Friday, April 12, 2013

How Skeptics and Believers Can Connect

T. M. Luhrmann, a professor of anthropology at Stanford and the author of “When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship With God,”discusses on
The New York Times how
skeptics and believers can have a better "marriage."
As political scientists Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell observed in the United State, “recent years have seen the sharpest points of disagreement between religious believers — of nearly all stripes — and those who denounce religious belief of all types.”(American Grace)

"Anthropologists have a term for this racheting-up of opposition: schismogenesis. Gregory Bateson developed the word to describe mirroring interactions, where every move by each side makes the other respond more negatively, like those horrible arguments with your spouse where everything you say makes the other person dig in their heels more fiercely, " Luhrmann said. " of the things that makes mutual respect between believers and nonbelievers difficult is that there is a kind of line in the sand, and you’re either on one side of it or on the other."
We are the power.
However, Luhrmann pointed out that believers and nonbelievers are not so different from one another. "When I arrived at one church I had come to study... I saw my own doubts, anxieties and yearnings reflected in those around me. People were willing to utter sentences — like 'I believe in God' — that I was not, but many of those I met spoke openly and comfortably about times of uncertainty, even doubt. Many of my skeptical friends think of themselves as secular, sometimes profoundly so. Yet these secular friends often hover on the edge of faith. They meditate. They keep journals. They go on retreats. They just don’t know what to do with their spiritual yearnings. "

Perhaps there is hope, as Luhrmann said. "Good marriages work because couples learn to repair, rather than escalate, their conflicts. Same-sex marriage and abortion should not be approached by drawing a line in the sand and demonizing everyone on the other side. We need to recognize something of what we share, and to carry on a conversation — and if we can keep the conversation going, we will, however slowly, move forward. If we can’t, we’re in real trouble. "

It applies not only to religious schismogenesis, but also political schismogenesis, and is probably relevant in other places outside America.


  1. I wonder if increasing schismogenesis could be the product of the current neo-liberal era that we are still living in where marketing and the segmentation of markets into niches is dominant. There is a niche for anyone and one can choose to enter the niche and ignore everything else. Have people become more narrow in an age where we literally bask in a torrent of information?

    1. I think political ecology plays a very important role.