. So, I think we’re seeing more and more of that with Trump. Trump is one of those polarizing figures. I can’t imagine a more polarizing figure in American politics in my lifetime than Donald Trump. So, either you love him or you hate him, I think he’s actually accelerated things quite a bit by making it so hard to like him. You can’t just be on the fence about Donald Trump. You love him or hate him. There’s no in-between. I think he accelerated the sorting too.

Jacobsen: So, why don’t you trust exit polls on religions? All races, Trump 68%. The AP vote cast all races, Trump 46%. NBC white only, Trump 66%. However, Trump doing worse in rustbelt states with a ton of Catholics. What’s going on?

Burge: Yes, I think exit poll numbers are going to be right now probably all over the place on the stuff. Exit polls are bad. They can be good because the way they work is they just grab people as they exit the polls and say, “Here you get the short survey talking about who you voted for.” It is a basic demographic survey and then they go either way. The problem is that they pull people from the line in inconsistent ways, in ways that are not truly relevant, because we know that there’s no response bias from certain groups of people who are low income and to not answer because they have to go back to work. We know that women are more social than men. So, when you did get exit polls, you’re already getting a biased sample. So, it has never been that good anyway. But now, over half the vote in 2020 did not exit the poll because they never went to the polls, they voted by mail. So, you’re getting a bad version of a half a sample, which we know that the sample of the exit polls was biased towards Trump because when the mail is available; it was overwhelmingly blue, but the walking vote was overwhelmingly red. So, from that, you can’t get a full sense of what actually happened until we get with the voter verified data, which has come out for months and months and months. Like I have been telling people, I didn’t know the real story of 2020 until probably March or April. So, it is still early.

But the problem is, is your people that the media has report, they haven’t told these stories about religion. So, it is bad. People are using these stories from exit polling and don’t know what the real story is yet. I have not got my hands on the data, yet. So, I don’t trust exit polls. They are bad and they have never been worse.

Jacobsen: For those who like theodicy, who have a deep need for closure in terms of explanations, they are going to look at teleology in the world. They’re going to look at some purpose in the world. It is going to be some battle between good and evil. It is an American general view, but many people’s ideas about phenomena in their view of the world, too, of a cosmic battle between good and evil. This has various effects. So, with regards to QAnon, which I note is this highly American phenomenon, though spreading. As a conspiracy theory, it has twice as much support, roughly, amongst Evangelicals compared to the Nones, in particular Atheists and Agnostics. Why is that true? Why is that particularly acute among them?

Burge: That’s actually interesting, like the theory for that myself. If you talk to people about religion and you, you get to a completely different takes on it. There’s a whole group of people that think that Q is what happens when we don’t have religion, that people go out in search of something to fill that void and things like QAnon are ways to fill that void. Now, there’s another way of thinking, “No, no, no, listen. Q Works amongst religious people because Q is reliant on some pretty magical, fantastical, miraculous thinking, which is what Evangelicals are prone to do, because frankly they do that when it comes to Jesus in the Bible and things like that.” So, those theories seem plausible and, in a lot of ways, is a replacement for religion or is make religious people more susceptible to it.

So, we did a survey. We actually found that Evangelicals are twice, nearly twice as likely to believe a Q as religiously unaffiliated people, but just think about Q and this creates difficulties. Is Q only a phenomenon on the right, not of a non-partisan conspiracy theory? It is definitely a right wing conspiracy theory. Atheists, agnostics are typically much more left leaning and Evangelicals much more right leaning. So, hard to pick apart, how much of that has to do with their political partisanship versus conspiratorial thinking in general? So, that’s something we’re certainly working on with a paper about in the future – how those pieces are apart and figure out what’s politics doing in the work or if it’s religion or lack thereof doing the work. But no one’s done work on QAnon, yet. We wanted to be one of the first. So, that was our effort to be one of the first.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Professor Burge 16: Family Separation, “Protestant,” and Secularization

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/06/29

Professor Ryan Burge‘s website states: “I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science as well as the Graduate Coordinator at Eastern Illinois University. I teach in a variety of areas, including American institutions, political behavior, and research methods. My research focuses largely on the intersection between religiosity and political behavior (especially in the American context). Previously, I have completed an appointment as a post doctoral research fellow at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute in Carbondale, Illinois. While there I was an adviser on issues of survey methodology and polling, as well as providing data collection and analysis.

I have published over a dozen articles in a number of well regarded peer reviewed journals including Politics & Religion, the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, the Review of Religious Research, the Journal of Religious Leadership, Representation, Politics, Groups, and Identities, the Journal of Communication and Religion, the Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture and the Social Science Computer Review.

In addition, my research has been covered in a variety of media outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, NBC, Vox, 538, BuzzFeed News, Al-Jazeera, Christianity Today, Religion News Service, The Daily Mail, Deseret News, World Magazine, Relevant, and C-SPAN. I am the co-founder and frequent contributor to Religion in Public, a forum for scholars of religion and politics to make their work accessible to a more general audience.

Finally, I am a pastor in the American Baptist Church, having served my current church for over thirteen years.”

Here we talk about “Protestant” as a term, family separation, and secularization.

*Interview conducted on November 23, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: To begin, how unaware are young people of this term, “Protestant”? What is implied in that term first? And why are young people not aware of it as much?

Professor Ryan Burge: “Protestant,” it’s a funny word because it’s a word that if you are a researcher of religion, everyone understands what it means. But if you’re a lay person, you’re an average human being, American bopping around population; you don’t really understand what the word means. You might have heard it a few times, but it’s a term that most people haven’t. Christians in America are Protestant because they’re Episcopalian, Lutherans, Methodists, or Baptists or whatever. They’re not Catholic. If you’re Christian and not Catholic, then you’re by definition a Protestant, including non-denominational people. And that’s the thing with a lot of Christianity now, which has moved away from labels and even the denominational labels. Things like Baptists, let alone terms like “Protestants.” The survey that I have access to asks the question, “What is your present religion, e.g., Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, Orthodox…?” It has an option that says, “Christian other than above.” And what’s really interesting, is lots and lots of young people pick that option. A quarter of people aged 18 to 25 say they’re “Christian other than above.” Less than 7% say, “Protestant,” which really means that 30% are Protestant, but only seven percent know they’re Protestant, which means that almost three quarters of Protestant young people don’t know they’re Protestant. Which makes it incredibly difficult for us to classify people religiously, if you don’t even know what the heck you are, it adds a wrinkle to like religious measurement in America or across the world. How can we hit a moving target when I don’t understand the target?

Jacobsen: Why does no one support family separation? Why is family integration and maintenance incredibly popular?

Burge: I think American civic religion, which is beyond and above religion, puts a lot of emphasis on family as an important part of American life. Even monotheist, even your humanists, or secularists, these kind of people still put a great deal of emphasis on having a strong family structure. And they think that Americans especially put a lot of emphasis on protecting children and keeping children in a safe, warm, loving environment as much as they can. Definitely separation cuts to the heart of all that stuff because it takes children away from their parents. And I think most of us, when it comes to immigration, understand that it’s a crime, but only in a way that the crime of people trying to make a better life for themselves. So pulling kids away from their parents, for that crime specifically, just seems like a tremendous, tremendous amount of overreach and a lot of variability over you. If you could commit a crime to go to prison, you’re away from your family. But I think most Americans understand there’s a tremendous difference between, rape or murder or robbery than it is with jumping across the border to try to go work and trying to make a better life for your family. So I think it’s a punishment that doesn’t fit the crime for a lot of people when it comes to family separation.

Jacobsen: Now, I want to turn back to the first question before about defining Protestant as a general statistical matter, demographic matter. How do you get around these issues of getting to the facts of the matter when individuals themselves, by and large, may not necessarily know the ideas you have in mind when you’re trying to catalogue things? So, people use the word “Protestant.” They don’t know what the word Protestant means, but people who are studying it professionally to try to get the right answers have a precise definition. That which the public may or may not know about.

Burge: So it’s not easy, but there are ways around it. And one of them is we typically ask for self-identification questions, which is, “What do you consider yourself, Born Again or Evangelical?” And so if you say, “Yes,” to that question, you say you’re a Christian, then we’re going to assume you’re an Evangelical Christian. So, it’s actually about a whole lot of other people who do this kind of stuff and say, “Let’s move away from religious tradition as an idea, and let’s just ask you what you are.” So, if you say you’re Evangelical, we’ll just go, “Okay, you’re Evangelical.” It does work reasonably well. I think it’s a very good question. I think we are struggling, with religious education, religious knowledge goes to the general population. It makes our job harder and harder. But I do think that we can use other kinds of proxies, like going to church live is a pretty good proxy for Protestant, Catholic. Most people who are Catholic know they’re Catholics. That sorts that out pretty quickly. So, I think that because Christianity is the default religion in America and people know that part of it. We can use some identification standards, certain ways that backdoor our way into what like an Evangelical is, for instance.

Jacobsen: Now, 40% of evangelicals in the pew on Sunday were under 40 in the 1970s. In the 2010s, it was 29%. That is the loss of about a quarter. Why?

