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Posts Tagged ‘behavior

Cultural Differences in Moral Reasoning

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013. Published version here.]

Cultural differences in moral reasoning are driven by various influences — history, leadership, religious belief, experiences with peace and warfare, available resources and the strategies for extracting and distributing those resources. These cultural differences are not limited to the scale of nations. There can also be differences in the culture and moral reasoning between schools, communities, companies, even families. Moral reasoning has a way of adapting to or being shaped by people’s needs and perceptions.

Absolutes vs. Relativism
There’s an ongoing, cross-cultural debate on whether moral values are absolute or relative. Are there universal morals that apply to all regardless of culture, or are moral values a negotiation between the environment, natural selection and social conditions? It’s a hotly debated topic, but clearly moral reasoning diverges among cultures. In some areas, gay marriage is accepted and not in others. Some countries permit personal firearm ownership, in others you can be jailed. The same is true for possession of certain plants.

National Differences
Overpopulation has led China to impose some restrictions on family size. Today it has over 1.35 billion people and most Chinese live with an average density of 326 people per square mile. People living at that density calls for, and perhaps requires, a moral system that emphasizes cooperation and harmony — exactly what Confucianism teaches. In China, conditions and moral reasoning lead to limits on family size.

In Russia, conditions and moral reasoning lead to an opposite conclusion. Russia’s population density is slightly below 14 people per square mile, with about 143 million total population. Government policy encourages families to have as many children as they can (which also requires cooperation and harmony).

Japan’s situation is complex. They face a rapidly aging population and steep decline in fertility, in part because strong Confucian values demand marriage before children, but marriage rates are dismally low. Japan is caught between cultural values and an inevitable economic decline unless fertility and immigration increase; thus Japanese moral reasoning is now forced to resolve this conflict to maintain national prosperity.

Economic Differences
Consider a simplified example of conflicting interests between a factory owner and a farmer. To remain in business, the factory owner must balance costs and expenses. This may mean discharging pollutants in the atmosphere because it is the lowest-cost way to eliminate wastes. If costs are not well-controlled, the factory could fail and people would lose jobs. From this perspective, cost control is a moral good.

From a farmer’s perspective, if crops are contaminated by mercury particulates from the factory, the moral good of cost control becomes the evil of food poisoning. Similarly, an agricultural society will have a different moral perspective on some issues than an industrial society. Cultural values — morals — tend to dovetail with practical needs.

On the issue of global warming, there’s a clear clash between the view in academic culture, which is driven by several lines of evidence pointing toward anthropogenic climate change, and the views of fossil fuel and other industries, a culture that tends to combat any conclusion that will affect profits. When scientific facts and self-interest diverge, the effect on moral reasoning is illuminating.

Humanitarian Differences
Cultures vary in how they value others in their midst. Slavery is a stark example, and had its advocates. It is now widely condemned, yet persists in the form of human trafficking, or sex slavery. Sexual slavery victims tend to flow from economically insecure areas to regions of relative stability. When times are hard, the young women who comprise the majority of victims can be manipulated and entrapped with promises of phony jobs. Some locales, most famously Bangkok and Amsterdam, tolerate the sex trade by reasoning that it’s a matter between consenting adults. This blurs the line between consent and coercion and complicates enforcement against human trafficking.

Social Stratification
Other forms of devaluation persist, cutting across lines of ethnicity, gender, age and disability, resulting in societies stratified by economic class (U.S.), social castes (India, Pakistan) and ethnicity (U.S, Japan). Social stratification is inherently hierarchical, a pre-rational behavioral pattern, and proactive moral reasoning is working to reduce it through affirmative action programs in the U.S. and India.

Moral reasoning varies by culture in accordance with what the culture values. As noted American author Robert A. Heinlein pointed out, “Man is not a rational animal. He is a rationalizing animal.” It’s clear that moral values are relative in practice. If there are also absolute universal moral values, no clear consensus has yet emerged that identifies them.

