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You're right. That's why I was careful to qualify it with "all other things being equal."

In general identity gives you strength while making you stupid. This can sometimes be a good trade, especially in stressful situations. E.g. I think this is one reason people in the US are so much more religious than they were when I was a kid. People who 30 years ago might have been skeptical of preachers are now thinking that religion may at least save their kids from meth.

"identity gives you strength while making you stupid"

Couldn't something similar be said about any emotional response. In that emotional responses give you something but are inherently irrational.

You could also see emotion as heuristic behavior guides that were calculated by evolution. Many decisions are so computationally complex that reasoning isn't useful.

I'd say strong emotion makes you stupid. Emotional responses in general I think are more non-rational than necessarily irrational.

Just for some context, are people much more religious than when you were a kid? I had figured this was a relatively stable number. Or maybe you were referring to how fervent people have become with their religious views?

I'm curious about the actual trend of religiosity, and I'm somewhat skeptical of anecdotal data (for the very reasons in your article). What is the general trend from someone who's been following this longer?

are people much more religious than when you were a kid?

Yes. It was very noticeable when I went back to Pittsburgh recently. When I was a kid, people went to church, but it didn't spill over into everyday life. They did it more as a matter of form. Now people's conversation is filled with religious references. Someone who 30 years ago would have said "we have two children" now says "we've been blessed with two children."

Kierkegaard had some interesting views on this very subject, that a belief system such as Christianity requires a greater life involvement than the common 'Sunday Christianity' of 30 years ago. I think now we find a larger number of 'genuine believers' whereas 30 or more years ago people went to Church because that was the thing you do. Now, as people have a greater freedom to NOT go, so the remaining attendees probably become more devoted. A kind of evolutionary process, where the selection method is self-selection of attendance based upon initial belief.

As a rationalist/atheist/whateverlabel of course I'm not sure I'm altogether comfortable with the rapid increase in religious adherence in recent years but that's a different discussion.

Very interesting essay PG!

Sometimes I wonder if our perceptions of things are different because we have easier access to information/people or whether things truly are more widespread than before.

For example, are there really as many Evangelicals and fundamentalist Christians as it seems, or do they just sound louder because they are broadcasting on more channels?

It is often times the case that people/groups with less power or advantage are louder since they are trying to draw more attention and have less to lose in doing so. But for those not well informed, that loudness translates into legitimacy even though it can indicate exactly the opposite. PETA comes to mind as an example.

Are they more religious, or are they more open with religion?

If you believe the small smattering of polls cited in this Wikipedia article people have actually become less religious over the last 10 years:


They moved from 94% believing in God to 73%. Might just be the small sample or differences in questions asked though.

It's a complex question. Joe Bageant, author of Deer Hunting With Jesus, can be a good explainer of evangelical religion in America to the rest of us. He asserts that there have always been people who are this deeply religious in about this proportion, but the difference is that now they are a political constituency and a valuable demographic for advertisers. Perhaps it's very simply that culture isn't controlled by the city anymore, nor by the three big TV networks who all had similarly liberal urbanites in control.

If I were to guess I'd say that what's on the decline is nominal religiosity. Those who don't believe, don't worship, in greater numbers. At the same time, among those who do believe, there's been an assertion of cultural power since the 1980s or so.

No data here, just an observation from someone about the same as as pg.

My thoughts exactly pretty much. I also think the atheist movement has become much better organized and more assertive, largely due to the net. The two probably whip each other up into a frenzy as well.

It seems much more likely to be availability bias on pg's part.

Have you read Tom Wolfe's "The 'Me' Decade and the Third Great Awakening"? He seems to think the 70's were particularly religious, although perhaps not in the traditional way. These things definitely seem to go in cycles, though.


Really? The US has changed a great deal then. Up here in Canada, in my 35ish years I don't really remember a great change in religious belief. In fact, if anything, I find that there is less these days than 30 some odd years ago.

Of course! Kids does not think about death, they did not see it ahead. One probably could discover it after some incident or heavy decease, but usually kids are not aware. Unawareness is the one little secret of their cheerfulness.

Great essay and discussion.

I think there's another variable strongly influencing how "identity" behaves in the wild.

Consider the examples of Nelson Mandela and Ghandi. Both men very strongly identified with the cause of their people, but despite that identity had an amazingly noble approach to their oppressors. Horrible atrocities were committed by their foes, yet they reached out to them with grace - both during their struggles and after their victories. They studied their "enemy's" culture and language extensively and had empathy and compassion for them even while fighting for their cause.

There are many examples of wonderful Lincoln-esque people who strongly identified with a cause, yet had compassion and understanding for the other side. From examining them, it seems that identity was not a factor in causing strife and stupidity when it was coupled with that genuine graciousness and understanding.

Tragically, there seem to be far more examples in history of people taking the other approach - envy, hate, violence, etc. In those instances, identity seems to be the vigorous fan that stokes the flames.

While those may be extreme examples, the same principles apply to today's conversations. For instance, very few people would get into a heated debate with a down-syndrome child over a religious point of doctrine or political policy - no matter how adamant she was about it. Why? Well, it's hard not to have compassion for a mentally-handicapped child who is so innocent in her understanding. Yet when people come across a 35 year old man with the same view (who incidentally may be just as 'innocent' in his understanding) - it's much easier to throw away that compassion and understanding and attack him personally with vitriol.

