Religion and the state

I generally like NYTimes columnist Ross Douthat: I probably agree with him 40% of the time; disagree with him but find him reasonable 30% of the time; and don’t understand what he’s saying (or why he’s saying it) 30% of the time. Here is a blog post that he wrote a couple of months ago – useful as a touching off point for some discussion of the place of religion in public life. He asks a number of questions that he may feel are real posers, but I believe their apparent difficult rests on an unexamined assumption about the special role of religion.

Nominally the article is about same-sex marriage and the concomitant proposed laws (in e.g. Arizona and Indiana) defending “religious freedom” that would allow florists and bakers and others not to provide services to same-sex weddings if it violates their sincerely held religious beliefs. Most readers can pretty safely ignore the entire first section in which he notes how quickly attitudes have shifted on this issue, and in which he speculates about how positions that liberals might have jumped at a decade ago as a reasonable compromise are now considered untenable. Quite possibly true, but mostly irrelevant – and his innuendo about a lack of steadfast principle by proponents of same-sex marriage is misplaced. The key take-away is the question of whether

“…granting private businesses the right to decline involvement in same-sex nuptials is the moral and legal equivalent of allowing businesses to turn away African-Americans from lunch counters.”

Is it exactly equivalant? No, and furthermore we’re no longer in the same cultural climate as Jim Crow, so Douthat’s later implication that saying yes would necessitate a series of “extraordinary” means is incorrect. But it seems pretty clear that the answer is fundamentally yes. Either we allow private enterprises to discriminate along any dimension that they desire, or we protect groups of customers from being treated differently just because of their identity. The first option is not actually ridiculous: individuals have this right in their private lives, and in theory if a business received no direct or indirect support from the government then there is a solid (though not necessarily winning) argument for letting them discriminate as much as they like. But that will never happen, and probably rightfully so, so we converge on the second option. Where does that leave religion and Douthat’s hypothetical questions at the end of the column?

  1. Should religious schools that don’t allow students and staff to have homosexual intimate relations, but do allow heterosexual relations (at least in wedlock), lose their tax-exempt status? Yes: that is discriminatory and shouldn’t be allowed with government money.
  2. Should religious schools that teach a preference for heterosexual marriage over homosexual marriage lose their tax-exempt status? No: society has chosen to allow parents wide leeway in how their children are educated, and although there are still restrictions here (e.g. students should learn about evolution but not intelligent design, since this is a settled scientific fact), they needn’t apply to religious preferences as long as there are no discriminatory actions.
  3. Should colleges officially recognize student groups (and chaplaincies) which discriminate in the sense above? Frankly it’s difficult for me to care too much about this one way or the other. Probably not.
  4. Is there a place in our elite institutions for those who hold “traditional” views about sexuality? Well, that’s up to them. They certainly shouldn’t be barred (e.g. denied tenure) for their personal beliefs, assuming they don’t attempt to implement discriminatory policies based on those beliefs (and even then it would be due to the actions not
  5. Continue reading

Category: Policy

Intellectual celebrities

Perhaps a future post will focus on celebrity intellectuals (Stephen Hawking anyone?), but for now we are looking at entertainers who have validated intellectual chops such as advanced degrees or research publications. There are quite a few who have bachelor’s degrees from ivy league schools (and I certainly don’t meant to dismiss that; I never got one of those myself…), but I’m trying to set a higher bar: not simply potential but evidence that they have taken the time and effort to prove themselves along this dimension. There should be at least a few surprises on this list for everyone.

This is another blog post where I had already taken time to look some folks up, after hearing various rumors and having various discussions, and hence decided I might as well take the extra time to do it right and make it public. There are obviously somewhat similar lists already out there, but actually fewer than you might imagine that can distinguish between having an econ degree from duke with a 3.2 GPA (or speaking three languages) versus having a PhD in neuroscience. I look forward to additions (or suggested deletions?) from readers.

