Tag: Featured

As Mind Hacks Go, Religion Isn’t The Best One

By Craig Axford | United States

In a June 3rd New York Times Op-ed, the philosopher Stephen Asma lays out a common argument for why humans need religion. “Religious practice is a form of social interaction that can improve psychological health,” Asma states. To make his point he tells the story of a student whose brother was brutally murdered and whose mother was only able to cope by finding solace in the belief she would see her son again in the afterlife.

That religious belief can provide great comfort in times of immense suffering has both powerful anecdotal and scientific support. But as with just about every other cultural adaptation that humans have come up with, there’s a downside as well as an upside. Some adaptations are more downside than up, while others are more upside than down. Asma’s forthcoming book, Why We Need Religion, may offer us a solid argument for the view that religion is largely upside but his NY Times opinion piece doesn’t.

Stephen Asma has a rather odd way of praising religion. His article in the Times often reads like a rather backhanded compliment. He seems to think that what we believe and how we go about believing it is either of little or no consequence or that it is worth the personal and social price we have to pay to purchase relief from the pain life’s slings and arrows inflict. Religions, of course, historically have taken themselves rather more seriously, and most still do.

In the tragic case that Asma cites — a mother who lost a son to a brutal stabbing and could only find comfort in a belief in an afterlife — we have only his word for it (based upon an account Asma received from a student) that this woman could find relief from her suffering by no other means. However, for the sake of argument let’s assume this is an accurate retelling of how one mother found a way to move beyond her loss. According to Asma’s own account, this story puts religion in the category of something that works as a last resort, not as a preferred or ideal method for coping with suffering.

Furthermore, Asma never attempts to interview even one out of the millions who have experienced personal loss without needing to resort to a belief in an afterlife or other untestable things in order to cope. In order to build a solid argument that a sincere belief in realms that can’t be proven translates into a speedier recovery or greater psychological health, shouldn’t a thorough survey of alternative worldviews be a necessary part of the research?

His failure to provide any research into how nonbelievers cope with personal loss doesn’t stop him from assuming they turn to science. After making this erroneous assumption he tells readers the approach we don’t take doesn’t work. “No amount of scientific explanation or sociopolitical theorizing is going to console the mother of the stabbed boy,” Asma writes. “Bill Nye the Science Guy and Neil deGrasse Tyson will not be much help, should they decide to drop over and explain the physiology of suffering and the sociology of crime.”

I don’t know Bill Nye or Neil deGrasse Tyson personally, but I don’t have any difficulty imagining that their method of providing comfort in a situation like this would be rather typical of most caring human beings: a hug and perhaps a few shared tears. A science lecture wouldn’t be in the cards unless Nye and Tyson are completely lacking in situational awareness. Asma, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, apparently thinks that atheists and agnostics do lack such awareness and would prescribe a few episodes of Cosmos for parents in mourning over a recently deceased child.

Science does not claim to be a source of solace. Science is a method for uncovering facts about our universe and how it functions, not an analgesic for the families of murder victims. To the extent science is useful in these situations, it is because it has provided therapists with a greater understanding of how we emotionally and physically respond to severe stress and aided our development of better therapeutic responses. To the best of my knowledge, no research into the stages of grief and the best means of getting through them psychologically intact has found a science lecture to be useful.

It’s troubling that a philosopher like Asma has adopted such a cavalier attitude about belief systems. Given life inevitably will involve suffering, human well-being must ultimately depend upon our capacity to cope with it without experiencing debilitating physical or emotional harm. Whenever possible we should strive to avoid using false or unprovable beliefs as a means to this end when equally good perspectives with greater empirical support are available. There may have been a time when religion was the best game in town when it came to coping with personal suffering, but that simply is no longer the case.