Written by Influential Prose

June 26, 2015 at 3:20 am

Why Parents Shouldn’t Be Able to Refuse Medical Treatment for an Ill Child

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013]

Legally, refusal to provide or access medical care for children can be termed medical neglect. According to the latest available national statistics, documented child abuse and neglect in 2011 affected more than 675,000 children, or nearly 1 in a 100 kids. On average, 3 percent was stemmed from medical neglect in 41 reporting states. Some states average higher. Arkansas’ medical neglect rate is 7.5 percent, while the District of Columbia, Georgia, New York and Puerto Rico all average about 5 percent. The lowest rates are in Delaware and Utah at 0.04 percent and 0.02 percent respectively, plus both Wisconsin and Nebraska at 0.01 percent.

Causes
Medical neglect can have several causes, including economic hardship, lack of access to care or health insurance, family chaos and disorganization, lack of awareness, knowledge or skills, lack of trust in health care workers, impairment of caregivers, caregivers’ beliefs and children’s behavior, according to a 2007 article in the journal “Pediatrics.” Of these causes, two can involve active refusal of care: caregivers’ belief systems and children’s behavior.

Legal Exceptions
In most instances, medical neglect is legally actionable. The exception is faith-based exemptions, which are written into law in most states, according to Childhealthcare.org. These exemptions vary in scope. Forty-eight states permit exemption from immunization programs. Most states permit exemption from metabolic testing of newborns that can detect developmental problems, including some that can be prevented with treatment. Ten states have religious exemptions for eyedrops that can help prevent blindness in children who contact a venereal disease carried by their mothers. Seventeen states have religious exemptions to felony crimes against children.

Consequences
A study titled “Child Fatalities from Religion-Motivated Medical Neglect” in the American Academy of Pediatrics journal found that of 172 cases of child fatalities attributed to faith-based medical neglect, 140 had excellent (90 percent positive) prognosis with standard treatment. Many of the remaining 32 children were treatable, with good outcomes likely. The consequences of not participating in immunization programs can be widespread. In 1991, “The New York Times” reported on an outbreak of 492 measles cases in Philadelphia that led to the deaths of six children, two of them unrelated to the Faith Tabernacle and First Century Gospel churches at the center of the outbreak. A later check of the Faith Tabernacle school found 201 of the children in attendance had never seen a doctor.

Prevention
Most faith-based cases of medical neglect leading to illness and death are preventable. The nonprofit educational charity Children’s Health Care Is a Legal Duty lists other treatable conditions that resulted in the deaths of children in the care of Christian Science parents between 1974 and 1994; five by meningitis, three of pneumonia, two of appendicitis, five of diabetes, two of diphtheria, one of measles, one of septicemia, one of a kidney infection, one of a bowel obstruction, and one of heart disease. In the Philadelphia outbreak, three children were hospitalized under court order to ensure treatment. However, as long as religious exemptions remain in place, the justice system has legal limits on what they can do.

References
American Academy of Pediatrics: Religious Objections to Medical Care
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Familes: Child Maltreatment 2011 report
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Familes: Child Neglect: A Guide for Intervention
American Academy of Pediatrics: Recognizing and Responding to Medical Neglect
American Medical Association: Miracle vs. Medicine: When Faith Puts Care at Risk

Written by Influential Prose

June 26, 2015 at 3:11 am

Child Behavior Checklist Items

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013]

As children develop, parents like to see them hitting normal developmental milestones. When it appears something is not quite right, a screening behavioral review is an early step. The widely accepted Achenbach System of Empirically Based Assessment offers two screens, one for children ages 18 months to 5 years, another for children 6 to 18. The preschool list has 100 questions, while the school-age list has 113. Some areas examined include anxiety, depression, aggression, attention, language and sleep.

