Tuesday, April 7, 2009

"Sex is the new God."

So says Danielle Pouliot (who, full disclosure, is my girlfriend) on her new blog, Little Miss Anthropy.

She explains:

Sex is worshipped; life revolves around It; we obsess over ways to please It (or, at least, someone who may give It to us); and we abandon the benefactor when things don't go our way.
As to that last point, there might also be a parallel going the other way: people may perversely cling to the "benefactor" when it/he/she abuses them.

Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart argue in their book Sacred and Secular that religiosity is inversely correlated with "existential security." That is, the more secure you are in your basic existence, the more likely it is that your existence is a secular one. (They concede that the United States is a glaring exception to this general rule, but they say it's just that -- an exception.)

They describe people with low existential security as
more vulnerable populations, especially in poorer countries, [that] chronically face life-threatening risks linked with malnutrition and lack of access to clean water; they are relatively defenseless against HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, and against natural disasters; they lack effective public healthcare and education; and their life expectancies are low and their child mortality rates are high. Despite the spread of electoral democracy during the last decade, these problems tend to be compounded by lack of good governance, disregard for human rights, gender inequality and ethnic conflict, political instability, and ultimately state failure. (217-218)

Their empirical data from around the world show that these countries tend to be the most religious.


Justin said...

Interesting coincidence -- I recently read two of Inglehart's essays in preparation for an International Relations exam I recently took (one of which recently appeared in Foreign Affairs). I appreciate his empirical focus.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Hope the exam went well!

Can you point me to Inglehart's Foreign Affairs essay? (Though maybe it's not available free online.)

I read that book I linked to for a law school seminar. You had to submit a few questions/comments on each reading, and I was just going back to look at what I said about the book at the time. In line with your comment about his "empirical focus," here was my overall reaction to their explanations for why the world is tending to get more and more secularized:

Many of the readings we’ve done before now have described secularization as if it consisted of a bunch of philosophers who came along and tried to force everyone to be purely rational and utilitarian. So it’s refreshing to finally see someone at least trying to provide a nuanced and realistic account of how secularization happens. The authors seem correct to note that even if most members of a society stop actively participating in religion, the religious traditions will continue to color the society’s values (the “cultural traditions” axiom). In contrast, many of the other readings we’ve done have seemed to just assume that “philosophers” wield enormous power over society, which is simply contrary to fact.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

"the more secure you are in your basic existence, the more likely it is that your existence is a secular one..."

The exception to this is what I like to think of as the Maharishi phenomenon. The Beatles got the ball rolling when they turned to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to find meaning in their lives after they had achieved every secular thing they desired (wealth, fame, sex, artistic success) and found something lacking in life. The thing lacking was a spiritual or religious element which they professed to find in foreign religious traditions.

It's as predictable as the seasons now. The sexier the career, the further off the eep end of "spirituality" a celebrity of a certain kind will go. Madonna and kabbalah, Tom Cruise at al and Scientology, Angelina Jolie and whatever she's into, Sting and the tantric sex and ecology, even David Lynch and TM.... can they really describe any of these rich and influential celebrities as "secular"?

John Althouse Cohen said...

Yeah, good point. With the American celebrities you mentioned, I wonder if it could be explained by however the authors rationalize the fact that the whole United States is an exception to their rule. Unfortunately, I don't remember what their explanation is (I don't have the book anymore). And obviously, that wouldn't explain the Beatles or Sting.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Also, Jeff with one 'f,' nice username. Were you influenced by McSweeney's "email addresses it would be really annoying to give out over the phone"?