Burge: Because there’s a generational replacement thing where the older generation is still pretty Christian, overwhelmingly Christian. Actually, very few and probably less than 10% identify religious and political people over the age of 75. But then, they’re being replaced when they die. They’re being replaced by a younger generation where we’re seeing data analysis. Generation Z, which if you’re born in 1995 or later. 40%+ of them are religiously unaffiliated. And that is because they grew up in a culture, America, for a generations was a default Christian country. You were just Christian by your very upbringing. Now, if you grew up, you grew up in a world of religious pluralism. You could go online and research Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, or being Atheist or Agnostic. So, it’s become more culturally acceptable, religiously unaffiliated. It’s when you do that, what happens to the people; they just tick what they really are, People who are Nones 40 years ago actually said it. It’s because there’s been no way they can really take that option, because it is not socially acceptable. And so, it’s become more socially acceptable. We do see more and more people not going to church. And, really what you’re seeing, secularization coming to America like it came in Europe, for instance.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Mandisa 62: Secular Communities and Current Issues

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/07/01

Mandisa Thomas, a native of New York City, is the founder and President of Black Nonbelievers, Inc. Although never formally indoctrinated into belief, Mandisa was heavily exposed to Christianity, Black Nationalism, and Islam. As a child she loved reading, and enjoyed various tales of Gods from different cultures, including Greek and Ghanaian. “Through reading these stories and being taught about other cultures at an early age, I quickly noticed that there were similarities and differences between those deities and the God of the Christian Bible. I couldn’t help but wonder what made this God so special that he warrants such prevalence today,” she recalls.

Here we talk about secular communities and current issues (2020).

*This was conducted June 15, 2020.*

Scott Jacobsen: What is the state of things, now, in secular communities and in those with an interest in non-intellectual stuff, in the activism? What is the state of things now?

Mandisa Thomas: There is a huge focus on what’s happening right now in the world – current events. There’s a lot of interest in the black community, and what was going on with the systemic problems of racism and economic injustice. People wanting to know what they can do: how do they support organizations that are working specifically in these areas. Also, they want to know how they can better support organizations like BN that are on the front lines. So, it is very interesting to see that shift; to better understand how they all connect beyond church-state separation. 

Jacobsen: And what do you make of more prominence for the voices who have always been there, but have not been noticed as much because they’ve been living in the shadow of what, more or less, has become an echo chamber? People like yourself for community organizing. People like Dr. Hutchinson for a lot of the intellectual sociological commentary. We could go to list some relative to numbers within that particular demographic, as you say, for instance, a secular bloc in the United States. What do you make of this not massive rise, but a modest attempt in light of recent protests to reach out, to fund, to platform some of these voices who have always been there but just were not used properly before?

Thomas: So, of course, I think it is always great when we activists, authorsand organizers finally get the support that we deserve. We understand that even though it can be frustrating, that it takes some time for the importance of our work to catch on. But sometimes, we cannot help but wonder: Why all of the interest now? Is it because these issues are trending, or are people truly looking to be part of long-term solutions? But of course, we are optimistic, and are confident that people will continue to support our work for years to come.

Jacobsen: I noted this to you before. My own assumption: It is going to spike now and dip back down, but remain above baseline moving forward. That seems to be the general trend. And it is kind of a spike.

Thomas: Yes, we are definitely seeing a spike at this time. And we want it to continue, because this fight is not over. These changes need to go beyond the cycle and not go back to where they were before. The key is to support us consistently. 

Jacobsen: Ma’am, thanks so much for your time.

Thomas: Thank you.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Jon 26: Statolatry, Religiosity, Democracy, and Secularism

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/07/01

Jonathan Engel, J.D. is the President of the Secular Humanist Society of New YorkHere we talk about the Supreme Court and religious threats to public health and democratic norms.

*Interview conducted December 30, 2020*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, today, we are back with our good friend Jon. We’ll be talking about some interesting, inadvertent, indirect alliances in terms of the outcomes of a court case. So, there were two situations, one of which regards the Catholics. Another was with regards to a large Jewish gathering and then the result with a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States. What happened? What was the outcome? What does this mean for secular communities?

Jonathan Engel: Basically what happened was that Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York issued executive orders that limited large gatherings in order to fight Covid, including religious gatherings, an example of the type of thing that Cuomo was looking to fight. And the reason why issues were ordered was a number of weeks ago, I think was about three weeks ago. Something like that. There was this huge wedding in Brooklyn among the Ultra-Orthodox Jews. You understand weddings like this. Thousands of people attended these weddings. Because it is the wedding. It is like the grand rabbi’s son or daughter getting married and like the entire community is invited. And they had this huge wedding with thousands of people. By the way, at those weddings, men and women are strictly separate and there’s tons of dancing. But men dance with men and women dance with women. The implications of any of that, we’re going to skip over for now.

But in any event, so Cuomo, that congregation was fined and Cuomo issued this order limiting these religious gatherings for purely secular reasons, for health reasons. So, two lawsuits were brought against Cuomo’s order by disparate groups. It was the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn versus Cuomo. And the other suit was the Agudath Israel of America, which is a big Ultra-Orthodox umbrella group vs Cuomo.

Jacobsen: Right there. It is the setup for a good Jerry Seinfeld joke.

Engel: Yes, I would think so. I would think so. But strange bedfellows, right? I guess politics makes strange bedfellows, but religion makes even stranger bedfellows. And they sued and the cases were consolidated in the Supreme Court. And last Wednesday, on the night before Thanksgiving, the Supreme Court, this is one of their first cases, argued with Amy Coney Barrett, who was just appointed. Another very, very, extremely religious person who was just appointed to the court by Trump. And in a 5 to 4 decision, they ruled that the foremost order violated the First Amendment’s free exercise clause, thereby freeing this to spread a deadly virus throughout New York City.

And that’s where we are right now. Right now, Cuomo is basically asking, talking to religious communities and saying, “Look, I can’t force you to obey social distancing and to help us keep everybody safe. But I’m asking you to. If I can put the Supreme Court that they can’t force you to, but I’m asking you to.” And I want to emphasize here that most religious mainstream religious congregations are doing what Cuomo has asked. But the Catholic Church in this one case, and again, this umbrella group of Ultra-Orthodox Jews have no intention of following what Cuomo has asked them to do. So, my life as a resident of New York City; my life is now more in danger than it was last Wednesday because of the Supreme Court ruling. And it is frightening both for the immediate public health issues and the more public health damage that could be done. But it is also frightening, in my view, from what this Supreme Court is willing to allow religion to do, as opposed to following civil law.

Jacobsen: Now, I mean the subtext there of both the Jerry Seinfeld jokes, the fact of longstanding centuries old anti-Semitism of the Catholic Church at the same time; the larger issue is the fact of anti-secular sentiment in the United States being at a high pitch. So, I want to take another lesson for the Canadian audience here today from the New York situation, also from the larger American context. So, if you look at Statistics Canada or StatsCan, which is the official federal statistics division or information gathering of Canada, in 2011, which is the recent census that we have on total religious numbers by self identification and household. Christians are at 67.3% of Canada. So, you’ll see these numbers at around 70%, 67%, 2/3rds. These sorts of rates will come around. If you look at Pew Research, also good research organization as well, Michael Lipka published an article in 2019 and he was noting, I may have this wrong doing at the top, but I had an article in which, as a side note, as a comment, not as the focus of the article about a survey that was done in 2018. So, an article for 2019 with a survey mentioned from 2018 in which they identified Canadians as only self identifying as 55% Christian.

And so within a span of seven years, 2011 to 2018, between StatsCan and Pew Research, you have a difference from 67.3% to 55%, which is a massive drop. So, if you do the math, 2021 should be the year in which Canadian Christians self-identified as such should be fewer than half of the total population of Canada, with margins of error for fluctuation based on different organizations doing the research and questions asked. But in general, those have been self-identifications.

The American context, it does show a decline, not as rapid, and still having more Christians in the country and in more positions of power. At the same time, the last 10 years have definitely shown an increased belligerence in light of that reduction in total numbers. What can Canadians take as a lesson from that? What can we expect in terms of just political involvement and belligerence on the part of those who feel as if they’re being compressed, when in fact they’re just reducing in numbers and then being put in the same place as everyone else, which is to seem in an equal status?

Engel: I’ll tell you. I hope it is not a harbinger of things to come from my Canadian friends and relatives. I think this is part of what’s going on in the United States with regard to that type of things. You see it from a political nature in terms of the Republican Party, which is clearly shrinking in terms of its percentage of Americans who identify as Republicans. And certainly they are a minority, but they’re looking to do things to lock in minority rule. And that’s, I think, one of the scary things that I would suggest that the people of Canada be alert for in that sense. And it is Christian, but it is also white Christians in the United States. They see that the demographics are not in their favor. As you said, fewer people are identifying as Christians. There are more non-white people in the United States than there were. So, the Republican Party as the vehicle for white Christendom in this country, they’re looking to, and they have been somewhat successful, which is scary, to lock in minority groups, so that, even though, we’re supposed to be a democracy, that they can still have the political power – even though they’re in the minority.

Now, how are they doing this? One way they have done this is their manipulation. I won’t get into the details of it. Probably, a lot of people know. But their manipulation of Supreme Court appointments, so that right now, Donald Trump just appointed 3 of the 9 United States Supreme Court justices, this is someone who lost the popular vote twice. How was that majority rule? How was that democracy? It is. But if you have a lock on the Supreme Court, you’ve got a lot of power to decide what the laws in this country will be.

And the same thing applies with what we call gerrymandering, where they create certain districts in such ways that they can wind up. And you see it a lot of times, not only in federal elections, but also in state elections, where, say, for example, I think this was recently the case in North Carolina where the Republicans had gerrymandered districts in such a way that it turned out that in an election for the state legislature, something like 53% of the people in the state voted for Democratic candidates. But of something like 50 positions available, Republicans won 30. So, wait a minute, you’re not getting the most votes. How are you winning? And the answer is the way they draw the districts in such a way, so that you have a lot of Democrats lose here. Let’s make that one district for tons and tons vote for Democrats. If there are more Republicans in other districts, then it will make that a separate district. Even though, it is much fewer people, so that they can win those Republican districts. So, what we’re seeing, again, is the threat, what I would advise mostly about is the threat to democracy that comes from white Christian people believing that their seat at the table, as the foremost people, the people with the most power fading away, that they will try to institute non-democratic norms in order to keep their power.