Checklist Structure

Items on the child behavior checklists are graded by a short scale:

0 = Not True (as far as you know)
1 = Somewhat or Sometimes True
2 = Very True or Often True

The scale allows for a measure of intensity. Teenagers can be moody; some more or less so than others. Scale provides a sense of frequency and extent of the behavior. Some screens come with an additional component, such as the Language Development survey, which measures vocabulary. There are also multicultural supplements that adjust behavior scores as appropriate for cultural context.

Aggression
Aggression is sometimes related to lack of empathy. This shows up in two items from the preschooler screening: “cruel to animals” and “hurts animals or other people without meaning to.” Actually aggressive behavior is signaled by several other items: “destroys his/her own things,” “destroys things belonging to his/her family or other children” and “physically attacks people.” Items asked of the K-12 set include these and some additions: “cruelty, bullying or meanness to others” and self-aggression — “deliberately harms self or attempts suicide.”

Anxiety
Items indicative of anxiety among preschoolers include “afraid to try new things,” “clings to adults or too dependent,” “doesn’t want to sleep alone,” “gets upset when separated from parents.” Among young children and adolescents, some additional markers are “feels he/she has to be perfect,” “feels or complains that no one loves him or her,” “feels worthless or inferior.”
Everyone experiences anxiety at some time; intensity is a key diagnostic element in assessment. Excessive anxiety can be alleviated with treatment.

Attention
Some items can apply to multiple syndromes. For example, “avoids looking others in the eye” could be a sign of inattention, anxiety, depression or anger, depending on context. Having multiple items related to single syndromes helps triangulate the source of the behavior to discern which syndromes are applicable. Attention-related items for preschoolers are “can’t concentrate, can’t pay attention for long,” “can’t sit still, restless or hyperactive,” “can’t stand waiting, wants everything now,” and “demands must be met now.” From 6 to 18, additional items are “fails to finish things he/she starts,” “daydreams or gets lost in his/her thoughts,” “impulsive or acts without thinking,” and “inattentive or easily distracted.”

Written by Influential Prose

June 26, 2015 at 3:02 am

Effective Programs to Help at-Risk Teenagers Stay in School

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013. Published version here.]

Keeping at-risk teens in school entails a variety of strategies. It begins by identifying who is mostly likely to drop out and the influences that compel them to do so; these can include bullying, homelessness, financial insecurity, poor nutrition, substance abuse, early pregnancy and abuse at home. Solutions can be targeted individually or schoolwide, but whatever the approach, these problems are difficult, widespread and not always responsive to generalized programs. Although, effective programs do exist.

Check and Connect
Developed at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Community Integration, Check and Connect has 20 years of documentation to demonstrate program effectiveness and is highly rated by the National Dropout Prevention Center/Network. It is a relatively low-cost program that trains mentors to check on at-risk students’ attendance, behavior and grades while connecting with them personally to provide coordinated support with school staff, families and community providers. The goal of the program is to build academic and social competence on the path to graduation.

Positive Action
Rated by the U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse as a top program, Positive Action’s approach is summarized by its logo, which features three arrows representing thoughts, action and feelings revolving around a plus sign for positivity in a virtuous circle. As the program states, “Positive Action is the philosophy that you feel good about yourself when you think and do positive actions, and there is always a positive way to do everything.” If it sounds like a feel-good program, it is, but it also lowers truancy and increases attendance. Success is compelling.

Ripple Effects
Ripple Effects recognizes the varied influences on dropouts and addresses them by sorting students by risk level, identifying specific behaviors and targeting them with specific, useful interventions. Academic performance is deeply influenced by social and emotional needs. Ripple Effects provides responsive support, aiding students who need to believe in themselves when family, peers or community leads them to doubt. Suspension alternatives are part of the program, steering students toward assessments that also watch for structural unfairness and unconscious bias by school administrations.