Asma’s curious attitude toward truth in this context is determined by what the “emotional brain” wants. Here’s how he puts it in his article:

Those of us in the secular world who critique such emotional responses and strategies with the refrain, “But is it true?” are missing the point. Most religious beliefs are not true. But here’s the crux. The emotional brain doesn’t care. It doesn’t operate on the grounds of true and false. Emotions are not true or false. Even a terrible fear inside a dream is still a terrible fear. This means that the criteria for measuring a healthy theory are not the criteria for measuring a healthy emotion. Unlike a healthy theory, which must correspond with empirical facts, a healthy emotion is one that contributes to neurochemical homeostasis or other affective states that promote biological flourishing.

No, emotions aren’t “true or false.” But they are warranted or unwarranted. A parent that has just lost a child is justified in feeling deep sadness regarding the loss. He/She has a reason for feeling this way. But there is nothing in our evolution as a species that states a mother or father must adopt a false or unverifiable belief in order to eventually move on with their life. Atheists and agnostics lose family and friends all the time, and the vast majority of them still manage to get out of bed in the morning.

If a person truly cannot find a way of coping with their grief that does not involve the permanent use of magical thinking, there’s nothing emotionally healthy or warranted about it. If a person loses even the capacity to entertain doubts about their religion (or any other worldview, scientific or otherwise), that’s not someone who has been rescued by their belief system, but someone who has become severely cognitively impaired by it. That’s not a good thing from either an individual or societal perspective.

Asma argues that “Religious practice is a form of social interaction that can improve psychological health. When you’ve lost a loved one, religion provides a therapeutic framework of rituals and beliefs that produce the oxytocin, internal opioids, dopamine and other positive affects that can help with coping and surviving.” This statement is worth breaking down and analyzing in greater depth.

The “social interaction” that Asma mentions I assume gets to one the greatest benefits of religion that researchers have cited, namely community. We are social creatures, and as such we don’t usually function as well physiologically or emotionally in isolation for long periods. But religious communities are just one of many forms our interactions with others can take. In fact, religious services themselves tend to occur only occasionally. The Abrahamic religions meet regularly only once a week on average, so by themselves, they would have to be very powerful experiences indeed to drag someone suffering a profound loss through the other six days of the week.

What religions provide is a reliable support network. These networks can be called upon during the remainder of the week to help individuals get through a crisis, which can make a huge difference to both the speed and quality of a person’s recovery. But it isn’t the belief in an afterlife that these communities share that either Asma or researchers in the field are pointing to here, but the “social interactions” they provide. In other words, a highly supportive book or chess club will do just as well in a pinch provided they are there for you when needed.

Next Asma refers to a “therapeutic framework of rituals and beliefs” that releases oxytocin, dopamine, and produces “other positive affects” that can assist a suffering individual. Again, that religion does have this impact isn’t in dispute. However, that it is the only or best mechanism for producing these “positive affects” is highly questionable.

First, let’s take a closer look at the importance of the religious beliefs. As was pointed out above, Asma himself admits that “The emotional brain doesn’t care” whether something is true or false. He also states that while “Beliefs play a role…they are not the primary mechanisms for delivering such therapeutic power.” It is the “religious practice (rituals, devotional activities, songs, prayer and story)” that offer “us opportunities to express care for each other in grief, providing us with the alleviation of stress and anxiety, or giving us direction and an outlet for rage.”

Since by Asma’s own admission the beliefs don’t really matter either to our emotions or as mechanisms for our recovery, all things being equal we might as well utilize beliefs that don’t require us to to adopt patriarchy as our default position when it comes to relations between the sexes or to jettison the theory of evolution in exchange for a 6000 year-old earth. Whatever impact these beliefs may or may not have on our emotional recovery after a traumatic event, they do have implications for the health of our relationships and society as a whole, so we should at least consider them in that context.

That leaves rituals, which can play an important role in providing people with a sense of continuity and some semblance of control during difficult periods. Ritual can be a strong antidote for the powerlessness we feel when our life is in turmoil. But here too religion need not be the only source for ritual. Meditation, for example, can easily be substituted for prayer and has the benefit of working as well in a secular as in a religious context.

