Do children pick up their religious views from their fathers?

Gregory Paul and Phil Zuckerman in a long article titled Why the gods are not winning say that, “Women church goers greatly outnumber men, who find church too dull. Here’s the kicker. Children tend to pick up their beliefs from their fathers. So, despite a vibrant evangelical youth cohort, young Americans taken as a whole are the least religious and most culturally tolerant age group in the nation.” (My italics)

The paper does not provide citations, unfortunately, though I did find a little support in the literature for the claim. For example, in a paper titled On the Relative Influence of Mothers and Fathers: A Covariance Analysis of Political and Religious Socialization (August 1978, JOURNAL OF MARRIAGE AND THE FAMILY, vol. 40, no. 3, p. 519-530) authors Alan C. Acock and Vern L. Bengtson say that “The mother consistently appears more predictive in most areas we examined and is often the dominant parent in terms of prediction. The only areas in which the fathers had a slight edge were in Religious Behavior, Religiosity, and Tolerance of Deviance.”

My parents had similar religious beliefs so I cannot tell who influenced me more. I had not been aware of the greater influence of fathers on children’s religious beliefs and am curious if this statement is consistent with the experiences of readers of this blog.

So are your religious views closer to your father or your mother?

Why atheism is winning-6: The death of religious philosophy

(For previous posts in this series, see here.)

Keith Parsons, a professor of philosophy at the University of Houston, recently caused a bit of a stir when he said that he has given up teaching the philosophy of religion to his students because all the arguments for religion, old and new, have been so effectively debunked that he simply could not even pretend to take them seriously anymore. He felt that he would be doing a disservice to his students because of his inability to present those arguments as if they made any sense, which is what good teachers try to do when teaching ideas that they personally disagree with.

For one thing, I think a number of philosophers have made the case for atheism and naturalism about as well as it can be made. Graham Oppy, Jordan Howard Sobel, Nicholas Everitt, Michael Martin, Robin Le Poidevin and Richard Gale have produced works of enormous sophistication that devastate the theistic arguments in their classical and most recent formulations. Ted Drange, J.L. Schellenberg, Andrea Weisberger, and Nicholas Trakakis have presented powerful, and, in my view, unanswerable atheological arguments. Gregory Dawes has a terrific little book showing just what is wrong with theistic “explanations.” Erik Wielenberg shows very clearly that ethics does not need God. With honest humility, I really do not think that I have much to add to these extraordinary works.

Chiefly, though, I am motivated by a sense of ennui on the one hand and urgency on the other. A couple of years ago I was teaching a course in the philosophy of religion. We were using, among other works, C. Stephen Layman’s Letters to a Doubting Thomas: A Case for the Existence of God. In teaching class I try to present material that I find antithetical to my own views as fairly and in as unbiased a manner as possible. With the Layman book I was having a real struggle to do so. I found myself literally dreading having to go over this material in class—NOT, let me emphasize, because I was intimidated by the cogency of the arguments. On the contrary, I found the arguments so execrably awful and pointless that they bored and disgusted me (Layman is not a kook or an ignoramus; he is the author of a very useful logic textbook). I have to confess that I now regard “the case for theism” as a fraud and I can no longer take it seriously enough to present it to a class as a respectable philosophical position—no more than I could present intelligent design as a legitimate biological theory. BTW, in saying that I now consider the case for theism to be a fraud, I do not mean to charge that the people making that case are frauds who aim to fool us with claims they know to be empty. No, theistic philosophers and apologists are almost painfully earnest and honest; I don’t think there is a Bernie Madoff in the bunch. I just cannot take their arguments seriously any more, and if you cannot take something seriously, you should not try to devote serious academic attention to it. I’ve turned the philosophy of religion courses over to a colleague. (My italics)

In response to a request from a commenter, Parsons provides a list of books by philosophers that he says provide excellent arguments for atheism: (1) Wallace Matson: The Existence of God; (2) Michael Martin: Atheism: A Philosophical Justification; (3) Graham Oppy: Arguing About Gods; (4) Jordan Howard Sobel: Logic and Theism; (5) Richard Gale: On the Nature and Existence of God; (6) Nicholas Everitt: The Nonexistence of God; (7) J.L. Mackie: The Miracle of Theism; (8) Theodore M. Drange: Nonbelief and Evil; (9) J.L. Schellennberg: Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason; (10) Nick Trakakis: The God Beyond Belief; (11) Robin Le Poidevin: Arguing for Atheism; (12) Richard Robinson: An Atheist’s Values; (13) Erik Wielenberg: Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe.

He adds that “these books provide a far better justification for atheism than can be found in the recently popular Dawkins/Hitchens/Harris style books.”

I have no reason to doubt Parson’s claim that the above books are philosophically more sound in their arguments for atheism than the current crop of atheist best sellers. But note that these are all heavy-duty philosophical books aimed at other philosophers, both religious and atheistic. It is a safe bet that most ordinary religious people have never even heard of these authors, let alone read their works. That is true for me (I have read one essay by Mackie and that’s about it) and I have been a serious atheist for some time.

