"Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly." – G. K. Chesterton

Archive for February, 2012

More of Chesterton on voting

With primary season going into full swing, it seems time to let Chesterton speak on the topic of voting once again.  This particular passage comes from his last novel, The Return of Don Quixote.  The backstory is thus.  Michael Herne is a librarian and historian who orignally studied the ancient Hitties, but has recently decided to focus on the Middle Ages.  So fascinated is he by this historical era that he decided to dress in medieval fashion permanently and create a little band of followers who seek to restore the habits and ideals of the late Middle Ages.  At the same time, political machinations involving big industry and socialist agitators are swirling around.  Then election day arrives.

In the great General Election, which had been produced by the big menace of Braintree and his new Syndicalism, and which had led up to the launching of the movement in opposition to it, it was reported that Mr. Michael Herne had gone into a polling-booth to record his vote; and had remained there for three-quarters of an hour, mysteriously occupied or possibly engaged in prayer.  He had apparently never given a vote before; it not being a Palaeo-Hittite habit; but when it had been elaborately explained to him that he had only to make a cross on the piece of paper opposite the name of his favourite candidate, he seemed quite charmed and enchanted with the idea.  By this time, of course, his Palaeo-Hittite period had long become prehistoric and stratified in the past; and his later medieval enthusiasm devoured his days and nights.  Nevertheless he could apparently spare a somewhat abnormal time for the modern and rather mechanical process of voting; when he might have been engaged in drawing the long bow or tilting at a Saracen’s head.  Archer and his other colleagues became a little impatient, and not a little mystified, by his mysterious immersion in the ballot box; they kicked their legs restlessly outside and eventually went inside, to see his tall and motionless back still immovable in its separate cell, as of a modern confessional.  They were at last goaded to the gross indelicacy of disturbing the Citizen when alone with his Duty, by going up behind him and pulling his coat-tails.  As this had no particular effect, they committed the anarchical and anti-democratic outrage of actually looking over his shoulder.  They found that he had set out on the little shelf, as on a table, all the illumination paints (presumably borrowed from Miss Ashley), paints of gold and silver and all the colours of the rainbow.  With these he was engaged in doing his democratic duty with almost a painful care and patience.  He had been told to make a cross and he was making a cross.  He was doing it as it would have been done by a monk in the Dark Ages; that is in very gay and glorified colours.  The cross was of gold, in one corner of it were three blue birds, in another corner were three red fishes, in another plants, in another planets and so on; it seemed to be planned upon the scheme of the Canticle of the Creature of St. Francis of Assisi.  He was very much surprised to be told that this was not required by the provisions of the Ballot Act; but he controlled himself and only gave a faint sigh, when informed by the officials of the polling station that his vote was cancelled, because he had “spoilt” a ballot paper.

What I’m Reading: The Meaning of Marriage

My reading for the past week or so has been The Meaning of Marriage, by Tim and Kathy Keller.  The authors are a couple who can boast a successful 36-year marriage.  Tim is a pastor in New York City.  The book is what the title suggests, and examination of what marriage truly should be and how a biblical perspective differs from the modern world’s understanding of marriage.  The book is a perfect introduction for a recently engaged man like myself.


The authors structure the book around the passage that Saint Paul wrote in Ephesians concerning marriage:

22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. [Eph 5:22:31; NIV]

As they point out, this view of marriage divides us sharply from both ancient and modern understandings.  In ancient times, marriage was for social and economic gains and alliances.  Families decided marriages for young people, and what each partner brought to the marriage was determined by their family situation.  In modern times, marriage has flipped to the opposite extreme and become based on selfishness, with numerous advisors tellings us that our marriage partner should “complete” ourselves, “fulfill” ourselves, and otherwise serve goals that are all about us.

