Lack of intellectual integrity in this polarized and politicized era has become an enormous personal bugaboo. Recent history has confirmed the truism that the first casualty of war, cultural war (“Kulturkampf”) in this case, is truth. From science to theology, from academia to ecclesia, in economics, politics, journalism, history, neuroscience, psychiatry climatology, philosophy, sociology, law and so on and so on…; all I encounter is factual dishonesty and data selectivity, intentioned deceit, disingenuity, logical fallacies, empty arguments and sophistry on a par with St. Jerome. I have come to distrust any non-fiction book or article written past the 1960s. For, while prior to that decade, one might encounter perspectives distinctly objectionable to one’s own; one senses that there was at least some scholarly devotion to factual truth. The late U.S. Senator from New York (Daniel Patrick Moynihan) is attributed with saying “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” It is oft repeated because of its current resonance. Intellectual honesty has become so despairingly scant, that I find myself marveling at how the ol’ proverbial used salesmen seems to be amongst the most honest in the planet. (Those who have a special reputation toward particular vices, tend to pay special attention at repairing the reputation.)
Truth has stumbled in the streets,
honesty cannot enter.
Truth is nowhere to be found,
They rely on empty arguments and speak lies; 1
That same chapter from Isaiah notes a corresponding lack of clarity in knowledge and understanding.
So justice is far from us,
and righteousness does not reach us.
We look for light, but all is darkness;
for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows.
Like the blind we grope along the wall,
feeling our way like men without eyes.
At midday we stumble as if it were twilight;
among the strong, we are like the dead.2
There exists natural relationship between intellectual dishonesty; unwillingness to ruthlessly and rigorously pursue the truth; and muddlement of mind. One becomes lost in one’s self-deceits. Like a math problem, requiring a complicated resolution, an initially skewered misunderstanding, often presuppositional prejudice, will obscure or color all later facts examined. To relate temporary results concluded from initial faulty understanding to those final facts, one will invariably construct even more skewered hypotheses. Thus, one is caught in a labyrinth of lies and errors within lies and error within lies and errors. Those who deliberately make truth servant to personal preference and agenda, self-inflict their own blindness.
The human ‘sciences’ (i.e. psychology, sociology) are particularly prone to intellectual dishonesty. For, there is inverse relationship between intellectual integrity and the importance of the research findings to self-interest and self-image. I have come to spurn almost every sociological survey which doesn’t use nationally gathered statistics. The capacity for deceit within the research methodology is too easy to fabricate and too difficult to detect.
One fluff piece of sociological ‘research’, which stands out for its prejudicial mendacity and/or incompetence must be awarded to Phil Zuckerman, Professor of Sociology, Pitzer College in Claremont, CA in his book “Society Without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment” (2010). The thinly disguised intentions of his study is to discredit the notion, usually forwarded by the religious and social conservative, that “religion is what keeps people moral, that a society without God would be hell on earth: rampant with immorality, full of evil, and teeming with depravity”.3 He uses Denmark and Sweden as his tableau to prove that society can be both moral and happy, apart from God.
And the good professor will cite worldwide “happiness indexes” such as one by Ruut Veenhoven (Erasmus University Rotterdam) which gave godless Denmark top spot. Such indexes ought to be tossed in general; particularly when subjective perspectives contradict objective measurements. Secondly, such indices will be conditioned on the values and weightings of such values which the initiator of such surveys find most important. If a European fashions the study, be assured that cultural prejudices of that continent will influence the choice of criteria. However, that poses such a complicated argument, I dare not go there.
However, what is of particularly interest since it is difficult for ideological faction to deny importance is death and life issues. The suicide rates between relatively irreligious countries of Denmark and Sweden in comparison the United States, is one such measure.