The point of the books by Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Dennett, Stenger, and others is that they are not targeted at philosophers of religion but are taking direct aim at ordinary religious believers and the bases of their beliefs. These people constitute almost the entirety of the religious populace and for them religion is not an abstract philosophy but requires a real god who acts in this world to influence actual history. This is why these authors have riled up the religious establishment in a very short time (new atheists books have been around only since 2004 when Harris published The End of Faith) in a way that atheist philosophers of religion haven’t, even though the latter have been around for much longer and, as Parsons says, may have made much more cogent arguments.

The fact that the works of sophisticated philosophers have had little impact on popular religious beliefs while those of the new atheists have is why I think that the strategy of the new atheists is the correct one.

Next: Signs of religion’s decline.

Destroying the middle class by killing the unions

What is currently taking place in the US is a ruthless class war perpetrated by the oligarchy on everyone else. The pattern should be clear to anyone because the plan is being done at the federal level and repeated all across the nation at the state level: Cut taxes on the rich to create a budget ‘crisis’ and then use that to eliminate programs that benefit the poor and middle class. As a result we have cuts in wages and benefits, social services, education, regulatory agencies, and an all out war against labor unions, while the rich get richer.

One of the extraordinary features of contemporary American life is the willingness of so many people in the middle class to turn against their own class (and the poor) in the service of the oligarchy. The upper middle classes and many in the middle class support this assault because they do not realize that what the oligarchy is demanding of those below them in the socio-economic ladder is eventually going to destroy them too. Those professionals who smugly see themselves as people whose skills are so valuable that they can succeed on their own in the marketplace without the protection of collective bargaining and thus sneer at unionized workers as pampered and privileged and lazy, do not seem to realize that the reason they enjoy their privileged life and seeming autonomy is precisely because unionized workers laid down the foundation on which they could build their own careers.

Labor unions are what gave us so many of the basic rights we take for granted. Sam Smith lists some of the things that the labor movement in the United States led the struggles for and are significantly the result of labor union organizing and action:

  • The end of child labor

  • The right of workers to negotiate with their employers over wages, benefits and working conditions
  • The 8 hour work day and paid overtime
  • Compensation for workers injured on the job.
  • Unemployment insurance.
  • A minimum wage
  • Pensions
  • Healthcare insurance
  • Paid sick leave, vacations and holidays
  • Elimination of job discrimination by ethnicity, color, religion, sex or national origin
  • Family medical leave

People who have forgotten the long and often deadly struggle by unions for these things may think of the benefits we now have as somehow ‘natural’ that will remain even after unions are destroyed. But they are wrong. The oligarchy would like to return us to the days when management could demand any amount of work hours, eliminate workplace safety rules, cut salaries and benefits at will, and fire people for no cause.

Thus it has been heartening to see the solidarity amongst so many people in Wisconsin and Ohio who are demonstrating and occupying statehouses to show their opposition to these policies. We have seen some unions see through the divide-and-conquer strategy of the Wisconsin governor who sought to exempt the police and firefighters from his union-busting strategies. Those groups have joined the protestors, rightly recognizing that if the present assault on some unions succeeds, their unions might well be next.

In a weird way, the uprisings in the Middle East have helped their cause. Of course, we should not in any way compare the two kinds of protests since the people in the Middle East are actually risking their lives to overthrow decades-long repressive regimes. But what those other protests have done is make mass demonstrations seem heroic. If not for them, the American mainstream media, which is an arm of the oligarchy, would have been able to portray the labor protests in the US as ‘lawless’ and ‘undemocratic’.

It is extraordinary that the political and media class acts as if there is no choice to solve the budget problems other than to cut wages and services that benefit the poor and middle class. There is an obvious alternative: Raise taxes, with the amount of the hike rising rapidly with income. Yes, tax the rich.

The tax giveaways for the rich in the latest tax deal that Obama and his congressional pals agreed to in December are truly obscene. They have snuck in goodies to benefit the very rich in all kinds of places. As just one example, it is only rich people for whom it is worthwhile to itemize their deductions in Schedule A. Most people claim the standard deduction of $5,700 while the rich can claim very much more. But at least in the past, some limits on Schedule A deductions started to get phased in for those people with incomes over a high amount ($166,800 for married couples filing jointly in 2009). But this year even those limitations have been removed, even though the only people who benefit are those who do not need more money in the first place. No wonder we have budget deficits. If one needed to point to one symbol that clearly demonstrates that the rich are determined to contribute as little as possible to the government while squeezing as much as they can out of it, the elimination of the Schedule A limits is it.

What is extraordinary is that there will be some people (even those who are nowhere close to being wealthy) who protest my post, saying that the rich have ‘earned’ every cent they get and are thus ‘entitled’ to keep as much as they want and that the government is essentially ‘robbing’ them of the fruits of their labor by taxing them at all. They do not see that the entire system is rigged to create a self-perpetuating oligarchy.

Such people have essentially a feudal mentality, a serf-like admiration of the wealthy, and contempt for people in their own class. All that is missing is their willingness to bow down and touch their forelocks as the wealthy drive by in their limousines.

Matt Taibbi on financial corruption

Matt Taibbi makes a point in an article in the latest issue of Rolling Stone whose title says it all: Why Isn’t Wall Street in Jail?. The article says that, “financial crooks brought down the world’s economy — but the feds are doing more to protect them than to prosecute them.” One of the sources for Taibbi’s story sum up the situation succinctly:

Over drinks at a bar on a dreary, snowy night in Washington this past month, a former Senate investigator laughed as he polished off his beer.

“Everything’s f—– up, and nobody goes to jail,” he said. “That’s your whole story right there. Hell, you don’t even have to write the rest of it. Just write that.”

I put down my notebook. “Just that?”

“That’s right,” he said, signaling to the waitress for the check. “Everything’s f—– up, and nobody goes to jail. You can end the piece right there.”

Nobody goes to jail. This is the mantra of the financial-crisis era, one that saw virtually every major bank and financial company on Wall Street embroiled in obscene criminal scandals that impoverished millions and collectively destroyed hundreds of billions, in fact, trillions of dollars of the world’s wealth — and nobody went to jail.

This immunity shows how deeply the White House and Congress are in cahoots with the financial sector to steal from all the rest of us.

Not a single executive who ran the companies that cooked up and cashed in on the phony financial boom — an industrywide scam that involved the mass sale of mismarked, fraudulent mortgage-backed securities — has ever been convicted. Their names by now are familiar to even the most casual Middle American news consumer: companies like AIG, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley. Most of these firms were directly involved in elaborate fraud and theft. Lehman Brothers hid billions in loans from its investors. Bank of America lied about billions in bonuses. Goldman Sachs failed to tell clients how it put together the born-to-lose toxic mortgage deals it was selling. What’s more, many of these companies had corporate chieftains whose actions cost investors billions — from AIG derivatives chief Joe Cassano, who assured investors they would not lose even “one dollar” just months before his unit imploded, to the $263 million in compensation that former Lehman chief Dick “The Gorilla” Fuld conveniently failed to disclose. Yet not one of them has faced time behind bars.

When a society creates a class of people who think they are above the law and immune from any consequences for their actions, that society is doomed. We already have the spectacle of people in the US who are not prosecuted for crimes committed in the so-called ‘war on terror’, even gross violations such as torture. As a result, its political leaders risk becoming international fugitives.

The immunity that major financial firms and individuals now feel they have as a result of the power they have over political leaders is going to result in further financial crises.

To understand the significance of this, one has to think carefully about the efficacy of fines as a punishment for a defendant pool that includes the richest people on earth — people who simply get their companies to pay their fines for them. Conversely, one has to consider the powerful deterrent to further wrongdoing that the state is missing by not introducing this particular class of people to the experience of incarceration. “You put Lloyd Blankfein in pound-me-in-the-a– prison for one six-month term, and all this bullshit would stop, all over Wall Street,” says a former congressional aide. “That’s all it would take. Just once.”

But that hasn’t happened. Because the entire system set up to monitor and regulate Wall Street is f—– up.

The Taibbi piece is long but well worth reading for those interested in the state of the world economy. He describes how the financial sector is supposed to work to benefit the overall economy and how all the checks and balances have been grossly subverted to enable the looting.

In theory, it’s a well-oiled, tag-team affair: Billionaire Wall Street A—hole commits fraud, the NYSE catches on and tips off the SEC, the SEC works the case and delivers it to Justice, and Justice perp-walks the A–hole out of Nobu, into a Crown Victoria and off to 36 months of push-ups, license-plate making and Salisbury steak.

That’s the way it’s supposed to work. But a veritable mountain of evidence indicates that when it comes to Wall Street, the justice system not only sucks at punishing financial criminals, it has actually evolved into a highly effective mechanism for protecting financial criminals. This institutional reality has absolutely nothing to do with politics or ideology — it takes place no matter who’s in office or which party’s in power.

Unless Americans become more aware of this and demand punishment for corporate crimes instead of obsessing about political trivialities, we are doomed.

The mental stumbling block, for most Americans, is that financial crimes don’t feel real; you don’t see the culprits waving guns in liquor stores or dragging coeds into bushes. But these frauds are worse than common robberies. They’re crimes of intellectual choice, made by people who are already rich and who have every conceivable social advantage, acting on a simple, cynical calculation: Let’s steal whatever we can, then dare the victims to find the juice to reclaim their money through a captive bureaucracy. They’re attacking the very definition of property — which, after all, depends in part on a legal system that defends everyone’s claims of ownership equally. When that definition becomes tenuous or conditional — when the state simply gives up on the notion of justice — this whole American Dream thing recedes even further from reality.

The story Taibbi tells is an absorbing yet sickening one. He names names. If you had any doubts at all that the US is run by a corrupt oligarchy of financial and political insiders who have nothing but contempt for laws and the ordinary people who are ruined by their actions, this article should dispel them.