By contrast, Paul tells that a Christian marriage is modeled on the relationship of Christ and the Church.  Christ did not seek to complete himself nor serve any other selfish goal when he sought out the Church.  Instead his goal was to lift up the Church and make her holy and perfect.  In a similar way, none of us should look at a potential marriage partner and ask how she will serve our temporary needs. Instead, we should each see a partner as a person who is on journey to the mountaintop where Christ will make us perfect.  We should enter marriage because we can see glimpses of where the partner is going, and we are uplifted and excited by the person that the partner will become with Christ’s help.  We marry because we want to take that journey together, each partner helping the other when necessary, and each growing more joyful as the other progresses.

Within that framework, The Meaning of Marriage has lots of practical advice, and it’s a worthy addition to any bookshelf, whether for the unmarried, the recently married, or those past their silver anniversary.

Chesterton on Turning Around

The tagline of by blog is a quote (from Chesterton of course): “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.”  Nevertheless I fear that my posts have been growing deadly serious of late.  I’ve piled up studies and statistics, political opinions, and social commentary.  Little of it has been light, and even my attempts to be light probably haven’t reached that goal.  Chesterton himself, on the other hand, never had trouble taking a light-hearted approach to an important topic.  In this poem he puts a spin (yuk yuk) on the religious life as opposed to worldly pursuit of fame and praise.


I saw an old man like a child,
His blue eyes bright, his white hair wild,
Who turned for ever, and might not stop,
Round and round like an urchin’s top.

‘Fool,’ I cried, ‘while you spin round,
‘Others grow wise, are praised, are crowned.’
Ever the same round road he trod,
‘This is better: I seek for God.’

‘We see the whole world, left and right,
Yet at the blind back hides from sight
The unseen Master that drives us forth
To East and West, to South and North.

‘Over my shoulder for eighty years
I have looked for the gleam of the sphere of spheres.’
‘In all your turning, what have you found?’
‘At least, I know why the world goes round.’


Not a bad little dialogue to be squeezed into sixteen lines with perfect rhyme and meter.  It brings home the central point of the Christian understanding of God.  God is unseen, at least most of the time, but is the cause and driving force of the world and everything that happens.  Those who devote their lives to God will miss out on the easily visible measures that the world cares about: prestige and wealth and so forth.  From the world’s perspective, they will appear to be accomplishing nothing, as if they were moving in circles.  Yet at the end, they will truly know why the world goes round.

Religion and Education: Let’s Hammer Dawkins Some More

This picks up where my previous post left off.  There I responded to a claim by Richard Dawkins, who insisted that more education will surely lead to less religion.  I found eight peer reviewed research papers testifying to a positive relationship between religiosity and education.  By any standard, eight papers is a lot, and sufficient to prove firmly that Dawkins’ claim is completely untrue.  But since one can never have too much fun crushing this sort of nonsense, here are some more.

Glanville, J. L., Sikkink, D. and Hernández, E. I., RELIGIOUS INVOLVEMENT AND EDUCATIONAL OUTCOMES: The Role of Social Capital and Extracurricular Participation (2008) The Sociological Quarterly, 49: 105–137

Using structural equation models to analyze data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), we examine the potential role of social capital and extracurricular participation in mediating the relationship between religious participation and academic achievement, dropping out of high school, and attachment to school. We find that religious attendance promotes higher intergenerational closure, friendship networks with higher educational resources and norms, and extracurricular participation.

Mark D. Regnerus, Shaping Schooling Success: Religious Socialization and Educational Outcomes in Metropolitan Public Schools. (Sept. 2000) Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 39, No. 3, pp. 363-370

This paper analyzes religious socialization as it relates to schooling success. I propose and test a multilevel model of involvement in church activities as providing integration and motivation toward schooling success among metropolitan U.S. public high school sophomores. Results indicate that respondents’ participation in church activities is related to heightened educational expectations, and that these more intensely religious students score higher on standardized math/reading tests, even while controlling for variables that often show religious effects to be spurious.