If religions were more open to serving as halfway houses where people recovering from whatever it is that emotionally ails them could park themselves for a while and temporarily take on beliefs until their equilibrium was restored, Asma’s argument would be much more difficult to find fault with. Unfortunately, religion typically insists upon belief and loyalty in exchange for these services. In extreme cases, this can involve the rejection of science or even the rejection of non-believing friends.

Stephen Asma briefly touches upon religion’s “dark side” in a single paragraph in his Op-ed, but religion’s shadowy side deserves more attention than that. While there are a few liberal churches that have a high degree of tolerance for doubt and are willing to let people come and go as they feel the need, these institutions are sadly the exception. For obvious reasons, they have a hard time building up a large membership. Hopefully, his book will provide answers to the challenge more orthodox and fundamentalist religions pose that go beyond a few lines.

Follow Craig on Twitter or read him on 71Republic.com

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The EU is Flawed, but Not How I Previously Believed

By Owen Heimsoth | United States

Over the past several months, my beliefs on foreign policy have drastically changed. In fact, I wrote this article critiquing a proposed United Europe. Don’t get me wrong, I am still opposed to this idea, but for different reasons.

My opinion on the European Union and general foreign policy has basically taken a one-hundred-eighty-degree turn. I have become sharply more internationalist and pro-globalism. This has been caused by a careful mixture of more research on global affairs, and also life experience.

Quite simply, I made several straw-man arguments in this anti-EU article.

First up was an argument about a potential cultural collision.

Each country in the EU has its own culture. Obviously, some of the better run governments are run in homogeneous countries. In this situation, there are twenty-three different cultures and histories that are to be mashed together. This would become a melting pot bigger than the United States. This doesn’t even include the cultures of different regions of a country.

First off, there is no statistical proof that homogeneous governments are so-called “better off.” In fact, the USA is the melting pot of the world, yet has the highest GDP out there. Culture mixing exposes others to new ideas and teaches those to be more accepting of others. Yes, there may be some cultural clash, but Europeans are also raised having more multiculturalism than Americans like myself.

Next up, I argued that language would become an issue. This ignores the fact that most Europeans, especially those in the West, speak two or more languages.

My last major argument was about religion and the three countries in the EU that have a state-endorsed religion.

Religion would also come into play. There are three countries in the EU that have a recognized state religion-The UK, Denmark, and Greece. There are also multiple countries in the EU that favor a religion but doesn’t list it as official. In the formation of the “United States of Europe,” religions would clash and states would likely leave because of this. State secularism would have to be adopted and many countries would be opposed to this.

This is ignoring the fact that people are increasingly staying away from religion. Actually, being non-religious is the second most popular affiliation in both the UK and in Denmark. This lack of religion is becoming more popular among young citizens.

To finish my article, I argued about 2 failures of the EU. I noted EU-imposed austerity measures as a problem causing the debt crisis, but this is just factually incorrect and simply not the cause of the crisis.

The EU, of course, is not without fault. In fact, there are a number of key issues with it. That being said, straw-man arguments against the union are very common. Despite clear flaws, all government deserve a proper and fair evaluation. By doing so, we can begin to focus on the problems that do exist and further liberty worldwide.


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Ocean’s 8: Sandra Bullock Stars in Female-Lead Film

By Brennan Dubé | @Brennan_Dube71R

So, it has been eleven years since the release of the last ‘Ocean’s’ film… and filmmaker Gary Ross has in front of him an all-star cast and a $70 million-dollar budget to bring us his twist take on the ‘Ocean’s’ series. This all-female cast showcases the likes of Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Rihanna, Mindy Kaling, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Awkwafina and Sarah Paulson. Here is my review of ‘Ocean’s 8.’