Suicide Rates (per hundred thousand)
GECD Society at a Glance 2001, Statistical Annex Table D3
|15 to 24 Years
|25 to 34 Years
|35 to 44 Years
|45 to 54 Years
|55 to 64 Years
|65 to 74 Years
Suicide Rates (per hundred thousand) over time
World Health Organization (1950 -2005)
If one is postulating that the social conditions are more conducive to happiness in these liberal, godless European states and subjective opinion surveys are confirming it, these disjointed suicidal rates must be explained. It is not small potatoes. For, over the course of a lifetime, any annual rate of 20+ per 100,000 amounts to about 1.5% of people committing suicide over a life time. And even the notorious murder rate in the United States is small potatoes against the historical differentials in self-murder between the U.S. and Scandinavia.
It must be granted that secular ethics will not be so encumbered by taboos against suicide. However, in that so many self-inflict death in the prime of their lives (ages 35-65), where terminal disease is not as likely to be a significant factor, it would seem to indicate that the official happiness indices are somewhat misleading. The objective and the subjective do not jive. The social and economic environmental factors that promoters of these “happiness index” choose do not necessarily promote actual happiness.
Even if it is true that modern Western humanity thinks little about existential and eternal questions in their Vanity Fair of ever extreme and deviant distractions; over a period of decades, the pall of meaningless, implied in a non-theistic universe must nevertheless cast some despair upon the human psyche.
However, what puts the bee up my butt is the deceit or incompetence concerning Zuckerman’s crime assertions. According to the good professor:
Although they may have relatively high rates of petty crime and burglary, and although these crime rates have been on the rise in recent decades, their overall rates of violent crime – including murder aggravated assault, and rape – are among the lowest on earth.3
It is a disingenuous assertion. For, while it is true that if one were to consider the whole earth, including developing nations, Denmark and Sweden is among the lowest. However, the thrust of his thesis is intentioned against a comparable wealthy nation, such as the United States, with religiousity. However, except for murder, religious American has per capita crime rates considerably lower then Sweden and violent crimes comparable to Denmark. Petty crime is endemic throughout Scandinavia.
Various Summary Crime Statistics
Per 100,000 (2007)
|Total # of Crimes
|Violence against the person
And while the United States has experienced an enormous reversal in crime since the early 1990s, which has returned crime rates (per capita) back to early 1960s levels, Sweden’s crime wave from 1960 (and even earlier) has just kept on going and going.
Crime Rate per 100,000 population7
||Total # Crimes
|| Violent Crime
||Total # Crimes
Indeed, unbeknownst to all including self, when I found myself having to defend my neighbours to the south from European opprobrium thirty years ago, (so good has been European propaganda); Swedish crime rates have generally exceeded the American all throughout the last 50 years (and beyond). However, violent crime rates perked up in the United States at the start of the LBJ administration (mid 1960s) and did not level off until the Bush Sr./Clinton years and then went into deep reverse since. Private murder rates in America have always exceeded any European state. This is to some extent a function of greater anti-authoritarian sentiment in the U.S. and more liberal guns laws (people may kill people, but more effective weaponry enables people to kill more efficiently).8
Intellectual integrity repudiates any effort to make any automatic and simple-minded declaration of ideological victory for the religious faction. Definitions of crime, violent crime (and particularly sexual offenses) vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction depending on the laws of the land, strictness of enforcement (deterrence, longer sentences keeping criminals off streets, judicial leniency in reducing crime definition), rate of victim reportage, etc. Thus, although we might not be comparing apples with oranges, we are comparing Macintoshes with Granny Smiths.
Nevertheless, Europe had lost its religious vitality by the First World War. Liberal Danish theologian/philosophy Kierkegaard (1813-1855) complained vociferously about the formalism and coldness of the established churchmen in his country in the latter years of his life. Preachers Spurgeon and Ryle posted similar complaints in late Victorian Britain. Lutheran theologians in Germany (i.e. Bonhoeffer, Barth) spoke against cultural and corrupted Christianity in the Weimar Republic and Hitler’s Germany. America, in comparison, has been seen to be “a nation with the soul of a church” (British G. K. Chesterton 1874 – 1936).