Donahue, M. J. and Benson, P. L., Religion and the Well-Being of Adolescents. Journal of Social Issues (1995) 51: page 145–160

A literature review of the relation between religiousness and adolescent well-being is presented, along with new analyses from a large adolescent data base. It is found that the average level of religiousness of U.S. adolescents has not declined recently, although it does appear to decrease on average across the years of adolescence. African Americans are more religious than whites, and girls are more religious than boys. Religiousness is positively associated with prosocial values and behavior, and negatively related to suicide ideation and attempts, substance abuse, premature sexual involvement, and delinquency. It is unrelated to self-esteem. These results are found to be robust after controlling for sociodemographic characteristics.

Students who held a strong “Christian worldview” and whose families attended religious services scored higher academically than those who did not report religious involvement.

Smith, C., Theorizing Religious Effects Among American Adolescents. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (2003), 42: pages 17–30

The influence of church attendance and favorable perceptions of religion on “positive school attitudes” is evident from childhood, through late adolescence, and into college.

William Jeynes, The Effect of Religious Commitment on the Academic Achievement of Urban and Other Children, Education and Urban Society (2003) 36, no. 44, pages 44-62

Table 1 indicates that veryreligious children achieve at higher levels academicallythan their less religious counterparts in the cases of both the total and urban samples. Using the Basic I Model, veryreligious students outperform less religious students on all the measures of academic achievement.

Sandra L. Hanson & Alan L. Ginsburg, Gaining Ground: Values and High School Success. American Educational Research Journal (1988) 25, no. 3 pages 334-65.

One analysis of tenth grade students found that, for both black and white students, the impact of pro-social values was stronger than the effect of socioeconomic status on reading and math proficiency (44 percent greater for white students and 51 percent greater for black students). Their study consisted of a national sample of 30,000 10th-grade students from the “High School and Beyond” surveys of 1980 and 1982.  The study also showed that holding religious values was associated with higher math scores for black students.

Carl L. Bankston & Min Zhou, The Ethnic Church, Ethnic Identification, and the Social Adjustment of Vietnamese Adolescents. Review of Religious Research (1996) 38, no. 1

Among Vietnamese immigrants, frequent religious attendance correlates to adolescents placing a greater importance on attending college, earning good grades, and avoiding substance abuse.

Conclusion: We have now seen sixteen peer-reviewed studies, all of which document a positive connection between religion and education.  The evidence is overwhelming: Dawkins is wrong.  His beliefs are precisely the opposite of the truth, as they are on so many issues.  To put the final nail in the coffin, we should note a few facts about the evidence presented above.

First, the evidence is good evidence by scholarly standards.  It comes from real academic journals, and comes from many scholars who are prestigious in their fields.  These studies were properly conducted.  The sample sizes were large, in the thousands or tens of thousands in many cases.

Second, the results are robust.  We have seen that the positive relationship between religiosity and education holds in many places.  It holds for people from countries as diverse as the United States, the Netherlands, and Vietnam.  It holds for all races and all social classes.  It holds for those in early childhood, the high school years, the college years, and beyond.  It holds for many different measures of education, from grades to attendance to test scores to graduation rates.

Debunking Dawkins: Religion and Education

I’m baaaaaaack.  And this time my interest has been drawn to a set of statements by Richard Dawkins.  He argues that the best way to wage war against religion is to educate people.  Once they’re educated, they obviously won’t be religious.  He’s not alone in this, needless to say.  Click around the atheist blogosphere and you’ll see this claim made over and over again in various forms.  I’m not in this post commenting on the tone of such claims or what they say about those making them.  I’m here to address a straightforward question: is it actually true education in antithetical to religion?

In answering this question, I must first offer some caveats.  The scope of the question is huge, covering the entire world.  Most research won’t look at the entire world, but only at one country, or at certain groups within a country.  The definition of “education” is also broad and encompasses many levels.  Most research will only look at one or two levels of education.  How well the results extrapolate to all people everywhere is an open question, though I may address it later.  I’m not here to prove anything, as much as to respond to what Mr. Dawkins said.  If I can show that in some places, by some measures, Dawkins’ claim is false, I will consider that satisfactory.  I will try to stick to good, formal research.  I wll provide links to online copies when possible.