‘Ocean’s 8’ opens with Sandra Bullock’s character, ‘Debbie Ocean’ getting out of prison after spending the last five or so years behind bars, and as following the other ‘Ocean’s’ films, she has a plan. From here we see the plan get created and the crew get recruited. Going into this movie I was hoping to see some good build up towards the heist with some great interactions considering the star-studded cast involved.

I must say I was not disappointed by what I saw as the build up sequences and recruitment of these different individuals to join Bullocks’ characters heist plan were quite enjoyable. The cast really knocked this one out of the park. Bullock offers a great performance that really enhances a mediocre dialogue and direction job all around. I also quite liked Helena Bonham Carter, who plays an Irish fashion designer. I found she did a great job in this film and offered some of the best entertainment throughout. Anne Hathaway as always did a stellar job in her role and really fit the part in ‘Ocean’s 8.’

Mindy Kaling plays her typical role that she seems to have been accustomed to ever since the hit show ‘The Office’ and Rihanna does an okay job as well. Other leads in this film, Sarah Paulson and Cate Blanchett do their part and also deliver good performances. Awkwafina in this film did not feel quite right. Her character was interesting but I do not believe it was executed well, coming off as annoying. She was there mainly for comedic relief but in reality, we got some unneeded useless jokes and unnecessary character interactions.

Director Gary Ross had his ass saved in this film. There were times where I almost wanted the group to get caught in their heist just so we could see something a little more interesting and risky happen. Ross managed to lay together a movie that felt so dry and was absolutely spiced up by its incredible cast.

Sure, the group runs in to some bumps here and there but there is almost no friction within the group that leads us to actually feel the level of intensity rise. There were times where I sat back and truly did wish that one of the characters would question the plan or even have a strong disagreement with how they went about things.

Instead, Ross and the writers had them play it safe, keeping everyone for the most part on the same page in this film, which is a drag. Another negative of ‘Ocean’s 8’ is that it lacked a good laugh. I never found myself laughing at this movie or really appreciating a well-executed joke that was told or comedic sequences that was played out. There were some chuckles here and there but ‘Ocean’s 8’ would benefit from some more light-hearted comedy to go along with its light-hearted heist film.

This movie had some shots and different angles taken that looked absolutely stunning. The beginning scenes showing scenery in the city all looked great and that is a plus to the photo direction and cinematographers that worked on this movie. Another positive in my mind is that this was not a political film. Coming into this I knew it was an all-female lead film and that is the main purpose of this movie. I was interested to see if they played it off as a political film and went in on social issues in society today, but they did not. I found this to be a bonus because it would have been a distraction to the storyline and to the great performances being given by the actresses on screen.

Despite enjoying the build-up very much, I felt underwhelmed by the end of this film. The heist was for the most part fun to watch but the aftermath and the act following the heist felt rushed as a viewer. They would have benefited from sacrificing bits from the beginning and middle and putting more into the heist aftermath. Doing this would have made ‘Ocean’s 8’ a potentially more layered movie, missed opportunity.

The big plus: The excitement of this movie is seeing all the super star actresses own this film entirely. Go… sit back and enjoy some of this generations top talents!

Where it lacks:‘Ocean’s 8’ may feel underwhelming and just not as fun as it should be at times.

Score: 71/100

In conclusion, ‘Ocean’s 8’ was a good time at the movies. Director Gary Ross and his mediocre storytelling is saved and enhanced positively by some incredible jobs mainly from the likes of Bullock, Carter and Hathaway. The interaction and recruitment is a good lead up and fun watch going into the much-anticipated heist sequence. Although in the end I did feel slightly underwhelmed at times, ‘Ocean’s 8’ is a good time.

Box Office Forecast:

Watch for the continual plummet of the box office bomb ‘Solo’ as it enters its third weekend. Warner Bros. Pictures ‘Ocean’s 8’ should take the box office and is expected to gross over $35 million this weekend. A24 studio’s much anticipated horror ‘Hereditary’ hits theatres this weekend and is surely set to break records for the small-scale studio.