In the United States, there was a religious/spiritual revival in the 1970s which showed up on the sociopolitical radar in the early 1980s (Moral Majority / Reagan Revolution). And there is always a lapsed delay between revolutions of mind and heart and their practicable reverberations, for good or for ill; an idea that the late Christopher Hitchens would not have debated (ideas precede and influence events). Rousseau preceded the French Revolution; Second Great Awakening preceded the Social Gospel, anti-slavery and Prohibition; Darwin preceded eugenics and euthanasia of the mental and physically disabled and insane (275,000 killed in late 1930s / early 1940s Germany). A spiritual revival would show its manifestations later not only in the moral reformation of those converted and those in close proximity (copy cat admiration) but in the political advocacy for harsher “Biblical” justice, which tends to prevail in religious societies.
The historical data would seem to bear that out. While the U.S. has engaged in a far more rigid and severe justice system (i.e. prison population, much longer sentences), Europe, especially Sweden, has spearheaded in liberalizing their laws and penal system. Sweden was among the first to ban corporal punishment against parents outright (1979).
Thus while America has experienced a reversal in crime rates since 1992 (decline of 41% overall, 47% in violent crime, 49% in murder, 36% in sexual offenses), the Swedish crime rate has been an EverReady bunny (increase of 10% overall, 87% in violent crime, 26% in murder (2009 because 2010 is an anomaly), 153% in sexual offenses). The incidence of crime per capita in Sweden exceeds the U.S. by over a multiple of 4x overall and 2.5x in violent crime. Isolating out criminality from the Muslim population, (which if one does, the same principle should apply to whatever special group one chooses in the U.S.), does not sufficiently account for the increases or much higher rates.
These two measures, even the liberal secularist would not deign to discredit and disregard.
It has become clearly evident that stable marriages produce better material benefits, longer lifespans, less mental health distresses and antisocial behaviour. Yet Sweden peaks the earth with 30% of all relationships being less stable cohabitations, while the U.S. is nearing 10% (In 2000, according to Statistics Canada (2002), the U.S. is at 8.2%). Consistent with the lapsed ramifications of spiritual revival; the divorce rate per 1,000 has dropped from 5.2 (1980) to 3.6 (2009). In the marriage/cohabitation paradigm, some care must be taken as to solidity of such statistics. What does constitute a marriage and a cohabitation, if as I believe, the essence of marriage, like religious conversion, is of the heart and not of forms.
Swedish social policy offloads the care of children to the state from the age of 2. Bans on corporal punishment have extended to non-corporal discipline. Consequently, local Swedish papers are complaining that parents have the lost the ability to parent. Consequently, youth crime is exploding. As I had anticipated in the early 1970s, reading from Roman history; birth rates in secularized societies would plummet. “No Kids: 40 Good Reasons Not to Have Children” and the French policy of paying parents to have children has its historical precedent in the Augustinian “Family Values” laws in 18 B.C. / 9 A.D.. As Germaine Greer noted in comparing developed and developing countries, the ethic of the West has become selfish and narcissistic whereas parents of the developed put their hopes in the future of their children.
In the prejudicial and capricious nature of these “happiness indices”, these measures will not be included or will be underweighted. What will also not show up on these indices is the level of bureaucratic bullying and soft/hard social totalitarianism tyranny; or the lack of civic courage to face potential foes within and without. The full weight and resources of effete Europe could not put down a second rate Serbian tyrant. The Yanks had to be called in.
Implied in a non-theistic universe is, at its rational and logical center, both a loss of raison d’être and principled foundation for ethical conduct. A person might seek to live ethically, (or at least, boast that they do); but they do so in the face of no rational basis to do so; (other than to remain part of the crowd perhaps). In the lack of a universal, unified and principled foundation for ethical conduct, the ensuing subjectivism leads to ethical nihilism. Those who fail to see this nevertheless will encounter others, whose subjective code of conduct and attitude differs from their own.