Jacobsen: Sir, thank you so much for your time today.

Engel: It is absolutely my pleasure, Scott.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Mandisa 61: American Elections and the Black Freethought Political Movement(s)

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/06/30

Mandisa Thomas, a native of New York City, is the founder and President of Black Nonbelievers, Inc. Although never formally indoctrinated into belief, Mandisa was heavily exposed to Christianity, Black Nationalism, and Islam. As a child she loved reading, and enjoyed various tales of Gods from different cultures, including Greek and Ghanaian. “Through reading these stories and being taught about other cultures at an early age, I quickly noticed that there were similarities and differences between those deities and the God of the Christian Bible. I couldn’t help but wonder what made this God so special that he warrants such prevalence today,” she recalls.

Here we talk about Election Day, voting, and Black secularism in the United States.

*This was conducted November 2, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, we are back with another “Ask Mandisa.” This will be an in-the-moment commentary, basically, the day before the elections close, the United States for the presidential federal election. Also, it will be published after. So it will be something like a retrospective in the moment. So, we can take that as a caveat to the entire conversation. Today, I wanted to focus on black, secular American views of elections in general. What are the conversations that tend to happen around these times? What’s the general attitude?

Mandisa ThomasSo, Election Day in the United States, particularly the Presidential election that takes every four years, is pretty tense in general. However, many of the conversations that take place in Black communities surround the candidates prioritizing our causes and interests. We are also checking for these officials to hold up their process once they are elected (or re-elected). Because far too often, we’ve seen campaign promises fall to the wayside. Also, the Supreme Court striking down parts of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, still hits a nerve. Because if we remember, historically blacks were denied the right to vote. And so many in our communities scrutinize the representatives on this basis.

There is also a heated debate in Black communities about the effectiveness of voting. While it is very important and I think we all should be doing so, the history of the United States and its dubious treatment of black folks has created serious skepticism. Ironically, there’s less skepticism of religion and how it seeps into politics, but the conversations definitely do vary. We look at things from a historical perspective, the candidates who they’re running, and whether or not they are actually aware of the issues that affect the black community, and what they’re going to do about them.

Jacobsen: How does that kind of conversation differ from religious black Americans perspective on these things?

ThomasActually, many of us share the same type of skepticism when it comes to politics and the voting, etc. But I think a major difference is that many secularists like myself don’t just vote strictly down party lines; we research our candidates more thoroughly. We like to look beyond the rhetoric, make sure that the candidates aren’t just saying what they think people want to hear, and that they’re actually going to work on behalf of the people. 

We are also mindful of the religious backgrounds of those who are running for elected offices, and if that will affect their job. I have connected with a number of candidates as a representative of Black Nonbelievers, who were actually intrigued by the fact that our organization existed. And I remember telling them that we’re a part of the voting bloc, and that we are concerned about whether or not our voices will be heard. And in true politician style, they were willing to listen. But it’s always interesting to see how that plays out when they’re not on the campaign trail anymore. But more often than not, we tend to share many of the same views.

Jacobsen: Now, there are some interesting individuals who are prominent. Yet, they would not be expected to support an individual candidate like Trump. It’s unusual people like 50 Cent, Kanye West, on face value, it would seem extremely unusual for these individuals to support Donald Trump, President Trump. However, they do. So how is that conversation had in the community? If it’s had in the community, extremely prominent people, wealthy people who are black and Americans, who support Donald Trump, when in general, many black Americans did not support Donald Trump.

Thomas: So that’s been a very interesting conversation as well. Many, believers and non-believers share many of the same views regarding classism. Because Donald Trump has shown himself to favor those who are wealthy, and there are Black celebrities who fit into that category. So, he will pander to them, which is sad, because they have no idea, or they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a regular citizen. They are not speaking for the entire black community, and to see them portrayed a doing so, many believers or non-believers alike do not agree with them at all.

It’s quite astounding to see these particular celebrities side with Trump, especially on matters pertaining to money, and not on behalf of your average citizen. And we ask ourselves, “Wow, is it really worth it?” It’s almost as bad, if not worse, than being an open atheist, because ultimately it appears as if they are ACTUALLY betraying our communities on behalf of the mighty dollar, and also on behalf of someone who really doesn’t seem to give a crap about most people in general. And so, when they are so far removed from what’s going on every day, ultimately, they only seem to care about themselves – and definitely not the communities that many of them come from.

Jacobsen: Any final thoughts on tomorrow, Election Day?

ThomasI encourage everyone to definitely take part in the voting process. Hopefully, you would have researched your candidates and that you’re also voting on behalf of progressive and evidence-based principles. Scientific, humanistic values over self serving or corporate interests. We are the ones who make a difference. We need to realize that we can get through this pandemic if we can get through all of these other obstacles that we’re dealing with. So, I will close by saying, “Vote your values, vote your conscience, and vote on behalf of the collective and the community – not just yourself.”

Jacobsen: Mandisa, it’s a pleasure, as always.

ThomasThank you.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Professor Burge 15: The Crystal Ball for American Republicans

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/06/17

Professor Ryan Burge‘s website states: “I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science as well as the Graduate Coordinator at Eastern Illinois University. I teach in a variety of areas, including American institutions, political behavior, and research methods. My research focuses largely on the intersection between religiosity and political behavior (especially in the American context). Previously, I have completed an appointment as a post doctoral research fellow at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute in Carbondale, Illinois. While there I was an adviser on issues of survey methodology and polling, as well as providing data collection and analysis.

I have published over a dozen articles in a number of well regarded peer reviewed journals including Politics & Religion, the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, the Review of Religious Research, the Journal of Religious Leadership, RepresentationPoliticsGroupsand Identities, the Journal of Communication and Religion, the Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture and the Social Science Computer Review. 

In addition, my research has been covered in a variety of media outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, NBC, Vox, 538, BuzzFeed News, Al-Jazeera, Christianity Today, Religion News Service, The Daily Mail, Deseret News, World Magazine, Relevant, and C-SPAN. I am the co-founder and frequent contributor to Religion in Public, a forum for scholars of religion and politics to make their work accessible to a more general audience.

Finally, I am a pastor in the American Baptist Church, having served my current church for over thirteen years.”

Here we talk about developments of faith and non-faith and their influenc on political affiliation.

*Interview conducted on August 4, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Now, if we look at some of the stronger points of this trajectory of developments of faith and non-faith in the United States or religion/religious affiliation in the United States, do you think that this will then change the ways in which political life is represented in the United States? So, we have Republicans and Democrats with a fraction as Independent. However, in the 2016 election, the libertarians came forward and the Green Party came forward a little bit. So, do you think that might be an augury of some of the things to be coming forward in the future?

Professor Ryan Burge: To me, I think what the big shift in American politics is going to be is that the Republican Party is going to have to find ways to reach out to the Nones. You can’t keep winning elections with white Christians because they’re losing market share every single year. That is not a winning strategy long term. Might be well now, but it is going to lose you in 20 years. I think the Republican Party has to find a way to reach out to Nones who are, maybe, more moderate politically, let’s say, or even conservative to the right of center politically and say, “Listen, we do not hate you. There’s a place in our party for you.” But at the same time, they’re going to have to be opened to doing what the Democrats do, which is speaking to the black Protestants. They’re going to speak to the Nones were also speaking to the Evangelical Protestants at the same time. So, they’re going to have to start thinking about messaging going forward that doesn’t alienate their base of white Evangelicals. But also seems at least palatable to moderates or slightly right of center Nones, especially nothing in particular, which is the most interesting category in American religious life. It is 20 percent of all Americans. Over the last three elections, they’ve trended toward the Republican Party. That’s the group the Republicans need to win elections going forward.

Jacobsen: Why do Americans individually leave religion? What are the big reasons? And also, what are the big reasons they join religion in later life? I mean, people are born into it. Two thirds stay, one thirds leave. We all know that. But as adults, why do people leave religion or why do people join religion?

Burge: So the leaving thing is really hard. Sociologically, we’re still trying to figure it out. We think that there’s this big macro level stuff like secularization theory that argues that over time you become more prosperous, economically prosperous, educationally advanced, then people want religion aside. This is not something that we talked about a lot. So, the macro reason, you feel like you believe in science more, religion less. That becomes almost your ‘God.’ Science becomes your God and your belief system in a lot of ways. So, you do not need religion to explain things. You’ve got science to do it for you. That’s part of it. I mean, but there’s also things like politics, for instance. We do know that liberals in America; 40% of them are Nones now, used to be 5%. All conservatives, the number of Nones is under 10% among conservatives in America. So, it also may be politics pulling you away, but it could be we might be caught up in a larger thing in America where we’re less social anyway.

We do not go to the Elks and the Moose, and the fraternal organizations. We do not do the community service events like we used to, because we’re less social. We do not have to be social because of the Internet. That may be part of it as well. In terms of why people come back to religion, it’s more often for social reasons, not theological reasons or spiritual reasons. You come back as you are lonely, especially amongst older Americans. We know that loneliness is an absolute epidemic. Amongst the oldest Americans today most of them spend most of their time alone, which is a real tragedy, and the church becomes a social outlet for them. They can go and have friends there and those friendships they make at church can lead to the social events and social gatherings that give them a sense of purpose again. So, I think a lot of people in America come back to church for social reasons. That also extends, by the way, to young people who have kids who want them to have a moral center, and they think the church is a good moral center. So, they bring them back to church because that’s how they were raised too. So, it is all the same thing. It is more often for social reasons. I think, though, then strictly like saving your soul type of reasons.

Jacobsen: Why do only the Evangelical Christians have their numbers as the majority Christian group to be against or to oppose same-sex marriage? Every other group does not have a majority opposing same sex marriage.

