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More on God's voting preferences

My friend Allison sent me an interesting response via email to my post on how God wants us to vote, which I'm publishing with her permission:

This struck me as interesting in a couple of ways, but the only one I'm probably qualified to comment on is my own viewpoint, that of an eclectic path pagan with a Patron who couldn't be less interested in politics. I think that the usefulness of the theology depends a lot on what you want from your religion. Personally, I'd hate to have a belief system that didn't involve my getting to make my own decisions and learn my own lessons. I don't even know offhand what my Patron wants me to do with my life (I've never asked.) As far as the specific example of politics go, I'm an anarchist (I know, wishful thinking, but what can you do?) My Patron just doesn't give a damn about how the world is run, and I think if I asked him for guidance in the elections he'd laugh himself sick. Most pagans that I know seem to have their own relationships with their Patrons along a similar line- something I liken to the relationship between a parent and an adult child. Sure, they'll always listen to you, they'll help you through grief and stress with a few kind words, and if things get really bad they'll bail you out (as long as you're doing your share of the work) but they don't spend a lot of time telling you what to do- they figure you're probably old enough to figure it out on your own. Christianity, as far as I can tell, has a more father/young child relationship with their Patron, where he tells them exactly what they can and can't do to avoid sticking their finger in a metaphorical light socket. I can see where that would involve something believing they had to interpret their gospel into what their Patron wants them to do in every single instance of their life, but I imagine it gets pretty tiring after a while. That much effort (and limitation of growth, since you're not making the decisions yourself, you're leaving them to your parent, and thus whatever happens afterward isn't your fault) would seem to me to be a useless system, at least from the viewpoint of how I like to live my life.

I think this topic has caused both Allison and myself to bump up against the "my religion with different names" fallacy. This fallacy involves assuming that all religions work basically like the one you are most familiar with, with just details like the name(s) of the god(s) changed. I wrote broadly about the usefulness of a theology being dependent on whether it can give you guidance on questions like how to vote because I had in mind a "metaphysical" religion like orthodox Christianity. What I mean by a "metaphysical" religion is one in which God is a sort of ultimate being, something of a very different order than a person. This is God's world, and he defines right conduct. Indeed, my own drift away from Christianity came via making God even more abstract and metaphysical, e.g. by taking the Biblical statement "God is love" to be a strict definition, so that God is just another name for the principle or force of love. On this sort of view, asking what God wants you to do just is asking what the right thing to do is, because God's will just is morality.

Allison's religious viewpoint, on the other hand, treats deities as beings of the same general type as humans -- more powerful and wiser, perhaps, but still with a fundamentally person-to--person relationship. On this view, it makes sense to imagine either that your god doesn't care how you vote, or that your god would not give you direct orders on how to vote. And a personal god who would give such orders then comes off as a strict parent who doesn't allow his followers room for maturity and growth. It seems to me -- and here I'm entering more speculative territory -- that if and when when a pagan like Allison decides how to vote, she's pursuing something greater than her Patron -- maturity or peace or justice or whatever -- albeit perhaps with her patron's help. For an orthodox Christian, on the other hand, God is that "something greater."

Immigration detainees are not being punished

Dear KSAZ Fox Phoenix,

In your rush to condemn the allegedly* cushy conditions in Florence Service Processing Center, you -- and the one-sided panel of commenters you quoted -- overlooked one very important fact:

ICE detainees are not in detention to be punished for violating immigration law. They are in detention awaiting trial to determine if they actually violated any immigration laws.

Ranting about how nice we're supposedly treating illegal aliens is irrelevant because most of the people here have not been convicted of being illegal aliens. Nor have they been assigned jail time as a punishment. They are people ICE suspects of having committed an immigration violation, who are being held out of fear they would abscond before trial. It's a pretty basic principle of justice that you don't punish someone until after you have given them a trial.

And you can't simply assume that people who have been charged by ICE with violations are inevitably going to be found guilty anyway, and so we might as well get a head start on punishing them. It is routine for ICE to round up native-born US citizens and hold them for years before grudgingly accepting judges' findings that the person was not actually in violation of immigration law. Would you like to claim that we should be punishing people for being victims of false accusations?

Failing to mention that these people are being held while they await trial, and instead implying that they are there to be punished for immigration violations, is journalistically irresponsible.

I will agree, though, that we could save money on immigration detention. However, we would not do it via making conditions worse for people who are innocent until proven guilty. We would do it through reducing the use of detention. Many of the people currently in detention do not need to be there. They could be released on their own recognizance, or given cheap tracking ankle bracelets. This would be just as effective as detaining them, but they would pay for their own food and lodging, rather than making taxpayers foot the bill while they wait in jail.

*The implication that conditions in SPC are great is simply false. SPC is, however, the nicest detention facility in Florence -- conditions for the vast majority of detainees in private Corrections Corporation of America facilities and Pinal County Jail are much worse.


Framing and Intentionality

A friend sent a few of us philosophically-minded types the following dilemma:

If Brown hopes to throw a six in a game of dice and succeeds, we wouldn't say he threw the six intentionally. If Brown puts his last cartridge into a six-chambered revolver, spins the chamber as he aims it at Smith, his archenemy, pulls the trigger, and kills Smith, we'd say he killed him intentionally. Does that make sense? In both cases Brown hoped for a certain result, in both cases the probability of that result was the same. If Brown didn't intentionally throw a six, why did he intentionally shoot Smith?

By email, Neil Sinhababu suggests that this might be an example of the Knobe Effect. The Knobe Effect says that our moral evaluations of actions can influence our ideas about whether those actions are intentional. Specifically, Joshua Knobe found that people are much more likely to say that known-but-not-sought-out side effects are intentional if they were bad than if they were good. Here, we're calling the killing intentional because it was a bad thing (whereas rolling a 6 is not so bad). There's some plausibility to this hypothesis, but I don't think it really gets at what's going on. Imagine that Brown put $1000 in one of six plastic Easter eggs, mixed them up in his hat, and then handed one to a homeless man, and it turned out that egg had the money. My intuition is that in this good outcome version of the revolver case, my desire to say Brown gave out the money intentionally is perhaps not quite as strong as in the original revolver case, but certainly not as weak as in the dice case.

I think the difference in attributions of intentionality in the dice versus gun example could be explained as a framing effect. The difference is made by what we imagine the alternative scenario to be. In the dice-throwing case, we take the throwing of the dice for granted, and the question is whether the person got a 6 or some other number. So of course it seems like they didn't intentionally get a 6. But in the gun case, we're implicitly thinking of the alternative as one where Brown didn't pick up the gun at all. If we rephrase to say "did Brown intentionally shoot him with the chamber that had the bullet rather than an empty one?" our inclination to call it intentional goes away. And if the dice roll was, say, to determine whether an attack in a role-playing game was successful, then we highlight "don't attack at all" as the alternative scenario and thus the rolling of a 6 takes on an air of intentionality as part of the larger action -- you intentionally killed the monster that you were rolling to attack.