New York Times editorial page editor makes the “Little People” argument for religion

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

—Karl Marx  A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. 

As “mainstream” publications like the New York Times and New Yorker become increasingly regressive, we can expect to see more osculation of religion, even though the tenets of religion are false and the U.S. is becoming more secular. (One characteristic of Authoritarian Leftists is their refusal to criticize faith.)  In an op-ed yesterday, David Leonhardt, a columnist and the associate editorial page editor for the New York Times, not only praises a pro-religion column by conservative Ross Douthat, but cites a study purporting to show that religion is a net good in the world (click on the screenshot to read the piece):

An excerpt:

The benefits of faith. In his Sunday column this week, Ross Douthat issued something of a challenge to secular liberals. They think of themselves as empiricists, Ross wrote, but they’re actually close-minded about several powerful forces for good, starting with religion.

“When people and societies are genuinely curious,” he continued, “they are very reasonably curious about everything, including things happening in their bodies and their consciousness and more speculative realms.”

If you read Douthat’s column, you’ll see it’s a critique of Steve Pinker’s thesis, described in his new book Enlightenment Now, that the world is getting better, and that a big reason for that improvement is the rejection of dogma and superstition pushed by religion and faith. In fact, Douthat claims that, contrary to all reason, being irrational—whether that’s manifested in astrology, spiritualism, or religion—actually promotes the curiosity that pushes science forward. As Douthat argues:

. . . in many instances the interests that Pinker dismisses as irrational hugger-mugger, everything from astrology to spiritualism, have tended to strengthen during periods of real scientific ferment. It’s why Isaac Newton loved alchemy and the Victorians loved séances; it’s why charismatic Christianity has spread very naturally with economic development in Africa and Latin America and why the Space Age coincided with the spread of all those health food stores.

Which is why if Pinker and others are genuinely worried about a waning appreciation of the inquiring scientific spirit, they should consider the possibility that some of their own smug secular certainties might be part of the problem — that they might, indeed, be stifling the more comprehensive kind of curiosity upon which the scientific enterprise ultimately depends.

Smug secular certainties, indeed? Has he read Pinker’s book, which is based on data? As usual, what issues from Douthat’s pie-hole is nonsense:  religion in the West is waning strongly, regardless of the spread of “charistmatic Christianity” in Africa and Latin America. Douthat fails to realize that the economic development in places like Africa and Latin America depends largely on science produced in more secular countries, and that correlation between scientific ferment and superstition (even if it’s real, and I Douthat) is not causation. Read Douthat’s column if you want to see an Orwellian conviction that superstition actually increases our respect for empirical data.

Back to Leonhardt’s, who then cites data that I find a bit dubious (see below):

The column reminded me of a pattern that, as a secular liberal myself, I’ve long found inconvenient: Religion is correlated with a lot of healthy behaviors and positive outcomes. All else equal, religious people have higher educational attainment, earn more money, use drugs and alcohol less and commit fewer crimes, according to a long line of social-science studies (that have frequently been done by secular liberals).

The question about these findings is the old correlation-causation question: Does religious faith lead to these healthy behaviors? Or is something else, independent of faith, causing them?

He then cites a 78-page study—and I haven’t yet read it—but the link is in the column’s excerpt below (my emphasis):

A clever new study tries to offer some answers. It’s not anywhere near the last word on the matter, obviously, but it is intriguing.

. . . The group taught 15 weeks of classes to more than 6,000 very poor Filipinos. Some of the students received a version that combined religious teachings with advice on health and employment. Others received only the nonreligious parts. By comparing the different batches of students, the economists hoped to isolate the effect of religion.

The results: Six months later, those who received the religious education indeed reported feeling more guided by religion. They were also earning more money, largely by shifting from agricultural work to higher-paying jobs, such as fishing or self-employment. And even small pay increases can be a big deal for people living in extreme poverty.