Research Surveys.  We look first at sources who have surveyed the literature and provided summaries from multiple studies.

Iannaccone, Laurence. Introduction to the Economics of Religion. Journal of Economic Literature, 1998.

In numerous analyses of cross-sectional survey data, rates of religious belief and religious activity tend not to decline with income, and most rates increase with education. … Over the past 40 years, scores of sociological studies have investigated the empirical relationship between income and/or education and numerous measures of religiosity—see, for example, Lenski (1963), Stark (1972), Wade Roof and William McKinney (1987), and Ross Stolzenberg, Mary Bair-Loy and Linda Waite (1995). Since the mid-1970s economists have weighed in, estimating models more sensitive to nuances of economic theory. Their basic results, however, mirror those of the sociologists: education is a weak but generally positive predictor of religious participation.

Regnerus, Mark. Religion and Positive Adolescent Outcomes: A Review of Research and Theory. Review of Religious Research Vol. 44, No. 4 (Jun., 2003), pp. 394-413

I review recent research published in academic journals concerning religious influences on several positive outcomes during adolescence: physical and emotional health, education, volunteering and political involvement, and family well-being. Though much less research exists on these outcomes when compared with risk behaviors such as drinking, drug use, and sexual activity, the high-quality studies that do exist point to modest positive influences of religious involvement. That is, more extensive religious involvement is generally associated with positive outcomes during adolescence.

C. Simon Fan, Religious participation and children’s education: A social capital approach. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 2006

There is substantial evidence showing that religion has a significant positive impact on children’s educational attainment and future earnings.  Also, sociologists’ extensive research indicates that youth raised in religious homes are less likely to engage in criminal activity, use drugs or alcohol, and so on.  Indeed, many religions emphasize hard work, honesty, seriousness, and responsibility, all of which are conducive to children’s acquisition of cognitive and non-cognitive skills.

Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D., Religious Practice and Educational Attainment: A Research Synthesis.

The social sciences show religious practice has very beneficial effects on the educational attainment of children. It may well trump income in its effects on
educational outcomes. The direct positive effects of religious practice by the student include:
• Higher grade point averages,
• More time spent on homework, and
• A significant decrease in high school drop-out rates.
All these hold even more so for children from low-income neighborhoods. Religious practice benefits the poor more than it does those children who are relatively well-off, likely because religion is one of the very few wellfunctioning institutions the poor can readily access and rely upon.

Individual Studies.  These are reports from researchers investigating the question directly.

Lehrer, Evelyn. Religiosity as a Determinant of Educational Attainment: The Case of Conservative Protestant Women in the United States. Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 2(2), pages 203-219.

This paper examines the role of religiosity as a determinant of the educational attainment of women raised as conservative Protestants in the United States. A human capital model based on the demand and supply of funds for investments in education is used to develop hypotheses about various causal links between religiosity and years of schooling. The hypotheses are tested using data from the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth, a large-scale survey addressed to a representative sample of women in the United States. Among respondents raised as conservative Protestants, those who attended religious services frequently during their adolescent years are found to complete one more year of schooling than their counterparts who were less observant. The gap is smaller, but still sizeable and statistically significant, when other factors are held constant in a multivariate analysis.

Lehrer, Evelyn. Religion and High School Graduation: A Comparative Analysis of Patterns for White and Black Young Women. Papers on Economics of Religion 06/04, Department of Economic Theory and Economic History of the University of Granada.

Table 4 shows that the probability of high-school graduation is 0.93 for a typical mainline-Protestant respondent (with average characteristics for other variables); the estimates for Mormons (0.91) and Catholics (0.93) are in the same range. In contrast, the probabilities are only 0.86 and 0.84, respectively, for conservative Protestants and the unaffiliated, respectively. … The estimates for white youth show that for the three affiliations considered, members of the high participation group are significantly more likely to complete high school than their counterparts in the low participation group, consistent with the hypothesis that religious involvement has a beneficial effect on high-school graduation. The gap between the high and low participation groups is 10 percentage points for conservative Protestants, 8 percentage points for Catholics, and 6 percentage points for mainline Protestants. It is noteworthy that a favorable effect of religious participation is observed for conservative Protestants. … In the black sample, patterns of high school graduation by high versus low religious participation can only be studied for the conservative Protestant group, and a similar result is found here: a gap of 7 percentage points. As noted above, the corresponding gap in the white sample is 10 percentage points.