Consequently, there will be social alienation between the two because of the conflicting ethos. In large numbers, it produces separate solitudes, in which neighbours do not come to the aid of those of separate communities. It produces the loss of social cohesion and unifying strength of society; entropy. Western civilization has been here before in the religious pluralism of the Roman Empire. The pluralism enervated over time the innate moral strength and fortitude of its subjects. They might be willing to live in peaceful conformity to the rapacious autocracy that was Rome. But lacking a unified vision to believe in, the Roman Empire lacked the type of civic courage and dedication that brought it to its apex in the first place. From citizen-soldier, it was protected, in the end, by mercenaries, bribed from the very barbarian tribes it was fighting. Lack of conviction creates a flotsam of cowardice. It was in understanding this, that Emperor Constantine turned his back on the Pantheon and sought unified strength through unified belief. (However, coercive belief and ethics is no panacea neither.)
This is not to suggest the superiority of the American Way of Life. The atomism (excessive individualism) at the expense of the common good depredates quality of life, in such things as economic inequality which will overflow into social and political/legal inequality. However, pre-tax Gini Co-Efficients are rising in tandem in Scandinavian countries and the distributive efforts of governments to ameliorate the problem is near the limit of tax policy. (Further tax increases would probably invoke loss of capital flows, incentive to earn etc). And the sociopolitical and economic schisms that threaten social cohesion, civil conflagration and inability to co-operate for the common good, is at dangerous levels in the U.S.
However, the point being demonstrated here is not whose society and the underlying ideas/values that undergird them are superior. Rather, this good professor, who has been given considerable exposure and good press, engages in blatant factual dishonesty and deceit. He is one to whom the hand of the corpse of that most excellent Democrat Senator Moynihan points. The partiality, which produces this propaganda, is very evident in his assertions, which incontrovertible data disputes. The empirical evidence is in. Irreligion, over time, produces anti-social behaviour and a pall of despair.
Mendacity discredits an already discredited discipline. It demonstrates that science as an epistemological method is no less vulnerable to human mendacity and methodological and conceptual sophistry than any other epistemology. Sociology has some value in giving superficial snapshots of a society at points in time. However, in that change in ideology and cultural values and virtues require decades to roll out their material and sociopolitical ramifications, the discipline of history and historical trends have a superior validity. However, in this day, history is discredited by the scientistic as mere opinion and anecdote. Disciplined and honest historical literacy is nowhere to be found.
All intellectual disciplines and endeavours are diseased with dishonesty and sophistry; regardless of ideological bent. I am particular incensed with the mendacity, which I find amongst colleagues of my own ideological sentiments. I expect and demand better. I observe such levels of fallacious arguments and disingenuity in every field; theology, philosophy, soft and hard sciences, history, medicine and psychology/psychiatry, political theory, education. The level of thought is too incompetent to be mere incompetence; especially since these opinion makers claim such high credentials and positions.
There is no love or esteem for the truth or truthfulness.
It is little wonder that the life of the mind is so discredited. Or that Postmodernism finds its footings in this mendacity, which abets the nihilistic Nothingness. Most people have not the time to untangle the spaghetti code within the methodologies of individual research; especially when the scientists themselves refuse to commit to a standard. Did not Michael Polanyi say “Science is what scientists do”? And even if the scientific demur from that frank statement; investigation demonstrates that a large number live by it. As Climategate emails demonstrate, the supposed safeguards of peer review are embankments of straw against the tidal pressure of internal politics within organizations and disciplines and against the partiality of dogmatism, confirmation bias, human cowardice and just plain dishonesty.
As the spirit moves me, I hope to show in harder sciences and other disciplines the pervading mendacity of our times.
I do not subscribe to the simple-minded thesis that happiness and morality, at least of the external variety, requires religion. Many ancient gods; the lusty and capricious Hellenist gods of Homer and Hesiod, for instance, were found wanting by Ionian Physiologists and later classical materials, atheists, skeptics and other philosophers. Religious affiliation usually does but not necessarily suffice for ethical behaviour. Many ancient Hebrews, late 19th Century Europeans and present day Americans subscribe to belief in the God of the Bible. But their lack of knowledge, understanding, wisdom and virtuous behaviour and attitude betrays real belief.