Success Highways
This program begins with a comprehensive early warning assessment that not only identifies at-risk students, but determines the reasons underlying their risks and can be reviewed at the district, school, classroom and individual levels. Intervention focuses on six resiliency skills, teaching the essential lesson that failure is occasionally inevitable, but that persistence pays off. Specific skills taught include stress management, intrinsic motivation, academic confidence, balanced well-being, connectedness to others and connecting educational relevance to achievement of life goals.

Written by Influential Prose

June 26, 2015 at 2:57 am

Top Advocates for Teens

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013]

Teen advocacy comes in a variety of forms and purposes, covering issues like juvenile justice, education, civil rights and assistance for at-risk youth in America and around the world. Some organizations are student-led and others, in areas such as juvenile justice, are managed by professionals with experience and expertise in related fields. Many advocacy organizations are nonprofit and work with limited resources and some are politically active. These organizations have established track records for effective and ongoing advocacy.

Juvenile Justice
The Vera Center on Youth Justice works for fairness in policy and practice, promoting reform in the areas of the status offender system, detention centers, treatment placements and the management of justice system data on juveniles. Goals include spotlighting systems that emphasize punishment over treatment, identifying inhumane conditions and disproportionate targeting of minorities.

A similar organization, The Campaign for Youth Justice, has a single, clear aim: to end the practice of trying, sentencing and incarcerating youth under the age of 18 in the adult criminal justice system. It also serves as an information clearing house, with a variety of reports, fact sheets and poll data.

Education
The Energy Action Coalition educates and advocates on a variety of issues related to the extraction, generation and consumption of energy supplies, with an eye toward the future and the risks of climate change. Some of the specific issues the coalition addresses include fracking, the planned Keystone XL pipeline, mountaintop removal, strip mining and coal plant proliferation.

Advocates for Youth has existed since 1980, with a focus on adolescent reproductive and sexual health both in the U.S. and developing countries. Their credo regarding responsibility reads, “Society has the responsibility to provide young people with the tools they need to safeguard their sexual health, and young people have the responsibility to protect themselves from too-early childbearing and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV.”

Civil Rights
The Student Press Law Center addresses First Amendment rights and censorship of student publications, both online and in print. Their website offers links to legal assistance, a Freedom of Information letter generator, legal guides, FAQs, a law library and a blog.

The United States Student Association bills itself as the largest, oldest student-led organization in the country. Their action agenda encompasses student debt, immigration reform and shared governance of campus policies. The USSA policy platform includes 29 items and includes expansion of basic education, voter ID law, the Equal Rights Amendment and support for the Violence Against Women Act.

At Risk, at Home and Abroad
Big Brothers and Big Sisters has paired role models with at-risk youth for over a century, first as separate organizations working with girls and boys, then together as one organization since 1977. They operate in all 50 states and 12 countries. An independently funded 18-month study found that participants in Bigs and Littles programs were 47 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs, and 52 percent less likely to skip school.

Voices of Youth is a program funded by UNICEF, the United Nation’s Children’s Fund. They are active in human rights for children and teens, poverty and hunger, education, health, the environment and the effects of violence and war.

Written by Influential Prose

June 26, 2015 at 2:45 am

System for Tracking Kid’s Good and Bad Behavior

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013. Published version here.]

There are a variety of ways to track behavior, and tracking systems for children are generally intended to aid in behavioral management. This can be for home, school, or long family road trips. Behavior is measured and recorded for the purpose of encouraging positive behavior and discouraging negative behavior. The measurement rules and results are shared in some form with children to deliver clear, fair feedback on what behavior is deemed appropriate. For example, bullying is a behavior to discourage, and some children may need more frequent and intensive feedback to learn it’s unacceptable.