Bruce Sacerdote and Edward Glaeser, Education and Religion. NBER Working Paper No. 8080 Issued in January 2001

In the United States, religious attendance rises sharply with education across individuals.

Chandra Muller and Christopher G. Ellison, Religious involvement, social capital, and adolescents’ academic progress: Evidence from the national education longitudinal study of 1988. Sociological Focus, 2001, vol. 34, p. 111

Using the second and third waves of NELS, this study examines three questions concerning the links between religious involvement, social capital, and academic achievement of public school students: First, what are the relationships between adolescents’ religious involvement and their access to social capital within families (parental expectations and parent-child interaction) and communities (intergenerational closure and peers’ academic values) Second, is adolescent religious involvement associated with academic progress, including self-concept (locus of control), attitudes (educational expectations), effort (time spent on homework and truancy), opportunities and demands (advanced mathematics course work), and rewards (high school graduation) Third, to what extent are the positive relationships between religious involvement and academic progress due to enhanced access to social capital We find that adolescents’ religious involvement at grade 10 is consistently and positively associated with various forms of social capital and with each of the adolescent outcomes. Those estimated effects of religious involvement on academic progress are explained largely by family and community social capital. However, religious involvement remains modestly but significantly linked with desirable outcomes even controlling on the effects of social capital.

So thus far we’ve seen eight sources testifying to a positive relationship between religion and education.  There’s more to come when I have the chance to post it, but I think it’s already clear that things aren’t looking good for the Dawkins hypothesis.

No blogging for a week

I woke up this morning to find roughly half an inch of snow on the ground outside my home in northern Virginia.  In a typical winter this would scarcely be worth noting, but this winter it’s the biggest snowfall we’ve had.  Which makes it as good a day as any to anounce my upcoming vacation in sunny South Carolina.  I will be gone for all of next week, but like Douglas MacArthur, I shall return.

Your weekly Chesterton


Why should I care for the Ages
  Because they are old and grey?
To me, like sudden laughter,
  The stars are fresh and gay;
The world is a daring fancy,
  And finished yesterday.

Why should I bow to the Ages
  Because they were drear and dry?
Slow trees and ripening meadows
  For me go roaring by,
A living charge, a struggle
  To escalade the sky.

The eternal suns and systems,
  Solid and silent all,
To me are stars of an instant,
  Only the fires that fall
From God’s good rocket, rising
  On this night of carnival.

An atheist argument that I don’t understand.

I’m sure that almost everyone who participates in debates about religion online has heard some version of this argument.  It’s when an atheist tries to explain the origins of religion, and it goes something like this: “Primitve people didn’t understand the cause of natural phenomena such as the weather and earthquakes, so they made up gods and religion to explain those things.”  The obvious import of this argument is that since the atheist now has explained where religion comes from, he’s also proven that religion is invalid, since we now know that gods and spirits and such don’t actually cause natural phenomena.

The only problem with this argument is that it makes no sense at all.  Did primitive people make up religion so that they could explain weather and earthquakes and other such phenomena?  In other words, did religion begin with a dialogue between two cavemen somewhat like this:

Thag: Garg, I do not understand why the weather and earthquakes occur.

Garg: I do not either.

Thag: I wish that I understood why the weather and earthquakes occur.

Garg: So do I.

Thag: Let us make up some gods and a religion, and then we’ll have an explanation for why weather and earthquakes occur.

Garg: Good idea, Thag!  If we make up some gods and a religion, then we will know why weather and earthquakes occur.

The flaw in this argument is obvious.  If Thag and Garg make something up, they will know that they made it up, so they will know that it isn’t true.