Burge: Americans’ whole world shifted dramatically in favor of same-sex marriage in the last ten years. It has been unbelievable. Looking at the polling data, it is like, “Oh, my gosh, it is an aberration.” We’re talking 10 points in four years. So, I guess part of their identity is: You want to be persecuted. You seek out persecution because the Bible says if you’re persecuted you are blessed by God, that means you’re doing the right thing. So, by holding in these extreme positions, you are getting the blessing of God because it is like, “No, we do not listen to a man’s laws. We do not care what society wants. We do what the Bible says is right. The Bible says that gay people can’t get married. So, we’re not going to allow them<’ if they stand on principle, even to their own detriment sometimes. I think that is what is an Evangelical greatest strength in some ways, which is also their greatest weakness now because they’re facing a generation of people, younger people – young Evangelicals – even now who are 55% in favor of same-sex marriage.

So, even people in their own pews, they do not support the theology being taught from the pulpit. They’re trying to reach out to the generation. The younger generation was not Evangelical already. I’ve got to say: Young people are in favor of same-sex marriage. So, it is boxing them in a lot of ways because they’re not being attracted to this potential audience, because the things they believe are antithetical to what a lot of young people grew up with. So, it is there. As I said, it is their greatest strength to hold it together because it gives them this distinctive idea or distinctive identity. But at the same time, it is their greatest weakness because it will make them incredibly hard to be attractive to young people who can’t go to a church where gay people are seen as less than straight people. So, that’s why Evangelicals are what they are. For good or for ill, that’s who they are.

Jacobsen: Ryan, again, thank you so much for the wealth of information and interview today.

Burge: It is always a pleasure, Scott, appreciate it.

Jacobsen: All right, take care. Have fun at the baseball game.

Burge: Bye-bye.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Mandisa 60: Protests Matter

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/06/11

Mandisa Thomas, a native of New York City, is the founder and President of Black Nonbelievers, Inc. Although never formally indoctrinated into belief, Mandisa was heavily exposed to Christianity, Black Nationalism, and Islam. As a child she loved reading, and enjoyed various tales of Gods from different cultures, including Greek and Ghanaian. “Through reading these stories and being taught about other cultures at an early age, I quickly noticed that there were similarities and differences between those deities and the God of the Christian Bible. I couldn’t help but wonder what made this God so special that he warrants such prevalence today,” she recalls.

Here we talk about social movements and rhetoric.

*This was conducted June 1, 2020.*

Scott Jacobsen: So since we last talked, so it’s June 1st now, I think making an explicit timestamp is important. There are issues to do with what to do. Obviously, most of the media is focusing on individual stark events along with the protests, some minor riots. But there’s also, it’s happening throughout the country. This is expanding around the world based around at least one branch of it, a movement founded by three queer women. The United States for Black Lives Matter, there has been some in Toronto and in Vancouver as well. And so other than responses, people obviously are looking for solutions. And so let’s talk about the legitimate rage today and constructive pragmatic solutions to a lot of the issues that this is just a flashpoint of things that have been going on for an extremely long time in the United States. What are your thoughts when it comes to constructive pragmatic solutions here?

Mandisa ThomasYes, so as we know, there has been another string of murders of black people at the hands of law enforcement. And in one case, former law enforcement. Sadly, the black community has endured this level of terrorism for years, and we are really getting tired of hearing the same rhetorical calls for justice. Along with the justifications for the actions on behalf of the police officer(s), which usually results in them being found not guilty due to their positions of authority.

So now, there are rising levels of resistance. And the latest incident, which involved the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN, really sparked off unprecedented levels of global protests. While civil unrest is not uncommon throughout history, this is now a opportune time to make some serious institutional changes. For example, there needs to be an overhaul of law enforcement, especially their training tactics for hostile situations. Because deadly force isn’t always necessary, like in the case of Floyd, who died as a result of an alleged counterfeit $20 bill, and definitely Breonna Taylor, who was killed by law enforcement in Louisville, KY, as a result of a no-knock warrant. And in THAT case, the police had incorrect details about who they were supposed to be apprehending.

So there is much that many state, local and federal law enforcement agencies need to change. But as far as what the people can do, one important thing is expressing outrage as much as possible. This doesn’t affect just black folks, it also affects our entire country and communities. And it’s important to talk to to your local officials, and also contribute by either volunteering and/or donating to organizations that focus on, and are run by people of color. Whether their work ranges from direct action like protesting, to providing various support services, contribute substantively instead of just trying to get educated on these matters.

Jacobsen: And in Atlanta, we have T.I. using his fame for good, while also informing us Atlanta is Wakanda. What is being done at ground zero at home for you?

ThomasI didn’t have the opportunity to go to the protests in downtown Atlanta. But there are so many organizers who are doing wonderful work, and organizing peaceful protests. Unfortunately, the first night there was severe violence and destruction of property, including some black businesses. I know that Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms, a black woman, spoke out against that part (i.e., the destruction of property and damage of property), as well as some other noted celebrities like T.I, like you mentioned,  But I think one of the worst things that people can do is JUST tell people to calm down and act like they don’t have the right to be angry.

And it’s interesting; that kind of statement implies that a utopian black society is far more advanced than any other. Which isn’t out of the realm of possibility, but it also a loaded premise. This shows that we as Black people don’t agree on everything. And honestly, there’s nothing wrong with calls for calm in a very tense situations. However, painting the protesters as the ONLY aggressors in unfair. But I know that there have been individuals and organizations who have supported the protesters with bail, and providing supplies during the protests as well. Both in Atlanta, and around the country.

I prefer foundationally supporting the activists that are directly doing the protest work. Indeed, I have attended protests in my life, and I think they are important. But right now, Atlanta is in a similar situation like many other cities.  City officials are trying to process and deal with this as much as possible – hopefully, while understanding that the people absolutely have justified anger, especially within the black community.

Jacobsen: Is it a fundamental attitude of arrogance on the part of some American citizens to dismiss the rage felt by other Americans across the board?

ThomasAbsolutely. And it is not only arrogant, it is inhumane to be dismissive of the plight of those who have been affected by police brutality. Those who have witnessed the over-policing of their neighborhoods, and the blatant disregard for the people. There are a lot of people who think that if it doesn’t happen in their area, then it doesn’t affect them. And unfortunately, it tends to be a lot of white people who are guilty of this, and we just have to be honest about that.  And it also adds to why these things don’t seem to go away. 

And just as there are reactions to those protesting the actions of law enforcement, we also witness the reactions of the citizens who side with them. Even in cases where they were excessive, which is absolutely mind-boggling to me, because there should be no unnecessary loss of life especially at their hands. Because they should be properly trained to deescalate these situations. And I do understand that many police officers are affected by the job, and that they deal with a lot of violence on many levels. That being said, there also needs to be better mental health support for law enforcement. Because if they are expected to do this job day in and day out with little to no preparation, and excessive force actions are just swept under the rug, then nothing changes. And these incidents will continue to take place.

Jacobsen: President Trump, as of yesterday at some of the heights of protest at the White House, went into the White House bunker. First, I didn’t know the White House had a bunker. Second, it is indicative as to a stance of fear of general public protest on the part of those in leadership. It appears to show an acknowledgement of doing wrong and then just hiding from the consequences. Is this fundamentally the problem since November 2016 with this current administration, with the creation of problems and then the deflection of blame and then hiding from any kind of responsibility for any problems that are caused?

Thomas: We are seeing an egregious case of a person in office who avoids responsibility and accountability as much as they possibly can. And this, unfortunately, has trickled down to the attitudes of administrators on the local levels. And years of mistreatment have left people feeling let down, and fed up.

And so, to this horrendous behavior we have witnessed, it’s important for us to take notes and action. And hopefully, we’re able to track not just this incident, but also how this president and this current administration has mistreated others, especially during the pandemic. This is not only important for the American people, but also the world.

Jacobsen: Mandisa, as always, thank you so much.

ThomasThank you.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Professor Burge 14: Projections, Demographics, and a Hunch

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/06/11

Professor Ryan Burge‘s website states: “I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science as well as the Graduate Coordinator at Eastern Illinois University. I teach in a variety of areas, including American institutions, political behavior, and research methods. My research focuses largely on the intersection between religiosity and political behavior (especially in the American context). Previously, I have completed an appointment as a post doctoral research fellow at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute in Carbondale, Illinois. While there I was an adviser on issues of survey methodology and polling, as well as providing data collection and analysis.

I have published over a dozen articles in a number of well regarded peer reviewed journals including Politics & Religion, the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, the Review of Religious Research, the Journal of Religious Leadership, RepresentationPoliticsGroupsand Identities, the Journal of Communication and Religion, the Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture and the Social Science Computer Review. 

In addition, my research has been covered in a variety of media outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, NBC, Vox, 538, BuzzFeed News, Al-Jazeera, Christianity Today, Religion News Service, The Daily Mail, Deseret News, World Magazine, Relevant, and C-SPAN. I am the co-founder and frequent contributor to Religion in Public, a forum for scholars of religion and politics to make their work accessible to a more general audience.

Finally, I am a pastor in the American Baptist Church, having served my current church for over thirteen years.”

Here we talk about percentages and projections, and a hunch.

*Interview conducted on August 4, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: I should at least take a step back. There is an issue in which agnostics and atheists differ. This is with regards to support for abortion, but it is more to do with support for abortion on demand. How do they differ and on what lines?