  • comedian Rowan Atkinson: MSc in electrical engineering from oxford
  • actress Mayim Bialik: PhD in neuroscience from UCLA
  • basketball forward Bill Bradley: rhodes scholarship to study PPE at oxford; US Senator
  • baseball pitcher Craig Breslow: BA in biophysics and biochemistry from yale; deferred acceptance to med school with a 34 MCAT
  • actor David Duchovny: poetry prize as undergrad at princeton; MA and started PhD in literature at yale under Harold Bloom
  • actor James Franco: MFA from columbia; currently working on PhD in literature at yale; multiple other classes taken and taught
  • singer-songwriter Greg Graffin of the punk band Bad Religion: MS in geology from UCLA and PhD in zoology from cornell; has also taught at both those institutions
  • gymnast and stuntwoman Kiralee Hayashi: coauthored a math paper with a Fields Medalist, giving her an Erdős-Bacon number of 5
  • musician Dexter Holland of the punk band The Offspring: MS in molecular biology and currently working on his PhD at USC medical school; has published in PLoS One
  • magician and actor Ricky Jay: no fancy degrees, but much thoughtful writing and curating
  • actor and comedian Ken Jeong: MD from UNC; licensed obstetrician in california
  • cartoonist and director Mike Judge: BS in physics from UCSD; programmer for the F-18 jet; took graduate math classes at UT-dallas [added 6/1]
  • singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson: BPhil in english literature from oxford on a rhodes scholarship
  • actress Hedy Lamarr: co-invented an important military and communications patent
  • actor Dolph Lundgren: MS in chemical engineering from univ of sydney; awarded a fulbright to MIT
  • guitarist and songwriter Brian May of the rock band Queen: PhD in astrophysics from imperial college london
  • actress Danica McKellar: BS in math from UCLA; coauthored a publication that received praise from superstar mathematician Terry Tao
  • guitarist Sterling Morrison of the rock band Velvet Underground: PhD in medieval literature from univ of texas
  • actress Natalie Portman (née Herschlag): high school entrant in the Intel science competition; AB in psychology from harvard; coauthored an article in NeuroImage
  • football safety Myron Rolle: MSc in medical anthropology from oxford on a rhodes scholarship
  • football quarterback Frank Ryan: PhD in math from Rice
  • musician Tom Scholz of the rock band Boston: MS in mechanical engineering from MIT; worked at Polaroid and has 34 patents
  • soccer midfielder Sócrates: MD and practiced medicine in brazil
  • football lineman John Urschel: MS
  • Continue reading

Category: Science

My affiliates (take 6)

Since I am back to blogging (so far), here are the business cards I have received since approximately one year ago:

  • Associate Administrator, Office of Governmentwide Policy, GSA
  • Program Leader (Center for Economic Analysis), Public Company Accounting Oversight Board
  • Managing Director, Atlantic & Pacific Exchange Program
  • Principal Analyst, Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission
  • Assistant Regional Director (Western Region), Federal Trade Commission
  • General Counsel and Executive VP, Consumer Bankers Association
  • Senior VP, Banking Group, Celent
  • Senior Manager, Economic and Strategic Research, FannieMae
  • Commissioner, Financial Consumer Agency of Canada
  • Director (Policy, Risk & Research Division), UK Financial Conduct Authority
  • Directeur, Nationaal Instituut voor Budgetvoorlichting
  • Research Director, Office of Investor Education, Financial Industry Regulatory Authority
  • Research Economist, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development
  • Chief of Programs, Hispanic Access Foundation
  • Head of Financial Services (International), H&R Block
  • Senior Associate, ideas42
  • Director, spark
  • President & Account Representative, Y H & C Investments
  • Continue reading

Category: Miscellaneous

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Julian C. Jamison

I'm an economist, researcher, traveler, runner, and astronaut-in-waiting. I enjoy pondering human behavior, including both what we do and what we ought to do - either to maximize our well-being or in pursuit of some other goal.


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The views and opinions expressed on this website are solely those of Julian C. Jamison and other occasional authors, and they do not necessarily represent the views of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or the United States.