. . . No study is definitive. But I do find the overall evidence of religion’s ancillary benefits to be strong. That evidence hasn’t made me personally religious. I’m still quite comfortable with my secularism. But the evidence has made me more humble and open-minded about how the world can go about solving some of its problems.

Does this convince you that religiosity has “strong ancillary benefits”? Of course I’m biased against that, but let’s look at the description. The subjects were “very poor Filipinos”, not reasonably well-off Westerners, which, after all, is whom Leonhardt is addressing. Even taking these results at face value, remember that the most religious people in both the U.S. and across nations are those with the lowest well being, and thus tend to look to a heavenly being for succor rather than their governments. This might explain the “feeling more guided by religion” part. After all, if you get a religious education, why wouldn’t you feel more guided by religion?

As for earning more money, I’d want to see the effects of four treatments: “religion alone”, “religion combined with advice on health and employment”, “advice on health and employment alone” and “no treatment.”  Perhaps a reader can have a look at the survey, and see if “religion alone” has a bigger effect than “advice on health and employment”, or if the combined treatment had a bigger effect than “religion alone.”

At any rate, this one study in the Philippines, showing that religion combined with secular advice is better than secular advice alone (I’m presuming here), flies in the face of other data that Leonhardt doesn’t mention. As I’ve discussed before, in both Faith Versus Fact and a 2012 paper in Evolution (free access with Unpaywall), the most religious countries in the world are those with the lowest well being. Conversely, countries with the highest well-being (and, according to a UN survey, the happiest inhabitants) are the most secular countries: countries like Sweden, Iceland, Denmark, and so on. (That includes the U.S., which using sociological measures doesn’t have such a “successful society”.)

This holds true among states of the U.S. as well, though I don’t have the correlation at hand. The “red states”, which are highly religious, tend to have lower well being than “blue states”, with more secularist and liberals. Here are two figures from a post I did in 2012, showing data from a Gallup poll”. First, the degree of religiosity in American states:

And overall well being:


There’s a striking correlation, at least visually: those states with the lowest well being have the highest religiosity. (I’m willing to be that this is statistically significant.) That, and the data among countries, does not suggest that religion motivates people to better their lot. Of course these are just correlations, but sociologists such as Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart have theorized that religiosity is a response to low well being: if your society is not taking care of you, you look for solace and help to gods. An alternative hypothesis is that believing in God makes you create worse societies.  The first explanation (first adumbrated by Marx in his famous quote) makes more sense to me, but the second may carry a lick of sense as well. If you’re hopeless and think that either god will help you or that your lot will be better in the next life, you have less impetus to improve your society.

Either way, the data from everyplace outside the small group of poor Filipinos discussed by Leonhardt refutes his thesis on the effect of religion on material well being. Of course, he doesn’t mention that.

What bothers me about Leonhardt’s article is the fact that, as he admits, he himself is a nonbeliever—or at least a “secularist” who isn’t religious.  Presumably, then, he thinks religion is good for the “little people”, as it inspires them to work harder and make more money, even if the tenets of religion aren’t true. Good for thee but not for me!  How incredibly condescending and patronizing can one be? Does he seriously think that teaching religion to people is one way “the world can go about solving some of its problems”?

And remember, this patronizing git, who pretends to be “humble,” is largely in charge of the entire op-ed section of the country’s best newspaper.

h/t: Greg


  1. BobTerrace
    Posted March 1, 2018 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    Ross Douthat is one of those pundits that gets everything wrong. I stopped even trying to read his column because I know it is never reasonable or rational.

  2. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted March 1, 2018 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    “Charismatic Christianity” is not just the word “charismatic” tacked on, it means more than that – Kurt Andersen (I know I know, sorry!) goes into it a bit.

  3. Linda K
    Posted March 1, 2018 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Poor choice of wording in title of this WEIT post. “Little people” are most often short people, not religious wackos.

    • Posted March 1, 2018 at 10:54 am | Permalink

      I think he may be making reference to the infamous Leona Hemsley quote; “We don’t pay taxes; only the little people pay taxes”.