Professor Ryan Burge: Yes, so, I was really interested in what conservative atheists, like the most politically conservative atheists, agnostics: How are they politically active in the world? Politically because, I’m a political scientist. So, for us, everything is downstream of politics. So, I want to see if a politically conservative atheist or agnostic sees the world in the same way that a politically conservative Evangelical or Catholic does. Come to find out, a politically conservative agnostic, even a conservative agnostic, only 28.8% of them are in favour of abortion on demand, compared to 55% of the conservative atheist. So, they’re even more agnostic from way more pro-life, twice as pro-life as a conservative atheist. It is super interesting because it shows you something about atheists. To them, being able to get an abortion whenever you want is like sacrosanct even to conservative members of that community.

Both liberals, it’s above 90%, but even among conservatives, 55% of agnostics go from 95% to 28%. I mean, that’s a huge drop. So, it is telling me something about agnostics, how they see the world ethically and morally, and they’re not morally liberal, let’s say, as your atheists are. You shouldn’t see daylight between the two groups.

Jacobsen: So, 1978 and 2018 is a significant time with four decades looking at the ethnic grouping of whites and the timeline of going to church per week. What was the shift there between 1978 and 2018 for the three major political categories and states? That’s fascinating.

Burge: So, this is super important. Because if you look at white Democrats versus white Republicans, that’s really where the difference shoots out because black Democrats go to church a lot because of black Protestant Christianity. Black Protestants are as religiously faithful as white Evangelicals are; they go to church as much. So, you pull them out of the mix. What you see is really the difference, so, you look at a white Democrat and a white Republican. 43% of white Democrats never go to church, then another 23.7%. So, you’re talking about a total of like 2/3rds of white Democrats going to church less than once a year. Amongst white Republicans, it is only 36%. So, almost half, half as much. So, about a 1/3rd of white Republicans go to church less than once a year, compared to 66% of white Democrats.

So, half of white liberals in America today identify as religiously unaffiliated. Half of white liberals, which tells you a lot about what the future of the party. The Democratic Party to me is going to get harder and harder over time to be the party that appeals to black Protestants who are religiously active, but politically active and also theologically conservative, are cool with gay marriage and abortion. At the same time, they will need to appeal to white liberal Nones who are extra liberal on policy issues. That’s a hard circle to square to try to appeal to this group, and that group, at the same time. The Republican Party is much easier because, like we talked about, it is the party of white Christianity, which can hit those high notes. You’re going to hit 80% of the people with one message. You do not have to try mixed messages based on your audience like the Democratic Party. If I was going to campaign politics, my own views aside, it’d be a lot easier to run a campaign for a Republican candidate than a Democrat candidate. Because of that, you only have that one note. You hit it every single time. A Democrat is much more versatile with different groups.

Jacobsen: We’re looking at the trajectory of the ratios of each particular denomination or non-denomination or non-religion in the United States. If we project those 50 years forward, what will the larger groups become in the United States?

Burge: Yes, so, 50 years for denominational Christianity is going to be a small portion of America. So, your Baptists, United Methodists, Episcopalians, all those are going to be a small portion of America. Maybe, 20% of Americans are going to be part of a denomination. I still think the Catholic Church is going to hold strong. But then, I think what you’re going to see is another 20%. They’re going to be non-denominational Protestants. I think there’s going to be a day in my lifetime when non-denominational Protestants outnumber denominational Protestants. I mean, so, American Christianity, we’re going to look like a 1/3rd denominational Protestants, a third non-denominational Protestants, and a third of Catholics. That’s really what it means to some philosophizing like that. The Nones, they’re going to be made a 30% to 35% by themselves. The last 5% is going to be your atheists, Hindus, Muslims, Mormons, Buddhists – everybody else is going to fall in that category. So, I do think there’s a future where American Christianity looks much different than it does today.

Jacobsen: How big will the Nones be?

Burge: Oh, I think they’re going to peak around 40%. That’s the plateau that I see in the data. Because if you look at millennials, they hit this peak at 40%, put a hold there. So, I think that somewhere upper 30s or low 40s is where I see that stopping. I get asked about that a lot, and that’s a hunch. That’s not really based on any data. I mean, obviously, projections can change for a bunch of reasons. But I do think that I do not see a future where 50% of Americans are religiously unaffiliated, at least not in my lifetime. So, probably 40% where they’re going to peak, then America is going to be 50% people of faith, almost all of them, maybe 5%, are going to be something else. 55% are going to be your Christians probably.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Professor Burge.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Professor Burge 13: Christianity on Bleach in the Middle East

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/06/10

Professor Ryan Burge‘s website states: “I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science as well as the Graduate Coordinator at Eastern Illinois University. I teach in a variety of areas, including American institutions, political behavior, and research methods. My research focuses largely on the intersection between religiosity and political behavior (especially in the American context). Previously, I have completed an appointment as a post doctoral research fellow at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute in Carbondale, Illinois. While there I was an adviser on issues of survey methodology and polling, as well as providing data collection and analysis.

I have published over a dozen articles in a number of well regarded peer reviewed journals including Politics & Religion, the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, the Review of Religious Research, the Journal of Religious Leadership, RepresentationPoliticsGroupsand Identities, the Journal of Communication and Religion, the Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture and the Social Science Computer Review. 

In addition, my research has been covered in a variety of media outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, NBC, Vox, 538, BuzzFeed News, Al-Jazeera, Christianity Today, Religion News Service, The Daily Mail, Deseret News, World Magazine, Relevant, and C-SPAN. I am the co-founder and frequent contributor to Religion in Public, a forum for scholars of religion and politics to make their work accessible to a more general audience.

Finally, I am a pastor in the American Baptist Church, having served my current church for over thirteen years.”

Here we talk about higher levels of social forgiveness for pastoral leadership, Jordan Peterson, Mark Driscoll, and Eric Metaxas, and the nature of American Christianity.

*Interview conducted on August 4, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Does this bubble phenomenon reflect something akin to the rapid growth of Mark Driscoll – Mars Hill Church, followed by its scandal, popping, and collapse? He came in with the infinite forgiveness given within some of these communities. Of course, he’s starting again in a different state. However, is this a common phenomenon also tied to that? You use the term “guy” many times. Why are guys given all the authority, as well, in most of these churches?

Professor Ryan Burge: Because the Bible says so. It is really clear that they take their cue from Epistles, and it says women can’t be pastors. They have to be silent in the church. I mean, very few Evangelical churches allow women anywhere close to the pulpit. I mean, almost none. Like that is the distinction in the sort of conventional ways you can never be a woman pastor. So, I think guys because, most of these non-denominational pastors, I would say 95% or more are men as well. Even though they don’t have any sort of the doctrinal statements that the Baptists do. The only outlier I can think of was Willow Creek in Chicago. The pastor was going to retire. His church managed to appoint two people to replace him as the senior pastor. And what was the matter? One was a woman. That was scandalous for a lot of Evangelicals. That just doesn’t happen. But in Evangelicalism, 98% of pastors are men, especially preaching pastors because women can’t preach. It is just not theologically allowed. So, that’s why I say men because it is just always men.

Jacobsen: What explains the phenomenon of individuals, including Francis Chan, Matt Chandler, Rick Warren, Mark Driscoll, and others, at times, with this very belligerent presentation of church theology? How people should act, what their roles are in society, and the ways in which they should live out the religious life, often, comes in a very proselytizing form, sometimes abusive.

Burge: People are drawn towards certainty and surety and confidence. They want to be told what to believe. They want to be told how to act and why that’s important. They want that. Not everybody, but a lot of people are drawn to structure, they’re drawn to order. They’re drawn to clear guidelines of what the community wants and what it demands and what it requires of you. They don’t want to have to work things out themselves. They are sort of want to be told what to believe. And actually, that’s precisely what makes it easy to hold a group together because you’re all on the same page theologically. Not to excite over things like, “Well, we’ve got a woman here who wants to preach. What do we do? No, we’re not going to let her preach.” Like, that’s great from a sociological standpoint, a group dynamic standpoint, because you don’t have debates over every little thing.

So, there’s an old John Wesley quote, who is the founder of Methodism. He said, ‘If you set yourself up on fire, people will come to watch you burn.’ And I think that’s a lot of it. These people like these pastors who are so sure of themselves. It becomes viral. You hear Mark Driscoll yelling at young men to grow up, stop being kids, take care of your wife, be a man. You’re like, “Yes, let’s do that.” Those are the kind of services that go viral and grow your audience bigger. So, I think it is all tied up in the sensationalism of the whole thing. Mark Driscoll would preach for an hour every Sunday like that. It would go on forever. And people just like that. They like that he was bold and courageous and said what he thought. And he said some stuff that was outside the mainstream. It was like, “Jesus loves you, get saved.” It was like, “Men be men, and women be women, and be a good father.” The sort of masculinity project that a lot of people like because they felt like young men were not being as masculine, as responsible as they could be. And they sort of aspired to be what Mark Driscoll was. Come to find out the dude was like abusive to his staff and really was not a great leader in a lot of ways, but that’s beyond the point for them because he helped them get to be in a better place.

Jacobsen: Do you think this explains some semi-secular, semi-religious phenomenon, including the clinical psychologist from the University of Toronto, the mythologically-oriented Christian-in-the-closet Jordan Peterson?

Burge: I don’t know. I don’t understand Jordan Peterson. I don’t get the of this appeal man. It’s crazy. As you were talking, I was thinking. There is this book that just came out called Jesus and John Wayne by a Christian from Calvin College, which is actually a pretty conservative Evangelical school in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She talks about Christianity’s very odd relationship with masculinity. In the 2000s, there was a book called Wild At Heart by John Eldridge, which basically argues men want to be like heroes. They want to go on conquest and they want adventures and all this kind of stuff. And those women want to be rescued, like this very like gender roles thing that happened. Evangelicalism has always been tied up with masculinity. Even American conservative politics has been tied up with same thing too, “We don’t apologize. And I don’t care about your feelings, and I don’t care what you think.” That kind of confidence is what a lot of people like, especially on the conservative side, theologically, and politically too. They don’t want to have like, “Well, let’s talk about it. Let’s discuss viewpoints, and we are going to be right.” They don’t want that.

