Songs are better than sociology

Jason Isbell’s lyric “Is your brother on a church kick? Seems like just a different kind of dopesick” is everything I’d like my sociology to be.

It’s critical without being uncaring. It points out that religion is mundane – that it’s just like a lot of other human salves.

The next lyric, “Better off to teach a dog a card trick than try to have a point and make it clear” clearly makes a point I’ve never been quite able to communicate. This is that any successful human communication is pretty remarkable given how difficult it often is to get across the most basic things like what ingredients you want on your sandwich.

The whole song, “Relatively Easy” on his album Southeastern is an excellent portrayal of privilege, a concept social scientists know matters a lot but seem never to be able to share without producing mass confusion and angry backlash. Listen to it:

Secular is good for us!

I’ve been fascinated to see a growing literature showing that religious beliefs, particularly beliefs about god, reduce social trust (examples here and here). Much of the work in the sociology of religion for so long has had a more or less explicit ‘religion is good for society’ thrust. I’ve published in that mainstream view myself, and usually the most you’ll see is ‘religion is mostly good for us, except for maybe fundamentalism.’

But, I’m starting to think this is because most survey data, particularly in the United States, has only allowed quantitative sociologists to study the very religious and the moderately religious, until recently. Now, with more and more seculars all the time, our samples are catching more people at the ‘not religious’ end of the spectrum, and it turns out they trust people too, and a paper I’m finishing up argues nontheists are more trusting than believers. So, it’s not ‘mainline’ versus ‘evangelical,’ but really it’s ‘very religious,’ ‘moderately religious,’ and ‘not religious.’And it turns out secular is good for you, and for us.

I don’t “get” why it matters: Creationism vs. Evolution

Yesterday I tweeted a joke about the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham about Creationism and Evolution. As the debate approached its third hour I tweeted:

I was making less than clear reference to the more than 150 years that have passed since Darwin published On The Origin of Species, and the nearly 90 years since The State of Tennessee v. Scopes.

As a sociologist of religion (forgive me!), I know that the debate still rages, and I have a general idea of the demographics and religious factors that tend to correlate with the various positions. As a student of society, I understand why knowing about this debate and who is on which side is relevant. Just earlier this week I discussed Darren Sherkat’s recent article about religion and scientific literacy in the United States. He makes a convincing argument that because the public is involved in making decisions about science policy and application, scientific literacy is a valuable social good. That all makes sense to me. I get it.

Moment to moment, however, I have never been convicted by the spirit that the origin of our species matters very much. Were we created as is? Did we evolve? I think we evolved. The evidence is there to support the theory. I know, in the sense that I’m aware of it being true, the science of evolution helps us develop technologies and knowledge that help us live in a better world. That said, on a day to day basis, I think my own certainty about the origin of the species is completely irrelevant. I don’t need an answer one way or the other to make sense of the world I live in or to give meaning to the things I do. I just don’t “get” it.