      • XCellKen
        Posted March 1, 2018 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

        True story: I almost DIED because of Leona Helmsley. Long story…and I don’t wanna hijack a thread,so…

    • Posted March 1, 2018 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      People who are not rich and/or powerful have often been referred to as the “little people”. I tried to find some history for this but it is mostly swamped by its use to refer to short people, now and in myth.

      Leona Helmsley said something like “taxes are for little people”. I’m sure she was not referring to short people.

      Finally, the Daily WEriting Tips website lists it as one of 10 terms for the common people:

    • Posted March 1, 2018 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      I’ve talked about the “Little People” argument before, so look it up before you start criticizing me. For crying out loud, I am short.

      Seriously, you want to criticize me for that?

      Poor choice of comments.

      • sensorrhea
        Posted March 1, 2018 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

        “The little people” is a common way to refer to hoi polloi.

        • ThyroidPlanet
          Posted March 1, 2018 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

          “I’m just a simple caveman – your ways frighten, and confuse me”

          -Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer

          • ThyroidPlanet
            Posted March 1, 2018 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

            Sorry if this came across badly – I was too hasty.

            The point : there can be more than one sense of identical words or phrases. It’s funny how it works, but it does.

            • Dave
              Posted March 1, 2018 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

              The term “Little People” correctly refers only to Leprechauns. Using it in any other context is cultural appropriation and should stop immediately.

    • Posted March 1, 2018 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      Is “Lollipop League People” the PC terminology?

    • Posted March 1, 2018 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      ‘Little people’ are people who don’t matter, not short people.

      As when Bryant threatens Deckard with the line ‘You know the score, pal. If you’re not cop you’re little people’ in Blade Runner.

      Harrison Ford isn’t short.

    • Sastra
      Posted March 2, 2018 at 8:58 am | Permalink

      The phrase “Little People” could be swapped out for “Simple Folk.” It’s not referencing stature, but sophistication and strength. The Little People Argument is an apologetic which assumes that the religious don’t care about truth, can’t handle the truth, and are incapable of considering the issue rationally. It’s a plea for forbearance disguised as a call for respect.

      It’s true that the term Little People has recently been adopted by midgets and dwarves, and if that’s their preferred designation then it ought to be respected. But the words themselves have pretty broad application and in context I think it’s clear that this particular use of the phrase not an intrusion into a separate category of meaning.

  4. Posted March 1, 2018 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    “If you’re hopeless and think that either god will help you or that your lot will be better in the next life, you have less impetus to improve your society.”

    I lived for a time in Tunisia among some very poor and religious people and one thing that struck me was how accepting they were of bad things that could have been prevented. The reason for this is that they believed that if God wills something to happen it will and there is nothing one ought to do to subvert God’s will. The phrase they used was (transliterated); “Insh-Allah la bez” or “If God wills it”. This manifested itself in bizarre and alarming ways. I once rode in a luage (a long distance taxi, usually an old and decrepit Peugeot wagon) through the Atlas mountains. At one point a wheel fell off the car and we crashed into a tree (no one was hurt). Turned out the owner of the luage had used only one lug nut on each wheel and one had sheered off. I was outraged because we almost died but the driver and the other passengers simply shrugged said “Insh=Allah la bez”.

    This disregard of simple safety was common. No one wore helmets on their motorbikes, no one tied down their loads on trucks, no one cared that electric wires (when they had electricity) were often exposed and sometimes sparking. They simply didn’t care because they felt that if God wanted them to be safe or die horribly, He would make it happen and there was nothing one could do one way or the other. Insh-Alla la bez.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted March 1, 2018 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      It’s also in the Bible that we were made for a particular place in life and we should accept that. Accepting God’s plan for you is how you’re supposed to be happy.

      It’s also the reasoning that’s used to justify slavery, keeping poor people poor, not fighting for your rights via unions, oppose women’s equality, and a plethora of other things.