If someone has genuine love and concern for another person it's hard to imagine the kind of stupid debates and spiraling into dumbness that pg describes - even if the participants are at polar ends of the religious/political identity scales. Some of you may remember what ParticleTree did to effectively reduce trolls and flamers: http://credibility.stanford.edu/captology/notebook/archives.... By giving commenters a reminder of compassion, they took a lot of heat out of identity-stupidity.

Lincoln, Ghandi, Mandela etc understood this principle and used it for great good. It reminds me of a great quote from one of my favorite sci-fi novels that shows Charity not as a flaccid quality - but like this:

"And now it came. It was fiery, sharp, bright, and ruthless, ready to kill, ready to die, outspeeding light; it was Charity, not as mortals imagine it, not even as it has been humanised for them since the Incarnation of the Word, but the trans-lunary virtue, fallen upon them direct from the Third Heaven, unmitigated. They were blinded, scorched. They thought it would burn their bones. They could not bear that it should continue. They could not bear that it should cease." - That Hideous Strength, CS Lewis

I've know highly religious/political people who were extremely dedicated to their views, yet seemed to get along with just about everyone even while having lively debate that even decreased dumbness! Unfortunately, we've also seen much of the opposite. The main key always seems to be whether the person has genuine love and compassion for the others holding opposing views - so much so that the others know that disagreement doesn't threaten the relationship. It's a rare and wonderful quality we can all strive for.

In a nutshell - have all the identity you want - just make sure you couple it with the Golden Rule (thankfully found in just about every belief system, religious or not, yay!).

Mandela founded the ANC's armed wing (Umkhonto we Sizwe). This armed wing was responsible for its fair share of atrocities such as:

- Planting landmines that killed people indiscriminately in rural areas

- Torture and executions esp. in foreign camps

- Burning people that worked with the apartheid government alive (necklacing). Mandela's wife killed a 14 year old boy without spending a day in jail (Stompie Sipei)

- Church Street bombing and Magoo's bar bombing (which killed civilians). Bombing of an Amamzimtoti shopping center (which killed two children and a woman).

- Factional fighting with the IFP in the late 80ies and early 90ies (which killed more than 15,000 people).

What happened in South Africa was amazing - but it was not just Mandela that made a great leap. White people gave up all power that they had - military, political, just on the basis of a constitution. This knowing full well that there were no other successful democratic African country.

This brings this post to a familiar ground - we do not want to be discussing politics on YCNews. So if you want to use a person as a hero, use Archbishop Desmond Tutu who advocated for non-violence from the start.

Yes, Mandela is a great example of someone who was able to change his ways from hate and violence to understanding and compassion. If he can do it, I guess there is hope for online flamers and trolls ;)

The saying goes: one person's freedom fighter is another person's terrorist. I made this account especially because I knew I will be regarded as a “troll” by some.

The real world is unfortunately not entirely black and white. I never said that what Mandela fought for was wrong - I said that the way it was done was wrong. Unfortunately most people spend time on the Apartheid era's misdeeds but ignore that of the liberation movement.

I said he should use Desmond Tutu as a fine example. Tutu fought for the same thing as Mandala (equal rights) but he did it in a non-violent way. He denounced violence and terrorism on both sides (he even intervened once risking his own life to prevent a crowd from necklacing a person).

You will also notice above that I recommended moving off from the politics topic because it is unnecessarily divisive and not really the focus point of YCNews.

EDIT: Why I also think that Tutu makes an excellent example is that his actions (such as the non-violence he promotes) stems from his religious identity. This is clearly the case in which a person's identity is a good attribute.

Great - then use Tutu for the example. Just be careful that you don't go through life missing the point in discussions by getting caught up nit-picking the examples people use.

Indeed, how do you bring up your own kids to have a small identity?

I get the feeling that children growing into adults have an innate need to find identity, and if you have an identity vacuum at home they'll find it elsewhere.

Organized sports.

I subscribe, and if I can I would add: - Multicultural experiences, when I was younger I participated in a Camp with people from various backgrounds (races, income classes, countries) it was really a big experience. - Sharing, I guess in the near future we will be teaching to our children to be humble by giving, those new syndromes they're discovering of spoiled children who just had everything in their lifes and the parents lose control of them. I guess playing with another children also helps, and having strong bonds with relatives of the same age.

I am from a big family and I just see the differences when comparing myself to single sons, but I find the differences interesting, I even admire them.

I also wonder what are the influences of growing up in a family dominated by women. Anyone wants to elaborate?

Great discussion!

Paul's essays are quite objective and plain scientific analysis of things with no subjective emotions attached.They are quite brilliant in that sense. But still life is not governed by plain facts. Emotions are also important and emotions are what differentiate living from non-living.Sense of identity is governed by emotions. But still as I think in some more depth, even emotions appear to be manifestation of the fact that our genes are engineered to sustain itself and propagate. And since in the presence of a given complex external stimuli, it is difficult to take decisions with in the constraint of limited processing ability of the brain, emotions help in coming with some decision. And this decision may or may not be correct. Emotions can be thought of as the memorization of some decisions for some patterns of external stimuli.So finally everything seems to be quite deterministic with cause and effect relationships.So I am just perturbed and want to know whether there is a free will? And as I understand about probability, it just quantifies how much we don't know ( bit amusing in the sense that we quantify something which we don't know...and that is done using statistics which again makes it somewhat deterministic ).

thinking that religion may at least save their kids from meth.

That was put to music recently in a country western hit, "Drugs or Jesus".

In general identity gives you strength while making you stupid.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_True_Believer in a nutshell.

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