Token Economy
Token economies are a positive behavioral system. They reward positive behavior, while negative behaviors are treated neutrally. Tokens can be anything — star charts, wooden nickels, lego blocks in favorite colors – and these tokens are exchanged for rewards. For example, from the start of each day Jimmy earns a token for every hour he doesn’t throw spitballs at Jenny. If it’s been a bad day, he earns no tokens and no reward. Try again tomorrow. Maybe he does better the next day, but not quite well enough to earn a standard reward. He can trade what he has for a lesser award or attempt to save tokens and earn more to earn a better reward.

Self-Management
Self management systems begin as a collaboration between the student and teacher, or parent and child. In this system, both the adult and child rate the child’s behavior over an agreed timespan, be it 5, 20 or 60 minutes. Points are earned for positive behavior and close agreement in ratings. This encourages the child to behave positively and give an honest self-evaluation. This technique works to promote both better behavior and acknowledgment of mistakes.

Number Line System
This system is useful for providing comparative feedback to groups and individuals at the same time. Children are given clear guidelines on behavior and an understanding of how points are assigned. Points are tracked on a number line for each student and averaged for the group. This setup can also be split into two groups to create a friendly competition between groups for best behavioral points.

Clip Chart
This is similar in concept to the number line, but it is presented vertically. Students begin the day at 0 and move clips up and down the line in accordance with their behavior. The students move the clips themselves, providing a tactile dimension to aid recall and reinforce learning. This system is simple enough for young children to grasp, making it ideal for the K-3 set.

Written by Influential Prose

June 26, 2015 at 2:28 am

The Best Critical Thinking Books for Teens

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013. Published version here.]

How do we know what we know? What is true and how can we be sure? Who can we trust? Just as there is a spectrum of quality when shopping for shoes, a similar spectrum exists for the quality of information we encounter. Books on critical thinking give readers the ability to recognize poor quality, know where high quality knowledge can be found, and serve as a toolbox for clear thinking and focused learning.

‘The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark’
Author and astronomer Carl Sagan famously rolled out his “Baloney Detection Kit” in “Demon.” It’s a distillation of strategies for separating good information from bad, with examples from familiar issues: the Lost City of Atlantis, UFOs and crop circles. He doesn’t simply debunk them — he explains how he does it. The book’s emphasis is on being skeptical, not taking everything at face value. Poking at information sources sometimes reveals holes. “Demon” tells you how to poke, and where.

‘How to Think about Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a New Age’
Weird things stick easily in memory because they stand out from the ordinary. They come in forms such as astrology, which makes extraordinary claims of prediction. But proving these claims requires extraordinary evidence, and when examined closely, the claims of astrology fall short. This book is a guide on how to examine claims. It’s a textbook, but it is also read for pleasure because it covers the subject with clear and engaging prose.

‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’
Before we understand critical thinking, we might ask, “What is thinking?” There are different kinds, of course — the quick, sometimes instantaneous intuitive decisions we make daily and deeper, more analytical thought. It’s the difference between a reaction and a considered response. How we think matters at least as much as what we think about, and “Thinking, Fast and Slow” looks at how different thinking styles affect ourselves and the people we interact with.

‘Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts’
There’s critical thinking, thinking and the thinker. This book discusses how we delude ourselves, seeing objects or ideas that aren’t there and making choices we know we’ll regret. Thinking clearly becomes easier when we know our own weaknesses and biases and understand how to set them aside. Explanations come with examples, enabling the reader to step outside of oneself and see circumstances from another perspective.

References
GoodReads: Popular Critical Thinking Books
Foundation for Critical Thinking: The Critical Thinking Community
Adolescent Literacy: Critical Thinking — Why Is It So Hard To Teach?

Resources
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, Carl Sagan
GoodReads: How to Think about Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a New Age, Schick & Vaugan
GoodReads: Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman
GoodReads: Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts, Tavris & Aronson
Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative: Logic & Proofs

Written by Influential Prose

June 25, 2015 at 11:45 pm

Moral Reading for Teens

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013]

Morality is fundamentally about the choices we make and the behavior that follows. Stories can expose different moral dimensions, circumstances that present contrasts, and give teen readers perspective on their lives and their choices. Given all the media and entertainment options available, books must be compelling to compete. By exploring the age-old questions of family, peer pressure, temptations, personal appearance, sexuality and health, books can challenge teens.

‘Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey From Homeless to Harvard’
Finding the path to responsibility and maturity amid irresponsible adults would be tough for anyone. Finding a way from being homeless and alone at 15 years of age to becoming a Harvard graduate would be Herculean. Liz Murray’s story winds from a roach-infested Bronx apartment with drug-addicted parents to the bridges she slept under and the parade of losers she encountered. She is faced with an array of pitfalls that many never imagine, much less encounter.

‘Am I Blue? Coming Out from the Silence’
Years of high-profile stories about bullying, murders and suicides of gays and lesbians, the effect of the television series “Will and Grace,” and the legalization of gay marriage in several states has prompted a cultural conversation about love that once dared not speak its name. In this anthology, gay and straight authors speak out with short stories that explore the moral dilemmas faced by people coming to terms with themselves and the reactions of their peers, families and communities. The passage from tolerance to acceptance to respect is often rocky, but the journey can make better persons of us all.

‘The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible’
Author A.J. Jacobs takes up the challenge of living in literal accordance with the Bible, a centuries-old standard of moral guidance. He prays regularly, lets his beard grow, tells the truth at all times, keeps the 10 Commandments and herds sheep. Along the way, he discovers that keeping some biblical injunctions are nearly impossible, and others are downright illegal. Jacobs takes the reader through his year like a tour guide, explaining ambiguous interpretations of some rules, the rationale behind others, and how he choose to follow them. It’s funny, respectful and educational for believers, agnostics and atheists alike.

‘The Pregnancy Project: A Memoir’
Gaby Rodriguez took up an unusual challenge during her senior year in high school. Coming from a family with a history of teen pregnancies, she knew people assumed it would happen to her, too. Rather than fight the expectation, she rolled with it — by faking a pregnancy for six months as her senior class project. Her sociological study triggered whispers among her peers, fears from her boyfriend’s family, and discrimination from many directions. Teen pregnancy is all too common, but Rodriguez’s story provides uncommon insight into the consequences and problems that result.

Written by Influential Prose

June 25, 2015 at 11:37 pm

Chinese Religion & Ethics in the 17th Century

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013. Published version here.]

The Chinese word for religion didn’t enter the language until late in the 19th century, when scholars needed a term to translate the concept from Western texts. The conception of religion as the West understands it today simply did not exist in 17th century China. In the first sociological analysis of Chinese thought, Chinese scholar C.K. Lang wrote, “Even priests in some country temples were unable to reveal the identity of the religion to which they belonged. Centuries of mixing gods from different faiths into a common pantheon had produced a functionally oriented religious view that relegated the question of religious identity to a secondary place.”

Three Traditions
The three dominant influences on 17th century Chinese thought and belief were Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism. These are primarily philosophical and ethical systems rather than religions, and each of these traditions have schools of thought and sects. Although aspects of ritual have theist overtones, such as requests for favors from deities, the Chinese relationship to deities can be described as devotion and veneration (respect) rather than worship. There are various deities for different aspects of life, such as the ubiquitous City God, who is often a long-dead former city leader. In Chinese cosmologies, everything is integrated, with no distinction between the natural and supernatural.

Confucianism
Formally taught in China for centuries, Confucianism was the dominant ethical system during the 17th century. Humanist and holistic, it imparts ethics with an emphasis on the practical, presenting a subtle and nuanced structure of ideal behavior. In contrast to the Western stress on personal autonomy, Confucianism centers more on relational values, such as family loyalty, mutual obligation and respect. Schoolchildren learned these values at the earliest levels, and the best students went on to take civil service exams. Exams were explicitly based on Confucian values, and constituted the world’s first comprehensive merit system whereby proof of knowledge and understanding of ethics was required.

Buddhism and Daoism
Buddhism came to China from India via Silk Road trade routes in 67 CE, but it was several centuries before Buddhist concepts were fully adapted and integrated with the Chinese worldview. The Chan (Zen) school dominated through the 1600s. Daoism, also known as Taoism, is indigenous to China, but frequently makes a point of distinguishing itself from other beliefs, such as highlighting its differences with Buddhism. In practice, both traditions have shared deities, include complementary values and in the 17th century, both acknowledged the supremacy of the state over temple.

Folk Religion & Christianity
In the 1600s folk religion was popular among the illiterate, rural peasants who made up the majority of the population. Folk religion was a polyglot of animism, shamanism and elements of the three main traditions in a syncretic mix. This diffuse assortment of practices continued for centuries and still survives today. In the late 16th century, Italian Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci was reestablishing Christianity in China after a long lull, and the 17th century was marked by waves of incoming Jesuit priests fulfilling Ricci’s legacy. By the early 18th century, the Qing emperor was encouraging his subjects to reject Christianity in favor of local beliefs.

Written by Influential Prose

June 25, 2015 at 11:23 pm

Who Advocated Religious Individualism?

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013]

The modern understanding of religious individualism, as defined by the Catholic Encyclopedia, “describes the attitude of those persons who refuse to subscribe to definite creeds, or to submit to any external religious authority.” It is conceptually similar to “cafeteria Christians,” a phrase used to describe Christians who take an a la carte approach to their faith. This is done by accepting some aspects of Christianity while rejecting others. For example, one might accept the teachings of Jesus while dismissing the stories of virgin birth and resurrection as myth. The religious individualist expands on this idea to encompass different faiths. Rather than go all in with one religious tradition, a personalized set of ethical views are derived from the elements of a variety of faiths.

Søren Kierkegaard
Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard is frequently referenced in relation to religious individualism, but as an ardent Christian, Kierkegaard’s expression of the idea diverges from the current definition. His view could be termed introspective individualism, or internalized religion–faith that is deeply embedded within the individual. Kierkegaard was a fierce critic of the Christian Church of Denmark, and his focus on the individual over the institution contains the seeds of the modern understanding of religious individualism. Today, the religious individualist proactively assembles a collection of values from several sources rather than passively accepting a package of values from a single, institutional source.

Martin Luther
The first advocate of religious individualism was Martin Luther. A respected Catholic priest and professor of theology, he sparked the Protestant Reformation by challenging the church’s positions on indulgences and the path to salvation in 1517. Luther openly defied the Pope by declaring that the Bible, not the Pope, was the final word on divine knowledge, a direct challenge to the Catholic Church’s authority. He also translated the Bible from Hebrew and ancient Greek to common German, making it more accessible to individuals. This further weakened the church by depriving it of the sole power to interpret Biblical understanding. Individuals could now evaluate the Bible for themselves and form their own opinions, a change that would have profound and lasting consequences.

Jean-Marie Guyau
In 1897, French philosopher Jean-Marie Guyau published the “The Non-Religion of the Future,” a book that describes religious individualism in the modern sense. Guyau argues that religion as it exists is in decline and speculates about the dimensions of a secular society. The following year, the “Philosophical Review” published a dismissive review of Gayau’s book, but his ideas have proven prescient in the United States and northern Europe. Much of Europe is now predominately secular, and the segment of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated is growing faster than any faith group.

Religious Deregulation
Sociologist Roger Finke of Purdue University portrays the separation of church and state in early American history as religious deregulation, which triggered variety and vitality in American worship. Religious individualism can also be viewed as a process of deregulation, but on the individual level. Individualism has always been about maximizing personal choice; religious individualism simply extends this power to the realm of values by rejecting subordination and advocating the diffusion of power from institutions to people.

Written by Influential Prose

June 25, 2015 at 11:17 pm