Sunday, February 13, 2005

That Old "Secular Left"

Nick Kristof is ruminating today on the findings of geneticist Dean Hamer, whose new book suggests that a particular human gene might be involved in a predisposition toward spirituality in the individual. What Hamer says is that this predisposition may be seen in along the entire spectrum of spiritual leanings expressed by human beings:
"The God gene refers to the idea that human spirituality has an innate genetic component to it. It doesn’t mean that there’s one gene that makes people believe in God, but it refers to the fact that humans inherit a predisposition to be spiritual--to reach out and look for a higher being."
He ends his interview at with this:
"...this idea of being "spiritual without being religious" gets clich├ęd a lot, but it’s true. They really are different aspects of human personality. Spirituality is a great thing. It gives people a connection to others and to the world around them; it’s a wonderful talent of human beings that can enrich our life.
But when it comes to religion, to me the important thing is that it’s not anything innate about humans. A lot of religious ideas aren’t here because they’re good for us—and probably they’re not here because that’s what God believed.
They’re just here because they’re ideas that replicate themselves easily. So they too can be changed: ideas like 'my religion is the only religion,' 'your religion is bad and you should die for it,' 'I’m going to heaven and you’re going to hell,' 'we should have a war because we don’t like your religion,' etc. They’re terrible ideas. They are very powerful but they’re not unchangeable. So that’s my long lesson one.
Lesson two is that I hope this book will make religion a little bit more respectable in academic circles. It used to be that academics was all about religion. Then, especially after World War II, religion became very unpopular in academic circles. It became very flaky to talk about religion at all, except in a religion department.
But in fact, it’s a very important part of people’s lives. It’s a lot more important to most people than evolution or nuclear physics or anything like that. People spend a lot of time on religion and praying and believing and it affects everything. I just hope that this sort of helps to reopen the the academic-scholarly scientific study of religion. It’s a very important part of our lives."
But what Kristof leads off with in his discussion of Hamer's book is a distortion of his message:
"...modern science is turning up a possible reason why the religious right is flourishing and secular liberals aren't: instinct. It turns out that our DNA may predispose humans toward religious faith.
Granted, that's not very encouraging news for the secular left."
No, I suppose it wouldn't be, if the "secular left" were all that American liberals consisted of, and if "secular" meant "not evangelical Protestant or born-again Christian", and if being religious meant only those things---a distinction that Kristof (along with too many people these days) seems to have difficulty making:
"But what the research does suggest is that postindustrial society will not easily leave religion behind. Faith may be quiescent in many circles these days, or directed toward meditation or yoga, but it is not something that humans can easily cast off."
Am I missing something? Aside from the obvious religious wars and skirmishes in India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Iraq, the Gaza Strip, Nigeria, et al, that have been fought over the world for some time now, aside from how in our own country specific organized religions are being underwritten by tax dollars and pushed into every public venue from broadcasting & cable networks to local courthouses and school districts, aside from the survival of the Orthodox Church in Russia after 70 years of opresssion, aside from all that and more, I guess faith looks pretty quiescent, doesn't it?

Nick doesn't count the "meditation and yoga" part, even though Hamer himself includes it in his definition of the spirituality deriving from his "God gene", so he's also likely to close his eyes to the other alternate paths chosen by so many of the "secular left". That people who follow those alternate paths are not as likely to parade their faiths publicly or proseletyze for them makes them invisible to pollsters, pundits and politicians, and easy to dismiss as being insignificant in numbers, influence, or passion. But just because an American Buddhist, Wiccan, or unclassified seeker may be less likely to buttonhole strangers and demand a hearing for their way of seeing things, or more loathe to judge others or seek codification of their own intolerance, it doesn't mean they are less spiritual or worthy of consideration that the Southern Baptist Convention and James Dobson's minions. Though with writers like Kristof promulgating the myths above, it gets harder and harder for the left to see the spirituality in its own midst, brainwashed as it has become by the bullshit lines "secular left" and "moral values".

Finally, it's worth mentioning that Dr Hamer also happened to publish some research back in 1993 which demonstrated a genetic link passed from mothers to homosexual sons. It was challenged in 1995, spurring Hamer to repeat the study, and the results were the same--a genetic link amongst homosexual men not found in heterosexuals. I doubt this would sit very well with the gay-bashing religious right that may be eager to interpret Hamer's latest research as evidence of a biological vindication for their current ascendancy.

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