Monday, April 18, 2016

Why People Don't Talk About Religion

I'm listening to the Michael Medved radio show, and he's talking about why few people are willing to discuss religion in social situations. Let me offer my response.

Remember when there were two topics not to be discussed in polite company lest someone become upset? Those two used to be politics and religion. No longer. Now, politics may be like a religion to many people, but talking politics reigns, as radio and Saturday Night Live, and outlets for our feelings--like this blog--let us spew our passions about current events to anyone with a smartphone or computer.

But the taboo against discussing religion is stronger than ever, as one's faith is considered extremely personal. Unless you believe that it's your duty and job to lead others to it.

For most people, uncertainty about God and what God wants is a bit disturbing, and sometimes brings guilt, confusion, doubt or discomfort. It involves many emotions, and rests in the intangible and un-provable. That's why it's called "faith."

Making people uncomfortable isn't a nice thing to do. Much better to avoid the topic and keep the relationship on an intellectual, real-life basis.

I confess that at our Shabbat table I made a mistake and asked two guests to explain, in one case what brought her into her religion, and in another case, what led him to leave it.
The one who came to her church said "it just felt right." The one who left it said his research regarding the physical world caused him to disbelieve tenets of the faith.

As a psychologist, I love learning how people think. And I care about the people I invite for Shabbat, and want to know more about them. As a hostess,though, I'm a flop--I made two guests uncomfortable. I hereby apologize for putting them on the spot.

If you believe that scriptures are from God, and that they're the truth, you're going to be passionate about them. Other than from its own material, can any religion prove it's correct, or that other people should believe it? Can anyone be objective about the religion he accepts as God's word?

In a nation becoming increasingly diverse as immigrants from more varied homelands contribute their cultures and beliefs, it's ever-more-difficult to insist any single faith is "the one." The only thing adherents can assert is that it's "the one for me."

That's why the Shabbat guest who answered "it just felt right" is as worthy of respect as the one who said, in effect, "it no longer felt right." And unless you want to get into doctrines--and who does?--what kind of conversation is that?

Much better to just let it go. It's part of our tolerance trend, or the "whatever gender you say you are" shrug, or our 'as long as nobody's hurt" acceptance. Sure, you can do your religion, and I'll either do mine, or, as increasingly politically correct, I'll do none, thank you. Not talking about religion now falls under the banner of respect. You can't knock respect.

Except when you're talking about politics...

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Lucky to live in the US: Murder Rates Down Sharply in the Land of Law and Gratitude

Newly naturalized citizens sing "God Bless America"
In these days when the presidential race is driving everyone batty, and candidates capitalize on how awful everything is, we need some good news. Here it is.

Black lives and all lives do matter, and more of them are being preserved. A new study in the American Sociological Review of 131 of the largest US metropolitan areas found the rate of homicides way down, within and across black, Hispanic and White populations.

Changes in the two decades between 1990 and 2010 are only for the best--and show great strides.

*The black-white homicide victimization rate gap decreased by 40%.

*White homicides are down from 4.8 per 100,000 in 1990 to 3.1 in 2010.

*The black homicide rate went down from 33.9 per 100,000 in 1990 to 20.5 in 2010.

*Homicides of Hispanics crashed from 12.4 per 100,000 in 2010 to 6.6 in 2010--a forty-seven percent decrease.

And the new research contradicts certain candidates' claims, by showing that immigrants very rarely perpetrate crimes. "People who decide to come here are not people with strong tendencies toward violent crime," says study co-author Jeffrey T. Ulmer of Penn State University. "They are coming here for educational opportunities, employment opportunities and opportunities to help their families."

We're so lucky to live in the U.S.

A good friend came by, wearing a long face. "What's the matter?" I asked. He was grieving over the murder-by-gunshot of the mayor of his hometown, San Dionisio in El Salvador. He explained that the mayor, elected to his sixth 3-year term, was beloved by all, because he gave building materials, food and assistance to his impoverished constituents. Mayor Julio Torres had gone missing after milking the cows at his dairy farm. A day later, after an intense search, his body was found. 
Julio Torres, beloved mayor of San Dionisio, murdered by gangs

El Salvador has no rule of law. My friend describes bus drivers, fruit vendors and even children accosted on the street by armed robbers, who murder their victims whether or not they have any money to give. Gangs rule and the government can't contain them.

"When you sit down, you'll be US Citizens."
In contrast, my son told me today of his co-worker, who accompanied his wife to her US naturalization ceremony yesterday. The co-worker described the intense emotion with which the new citizens received their status. They rose to raise their hands and recite an oath of allegiance, and the judge told them, "when you sit down again, you will all be American citizens." The tears of gratitude flowed for the significance of that moment.

We should not take our homeland for granted. God bless America.