So what is the origin of religion?  I don’t know.  I don’t know when or where the world’s first religion came into existence, and I certainly don’t know the circumstances under which it happened.  Neither does anyone else.  In short, it’s those who give the silly explanations for why religion originated who are really guilty of what they accuse others of doing.  They face of phenomenon that they don’t understand, namely the existence of religion.  Then they make up a fictional explanation for that phenomenon.  Then they start believing that their fictional explanation is the correct one.

The Super Bowl

I started this blog almost exactly one year ago, and around that time I watched the Super Bowl and wrote one of my first posts about the ads contained therein.  This seemed appropriate.  When I was a kid, I watched the Super Bowl every year, and was very much in tune with the post-modernist zeitgeist of caring more about the ads than about the football game.  Besides which, almost everyone in America watched the Super Bowl, the ads cost a lot of money, and that made it all worth watching.

Some years later I began to question the doctrine that something was worth watching just because it cost a lot of money to make and a lot of other people watched it.  Sometime after that, when I’d converted to Christianity, I even considered that huge budgets and massive audiences might suggest that something was not worth watching.  Nevertheless, I have watched the Super Bowl during both of the past two years, chiefly because friends invited me to parties and I felt it would be rude to refuse.

That said, this year I did manage to skip some of the ads by hiding in the kitchen or merely turning my eyes away from the screen.  Among those that I did see, it looked as if the two major themese were naked (or nearly naked) people and celebrities that I didn’t recognize.  The minor themes were polar bears and Prohibition.  There was nothing that struck me as positive or uplifting, and there was a lot that I wish I hadn’t seen.  In particular, I wondered about the effects when children age 8, 7, 6 or even younger see over and over again the message that women exist only to take their clothes off.  That’s been the theme of every godaddy.com commercial as far as I know, but now it’s expanding into ads such as the dreadful one for the Toyota Camry.  (While there’s always been plenty of reason to complain about the media treating women as objects, few ads take it as literally as that one.)

Since it is traditional to pick a favorite, I choose this one:

However, overall the crop was quite poor.  Perhaps next year I won’t bother watching.

What I’m Reading: Four Witnesses

I’ve been woefully slack in documenting the books I’ve read over the past couple months.  I most recently finished Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words, by Rod Bennett.

Bennett begins with a common sense point.  These days everyone from the Seventh-Day Adventists to the Later-Day Saints to the Calvinists to the Jehavah’s Witnesses claims that their doctrine is a restoration of what the early Church actually taught and practiced, because the early Church had received it directly from Christ and the Apostles.  Obviously not everyone who makes this claim can be right.  So if we want to know who’s right, and what the earliest Christians actually believed, we ought to read what they actually wrote.  Hence Bennett presents summaries of the life and writings of four witness from the first 150 years after Christ: Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin the Martyr, and Irenaeus of Lyon.

Personally I knew fairly little about early church history and the church fathers before reading this book.  I’ve read the excellent two-volume The Story of Christianity by Dr. Justo Gonzalez, but with two thousand years of history to cover, it’s necessarily not that detailed.  I’ve seen various early texts mentioned here and there, but I’ve only actually read a couple of the shorter ones.

Bennett’s book is a worthy introduction to the four individuals he presents.  It gives a good summary of the struggles that confronted Christians during the first two centuries.  On the one hand, they faced violent persecution from the Roman authorities.  Traditional stories of Christian martyrs being fed to the lions in the Colisseum or burned alive are not myth but historical fact, backed up by copious evidence.  On the other hand, the Church was also challenged by false prophets and heretical teachers: the Gnositcs, Docetists, and others.  Against this backdrop, the four witnesses wrote and testified about the doctrine they had received from the Apostles–person-to-person, in some cases, and at least with minimal transmissions in other cases.

Bennett does write from a Catholic perspective, and he includes an afterward explaining how the testimony of these witnesses and others helped push him towards Rome.  His personal belief in the Catholic Church is not intrusive, however, and should not stop Protestants and others from appreciating a good work from a strong amateur scholar.

Tag Cloud