They want to be told what’s right. And they want to say, “You know what, Donald Trump is the greatest thing ever for us because he says the quiet part out loud.” They’ll say, “Listen, you’re somewhat forgetful for black and brown people. We don’t like that. You re-elect me. We’ll get them right out of there.” It’s more like, “Democrats are going to destroy Christianity.”  He said that as point one. They like that. They want that straight talk because that’s how they talk. I don’t like locker room talk. We’ll get a little rough over there because we’re just getting more racially diverse. So, that kind of talk works from the pulpit. It also works from the political lectern because people want to be. They want to have you say what they say just directly and straightly without any of the nuance of political correctness. And that’s makes pastors successful and the politicians successful too.

Jacobsen: Now to the original tweet from Eric Metaxas, “Jesus was white.” Now, if I pose to you a geography of two thousand years ago or so in the Middle East, or in a heat and blistering sun, of a Jewish person who is described as having skin of bronze and hair of sheep’s wool, would you describe this person as blond haired, blue eyed and white?

Burge: No, I don’t know how you came up with a Norwegian fella, but like there he is. And that’s tied up the whole idea of how we create God in our own image. We create Jesus in our own image. And if you just have a cursory understanding of geography and ethnicity and how all these things play together with demography, Jesus wasn’t white. Even if he was white, he sure as hell wasn’t white like Americans are white. He was dark skinned. There’s no way in the world he wasn’t dark skinned either, like olive covered, Middle Eastern. There’s just no way. But it is posturing. It is all posturing because, listen: Jesus is white because American Christianity is white. That’s the way it is. And so, what you’re really getting is a conflation between theological identity and political identity and racial identity, the American Republican Party is the party of white Christians. The American Republican Party is the party of white Christianity and the Democratic Party is the party of everybody else. That means Christians of color, but it also means atheists, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, everybody else. There’s sort of a catch-all.

And in order for the Republican Party to stay what it is, it has to keep mustering the troops in and the discussion about Jesus being white is like bread and butter for the Republican Party because they are the party of white Christianity. But you have to keep in mind that, Jesus was white. Systemic racism does exist. Because that’s the world you live in, because ‘white people don’t do anything wrong.’ So, all those things are tied together: conservative theology, conservative politics, but also whiteness is intimately tied to American Christianity. A great book called The Cross and the Lynching Tree, by James H. Cone really tied all this stuff together, talking about how American Christianity has been intimately tied up with slavery, racism and all the things that go with that since the very beginning. And you can almost not pull one thing for another. They are intertwined in such a way that you can’t extract one from the other to our own detriment.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Professor Burge.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Professor Burge 12: Local Versus National-International

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/06/06

Professor Ryan Burge‘s website states: “I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science as well as the Graduate Coordinator at Eastern Illinois University. I teach in a variety of areas, including American institutions, political behavior, and research methods. My research focuses largely on the intersection between religiosity and political behavior (especially in the American context). Previously, I have completed an appointment as a post doctoral research fellow at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute in Carbondale, Illinois. While there I was an adviser on issues of survey methodology and polling, as well as providing data collection and analysis.

I have published over a dozen articles in a number of well regarded peer reviewed journals including Politics & Religion, the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, the Review of Religious Research, the Journal of Religious Leadership, RepresentationPoliticsGroupsand Identities, the Journal of Communication and Religion, the Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture and the Social Science Computer Review. 

In addition, my research has been covered in a variety of media outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, NBC, Vox, 538, BuzzFeed News, Al-Jazeera, Christianity Today, Religion News Service, The Daily Mail, Deseret News, World Magazine, Relevant, and C-SPAN. I am the co-founder and frequent contributor to Religion in Public, a forum for scholars of religion and politics to make their work accessible to a more general audience.

Finally, I am a pastor in the American Baptist Church, having served my current church for over thirteen years.”

Here we talk about the national-international versus the local focus of various Christian denominations.

*Interview conducted on August 4, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, Eric Metaxas seems like a nice and reasonable guy, stated, “Jesus was white. Did he have ‘white privilege,’ even though he was entirely without sin? Is the United Methodist Church covering that? I think it could be important.” So, you were mentioning that conservatives like to beat up on their perception of liberal mainline denominations.

Burge: Yes.

Jacobsen: What’s the reality there?

Burge: Yes, the reality is the mainline Protestant churches have always been right in the center. By going back to 1972, they got data. 46 years of data and not a single year, have they moved to the left of Independent? Never. Now it seems like they are drifting more towards the left side. They still have not crossed the midpoint. Yet, they are not. I wrote this post one time. I think American Christianity actually balanced American conservative denominations and liberal denominations, but that’s not true. It’s factually untrue. And there’s no way you can get there in the data. There’s just no way because, if you think about it, the largest denomination in America today, established denomination, is the Southern Baptist Convention. And they are like 75% Republicans.

Jacobsen: They have been declining for a decade too.  

Burge: Yes, correct. Actually, I was just doing work on that today, looking at their numbers over time, checking their future and things like that. But yes, they were 10% of the population in 1988 and now 5% of population in 2018. So, they are half the size. But here’s the thing. Evangelicalism as a whole is basically a point or two smaller today than it was 20 years ago. So, Evangelicals for the whole have not declined that much because this nondenominational Evangelical Christianity has exploded in size. In 1998, five percent of Americans were non-denominational Evangelicals. It is 11% today. So, for 20 years, they’ve doubled in size. And indeed, nondenominational churches now are larger than the SBC ever was. And guess what? They are just as Republican as the SBC was. They are actually in some ways more conservative than the SBC ever was. So, the SBC has basically declined, but they’ve been replaced by nondenominational Evangelical Christianity, which is just as conservative now and growing larger than the SBC never was. So, your counterbalance is the United Methodists. United Methodists are majority Republicans, actually trending more Republican over time.

The Episcopal Church, that’s a liberal church. I’ll buy it. But only 40% of people there are Republicans today. So, there’s no counterbalance. There’s no large denomination in America today that is the size of the SBC and is as one sided to the left as the SBC is to the right. It just doesn’t exist. And so, there’s no balance there. So, the mainline, the liberal. I call it the liberal mainline. I’m like, what are you talking about? Find it for me. I don’t see in the data, because what they do is they look at it like what seminary presidents say, what the national leaders say, and what the people like this say. The average person filling the pews at the center in this church. They don’t buy that stuff. So, there is no large, coherent left leaning group, a Christian group in America today. It does not exist. And I don’t think people understand that.

Jacobsen: Now, the managing editor of Canadian Atheist, has some hesitations and critiques of the term “the Nones” for a variety of reasons[1],[2],[3]. I won’t cover that. However, I want to touch more on what was mentioned, which is the term “non-denominational.” What is meant by it? Because I was reading between the lines in conversations with people who have highly individualized meanings.

Burge: Non-denominational?

Jacobsen: Yes. What is meant by that?

Burge: It just means you’re Protestant, but you don’t align with an established denomination like down here, e.g., Lutheran, Episcopalian or whatever else. But you know what’s funny? Theologically, they’re basically Southern Baptists. We have a book myself. When I call others, we have a good book out now, about non-denominational Christianity. There’s very little difference between a born again non-denominational and a born-again Southern Baptist. They are exactly the same on issues of the Devil and the Bible and gay marriage and abortion and everything else. So, they’re just Evangelicals who don’t like the label Baptist, to be completely honest with you. Very few of them I would even classify as moderate because they’re not moderate. They’re far from the right of center and they look like full Baptists in terms of economics, demography, political ideology and all that stuff.

Jacobsen: It sounds like some pastors and preachers who tapped into some of the anti-religious sentiment in the United States that has grown over time when they’ll say, “That’s not Christianity. That’s religion.” And they use this kind of avoidance language in order to prop up the same ideological or the same theological and sociological commitments while distancing themselves from that which has been critiqued. Although, it is the same thing that has been critiqued. It simply goes by a different name in so far as they’re proposing it.

Burge: Yes. So, there’s something else that goes on there that we’re really into this question of authority in religion: Who do we listen to? Who do we follow? And the reality is that what we found is that most Americans are very reluctant to follow the authority of some national headquarters of your denomination that you’ve never seen before, and you don’t know those people. So, that kind of authority is very weak. Most Americans don’t like that, but they are very willing to accept the authority of their local pastor to tell them what to do. So, if I know the guy and I see the guy and I believe the guy because I see him all the time, I have to follow that guy to hell because that’s where he wants me to go. But if it is some nameless, faceless bureaucrat in some national office thousands of miles away, I don’t want my money to go there because they’re going to waste my money. Right? So, it is not that the non-denominational Protestants are anti-authority. They just like their authority to be right there in their face every day. And they like the fact that no one tells him what to do except the person they see every Sunday. The United Methodist Church in America. Your pastor is decided by the denomination, and they will move your pastor every couple of years without your input, usually at all.

A lot of Americans hate that idea. They want their pastor. They want to choose their pastor, choosing to come, choosing to leave. You know that kind of stuff. So, it is authority. It is just local, local authority. Our thesis is the idea that these known denominations; they have a small radius of concern. They really only care about their church family and then maybe their larger community, but their local community, not state interest or national interest or, God forbid, international interest. They just care about what’s going on in their little bubble. And they want that to devote all their time to that bubble. And actually, we found that they are not doing other political stuff because they spend so much time with church stuff. They’re not as political, let’s say, as an active Southern Baptist because they’re really stuck in this bubble. A lot of non-denominational churches have a very local community focus. And I think that’s a real distinction between them. Non-denominational and Southern Baptist is where the focus of that, local versus national-international.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Professor Burge.