      And atheists and secularists are not less educated, and they do not commit more crime. Check out the work of Phil Zuckerman, who has been studying Secularism for a very long time and heads the department of Secular Studies at Pitzer College. Secularists on average do better in just about every trait – they’re less racist, less sexist, less anti-Semitic, more accepting of LGBT people, and more. Even less dogmatic.

      The one area secularists fall behind the religious is we have higher levels of depression. I think that’s a result of us not fooling ourselves about reality as much as the religious.

      • phil
        Posted March 2, 2018 at 1:44 am | Permalink

        Maybe we just get depressed because of the nasty rubbish the religious like to spread around. Like Denis Hart.

    • darrelle
      Posted March 1, 2018 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      For a couple of years at university I lived among a sizable group of Lebanese students, a mix of Christian and Muslim. I noticed similar attitudes among them, regardless of their religion. They all exhibited a pervasive fatalism. By pervasive I mean it seemed to underlie every aspect of their lives. Besides what you describe it seemed to me that it made them give up on things way to early.

      For one specific example, one conversation I had about nuclear weapons in which I mentioned that the basic principles are readily understandable by anyone with a moderate background in physics, which the Lebanese friend I was talking to was then learning, though the engineering was difficult and that acquiring the necessary fissionable material even more so. He adamantly refused to believe that because he was sure that only an elite few could possibly have that knowledge. As if it were the nature of the universe that common folk like himself couldn’t possibly understand something as incredible as nuclear weapons. His was quite emotional about it.

      • Posted March 2, 2018 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

        This almost sounds like a modern version of John Locke’s argument against using microscopes (!!). Why was he skeptical? He claimed that by enlarging things people would get the impression that they could understand the inner constitution of things – which would be blasphemy. Empiricism (properly understood) partially arises from a *religious* motivation, and a *bad* one. Fortunately Hooke and Leewenhoek were better scientists!

    • Posted March 1, 2018 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

      I have seen the same in South America, where the religious are mostly Catholic and Protestant. People were sloppy about maintainance, careless and risk-taking as drivers, etc. Fatalism was deeply ingrained. This often kept people from working too hard on projects that could alleviate future problems.

    • clarkia
      Posted March 1, 2018 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

      This goes back at least to Gibbon (see Wikipedia quote below). Did anyone propose it earlier?

      “In addition, Gibbon argued that Christianity created a belief that a better life existed after death, which fostered an indifference to the present among Roman citizens, thus sapping their desire to sacrifice for a larger purpose. He also believed that Christianity’s comparative pacifism tended to hamper the traditional Roman martial spirit. Also, seldom openly stated, but constantly shown in practice, Christianity destroyed the unity of the Empire. Christians were not unified; they were split into dozens of groups, constantly battling over exceedingly minute differences in dogma, where the pronunciation of a vowel would determine eternal bliss or hell, and killing each other in the literal hundreds of thousands.”

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted March 1, 2018 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      Much the same in Saudi Arabia (perhaps not surprisingly). I have known a number of Saudi Air Force officers, many educated in the US and UK, who were happy to put most aspects of their lives in the hands of Allah (although that didn’t deter them from insisting that their aircraft be serviced properly).

    • sensorrhea
      Posted March 1, 2018 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

      I’ve always felt it revealing that some groups of Muslims intone “Insh-Allah” so much it’s essentially its own religious verb tense. Language is the medium of thought.

  5. Posted March 1, 2018 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    “and I Douthat” is a loverly pun, one that I vaguely had been tossing around in my head awhile now (but I suspected, having only read the name, I might be mispronouncing). Thank you, sir!

  6. Posted March 1, 2018 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    “and I Douthat” is a loverly pun, one that I vaguely had been tossing around in my head awhile now (but I suspected, having only read the name, I might be mispronouncing). Thank you, sir!

