Saturday, July 14, 2012

E Pluribus

Would you be willing to spend an eternity in Hell out of loyalty to your country?

I know that sounds like a bizarre, and perhaps stupid, question, but bear with me for a moment. According to the "Trends in American Values: 1987-2012" study, conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, as of this year, 80% of respondents agreed with the statement "I never doubt the existence of God" (although that number has been declining). 76% agree with "There are clear guidelines about what's good or evil that apply to everyone, regardless of their situation." And again, 76% agree with "We all will be called before God at the Judgment Day to answer for our sins."

Given this, it struck me as odd, when I thought about it, that 51% of the people that Pew surveyed agreed with the statement that "We all should be willing to fight for our country, whether it is right or wrong." Given these numbers, if we make the (very likely inaccurate) assumption that there is no correlation between answers to these questions, approximately 24% of Americans surveyed believe that everyone should be willing to fight for their nation, even if they know what their nation is fighting for is wrong - in spite of the fact that they are absolutely confident that there is a God, that this God will judge them, and the criteria for good and evil are universal. Given the fact that there likely IS a correlation between the answers to these questions, the numbers are likely higher, as you will note of you only take the demographic that has a high-school education or less. Among this group, our hypothetical number rises to just above 35%.

From childhood through to my adult life, I've heard more than a few stories about what an angry God is like. I've even known people who sincerely believed in bolts from the blue for such minor infractions as expressing skepticism of religion (Christianity, to be more precise). I'm fairly certain that you couldn't get them to march off to a war that they understood that might God disapprove of. Yet I must admit that a few of them were in the camp of "My country right or wrong," and more than willing to kill them all, and trust that God would know his own.

The most logical explanation that I can come up with is that, as in many things, we don't think about all of these things at the same time. In other words, we lack a "unified field theory" of our own beliefs, as it were. Likely because we don't think of these things as a package. Mention to people that 90% of people surveyed said that they considered it a their civic duty to always vote, but that voter turnout almost never gets to that level (for our upcoming primaries here in Washington State, about half that is expected), and people are well aware of the discrepancy and the disconnect it represents. But separate topics somewhat and the fact that they fall into different mental buckets means that most people have likely never considered the upshot.

One wonders what things would look like if we were better able to merge our philosophical buckets.

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