Footnotes

[1] “Ask Mark 1 — Somethin’ About Nothin’: The Nones Ain’t Nothin’” (Hyperlink)

[2] “Ask Mark 2 — Squeezing More Some Things from Nothings” (Hyperlink)

[3] “Ask Mark 3— Peeves, to Nones, and Back Again: A Tale of Marko Gibbons” (Hyperlink)

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Professor Burge 11: Sentiments, Prejudices, and Attitudes Over Time

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/06/04

Professor Ryan Burge‘s website states: “I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science as well as the Graduate Coordinator at Eastern Illinois University. I teach in a variety of areas, including American institutions, political behavior, and research methods. My research focuses largely on the intersection between religiosity and political behavior (especially in the American context). Previously, I have completed an appointment as a post doctoral research fellow at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute in Carbondale, Illinois. While there I was an adviser on issues of survey methodology and polling, as well as providing data collection and analysis.

I have published over a dozen articles in a number of well regarded peer reviewed journals including Politics & Religion, the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, the Review of Religious Research, the Journal of Religious Leadership, RepresentationPoliticsGroupsand Identities, the Journal of Communication and Religion, the Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture and the Social Science Computer Review. 

In addition, my research has been covered in a variety of media outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, NBC, Vox, 538, BuzzFeed News, Al-Jazeera, Christianity Today, Religion News Service, The Daily Mail, Deseret News, World Magazine, Relevant, and C-SPAN. I am the co-founder and frequent contributor to Religion in Public, a forum for scholars of religion and politics to make their work accessible to a more general audience.

Finally, I am a pastor in the American Baptist Church, having served my current church for over thirteen years.”

Here we talk about sentiments and attitudes in the United States over time, and the nature of the ubiquitous hatred of atheists in the United States – a hate that unifies all.

*Interview conducted on August 4, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Now, you did a short clip. If America was 200 people, the biggest category is Protestants at 78 people, 36 Catholics, 11 atheists, 11 agnostics, etc. If we look at some of the other data around forms of bigotry and hate, the three that came to mind when I looked at the data from Canadian statistics, StatsCan. There was a rise in what has been termed Islamophobia or anti-Muslim sentiment, anti-Semitism, as well as anti-Catholic prejudice. Those are the three big ones. What is it? What are the rises and falls of this in America? Which is to say, who is experiencing things better in the recent history of the United States? Which ones are experiencing things worse in terms of just the way those trend lines are going?

Professor Ryan Burge: Yes, so, I think anti-Catholic sentiment especially in America, used to be much higher, 30 or 40 years ago than it is today. And there’s a bunch of reasons for that. There’s a lot of anti-Catholic sentiment in America going back to immigration. Let’s say even one hundred years ago in New York, Jews are not just the ones experiencing prejudice and discrimination. Italians and Irish people came to America, and they were Catholic. And America was largely across the country at the time. So, it was like, “Wait, wait, wait, if you’re going to come to America, you need to assimilate to our religion. And we are Protestant. So, you need to be Protestant.” So the Catholic priest was actually tied up into an immigrant piece where it wasn’t they are necessarily against Catholics. They were anti-other and just all the others were Catholic. Now, I think in a lot of places in America that has sort of waned dramatically, especially post Vatican II.

So here’s what I think happened in America. For a long time, Protestants had an enemy and that was Catholics. They were the outsider. They were the different one. But then in the last 20 or 25 years or so, the ‘other’ becomes Islam; and now, Protestants and Catholics look at each other and go, “Wait, we’re a lot closer than we thought we were. Islam is the enemy.” So, now, it is like, “Okay, we’re on one team now and the ‘other’ now is not Catholics. The other now is Muslims. So, there’s a lot, even like I said, in Vatican II as well, the Catholic Church, basically, said, “The Protestants are not the enemy. We are going to get to heaven, just like Catholics will.” So, there was an acceptance there, both sides that “you’re okay, we’re okay,” but somebody needs to go down. Even though, there are a lot of Protestants who do not like the Pope and are anti-Catholic in theological orientation. Sociologically, they still see Catholics as sort of cousins, distant cousins, that are still a part of our team and the enemy more than is Muslim.

So, we’ve seen a decline in anti-Catholic sentiment, but a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment. But I think that’s actually waning in America over the last couple of years because 9/11 has sort of faded into the background and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have also faded into the background. And I think it is still there, but it doesn’t have that fever pitch that it did – let’s say 10 years ago. We’re still fighting in both places. And 9/11 isn’t very fresh. So, I think it is waning as well. The group Americans don’t like the most actually is atheists, even Democrats. People are amazed by that. But it is Democrats. I have a poll somewhere, where I say, “Why don’t more Americans like atheists?” And honestly, it is: Democrats don’t like atheists either. It is not just like a faith versus no faith thing. It is just not a very palatable need to be an American today.

So, if I looked at the thermometer score, which is a score from zero to one hundred, 100 meaning like very warm, 0 being very cold, 50 meaning not hot or cold. Atheist’s score among Evangelicals below 30. For Catholics, they score 42 for Democratic Catholics and 33 for Republican Catholics. But here’s what’s even more fascinating among the religiously unaffiliated atheist score, a 54 among Democrat’s Nones. A 45 among Republican Nones. So, there’s not even a warm feeling there among Nones towards atheists. So, they are a very disliked groups.

Jacobsen: What is the source or set of sources for this ‘not liking them’?

Burge: Why don’t they like atheists?

Jacobsen: Yes, I mean the general statement there. Why don’t Americans like atheists? Why are they the other?

Burge: Because America is like inherently a Christian country. Okay, so, there’s this thing called civic religion in America. And we’ve got a long history in American social science. If the idea that the flag is sacred, like Arlington Cemetery is a place of reverence, going to the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument and walking around Washington, D.C. is walking in a sacred space, like a mosque, a religious site, then that American national identity is deeply intertwined with American religious identity and that the default in America is: You are a Christian. That’ is to say, every president we’ve had, at least as far back as we can tell, has aligned themselves with American Christianity. And I think that is just how we see ourselves, even like we said even amongst the Nones, they still kind of defer to an idea that Christianity is still the default in America, right or wrong.

So, I think a lot of it is tied up in this idea of civic religion. like we say, “God bless America,” or, “So help me God.” And we swear on Bible. People swear on Bible; even though, they don’t believe the Bible, because it is just a thing that we do. Because we believe in it so much. And atheists just don’t. They reject all that stuff. So, that’s a tough pill to swallow. They might not be devoutly Christian themselves, “But I don’t hate Christianity.”

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Professor Burge.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Professor Burge 10: Academia and Religion

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/06/03

Professor Ryan Burge‘s website states: “I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science as well as the Graduate Coordinator at Eastern Illinois University. I teach in a variety of areas, including American institutions, political behavior, and research methods. My research focuses largely on the intersection between religiosity and political behavior (especially in the American context). Previously, I have completed an appointment as a post doctoral research fellow at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute in Carbondale, Illinois. While there I was an adviser on issues of survey methodology and polling, as well as providing data collection and analysis.

I have published over a dozen articles in a number of well regarded peer reviewed journals including Politics & Religion, the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, the Review of Religious Research, the Journal of Religious Leadership, RepresentationPoliticsGroupsand Identities, the Journal of Communication and Religion, the Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture and the Social Science Computer Review. 

In addition, my research has been covered in a variety of media outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, NBC, Vox, 538, BuzzFeed News, Al-Jazeera, Christianity Today, Religion News Service, The Daily Mail, Deseret News, World Magazine, Relevant, and C-SPAN. I am the co-founder and frequent contributor to Religion in Public, a forum for scholars of religion and politics to make their work accessible to a more general audience.

Finally, I am a pastor in the American Baptist Church, having served my current church for over thirteen years.”

Here we talk about religion and Academia, and research into religion.

*Interview conducted on August 4, 2020.*

Scott Jacobsen: So there are private universities in Canada, there are private university in United States. Often, they are going to be of a particular religious denomination. Given the demographics of North America, they are most likely to harbor a status, denominational status, as some form of Christian. So, there’s another question there, though. It has to do with academic freedom. What is the intersection there between academic freedom and religious status for university? Is there a conflict there in general in the United States of America?

Professor Ryan Burge: I would say that most Christian schools are of two minds about academic freedom, especially the administration, because they realize that they want to get the best faculty they want to get. But at the same time, they realize that to keep the donor base happy a lot of these schools, are attached to national denominations that are pretty wealthy, a lot of them. So you have to sort of hold the line of what denomination you want. And that means oftentimes saying these lifestyle statements or covenant statements about how you’re going to behave not just on campus, but also off campus. And, I’ve heard even a couple of these schools. I mean, early in my career when I didn’t really know where I was going to end up, I was just sort of casting a wide net. I interviewed at several schools. Many of them would be the first by Canadian audience, which would seem to be very conservative. Definitely, conservative Evangelical, not like Bob Jones or Liberty or places like that, but definitely like one step away from that.

And the conversation I had about tenure was an interesting one because, I mean, they would say things like, “Okay, we do have tenure here, but it can be revoked. It has never happened or it is very unlikely to happen….” They use language like that, that you would have to do something that clearly was a violation of the covenant, the doctrine and theology of our university. But, there are many examples of times when universities have actually revoked the tenure of tenured professors. Wheaton College opened in Chicago, which a lot of people called the Evangelical Harvard and actually a lot of very prominent Evangelicals in America went to Wheaton College. They make you sign a lifestyle statement that also said that homosexuality is incompatible with the gospel and things like that. But one of their political science professors, interestingly enough, one year on Facebook said that Christians and Muslims worship the same God and believe in the same God. And that caused quite an uproar. And eventually, she left Wheaton. It is one of those things where, “I didn’t say that she got fired. They got her to say that she quit.” They separated it. That’s the language they would use, and she got some kind of settlement that was never disclosed.

