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Breaking Faith

The culture war over religious morality has faded; in its place is something much worse.

Over the past decade, pollsters charted something remarkable: Americans—long known for their piety—were fleeing organized religion in increasing numbers. The vast majority still believed in God. But the share that rejected any religious affiliation was growing fast, rising from 6 percent in 1992 to 22 percent in 2014. Among Millennials, the figure was 35 percent.

Some observers predicted that this new secularism would ease cultural conflict, as the country settled into a near-consensus on issues such as gay marriage. After Barack Obama took office, a Center for American Progress report declared that “demographic change,” led by secular, tolerant young people, was “undermining the culture wars.” In 2015, the conservative writer David Brooks, noting Americans’ growing detachment from religious institutions, urged social conservatives to “put aside a culture war that has alienated large parts of three generations.”

That was naive. Secularism is indeed correlated with greater tolerance of gay marriage and pot legalization. But it’s also making America’s partisan clashes more brutal. And it has contributed to the rise of both Donald Trump and the so-called alt-right movement, whose members see themselves as proponents of white nationalism. As Americans have left organized religion, they haven’t stopped viewing politics as a struggle between “us” and “them.” Many have come to define us and them in even more primal and irreconcilable ways.

When pundits describe the Americans who sleep in on Sundays, they often conjure left-leaning hipsters. But religious attendance is down among Republicans, too. According to data assembled for me by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), the percentage of white Republicans with no religious affiliation has nearly tripled since 1990. This shift helped Trump win the GOP nomination. During the campaign, commentators had a hard time reconciling Trump’s apparent ignorance of Christianity and his history of pro-choice and pro-gay-rights statements with his support from evangelicals. But as Notre Dame’s Geoffrey Layman noted, “Trump does best among evangelicals with one key trait: They don’t really go to church.” A Pew Research Center poll last March found that Trump trailed Ted Cruz by 15 points among Republicans who attended religious services every week. But he led Cruz by a whopping 27 points among those who did not.

Why did these religiously unaffiliated Republicans embrace Trump’s bleak view of America more readily than their churchgoing peers? Has the absence of church made their lives worse? Or are people with troubled lives more likely to stop attending services in the first place? Establishing causation is difficult, but we know that culturally conservative white Americans who are disengaged from church experience less economic success and more family breakdown than those who remain connected, and they grow more pessimistic and resentful. Since the early 1970s, according to W. Bradford Wilcox, a sociologist at the University of Virginia, rates of religious attendance have fallen more than twice as much among whites without a college degree as among those who graduated college. And even within the white working class, those who don’t regularly attend church are more likely to suffer from divorce, addiction, and financial distress. As Wilcox explains, “Many conservative, Protestant white men who are only nominally attached to a church struggle in today’s world. They have traditional aspirations but often have difficulty holding down a job, getting and staying married, and otherwise forging real and abiding ties in their community. The culture and economy have shifted in ways that have marooned them with traditional aspirations unrealized in their real-world lives.”

The worse Americans fare in their own lives, the darker their view of the country. According to PRRI, white Republicans who seldom or never attend religious services are 19 points less likely than white Republicans who attend at least once a week to say that the American dream “still holds true.”

But non-churchgoing conservatives didn’t flock to Trump only because he articulated their despair. He also articulated their resentments. For decades, liberals have called the Christian right intolerant. When conservatives disengage from organized religion, however, they don’t become more tolerant. They become intolerant in different ways. Research shows that evangelicals who don’t regularly attend church are less hostile to gay people than those who do. But they’re more hostile to African Americans, Latinos, and Muslims. In 2008, the University of Iowa’s Benjamin Knoll noted that among Catholics, mainline Protestants, and born-again Protestants, the less you attended church, the more anti-immigration you were. (This may be true in Europe as well. A recent thesis at Sweden’s Uppsala University, by an undergraduate named Ludvig Broomé, compared supporters of the far-right Swedish Democrats with people who voted for mainstream candidates. The former were less likely to attend church, or belong to any other community organization.)

How might religious nonattendance lead to intolerance? Although American churches are heavily segregated, it’s possible that the modest level of integration they provide promotes cross-racial bonds. In their book, Religion and Politics in the United States, Kenneth D. Wald and Allison Calhoun-Brown reference a different theory: that the most-committed members of a church are more likely than those who are casually involved to let its message of universal love erode their prejudices.

Whatever the reason, when cultural conservatives disengage from organized religion, they tend to redraw the boundaries of identity, de-emphasizing morality and religion and emphasizing race and nation. Trump is both a beneficiary and a driver of that shift.

So is the alt-right. Read Milo Yiannopoulos and Allum Bokhari’s famous Breitbart.com essay, “An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right.” It contains five references to “tribe,” seven to “race,” 13 to “the west” and “western” and only one to “Christianity.” That’s no coincidence. The alt-right is ultra-conservatism for a more secular age. Its leaders like Christendom, an old-fashioned word for the West. But they’re suspicious of Christianity itself, because it crosses boundaries of blood and soil. As a college student, the alt-right leader Richard Spencer was deeply influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche, who famously hated Christianity. Radix, the journal Spencer founded, publishes articles with titles like “Why I Am a Pagan.” One essay notes that “critics of Christianity on the Alternative Right usually blame it for its universalism.”