However, the discipline of sociology is condemned to the studying by forms. Departure from formal categorization and externally delineated forms lends to the potential and accusations of partiality and intellectual chicanery. However, is the definition of marriage about pomp (religious consecration) and paper (license), if the participants lack marital levels of commitment and fidelity? Sociology relies too much on subjective criteria and response, which are often contradicted by accompanying objective artifact. Most sociologists have little and only superficial understanding of the innards of religion, particularly self-declared sociologists of religion. Therefore, how would they be able differentiate nominal belief from genuine?
What I have found is that belief itself, whether in God, or gods, persons, objects, goals or other worthy ideals, encourages virtue; although not necessarily happiness. The morality of Roman Republicans around the Second Punic War was of austere and disciplined nature. There were very rare cases of divorce prior to that war. Chastity and duty was held in high esteem. The common good, to which all benefited, retained strong resonance and appeal and kept the society courageous, cohesive and strong, if harsh and brutal. A conquered Greek Polybius in his Histories (Book 6) recognized that the defeat of the Greeks was due to that cohesiveness that could endure even Cathage’s Hannibal rampaging up and down the Italian peninsula.
Although pagan Rome had their gods, they were largely the gods of the Greeks; the same ones which were found repugnant to later Greeks. There was ancestral worship. However, that practice had more to do with promotion of the family lineage than in religion. They sought their immortality in that family lineage. They believed in the state and its eternality; because when they surveyed the neighbouring polities, they sensed the superiority of their ethic and politic. The sociopolitical structure was conditioned to align personal promotion within that state with promotion of the civic polity.
When a Greek Skeptic, Carneades, in 155 B.C. sought to inferentially discredit the virtue of truth and justice, Cato the Elder led the mission to exile him and others. For contained in Hellenist thought were the seeds of disbelief in the Roman ideal and polity. Cato wrote his son prophesying that in the appeal of Hellenist literature and art etc, laid the seeds of the destruction of the Roman ideal and free civil constitution. The eventual degradation in Roman morality to that, which is commonly associated with the Romans, correlates (and is caused) with loss of belief in the Republican ideal. The ideal proved insufficient and too demanding.
A genuine belief in any worthy cause can, at least for a time, lead to moral virtue. Ultimately, if that entity of belief is found to not warrant such high regard, moral virtue will fade away with the belief; just as patron gods fade away with the destruction of the patron city. The idol will be determined to be mute or unworthy. It is also valid argument that the demands of that worthy object of reverence may be just too high and demanding for the people to abide. The Hellenist influence was welcomed by generations of Romans in the 2nd and 1st Century B.C. mostly because the ethical code of Republican Rome was seen as unnecessarily severe, harsh and unaesthetic after the Second Punic War.
Ultimately, belief in a worthy entity is the only security for the continued survival and prosperity of a society. But courage and fortitude of conviction must be met with a conviction that its object has objective merit. However, there is no guarantee that the justified and right convictions of one generation will pass on to succeeding ones.
For me, it is quite evident that the only one worthy is the great “I Am”.
- Isaiah 59: 14-15, 4
- Isaiah 59:9-10
- Phil Zuckerman, The Virtues of Godlessness: The least religious nations are also the most healthy and successful, Psychology of Religion, 2009, http://www.psywww.com/psyrelig/zuckerman.htm
- Based on Statistical Yearkbook 2007, Statistics Denmark, March 2008, http://efus.eu/en/category/policies/national/denmark/ (2,700 Sexual Offenses, 19,600 Violent Offenses, 425,000 Reported Crimes in a Population estimated at 5,475,791)
- Based on Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention
- Based on FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports
- Population estimates for Sweden until 2004 provided by Rodney Edvinsson, Stockholm University, “Growth, Accumulation, Crisis”, 2005 and by the CIA World Factbook thereafter. Criminal estimates for Sweden provided by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention. Criminal estimates for the United States provided by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports.
- I do not want to enter a gun control debate here, especially since of far greater complexity than stupid mottos would have it. One of the civic functions of the right to bear arms is to provide deterrence from would be tyrannical regimes, which are generally far more efficient killers, having the systematized organs of the state at beck and call. Higher private and anarchic rates of violence are a price to bear for that deterrence. On the other, excessive murder rates have a tendency to push a population to seek strong arm law and order regimes and tyrants.