Thursday, January 29, 2015

Is the Jewish God a Cosmic Life Force?

The General Social Survey, the workhorse survey of American sociology, in 2010 asked a representative sample of American adults how they envisioned God.

The two most popular options were "God is a personal being involved in the lives of people today" and "God is not personal, but something like a cosmic life force."

For Christians, the more strongly religious they reported themselves to be, the more they chose the first option.  Thus, 93% of "strong Protestants" and 86% of "strong Catholics" think God is a personal being, compared to 70% of "not very strong" Protestants and 62% of "not very strong" Catholics. 

By contrast, only 3 and 5%, respectively, of strong Protestants and Catholics see God as a cosmic force. For not very strong Protestants and Catholics, the proportion embracing the cosmic force view rises to 17%.

For Jews, though, the trend goes in the opposite direction. Among strong Jews, only 33% see God as personal, whereas 40% see God as a cosmic force.  Interestingly, it is the not very strong Jews who show a more gentile distribution: 53% say "personal being," vs. 12% who say "cosmic force."

My best guess of what this means:  Jews who are not very involved in the Jewish community do not really know the distinctive features of Jewish theology, and therefore assimilate to the Christian view that pervades American culture.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Improved U.S. - India Ties are Good for Democracy

President Obama and Indian President Modi unblocked a stalled agreement to improve joint trade and development relations on nuclear power and drones.

President Obama turned toward India at the beginning of his administration, with Modi's predecessor.  Now he has made a second visit to India, to deal with the new administration, and move forward.

It has always made sense to me that the U.S. and India, giant English-tradition democracies, should be allies.  The Cold War made us enemies.  The silver lining of that era was our relatively close ties with Pakistan.  Still, India is a more natural ally.  With the end of the Cold War, and the rise of the mutual competitor, China, it is very hopeful that US/India relations are improving.

This is an achievement of the Obama administration that will pay dividends not only for the U.S., but for the advancement of democracy.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Recovering the Republican Center: Moderates Force Compromise on Abortion Bill

Today's hopeful sign:  moderates within the Republican coalition in the House of Representative pushed back against the far right on their standard abortion bill.  As a result, the Republican leadership was forced - or, as I hope, allowed - to drop one of the most controversial and punishing requirements.

The bill would forbid abortions after 20 weeks, which is now the Republican unifying position.  It would have allowed an exception in cases of rape, which is a standard American position.  The contentious point was whether women would have to report the rape to police to qualify.  The far right said yes.  The moderates, especially more moderate women, said no.  The moderates won.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Presbyterians Are Optimistic Trusters

I am analyzing new data from the Presbyterian Panel, a survey of Presbyterian Church (USA) members and leaders.

One comparison I am interested in is with an important baseline table from the 1972 American National Election Survey.  That survey's table crossed the "are you an optimist or a pessimist?" question with the "do you think most people can be trusted?" question.

I am interested in this issue, because I think trusters, especially optimistic trusters, are the people most likely to undertake Tocquevillian projects of community improvement.

The result:

Proportions of Americans (from the American National Election Survey 1972):

Optimistic Trusters: 35%
Pessimistic Trusters: 13
Optimistic Mistrusters: 30
Pessimistic Mistrusters: 23

Proportion of Presbyterian members (from the Presbyterian Panel 2014):

Optimistic Trusters: 65%
Pessimistic Trusters: <1
Optimistic Mistrusters: 26
Pessimistic Mistrusters: 9

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Today's Good News: The Attorney General Curbs Local Police From Taking Civil Assets

Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the widespread practice of police seizing money and assets, such as vehicles, from people they stop without a warrant and without proving a crime will no longer be shielded by federal law.  His move drew bipartisan support from Congress.

Until now, police could seize assets they thought were suspicious and keep them, if they shared a portion with the federal government, and be protected by federal law.  By greatly restricting the circumstances of such seizures, Holder eliminates the incentive that some departments had succumbed to to get a significant part of their annual budget from asset seizures.

The Washington Post reported that "the Institute for Justice and other libertarian-leaning groups teamed up with the American Civil Liberties Union and left-leaning groups to press for changes in the wake of the Post's investigation."


Friday, January 16, 2015

Two Kinds of Universal Identity

How do you think about the largest human identity group?

Christians say we are all children of God.

The biggest secular option is to be a cosmopolitan citizen of the world.

The latter has the advantage of seeming like an adult and modern identity.  But it has the disadvantage of depending on a universal state that one could be a citizen of, which clearly does not exist.

The best modern Christian universal identity I can think of is something like co-worker with God.  This works for Jews and Muslims, too.

(This is a half-formed idea).

Sunday, January 11, 2015

State-Backed Modernization of Islam in Egypt Will Help

The president of Egypt has come out forcefully for modernizing Islam on religious, rather than nationalist, grounds.

He has already enlisted al-Azhar University, the great seat of Sunni learning and, in effect, an arm of the Egyptian state to make small steps.  For example, "texts on slavery and on refusing to greet Christians and Jews, for example, have been removed" from Egyptian textbooks. 

I don't think a religious reform initiated by the state can work by itself.  I don't think President el-Sissi can be the Muslim Martin Luther.  But he could be the Muslim Frederick the Wise, who sheltered the reformer from political attack.