Public Catholic Complaints

So, with my job not on the table due to the distantly passing Hurricane Sandy, today I’ve time to make some slightly extended remarks on a couple blog posts over at Patheos; specifically from Public Catholic. Since WordPress is better on TrackBacks, I’ll dust off this thing for one of its rare uses… not that I blog all that much at LiveJournal these days, either.

The first to draw my attention was a religious conversion account. Two things struck me with that post.

The first is related to Altemeyer and Hunsberger’s study published in the book Amazing Conversions: why some turn to faith & others abandon religion. They sampled some 4000 students, and then picked out those with the biggest religious anomalies. Most people end up in the religion they were raised — it’s even proverbial. And they found that those who were raised religiously, tended to end that way, and the irreligiously raised tended to stay that way. (Utterly unsurprising.) However, they then went and looked at the anomalies — those raised far less religiously than most who ended far more religious than most, and those raised far more religiously than most who ended far less religious than most.

My observation (first posted there) is that Rebecca Hamilton’s account of her irreligious-to-religious event blends in very well with the others of that type. Most such religious conversions are relatively abrupt and emotionally charged events; in contrast, most religious-to-irreligious conversions are the result of a sustained period of reflective rational inquiry and seeking out arguments in both directions.

The second was her remark:

This peculiar moral certitude of moral ingrates is, I believe, a direct consequence of being your own god. If you decide what is right and wrong, it’s pretty easy to be morally proud 24/7. I encounter it in people who are their own gods all the time. The difference being that now I know it for what it is.

I made the suggestion that this “peculiar moral certitude” is that associated with the high-RWA “authoritarian follower” personality type, which type Altemeyer has put out an excellent introduction on. In particular, from page 57:

As I mentioned in chapter 1, if you’re an average human being, you’ll think you’re a better than average human being. Almost everybody thinks she’s more moral than most. But high RWAs typically think they’re way, way better. They are the Holy Ones. They are the Chosen. They are the Righteous.

However, I also added the observation that this sort of behavior is disproportionately common among the religious rather than the irreligious — though noting the latter aren’t immune. Furthermore, high-RWAs don’t necessarily think of themselves as their own God (usually attributing the imperative to an external agency, who just happens to agree with them on everything). Rather, that’s a trait that notionally would be more associated with high-SDO “authoritarian leader” personalities — which atheists and the irreligious have in approximately equal amounts.

I noticed another comment, which indicated others had been removed. I added a response, suggesting that this removing was contrary to the stated aims of Patheos (in their site’s “About” link) to encourage dialogue, not monologue.

My comments were deleted, apparently merely for this apparent disagreement and for casting the conversion story in a light considered unfavorable. A bit of work with Google turned up a partial reply from “Bill S” before it was also deleted.

Arkenaten,. I feel your pain. You even had to change your name to Abb3w. If I kept bringing up the First Amendment as an excuse for denying complete health care coverage, the last thing I would do is deny freedom of speech to my bloggers.

Apparently, I’m being confused with some other godless heathen, probably one a bit less polite. For the record: no, I didn’t “change” my handle to abb3w. I’ve been using “abb3w” as an ID since 1989, pretty much anywhere that would allow it — Fark, Wikipedia, Livejournal, Scienceblogs, Patheos, assorted minor corners of the net (like this dusty one here), plus half a dozen “abb3w@” email addresses in that time. I’ve not used any other handle in more than five years. Whoever made the earlier remarks using a different handle was someone else. It’s also not hard to track back to me as result — more pseudonym than “anonym”.

I tried posting something more focused — repeatedly.

An approach based on removing topical and polite disagreements seems likely to result in dissenters seeing decreasing merit to limiting responses to being either topical or polite. Behavior not rewarded tends to be less likely to be repeated.

Repeatedly removed… though a variant now seems to have survived on another post.

I also made one other (removed) observation, alluding to the research in (doi:10.1002/per.614)… but I’ll get back to that in a moment. Perhaps in some defense of this censorship, this post went up. The ones she characterizes as “Obama Locusts” sound likely to be the high-RWAs to the political left — which are less common, but not outright rare. The derogatory language makes it sound like there’s also some high-SDO element, as that (doi:10.1002/per.614) piece indicates derogation is characteristic. (Though there’s an earlier study which explicitly ties high-RWA among men to higher assault rates on women; contrariwise, it predates the studies on SDO.) Again, double highs are scarcer to the political left than the political right, but not vanishingly.

Which brings me to a final trio of observations. First, that article in the European Journal of Personality notes both high-SDO and high-RWA share a prejudice type — against dissident groups. Second, one of the results in Altemeyer’s “The Authoritarians” was for a 1990-1993 study of state legislatures; while a bit before the time of Ms. Hamilton, the Oklahoma Democrats of that era scored 8 points above the scale midpoint, despite the average for Democratic politicians nationally being circa tend points below the midpoint. (There’s no evidence the South has lost any of this tendency.) And third, the individuals who had the sort of irreligious to religious “Amazing conversion” event that Ms. Hamiliton describes was also pronouncedly associated in the A+H study to exceptionally high-RWA attitudes.

Ms. Hamilton being high-RWA would thus explain her response to dissent, and render her conversion account even less remarkable. It also means that the self-righteous attitude she talks about is something that is not about irreligion or religion, but about her



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