  7. simonchicago
    Posted March 1, 2018 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Two comments:
    1. “Charismatic Christianity” in Brazil has done a tremendous disservice to the country. While the Catholic church has eventually embraced parts of Liberation Theology, a vocation to help the poor, advocate for better social services, etc. the charismatic christians follow the example of US televangelists, with a theology of prosperity. Many of them have been embroiled in financial scandals. I believe this is true throughout Latin America.
    2. Compare progress towards economic well-being in China, India and Pakistan. There seems to be a strong correlation between lack of progress and the role of religion in government.

  8. Randall Schenck
    Posted March 1, 2018 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Poor Filipinos are already full of religion so the test is faulty at the start. The place is 101% Catholic. This specific religion seems to me to be a deterrent if we look around the world comparing economic condition.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted March 1, 2018 at 11:49 am | Permalink

      That was my first thought also.

      This is a country where multiple people re-enact the crucifixion every Easter, literally being nailed to crosses. Others, including children, whipping their backs with whips that have bits of glass or metal embedded, follow those carrying their crosses through the streets. You can find multiple pictures of children with their backs flayed raw on the net.

      It’s also a country that’s notorious for the corruption of the Church, including multiple accusations of child abuse, and absolutely nothing has ever been done about it because of the political power of the church. There is at least one interview I’ve seen with the Archbishop where he all but admits abuse and smiles about it. (I think it was Stephen Sackur BBC Hardtalk.)

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted March 1, 2018 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

        My visits and experience in the Philippines were back in the Marcos days. It is really the only 3rd world country I have been to. It is possible to see abject poverty next door to very high class areas and the people think nothing of it. Very depressing at times and very corrupt. We were such great friends of Marcos that we got him out before the people killed him.

    • XCellKen
      Posted March 1, 2018 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      I am friends on Facebook with a Filipino woman who is an Atheist. So kits only 99.9999999%.

      She also lives in Saudi Arabia.

      • Posted March 2, 2018 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

        There her country of origin may actually protect her – as it wouldn’t someone from a relatively secular country like (say) Sweden.

    • Ralph
      Posted March 2, 2018 at 1:00 am | Permalink

      Yes, I think the study may just be picking up the fact that in a highly religious society like that, it’s an advantage to conform. Take two people with equal skills and qualifications in Saudi Arabia, one of whom is a devout conventional Muslim and one of whom is an openly gay atheist, and whose career is likely to flourish?

    • Kiwi Dave
      Posted March 2, 2018 at 1:53 am | Permalink

      Presumably, if you are already intensely religious, good advice wrapped in religion will be more persuasive than good advice not wrapped in religion.

  9. Simon Hayward
    Posted March 1, 2018 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Jay Lefkowitz has a column today that speaks to the ability of religions to build communities, even when the “religious” are (in practice) largely secular.

  10. jars634760860
    Posted March 1, 2018 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    A similar evaluation is made by Jonathan Haidt on The Righteous Mind. According to him, religious communes are more cooperative (p. 299), religious people are more altruistic (p. 307) and the more frequently people attend religious services the more generous and charitable they become (308). However, as Sapolsky comments in Behave, there are several studies that shows the religious people are nicer when they interact with in-group members. But also, there are several studies that show the opposite. Curiously, He mentions a studies that shows that “priming people to think of God as punitive decreases cheating; thinking of God as forgiving increases it”.
    I think meassuring the effects on religious is unnecesary. We know is possible to progress with even more less religion than we have (scandinavian countries), so why do we insist in theses lies?

  11. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted March 1, 2018 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    INterestingly, Douthat is the author of a book called “Bad Religion”. He clearly thinks some religion is bad. I found the book engaging though I wildly disagreed with his calls on what sort of religion was bad or good.

    In the 17th and 18th century, you could easily argue that Protestant countries were more economically prosperous than Catholic ones, and this was probably larger due to the Calvinist work ethic. In the United States, Unitarians and Episcopalians tend to be quite wealthy, Jehovah’s Witnesses not so much. Mormons are also wealthy due to strong guidelines about economic prudence in the belief-system.

