In a fascinating Mother Jones article examining the neurological bases of humans’ resistance to scientific evidence, Chris Mooney considers how to address the problem of conservatives’ increasing rejection of the empirical evidence of human-caused climate change (which is overwhelming):
…According to research by Yale Law School professor Dan Kahan  and his colleagues, people’s deep-seated views about morality, and about the way society should be ordered, strongly predict whom they consider to be a legitimate scientific expert in the first place–and thus where they consider “scientific consensus” to lie on contested issues.
This theory is gaining traction in part because of Kahan’s work at Yale. In one study , he and his colleagues packaged the basic science of climate change into fake newspaper articles bearing two very different headlines–”Scientific Panel Recommends Anti-Pollution Solution to Global Warming” and “Scientific Panel Recommends Nuclear Solution to Global Warming”–and then tested how citizens with different values responded. Sure enough, the latter framing made hierarchical individualists much more open to accepting the fact that humans are causing global warming. Kahan infers that the effect occurred because the science had been written into an alternative narrative that appealed to their pro-industry worldview.
Without trusted figures such as clergy who can break through our cognitive biases, we can’t establish a shared understanding of the problems we face, let alone solve them. In the case of challenges like global climate change, the consequences of such paralysis could be catastrophic. Speaking up for shared values on this confusing issue can foster a civil, informed dialogue that leads to policy solutions that prevent worldwide crisis. Kudos to the many faith leaders who are stepping up and doing this indispensable work.
The incompatibility of Ayn Rand and Christianity continues to be a popular topic around the web.
Writing for dotCommonweal, Eduardo Penalver takes on the Catholic debate about whether prudential judgement would allow Catholic politicians to support the Ryan budget:
“While there may be a great deal of legitimate diversity of opinion concerning how best to promote the well being of the poorest, surely (on the magisterium’s view of its own authority) there is no legitimate diversity of opinion concerning the mandate to structure social policy toward that end. Thus, a Catholic politician who said that he was structuring social policy precisely because government has no obligation towards the poorest, could not be said to differ from the Church on a matter of mere prudential judgment.
It seems to me that the Ryan plan — and Ryan himself — can plausibly be accused of simply disregarding basic principles of Catholic social thought, not just prudential judgments about how best to achieve those principles. At the most basic level, the structure of his plan — cutting taxes for the wealthiest and for corporations while slashing benefits for the poorest and most vulnerable — does not square with the Church’s mandate to structure social policy in a way that is fundamentally focused on the well-being of the poorest, a kind of maximin principle.”
“I used to be a big Ayn Rand fan. I admit it. I read all her works and avidly discussed them with friends. I was in high school at the time. It became very clear to me as I experienced a call to the ministry in college that I’d I have to grow up, give up Rand’s selfish ideas, and begin to recognize that following the Gospel of Jesus Christ meant living for others.
Conservative Christians who support the Ryan version of radical conservatism based on the atheist individualist philosophy of Ayn Rand have some serious questions to ask themselves and these questions are long overdue.
Ayn Rand’s atheist hyper-individualism opposed religion in all its forms. The reason is that despite their failure at times to live up to their principles, the world’s religions all have an ethical core that teaches the moral duty human beings have to care for one another. Principled atheism and humanism, it should be noted, share this basic moral value. Rewarding the rich and denying the duty to care for the poor is incompatible with the core teachings of the world’s religions, and with many humanist values, as Greg Epstein describes them in Good Without God, and it is certainly a philosophy opposed to the teachings of Jesus Christ.”
Over at the Daily Dish, Andrew Sullivan takes note of my post challenging Paul Ryan’s budget proposal as antithetical to Catholic teaching about the common good. Sullivan asks an important question that progressives should take seriously: “Isn’t deficit reduction part of the common good?” The Catholic intellectual tradition can help inform a response to this.
Catholic social teaching is suspicious of “either/or” formulations and instead embraces a “both/and” worldview that helps us reject false choices. For example, Catholic values honor the importance of personal responsibility and our collective obligation as a society to care for the most vulnerable. Individual rights must be balanced with responsibilities – to our families, neighbors, country and world. Government’s vital role in serving the common good is complemented by the principle of subsidiarity, which stresses decentralized solutions. Applying this framework to the deficit, we should demonstrate fiscal prudence without sacrificing values of basic fairness and solidarity.
Deficit reduction is part of protecting the common good, to answer Sullivan’s question more directly, but only if it’s done the right way. If we ask the poor, the elderly and an already-squeezed middle class to bear the greatest burdens while the richest among us get more tax breaks, that doesn’t pass the smell test morally. Paul Ryan and other Republicans want to drastically compromise investments in education, infrastructure and transportation that serve the common good. President Obama defined the contrast in stark terms earlier this week.
These are the kind of cuts that tell us we can’t afford the America we believe in. And they paint a vision of our future that’s deeply pessimistic. It’s a vision that says if our roads crumble and our bridges collapse, we can’t afford to fix them. If there are bright young Americans who have the drive and the will but not the money to go to college, we can’t afford to send them. Go to China and you’ll see businesses opening research labs and solar facilities. South Korean children are outpacing our kids in math and science. Brazil is investing billions in new infrastructure and can run half their cars not on high-priced gasoline, but biofuels. And yet, we are presented with a vision that says the United States of America – the greatest nation on Earth – can’t afford any of this … Worst of all, this is a vision that says even though America can’t afford to invest in education or clean energy; even though we can’t afford to care for seniors and poor children, we can somehow afford more than $1 trillion in new tax breaks for the wealthy. Think about it. In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90% of all working Americans actually declined. The top 1% saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each. And that’s who needs to pay less taxes? They want to give people like me a two hundred thousand dollar tax cut that’s paid for by asking thirty three seniors to each pay six thousand dollars more in health costs? That’s not right, and it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President.
I agree with Sullivan that any serious discussion of the common good must grapple with the real fiscal challenges facing our nation. This task will require the best minds of both parties. But these discussions can’t take place in a moral vacuum. Budget choices have real life consequences, and Republican proposals essentially glorify the radical individualism of Social Darwinism at the expense of a communitarian ethos that recognizes we are all in this together.
A new Gallup poll out today (which you can find in FPL’s Pollspot database) finds that Americans believe lobbyists, major corporations, banks, and the federal government all have too much power, while state and local governments, the legal system, organized religion and churches, and the military possess the right amount of power.
The poll’s findings on organized religion and churches differed along party lines. Only 12% of Republicans thought organized religion has too much power, while 34% of Democrats believe so. Both of those percentages though pale in comparison to other groups: 73% of Democrats believe major corporations wield too much power, while 75% of Republicans believe the federal government does. As a whole, a large plurality (46%) of Americans tend to believe organized religion and churches possess the right amount of power, and people who think religion is either too powerful or not powerful enough are equal in number. For all the talk about how polarizing religion is, it’s interesting to see that it generates less controversy than so many other institutions.
In his highly anticipated remarks on the budget today, President Obama laid out a clear moral case for protecting our safety net, American families, and investments in programs critical to our future as we solve our nation’s fiscal problems. He also drew a stark contrast between this vision and the alternative offered by Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan, which takes away needed protections from seniors and hardworking families in order to protect tax cuts for millionaires. The two clips below highlight passages that encapsulate these moral arguments:
First on the principle of taking care of each other:
And on how his vision of American differs from the Ryan proposal: