Tuesday, August 04, 2009

A question for the missionaries

The Fundamental Attribution Error happens (all them time) when people attribute poor behavior to the fundamentally bad nature of the people who are behaving poorly--when in fact, it is a matter of their choices and especially circumstances.

We know that poor behavior is significantly a function of circumstance because of evidence from trials, like the Milgram Experiments and the Stanford Prison Experiment.

As far as I'm aware, there are only two reasonable interpretations of said evidence. We can decide that virtually all people are fundamentally bad, or we can decide that virtually all people are fundamentally malleable. I believe that people are fundamentally malleable.

If we accept this premise (and you're welcome to debate it with me), we come swiftly to the conclusion that the circumstances in which people are placed, circumstances shaped by our societal institutions, are of paramount importance.

Having laid this groundwork
, I now pose a question which applies to any conservative (/"conservative"?) form of Christianity. Research has shown that three greatest predictive factors for how frequently rape happens in a given society are:

-Separation of genders
-Level of power women hold
-General level of interpersonal violence.

Therefore, why would God--presuming there is a God, who desires a world where the occurrence of rape is minimized, within the constraint of preserving human agency--set up organizations and social structures in which genders are segregated and women are prohibited from holding primary power positions?


___________________________ said...

God likes rape. That whole idea of God being a good and loving God was disproven long ago. He created man for the same reason why many people create their sims.

Makayla said...

Why are we assuming that God created the system? And I understand that rape statistics are really horrific (even one rape is one too many), but this post made me think from a line in Gilead, actually; one that I love and one I think has a lot of truth to it. Ames (the pastor, in case you haven't started reading yet)is trying to help some mothers and widows who have lost sons and husbands in World War... hm... one or two I can't remember, and this is what the passage says, "The parents of these young soldiers would come to me and ask me how the Lord could allow such a thing. I felt like asking them what the Lord would have to do to tell us He didn't allow something."

I suppose that ultimately, I'm not convinced that God was the creator of evil systems. I think that there are opposing powers in the universe as well, and they aren't Godly in the least. But I also believe something else. I've long thought about various kinds of suffering, and while I doubt this answer will convince or satisfy your question (and truthfully, it's not actually meant to), this is what I think: one of the fundamental purposes of life is to come to know God. I think this happens in a myriad of ways, one of which is through suffering. I totally agree with you about the malleability of human beings, and the fact that circumstances affect behavior more deeply than we currently understand (which, as a side note, is why I also trust that God's judgment really is perfect, in a way no human being will comprehend in this life). That all said, I suppose that God's role in our lives is not to prevent misery, atrocities, or suffering. It's to be there in the midst of them, and help us find peace and comfort as we take the journey.

I don't think that's all He does (certainly I think sometimes things are prevented or we are blessed in specific ways, according to what He knows we need and can handle), but people write books about that... and never quite get it completely. ;)

Day said...

Ah, Rman, you're scaring off my people. :P


I do not, in fact, assume that God creates evil systems--or that s/he does anything. However, there are any number of churches (unless I'm in error, including yours) which make claims of influence from God regarding how they are structurally organized. Specifically, it seems very common to segregate genders, and to place only men in positions of explicit power.

To be clear, I'm not even claiming that these two factors necessarily make a system structurally evil--only that they appear to increase the incidence of rape. Perhaps there are very good reasons which outweigh this negative. I don't know. I'm merely asking what motives are attributed to God in specifically commanding things which have such a huge apparent downside.

It is not at all foreign to the realm of religious argument to justify this degree of violence. After all, generally we wouldn't condone killing one's child either, but there are people I generally respect who would accept this as a divine practice under certain extreme circumstances.

Makayla said...

Okay, I reread your post (more carefully) and this is what you said about God and systems (and I cut out the stuff in between the hyphens):

"Therefore, why would God...set up organizations and social structures..."

Which sounds to me like we're assuming that God sets up the structures, which was the first point I might disagree with.

It would be easier (for me at least) if you had some specific commandments in mind, because then I could address the issue in more specific terms. I'm not a theologian in general -- I know more about my own religion than anything else, of course -- so perhaps I could offer a better response if I knew what you specifically had in mind.

