Friday, November 04, 2005

ViL writes: Whisper it Softly

Apropos to Guy Fawkes' Night tomorrow - in The Times a couple of days ago, in a discussion about opposition in the US to Alito's nomination, it said one of the relevant points was that "whisper it softly" if he got through, that would mean 5 out of the 9 justices on the Supreme Court would be Catholic. Elsewhere I've seen it mentioned that it would mean the total would include 5 Catholics (including Thomas, a convert) and 2 Jews - and presumably 2 Protestants? One factoid I've seen put the Protestant population of the USA at 49%, but I find that a little hard to believe given that elsewhere I've seen the Born Again (and presumably Protestant) population at 42%. On a reasonably broad interpretation of Protestant it's got to be far higher, I think my French-authored Larousse Pocket Encyclopedia (in which the Rwandan genocide was a minor fracas) puts the Protestant population of the USA at about 80%.

Hmm... let's check the CIA World Factbook on the USA:

Protestant 52%, Roman Catholic 24%, Mormon 2%, Jewish 1%, Muslim 1%, other 10%, none 10% (2002 est.)"

OK, I strongly suspect the great bulk of the Nones are of Protestant ethnicity - while a non-practicing Jew is still 100% Jewish and lapsed Catholics still self-identify as Catholic, it seems in the nature of Protestantism that people think it's a faith you can leave behind. I'm not so sure (more on that later). Anyway, if you add the Nones and the Mormons you get 64%, the other defined faiths are 26% and there's 10% other, some of whom will be ethnically Buddhist, Hindu and Shinto but I suspect most of them are of Protestant origin, too.

The thing is, where I'm from, Protestant isn't really a religion, it's an ethnicity. Where the CIA factbook uses the US census data that is based on self-classification, the Northern Ireland census asks you to list "what other people would classify you as". I suspect this may be a more accurate way to get to the crux of it. In Northern Ireland, being Protestant or Catholic means certain values, certain ways of thinking, quite apart from your opinion on transubstantiation and indeed any belief in divinity at all.

To some extent I think this may be true in the USA also. I've seen a comment on one blog which opined that the reason the Supreme Court was mostly Catholic and Jewish was due to Protestant anti-intellectualism - Protestants are typified by George W Bush, either dumb hicks or dumb hick wannabes, aggressively opposed to high-falutin' Edumacation, glorying in their own stupidity. By contrast (in this blogger's view) Cathlolic and Jewish thought is subtle and nuanced, appropriate for the interpretation of complex legal texts.

Hmm. It's true that in Northern Ireland and Scotland, Law tends to be a Catholic dominated profession. In Scotland, politics also, which has not been traditionally split along sectarian lines in the manner of NI, has also been disproportinately Catholic. OTOH (hard) Science and Engineering have traditionally been largely Protestant dominated in both nations. The sciences may lack the 'subtlety' of Law, but they do require a fair bit of thinking (I hear).

I think the (ethnic) Protestant problem is not that we can't think, but that we have trouble holding two apparently mutually contradictory thoughts in our head at the same time. In science this can be a strength - while no theory may be 100% right, scientific progress requires recognition that theory A can be 'more right' (or rather, 'less wrong') than theory B. I think in religion it can be a weakness, giving rise to the Fundamentalist worldview - either the Bible is right or Evolution is right; ergo Evolution is wrong. And law? Well, I was at a talk recently where it was suggested that one of the requirements of law was its unknowable, mysterious nature - its sacred nature. So maybe law is more like religion than it is like science, in which case a panel of jurists with a Catholic majority may be better placed to interpret it.

OTOH, the atavistic part of me that thrills to the sound of The Sash can't help but see this as a win for the other side.


Tags:, Politics, Supreme Court, , ,


"John Galt" said...

I got to the end of the post before realizing it was ViL posting. My wife is from Lawrenceburg and has nowhere near the command of the language as the writer leaving me to wonder how she missed so badly. Now I know.

Vol Abroad said...

Your backhanded compliments will go to his head.

Vol-in-Law said...

Thank you for your appreciation :)
My erudite discourse (I wrote 'dialogue' but Vol made me change it) is the product primarily of Belfast Royal Academy, a good Protestant (mostly) Northern Ireland grammar school (public selective entry school). That and having two lecturers (professors) as parents.

"John Galt" said...

Nothing "backhanded" intended. Merely a comment on LCHS and one person's failure to take advantage of all it offers.