    Sometimes religiosity of a sort may inspire scientific curiosity, but not in the case of fundamentalism, which really does inspire neurological arrest. I wonder if Douthat has read Henri Bergson’s “The Two Sources of Morality and Religion” a portion of which is devoted to unpacking when and why religious dogma gets rigid.

    Heavily apocalyptic religion does lead to neglect of civic duty as Edward Gibbon argued in “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”. Just look at Reagan’s secretary of the Interior, James Watt, who thought that conservation was not important because the Second Coming was just around the corner.

  12. Posted March 1, 2018 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    One of my bumper stickers reads: Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.
    It is also what keeps the poor from murdering the church and tries to stem their resistance struggles. I am gratified to see critics of Douthat and David Brooks speak out about their moralizing sermons. But let’s take heart: the more that religious folk promote religion and decry secularism, the more proof we have that religion is in serous decline. Douthat and Brooks express the dying gasps of religion. Unfortunately the tail of that writhing dinosaur can do a lot of damage before succumbing.

  13. Charlie Jones
    Posted March 1, 2018 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    I was a member of the Stanford Christian Fellowship as an undergraduate, and it struck me then that one way people could directly benefit from religious belief is if you have faith that God has a plan for you, you can relax even as you strive to meet your goals:

    1. If your goal is part of God’s plan, he will help you reach it.

    2. If your goal is not part of the plan, you will fail, but this is all for the best.

    Thus, faith can potentially reduce stress, which has all sorts of benefits. This, alas, was not enough to sustain my belief in God, so God’s plan was clearly for me to be stressed out!

  14. J. Quinton
    Posted March 1, 2018 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    “Religion is correlated with a lot of healthy behaviors and positive outcomes”

    That’s the thing: If you want to make religion look good, you use data about religious individuals. If you want to make religion look bad, you use data about religious countries.

    It’s a paradox.

    • Paul S
      Posted March 1, 2018 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      That’s the thing: If you want to make religion look good, you use data about some religious individuals.


      • J. Quinton
        Posted March 1, 2018 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

        …this is a perfect example of a “correction” that’s not even wrong.

  15. CJColucci
    Posted March 1, 2018 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    To what extent are the benefits of religion the result of having: (1) some definite moral structure in life: and (2) a community? I suspect that these account for almost all of the differential between the religious and the non-religious. The non-religious group includes not only people with non-religious moral structures in their lives, but moral slackers who have no structure at all. Surely that would tilt the numbers in favor of those with a religious moral structure, even if what matters is whether you have some kind of moral structure, not a specifically religious one. As for community, is being part of, say, a Presbyterian congregation much more beneficial being an Elk or a Knight of Pythias?

  16. sensorrhea
    Posted March 1, 2018 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    As I’ve documented about NPR on my blog, this sentiment is nearly ubiquitous among the secular journalists.

  17. Posted March 1, 2018 at 2:40 pm | Permalink


    All else equal, religious people have higher educational attainment, earn more money, use drugs and alcohol less and commit fewer crimes

    Oddly, I volunteer in a prison, and those drug dealers, rapists, murderers, and bank robbers are by far the most religious people I know.

  18. Posted March 1, 2018 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Regarding the cited study, I’ve taken a brief look and this is what I’ve found:

    The only significant effect of the treatment on income is for the pooled groups “Religion only” + “Religion, Health and Livelihood” vs. “Religion, Health and Livelihood” + “Health and Livelihood only”. This pooling was done to increase statistical power, according to the authors. Yes, pooling will have that effect because you’re simply inflating your sample size. Not very convincing.

    The bigger problem I have with the study is that I don’t believe the experimental units are at all exchangeable. 160 pastors were used in 2 communities each to supply the treatment or control programs. So all analyses refer to differences in the *communities*, not individuals (the authors explicitly note this, but say, “We view this as a desirable feature, since religion is most often experienced and practiced in a communal context.” I disagree.).