For instance, I assume the part about sacrificing children is referencing Abraham and Isaac, but I don't know that for sure, see? :)

It's an interesting question, if we assume that God set up the system... but there are also a lot of other issues attached to this as well -- such as factoring in possible error in the research, as well as the issue of human beings misinterpreting commandments, and therefore messing up what would have otherwise been a very fine system.

And of course the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, is mainly a series of examples of what not to do, and how not to respond to commandments, right? ;) (Not always... but a lot.)

Makayla said...

Oh yes, and just as a side note, so it's clear where I stand on the matter, I do realize that a lot of horrible, inexcusable things happen in the name of religion (I think that's part of what Jesus meant when he was talking about whited sepulchers), but for me that is not real religion. Spencer W. Kimball remarks somewhere in one of his books (I can't remember if it's The Miracle of Forgiveness or Faith Precedes the Miracle) that it is appalling to him what some people do in the name of faith. I feel much the same way. So I'm definitely not arguing with you about the fact that such things happen, but I am interested in the conversation about God's possible role in the matter. :)

Snow said...

Two thoughts:

The first is based on your premise that our only two choices are that people are fundamentally bad or fundamentally malleable. I have issues with both of these. If people are fundamentally anything, why should we assume that it is bad? Why rule out the possibility that people might be fundamentally good, just because certain circumstances seem to bring out better or worse behavior?

Your definition of "malleable" is also rather limited. It seems to me that what you're saying is that how people turn out is completely dependent upon their genes, their upbringing, their surroundings. What about our ability to mold and shape ourselves? Maybe it's ultra idealistic, but my personal belief is that while circumstances can make certain good choices more challenging they never prevent us from making them. Since we're talking about rape, I don't believe that any man can honestly blame his bad upbringing or an inherent bad nature for his abuse.

My other thought has to do with "God's system." Let's assume that you are referring to the LDS church. Secondly, let's assume that God DID set up the system. Well, when we look at the system we see that God also commanded that we not wield unrighteous dominion and that we keep the law of chastity. If someone gets raped, any power held by the guilty power is taken away from him and he is booted out. If that is not what happens in the system, then it's not God's system, it is man's power-hungry perversion of it.

Day said...

Makayla--I know this post has come off a bit more aggressively than I had intended it to, and I'd ask that you please correct me if I'm wrong, but I feel your approach to this has been a little disingenuous.

Allowing women into positions of leadership and power has been a public and contentious question of doctrine in various forms of Christianity for some time. The Mormon and the Catholic Church would each be a key example of this. If women are prohibited from priesthood for some Other reason than a supposed commandment from God, I've never heard about it, though certainly I'd want to.

As far as your "all the bad things done in the name of religion" bit, there's a Zizek quote that comes to mind, but I don't have it on me, so I'll have to dig it out for you later.

Day said...


Thank you. . .

I think perhaps you are not familiar with the research to which I am referring?

I do not mean to dispute that in any given instance, any given person can make some different decision. In fact, if you read a little carefully, I think you'll notice that I mention choice in the entry.

However, data has shown that people respond in a particular, predictable statistical spread to some kinds of situations. Particularly (and this is what the research refers to) almost all people--regardless of how healthy, normal, and even moral they are by all external indicators--are willing to commit torture with faint provocation, if the situation is set for it. This does not fall near my definition of good, and I don't even have a definition of good.

Another of those situations is the wider cultural context in which rape does or doesn't take place. To many sociologists, the United States is what's known as a "rape prone" culture--we have the highest rape rates in the developed world. Utah in particular has a problem, with the second highest rape rates in the US after Alaska.

I'm not claiming that God has shaped Utah culture, but if we can identify predictive factors--identify what kinds of situations will result in more people acting in a certain way--and we see those factors directly engendered by a Church, it seems fair to ask questions about it.

I'd also like to be clear in stating that I don't particularly intend to pick on Mormonism, but it is the most local example, and the one everyone here knows the most about. I find it likely that in other places where similar religious structures are found, similar problems are found as well.

Cami said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Makayla said...

I didn't mean to come off as disingenuous; I was just trying to be sure I had a full grasp on what exactly you were getting at, so I could answer as fairly and fully as possible. Perhaps in the future I will simply leave it to others.

(sorry about the deleted comment -- I didn't realize I was signed in under my mom's account)