So, there are instances where you really don’t have as much freedom. It was actually, I think, super interesting because it is like way under covered by the media. For a long time, American religion to politics, especially people who are Evangelicals in America. The vast majority of those scholars were Evangelicals themselves, teaching at Evangelical institutions. So I think there was some pressure there, maybe just internally or institutionally that said, “Don’t try to put Evangelicals in too bad of a light for a bunch of reasons.” So, I think for a long time, American research on Evangelical political behavior and policy was sort of stunted. It was sort of held back because there wasn’t a diversity of opinions, beliefs and backgrounds among those studying Evangelicals. I will say today that is much better. There are Evangelicals who are studying Evangelicals, but there are atheists, studying Evangelicals. There are people of other faith groups. It is really the full spectrum.

Now, I think Evangelicals get a fairer reading, meaning a more honest reading now today than they got 20 years ago because the diversity of scholarship around Evangelical beliefs and in their voting behavior. So I think it is better now, but for a long time it was very one sided because of the makeup of academia.

Jacobsen: And for clarity of the audience, you did, in a prior portion of life, identify as Evangelical Christian.

Burge: I grew up Evangelical. I do not identify as Evangelical any longer. I am clearly mainline Protestant Christian, which is a tradition that has United Methodist and American Baptist; which is what I am, the Presbyterian Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the Episcopalians, the Anglicans, and places like that. So our church, we allow women to preach. We allow them to all sorts of leadership positions. Many of the churches in our denomination do welcome and affirm LGBT lifestyle. We are socially progressive. Our church gave a pension to Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow, after he was assassinated. You really don’t have to do that. They did that because of racial justice work for them. So we are the more moderate flavor of American Christianity. Sort of the polite Christianity, that a lot of people grew up with. It doesn’t seem to exist anymore in a lot of places. I did grow up Evangelical, but I don’t identify as Evangelical any longer.

Jacobsen: What denominations of Christianity have an explicit orientation towards political involvement as in wanting that conflation of political life and religious life?

Burge: That’s a good one. I don’t think there was. I thought the black church. Okay, so, the African Methodist Episcopal Church in America, a lot of black Pentecostals are very politically active, and unabashedly so. There are all kinds of historical reasons for that, because they grew up at a time and their churches were formed at a time when black politicians could not get an audience in a white church or white community center or white group at all. So, the black church became sort of their safe haven. So that’s why they were so politically active. They really had no other choice. They couldn’t be politically active in any other way because they had no access to institutions like white people did. So, the black church, for sure. And there are pockets of American Evangelical denominations that are politically active. But by and large, most churches, speaking broadly at the aggregate level, are very resistant to being overtly political. I mean, there’s always examples that we can point to, like Robert Jeffress, the first church of Dallas, Texas, who was incredibly political and really become a Trump supporter on every issue it.

Those guys are very rare, though. The average Baptist, Southern Baptist, even the Southern Baptist preachers, are not overtly political from the pulpit because they realize that the vast majority of the American public does not want pastors and denominations to be overtly political. And so that kind of a certain denomination, there are certain churches in denominations or pastors in denominations who are our political, but they are definitely not the norm. They are the outlier cases where they just get focused on a lot in the media.

Jacobsen: And what ones are the most hesitant? We can recall certain cases where individuals like Billy Graham were burned in their political dealings. So, there was a very prominent, if not the most prominent, example of an individual who was clearly a very religious man, a Christian religious man, who took a step back in a number of ways due to being burned around Nixon.

Burge: Yes. I would say that denominations that are the least likely to speak about politics are the ones that are most divided politically. For instance, the United Methodist Church in America is very divided politically. So the United Methodist Church is the largest mainline denomination in America. They’re sort of the counterpart to the Southern Baptists. But United Methodist are like 50 to 55 percent Republican and 40 percent Democrats or so. So that’s a pretty good mix for a church. And so that denomination has tried its best to try to navigate these differences in opinion by trying to be as noncommittal as possible. So what you’ve seen, though, this is sort of the downside of trying to be everything to everybody in the last year. They’ve decided they’re going to split. The conservatives are going to form a new denomination where they’re not going to affirm the LGBT lifestyle and the United Baptist Church is going to stay to what it is and be open and affirming to LGBT people. So, there is a huge downside to being noncommittal like that because it does fester discontent and division just at the lower levels.

And so, I think churches like that; churches that are more divided; you’re going to see less commitment; you’re going to see less overt politics. Churches that are unified, 80 percent Republicans, 80 percent Democrats. You’re going to see a lot more overt politicking. The pastors know while they’re talking about politics. They’re just goosing their base. They’re not making anybody mad and they’re not going to lose the support because of that. So that’s really what pastors are thinking about the most as well, to keep my job safe and to do that.

Jacobsen: Now you use the term “lifestyle” or the “LGBT lifestyle.” This has a lot of meanings, even though it comes in the same term or phrase. What are the different interpretations of this in general?

Burge: Yes, so, there’s a clear delineation in Evangelical thinking about homosexuality. Okay, you don’t say that one standard is created equal to the other standard. No one said, “It is worse than another.” But when they talk about homosexuality, there are homosexual thoughts. Then there are homosexual actions. And I think a lot of Evangelicals have come down on the side that you might have. You only have homosexual proclivities. You might be attracted to someone of your own gender, for instance. But if you don’t act on that, you live a celibate lifestyle, then you aren’t sitting because you’re not acting on that. However, what’s interesting about that, though, is Evangelicals also at the same time will say that if you hold lustful thoughts for someone who is not your partner, then you have sinned.

So this is this really weird gray area where they don’t know what to do with homosexuality? A lot of Evangelicals think that homosexuality is just a simple thought pattern, like alcoholism or something like that. Like you can work your way through it, that your brain has basically been kind of deluded with sin. And that’s what makes you attractive to someone of the same sex as you. And if you turn yourself over to Jesus, then those thoughts will go away; and you’ll be returned back to right thinking, which is, heterosexual attraction, heterosexual activity. So the Evangelicals have a lot of them come down and say, “If you do have homosexual thoughts, or if you feel like that’s the lifestyle you want to live, if you don’t act on that, then you can still be a member of one of those churches because you’ve never done anything that’s sinful.” It is a weird way to get around the issue, but that’s where a lot of Evangelicals come down now.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Professor Burge.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Ask Jon 25: Hope for the Best, Expect the Worst

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/06/03

Jonathan Engel, J.D. is the President of the Secular Humanist Society of New YorkHere we talk about Election Day 2020.

*Interview conducted on October 26, 2020.*

Scott Jacobsen: Off tape, you said something. Was it an older Yiddish phrase. Okay, Jon, why did we come to you stating that particular quote?

Engel: Well, obviously, we’re talking about the election a week from tomorrow. And that’s Election Day already, this election is different than past elections in the United States because so many people are voting early. In fact, my plan: I have my ballot. I plan on, depending on the weather, one day this week. But Election Day is still Election Day and there’s still a lot of people who are going to vote on Election Day. And, the tradition is to stay up, watching TV to see who won. Although, again, with all the absentee ballots and voting by mail that’s going on with the chances; we don’t really know on election night. But why “hope for the best and expect the worst”? It’s because the “hope for the best part “comes from, obviously, just generally speaking, hoping for the best. But also there is reason from an objective viewpoint to feel pretty decent that Biden’s going to win. The polls are showing pretty well the early voting has been tilting democratic. There are a lot of constituencies like young people and African-Americans who seem to be voting in very large numbers, who tend to vote for Democrats.

So, that’s the hope for the best. And if I was being objective about it, there are a lot of people like me in this country who were absolutely traumatized four years ago. And I just couldn’t imagine that this election is going to go for Donald. I just couldn’t. And when I was watching the returns that night, when it looked like, “Yes, it looks like Trump could win.” I was floored when it looked like he was going to win. The horror of this was incredible. And I know some fellows.

In fact, yesterday, I was doing a Zoom presentation for a group in New Jersey. There were people telling me, “I’ve already ot it in my mind that Trump is going to win again.” And I was like, “Why?” And they were like, because if I don’t sort of prepare myself for this; I don’t know how I’m going to be able to take it. I never felt this way, again. Maybe, it’s different. I, recently, lived through a lot of elections. I’m 62 years old. My candidates have lost, which has happened a fair amount of the time. I felt terrible. I was upset. But I don’t think it would be anything like this. It was bad enough the first time for a couple of reasons. Number one, the idea that so many American people could say, “Yes, I like this. This looks good to me. People dying left, right and center of Covid,” but he wasn’t saying, “I wish we’d stop thinking about it.” That’s a fear in and of itself.

But there’s really more to it than that. It’s also that if he gets another term, when he’s like a couple of days after Election Day in 2016. I heard that the public and political commentator Bill Maher saying: From now on, the next four years, he says this is more talking about himself. He’s a fierce critic of Trump. He said, ‘I’m going to have to keep looking behind me because this guy lives for revenge.’ And he’s right. If Trump doesn’t have to think about more and more, ever running again, he will be unleashed to. And first thing he will do is go where every person he perceives as an enemy. He will fire William Barr. Who, believe it or not, he doesn’t think of the love of that sycophant as attorney general and may replace him with, God knows, Rudy Giuliani or somebody.

And the next thing we’re going to see is Barack Obama being perp walked in handcuffs into the FBI and this could really happen. So the stakes couldn’t possibly feel any higher at all. And so, I’m hoping for