    So just how interchangeable are the communities that were used? Could some communities have access to better paying jobs? I have no idea, and the authors don’t seem to go into details about the differences between the communities. I’m sure every effort was made to ensure the communities were comparable, but there is no way that 160*2 communities can be treated as interchangeable units. Because of this, the reported measure of significance needs to be interpreted very conservatively.

    • Sastra
      Posted March 2, 2018 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      I think the study would have been better focused if “religion” had been matched against “self-help philosophy.” After all, it’s hardly fair to equate a message of “You are loved and important and will do well if you depend on God” with advice about eating your vegetables or whatever was included under “health and livelihood.” It ought to be apples to apples, not apples to oranges.

      One arm of the experiment could have involved pastors supplying a religious program about giving yourself over to God’s Love, and the other arm involve motivational speakers helping individuals become The Best You You Can Be!

      That would be more equivalent, imo, and better highlight any distinction in results between study participants receiving secular vs. religious advice.

      • Posted March 2, 2018 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

        There’s also the grey area in between: the whole “modern Stoicism” stuff.

        I’m trying to understand it. As a toe-in-the-door, I bought one of those “Stoic wisdom for each day” calendars. The parts I most wondered about (providence and the Stoic version of teleology) is mangled horribly. It (to that extent) is *not* Stoicism. (It would be like a denomination that claimed to be Christian but had no role for a guy named Jesus.)

  19. Posted March 1, 2018 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    ‘Religious’ people as a valid category? People of often diametrically opposed views who, left unsecularised, were quite willing to slaughter each other in the past (and some still do). Note that followers of a certain religion regard ALL others as atheists.

    ‘Religious’ doesn’t refer to any coherent group – maybe the broader term ‘superstitious’ would.


  20. Leigh Jackson
    Posted March 1, 2018 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Admittedly it all begins with personal experience.

    What to do with it, is the question. I am convinced, on the basis of personal attendance at a seance, that there is life after death. I am convinced this diet cured my cancer.

    That ain’t science. That’s not speculation. That’s sheer credulity.

    The move from curiosity to speculation (and/or wishful thinking) and on to credulity is very easy. From curiosity to science – the replacement of ignorance with understanding – is not so easy.

    Science does not stifle comprehensive curiosity, it is the ultimate satisfier of it. Science is willing to speculate, not satisfied to end with it or leap to credulity.

    Douthat tilts at windmills.

  21. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted March 1, 2018 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Ok, this is getting ridiculous:

    Douthat just showed up on p.370 of Fantasyland

  22. Filippo
    Posted March 1, 2018 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    Douthat having gotten in a dig at Pinker, in the hard-copy Thursday 3/1/18 NY Tines, book reviewer Jennifer Szalai does also. An example:

    “In one particularly tortured passage, Pinker goes so far as to downplay the harm of the notorious Tuskegee syphilis study . . . on the grounds that the doctors ‘did not infect the participants as many believe . . . a one-time failure to prevent harm to a few dozen people . . . may even have been defensible by the standards of the day.'”

    “Why do this? Why not simply state that the study is a ghastly stain on the history of medicine?”

    Seems to me she has a legitimate point.

    I have to wonder if Pinker would chastise abolitionists, claiming that they were holding slave owners in the U.S. antebellum South to too high a standard?

    I look forward to reading his book.

  23. phil
    Posted March 2, 2018 at 1:41 am | Permalink

    Christopher Hitchens on the religious disdain for women

  24. Mike
    Posted March 2, 2018 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    Religion? I’m agin it !

  25. Posted March 2, 2018 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    (even if it’s real, and I Douthat)

    Very witty Wilde. Very VERY witty!!

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted March 2, 2018 at 8:45 am | Permalink

      If anyone likes this pun (is it really a pun?), I recommend you look up the Monty Python sketch with Mr. Smokes Too Much, and then watch it. You will know when you hear it.

      No, it won’t be worth your time.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted March 2, 2018 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      For everyone it’s the Travel Agent sketch :


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