Upcoming Releases:

June 13: SuperFly

June 15: Incredibles 2, Tag

June 22: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom


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It’s Time To Reform How We Impeach A President

By Nick Hamilton | United States

Under the Nixon Administration, the 25th Amendment was crafted and ratified to the United States Constitution. It outlined the impeachment procedures for the President of the United States. However, due to changing times, it’s time to reform how the government impeaches.

Representative Maxine Waters, perhaps one of the most prolific Democrats in Congress, has called many times to impeach President Trump, due to his alleged collusion with the Russian Government. Representative Al Sharpton, who represents Houston, has motioned for Trump’s impeachment.  Both of their attempts, clearly, have failed. However, if Democrats were to win back Congress, President Trump could be impeached without committing a crime.

As of now, the Russian collusion investigation has yielded no direct evidence against Trump. That isn’t an opinion, that is a fact. During this investigation, we’ve seen numerous memos get released about intelligence agencies abusing their power with the FISA Courts. (Although, it’s not really unheard of for intelligence agencies to do unconstitutional things nowadays.) We’ve seen some Democrats basically ignore this memo, and continue to call for the impeachment of Donald Trump, even though, I say this again, there is no evidence of him colluding with Russia. The fact that they are jumping to conclusions this quickly has prompted me to write this article, which is calling for a 28th Amendment to the United States Constitution.

First off, this amendment will not stop any President who has legitimately committed crimes from getting impeached. However, we’ve seen that members of Congress cannot be trusted to be fair to the other side, no matter what. As of now, Congress can impeach the President for any reason they want, as long as the Vice President is onboard. This should not be the case. First off, the Vice President shouldn’t need to be onboard with impeachment. What if they’re part of the corruption? If the Trump campaign seriously colluded with Russia, hypothetically, Vice President Pence would strike that motion for impeachment down.

Secondly, we’ve made it clear that the President is just as much a human as any one of us. Therefore, why doesn’t he have the right to a fair trial? What I’m saying is, the 28th Amendment should insist that all Congress can do is vote to send the impeachment case to the Supreme Court, by a 2/3 vote from both houses of Congress. It is then that the Supreme Court should run a trial, where an accuser should have to prove to independent justices that the President of the United States is unfit to serve. Congress shouldn’t be able to kick someone out of office due to their dislike of the President. That’s the voters’ job. The Supreme Court must come to a 2/3 majority ruling among the Justices. It is then that the Vice President takes office.

This would eliminate a lot of corruption within the impeachment process. It’s not American for our Congress to be this corrupt, and implementing this amendment would help limit this corruption.


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North Korean Sanctions Must Go

By Jadon Buzzard | United States

We often hear of the gruesome tyranny exhibited by the North Korean regime. The citizens of the country are starving as their government continues to siphon every ounce of economic activity into their devious nuclear programs. Liberty in the country is virtually nonexistent, as property rights, freedom of expression, and human life are irreverently swept aside by the horrendous dictator, Kim Jong Un. North Koreans are legitimately suffering, and we ought to recognize that.

Sanctions, however, are not the answer to the ailments of the North Korean economy. We should be careful not to jump to policy decisions too hastily, lest we worsen the problem at hand. Unfortunately, that reaction to North Korea’s nuclear program seems to have been a common element of almost every US administration. Instead of thinking logically about what actions are both morally and pragmatically justifiable, citizens and officials alike often jump to conclusions about how the US must react to this “imminent” threat.

I contend that economic sanctions on the North Korean economy are both morally unjust and pragmatically unsustainable. The degrading effects these sanctions have on the Koreans’ quality of life far outweigh any benefit they provide in changing the North Korean regime. President Trump ought to abandon these practices and promote a more open exchange with the country.