Secularization is transforming the left, too. In 1990, according to PRRI, slightly more than half of white liberals seldom or never attended religious services. Today the proportion is 73 percent. And if conservative nonattenders fueled Trump’s revolt inside the GOP, liberal nonattenders fueled Bernie Sanders’s insurgency against Hillary Clinton: While white Democrats who went to religious services at least once a week backed Clinton by 26 points, according to an April 2016 PRRI survey, white Democrats who rarely attended services backed Sanders by 13 points.

Sanders, like Trump, appealed to secular voters because he reflected their discontent. White Democrats who are disconnected from organized religion are substantially more likely than other white Democrats to call the American dream a myth. Secularism may not be the cause of this dissatisfaction, of course: It’s possible that losing faith in America’s political and economic system leads one to lose faith in organized religion. But either way, in 2016, the least religiously affiliated white Democrats—like the least religiously affiliated white Republicans—were the ones most likely to back candidates promising revolutionary change.

The decline of traditional religious authority is contributing to a more revolutionary mood within black politics as well. Although African Americans remain more likely than whites to attend church, religious disengagement is growing in the black community. African Americans under the age of 30 are three times as likely to eschew a religious affiliation as African Americans over 50. This shift is crucial to understanding Black Lives Matter, a Millennial-led protest movement whose activists often take a jaundiced view of established African American religious leaders. Brittney Cooper, who teaches women’s and gender studies as well as Africana studies at Rutgers, writes that the black Church “has been abandoned as the leadership model for this generation.” As Jamal Bryant, a minister at an AME church in Baltimore, told The Atlantic’s Emma Green, “The difference between the Black Lives Matter movement and the civil-rights movement is that the civil-rights movement, by and large, was first out of the Church.”

Black Lives Matter activists sometimes accuse the black Church of sexism, homophobia, and complacency in the face of racial injustice. For instance, Patrisse Cullors, one of the movement’s founders, grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness but says she became alienated by the fact that the elders were “all men.” In a move that faintly echoes the way some in the alt-right have traded Christianity for religious traditions rooted in pagan Europe, Cullors has embraced the Nigerian religion of Ifa. To be sure, her motivations are diametrically opposed to the alt-right’s. Cullors wants a spiritual foundation on which to challenge white, male supremacy; the pagans of the alt-right are looking for a spiritual basis on which to fortify it. But both are seeking religions rooted in racial ancestry and disengaging from Christianity—which, although profoundly implicated in America’s apartheid history, has provided some common vocabulary across the color line.

Critics say Black Lives Matter’s failure to employ Christian idiom undermines its ability to persuade white Americans. “The 1960s movement … had an innate respectability because our leaders often were heads of the black church,” Barbara Reynolds, a civil-rights activist and former journalist, wrote in The Washington Post. “Unfortunately, church and spirituality are not high priorities for Black Lives Matter, and the ethics of love, forgiveness and reconciliation that empowered black leaders such as King and Nelson Mandela in their successful quests to win over their oppressors are missing from this movement.” As evidence of “the power of the spiritual approach,” she cited the way family members of the parishioners murdered at Charleston’s Emanuel AME church forgave Dylann Roof for the crime, and thus helped persuade local politicians to remove the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s Capitol grounds.

Black Lives Matter’s defenders respond that they are not interested in making themselves “respectable” to white America, whether by talking about Jesus or wearing ties. (Of course, not everyone in the civil-rights movement was interested in respectability either.) That’s understandable. Reformists focus on persuading and forgiving those in power. Revolutionaries don’t.

Black Lives Matter activists may be justified in spurning an insufficiently militant Church. But when you combine their post-Christian perspective with the post-Christian perspective growing inside the GOP, it’s easy to imagine American politics becoming more and more vicious.

In his book Twilight of the Elites, the MSNBC host Chris Hayes divides American politics between “institutionalists,” who believe in preserving and adapting the political and economic system, and “insurrectionists,” who believe it’s rotten to the core. The 2016 election represents an extraordinary shift in power from the former to the latter. The loss of manufacturing jobs has made Americans more insurrectionist. So have the Iraq War, the financial crisis, and a black president’s inability to stop the police from killing unarmed African Americans. And so has disengagement from organized religion.

Maybe it’s the values of hierarchy, authority, and tradition that churches instill. Maybe religion builds habits and networks that help people better weather national traumas, and thus retain their faith that the system works. For whatever reason, secularization isn’t easing political conflict. It’s making American politics even more convulsive and zero-sum.

For years, political commentators dreamed that the culture war over religious morality that began in the 1960s and ’70s would fade. It has. And the more secular, more ferociously national and racial culture war that has followed is worse.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

By PETER BEINART in The Atlantic and published in its April 2017 edition and can be found here.

Studies Are Usually Bunk, Study Shows

An interesting detail went overlooked in the fury over fired Google engineer James Damore ’s “diversity memo.” At the end of the document he calls for an end to mandatory “Unconscious Bias training.” Large corporations often force employees into re-education classes, this one a dull, hourlong, 41-slide seminar supported by study after study. Can these studies be trusted? Doubtful. Hands down, the two most dangerous words in the English language today are “studies show.”

The world is inundated with the manipulation of flighty studies to prove some larger point about mankind in the name of behavioral science. Pop psychologists have churned out mountains of books proving some intuitive point that turns out to be wrong. It’s “sciencey,” with a whiff of (false) authenticity.

Malcolm Gladwell is the master. In his 2008 book, “Outlier,” he argues that studies show no one is born better than anyone else. Instead success comes to those who put in 10,000 hours of practice. That does sound right, but maybe Steph Curry shoots hoops for 10,000 hours because he is better than everyone at basketball in the first place. Meanwhile I watch 10,000 hours of TV. Facing criticism, Mr. Gladwell somewhat recanted: “In cognitively demanding fields, there are no naturals.” News alert: Professional sports are cognitively demanding.

Many of the studies quoted in newspaper articles and pop-psychology books are one-offs anyway. In August 2015, the Center for Open Science published a study in which 270 researchers spent four years trying to reproduce 100 leading psychology experiments. They successfully replicated only 39. Yes, I see the irony of a study debunking a study, but add to this a Nature survey of 1,576 scientists published last year. “More than 70% of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist’s experiments,” the survey report concludes. “And more than half have failed to reproduce their own experiments.”

Bunk medical studies are worrisome, but who really cares about pop behavioral science? It’s easy to write this off as trivial, except millions take these studies and their conclusions seriously. The 2008 book “Nudge,” from academics Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, called for “libertarian paternalism” to push people in the right direction. But who decides what’s the right direction? Turns out the answer is Mr. Sunstein. He was hired by the Obama administration in 2009 to run the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Call it psychobabble authoritarianism.

In his best seller “Blink,” Mr. Gladwell finds studies suggesting we are all unconsciously biased sexists, racists, genderists, ableists, and a litany of other “ists”—victimhood’s origin story. Newer research has deflated this theory, but the serious conclusions, and boring training seminars they inevitably lead to, remain. In her first debate against Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton channeled her inner Malcolm Gladwell and declared: “Implicit bias is a problem for everyone, not just police.” Everyone? Speak for yourself. It’s as if she called an entire slice of society deplorable.

Psych labs are being replaced. In the past decade, companies have built vast platforms to probe, test and study humans every time they search, like or snap. Google runs what are called Split A/B tests, dividing users into groups and testing usability and other features to see what works best. In 2014, Facebook caused a bit of a stir after altering 689,000 users’ newsfeeds to see if the company could manipulate their emotions. It could. Good or bad, this is the future of studies.

The world is not binary, but conclusions drawn from studies always are. These studies show whatever someone wants them to. So stay skeptical and remember: Correlation doesn’t equal causation. If only I could find a study that shows this.

Mr. Kessler writes on technology and markets for the Journal.

Copyright ©2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Appeared in the August 14, 2017, print edition of the Wall Street Journal and can be found here.

Family Law Tip: Child Support Paid by the Primary Custodian?

I post some tips regarding family to my Linkedin page (see here) from time to time, and I thought I should start sharing them here too. Below is one of my family law tips, and you can read my articles on family law here and other posts on family law here and all are cataloged here.

Bums

Living the low-stakes life

I have lost touch with my friend Mark, and, assuming he is alive, it will be some work to track him down, because he is periodically homeless or semi-homeless. My first impression was that his economic condition was mainly the result of his having been for many years a pretty good addict and a pretty poor motorcyclist, a combination that had predictable neurological consequences. I never knew Mark “before” — there is something in such men as Mark suggesting an irrevocably bifurcated life — but the better I got to know him, the more I came to believe that he probably had been much the same man, but functional, or at least functional enough.

Part of it was an act, but not all of it. If you saw him on the street and called his name, he’d spin around on you, fists balled up, half enraged and half afraid, ready to fight, until he recognized you, which could sometimes take a few seconds longer than it should have. But then he was all smiles and wry commentary on the passers-by and the police. He’d gesture at passing police cars (he lived about two blocks from the police station) and say, “They all know me,” which was true. We talked about motorcycles and his longing to ride again, and he’d explain to me all the reasons why that was never, ever going to happen. “They’d lock me up,” he’d say darkly, which also was true. He’d sometimes ask to borrow mine, and I’d explain to him all the reasons why that was never, ever going to happen. “You’re a maniac.” This was an approved line of argument. “That’s right!” he’d thunder. Maniac was fine, but he objected to lunatic. He didn’t like bum very much, either, but he was a realist.

A 20-year-old man with adequate shelter, cheap food, computer games, weed, and a girlfriend is apt to be pretty content.

Necessity used to be what forced us to grow up. That was the stick, and sex was the carrot, and between the two of them young men were forced/inspired to get off their asses, go to work, and start families of their own from time immemorial until the day before yesterday. A 20-year-old man with adequate shelter, cheap food, computer games, weed, and a girlfriend is apt to be pretty content. Some of them understand that there is more to life than that, but some do not. David Foster Wallace’s great terror in Infinite Jest was entertainment so engrossing that those consuming it simply stopped doing anything else. (Is it necessary to issue a spoiler alert for a 1,000-page novel that’s 20 years old? Well, spoiler alert: It’s Québécois separatists.) He revisited the idea later in “Datum Centurio,” which is one of the all-time great short stories, one that is written in the form of a dictionary entry from the future for the word “date.” Over the course of the definition (and the inevitable footnotes), we learn that pornography has become so immersive in the future that conventional sexual behavior has been restricted entirely to procreation. The final footnote reads: “Cf. Catholic dogma, perverse vindication of.”

Tyler Cowen considers some of this in his new book, The Complacent Class, in which he argues (in the words of Walter Russell Meade’s review) that “the apparent stability of American society . . . is an illusion: behind the placid façade, technological change and global competition have combined with domestic discontent to bring forth a new age of disruption.”

By Kevin D. Williamson and published in National Review on February 26, 2017 and can be found here.

A Spectral Witness Materializes

The Salem witch trials turned on what was called “spectral evidence.” That was testimony from witnesses—either malicious or hysterical—who claimed the accused had assumed the form of a black cat or some other devilish creature and had come visiting in the night in order to torment the witness with bites and scratches, or to rearrange the bedroom furniture, or to send the baby into paroxysms.

The judge, William Stoughton, admitted this nonsense into evidence. Hysterical fantasies had real consequences: Sarah Good and four other defendants were hanged on July 19, 1692.

Three hundred twenty-six years later, an anonymous woman—a spectral and possibly nonexistent woman, for all that one knew when the story emerged—accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her 36 years ago, when he was a high-school student. It seemed as if the American constitutional process might be drawn back to the neighborhood of Salem, Mass. According to this phantom testimony, 17-year-old Brett held the girl down, pawed her and tried to force himself upon her, and held his hand over her mouth when she screamed, until a second prep-school devil piled on top, they all tumbled to the floor, and the girl managed to slip away. The boys were “stumbling drunk,” according to the account.

You were supposed to feel the sudden wind-shear of hypocrisy. The nominee was a seeming paragon—perfect father and husband and coach of his daughters’ basketball teams. He is a Roman Catholic with an Irish name, but now the script became as gleefully Calvinist as a Hawthorne tale. What imp of hell had possessed the Kavanaugh boy? The Protestant tale seemed to obtain subliminal verification against the background of Catholic sex-abuse scandals.

Thus the constitutional process takes on an aspect of the 21st-century medieval. The accuser’s story first emerged in a letter that came into the hands of California Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Ms. Feinstein brought it to light only after the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing, which featured somewhat Salem-like drama—costumed apparitions from “The Handmaid’s Tale” arranging themselves outside the committee room; inarticulate background screams of people being led away for disrupting the proceedings. It seemed as if Ms. Feinstein, not liking the odds of defeating Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation, had found a devilishly clever way to head it off after all.

But then the accuser materialized, in the form of a 51-year-old California professor of clinical psychology, Christine Blasey Ford.

What to make of it now? The tale became a lot less spectral. Still, there had been no police report, and there were no witnesses. The second boy allegedly in the room said he had no memory of such an incident and called the accusation “absolutely nuts.” Judge Kavanaugh flatly denied it. Her therapist’s notes from 30 years later are not objective reporting, merely a transcription of what Ms. Ford herself said.

The thing happened—if it happened—an awfully long time ago, back in Ronald Reagan’s time, when the actors in the drama were minors and (the boys, anyway) under the blurring influence of alcohol and adolescent hormones. No clothes were removed, and no sexual penetration occurred. The sin, if there was one, was not one of those that Catholic theology calls peccata clamantia—sins that cry to heaven for vengeance.

The offense alleged is not nothing, by any means. It is ugly, and stupid more than evil, one might think, but trauma is subjective and hard to parse legally. Common sense is a little hard put to know what to make of the episode, if it happened. The dust of 36 years has settled over the memory. The passage of time sometimes causes people to forget; sometimes it causes them to invent or embellish. Invention takes on bright energies when its muse is politics, which is the Olympics of illusion. Inevitably, people will sort the matter out along mostly partisan lines. A lot will depend upon the testimony of Ms. Ford, who has volunteered to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee. If the left expects a windfall from all this in November, it may find itself instead the victim of a terrific backlash.

These are part of the 21st century’s strange sectarian struggles. In another Senate hearing a year ago, Ms. Feinstein addressed Amy Coney Barrett, a Notre Dame law professor, about her nomination to the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Ms. Feinstein began fretting earnestly about the nominee’s Catholicism. “The dogma lives loud within you,” the senator told the professor—an oddly mystical locution.

But 21st-century progressivism is also a religion—a militant faith, a true church in nearly all important respects. It is a community of belief and shared values, with dogmas, heresies, sacraments and fanatics; with saints it reveres and devils it abhors, starting with the great Satan Donald Trump. If religion were to disqualify a Catholic from public service, it would logically have to disqualify a practicing progressive, who is the creature of a belief system that is, on the whole, considerably more dogmatic than the one with headquarters in Rome.

By Lance Morrow , a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is a former essayist for Ti

Published in the Wall Street Journal on September 17, 2018 (see here) and Wealth Creates Good on September 18, 2018 (see here).

3rd Circuit Upholds Cross On County Seal

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In one of the first cases to rely on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June rejecting an Establishment Clause challenge to the 94-year old Bladensburg Cross, the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday rejected a challenge to a Latin cross on the 75-year old official seal of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. In Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. v. County of Lehigh(3d Cir., Aug. 8, 2019), the 3rd Circuit said in part:

American Legion confirms that Lemon does not apply to “religious references or imagery in public monuments, symbols, mottos, displays, and ceremonies.”… Instead, informed by four considerations, the Court adopted “a strong presumption of constitutionality” for “established, religiously expressive monuments, symbols, and practices.”…

WFMZ News reports on the decision.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Family Law Tip: Settlements or Awards and Divorce

I post some tips regarding family to my Linkedin page (see here) from time to time, and I thought I should start sharing them here too. Below is one of my family law tips, and you can read my articles on family law here and other posts on family law here and all are cataloged here.

Court Refuses To Order Return of WWII Remains To Supposed Next-of-Kin

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Patterson v. Defense POW/ MIA Accounting Agency, (WD TX, July 29, 2019), a Texas federal district court refused to order return to plaintiffs of the remains of seven servicemen who were killed or perished as POW’s in the Philippines in World War II.  The court explains:

The parties dispute the extent to which the remains are identified. Plaintiffs argue that they have a property interest in these remains and that Defendants’ retention of these remains impinges on Plaintiffs’ religious practices and Plaintiffs’ interest in securing proper burial.

The court rejected plaintiffs’ due process, 4th Amendment, free exercise and RFRA claims to the remains at issue, saying in part:

They state “the facts alleged in the Amended Complaint show that the Government has placed a substantial burden on the Families’ exercise of religion.”…

The record reveals nothing further about Plaintiffs’ religious beliefs or how Defendants have burdened them. Plaintiffs do not indicate the nature, substance, or contours of their beliefs, or even whether all Plaintiffs share the same religious beliefs. In the complaint, Plaintiffs allege that a “proper burial is essential for many practicing Christians,” but they produce no declarations or other evidence outlining these beliefs. Defendants thus contest whether Plaintiffs’ beliefs are sincerely held.

The Court is inclined to grant summary judgment on the sincerity grounds … given Plaintiffs’ total lack of evidence. Courts have cautioned, however, that “[t]hough the sincerity inquiry is important, it must be handled with a light touch….

In keeping with this tradition … the Court assumes Plaintiffs show sincerely held beliefs and concludes alternatively that Plaintiffs do not show a substantial interference with these beliefs. As Defendants note, Plaintiffs allege only that their beliefs require a “proper burial,” but without any explanation of what makes a “proper burial in accordance with each respective family’s religious beliefs,” the Court cannot assess the alleged interference…. Thus, Plaintiffs do not meet their initial burden for either their RFRA or Free Exercise claims.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Science Is Giving the Pro-Life Movement a Boost

Advocates are tracking new developments in neonatal research and technology—and transforming one of America’s most contentious debates.

A 1980s March for Life protest in front of the White House COURTESY OF MARCH FOR LIFE
The first time Ashley McGuire had a baby, she and her husband had to wait 20 weeks to learn its sex. By her third, they found out at 10 weeks with a blood test. Technology has defined her pregnancies, she told me, from the apps that track weekly development to the ultrasounds that show the growing child. “My generation has grown up under an entirely different world of science and technology than the Roe generation,” she said. “We’re in a culture that is science-obsessed.”

Each weekday evening, get an overview of the day’s biggest news, along with fascinating ideas, images, and voices.

Activists like McGuire believe it makes perfect sense to be pro-science and pro-life. While she opposes abortion on moral grounds, she believes studies of fetal development, improved medical techniques, and other advances anchor the movement’s arguments in scientific fact. “The pro-life message has been, for the last 40-something years, that the fetus … is a life, and it is a human life worthy of all the rights the rest of us have,” she said. “That’s been more of an abstract concept until the last decade or so.” But, she added, “when you’re seeing a baby sucking its thumb at 18 weeks, smiling, clapping,” it becomes “harder to square the idea that that 20-week-old, that unborn baby or fetus, is discardable.”

Scientific progress is remaking the debate around abortion. When the U.S. Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, the case that led the way to legal abortion, it pegged most fetuses’ chance of viable life outside the womb at 28 weeks; after that point, it ruled, states could reasonably restrict women’s access to the procedure. Now, with new medical techniques, doctors are debating whether that threshold should be closer to 22 weeks. Like McGuire, today’s prospective moms and dads can learn more about their baby earlier into a pregnancy than their parents or grandparents. And like McGuire, when they see their fetus on an ultrasound, they may see humanizing qualities like smiles or claps, even if most scientists see random muscle movements.

These advances fundamentally shift the moral intuition around abortion. New technology makes it easier to apprehend the humanity of a growing child and imagine a fetus as a creature with moral status. Over the last several decades, pro-life leaders have increasingly recognized this and rallied the power of scientific evidence to promote their cause. They have built new institutions to produce, track, and distribute scientifically crafted information on abortion. They hungrily follow new research in embryology. They celebrate progress in neonatology as a means to save young lives. New science is “instilling a sense of awe that we never really had before at any point in human history,” McGuire said. “We didn’t know any of this.”

In many ways, this represents a dramatic reversal; pro-choice activists have long claimed science for their own side. The Guttmacher Institute, a research and advocacy organization that defends abortion and reproductive rights, has exercised a near-monopoly over the data of abortion, serving as a source for supporters and opponents alike. And the pro-choice movement’s rhetoric has matched its resources: Its proponents often describe themselves as the sole defenders of women’s welfare and scientific consensus. The idea that life begins at conception “goes against legal precedent, science, and public opinion,” said Ilyse Hogue, the president of the abortion-advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice America, in a recent op-ed for CNBC. Members of the pro-life movement are “not really anti-abortion,” she wrote in another piece. “They are against [a] world where women can contribute equally and chart our own destiny in ways our grandmothers never thought possible.”

In their own way, both movements have made the same play: Pro-life and pro-choice activists have come to see scientific evidence as the ultimate tool in the battle over abortion rights. But in recent years, pro-life activists have been more successful in using that tool to shift the terms of the policy debate. Advocates have introduced research on the question of fetal pain and whether abortion harms women’s health to great effect in courtrooms and legislative chambers, even when they cite studies selectively and their findings are fiercely contested by other members of the academy.

Not everyone in the pro-life movement agrees with this strategic shift. Some believe new scientific findings might work against them. Others warn that overreliance on scientific evidence could erode the strong moral logic at the center of their cause. The biggest threat of all, however, is not the potential damage to a particular movement. When scientific research becomes subordinate to political ends, facts are weaponized. Neither side trusts the information produced by their ideological enemies; reality becomes relative.

Abortion has always stood apart from other topics of political debate in American culture. It has remained morally contested in a way that other social issues have not, at least in part because it asks Americans to answer unimaginably serious questions about the nature of human life. But perhaps this ambiguity, this scrambling of traditional left-right politics, was always unsustainable. Perhaps it was inevitable that abortion would go the way of the rest of American politics, with two sides that share nothing lobbing claims of fact across a no-man’s land of moral debate.

When Colleen Malloy, a neonatologist and faculty member at Northwestern University, discusses abortion with her colleagues, she says, “it’s kind of like the emperor is not wearing any clothes.” Medical teams spend enormous effort, time, and money to deliver babies safely and nurse premature infants back to health. Yet physicians often support abortion, even late into fetal development.

As medical techniques have become increasingly sophisticated, Malloy said, she has felt this tension acutely: A handful of medical centers in major cities can now perform surgeries on genetically abnormal fetuses while they’re still in the womb. Many are the same age as the small number of fetuses aborted in the second or third trimesters of a mother’s pregnancy. “The more I advanced in my field of neonatology, the more it just became the logical choice to recognize the developing fetus for what it is: a fetus, instead of some sort of sub-human form,” Malloy said. “It just became so obvious that these were just developing humans.”

Malloy is one of many doctors and scientists who have gotten involved in the political debate over abortion. She has testified before legislative bodies about fetal pain—the claim that fetuses can experience physical suffering, perhaps even prior to the point of viability outside the womb—and written letters to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.

Her career also shows the tight twine between the science and politics of abortion. In addition to her work at Northwestern, Malloy has produced work for the Charlotte Lozier Institute, a relatively new D.C. think tank that seeks to bring “the power of science, medicine, and research to bear in life-related policymaking, media, and debates.” The organization, which employs a number of doctors and scholars on its staff, shares an office with Susan B. Anthony List, a prominent pro-life advocacy organization.

“I don’t think it compromises my objectivity, or any of our associate scholars,” said David Prentice, the institute’s vice president and research director. Prentice spent years of his career as a professor at Indiana State University and at the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group founded by James Dobson. “Any time there’s an association with an advocacy group, people are going to make assumptions,” he said. “What we have to do is make our best effort to show that we’re trying to put the objective science out here.”

This desire to harness “objective science” is at the heart of the pro-science bent in the pro-life movement: Science is a source of authority that’s often treated as unimpeachable fact. “The cultural authority of science has become so totalitarian, so imperial, that everybody has to have science on their side in order to win a debate,” said Mark Largent, a historian of science at Michigan State University.

Some pro-life advocates worry about the potential consequences of overemphasizing the authority of science in abortion debates. “The question of whether the embryo or fetus is a person … is not answerable by science,” said Daniel Sulmasy, a professor of biomedical ethics at Georgetown University and former Franciscan friar. “Both sides tend to use scientific information when it is useful towards making a point that is based on … firmly and sincerely held philosophical and religious convictions.”

For all the ways that the pro-life movement might be seen as countering today’s en vogue sexual politics, its obsession with science is squarely of the moment. “We’ve become steeped in a culture in which only the data matter, and that makes us, in some ways, philosophically illiterate,” said Sulmasy, who is also a doctor. “We really don’t have the tools anymore for thinking and arguing outside of something that can be scientifically verified.”

Sometimes, scientific discoveries have worked against the pro-life movement’s goals. Jérôme Lejeune, a French scientist and devout Catholic, helped discover the cause of Down syndrome. He was horrified that prenatal diagnosis of the disease often led women to terminate their pregnancies, however, and spent much of his career advocating against abortion. Lejeune eventually became the founding president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, established in 1994 to navigate the moral and theological questions raised by scientific advances against a “‘culture of death’ that threatens to take control.”

When scientific evidence seems to undermine pro-life positions on issues such as birth control and in vitro fertilization, pro-lifers’ enthusiasm for research sometimes wanes. For example: Some people believe emergency contraception, also known as the morning-after pill or Plan B, is an abortifacient, meaning it may end pregnancies. Because the pill can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman’s uterus, advocates argue, it could end a human life.

Sulmasy, who openly identifies as pro-life, has argued against this view of the drug—and found it difficult to reach his peers in the movement. “It’s been very difficult to convince folks within the pro-life community that the science seems to be … suggesting that [Plan B] is not abortifacient,” he said. “They are too readily dismissing that work as being motivated by advocacy.”

And at a basic level, the argument for abortion is also framed in scientific terms: The procedures are “gynecological services, and they’re health-care services,” Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, says. This alone is enough to make even gung ho pro-life advocates wary. “Science for science’s sake is not necessarily good,” said McGuire, who serves as a senior fellow at the Catholic Association. “If anything, that’s what gave us abortion. … When the moral and human ethics are removed from it, it’s considered a medical procedure.”

Even with all these internal debates and complications, many in the pro-life movement feel optimistic that scientific advances are ultimately on their side. “Science is a practice of using systematic methods to study our world, including what human organisms are in their early states,” said Farr Curlin, a physician who holds joint appointments at Duke University’s schools of medicine and divinity. “I don’t see any way it’s not an ally to the pro-life cause.”

Pro-lifers’ enthusiasm for science isn’t always reciprocated by scientists—sometimes, quite the opposite. Last summer, Vincent Reid, a professor of psychology at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom, published a paper showing that late-development fetuses prefer to look at face-like images while they’re in the womb, just like newborn infants. As Reid told The Atlantic’s Ed Yong, the study “tells us that the fetus isn’t a passive processor of environmental information. It’s an active responder.”

After his research was published, Reid suddenly found himself showered with praise from American pro-life advocates. “I had a few people contacting me, congratulating me on my great work, and then giving a kind of religious overtone to it,” he told me. “They’d finish off by saying, ‘Bless you,’ this sort of thing.” Pro-life advocates interpreted his findings as evidence that abortion is wrong, even though Reid was studying fetuses in their third trimester, which account for only a tiny fraction of abortions, he said. “It clearly resonated with them because they had a preconceived notion of what that science means.”

Reid found the experience perplexing. “I’m very proud of what I did … because it made genuine advances in our understanding of human development,” he said. “It’s frustrating that people take something which actually has no relevance to the position of anti-abortion or pro-abortion and try to use it … in a way that’s been pre-ordained.” He’s not going to stop doing his research on fetal development, he said. But he “will probably be a bit more heavy, perhaps, in my anticipation of how it’s going to be misused.”

This fate is nearly impossible to avoid in any field that remotely touches on abortion or origin-of-life issues. “There [are] no people who are just sitting in a lab, working on their projects,” said O. Carter Snead, a professor of law and political science at Notre Dame who served as general counsel to President George W. Bush’s Council of Bioethics. “Everybody is politicized.” This is true even of researchers like Reid, who was blindsided by the reaction to his findings. “You can’t do this and not get sucked into somebody’s orbit,” said Largent, the Michigan State professor. “Everyone’s going to take your work and use it for their ends. If you’re going to do this, you either decide who’s going to get to use your work, or it’s done to you.”

That can have a chilling effect on scientists who work in sensitive areas related to conception or death. Abortion is “the third-rail of research,” said Debra Mathews, an associate professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins who also has responsibility for science programs at the university’s bioethics institute.* “If you touch it, your research becomes associated with that debate.” Although the abortion debate is important, she said, it can be intimidating for researchers: “It tends to envelop whatever it touches.”

As often as not, scientists dive into the debate, taking funding from pro-life or pro-choice organizations or openly advancing an ideological position. This, too, has consequences: It casts doubt on the validity and integrity of any researcher in bioethics-related fields. “Anybody with money can get a scientist to say what they want them to say,” said Largent. “That’s not because scientists are whores. It’s because the world is a really complex place, and there are ways that you can craft a scientific investigation to lend credence to one side or another.”

This can have a fun-house-mirror effect on the scientific debate, with scholars on both sides constantly criticizing the methodological shortcomings of their opponents and coming to opposite conclusions. For example: Priscilla Coleman is a professor at Bowling Green State University who studies the mental-health effects of abortion. Coleman has testified before Congress, and pro-life advocates cite her as an important scholar working on this issue. At least some of her work, however, has been challenged repeatedly by others in her field: When she published a paper on the connection between abortion and anxiety, mood, and substance-abuse disorders in 2009, for instance, a number of scholars suggested her research design led her to draw false conclusions. She and her co-author claimed they had only made a weighting error and published a corrigendum, or corrected update. But ultimately, the author of the dataset Coleman used concluded that her “analysis does not support … assertions that abortions led to psychopathology.”

“If the results are questionable or not reproducible, then the study gets retracted. That’s what happens in science,” Coleman said in an interview. “The bottom line was that the pattern of the findings did not change.” She expressed frustration at media reports that questioned her work. “I’m so past trying to defend myself in these types of articles,” she said. “To me, there isn’t anything much worse than distorting science for an agenda, when the ultimate impact falls on these women who spend years and years suffering.”

At least in one respect, she is correct: Her opponents often do have affiliations with the pro-choice movement. In this case, one of the researchers questioning her work was associated with the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion organization. In an email, Lawrence Finer, the co-author who serves as Guttmacher’s vice president for research, said that Coleman’s results were simply not reproducible. While Guttmacher advocates for abortion rights, the difference, Finer claimed, is that it places a priority on transparency and integrity—which, he implied, the other side does not. “It’s actually not difficult to distinguish neutral analysis from advocacy,” he wrote in an email. “The way that’s done is by making one’s analytical methods transparent and by submitting one’s analysis—‘neutral’ or not—to peer review. No researcher—no person, for that matter—is neutral; everyone has an opinion. What matters is whether the researcher’s methods are appropriate and reproducible.”

“There is a false equivalence between the science and what [Coleman] does,” added Julia Steinberg, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health and Finer’s co-author, in an email. “It’s not a debate, the way global warming is not a debate. There are people claiming global warming is not occurring, but scientists have compelling evidence that it is occurring. Similarly, there are people like Coleman, claiming abortion harms women’s mental health, but the scientists have compelling evidence that this is not occurring.”

Yet, even the academy that establishes and promotes transparent methodologies for science research has its own institutional biases. Since support for legal abortion rights is commonly seen as a neutral position in the academy, said Sulmasy, openly pro-life scholars may have a harder time getting their colleagues to take their work seriously. “If an article is written by somebody who … is affiliated with a pro-life group or has a known pro-life stand on it, that scientific evaluation is typically dismissed as advocacy,” he said. “Prevailing prejudices within academia and media” determine “what gets considered to be advocacy and what is considered to be scientifically valid.”

Pro-life optimists believe those biases might be changing—or, at least, they hope they’ve captured the territory of scientific authority. As the former NARAL president Kate Michelman told Newsweek in 2010, “The technology has clearly helped to define how people think about a fetus as a full, breathing human being … The other side has been able to use the technology to its own end.” In recent years, this has been the biggest change in the abortion debate, said Jeanne Mancini, the president of March for Life: Pro-choice advocates have largely given on up on the argument that fetuses are “lifeless blobs of tissue.”

“There had been, a long time ago, this mantra from our friends on the other side of this issue that, while a little one is developing in its mother’s womb, it’s not a baby,” she said. “It’s really hard to make that argument when you see and hear a heartbeat and watch little hands moving around.”

Ultimately, this is the pro-life movement’s reason for framing its cause in scientific terms: The best argument for protecting life in the womb is found in the common sense of fetal heartbeats and swelling stomachs. “The pro-life movement has always been a movement aimed at cultivating the moral imagination so people can understand why we should care about human beings in the womb,” said Snead, the Notre Dame professor. “Science has been used, for a long time, as a bridge to that moral imagination.”

Now, the pro-life movement has successfully brought their scientific rallying cry to Capitol Hill. In a recent promotional video for the Charlotte Lozier Institute, Republican legislators spoke warmly about how data helps make the case for limiting abortion. “When we have very difficult topics that we need to talk about, the Charlotte Lozier Institute gives credibility to the testimony and to the information that we’re giving others,” said Tennessee Representative Diane Black. Representative Claudia Tenney of New York agreed: “We’re winning on facts, and we’re winning hearts and minds on science.”

This, above all, represents the shift in America’s abortion debate: An issue that has long been argued in normative claims about the nature of human life and women’s autonomy has shifted toward a wobbly empirical debate. As Tenney suggested, it is a move made with an eye toward winning—on policy, on public opinion, and, ultimately, in courtrooms. The side effect of this strategy, however, is ever deeper politicization and entrenchment. A deliberative democracy where even basic facts aren’t shared isn’t much of a democracy at all. It’s more of an exhausting tug-of-war, where the side with the most money and the best credentials is declared the winner.

* This article has been updated to clarify that Mathews helps run science programs at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, rather than the institute itself.

By Emma Green and published in January 18, 2018 in The Atlantic and can be found here.

11th Circuit: Inmate’s Complaint About Halal-Compliant Food Can Move Ahead

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Robbins v. Robertson(11th Cir., July 23, 2019), the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals held that a Muslim inmate’s 1st Amendment claim regarding the adequacy of his religious diet should not be dismissed, saying in part:

Plaintiff also made some non-conclusory allegations that plausibly supported his claim that the Islamic-compliant vegan meals were so nutritionally deficient that he was forced to choose between abandoning his religious precepts (by eating religiously non-compliant food that was nutritionally adequate) or suffering serious health consequences (by eating nutritionally inadequate food that was religiously compliant).

You can learn more about this issue here.

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