There are a few reasons why the efficacy of sanctions ought to be called into question. But before we dive into those elements of the trade barrier in question, it would be prudent to examine several negative effects of sanctions on a society, both at a pragmatic and at a moral level.

Sanctions often result in a severe undermining of the quality of life of citizens in the targeted society. Trade creates wealth: there’s virtually no doubt about that. Mercantilism, on the other hand, which looks at trade a as a “zero-sum game”, is an outdated and harmful philosophy. Trade happens because of two (or multiple) individuals’ consent, and that consent only happens because both sides benefit. So, on an individual level, trade always benefits each individual that participates. This benefit is conferred even at a societal level. As individual wealth increases, societal wealth with increase. Trade encourages competition and innovation, which in turn enhances quality of life.

You can imagine what happens to the citizens of a nation when trade is restricted. The North Korean people are starving, and it’s because they lack access to high-quality goods. Most nations, including the US, have virtually closed off their borders with the country. This action is justified to many because we want to ensure that Kim Jong Un doesn’t “get richer” so he can make his nuclear weapons. But here’s the problem: a dictator is a dictator no matter how rich the people are. With or without sanctions, the North Korean government will continue to steal resources from its people in order to fund their nefarious activities. Sanctions only hurt the people, forcing them into a position of weakness.

And it goes further than that. By weakening the people of North Korea, sanctions actually make it harder to replace the Kim regime. The people lack the resources necessary for a revolt against their dictatorial leader. Rather than weakening the Kim regime, sanctions just make the North Korean government stronger by weakening its people.

However, there is also an immoral aspect to sanctions as. In essence, trade barriers violate individuals’ natural rights. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that property rights exist, meaning that it is immoral to steal. You own what you work for and trade for, as do I. If you think about it, sanctions run directly contrary to this idea. I decide whom I will trade with and how much I shall trade for, and it’s no one’s business to tell me or anyone else how I should spend my money. Trade barriers, in effect, allow the government to be the sole arbiter of the economy. They get to make the decisions, instead of the citizens who worked for their wealth.

A common counter-argument here involves the shouting of, “Well, under that logic you’d have to get rid of all taxes!” (cue scary music for effect). I agree: at least all federal taxes. It is not the government’s job to tell people how to act in the economy, granted that you refrain from violating another individual’s natural rights. Either way, the idea is fairly simple: either you believe in natural rights, and thus the evils of sanctions, or you do not believe in natural rights and utilize a sort of quasi-utilitarianism rule.

And that’s just the problem. Individuals and governments claim a belief in “rights,” but few really have one. Natural rights theory is inherently a deontological moral paradigm, or if not, a form of rule utilitarianism (which basically says adopt the universal rule that would provide the most happiness). Either way, you can’t accept the right to property in only certain instances. Doing so, of course, shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the idea.

Now, even if sanctions somehow weakened the Kim regime (they don’t), citizens still ought to oppose them. Why? They are an unnecessary exertion of government force. The government is arbitrarily using force in order to prevent you from making a simple transaction. That’s similar to a hypothetical situation in which I pulled a gun on you in order to prevent you from buying from a grocer who was “mean to me.” Do I have the moral authority to do such a thing? Of course not! Likewise, the government also lacks this authority in matters of international trade, no matter who is doing the trading.

Overall, there are several major problems with sanctions imposed on the North Korean regime. Trade barriers produce severe inefficiencies in the market, causing the citizens of the targeted nation to grow weak, thereby making them less able to fight back against their oppressors. But equally important are the moral implications that arise when the government interferes in the market. Yes, our gut reaction is to shut down trade with evil regimes.

In spite of this, we must remember that behind that ruthless, dictatorial government, there lies an oppressed group of people, suffering from our actions. All liberty-minded individuals ought to oppose sanctions against North Korea, and should work to foster an open, rational relationship into the future. Such a vision will both remove illegitimate governmental interference and gradually begin to liberate the nation’s suffering.


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